Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 15th 2014 Contents A66
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt June 15, 2014
BRASILIA---Felipe Caicedo will
not just shoulder the burden of
scoring Ecuador s goals at the
World Cup. The barrel-chested
striker has also been handed the
onerous task of filling the boots,
and the No 11 shirt, of one of the
country s favourite footballing
It s nearly a year since Ecuador
was plunged into grief following
the tragic news that Christian Ben-
itez, the national team s star striker,
had died of heart failure, a day after
playing for his club side in Qatar.
He was 27 and had, according to
doctors, a congenital heart ailment
that had gone undetected in numer-
ous physical examinations.
Since that day---July 29, 2013---
life in the Ecuador squad has not
been the same again.
Benitez s No 11 jersey was retired
by the national federation. Coach
Reinaldo Rueda couldn t control his
tears at the loss of one of his most
popular players---"he s practically
irreplaceable," he said. Close friend
and international teammate Antonio
Valencia was arguably the most
affected, tattooing Benitez s face on
his upper arm in his honour.
"Why now brother?" was one of
Valencia s emotional messages on
Twitter. Another read: "This strong
pain you ve caused me will stay
forever my brother, but we love
Qualification for the World Cup
in Brazil was dedicated to the man
affectionately known as "Chucho,"
and he ll be in the thoughts of
Ecuador s players, coaches and fans
when the team launches its group-
stage campaign against Switzerland
"It is a vacuum that is still very
difficult to fill," Rueda said yestere-
day, taking his time to compose his
words. "He is always in our minds
and our hearts, for all that he meant
to the group.
"The group has been able to
assimilate that mourning. It s a real-
ity... we have pay tribute to him.
He will be with us, he will be pres-
Ecuador s No 11 shirt has had to
be reinstated for the World Cup
because of FIFA regulations, and it
has been given to Caicedo---Rueda s
first-choice striker who finished as
the team s top scorer in South
Benitez is a hard act to follow,
not just for his personality and
importance to the team. He was
also a vital component of Rueda s
lineup because of his pace, versa-
tility and work rate as well as his
scoring prowess, netting 24 goals
in 58 international appearances.
He had scored four goals in World
Cup qualifying before he died.
"We have a huge responsibility
for him and his family to have a
wonderful participation in this
World Cup," Ecuador defender Fric-
son Erazo said yesterday.
"Christian is very much in our
minds and our hearts and that has
made us stronger. We are always
calling each other, following how
each of us is doing...It was a life
experience---now we have to trans-
mit the camaraderie and brother-
hood and take this in our stride."
Expect Ecuador to pay plenty of
tributes to Benitez throughout the
World Cup, especially if the team
qualifies for the second round.
Rueda made a bold declaration
before the tournament, saying: "I
want to play seven games. That is
what I want at the World Cup."
That means reaching the semi-
finals. Now that really would be a
tribute to Benitez.
MOGI DAS CRUZES---Belgium
winger Kevin De Bruyne was
helped off the pitch, limping on a
lame right ankle. At the same time,
Divock Origi was already getting
ice treatment on his ankle.
No World Cup opponents were
to blame for these knocks, just some
very fired up teammates. When a
spot on the starting lineup for a
World Cup is on the line, no player
wants to hold back for perhaps a
once-in-a-lifetime experience that
can make a career.
Belgium is among the nations still
waiting for its opening game in
Brazil, and that means nerves are
more than ever on edge. Everyone
wants to secure a spot in Tuesday s
starting lineup against Algeria, and
training sessions have been fierce.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots,
known as the Fighting Boar in his
playing days, sees the positives,
though he hopes the sore ankles
don t turn into real injuries.
"Maybe it went over the edge a
couple of times, but I d rather have
this. Everyone has something to
prove. Everyone wants to win,"
Wilmots said yesterday. A few hours
after the training match, Wilmots
was relieved to announce "Good
news, both will be 100 per cent fit
for the game against Algeria."
Then, there were momentary bad
vibes between Eden Hazard and
Kevin Mirallas, with some pushing
The payoff for such a spirit has
already been evident at the World
Ahead of their opening match,
Dutch player Arjen Robben took
offense at a training tackle from
Bruno Martins Indi and it quickly
turned into a spat. Such a fighting
spirit ran right through the opening
match against Spain, when Robben
scored two great goals in a 5-1
humiliation of the defending cham-
After Friday s match, Robben
went over to Martins Indi and
hugged him and rubbed his head
in a clear sign that they ve well and
truly buried the hatchet.
That is the kind of spirit Wilmots
is also hoping for.
At first sight, he said, both De
Bruyne and Origi should be fine for
Sunday s first training session in
Belo Horizonte, two days ahead of
the Algeria game. De Bruyne of
Wolfsburg has been Belgium s
standout player in qualifying and is
expected to start while Origi has
been a late addition as an extra strik-
er.Belgium is a team which can
afford a few injuries since it has
depth in most positions.
Only two days ago, the full squad
of 23 played a training game, and
Wilmots admitted that "there
should have been a red card, and
What counts, though, is that they
are teammates first. Midfielder
Moussa Dembele fell with his full
weight on Origi by accident and felt
bad. "I was so glad when I saw him
put his thumb up. I really felt
Next time though, Dembele will
be going into the same challenge
with just as much intensity. "It is
part of us. Everybody wants to win,
even at training. We have this win-
ning spirit and it comes by itself,"
Just being at the World Cup is
prize enough in a 5-a-side training
match these days. "Normally, they
play for a little prize. It s for a shirt
or a red letter day," Wilmots said.
"And today it was for nothing. You
don t always need something to
want to win."
PORTO SEGURO---Lukas Podolski
was a promising teenager when he
made his debut for Germany ten years
ago. Now in his third World Cup, he s
a veteran in a young squad with a
role that goes well beyond entertain-
ing his teammates.
Podolski is popular with his fellow
players for his easygoing, fun-loving
manner and a quick wit.
But behind the outgoing personality
is a steely determination.
"I am here to lift the World Cup
title," the Arsenal forward said yes-
terday. "The ten years have flown by
and it would be great to complete the
circle with the World Cup."
Germany opens its World Cup cam-
paign tomorrow against Portugal in
Salvador. It also faces Ghana and the
United States in Group G.
Two years after joining the national
team, Podolski earned the best young
player award at the 2006 World Cup---
ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano
Ronaldo---and became one of the
team s regulars.
Podolski slightly fell off the radar
in Germany with the rise of new stars
in his position, such as Marco Reus
and Andre Schuerrle. But Reus is out
of the World Cup because of injury
and Podolski could get the nod for the
starting 11 ahead of Schuerrle following
some impressive recent performanc-
es.Podolski played a role in five of Ger-
many s six goals in the final warm-up
match against Armenia, scoring one
himself. He also came off the bench
in the earlier 2-2 draw with Cameroon,
leading a second-half German rally.
Podolski was a substitute in both of
those matches, but the 29-year-old
could be in the starting line-up tomor-
"I ve been feeling good in training,
I ve played well and I am 100-per cent
ready to play," he said.
Podolski said he would have no
problem coming off the bench either.
"Each our 23 players will be alert
and ready to step in at any time," he
Podolski, who has 114 caps and has
scored 47 goals, said the German team
had evolved over the past ten years
into a side that plays some of the most
entertaining football in the world.
"We ve developed, now we can really
speak about the World Cup title," he
said. "The World Cup is always some-
thing special and I hope we can go
Like striker Miroslav Klose, Podolski
was born in Poland and grew up in
Cologne, his first big club. He had an
unhappy stint at Bayern Munich before
returning to Cologne and then moving
to Arsenal in 2012.
Podolski s other side emerged in an
infamous incident in 2009, when a
dispute on the pitch ended with Podol-
ski slapping then captain Michael Bal-
lack during a World Cup qualifier
against Wales. Podolski was unhappy
that Ballack was not passing him the
ball. Podolski was never punished.
Ecuador thinking of Benitez
Ecuador's captain Luis Antonio
Valencia, left, dribbles past
Australia's Massimo Luongo,
right, during a friendly soccer
match in London. AP PHOTO
Belgium coach lauds aggressive training
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