The national team has been a source of joy and inspiration for many generations. They achieved historic wins and even world cup qualifications but it all has been complemented by tragedies whenever we achieve important things. I have had the unlucky opportunity to experience two of the most tragic episodes that have involved the national team. I’m going to try to keep this as short as possible but given the fact of the moments involved in this entry im not sure I can keep my word. These two particular moments shaped both of the successes of the Ecuador national team in World Cups 2006 and 2014 respectively.
The first episode of tragedy that I remember going trough happened when I was 12 years old. Ecuador was playing well and looking for a spot for the 2006 world cup, we had this great striker by the name of Otilino Tenorio a great person and I say this just by watching him on TV. He became a sensation because of his goal celebration, which consisted on putting the Spider man mask on every time he scored, it was all set for him to be our main striker at the world cup since we were only a few games away from confirming our place at the event but that would be something that we all have wanted to see. He dies in a car accident on mother’s day while he was on his way to visit his mother to make things sadder but the way his death would affect me was realizing he would no longer be on the national team and that we had no striker good enough to replace him. I didn’t really cry or anything but I felt anger and frustration but we qualified so I guess Ecuador’s big moment overshadowed the sort of grief I was going trough. My breaking point happened during the World Cup, we played Costa Rica and our spot among the last 16 was more than assured since we were winning 2-0 and we had I think about 15 minutes left to play. Edison Mendes came along the right side after a wonderful play from Agustin “El Tin” Delgado in midfield, Mendes crosses the ball and Ivan Kaviedes turns it in to a goal and his celebration? The beloved Spider man mask we all wanted to see. I remember feeling nostalgic for a quick second but at the same time I was happy the team didn’t forget him at such an important moment because it’s not everyday that we qualify to the last 16 along side the host nation, but hey I sure enjoyed that victory and honestly its still celebrated to this day. That seemed to be the perfect way for such a heroic world cup to be remembered, you know a fallen hero motivates a nation and all but sadly the same situation would repeat a few years later.
I didn’t realize it yet but the saying “Bad things happen to good people” would become a part of my life along side Christian “Chucho” Benitez, another great Ecuadorian player. I remember seeing him play for the first time when he arrived to the Mexican soccer league , specifically to club Santos Laguna were he had two spells but to be honest I remember his second spell from 2010 to 2011 that made him the top scorer and saw him take over the attacking role in the national team. He didn’t really have great start since he was made responsible for not qualifying Ecuador to the World Cup in 2010 but he made a comeback when he arrived to one of Mexico’s biggest teams, Club America. It was at that moment that perhaps for the first time I had a reason to see a Mexican League match every weekend and to tell you the truth he always managed to shine. In a matter of two tournaments he became a national hero and he was once again the hope we needed for another World cup objective. He truly brought people together wherever you were watching him play.
The future looked bright but tragedy would strike back once again and it’s not to brag or anything but I remember feeling sad way too often whenever I saw him score during his last season, so in a way I ended up forth seeing what was about to occur .The national team played a friendly here in New York against Chile a few months before everything happened, coincidence or not that would be the first time I got to see the national team play so I was skeptical when I bought the tickets for the game. I was able to get good seats (without the need of getting the handicapped treatment!). Along side my father my sister and my little brother we watched Ecuador win 3-0 with Benitez being involved and in my opinion that game is what made me admire him as a player even more, although he didn’t score he gave me a memory that I will forever appreciate. The year 2013 would be bitter sweet for me and many of the fans that saw his playing career as we saw him help Club America obtain their eleventh championship title in an epic and dramatic final against Cruz Azul. The former number 11 leaves the club with eleven titles and as the goal scoring champion, that to me is ironically creepy but life does work in mysterious ways. The middle east would take his talents right away but little did he know he would only play one game for them before the big man upstairs called him.
It was tremendously sad loss Ecuador because once again we were losing a key player but most of all we lost the heart and soul of the team. When I heard the news I was in complete disbelief, I re member just freezing having no reaction and returning back home to see various sports channels reporting the story saying Chucho was dead. It was concluded that he died due to a heart failure but to this day I believe they could have saved him, it took me months but one day I was actually able to cry and let it all out and I realized then that he had become more than an idol not only for me but for the many that saw him play and enjoyed his goals. He was mourned by the whole country and even the president attended his farewell ceremony regardless if he supported a rival club. His death took such a big toll that the National team didn’t have a good participation in Brazil 2014, exposing the huge whole that he had left behind. One thing is certain though and that is the fact that since his death there has not been one player able to match what he did during his lifetime, giving way to the Legend of “Chucho” Benitez.