- Ecuador advanced to the U-20 World Cup quarter-finals for the first time
- Alexander Alvarado scored a penalty and forced another
- “It’s a just reward,” said the 20-year-old
As he stared at the ball on the penalty spot, ready to start his run-up, Alexander Alvarado may have been haunted by three memories.
The first, and most immediate, was that Ecuador had already missed two penalties at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019.
The second was that, during La Tricolor’s successful South American U-20 Championship campaign earlier this year, they lost just two matches – to Uruguay, on both occasions.
The third, and perhaps the most painful memory? The Ecuadorians had never advanced further than the quarter-finals at this tournament.
As if the weight of history were not enough, Uruguay had already taken the lead in the 11th minute of the all-South American tie in Lublin. It was up to Alvarado to steer the team towards a different destiny.
“We’d discussed it as a team, and we’d decided that the player who felt the most confident should take our penalties,” explained the attack-minded No11. “At that moment, I felt extremely confident, and so I asked for the ball."
Alvarado proceeded to strike his penalty right down the middle, and with the Uruguayan goalkeeper diving to the left, the ball flew into the back of the net. It was a major psychological boost for Ecuador, who would go on to complete an impressive comeback and make history in the process.
“We came here with the added pressure of Uruguay being something of a bogey team for us – there was a lot of talk about that,” continued Alvarado. “But we learned from those previous games and studied them closely. I thought we put in a great performance from start to finish. And the joy we’re feeling now is a just reward for our efforts.”
Ecuador secured the victory in the second half, soaking up La Celeste’s attacks and hitting them effectively on the counter. Sergio Quintero crashed in a brilliant goal before Gonzalo Plata stroked home a penalty in a composed manner to make it 3-1. And it was Alvarado who brought about the second penalty after his goal-bound shot was stopped by the hand of Uruguay defender Bruno Mendez.
“Gonzalo asked me if he could take it; he said he felt really confident, and of course I said it was fine, as we’re a very close-knit team,” Alvarado said. “I feel pretty happy with the way the match turned out. We had a bad start, but we managed to show everything we’ve worked on in this World Cup, and that was reflected on the scoreboard.”
Having banished the ghosts of the past, the South American champions are ready for whatever team comes their way in the last eight, be it France or United States, who face off tomorrow.
Alvarado concluded: “I’m sure we’ll all sit down with our coach to watch their game and analyse our potential opponents. Whoever it ends up being, they’re going to meet an Ecuador team that likes to retain possession – whenever we have the ball, we’re very dangerous. We’ve made some mistakes, sure, but we’ve been improving and now we’re even stronger.”