Ecuador knocks Croatia out of contention

Ecuador upset Croatia 1-0 in a Group G encounter, winning its first game at the World Cup finals and sending the Croats out of the tournament.

updated: February 25, 2007 09:27 IST
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Yokohama, Japan:

Edison Mendez fired a second-half winner as Ecuador upset Croatia 1-0 in today's Group G encounter, winning its first game at the World Cup finals and sending the Croats out of the tournament. Croatia, semi-finalists in France four years ago, had three good chances in the first half but couldn't get the goal it desperately needed. Mendez drilled a right-foot shot from close range in the 48th minute, latching onto Agustin Delgado's header off Ulises De la Cruz' pinpoint cross from near the left corner flag. It was Mendez' first and Ecuador's second goal in the World Cup finals. Mexico won the group with seven points after tying Italy 1-1 in a match played simultaneously in Oita. Italy finished second with four, followed by Croatia and Ecuador with three. Milan Rapaic went close to getting the equalizer but his free kick from 25 metres was headed wide by an Ecuadorean in the defensive wall. Daniel Saric got into a one-on-one situation with Ecuador 'keeper Jose Cevallos but was called off side and then replacement midfielder Davor Vugrinec slammed a right-foot strike well over the crossbar in the 83rd minute. Brilliant reflexes by veteran midfielder Alex Aguinaga got the ball off his goal line from a powerful Croatian header two minutes later as the Ecuadoreans clung to their slender lead. Croatia, needing to win to make the second round, had the best chance in a dour first half, with Middlesbrough striker Alen Boksic hitting the outside of the left upright with a left-foot strike in the 34th minute. Boksic had another chance four minutes later when he was running clear in the goal square, but he didn't get a chance to fire on goal before he was stopped in a brilliant, diving tackle by Ecuador defender Ivan Hurtado. Boksic got a third chance in first-half injury time when his gentle chip over Ecuador 'keeper Jose Cevallos was cleared with a Augusto Poroso's desperate header. Mendez had the only shot on target for Ecuador, but his right-foot shot from 20-meters (yards) was held on the second grab by Croatian 'keeper Stipe Pletikosa in the 24th minute. Croatia coach Mirko Jozic fielded an offensive-minded team. Inter Milan defender Dario Simic was called into the starting lineup to replace the injured Zvonimir Soldo, while Ivica Olic, who went on as a substitute to score Croatia's first goal in a 2-1 victory over Italy in the last match, got a starting role up front instead of Davor Vugrinec. The Ecuadoreans, who were winless after two matches, had only a mathematical chance of making it through to the next round. Croatia could theoretically have qualified with a loss if Mexico had beaten Italy in another match. Lineups:Ecuador: 1-Jose Cevallos, 2-Augusto Poroso, 3-Ivan Hurtado (c), 4-Ulises de la Cruz, 5-Alfonso Obregon, 6-Raul Guerron, 18-Carlos Tenorio, 11-Agustin Delgado, 16-Clever Chala, 19-Edison Mendez, 15-Marlon Ayovi Croatia: 1-Stipe Pletikosa; 15-Daniel Saric, 3-Josip Simunic, 21-Robert Kovac, 17-Robert Jarni, 20-Dario Simic, 4-Stjepan Tomas, 10-Niko Kovac, 5-Milan Rapaic, 18-Ivica Olic, 11-Alen Boksic Referee: William Mattus, Costa Rica