Agustin Delgado played a stellar role as Ecuador beat Group A rivals Costa Rica 3-0 on Thursday and advanced to the second round of the World Cup for the first time.
Goals in either half from Carlos Tenorio (8th minute) and Delgado (54th) and then a late strike from Ivan Kaviedes kept the South Americans' 100 percent record in Group A intact following a 2-0 win over Poland in their opening match.
Delgado, who also scored in the opening encounter against Poland, again proved to be the lynchpin for Ecuador in another convincing victory.
The veteran striker scored in the 54th minute with a superbly taken effort. He pounced on a loose ball on the right hand corner of the box, controlled it with his chest and rifled home from a tight angle.
If Ecuador hopes to make an impression in the knockout stages, Delgado will be the man they will look up to.
The 31-year-old's career has taken a roller-coaster ride in the last four years but he is still Ecuador's most potent weapon in attack.
Despite his lumbering appearance, Delgado has surprisingly good control on the ground and can provide clinical first-time finishes with either foot. In the air, he is as strong as his build suggests.
Affectionately known as "El Tin", Delgado led Ecuador to their first World Cup finals appearance in 2002 by scoring an impressive nine goals in the qualifiers.
He was snapped up by Southampton, then in the Premier League, in England, even though it was already known that he was suffering from knee and back injuries. He made only five starts in more than two years for the Saints, frequently returning home for treatment.
In 2004, he finally went back for good to play first for Aucas before joining Barcelona, the most popular club in Ecuador, the following year.
At the same time, he won his way back into favour with the national team. Having been left out of Ecuador's first five World Cup qualifiers for 2006, he was brought back and scored in successive games against Colombia and Bolivia.
After that, he was regularly included, injury permitting, and scored both goals in the 2-1 win away to Bolivia which effectively clinched Ecuador's place in Germany.
In between, off-field problems continued. He turned up late for the Copa America in Peru after being initially prevented from leaving Ecuador in a dispute over maintenance payments to his former wife.
Last year, he was sacked by Barcelona after being accused by club directors of lack of effort, finally moving to LDU after a complicated contractual dispute.
Tired of battling against injuries, Delgado has already said that he will call it a day after the World Cup. Germany could be the stage and best chance to end his career in style.
- Text: Reuters