Ecuador's "shipyard derby" pits brother against brother
Superman is up and running, flying and scoring goals. Enner Valencia opened his West Ham account with a splendid shot in Monday's 2-2 draw away to Hull City.
Back in his native Ecuador, meanwhile, his old club were missing his power to produce the unexpected. Emelec lost 1-0 to Barcelona in the latest installment of the country's biggest local rivalry, the "shipyard derby" in the port city of Guayaquil.
Ecuador has two major cities: Guayaquil and the mountain capital of Quito. These days, in football terms, the latter has a higher profile. Quito is where the Ecuador national side stage their home games, and the altitude is clearly a factor in their strong record in front of their own fans. It was also an aid for local club side LDU when in 2008, they became the first, and so far only, Ecuadorian side to win the Copa Libertadores, South America's equivalent of the Champions League.
But football first caught on in Guayaquil. Perhaps port cities are more open to new developments. And so both Emelec -- set up by the local electric company -- and Barcelona -- as their name suggests, established by Catalan immigrants -- have national followings. Their derby, then, is watched intensely all over the land.
It is a rivalry capable of pitting brother against brother -- quite literally, in the case of Sunday's game in Barcelona's imposing Monumental stadium.
Attacking midfielder Miler Bolanos started his career with Barcelona. But via a roundabout route including drug abuse and a spell in the MLS, he has ended up at Emelec. Older brother Alex Bolanos, a more defensive midfielder, remains at Barcelona.
The two, in the South American custom, swapped shirts at halftime, with the game goalless. The deadlock had still not been broken after the break, when they clashed on the field. Alex grabbed Miler's shirt, which ripped as a result. Miler went over to the touchline. There was no other shirt for him to wear. The coaching staff were unable to patch up the torn one. And so, in such bizarre circumstances and to his own enormous frustration, Miler Bolanos had to be substituted. Emelec had lost one of their most effective players, and with a goal 15 minutes from time, Barcelona claimed all three points.
This is a story which perhaps does not show Ecuadorian football in a particularly positive light -- and indeed, with financial problems forcing lengthy talks between the clubs and the representatives of the players, the game is not going through an easy moment.
But there is also some good news to report. Ecuador's clubs, including Emelec and Barcelona, have got off to a great start in the Copa Sudamericana, the continent's Europa League equivalent.
In the early stages of the competition, the Brazilian clubs play among themselves, as do the Argentines. In the first round, the other eight countries are divided into two groups of four -- one in the north, one in the south. Ecuador were in the northern group, which meant their four representatives took on opponents from Colombia, Peru and Venezuela. All of them were victorious; Emelec beat Aguilas Doradas of Colombia. Barcelona overcame Peru's Alianza Lima, while there were wins for Universidad Catolica and Independiente del Valle over Venezuelan opposition (Anzoategui and Trujillanos respectively).
Now, in the next round, the Ecuadorian quartet take on rivals from the south. The crunch matches might be against opponents from Paraguay, who also managed to qualify all four of their teams. Barcelona take on Libertad in the first tie to be decided, with the Ecuadorians 1-0 up from their home leg. Independiente del Valle, a small, well-run club with an excellent youth policy, are up against Asuncion giants Cerro Porteno. Universidad Catolica take on Huachipato of Chile -- and Emelec are at home against River Plate of Uruguay in this Thursday's first leg -- when their kit men would do well to ensure they have packed enough shirts for all eventualities.