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Jun 24, 2014

From Russia with love, Ecuador's Christian Noboa

Christian Noboa has come a long way in the World Cup.

Christian Noboa could always count on the support of his mother. His father, Fernando, was a serious and disciplined man, an admiral in the Ecuadorian army who once decreed that his son should never miss school for the sake of football. But when an important youth final match for his Filanbanco side clashed with his school time, his mother, Sonia, hid him until his father had left for work. Then she took him to the match and supported from the sidelines

The final was against Emelec, the club Noboa would later join and make his senior debut for at the age of 19. He became a first-team regular in his second year at the club and was then part of a youthful squad that finished as league runners-up in 2006.

His performances saw him catch the eye of Rubin Kazan coach Kurban Berdyev and he was signed by the Russian club shortly thereafter. There, he won consecutive league titles with Rubin in 2008 and 2009 before moving to Dinamo Moscow for eight million pounds in 2012. Early on in his career in Russia, likely many who make a move abroad, he wondered if he would ever be able to adapt. But his translator, Yuri, helped him to settle, he met a Russian girl, got married and had two children. By the time he left Rubin, his integration was such that he was known to the club's fans as El Ruso [The Russian.]

A few years ago, an Ecuadorian film crew entered a bar in Moscow and asked a patron, "What do you know of Ecuador?" The answer was two-fold: "Their football" and "Christian Noboa." He may not be as familiar to residents of other European countries, but that could soon change. His contract with Dinamo Moscow expires in December and he is now free to negotiate with interested parties. England, Germany and Spain are all possible destinations.

Noboa has grown as a player during his time in Russia and that has been reflected in the increasingly important role he has taken on for the national team. He has not only locked down a regular place in midfield under Reinaldo Rueda, but he has also taken on a leadership role, on and off the pitch. The rebellious long hair of his youth has given way to a shorter, sharper and more serious style. He commands operations from the centre of the pitch.

The midfielder is the player tasked with connecting Ecuador's deep-lying defence to their quick and powerful forwards. He received the ball more times than any other Ecuadorian in the 2-1 victory over Honduras. Of the 42 passes he received, 31 were from the goalkeeper, the back four and his central midfield partner, Osvaldo Minda. Of the 34 passes he successfully completed, 24 were sent in the direction of the wingers and forwards.

His performance in that match was a marked improvement on his display in Ecuador's opener against Switzerland, when he was still struggling with the muscle strain that had troubled him during their pre-tournament friendlies. He is now at full fitness and will have to be at his best if Ecuador are to get a positive result from their final group stage match against France and progress to the last 16.

If they do, some familiar smiles will await Noboa when the squad return to their training camp in Viamão. Not only did his wife, Olya, and their two boys travel to Brazil to support him, but also his parents, Fernando and Sonia. In a moment of family reminiscence, maybe they will look back on that day, long ago, when Noboa and his mother defied the wishes of his father and set in motion a story whose next chapter will be told at the Maracana on Wednesday.