Last summer, Christian Benitez, the premier scorer on Ecuador's budding World Cup squad, entered the hospital with stomach pains after a match and never left. He died at 27 of heart failure from an undetected congenital ailment.
No teammate was more crushed than fellow forward Enner Valencia, who regarded him as a big brother. Motivated by the memory, Valencia channeled Benitez with a scintillating performance, only to be let down by his colleagues in a 2-1 loss to Switzerland.
His left bicep sporting a tattooed reminder of Benitez -- nickname (Chucho), jersey number (11) and birth/death dates -- Valencia slinked to an unoccupied spot in the box and headed in a free kick.
When the Swiss countered with their own cranium-produced goal, Valencia revved up. He narrowly missed a missile from outside the box and, despite an all-out sprint, could not beat a Swiss defender to the ball when their keeper was lured away from the goal.
During injury time, he exquisitely fed the unmarked Michael Arroyo, who toyed with the ball rather than blasting it immediately. A turnover ensued, and Ecuador's defenders seemed unable to summon one last bit of energy. The Swiss ran around and through them for a tie-busting goal by Haris Seferovic with seconds to spare.
The Ecuadoreans claimed to be playing for their buried comrade and had pointed to the sky after Valencia's goal. Given the half-hearted effort in the last minute, there might have been some finger-pointing afterward at each other.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times