Wednesday 27 February 2019, 05:30

A taste of a dream for Ecuadorian trio

What fan hasn’t dreamed of pulling on his team’s jersey and playing alongside his heroes – even for just a few minutes?

Well, for three supporters of Ecuador’s most popular clubs, that dream became a reality recently after they won a reality show to become players for a day.

Barcelona fan Jimmy Espinoza, Liga de Quito die-hard Rodrigo Caicedo, and Daniel Nieto of Emelec were the lucky winners of the challenge, which had Ecuador legend Ivan Hurtado among its judges.

The trio got to train with their respective teams before the official presentation, take part in the event in front of a packed stadium ahead of a friendly, then, best of all, play for a few minutes alongside their idols. spoke with the lucky fans to find out how it felt to become players for a day.

Expectation builds

“What I experienced, from the training to the game itself, was simply glorious. You cannot buy that kind of thing,” said 38-year-old English graduate and guest-house owner Jimmy, who first went to Barcelona’s stadium with his father when aged five.

“From the moment I showed up for training, I was made to feel like one of the squad,” said Rodrigo. “They even ‘baptised’ me, lining up and getting me to run a gauntlet of thumps, footballs and water,” added the 23-year-old sports journalism student, who first came to Liga de Quito’s ground with his family when seven, and began attending by himself at 14.

For his part, Daniel even got to travel with the team to their stadium. “I got to experience how it feels to ride the team bus to the ground on matchday. That feeling exceeded all my expectations,” said the 21-year-old medical student, who was also five when first brought to see his beloved Emelec.

Of the three, only Jimmy got to go inside the main dressing room of his idols. “Being inside the home changing room of the Monumental, even if empty, leaves a big impression. As does seeing a shirt with your name hanging by a locker.”

Even more impressive for Jimmy was meeting 2006 FIFA World Cup™ champion Andrea Pirlo, who was Barcelona’s special guest for the occasion.

“In so far as I could, given the language barrier, I told him how big an admirer I was and then asked him how it felt to win a World Cup. He was very nice. Can you believe that I got changed in the same room as Pirlo?”

All three lined up with their respective squads to be announced to the crowds and then proceeded to take part in the pre-match warm-up.

“I felt tense," Rodrigo admitted, "but, as I was going through the warm-up exercises with Jefferson Orejuela, he said to me: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. This is where everyone wanted to be, so enjoy it.”

Liga de Quito's fan Rodrigo Caicedo

The moment of truth

Both Jimmy and Rodrigo wore the No12 shirt in reference to the campaign name chosen by the sponsor (#Jugador12PorEncimaDeTodo) and to fans being 'the twelfth man', starting against Peru’s Alianza Lima and Colombia’s Independiente de Santa Fe respectively.

Rodrigo even got to take the initial kick-off. “It felt weird, like I was in shock or imagining it all. I touched the ball a couple of times but gave it straight back. I was afraid I’d lose it.”

How long did I play? “Three minutes, but at least I was replaced by Juan Anangono, one of my favourite players. No sooner had I come off than we conceded, so I said to the coach (Uruguayan Nicolas Repetto): ‘You see what happens when you take me off?’ We had a good laugh at that.”

Jimmy was also given three minutes. “The highlight for me was my headed pass,” he said with a laugh and touch of pride.

“It was a rebound that went skywards and must have taken six or seven seconds to come down. A thousand thoughts went through my head. I said to myself: ‘You can’t bring it down – you have to head it’. But as I jumped, I saw one of their players, an enormous guy, going up for it too. I have no idea how I managed to get my head to it!”

Daniel, meanwhile, wore the No90 shirt, a nod to Emelec’s 90th anniversary, and came off the bench in the last minute of their meeting with Sporting Cristal.

“The fans chanted ‘Gordooo, Goordooo (Fatty, Fatty)’ as I got ready to come on. Far from bothering me, I loved it,” said Dani, who dreamed of being a footballer but “didn’t have luck” on his side.

“Although I didn’t actually touch the ball, I know if I’d played for longer, I’d surely have scored,” he said convinced.

All three agreed that the experience had been one of the happiest of their lives and that they had been enjoying the subsequent attention and recognition. Nowhere more so that in the stands, from where they are once again showing their devotion to their beloved sides.