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Ecuador embassy overcome by grateful Italians

Updated: Friday June 14, 2002 11:49 a.m. ET

MILAN, June 14 (Reuters) - Forget love: all you need is football.

Ecuador's ambassador to Rome said on Friday he was overcome by faxes, emails and phone calls from emotional Italians thanking the South American nation for its surprise win over Croatia which secured Italy a place in the second round.

"The gratitude of Italian people is incredible, unique, outstanding," Ecuador Ambassador Arturo Gangotena Guarderas told Reuters.

"Italy thanks you, Ecuador," "Thanks Ecuador," "All of Italy thanks you from its heart: you were brilliant," he said, reading from the ever-growing pile of tributes for the South American nation's 1-0 win on Thursday.

World Cup debutants Ecuador scored their maiden finals win on Thursday against Croatia. But although the victory failed to secure them a place in the second round it did save Italy from a shameful early exit.

In Milan's Piazza Duomo, where thousands of people gathered to watch the match on a widescreen on Thursday, the roar which went up after Ecuador's goal was equal if not greater to that which met Italy's equaliser against Mexico.

"I'm not a football expert but this is beyond the limits of reason. Sport's become the way people show their hearts," Guarderas said, adding the two countries were now "sharing an umbilical cord."

Italy defeated Ecuador in the early stages of the tournament finals, but that did not matter in the new found friendship.

"From now on Ecuador's ambassador is Italy's biggest fan," he said.

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