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09 June, 2006

DE LA CRUZ Ulise from Ecuador.De la Cruz is renowned as a skilful and vigilant right-back, as comfortable in the air as he is pushing forward.

Name:  DE LA CRUZ Ulise

Date of birth:   8 February 1974

Height:  178 cm

Weight:  74 kg

Position:  Defender

Current Club:  Aston Villa (ENG)

Int'l Goals:   5 (as of 5-Jun-2006)

Int'l Caps:  84 (as of 5-Jun-2006)

First Int'l Cap:  Japan v. Ecuador (28-May-1995)

Detail:  It has been said of Ulises de la Cruz that his approach to football mirrors his approach to life. Born on 8 February 1974 in Piquiucho, a small village in the Valle del Chota, one Ecuador’s poorest regions, De la Cruz has never forgotten his roots. So dedicated is the player to his home village, in fact, that he set up a foundation there to fund a number of projects serving the local community, including a water treatment plant, a health centre and a sports ground.

On the field, De la Cruz is renowned as a skilful and vigilant right-back, as comfortable in the air as he is pushing forward. He first represented his country at youth level under Montenegrin coach Dusan Draskovic, and was one of a crop of young players, also including Agustin Delgado and Ivan Hurtado, who now provide the backbone of the senior side.

De la Cruz made his full debut on 28 May 1995 under the Colombian Francisco Maturana in a 3-0 Kirin Cup defeat by Japan. Two years later, with Luis Fernando Suarez at the helm, he started the CONMEBOL Copa America on the bench only to blossom into one of the outstanding performers in a side that eventually bowed out in the quarter-finals.

That made his prolonged absence from the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign all the more puzzling, although his short-lived international exile came to a swift end with the appointment of another Colombian, Hernan Dario Gomez, to the Ecuadorian hot seat. Gomez immediately put his trust in De la Cruz, giving him the confidence to make the right-back position his own during the Korea/Japan 2002 qualifiers. The manager’s faith was handsomely rewarded, with the wing-back playing an important part in what became a historic campaign as Ecuador reached the FIFA World Cup finals for the very first time.

De la Cruz has long been a first choice for his country and played in every game, not only at Korea/Japan 2002, but also at the 2004 Copa America and in Ecuador’s subsequent qualifying campaign for Germany 2006, during which he even contributed a couple of goals. In Tricolor history, only Hurtado, his friend and team-mate, has won more caps.

De la Cruz’s club career, meanwhile, began in 1991 when he made his senior debut for Deportivo Quito, and it was another four years before he made the first move of his professional career with a switch to Barcelona SC. He won his first championship medal there, but did not stay long, moving to Aucas and then LDU Quito, with whom he won two further league titles.

In 2001, De la Cruz surprised many by heading to Scotland to sign for Edinburgh club Hibernian. Some impressive performances both in Scotland and then at Korea/Japan 2002 earned this self-confessed golf fanatic a move to the English Premiership with Aston Villa. De la Cruz has had mixed fortunes at Villa Park, struggling to hold down a regular place, but his importance to Ecuador remains unquestioned.

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