Our run down of the teams involved in the 2011 Copa America, which kicks off on July 1, continues with a closer look at Paraguay.
Paraguay make the short hop across the border to Argentina just a year after recording their best ever finish at a World Cup finals. Los Guaraníes’ progression to the quarter-finals on their fourth consecutive appearance among the world’s elite is evidence of a nation on the rise. While they seem to have cracked the South American World Cup qualification series it remains 20 years since they featured in the last four of the Copa América.
Momento de gloria
The 1979 edition of the Copa América had no defined host country, instead the matches were contested over home and away legs. It was thought that Paraguay had overachieved by pipping Uruguay to a place in the semi-finals and that la Albirroja would be found out over two-legs against Brazil. Zico saw red in the first leg as Paraguay won 2-1 on home soil but even with el Pelé Blanco suspended, surely a Brazil side that could still boast the talents of Sócrates and Falcão would win out at the Maracaná? It was going that way until Julio Cesar Romero’s strike swung the match back in favour of los Guaraníes and eventually proved to be the winning goal. A buoyant Paraguay went onto beat Chile in the final.
El director técnico
Gerardo Martino achieved legendary status as a player with Newell’s Old Boys in his hometown of Rosario, playing a chunk of his career under Marcelo Bielsa. El Tata eventually moved away from the club he had first joined as a 10-year-old and on hanging up the boots he kicked off his own managerial career. Success came in spades after Martino crossed over to Paraguay where he mopped up league titles with Cerro Porteño and Libertad. In the hotseat since 2007, the head coach has stated will quit Paraguay after this Copa América and he is sure to have no shortage of offers coming his way. Notoriously hard to second guess, Martino made six changes to his starting line-up that beat Japan in South Africa ahead of the quarter-final with Spain. The 2007 South American Coach of the Year will be deploying a high-tempo pressing game at the Copa América.
Justo Villar is the latest to don the gloves and armband in a Paraguayan tradition of goalkeeping captains which also features the legendary José Luis Chilavert. Another thing Villar has in common with Chilavert, along with other great custodians such as Sergio Goycochea and Faryd Mondragón, is the benefit of Modesto Sandoval’s coaching expertise. Villar, on the books of Real Valladolid in Spain, is a veteran of three World Cups although his early injury against England in 2006 is a memory he’d sooner forget.
Just like his national team head coach Lucas Barrios was born in Argentina but his Paraguayan mother allowed los Guaraníes to snap him up shortly before the 2010 World Cup. La Pantera has been banging in the goals for fun over the past two seasons with reigning Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund. Barrios comes into the tournament buzzing with confidence and keen to show the land of his birth exactly what they missed out on.
It’s not just his matinee idol good looks that have made Roque Santa Cruz the pin-up boy of Paraguayan football. It’s over a decade now since Santagol won his first senior cap as he debuted at the 1999 Copa América and finished the tournament with three goals. Santa Cruz has long been a source of pride and inspiration to his countrymen who have watched him find the onion bag all over Germany and England. The 29-year-old’s tally of international goals leave him one short Paraguay’s all-time leading scorer José Cardozo so expect Roque to be putting his hand up should la Albirroja get a penalty.
Marcelo Estigarribia may not be held in high regard at his club side Le Mans but he has impressed for his national team. Estigarribia has been heavily involved in Paraguay’s Copa América preparations and recently played 90 minutes of a friendly against Chile. The left-footed 23-year-old, recently playing with Newell’s Old Boys on loan, has the potential to become a key ingredient for Paraguay at the Copa América. El Chelo has in his armoury the ability to supply Santa Cruz and Barrios with the ammunition they will need to fire la Albirroja forward at the tournament. A couple of good performances from Estigarribia will certainly see Le Mans rubbing their hands with glee as they attempt to offload the player.
Oscar Cardozo of Benfica is right to be miffed at his exclusion from Martino’s preliminary 31 man squad. It could have all been very different had Tacuara converted his penalty against Spain 12 months ago. Morel Rodríguez of recently relegated Deportivo La Coruña also misses out, plus a special mention for Salvador Cabañas who is up and about after recovering from a gunshot to the head.
Rumores de transferencia
Lucas Barrios to Chelsea, Roque Santa Cruz to Blackburn Rovers, Marcelo Estigarribia to Rangers, Oscar Cardozo to Everton
Larissa Riquelme posed nude in the Paraguayan press as her way of thanking her team for their efforts in South Africa. The model shot to fame on account of her passionate support of the lads in red and white and she has subsequently cashed in on her celebrity status with a string of appearances on South American reality television. No relation to Juan Román Riquelme.
Síguelo en Twitter
@R_SantaCruz - Sadly our World Cup Dream is now over. Thank you so much for all of your support. Stay posted for updates on next season.....
La opinión experta
We have big expectations going into the Copa América this year because we want to do something special. The last time Paraguay won the Copa América was in 1979 and that is a long time ago now. We have a good group of players and I know the guys from the same generation as myself want to win a title before finishing their time with the national team. We are coming into this tournament as the first ever Paraguayan team to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup. On top of that we have a team that has been playing together for a long time now so we believe it’s the right moment to achieve something historic. Great teams are judged on titles and that’s why winning this Copa América is our aim.
Roque Santa Cruz speaking to The South American Football Show in association with The Independent
Head coach Gerardo Martino has echoed the thoughts of Roque Santa Cruz in the build-up to the Copa América and talked freely about his intentions to win the tournament. Landing Paraguay’s third Copa América title would not only see Martino given the keys to Asunción but also put himself in a very strong position when it comes to looking for another job.
There’s nothing straight-forward about Paraguay’s first hurdle as they find themselves grouped alongside Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil. While los Guaraníes have the quality and the leadership to emerge from Group B there is sure to be a tough quarter-final waiting for them. Paraguay’s 20 year absence from the semi-final stage of the Copa América is set to continue.
¿Por qué ser fanático?
Paraguayan Dr Nicolás Leoz has been top dog of the South American football federation, Conmebol, for an impressive 25 years. The good doctor was alleged by Lord Triesman to have asked for a little Brucie Bonus in return for voting in favour of England hosting the 2018 World Cup. After Leoz was cleared by an FA inquiry we can now show there’s no hard feelings by getting behind the his Albirroja.
¿Un club en League Two?
Right in the heart of the action, geographically speaking at least, we see a steady rise taking place which has recently seen the team scale previously unknown heights. Time for Paraguay to invite Burton Albion over to brew up some La Potente Yerba Mate.
Keep your cup of Caña topped up and feast on a buffet of jopara, arro quesu, lambreado and the delightfully named so’o yosopy. Get in the Guarani state of mind by blasting out the zarzuela as you give it large along el Panteón de los Héroes. Rohayhu Paraguay!
The War of the Triple Alliance saw Paraguay ganged up on by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. This three against one battle, lasting from 1864 to 1870, ended badly for Paraguay as the country suffered huge casualties on the battlefield. High time for a bit of payback!
Goalkeepers: Justo Villar (Valladolid, ESP), Diego Barreto (Cerro Porteño, PAR), Roberto Fernández (Racing, ARG).
Defenders: Paulo Da Silva (Zaragoza, ESP), Marcos Cáceres (Racing, ARG), Antolín Alcaraz (Wigan, ENG), Darío Verón (Pumas, Méx), Aureliano Torres (San Lorenzo, ARG), Iván Piris (Cerro Porteño, PAR), Elvis Marecos (Guaraní, PAR).
Midfields: Víctor Cáceres (Libertad, PAR), Cristian Riveros (Sunderland, ENG), Néstor Ortigoza (San Lorenzo, ARG), Jonathan Santana (Kayserispor, TUR), Enrique Vera (Liga de Quito, ECU), Edgar Barreto (Atalanta, ITA), Hernán Pérez (Villarreal, ESP).
Forwards: Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn, ENG), Osvaldo Martínez (Monterrey, MEX), Nelson Haedo Valdez (Hércules, ESP), Marcelo Estigarribia (Newell's Old Boys, ARG), Lucas Barrios (Borussia Dortmund, GER), Pablo Zeballos (Olimpia, PAR).
v Ecuador 03/07/2011 18:30 Sante Fé
v Brazil 09/07/2011 16:00 Córdoba
v Venezuela 13/07/2011 19:15 Salta
FIFA ranking: 23
Odds to win: 18/1
Copa America record: P154 W62 D30 L62 F244 A272
Copa America best: Two-time champions
More teams will follow in this daily series. Plus, for more on Copa America 2011, listen to The South American Football Show.