England's Rivals: Paraguay: Acuna plays the passionate controller

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The Independent Online

For there standing tall, still and chillingly composed for Paraguay will be Roberto Miguel Acuna - "nuestro conductor" as the South Americans like to call him. And their conductor waves a mean and assured wand. Ryan Giggs will testify to it.

"Everything goes through him," said the Manchester United player about the Deportivo La Coruña veteran after Wales held them to a goalless draw earlier this year. "He sits in front of the back four and controls their passing game. He orchestrates everything, and he's very experienced."

The 90 caps and 34 years only hint at just how experienced. El Toro - the Bull - was the Albirroja's playmaker at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, but then spent nearly three years in the international wilderness before being recalled - and starring in - the crucial 1-0 win at home to Argentina in September. Anibal Ruiz, the manager, now admits to a mistake in dropping him. What they lost in composure, they could double in heart. "El Toro sums us up," said Ruiz. "We are no slouches in the talent department but in spirit we have no equal. El Toro is our pulse. He will never stop and neither will we."

The man himself is of so few words that grunts are regarded as soliloquies. But when Acuna does speak, Paraguay listen and at his third World Cup he is determined to be heard. "There were times I thought I'd never be selected again," he said. "Fortunately, I was wrong. Now I feel like a kid again. I'm as excited and passionate as ever and still feel the same nerves I did before." On the pitch, though, he has a statue's habit of being affected by them.

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