Expectation was high in Paraguay as the 9am kick-off time approached. Saturday's papers were full of hope. ABC, the biggest- selling daily, had a full front page cartoon of Peter Crouch being outjumped by the Paraguay captain, Carlos Gamarra, who had a pair of Zebedee-sized springs tied to his boots as he headed the ball clear.
In the Paraguayan capital Asuncion large flags were draped across balconies, smaller ones flapped from car aerials, while men, women and children in fake replica tops (good quality and good value at £2 from any street corner) were spoilt for choice as to where to watch the match. Retail centres and supermarkets were offering big screens, Asuncion's main railway station would not be announcing train departures but transmitting live commentary through its public address system instead.
I opted to join a couple of hundred others in front of the big screen in a supermarket restaurant. Many tables had bottles of beer in iced buckets despite the early hour. However, compared to their Brazilian and Argentinian neighbours, Paraguayans are notably calm football watchers. It may have something to do with the country's political history. The brutal dictatorship has not only led to a higher proportion of men called Adolf than might be consider decent but also, after nearly 40 years of 10pm curfews every night, which ended only in 1989, a nation still some way removed from the noisy and excitable samba dancers next door.
Conceding a goal after just three minutes was not conducive to wild cheering either. Carlos Gamarra really did leap and outjump all the opposition as if on springs, but unfortunately he headed the ball into his own net. The rest of the first half was played out in virtual silence. "The game lacks rhythm," said the commentator. "The game lacks football," his sidekick responded.In the second half the crowd became more animated as their team started to show some spirit, but nobody leapt out of their seat.
As the match petered out the sidekick remarked: "Well, at least we learnt that Roque Santa Cruz was fit to last the 90 minutes ... walking." Then the manager Anibal Ruiz was on the screen. "We controlled the second half," he said. "I honestly believe we deserved a draw."
His words were falling on deaf ears. The rest of the day had a rather surreal feel to it, people quietly going about their business in replica tops and glum faces. Yesterday's papers agreed with Ruiz, with ABC putting it particularly colourfully. "The Paraguayan soup," it said on the front pages, "so well prepared for the fiesta, turned into English pudding."Reuse content