Paraguay reap the fruits of 20 years of solid work (Team Profile)

Asuncion, Nov 28 (DPA) The regularity of the appearance of Paraguay’s national football team at international competitions over the past 20 years is no fluke, but rather the consequence of well-planned, goals-oriented work within stable structures.

That is why it was no surprise to most that Paraguay dominated the first leg of the South American World Cup qualifiers, and that they reached South Africa 2010 only one point behind Brazil and tied with Chile, although with a worse goal difference.

Without any global superstars, Paraguay rely on teamwork and solidarity. Players all help each other, they strive for a common goal and regularly show on the pitch that the law of least effort is not their chosen path to success.

They have managed to sneak into the realm of South American football giants, and now long to confirm they are among the best teams in the world in South Africa.

This will be Paraguay’s eighth World Cup, and their fourth consecutive participation. They hope to make it at least to the second round, as they did in 1986, 1998 and 2002.

In recent years, Paraguay’s football officials have acknowledged foreign coaches’ authority in shaping the national team’s development.

Uruguayans Sergio Markarian and Anibal Ruiz, Brazilian Paulo Cesar Carpegiani, and now Argentine Gerardo Martino have all played a key role.

Managers imposed a leadership style that made the most of the natural qualities of Paraguayan football and convinced footballers that they could play as well as the best, humbly but without inferiority complexes.

As a result, Paraguay now have a well-defined style on the pitch, based on a very firm defence and reliable counter-attacking ability.

Valladolid’s Justo Villar is reliable in goal, and the Paraguayan tradition of solid defenders persists.

Midfielders provide hard work, and players like Manchester City’s Roque Santa Cruz, Borussia Dortmund’s Nelson Haedo, America’s Salvador Cabanas and Benfica’s Oscar Cardozo are generally very efficient and make the most of the few chances created with Paraguay’s rocky style of play.

The Coach:

Gerardo Martino, 47, made a name for himself as an attacking midfielder in the Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys, before launching a coaching career in 1998, in a second-category club in his native Argentina.

In 2002, he got a break-through offer to coach Libertad, the start of a long and successful relationship with Paraguayan football. After leading Libertad and Cerro Porteno to several local titles, Martino was called upon to coach the national team from 2007.

The Star:

Roque Santa Cruz, 28, made his professional debut at 16, with the club Olimpia in his native Asuncion. By 17, the tall striker had played with the senior national team in the prestigious Copa America.

At 18, Santa Cruz joined Bayern Munich, although his eight-year run with the German giants was plagued by injuries and he failed to live up to expectations. A more successful stint with Blackburn Rovers was the springboard that took him to the star-studded Manchester City earlier this year.

Factfile:

Nicknames: Guaranies, La Albirroja (White and red)

Founded: 1906

FIFA affiliation: 1925

Highest FIFA ranking: 8 – March 2001

Lowest FIFA ranking: 103 – May 1995

Previous World Cup appearances: 7 (1930, 1950, 1958, 1986, 1998, 2002, 2006)

Best World Cup performance: Round of 16 (1986, 1998, 2002)

Date qualified for finals: Sep 9, 2009