Although they will be appearing in their fifth FIFA Futsal World Cup, Paraguay have yet to emerge from the shadow cast by powerhouses Brazil and Argentina on the South American scene. They responded present at both the Netherlands 1989 and Hong Kong 1992 but missed the next two editions and only returned to the global stage at Chinese Taipei 2004. La Albirroja failed to progress beyond the group stage at that tournament, yet they made far more of an impact at Brazil 2008, topping Group B ahead of Italy before finishing bottom of a section also featuring Russia, Argentina and eventual runners-up Spain in the next round.
Paraguay have profited from a notable improvement in standards of late, securing memorable wins against hosts Uruguay and Argentina on their way to triumph at last year’s Copa Mercosur. They followed that up by taking third place at the 2011 Copa America de Futsal in Argentina and then sealing qualification for the FIFA Futsal World Cup in the regional qualifying event, advancing from Group B and reaching the final, which they lost to Argentina on penalties.
Having made such a strong impression during qualifying, La Albirroja will travel to Thailand 2012 determined to enjoy their best ever campaign. For team captain Fabio Alcaraz, they owe their progress to the excellent spirit among the players and the superb work of their Brazilian coach Fernando Leite. “We’ve been together since 2004 and it’s time for us to win,” he said. "We’re used to facing big teams and we like that. The new coach has helped us change our way of thinking and we owe him a lot.”
Facts and figures
Fabio Alcaraz, Juan Salas, Walter Villalba
Paraguay took runners-up spot in their qualifying section after seeing off Ecuador 3-0, Venezuela 6-0 and Uruguay 4-2, with a 7-2 loss to Colombia the only blip. They subsequently dispatched Brazil 5-3 after extra time in the semi-finals, before losing the showpiece 7-6 to Argentina on penalties.
The numbers game
8 – The number of players in Paraguay’s squad for the qualifiers who ply their trade overseas. All eight represent clubs in Italy, with three of them based at Roma: twin brothers Emmanuel and Gabriel Ayala, and Oscar Velazquez.