Torres the charm as Paraguay, Korea battle for history
History will be made when Paraguay and Korea Republic meet on Saturday in their quarter-final at the Olympic Football Tournament in Thessaloniki. Neither side has made it to the last four of the competition before and having missed big guns such as Argentina and Italy, the South American and Asian nations will fancy their chances for a place in the semi-finals.
For Aureliano Torres, the match represents the high point of his young career. Paraguay's left midfielder has been in sensational form since arriving in Greece fresh from helping the senior team to a quarter-final berth at the Copa America in Peru. In the opening match against Japan, he registered near double figures in shots, scoring one fine strike from 20 yards and having a blistering drive from 25 yards superbly saved. After the 2-1 setback versus Ghana, Torres followed up by providing the inch-perfect cross for Fredy Bareiro to head the winner against Italy.
"We were a bit cold against Italy at the start but we got better," said the softly spoken player. "We talked about the Ghana game afterwards and of having total concentration for the full 90 minutes. And against Italy I think we controlled the match. The Olympics is the biggest moment of my career."
Still 22, Torres does not have your average footballer's curriculum, though one becoming increasingly familiar with some South American players. Family and friends from the modest barrio of Luque new that the kid possessed a special talent even if others would be slow to appreciate it, and they gathered all the money they could to send the teenager to the big clubs around South America. To Brazil and Vasco da Gama, Banfield in Argentina and Mexico he journeyed. So much did he want to be a footballer, he even crossed the world to go to Japan only to be dealt the same unfortunate hand.
"It was always the same story," he reflects. "There would be a last-minute financial or contractual hitch and all would be lost."
It was with a melancholic face that after months away he re-entered his Paraguayan neighbourhood and returned home to the close confines of his family quarters.
But after so much suffering and struggle in fields far away his luck finally changed virtually on his own doorstep. It was back in Paraguay at Sol de America that Torres first became known thanks to some inspirational performances. At 21, he was snapped up by Guarani and this year played the Copa Libertadores. An impressed coach Carlos Jara, who Torres had known in Mexico, gave him a call.
Now the star's brother and six sisters are watching him rub shoulders with national heroes Carlos Gamarra, Jose Cardozo, Julio Cesar Enciso as well as the future lights of the game.
"We talk every day on the phone," he smiles. "They told me the whole barrio is cheering me on and how much it means to the whole country."
But the pleasure Torres' performances are bringing could also cause pain. The player makes no bones about the Olympics being a showcase for a move to the dreamland of Europe.
"The mentality of all Paraguay players is to find a club in Europe," he admits. "We are all anxious to do well so we might earn a big money move."
Where? There are favourites.
"I'm not picky but Spain or France would be good. Italy might be nice and England too," he laughs."
For the moment though, Korea is the focus.
"I think the Korea match will be very similar to Japan. They run a lot and are focused so it will not be easy," he says. "But if we can make it to the semi-finals, it will be a huge boost for our country. If we can win Gold, it would really be something special. On Saturday we want to make the first step."
Korea themselves have been preparing without much fuss after their 3-3 comeback against Mali meant they clinched second place in the group and an extended stay in Thessaloniki.
Coach Kim Ho Kon travelled to Athens to watch the final group game Paraguay-Italy but having drawn 1-1 with the South Americans just weeks before the start of the competition, he should know all about them.
"The atmosphere is better here (Thessaloniki) than the Olympic Village and allows my players to concentrate properly," said Kim, looking head. "We are now in a good position. Having avoided the best team in the tournament Argentina in the draw, we have a clear path to the final."
Like Torres, Korea and Paraguay seem to have discovered the fortunate path. The winners will face the victors of the Iraq-Australia clash in Heraklion. And with none of the four teams having made it to the final of an Olympic event before, a new nation will compete for Olympic gold in Athens on the morning of the 28 August.