Paraguay's qualification for New Zealand 2008 may have surprised a lot of people, but not coach Carlos Baez and his players. The Albirroja squad at the South American qualifying tournament in Chile was short on years but not experience, with no fewer than 17 of the 20 players having already made their debuts in Paraguay's top flight.
Right from the start, Paraguay decided it would be all or nothing in the qualifiers, and their record of four wins and three defeats in Chile is testimony to that. The team's impressive forward play (22 goals in 7 games) not only made them joint top scorers alongside champions Colombia, but it also secured them a berth at FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup New Zealand 2008 despite conceding an incredible 17 goals along the way.
While their defence is clearly an area that needs improving, their third-place finish - they were in the running for the title right up to the last day - is proof that the Guaraníes will be in New Zealand on merit.
Paraguay hit the ground running in Group B, recording high-scoring wins against Peru (4-1), Uruguay (4-1) and Venezuela (6-0). Their first reverse, a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Brazil in their final group game, meant they proceeded to the final phase as runners-up from their section.
A further defeat in their opening game of the second phase, this time to Argentina (2-1), did not augur well for their qualification prospects. However, Paraguay then exacted revenge on Brazil (4-1) with another master class in attacking football, a result that enabled them to book a place in New Zealand despite a painful last-day rout at the hands of Colombia (7-2).
Born on 1st November 1958, Carlos Baez was a respected professional who spent his entire playing career at Cerro Porteno, representing his country at both youth and senior level. After serving his coaching apprenticeship with several provincial sides, he managed a string of first division outfits, including 12 de Octubre, Sportivo 2 de Mayo, Guarani, 3 de Febrero and former club Cerro Porteno, before taking up the reins of the national women's youth sides in August 2007.
Without question, the deadly strike partnership of Karen Ruiz Diaz and Rebeca Fernandez will feature prominently in New Zealand. The latter, who will turn 17 during the tournament and plays her football with Asuncion side Olimpia, was the top-scorer at the Sudamericano with seven goals. For her part, Fernandez, who is a month younger and plays for city rivals Cerro Porteno, finished joint third top-scorer in Chile with five goals. Between them they accounted for more than half their side's goal tally at the event (12 of 22).
What they said...
"We deserved better than third place, as we lost an incredible game to Argentina after missing three penalties. We really had a team capable of competing for that title, but it wasn't to be. Nevertheless, we're happy to have qualified, and we'll go to New Zealand ready to face a similar challenge," Paola Genes, Paraguay midfielder.
|3||Cris Mabel FLORES|
|9||Karen RUIZ DIAZ|