Paraguay raise the bar
© AFP

Like any sportsmen worth their salt, the Paraguay youngsters are striving hard to be in peak condition and achieve new goals when they step out at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 later this month. Under the guidance of Adrian Coria, Los Guaraníes surprised everyone when they took the runners-up spot in the South American qualifying competition back in February. In an exclusive chat with FIFA.com, the Argentinian coach outlined the reasons behind their unexpected success.

"We had to go and look for players in the lower leagues because there weren't any in the first division," he explained. "Then, when we went to Venezuela, we had very little idea how we would respond in a competition like that. Even so, things worked out well for us and we managed to qualify for Egypt and finish runners-up, something we really deserved."

Thanks to their performances at the continental championship, several of Coria's charges have opened up exciting new career horizons. "It was amazing because quite a few of the players went off to Europe, Argentina and Mexico after the tournament," Coria continued.

If we can improve on the level we showed in Venezuela, we could achieve something big.
Paraguay coach Adrian Coria

"The competitive football they've been exposed to over these last six months could be vital at the World Cup, as long as we know how to make the most of it. If we can improve on the level we showed in Venezuela, we could achieve something big."

So, what do the young Paraguayans have to do to improve? "Find some balance," replied the coach, who has been in the job since 2007. "Before, Paraguay always had the ability to score goals, which was something that caused us a problem because we found it hard to win the ball back.

"You also have to remember that more and more national teams now have gifted individuals in their line-ups, which means we have to play a pressing game to set ourselves apart. We have to be an awkward team without losing our balance. The key to that is the wide midfielders. They have to get forward but also get back and stay tight with the other lines."

Another area that Coria feels his side need to work on is set-pieces. "We had a few problems with them and that was down to experience and concentration," he said. "It's something we can work on when we're all together, though, and playing a few practice matches with the national team ahead of the World Cup qualifiers will be really helpful."

A stiff test
Drawn into Group A at Egypt 2009, La Albirroja start their campaign against Italy. "The opening match is never easy and if we're not on top of our game that day, we could pay dearly for it," warned Coria. "They're a typical European team and they rarely lose their shape. To beat them we need to be as organised or even more organised than they are."

The Argentinian is also wary of his side's second opponents, tournament hosts Egypt. "They're a brave side, physically strong and commanding in the air although they're not very technical. The fact that they're the hosts means other things will come into play as they'll be used to the pitch, the stadium and the weather. Those things can make the difference but if we want to do well we have to go out and beat everyone."

Posing the final hurdle in the section will be Trinidad and Tobago. "We played them in a six-team tournament in Venezuela and won 4-1," said Coria. "I didn't think much of their football that day, but they were a totally different side against Brazil a few days later. They played with a lot of skill and created a lot of chances."

Doing his homework on future opponents is an integral part of Coria's job and a determining factor when it comes to selecting the right gameplan. "I always take the other side into consideration when choosing tactics, though I never take risks or put into practice something we've never done before or aren't used to doing," he remarked. 

Hard work and big dreams
While recognising that a first-round exit would be both surprising and disappointing, the Paraguay coach is cautious when it comes to assessing his side's chances of winning the tournament. "We've always tried to get places by working hard and we're putting in a lot of work ahead of the World Cup," he said.

"If that takes us all the way, then that's just great. I always set myself goals and I always dream. I've never stopped doing that and I'm not going to stop now, because winning the World Cup would be the crowning moment of my career."

Given Paraguay's dramatic progress under his stewardship, Coria could well be fulfilling that dream come 16 October.