Confident Valdez eyes South Africa
© AFP

A quick look back at the career of Nelson Haedo Valdez reveals the effect football can have on a young man's life. The Paraguayan international has been living in Germany for the past eight years, first plying his trade with Werder Bremen, who he helped to a league and cup double in 2003/04, before a switch to current club Borussia Dortmund in summer 2006.

The now 25-year-old grew up in the small village of San Joaquin in his homeland and began playing football at a youngster, joining second division club Atletico Tembetary at the age of 15. However, such were the meagre wages on offer, Valdez spent two years homeless and sleeping under the terraces at the stadium.

His money worries may have been eased since his 2001 move to Bremen and the Bundesliga, but the experienced striker has not forgotten his humble beginnings. Indeed, despite his lengthy spell in Europe, he has maintained his close ties with family and friends in back in Paraguay as well as providing them with financial support.

The man who led the Albirroja line at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the importance of family, his social responsibilities, his adopted homeland and the dream of reaching South Africa 2010.

FIFA.com: Nelson, you're a million miles away from where it all began in Paraguay. Looking back, what effect has football had on you and your family?
Nelson Valdez:
I have football to thank for the fact that I can now support my family so that they don't have to live like I did as a youngster. I only have positive things to say about the game and I wouldn't change a thing.

For me, family is the most important thing a man possesses. They give me energy and strength.
Nelson Valdez

You were just 18 when you left Paraguay and moved to Germany. What memories do you have of your first few months in Bremen? What was the biggest problem early on?
The biggest difficulties were the language and the cold German winters, but I have always been well looked after in Germany since the day I arrived.

You have four sisters and two brothers, so you're obviously very family-oriented. How important is it to maintain contact with your roots?
Very important. For me, family is the most important thing a man possesses. They give me energy and strength.

Can you tell us about the various social projects you're involved in back in Paraguay?
For a few years now I've been treating around 1,500 local children to a Christmas party back home and giving them footballs, toys and sweets. It's a wonderful feeling to look into the eyes of a happy child. My next project will be to start a charity supporting children.

You've been in Germany for over eight years now. What does the country mean to you?
You could say that Germany is my second home. I developed as a footballer here and I've also started my own family here.

As a Paraguay international, a Bundesliga title winner with Werder Bremen and being in your third year at Borussia Dortmund, are you pleased with your career so far?
Absolutely. I came to Germany to become a professional footballer. Now I'm 25 and I've achieved a lot more than that - I'm a regular international and I enjoy a great relationship with the Borussia Dortmund fans.

You first played for your country at the 2003 edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, despite the coach not having seen you play before. What memories do you have of that tournament and your first match in a Paraguay shirt?
Well, my mother cried with joy and the whole village celebrated back home. Personally it was a huge honour for me to play for my country.

You've been capped 31 times at senior level since. What does it mean to you to play for Paraguay?
The feeling of playing for Paraguay can't be put into words. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. When I'm representing my country I give everything I have for the shirt.

The feeling of playing for Paraguay can't be put into words. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Nelson Valdez

The 2009/10 season is an important one for you, between Dortmund's Bundesliga campaign and next year's FIFA World Cup finals. What are your goals for the next 12 months?
First of all I need to stay fit and healthy. If I do well with Dortmund then I'm sure I'll be in contention for a place in the Paraguay squad.

South Africa 2010 qualifying began well for Paraguay, who were cruising at the top of the standings. Yet the Albirroja have managed just one point from their last four matches and have slipped to third. What's your verdict on the team's current form?
We still have four games to go and three of those are at home. I'm sure we'll finish at least fourth so qualification shouldn't be a problem.

Two decisive home matches against Bolivia (5 September) and Argentina (8 September) are fast approaching. What are you hoping for from these two games?
We want to win them both. We'll be treating them as cup finals.

What would participating at a second FIFA World Cup finals mean to you?
It would be a fantastic honour to play at another World Cup finals. Every footballer dreams of that as a boy.

Finally, were you aware that on 6 August 2004 you went down in the Bundesliga history books? (At 23:13 that day Valdez found the net to record the latest ever goal in German top-flight football history)
Yes, of course. It was at the Weserstadion against Schalke and the lights went out. The repair work took ages so the match finished really late at night. It was worth the wait, though, because I scored the winning goal just before the end.