Points to prove for Barreto
© AFP

As he tells FIFA.com, Paraguay’s Edgar Barreto is especially looking forward to their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ debut against reigning champions Italy in Cape Town on 15 June. The 25-year-old holding midfielder has unfinished business from four years ago and is anxious to atone for that frustrating experience and make his maiden start at the world finals.

“I’d been playing in the build-up to Germany 2006 but when we got there I wasn't given a starting place,” he explains. “I only came on for a few minutes against Sweden and then against Trinidad and Tobago, when we were already out of the tournament. I don’t mind admitting that I’m waiting for that day to come so I can put things right.”

You don’t really see what I do on the pitch, although the coach obviously does. He wouldn’t call me up otherwise!
Barreto on his worker's role for Paraguay

Despite starting 12 of his side’s 18 qualifying matches in the CONMEBOL Zone, Barreto knows he is not yet certain of a place in Gerardo Martino’s starting XI. Yet, given his selfless contributions to the cause, he cannot be too far from his coach’s thoughts.

“I’m not a standard bearer for Paraguayan football like Roque (Santa Cruz), Haedo (Valdez) and Salvador (Cabanas), so I have to work hard at what I do,” he says in reference to his virtues. “You don’t really see what I do on the pitch, although the coach obviously does. He wouldn’t call me up otherwise!”

Currently plying his trade with Atalanta in Italy’s Serie A, the midfielder has been out of action since November due to a hairline fracture in a toe on his left foot. Frustratingly, a similar injury to another toe on the same foot has delayed his return, not that he believes his chances of starting against the Italians have diminished because of that. “The month leading up to the World Cup will be vital,” he explains. “That’s when we all get together and there’ll be others in the same situation as me. Right now all I’m thinking about is getting fit again and making myself available for Martino.” 

A steady rise
Born in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion, Barreto came up through the youth ranks at his hometown club of Cerro Porteno, one of the biggest sides in the land. His first division debut came in 2002, followed by his departure for Europe two years later, though he has every intention of returning home to attend to yet more unfinished business. “I want to win the league in the Cerro shirt and my aim is to go back and do just that,” he vows. 

Thanks to his ball-winning and distribution skills and ability to shoot from distance, Barreto made his mark with the national youth teams, appearing at both the FIFA U-17 World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2001 and the FIFA U-20 World Cup UAE 2003.

His breakthough year would come in 2004. That January he made a big impression in the qualifying competition for the Athens 2004 Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, where he helped La Albirroja knock out Brazil. A few days later he joined Dutch club NEC Nijmegen, going on to make his full international debut in a friendly against Costa Rica that July. He capped it all the following month by winning a historic silver medal at Athens 2004 along with his brother Diego, now keeping goal for Cerro Porteno.

No one was surprised when the then Paraguay coach Anibal Ruiz called him up for a Germany 2006 qualifier against Venezuela that September. From then on Barreto became a permanent fixture in the side, which made Ruiz’s decision to relegate him to the bench for their opening match of the finals against England all the more surprising. 

Taking an objective line
As far as the Atalanta man is concerned, there is a lesson to be learned from Paraguay’s first round elimination in Germany. “There was no good reason for it although losing the first match turned out to be decisive in the end. We’re starting out against another great side this time too, and it will be important to get a good result against the Italians. If we can do that, it will settle our nerves for the other games because there won’t be that same pressure on us to win.”

A confirmed admirer of Andrea Pirlo, Barreto is wary of their other opponents in Group F. “Slovakia qualified ahead of some very good teams and that shows you what we can expect from them,” he says. “I don’t know too much about New Zealand, but I’m sure they have their strong points. The thing about little-known teams is they can always surprise you. Senegal’s defeat of France in 2002 springs to mind, and that’s why we need to study them in depth.”

It’s hard to see us being among the favourites. We want to improve on what we did at Germany and then get past the Round of 16, which has always been a stumbling block for Paraguay.
Barreto on his hopes for South Africa 2010

And when talk turns to Paraguayan objectives, the defensive midfielder takes a realistic stance. “It’s hard to see us being among the favourites. We want to improve on what we did at Germany and then get past the Round of 16, which has always been a stumbling block for Paraguay. Our aim is to go as far as possible, and I’m convinced the squad can pull off a shock or two.”

Before he signs off, Barreto identifies another objective of his at South Africa: scoring another goal for La Albirroja - he has only ever scored one, against the USA in the 2007 Copa America. In his career with Cerro, NEC Nijmegen, Reggina and Atalanta he has hit the back of the net 19 times, most of those goals coming from right-footed strikes from distance. A long-range missile against the Italians would be just about the perfect way for him to extend his international account.

“Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that the national side plays a more defensive game. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to score my second goal against Italy though? I hope it works out that way and I can help the team win.”