Having defied the odds to qualify for next month’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014, tournament newcomers Paraguay are daring to dream of big things when the finals get under way.
Thrilled to have made the grade at January’s South American qualifiers in Uruguay, the Paraguayans have since produced some impressive performances in their warm-up games, boosting coach Julio Carlos Gomez’s hopes of a successful stay in Canada.
“Judging by the friendlies we’ve played, I think we can expect to do well at the tournament,” he said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “I think we’re capable of getting through to the knockout phase and maybe even reaching the final.”
As Gomez went on to explain, their performance in this year’s South American U-20 Women’s Championship was the result of two years of diligent preparations: “We did a lot of work with the aim of improving our performance at an international level, and those preparations have paid off because we managed to qualify with players from schools and colleges, and not just clubs.”
Gomez and his charges have been aided in their task by a development project run by the Paraguayan Football Association and supported by its president, Juan Angel Napout: “We opened the doors to every single girl who wanted to play football and we got a great response, so much so that we managed to qualify for the tournament for the first time.”
Making the right moves
As far as the Albirrojas coach is concerned, the U-20 side’s recent progress has much to do with another landmark achievement for Paraguayan women’s football, namely the U-17 team’s maiden FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup appearance in Costa Rica earlier this year. As the coach of that side too, Gomez learned some valuable lessons that he is hoping to draw on in taking his U-20 side to Canada.
“The U-17’s were physically well prepared for the South American championships, but the level at the World Cup is a different thing entirely,” explained the coach, who has named four members of the U-17 side that played in Costa Rica in his squad for Canada.
“I think we’ve done the right thing in focusing more on the team’s physical preparations, but we’re only going to find out for sure when we get to Canada and start playing,” he added. “That’s when we’re going to know if we did our homework right or if we need to take a fresh look at things.”
Aside from physical fitness, another aspect of vital importance to Gomez is the balance between attack and defence. “When you have a good attack you can score goals, but what happens if you’re also weak at the back?” he said. “What you gain with the attack you can easily lose with the defence, if it’s not properly organised.”
Gomez will be keen to avoid such problems when his team launch their campaign in Group D, where they will face Costa Rica, France and New Zealand. Contemplating the task ahead, he said: “Every team has their strengths and weaknesses. Our job is to study our rivals, just like they study us. It’s like a game of chess and the coach’s role is fundamental.”
Echoing the views expressed by the team’s chief goal threat, Jessica Martinez, who said she believes Las Albirrojas have what it takes to reach the last four, the upbeat Gomez signed off on an optimistic note. “We’ve really come on with our fitness, and we’ve also made great strides in terms of tactics and technique since the South American championships,” he explained. “‘If you don’t dream, you die', or so the saying goes, and our dream is to be there as one of the four semi-finalists.”