Rojas ready to go the distance
© AFP

Described as quick, skilful and able to play on either flank, Paraguay winger Jorge Rojas shares the same qualities as France’s Franck Ribery, a player he admires greatly. And like the Bayern Munich star, the flying Rojas also has an eye for goal, a quality he demonstrated in his side’s FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 opener against Mali.

After going a goal down inside three minutes, Victor Genes’ side hit back almost immediately through Rojas, his goal completing the scoring as the Paraguayans began their Group D campaign with a valuable draw.

“We were nervous in the first 15-20 minutes but the good thing is that we found a way back into the game quickly,” the goalscoring wing man told FIFA.com before adding that he believes they are very much in the hunt for a berth in the Round of 16.

It is proving to be a very important year in Rojas’ career development. As well as raising his profile in a world finals competition, the rising star has recently put pen to paper on a five-year deal with Benfica.

“I’m very happy with the move,” he said. “I’m joining up with the team after the World Cup and I’ll do the pre-season with them.”

His arrival in Lisbon will swell the club’s Paraguayan contingent to three, with Oscar Tacuara Cardozo and Lorenzo Melgarejo already comfortably installed in the Portuguese capital and sure to help the new boy settle in quickly.

As well as a colleague of his in the national team, Rojas is also a big admirer of the powerful Guaraní striker. “Tacuara’s my favourite player and he’s done really well in Portugal.”

Quick on the break
Though Rojas’s rise to the top has only just begun, his journey to this point has been quite a long one, as he explained: “When I was a boy I played in the street in my neighbourhood and my dad always bought me balls. I loved playing football. I did it every day, and when I was 12 I told my mum that I wanted to go to Asuncion (the capital of Paraguay) to play. So she took me.”

With his home town of Concepcion lying several hours from the capital by car, Rojas had no option but to move to the big city to pursue his dream. After spending a year at Nacional’s academy, he signed for Cerro Porteno, one of the country’s leading clubs, living for several years with a friend of the family. His first-team debut came when he was 18, since when everything has happened very quickly.

After their solid start in Turkey, Rojas and his Albirrojita team-mates are now waiting impatiently for their next game, which comes against Mexico on Tuesday. They while away the hours between matches by chatting, listening to music and challenging each other to games on PlayStation.

As Rojas admitted, however, he is a far better player on the pitch than off it. “I’m really bad on the PlayStation,” he laughed before revealing that the team’s console king is Derlis Gonzalez, another of Paraguay’s stars. “He’s really good. I prefer just to sit and watch the others play.”

The waiting will soon be over for the South American side, whose next opponents have a point to prove after going down to Greece in their first match, making Tuesday’s mission in Gaziantep even more hazardous.

“They play very good football and pass it around, though they do leave spaces too,” he said. That last factor could well be the key to the game, and even though they did not show it against the Malians, Paraguay’s biggest strength is their ability to hit teams hard on the break, as they demonstrated in finishing runners-up at the South American U-20 Championships.

“We are very fast on the counter,” said the speedy winger. “We’ll need to make a few changes against Mexico, but the key is to give it everything we’ve got and maintain our intensity. We’re getting stronger and I think we can go far.”

Rojas may not be much of a threat with a console in his hand but as the Mexicans will no doubt find out on Tuesday, he is a very different proposition with the ball at his feet.