The year 2010 was a momentous one in the career of Argentinian-born Paraguay international Lucas Barrios, who made his bow for La Albirroja and went on to take part at his first ever FIFA World Cup™. After helping his adopted country to the quarter-finals at South Africa 2010, their best-ever performance at the competition, Barrios has been an influential figure in Borussia Dortmund’s storming start to the 2010/11 Bundesliga campaign.
In an interview with FIFA.com, the powerful front-man gave his views on issues including his determination to keep Dortmund at the top of the table, Paraguay’s bid for glory at the 2011 Copa America and Los Guaraníes’ epic last-eight tussle with Spain in South Africa.
FIFA.com: What’s your verdict on the season so far, with Dortmund clear at the top of the table and having scored more and conceded fewer than any other Bundesliga side?
Lucas Barrios: Fantastic. Perhaps not even the most optimistic Dortmund supporters believed we’d enjoy such a good first half of the season. We had a very good pre-season and we started the campaign highly motivated and with high hopes of performing well. That’s been vital to our good displays out on the pitch and how well we all get on off it. Things have been going really well around here and we expect to continue working hard to stay where we are and win the title.
Given the Bundesliga’s status as arguably the most competitive of Europe’s top leagues, what will Dortmund need to do to stay out in front?
At no point must we think we’ve already got it in the bag, whether there are 15, ten, five or one matchday still to play. We need to keep in mind that, as long as someone is still chasing us, there’s a chance we can miss out, so we need to fight to the end to make sure our rivals can’t catch us. In brief, we just need to keep our heads. That’s the secret of our success so far, and it’s what can keep us at the top of the table and win us the title.
Which teams do you consider to be your biggest threats?
That’s a very tricky one, because the teams in the chasing pack behind Dortmund are bunched really closely together. Even so, albeit cautiously, I’d pick three teams: Mainz, who despite their dip in performances late in the year, proved their quality at the start of the season; [Bayer] Leverkusen, who’ve stayed close throughout and, apart from us, are the team to have lost fewest games; and Bayern Munich, who are a German footballing giant and can never be underestimated.
The Borussia Dortmund faithful are considered among the most fanatical in the world. How have the supporters responded this season, given it’s the club’s first serious title push for several years?
Listen, the atmosphere that’s whipped up in our stadium on matchdays is breathtaking, and in my view it’s incomparable. What our fans do is incredibly exciting and any player would get caught up in it. It makes us run twice as hard, put more effort in... Everything’s so much better when we’re playing at home and we can see those fanatical and passionate supporters. Aside from our own will to win, we also don’t want to let them down and want them to be happy and pleased after every game. Unfortunately, we can’t win all the time, but we do everything in our power to make them happy, because the way they spur us on is amazing.
What can you tell us about your strike partner Shinji Kagawa, who has enjoyed a fine first season in German football since arriving in summer 2010?
He’s a young player who’s adapted really well to the German game. He’s given us an injection of those qualities we know Japanese football has in abundance, such as speed and agility. He’s a great strike partner and he’s made a big contribution so far this campaign.
Moving on to international football, do you intend to keep playing for Paraguay? Have you kept in touch with your Albirroja colleagues?
Yes, no doubt about it – I want to keep playing for Paraguay for a long time to come. I only started playing for them in 2010 and I’ve already been to a World Cup. It was a great feeling and a great experience. I want to work really hard to ensure Paraguay qualify for the next edition in Brazil and, if it’s possible and I can keep up my form, I’d like to take part in another World Cup. Without a doubt, one of my career goals is to keep playing for Paraguay and to make history in the national-team jersey.
Give us your view on the rousing reception the Paraguayan squad were given by the fans on their return from South Africa?
It was really thrilling. We set off from Paraguay knowing that our chances of winning the title were slim, since we’d be up against some very good national sides. So we took a realistic approach and worked towards putting in a good campaign and being able to come back with our heads held high. Given our level of expectation, we managed to achieve our objectives and we all came back from Africa very pleased with how we’d done. The way the fans responded to us reflected the way all the players were feeling at that moment too.
Now that you’ve had plenty of time to reflect on South Africa 2010, did you and your Paraguay colleagues realise just how close you came to knocking out eventual winners Spain? Is that match still fresh in your mind?
That was a very tense game. We knew that Spain were among those teams with the best chance of winning the world title, so we set out our stall to stop them playing and try to catch them on break at some point. Even so, they were still able to cope very well, but we did what we set out to do, which was to make their lives difficult and not let them make many goalscoring chances. It was very difficult to hold on, but we nearly took them to extra time, as [David] Villa’s winner only came very late in the second half. But looking back now, and knowing they went on to become world champions, it’s hard not to think about that game and imagine how close we came to altering the course of that World Cup.
The next major tournament for Paraguay is this year’s Copa America in Argentina, which should be fiercely contested on the evidence of the South American teams’ displays at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. What do you expect from this tournament and can Paraguay win the title?
In any South American competition everybody always picks out Brazil and Argentina as the favourites, given they boast top players in greater numbers and have a rich footballing pedigree. But I think what we achieved in Africa boosts our stature and gives us a belief that we can aim to do more than just take part. We’ve got good players in Paraguay and I think we need to believe in our potential. For example, we topped the standings in qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa for a large chunk of the competition and ended up with one of the best records. We came in just one point behind Brazil, and we won more games than them. On that basis, why shouldn’t we believe we can win the title?
Finally, what are your main goals for 2011?
Well, to recap what I’ve already said, in 2011 I really want to win the Bundesliga title with Dortmund and challenge for the Copa America crown with Paraguay. So, my overwhelming objective is to win something in 2011 and anything other than that will be a letdown. But I’ve very hopeful and my confidence is high.