2010 proved to be a remarkable year for Paraguay and particularly their centre-back Antolin Alcaraz. The 28-year-old carved a small niche in his nation’s football history with the team’s opening goal of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ as La Albirroja collected a well-deserved 1-1 draw against reigning champions Italy.
Despite featuring infrequently during qualifying, Alcaraz featured in four of five matches in Paraguay’s historic run to the quarter-finals. Following South Africa 2010 came a move to the English Premier League and Wigan Athletic, where the defender was quickly appointed vice-captain.
FIFA.com spoke to Alcaraz about his experiences at last year’s FIFA World Cup, Paraguay’s expectations for the upcoming Copa America and the process of adjusting to life in the Premier League.
FIFA.com: How did it feel to score against Italy at the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
Antolin Alcaraz: I can’t say what I felt at that moment, all I can say is that it was the most emotional moment of my entire career. This game had everything for me, it was my first start at a World Cup, and to start the game against the reigning champions, there was a lot of expectation. I never expect to be the one to score, I was already happy enough to be playing against Italy in the opening game of the World Cup. So it was amazing to score and I don’t think I can really describe my feelings at that point - happy isn’t nearly a strong enough world to describe it. Sometimes I think back to that goal and I still can’t believe it!
What does it mean for a footballer to play in a FIFA World Cup?
For me, it is the highest point in anyone’s career. When anyone starts a job they want to reach the highest point possible and I feel the World Cup is top the of the football world. You can play in competitions such as the Premier League, Europa League, Champions League but I think the World Cup is still as high as they come in football. Everyone wants to play in it, but being selected in your nation’s squad of 23 players is amazing..
Paraguay surprised a lot of people by reaching the quarter-finals. Did it surprise you?
No, I wasn’t surprised because we had a good qualification and had a belief in our side and felt we had the quality to reach the quarter-finals. There were a lot of surprises in the first round with France and Italy both being eliminated, so it was a strange World Cup. You also saw in the way other teams were performing that small teams were challenging bigger ones, and there wasn’t a huge difference in quality. No one thought Slovakia and Paraguay would qualify while Italy would be eliminated for instance. Japan, Korea Republic and Chile, all produced surprises at this World Cup as the smaller teams are progressing more and more. Before, the big players were all from Brazil, Argentina and countries such as this, but now you have great players from Russia, the Czech Republic and all over who appear at the World Cup. I think it is good to see this variety there and in the Champions League
What will the targets be for Paraguay at this year's Copa America?
Like the World Cup, we will try to play our game, take the matches one at a time and try to win them all if possible. I think now because we did well in the qualifying for the World Cup people will expect more from us in the Copa America, I think everybody is already seeing Paraguay in the final! Normally this is good, for the team and the people, but the most important thing will be working hard to get off to a good start in our first game.
The Paraguay squad seems to be very close-knit. Do you still keep in touch with the likes of Roque Santa Cruz and Cristian Riveros now you are in England?
Yes, I speak to them all the time, but it doesn’t matter where we are as I still keep in contact with the rest of the squad. We aren’t just team-mates, we are friends as well and I speak to guys who are in Germany and Spain. When we get the chance to travel together as part of the team, it is a great moment.
You are performing well in the Premier League. Do you think it suits your style?
I adapt my style depending on where I go. I’ve already learnt that this competition is entirely different to any other I’ve played in before, the football is totally different. Now I know more, but the first couple of months were difficult. At the moment I can’t say I feel I’ve 100 per cent adapted to the English game but I try to do my best and adapt as best I can.
You will have already come across a number of great strikers. Is there anyone in particular that really stood out for you?
Everybody’s good, I don’t think I can say any single one in particular! The ones at the big teams - (Robin) Van Persie, (Didier) Drogba, (Wayne) Rooney - are very good but there are so many good players in the league and the other teams all have very good forwards. Every game has given me the opportunity to play against good attackers, and this is what I want in my career, to play against the best and advance myself in my position.