Sad exit for Paraguay's old guard
Anibal Maño Ruiz's Paraguay arrived in Germany brimming with optimism. Their intentions were crystal clear: to equal or better the achievements of France 98 and Korea/Japan 2002 when the South Americans reached the second round.
Sadly, it was not to be for Ruiz's men, who returned home having picked up just three points from their three Group B encounters. Their hopes were ended by narrow defeats in their opening two matches. Carlos Gamarra's unfortunate own goal handed England victory in the group opener, before Freddie Ljungberg's late header turned Paraguay's FIFA World Cup dreams to dust in their second game against Sweden .
A 2-0 win over debutants Trinidad and Tobago provided scant consolation for those disappointing reverses. "I take sole responsibility for our elimination," declared coach Ruiz in an interview with FIFAworldcup.com, shouldering the blame for his side's mistakes and an early flight home.
Go to the Paraguay team page
Foremost among those failings were the coach's defensive gameplans, with the Paraguayans doing virtually all their attacking on the break in an effort to capitalise on the power and aerial prowess of Roque Santa Cruz and Nelson Valdez. The Bayern Munich man was well short of full fitness after being laid up for several months with a right-knee injury and only made his return to competitive action against England. His strike partner was full of enthusiasm but lacked the support from his team-mates to translate that energy into goals.
Following that farewell victory over Trinidad and Tobago, Ruiz, perhaps feeling the pressure from the national media, intimated he would almost certainly resign from the post on returning to the Paraguayan capital Asuncion. Although it is seen by many as an entirely logical step, as yet there has been no official word on his resignation.
The optimism of December, when Ruiz declared after the draw in Leipzig that there was no better way of starting their campaign than against the 1966 champions, quickly evaporated in the heat of the German summer. After the Scandinavians had put paid to their hopes of progressing, Ruiz rounded on his increasingly vociferous critics in typically forthright style. "All you have to do is stick a newspaper under your arm and you're a football expert," he boomed.
End of an era
The early departure from Germany 2006 brings to an end a glorious chapter in Paraguayan footballing history, with Roberto Acuna and Gamarra joining the legendary Jose Luis Chilavert, Jose Cardozo and Celso Ayala by calling time on their international careers.
Their retirement opens the way for a talented generation of young players intent on taking Paraguay to new heights. Promising goalkeeper Aldo Bobadilla, central defender Julio Cesar Caceres, midfielders Edgar Barreto and Julio Dos Santos, and strikers Valdez, Santa Cruz and Nelson Cuevas, will almost certainly be the standard-bearers as the Guaraníes embark on the long road to South Africa 2010.