The select band of players who have appeared in four FIFA World Cup™ finals welcomed a new member to their ranks on Friday when full-back Denis Caniza ran out for Paraguay in their final Group F match against New Zealand.
“Time flies doesn’t it,” the 35-year-old Caniza told FIFA moments after his side’s 0-0 draw with the Kiwis, a result that ensured Los Guaraníes would advance to the last 16 as the winners of their section.
“I have put a lot of hard work into preparing for this moment and I’m a very happy man today. It ¡s very exciting. I’d like to dedicate this achievement to my children, who’ll be able to enjoy it when they’re older. It’s also something I want to share with the team. Finishing top of the group is an historic moment for Paraguay.”
The first Paraguayan player to run out in four world finals, Caniza made his debut with the national side on 9 October 1996 in a France 1998 qualifying match against Chile. A member of the side that reached the last 16 in France, he also played two games at Korea/Japan 2002 and three at Germany 2006. Thursday’s match against New Zealand was also his 100th in the red and white striped jersey.
“It’s an honour for us to be here with Caniza because of everything he stands for in Paraguayan football,” said Roque Santa Cruz, another eminent figure in Gerardo Martino’s squad. “He’s an extremely important player for us and he knows how much everyone loves him. It takes a lot of discipline to make four World Cup finals and his experience and character make him a key figure. The team thinks the world of him and having him here has helped create an even better spirit in the camp.”
Putting talk of his landmark aside for a moment, Caniza looked back at the gritty 0-0 draw with the All Whites: “They were tough opponents and we tried as hard as we could to break through but to no avail. They put a lot of players behind the ball and denied us space, and though we managed to create a few chances, the ball wouldn’t go in. That said, at least we controlled the game and in the final analysis we have to be happy.”
So did the veteran expect La Albirroja to come out on top when the Final Draw was made back in December? “Yes,” he replied with conviction. “The team has been working together really well for three years now. We have some great players and all of them want to see the national side right up there. This is only the first step and there’s no reason why we have to settle just for this.”
Caniza has been there, seen and done it and has been passing on his experience of Paraguay’s Round-of-16 exits at France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002 to his team-mates. “It’s something we have spoken about,” he said. “We can’t afford to relax and celebrate what we’ve done so far if we want to make history. This achievement is nothing special for Paraguay now, and the key part of the competition is only just beginning. This World Cup has been very evenly balanced so far. We’ve seen France go out and Italy from our group too, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t still be in the hunt in the final week.”