There are few national-team coaches in world football that would not jump at the chance to call on forwards of the calibre of Paraguay's Nelson Haedo Valdez, Lucas Barrios and Roque Santa Cruz. The first two have been finding the net with regularity as strike partners at Borussia Dortmund and the latter is a proven performer on the European stage, thus justifying coach Gerardo Martino's decision to deploy all three in his side's second Group F encounter against Slovakia.
Continually teasing and stretching the opposition backline, the gifted trio helped provide the space for midfielders Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros to grab the goals in an impressive 2-0 victory. "We knew that we had a lot of freedom to go forward and help the team," Vera told FIFA after the game. "El Profe [Martino] is always telling us to do that. That's one of the benefits of having strikers able to drag markers out of position and create spaces."
Voted Budweiser Man of the Match, not least because of his fine clipped strike, the Paraguay No13 gave his team-mates an outlet on the right-hand side throughout the encounter at the Free State Stadium. "It means so much to me to have scored at a World Cup, and to be honest I never ever imagined it," said Vera, who plays his club football in Ecuador for Liga de Quito. "The most unbelievable thing is I didn't even see it hit the net. I managed to get a touch on the ball and heard the crowd roar, which is how I realised I'd scored."
"Nelson, Roque and Lucas did a spectacular job and made things easier for us midfielders," said Riveros, who chipped in with three goals in Paraguay's qualifying campaign prior to his strike here. "They fight, scrap, create spaces and give us the chance to steal in unmarked. In my case the goal came during a move involving another striker, [Oscar] Cardozo. What they [the forwards] do for the team is really important."
Putting the team first
Barrios, for his part, was still clearly delighted with the three points despite not featuring among the scorers. "I'm well aware that you can't always be the one in the limelight. Today the job I did wasn't as eye-catching on an individual level but it did help the team," said the Argentina-born former Colo Colo star, whose deft pass created Vera's opener. "That’s how it is, Vera got the goal but we all celebrated it. That's what real teamwork is all about."
Singing from the same hymn sheet was Barrios's club-mate Haedo Valdez. "I had to do more of the dirty work than usual, but it was worth it," he said. "The midfielders know how to play too and every goal counts, whoever puts them away." The final word went to Riveros, whose powerful left-foot shot sealed all three points in the 86th minute. "We wanted to win and dedicate it to all the dads in Paraguay on Fathers' Day. That's why I ran to the camera when I scored and that's why I'm repeating this now – this win is for them all."