“He plays the same way he lives.” That description perfectly sums up Paraguay’s Enrique Vera, a hard-working midfielder who has quietly become a vital cog in the Albirroja side that clinched a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Though Vera is about to contest his first world finals at the age of 30, that is not what makes his such a fascinating story. On the point of giving up the game altogether, he then toyed with the idea of pulling on the yellow shirt of Ecuador. FIFA.com reveals the reasons why as Vera prepares to make his entrance on the biggest stage of all.
Life’s little ups and downs
When he took his first steps in professional football, Vera had to divide his time between training, working and studying. “I began playing for Resistencia in the Paraguayan second division in 1999 and I only got to play a couple of games in the top flight for Sol de America,” he explains. “I tried my luck in Argentina, Switzerland and the UAE even. Then, in 2004 I got an offer from Aucas of Ecuador. I said to myself, ‘If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go and get a job and play in the local leagues’. Luckily, though, I made the most of the chances that came my way after that.”
After a season with Aucas it was on to Olmedo and Universidad Catolica. Then came the turning point in his career: a move to Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito in 2006. “I was playing well that year,” he continues. “At the start of 2007, Luis Suarez, who signed me at Aucas and was Ecuador coach at the time, asked me if I wanted to play for the national side. I had the papers all sorted out when I got the call from Paraguay, who had just appointed Gerardo Martino. And here I am.”
Nicknamed “Rambert” because of his resemblance to the former Argentinian striker Sebastian Rambert, Vera was a surprise call-up for some people. “He deserves his chance and he can play in several positions,” explained Martino at the time.
The then Paraguay coach employed the versatile Vera in a number of midfield berths, making the most of his unfussy style and tactical discipline. And though the 30-year-old is not known for his prowess in front of goal, having scored just once for his country and that in a friendly against Oman, he hit two goals in a 2009 Peace Cup meeting with Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, a game that saw Cristiano Ronaldo make his Merengue debut. “I only did it so I could tell my grandchildren,” he says with a smile.
His Albirroja debut came in a 2-1 friendly defeat to Mexico in March 2007. Vera consolidated his place in the team despite that setback, going on to feature in the side that contested the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela and then appearing against Peru that October in the opening South Africa 2010 qualifying match.
Eyes on the prize
Paraguay took third place in the South America group, a slightly disappointing finish considering they had been leaders for a significant part of the campaign.
“We had a dip in form and that showed us we couldn’t afford to relax,” he explains. “It was the game before the Argentina match when we realised that we had to go out and fight for each other again. That’s when the results started coming once more, and that’s how we’re going to have to approach the World Cup. There’ll be no margin for error there.”
After lifting the Copa Libertadores, Recopa Sudamericana (South American Cup Winners’ Cup) and the Copa Sudamericana on club duty with LDU de Quito, Vera is anxious for international success in South Africa.
La Albirroja make their Group F on 14 June against reigning world champions Italy, a game he rightly identifies as a tough assignment. “We can’t afford any mistakes if we want to win. But if we can pick up three points, we’ll give ourselves a great chance of going through.”
Next up come Slovakia. “The way they qualified in Europe shows that they’re going to be tough opponents too. They’ll be keen to show what they can do and give that little bit extra. That means we mustn’t underestimate them.” And Paraguay’s final opponents in the section are New Zealand. “There are no easy teams,” he warns. “We’ll need to prove our status as favourites out on the pitch.”
The near-certain absence of Salvador Cabanas, their leading scorer in the qualifiers with six goals, is a huge blow for Paraguay, as his team-mate acknowledges. “It’s a terrible thing and we all feel so very sorry for him,” says Vera, himself only just recovered from a three-month injury lay-off. “He’s an important member of the squad and he’ll be missed on and off the pitch. I hope he recovers soon and can join us. That would give us a tremendous boost.”
Whether Cabanas makes it or not, Paraguay’s objectives for South Africa 2010 remain the same, as their multi-functional midfielder points out. “We want to win all our group games and then take things step by step. We’ve got the team to go far and I think we can make the semis.” All of which begs the question, would he be surprised to see the Paraguayans go all the way and actually win the competition?
“It would be a historic achievement for a country that’s suffered a lot,” he replies, not without conviction. “It would be amazing to give our humble people back home something like that to celebrate. We’ve got the players, the coaching staff is first class and our officials are right behind us. No, to be honest, I don’t think I would be surprised.”