If the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ is anything to go by, size certainly matters, particularly in defensive positions. A host of teams have tall backlines, but bucking the trend while remaining doughty in defence are Paraguay, whose defenders measure in at around 5’9” on average, compared to the 6’1” of Group F rivals New Zealand and Slovakia’s 6’0” backline.
Experience, teamwork and technique are therefore La Albirroja’s weapons of choice when countering the attacking bursts of the world’s finest forwards here at South Africa 2010, an armoury they used to good effect in their opening 1-1 draw against world champions Italy. In a fiercely contested encounter under driving rain in Cape Town, coach Gerardo Martino’s quartet of centre-backs Paulo da Silva and Antolin Alcaraz, right-back Carlos Bonet and left-back Claudio Morel put in a fine collective display, particularly in the face of heavy second-half pressure.
Keeping things tight
Solid in the air, composed in possession, putting pressure on the ball and showing impressive timing in the tackle, the Paraguayans defended well without being over-physical – borne out by a figure of just 15 free-kicks conceded. “We have to take the field with the same desire we showed against Italy,” said veteran defender Denis Caniza, competing at his fourth FIFA World Cup with Los Guaraníes, as he looked ahead to facing Slovakia on 20 June and New Zealand four days later.
“Everyone has their part to play. We’re always thinking positively, whether we’re in the side or not,” said full-back Bonet, on the togetherness and tactical awareness nurtured by coach Martino during Paraguay’s South American Zone qualifying campaign. “I see us as a very united squad, and that’s what makes us successful. I believe that my squad-mates will have a great World Cup and go down in history. We’re on the right track and I hope everything turns out well,” added Caniza.
The experience of men like Caniza and Bonet could prove vital, with the latter at his third global finals and Da Silva his second. Boca Juniors star Morel too, though at his first FIFA World Cup, appeared in qualifying matches for both Korea/Japan 2002 and South Africa 2010, while Alcaraz, a scorer against Italy, looks right at home despite a tally of just seven senior caps. “We’ve got tough games ahead, but if we keep our heads and stay patient, we can overcome the obstacles in our path. We’re always quite cautious out on the pitch and try to listen to the coach’s instructions,” said Morel, on Paraguay’s bid to go beyond the Round of 16 for the first time.
“I think Paraguay’s defensive pedigree comes from the fact that, in the past, our pitches weren’t in the best shape. Because you couldn’t play the ball around on the floor much, it made sense to go the aerial route,” said La Albirroja custodian Justo Villar, when asked about his country’s record of producing quality defenders. “That style made us physically stronger and probably helped our defenders get a better grounding.
“But we’re getting better all the time and nowadays you see a lot of Paraguayan defenders in top leagues. That shows just how much people respect our ability,” continued the Valladolid custodian, who could have been talking about centre-back Da Silva, currently plying his trade in the English Premier League. “I’m proud to be part of a national team that has had fantastic players like (former internationals) Carlos Gamarra and Celso Ayala,” said the Sunderland man, demonstrating the resoluteness that Albirroja fans hope will see them safely out of Group F. “Solidity is one of our virtues and I’m hoping that this World Cup will witness another great Paraguayan defence.”