Roque Santa Cruz has already made his third and final FIFA World Cup™ an historic one for Paraguay. Now the Manchester City striker has the South American side poised for a shock run at the top prize.
Paraguay advanced to the quarter-finals for the first time after three prior failures in the Round of 16 by defeating Japan 5-3 on penalties Tuesday after the teams were deadlocked 0-0 after extra time. "It was a fantastic win," Santa Cruz said. "It means a lot for the people of Paraguay because it's the deepest we have ever gone in the World Cup."
Santa Cruz has already said he does not plan to take part in a fourth FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 2014, when he will be 32, but he will have another match in South Africa when Paraguay meet Spain or Portugal on Saturday in Johannesburg.
Even before the outcome was known, Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino assumed reigning European champions Spain would be the opponent. "The next match will be decisive. Spain are a team that will try to play and win," he said. "They keep the ball moving and they get it back quickly so it certainly won't be easy."
Santa Cruz said his team will be ready no matter whom they face. "It's going to be a hard one," he said. "We're going to have to play as hard as we have to get this far. All the time our goal has been just to try to win games."
Paraguay's prior knock-out setbacks came at the hands of Europe's elite. England saw off Paraguay 3-0 in 1986 while hosts France eliminated the South Americans in 1998 with the FIFA World's Cup's first golden goal by Laurent Blanc. In 2002, Germany sent La Albirroja (the White and Red) home with a goal two minutes from the final whistle.
Paraguay's victory also means four of eight FIFA World Cup semi-finalists are from South America, with the possibility that Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay could create an all South American FIFA World Cup final four.
Santa Cruz was a regular at the age of 20 for Bayern Munich when he was called into Paraguay's 2002 line-up and scored in a draw with South Africa. He was part of the Bundesliga club's 2001 UEFA Champions League title run, although he was on the bench for the championship victory over Valencia.
Santa Cruz stayed with the Bundesliga club until 2007 before joining English Premier League side Blackburn, where he remained until last year when he joined Manchester City, for whom he managed only three goals in 19 starts during an injury-marred season.