Paraguay's premature exit from the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ left a cloud hanging over their future, as the team sought to formulate a new strategy, replace the coaching staff and bring through a new generation of players. Now, less than two years later, that process is well underway, with new coach Gerardo Martino's Albirroja top of the standings after four rounds of qualifying for South Africa 2010.
Despite the retirement of several key figures after Germany 2006, Paraguay kept faith with their traditional style and remain enviably solid at the back. Indeed, they have conceded just once in four qualifiers so far, and that against Ecuador with the game already won. Justo Villar's consistency between the posts, the leadership of Julio Cesar Caceres and the reliability of Claudio Morel Rodriguez and Co have given Gerardo Martino's team the best defensive record in the competition and the confidence to face the world's most potent attackers.
As the stats indicate, there has been no obvious weak points in the Albirroja's campaign to date. They have yet to lose a game, top the standings, and boast the most effective attack and meanest defence. Martino also has strength in depth and can call on a host of equally effective stars like Roque Santa Cruz, Nelson Haedo, Salvador Cabanas and Oscar Cardozo. Perhaps one could find fault in their limited offensive play in their opening two games, but subsequent ruthless demolitions of Ecuador and Chile have restored attacking confidence for the games ahead.
Their finest hour
Chile 0-3 Paraguay
Goals: Salvador Cabanas (24'), Paulo Da Silva (45'+2 and 57')
On matchday 4, Martino brought his side to Santiago to face a Chilean team led by Marcelo Bielsa, Martino's former coach and mentor at Argentinian outfit Newell's Old Boys. LaRoja came into the game on the back of a morale-boosting draw against Uruguay in Montevideo and were confident of a win that would propel them up the table. Things did not go according to plan for the hosts, however, as they ran up against a Guaraní side as assured in their defending as they were in their finishing. The ensuing rout sent the visitors clear at the top of the table and silenced the 60,000 expectant fans that had packed the Estadio Nacional.
The key men
Unlike many other sides, Paraguay's strength is based on their collective efforts. That said, several individuals deserve particular attention, such as Justo Villar and Julio Cesar Caceres at the back, as well as striker Haedo, joint top-scorer on two alongside Cristian Riveros and Da Silva.
The numbers game
6: The number of players who have scored for Paraguay in their first four qualifiers: Haedo, Riveros, Da Silva, Cabanas, Santa Cruz and Nestor Ayala - a clear indication of the tireless teamwork that has proved so profitable for Martino's side.
"The Paraguayan team is in a period of transition, and during this phase we're seeking to bring in new players to consolidate everything that's been achieved over the last 15 years. So far, those who have come in have demonstrated they are capable of doing that. This was our overriding objective, and we're achieving it." Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino explains his side's current success.