It was early April 2008 and Mexico City's America were embroiled in a must-win Copa Libertadores tie at home to River Plate. After coming off the bench in the second half, Salvador Cabanas had already provided one assist by the time he picked up the ball with his back to goal in the penalty area. Swivelling expertly, he unleashed an unstoppable shot past the Argentinians' goalkeeper to secure the Águilas a 4-3 win and a berth in the last 16. "I'm delighted to have played a part in my team's win," he said afterwards.
A fortnight later, in the Superclásico against Guadalajara in the Clausura, America found themselves 3-0 down after just half an hour. Then on 32 minutes, Cabanas gave his side a lifeline by dispatching a penalty he had helped win. Two minutes later, Chava used his right foot to deftly take down a floated 30-yard pass, before firing off an exquisite shot to leave his side 3-2 behind. On this occasion, however, America were unable to claw back a third, causing Cabanas to lament: "If the team loses, then my goals aren't much use."
A case of false modesty? "Clubs sign me to score goals, and that's what I try to do," he insists. With Cabanas, it really is that simple.
A natural goalscorer
Salvador Cabanas Ortega was born on 5 August 1980 in Itaugua, a suburb of the Paraguayan capital Asuncion. He took his first steps in professional football with the modest 12 de Octubre under the tutelage of Alicio Solalinde. The coach, himself a former Copa Libertadores winner with Paraguayan outfit Olimpia in 1979, immediately spotted his natural ability and recommended him to the country's youth team coach. The striker would subsequently appear at the FIFA World Youth Championship in 1999, and has been trading on his goalscoring record ever since.
A year earlier, Cabanas had made his debut in the Paraguayan top flight, going on to score a hugely impressive 17 goals in his first season. A stocky figure - even then he was 1.73m and 77kg - the youngster surprised people less with his stature than his impressive array of skills: excellent heading, accurate shooting with either foot, and that rare blend of technique, power and positional sense.
The next phase of his career took him to another humble club, Audax Italiano of Chile. And while he took some time to adapt after his transfer in 2001, the player continued to hone his skills, eventually coming good during the 2003 Apertura, when he netted 18 times in just 17 games to take the top-scorer award. That campaign was to be the highpoint of his time in Chile and, after 38 goals in three years, it was time for a new challenge.
This would come in the form of Mexico's Jaguares, a club that was barely a year old when they signed him. Cabanas would take less time to settle there, building on his 2003 Apertura of five goals in 20 games by scoring 15 times in 20 appearances the following campaign. Then in 2006, by which time he was the league's top marksman, averaging more than a goal every two games (59 in 103), giants America moved in to secure his services.
Modesty in success
Cabanas produced the goods right from the off with the Águilas, but it would be 2007 when his scoring feats would gain true international acclaim. In the Clausura, the 27-year-old hit nine league goals and another ten in the Copa Libertadores to become the tournament's top scorer that year - this despite his team bowing out in the quarter-finals. In the second half of the year, Cabanas claimed another nine in the league, one in the Super-Liga and four in the Copa Sudamericana, in which America finished runners-up. In total, he amassed 33 goals, making him the world's second-highest scorer at club level.
Nor did he miss the chance to impress with the national team. After making his Paraguay debut in 2004, Cabanas played in several of his side's qualifiers for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, although he would be an unused squad member at the finals themselves. Among the subs at the Copa America Venezuela 2007, the striker made excellent use of his playing time, scoring twice in 20 minutes against Colombia and once in 17 minutes against USA. It came as no surprise then when coach Gerardo Martino gave him a starting berth in the four qualifiers Paraguay have disputed thus far in the race for South Africa 2010.
Cabanas' achievements earned him the 2007 South American Player of the Year award, given annually by the Uruguayan publication El Pais. " . This prize is for all those who helped me in one form or another to score my goals," he said at the time.
Asked what his aims were at this juncture of his career, Cabanas finished by saying: "To continue to do my bit to help America and Paraguay win games. Oh, and to play in a World Cup, of course."