To play for your country at four FIFA World Cup finals™ is a magnificent achievement, whether it be for one of the great FIFA World Cup nations or one with a more modest footballing tradition. And at South Africa 2010, Paraguay’s 35-year-old defender Denis Caniza will go down in the history books as the first Albirroja star to achieve such a feat.
Caniza made his international debut in 1996, but it wasn’t until France 1998 when he made an impact on the FIFA World Cup scene. He started Paraguay’s games against Spain and Nigeria, and in the process helped the South Americans put together one of their finest campaigns. They went on to meet the host nation in a memorable Round of 16 clash, a game in which Caniza came on as a second-half substitute, only for Les Bleus to see off the plucky Paraguayans with a Laurent Blanc Golden Goal six minutes from the end of extra time.
The versatile Caniza has played in a variety of positions since his FIFA World Cup debut, including some time spent as a wide midfielder. After a stint at full-back, Caniza settled into the middle of the back four, where he was the keystone of another highly creditable Paraguayan FIFA World Cup adventure in 2002. He started all four of his country’s matches as once again they reached the Round of 16, this time losing to eventual runners-up Germany. In 2006, he formed one half of a formidable central-defensive duo alongside Carlos Gamarra, missing only two minutes of football in the tournament as Paraguay bowed out at the group stage.
Shortly after the tournament, the weary Caniza announced his retirement. But the lure of representing his country brought him back and the rugged defender started eight games in the 2010 qualifying campaign. He even took on the captaincy, becoming in the process one of the leaders of coach Gerardo Martino’s revitalised squad.
Caniza began his career with the Olimpia club in Asuncion, with whom he won four domestic league titles. His footballing odyssey took him to Lanus in Argentina, and then Santos Laguna, Cruz Azul and Atlas in Mexico, before he returned home to Olimpia. In 2009 he moved across the Paraguayan capital to Nacional, helping them to their first league championship in 63 years. But he turned his back on the chance to play in the Copa Libertadores, preferring to go back up north and sign for Leon in the Mexican second division.
In a recent interview with FIFA.com, the veteran defender admitted that retirement is on his mind. But, by his own admission, Caniza’s desire to play his part in another successful Paraguayan FIFA World Cup campaign burns brightly: “I am getting towards the end of my career, and I’m in my last year with the national team. It is wonderful to play in my fourth World Cup, but I know from experience that I will have to carry on working hard to get into the team.”