The unfortunate absence of Salvador Cabanas from the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ tournament means that Paraguayan hopes will be riding on all-action attacker Nelson Haedo Valdez.
The 26-year-old striker starred alongside Cabanas in the Paraguayans’ qualifying campaign and will now take on more responsibility in the absence of his strike partner.
Fortunately Haedo Valdez comes to South Africa full of confidence. He enjoyed a fine season in Germany with Borussia Dortmund apart from a brief spell on the sidelines in March owing to injury. But he is back to full fitness and will be hoping to transfer his excellent domestic form to the international stage.
Haedo Valdez has come a long way from his humble origins in the Paraguayan town of Caaguazu. Football gave the youngster an escape from the grind of everyday life and for almost twelve years he slept at the headquarters of his first club, Club Atletico Tembetary. But fame and fortune beckoned, and to Nelson’s surprise, Juergen Born, president of German club Werder Bremen, invited the talented teenager to Europe.
It did not take long for Nelson to make his mark. In his first season with Werder Bremen’s B team, he notched an impressive 15 goals in 30 games, catching the eye of first-team coach Thomas Schaaf in the process. In 2003, after a successful debut campaign in the Bundesliga, the striker was called up by his country for that year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup, held in the United Arab Emirates, where the Paraguayans exited the tournament in the Round of 16.
The following year, and by now a star at U-23 level, Haedo Valdez did not make the Paraguayan squad for the Athens Olympic Games. Instead he was called into his country’s Copa America squad, made up of players not representing their country in Greece. However, in spite of regular appearances in then coach Anibal Ruiz’s squad, it was only in 2005 that he truly cemented his place with La Albirroja and booked his ticket for Germany 2006.
At those finals, he started three matches, although the South Americans bowed out at the group stage. But the experience proved crucial for the young striker, as he went on to forge a fearsome partnership with Cabanas. Indeed, he found the net five times in the recent 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, including a memorable winner in a 1-0 success over Argentina in Asuncion.
In spite of the absence of his strike partner, the responsibility rests lightly on Valdez’s shoulders. In fact, he thrives on it. “I can’t even describe the feeling I get from playing for my country. It sends shivers up my spine. When I pull on the shirt I give everything I can for us to win,” he said in a recent interview with FIFA.com.