In the eyes of Paraguay, Roque Santa Cruz is more than just a talented football player. The well-travelled striker is considered something of a footballing ambassador for the country and has played a significant role in opening the way for several of his compatriots to triumph abroad.
Santa Cruz is now preparing for his third consecutive FIFA World Cup™ finals. And following the shooting of fellow striker Salvador Cabanas in Mexico, his importance to the side as an attacking spearhead is greater than ever.
Tall and powerfully-built, the Manchester City forward has long caused problems for opposing defences with his natural flair for goalscoring and surging runs into the penalty box. All that has held him back in recent seasons has been a string of injuries, the latest of them the knee tendonitis and calf strain that have prevented him from making the impact he would have liked with the ambitious Mancunians. “It’s important that everyone’s fit and healthy,” he said in reference to his injury woes. “That’s a key factor for any team.”
Frustratingly, those fitness struggles have denied him the opportunity to team up on a regular basis with Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy, his formidable strike partners at Eastlands.
The polished finisher has scored goals wherever he has gone in his career. He made his name in a highly productive eight-year stay with Bayern Munich, during which time he helped them win the Bundesliga four times and the UEFA Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup in 2001. From there he moved to English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers, impressing with 23 goals in 57 appearances.
He has managed to replicate his club form at international level and though he only played in five of Paraguay’s 18 qualifying matches for South Africa 2010, it was time enough for him to make his mark. Scoring three goals in those matches, he contributed to four valuable wins, including an emphatic 3-0 defeat of Chile in Santiago and a 2-0 victory over Brazil in Asuncion, a game in which Santa Cruz opened the scoring with a far-post tap-in.
Aside from helping Gerardo Martino’s side into third place in the CONMEBOL group, Santa Cruz has also featured in two other successful FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns, appearing in 29 qualifiers in all throughout his career and in seven FIFA World Cup finals matches. Yet despite that extensive experience on the big stage, he believes the best is yet to come.
“We had a really good qualification campaign and I think this could be the best side Paraguay has ever had,” he commented recently. “We’re going to try and go further than we ever have before and reach the quarter-finals at the very least. We’re determined to achieve that.”