Having just put together their best ever qualification campaign, Paraguay are entitled to think big ahead of their fourth consecutive appearance at the FIFA World Cup™ finals. Under the guidance of Argentinian coach Gerardo Martino, the current Albirroja crop look to have what it takes to build on the progress made by their predecessors at France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002, where the Paraguayans reached the Round of 16 before being knocked out by France and Germany respectively.
While maintaining the defensive standards set by those two sides, Los Guaraníes have added an exciting attacking dimension to their game thanks to the emergence of a clutch of powerful and talented forwards with the ability to unsettle any opposing rearguard. That new-found offensive threat could make all the difference as Paraguay look to make amends for their first-round elimination at Germany 2006, a setback that several members of the current squad experienced at first hand and are determined not to repeat in South Africa.
The road to South Africa
Paraguay broke through the 30-point barrier for the first time since the current qualifying system came into being. Recording ten wins (the most in the group along with Chile), three draws and five defeats, they collected 33 points in all to finish third behind the Chileans and Brazil. Martino's side confirmed their ticket to the finals in style with a 1-0 defeat of Argentina in Asuncion in September, with President Fernando Lugo declaring a national holiday to allow the nation to celebrate the achievement.
The key to the Paraguayans' impressive progress was their form at the imposing Estadio Defensores del Chaco, where they won seven games in all. On the road they lost just three times and picked up 12 points in total, a record that suggests they have the resources to cause problems for their opponents in the finals.
The star players
Despite the sad incident that will rule out Salvador Cabanas, Martino can call on the services of several internationally renowned players, most of whom play their club football in Mexico and Europe. And while the side is sprinkled with proven performers in every area, the Paraguayans' biggest names can be found up front.
Roque Santa Cruz needs no introduction after several successful seasons in England, his importance to the national side undiminished despite his absence from most of the qualifying competition. Deputising admirably throughout the campaign were Oscar Cardozo and Nelson Haedo Valdez, who scored 11 goals between them. The formidable trio were all present at Germany 2006, and memories of Paraguay's disappointing group-phase exit could be the spur they need to get in among the goals in South Africa.
Born in November 1962 in Rosario, Gerardo Martino is yet another Argentinian tactician currently excelling in the South American game. The man they call El Tata made his name in the 1990s as a talented attacking midfielder before moving into coaching in 1998. After working for a number of lesser-known sides in his native country, he made the switch to Paraguay, taking over at Cerro Porteno and then Libertad, where he enjoyed his greatest achievements at club level.
Often compared to his mentor Marcelo Bielsa, Martino was rewarded for his efforts at Libertad in 2006 when he accepted the invitation to take over the national side from Anibal Ruiz. The hard-working Argentinian proved to be an inspired choice, keeping a low profile as his side negotiated their way to South Africa 2010 in record-breaking fashion.
FIFA World Cup record
. Paraguay will be making their eight FIFA World Cup finals appearance next year and their fourth in a row.
. La Albirroja have never won two games at the same finals and have yet to progress beyond the Round of 16.
. In those eight appearances they have won six matches, drawn seven and lost nine.
What they said
"The secret to our qualification was the fact that the players and all the professionals involved with the national team went about their job responsibly and with a minimum of fuss. If we had failed to do what previous coaches achieved and missed out on qualifying, then we would have become a negative footnote in Paraguay's footballing history. Anyone who coaches a national team does so for one of two reasons: to stay in the job or go down in history. I've chosen the second option." Coach Gerardo Martino