“As we all know, he’s lethal in the box.” The words of midfielder Enrique Vera hit the proverbial nail on the head when it comes to Paraguay hitman Lucas Barrios.
La Albirroja are fortunate enough to be able to call on strikers of the calibre of Manchester City’s Roque Santa Cruz and Benfica’s Oscar Cardozo, who has been in sensational form this past campaign, but the addition of Lucas Barrios offers yet more firepower to their 2010 FIFA World Cup™ bid.
“It’s a change for me because I’ve only just joined up,” said the Argentina-born hitman, whose mother is Paraguayan. “I’m settling in well to the team and I’m going to give it my best shot. It’s a World Cup and you need to find your very best form.”
Having only acquired Paraguayan nationality in March, Barrios has had relatively little time to adjust to his new surroundings. That said, unfamiliarity with a new environment did not stop him making an immediate impact at club level this season. After joining Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund in summer 2009, he notched 19 goals in 33 league games.
“He’s been well-received since joining up with the squad,” Paraguay midfielder Enrique Vera told FIFA in an exclusive interview. “He feels like one of us now and I think that’ll really help him. He’s capable of scoring loads of goals.”
Indeed, the rangy front-runner has helped himself to three goals in three friendly appearances during the build-up to South Africa 2010. “He’s not a player who messes about, he just goes straight for goal,” said team-mate and fellow Guaraní forward Santa Cruz.
Barrios’ rapid demonstration of his worth has left Paraguay’s Argentinian coach Gerardo Martino with a wealth of striking options at his disposal ahead of their Group F campaign. “Paraguay have always had good forwards but not in such numbers,” said the respected supremo, whose charges kick off against world champions Italy on 14 June in Rustenburg. “Now we’ve got [Nelson] Haedo Valdez and Santa Cruz. Cardozo has come on a lot, while we’ve also got Lucas Barrios who has started well since taking Paraguayan nationality.”
“There a lot of strikers and we’re all going to be competing for a place in the team,” said Barrios, without taking anything for granted. “We’re all hoping to get some time on the pitch during the World Cup.”
No time to waste
Barrios’ goals return in the recent friendlies looks to have ensured him a start against Italy, despite missing several training sessions after picking up a knock. Set to partner him should be his club colleague Haedo Valdez or the experienced Santa Cruz, appearing at his third finals, with Cardozo still to recover from an ankle injury.
“Training sessions help us get to know each other better and get used to each other’s game,” said former Bayern Munich and Blackburn Rovers striker Santa Cruz. “We’ve felt very comfortable playing alongside each other in the last two games, and the fact that we’re both very well travelled also helps when forging an understanding.”
Barrios, who made his name during a prolific spell in Chilean football with Deportes Temuco, Cobreloa and Colo Colo, also appears to settling well off the pitch. “I think that Lucas has gelled very well with the rest of the team. People respect him as a player and a person,” said Sunderland defender Paulo da Silva. “We know what he can bring to the mix, as he proved in our friendlies. He’s a goalscorer.”
“I’m really happy to be with this team,” said Barrios as the conversation drew to a close. “I’m happy with the way we qualified, with the fact that we’ve won games in the build-up to the World Cup and I feel good personally.” Group F rivals Italy, Slovakia and New Zealand have been warned.