Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz will be hoping for third time lucky in Tuesday's last-16 encounter against Japan in Pretoria, having starred in two previous campaigns which ended prematurely.
The Manchester City forward believes he is unlikely to play a fourth FIFA World Cup™ - he would be almost 33 by the time 2014 rolls around - but having featured in the last 16 in 2002 and the group phase in 2006, he now believes the Paraguayans can go another step at least.
Santa Cruz was just 20 when Cesare Maldini called him into the 2002 squad and he promptly netted in a draw with South Africa. By then, the lanky forward had been a regular for two seasons with Bayern Munich, with whom he would stay until a 2007 move to Blackburn in the English Premier League. A move to Manchester City followed last summer but brought only a paltry return of three goals in 19 starts.
But he is putting his club disappointment of recent months behind him with Paraguay on the brink of a first appearance in the quarters. "We want to do something we have never managed to achieve and make history," said the 28-year-old in referring to seven previous early exits by the South Americans, who came within a point of top spot after the gruelling Latin American qualifying programme.
Coach Gerardo Martino has warned that an improvement is needed over the dull goalless draw with New Zealand which proved enough to get out of the opening phase as group winners follolwing an opening draw with Italy and a win over Slovakia. "We were not very mobile - we had many problems in attack and that was unexpected."
Defender Antolin Alcaraz scored against Italy and midfielders Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros netted against the Slovaks, meaning the forwards have suffered a drought to date. "But I don't think anyone [of the strikers] feels sore about not scoring. On the contrary, I think our general work is held in esteem by all the players - we have run a lot and been working hard so that is what counts," Santa Cruz insisted.
"This is definitively going to be my last World Cup so I hope it can be the best," he concluded, alluding to the injury breaks which have marked his career, the club highlight of which was a UEFA Champions League winners medal in 2001, though he was on the bench for Bayern's win over Valencia.