Paraguay face Spain in the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals on Saturday in desperate need of goals, having scored just three times through four matches.
All three of coach Gerardo Martino's favoured forwards play for top line clubs. Veteran Roque Santa Cruz is at English Premier League side Manchester City, while Lucas Barrios and Nelson Valdez are both at Bundesliga heavyweights Borussia Dortmund. But not one of Paraguay's meagre three goals has come from any of them.
Martino, who has guided the defensively rock solid South Americans to their first ever quarter-finals thanks to a penalty shoot-out win over Japan, came to South Africa in the knowledge that finding the back of the net would be tough. Salvador Cabanas, his top scorer from the qualifying stage, was shot in the head in a Mexican bar in January and is still recovering at home.
All the same, Martino would have been looking for a quick return on his faith in selecting Argentina-born Barrios, who qualified to play through his Paraguay-born mother, as he scored an impressive 19 goals in the Bundesliga. Yet, Barrios and his fellow strikers have found it impossible to unlock the defences of New Zealand, Italy, Slovakia and Japan but Martino, also Argentinian, refuses to lay the blame totally at their door.
"One mustn't be too hard on our strikers," said 47-year-old. "If they aren't scoring well maybe it's because the balls aren't arriving fast enough to them."
Martino also believes opposing teams have been negative in their approach. "I hope that our next opponent will allow us to play differently and it won't be simply down to us to dictate the game," he said. "Against Spain, we should have more space, because they play to win," added Martino, who has been in charge since February 2007.
Barrios shrugged off the goal drought by saying the Paraguyan team ethic was not based around the individual. "The important thing is not who scores the goals, but that we formed a united squad which was capable of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in the history of Paraguay," said Barrios.