• Hernan Perez is a permanent fixture in the Paraguay squad
  • The 28-year-old discusses La Albirroja's prospects in their upcoming Russia 2018 qualifiers
  • Midfielder makes exciting pledge if Paraguay do reach world finals

“I hadn’t thought about it but you’ve given me a great idea,” said Paraguay’s Hernan Perez in conversation with FIFA.com. “If we make it to the World Cup, I’m going to get a ‘Russia 2018’ tattoo.”

Perez’s body is covered in tattoos as it is, though each of them is there for a good reason. Representing the milestones of his life, they include the face of his wife Carol on their wedding day, his daughter’s date of birth, the name of his late sister-in-law, and a number “11” in tribute to Mauricio Alves, a friend and former team-mate of his at Villarreal, who died in a car accident.

“They each symbolise things that are important to me, and playing at the next World Cup definitely fits into that category,” said the 28-year-old attacking midfielder, who now plays for Espanyol and has gained the confidence of current Paraguay coach Francisco Arce.

If Perez is to fulfil his tattoo pledge, La Albirroja will have to improve on the eighth place they currently occupy in the South American qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. With four rounds of games remaining, they have 18 points, four adrift of Argentina, who lie fifth, in the intercontinental play-off place.

Asked why the Paraguayans find themselves off the pace at the moment, Perez said:  “We rushed things in some of the games and we didn’t put enough value on the points that were at stake. I’m talking about the matches against Peru at home and against Bolivia in La Paz (which ended in respective 4-1 and 1-0 defeats)."

In making a frank assessment of Paraguay’s chances of reaching Russia, Perez added: “On a scale of one to ten I’d put it at about five. If we do things right, we’ll make it; if we keep making mistakes, we won’t.”

Hernan Perez and La Albirroja

  • Debut: March 2010 (under Gerardo Martino)
  • Caps: 27 (14 in World Cup qualifiers)
  • Goals: 1 (none in World Cup qualifiers)
  • 2011 Copa America runner-up
  • Played at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009

The midfielder struck an optimistic note in looking to the next double-header, which will see Paraguay travel to Chile (fourth on 23 points) and then host Uruguay (third on 23 points): “They’re direct rivals of ours. If we beat them, then we’ll be right in the mix.”

Perez watched Chile’s progress at the recent FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017: “They’re a very good side. They play possession football all the way to your box and if you want to hurt them, then you’ve got to get the ball from them, be focused for the whole 90 minutes and run more than them.”

As for Uruguay, he hopes to draw on his knowledge of some of their star players, whom he has been facing in the Spanish league since 2009: “There are some things that can help me and my team-mates counteract their individual skills. They’re a great side though.”

Known as Chico (“Kid”), a nickname that stuck at the age of 16, when a coach resorted to calling him that after forgetting his name, Perez said he is calm about what lies ahead: “The worst time was after losing to Brazil, because we wanted to put right all our mistakes and play them again straightaway.

“Now that so many months have gone by, though, you just want to be in the right physical and mental shape. There’s an awful lot at stake.” Perez knows that only too well after being involved in the failed Brazil 2014 qualification campaign: “You could see how sad everyone was, both the players and the fans. We don’t want that to happen again.”

Hernan Perez up close and personal

  • Football: “It got me off the street and helped me make life easier for my parents.”
  • What did his parents do?: “My father was an upholsterer and my mother was a housewife.”
  • His first footballing memory: “I was six or seven and I used to take a ball with me to bed. It was a present from my father and it was white, but I used it so much it got all worn and brown.”
  • His first World Cup memory: ”France 1998 – I watched all of it. My father told me to watch the players and to learn to move like them. My role models were (Jose Luis) Chilavert and (Jose) Cardozo.”
  • Boyhood hero: “Ronaldinho. I watched all his videos from when he was at Barcelona.”