Paraguay
© AFP

Qualification history
La Albirroja have successfully negotiated FIFA World Cup™ qualifying phases on seven occasions, not including the first-ever edition at Uruguay 1930, when they were invited to attend. Their most impressive campaign was their most recent, when Paraguay picked up ten wins from their 18 encounters (a record for Los Guaraníes) on the road to South Africa 2010. Having led the standings for large chunks of the South American Zone qualifiers, they ended up a highly respectable third.  

FIFA World Cup finals history
Boasting a total of eight appearances at the FIFA World Cup final tournaments, four of these have come in consecutive fashion spanning the 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 editions. Characterised over recent years by tactical solidity, aerial prowess and a consistent supply of top talent, at South Africa 2010 Paraguay continued their upward progression by following up their record qualifying statistics with a best-ever finals performance. Indeed, La Albirroja went all the way to the quarter-finals, where they exited 1-0 to eventual champions Spain after a dramatic second half featuring a missed penalty apiece. The Paraguayans also reached the Round of 16 in 1986, 1998 and 2002, with the ’98 campaign particularly memorable for their iconic backline and epic nature of their extra-time defeat to hosts and eventual winners France.

The current crop
Having kept the core of the squad that reached the last eight on South African soil together, Paraguay will be hoping to keep moving onwards and upwards – introducing new talents over the next three years and continuing to push South American powerhouses Argentina and Brazil all the way. Hugely confident when playing at their fortress-like Estadio Defensores del Chaco, their steely rearguard and abundance of quality attackers also make them a dangerous proposition away from home. La Albirroja proved all these qualities once again by finishing runners-up at the 2011 Copa America in Argentina. After earning five draws and no victories at the Copa America, Gerardo Martino decided to leave his post as head coach and was replaced by Francisco Chiqui Arce, who was a member of Paraguay's 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cup squads, only for Arce himself to be replaced in June 2012.

The key players
In striker Oscar Cardozo, Paraguay have a player who has been a regular contender for the European Golden Shoe since joining Benfica in 2007, while Los Guaraníes can also call on a host of other established goal-getters in the shape of Nelson Valdez, Roque Santa Cruz and Lucas Barrios. Versatile, tireless and consistent, Cristian Riveros can supply goals and creative impetus from any midfield position, while the international profile of defender Antolin Alcaraz has continued to grow since his impressive displays in South Africa.

Coach: Gerardo Pelusso
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010 (Quarter-finals), Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004 (Runners-up), FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2001 (Fourth place)
Former stars: Roberto Acuna, Francisco Arce, Jose Luis Chilavert