With less than two months to go before the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ begins, Paraguay are firmly focused on their opening Group F game against Italy in Cape Town. Given the circumstances, the timing of their six-place rise to 23rd on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking could hardly have come at a better time.
The climb represents a welcome confidence boost for La Albirroja, though it still leaves them some way short of their highest-ever ranking of eighth, which they achieved in March 2001 and again in July that year. Having exited the top 20 in July last year after an uninterrupted eight-month stay, and then making a brief return in August, the Paraguayans are moving in the right direction again.
That fall out of the upper echelons of the Ranking coincided with a momentary loss of form in South American Zone qualifying for South Africa 2010, with Gerardo Martino’s side going four games without a victory. They then closed the campaign in fine style, booking their ticket to the world finals one game early and eventually finishing third in the group, a point adrift of winners Brazil and behind Chile only on goal difference.
When Martino took on the job in February 2007, La Albirroja stood 30th overall. His first major test came in the Copa America in Venezuela that year, where Paraguay advanced to the quarter-finals before slumping to a 6-0 loss to Mexico. The following month they dropped a rung to 31st.
A fine start to their FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, during which they claimed ten out of the first 12 points available, helped the Paraguayans end the year in a promising 17th position, reflecting the revival Martino had engineered since taking over.
They reached their peak under the Argentinian in February and March 2009, when they rose to 15th, the first time they had climbed so high since April 2002.
And though they have since slipped out of the top 20, there is little question that Martino is guiding the men in red and white in the right direction. Should they put on a good show in South Africa, starting with that testing opener against the reigning world champions, they can even entertain hopes of matching or bettering their all-time high.