Santa Cruz: It's hard to take retiring from Paraguay

Roque Santa Cruz, Paraguay’s all-time leading marksman, has announced he will retire from international football following the Russia 2018 qualifiers against Peru and Bolivia. Santa Cruz made his Paraguay debut as a 17-year-old in 1999, represented them in three FIFA World Cups™, and has scored 32 times in 111 appearances.

“With this call-up I am bringing to an end my time in the national team,” Santa Cruz told reporters following Paraguay training on Tuesday. “It’s a decision that’s hard to take, but it had to be taken at some point.

“I think it’s time to just dedicate myself to my club. I’m happy to retire at a time when I still feel good enough to play.”

Paraguay are seventh in the South American standings, just two points outside the automatic qualification spots for Russia 2018 and one point shy of the play-off position. And Santa Cruz accepts that Albirroja coach Fernando Arce – his team-mate at Korea/Japan 2002 – must prioritise securing points at home to Peru on Thursday and in Bolivia five days later above handing him an international swansong.

“The most important thing to me is that we win,” said the 35-year-old. “I’m mature and professional and understand the football must take precedence over whether or not I get to make my final appearance. Regardless of whether I do, it’s going to be very emotional to me.”

The former Bayern Munich and Manchester City forward recently rejoined Olimpia, whom he made his professional debut for as a 15-year-old in 1997.