Antony Silva was key in Paraguay's win over Venezuela
Keeper talks about his penalty save and role in these qualifiers
"We can work with a bit more peace of mind," he tells FIFA.com
"When he stood so straight behind the ball, I felt he wouldn’t be able to swing it inside me, so I didn't hesitate to throw myself to my left. And that’s exactly where he put it."
Antony Silva vividly remembers the stoppage-time penalty he saved from Yangel Herrera, which allowed Paraguay to return from Venezuela with a 1-0 win in their second match of South American qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
In fact, the player recalls everything he did from the moment the referee sought confirmation from his Video Assistant Referee (VAR) that Rolf Feltscher had indeed been fouled. "I kept saying to myself, 'this can't be happening to us again'," Silva tells FIFA.com, referring to the late equaliser his side conceded to Peru on the opening matchday.
"We gave everything from the first minute, but we couldn't score. They’d had a goal disallowed and we finally went ahead near the end. But then they signalled eight minutes of added time! That’s almost another game, which is why I said to myself, 'this can't be happening to us.'"
With the penalty confirmed, the mind games began. "We’d studied several of their kickers, but not Herrera, who convinced his team-mates to let him take it. Several of our guys told me he was going to curl it to my right, and so I was imaging them telling me afterwards, 'I told you he’d put it there'," the 36-year-old recounts with a laugh.
At the same time, he knew that, in compliance with the new rule, he had to have at least one foot on the goalline when the kick was taken. "I think that helps the goalkeeper as it forces you to wait until the very end to decide which way to go, and that can often throw off the kicker."
Silva trusted his judgement and managed to push the kick out for a corner, although he still had to be on his guard. "I didn’t want my team-mates to get distracted by congratulating me because, if we’d conceded then, the penalty save would have been for nothing."
As fate would have it, the keeper was also responsible for the last penalty saved in the South American qualifiers. Back in March 2017 in the preliminary competition for Russia 2018, he denied Brazil’s Neymar but could not prevent Paraguay losing that day 3-0.
"I don't feel like a penalty specialist, and anyway this one was worth much more for what it meant to us. Taking four of the first six points is very good. It puts you on track and lets you work with a bit more peace of mind."
To be fair to Silva, he appeared composed even before the game. And that was impressive considering he was a substitute for the opener against Peru and there were doubts raised by some sections of the press and public when he was named as replacement for the injured Roberto Fernandez.
"I knew what people were saying but, including the youth sides, I've been around the national team for 20 years. I don’t have anything to prove to anyone," insisted the Asuncion native, who played at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago in 2001 and at the U-20 equivalent two years later in the UAE.
"As for the journalists who said that I hadn't started a game for eight months, they were right! My last game had been with Huracan in February in the Argentinian league, but I never stopped training. What's more, I’d been training with the national team before signing for Club Nacional in September," says Silva, who contracted and recovered from COVID-19 this year.
The veteran knows better than most how a goalkeeper’s fortunes can ebb and flow. "I started the previous South American qualifiers as first-choice, but when the new coaching team arrived, they preferred others. They came back to me again in the final stretch and, from being practically out of the running, we almost made the play-off."
In all, Silva started 11 of Paraguay's 18 matches in the Russia 2018 campaign, the first four and the final seven. With him in the side, La Albirroja garnered 16 of a possible 24 points and conceded 11 of their 25 goals against (an average of one per game).
In spite of that, Silva would never put his coach Eduardo Berizzo in an awkward situation. "I feel like I delivered for him, because he called me into the side when I wasn't playing, but I’d never demand anything from him. Being ready is my job, and if the El Gato [Fernandez] comes back, I'll be the first to encourage him."
Coming up fast on Paraguay’s horizon are Argentina away and Bolivia at home. "Argentina have a lot of pedigree, but I still haven't seen them perform at their very best. Besides, as with everyone except Brazil, they don’t always find it easy at home. A win there would be ideal, but not losing would be a good result too," he says.
"Bolivia are having a tough time right now, so it’s imperative we get three points in Paraguay, especially having already dropped points at home to Peru. The responsibility will be ours, but we’ve shown already that we’re able to assume it."
Looking further ahead, Silva accepts that this could be his last chance to play at a World Cup. "The next one's a long way off," he admits, laughing. "I'll decide about that later. In any case, I’m aware that [any involvement] would depend on me still performing at the highest level. For now, I’m putting all my chips on being in Qatar."