- Paraguay face the Netherlands in U-17 World Cup quarter-finals
- Rodrigo Lopez will be a key player for the South Americans
- Lopez: "I try to set up my team-mates more than score myself"
Paraguay have been one of the sensations of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™, yet while most of the media attention has been on their goalscoring Diegos, Duarte and Torres, La Albirrojita’s most lethal performer has gone largely unnoticed.
That man is Rodrigo Lopez, and together with France’s Adil Aouchiche he has served up a tournament-high four assists. Hugging the left flank, Rorro, as he is known, has been using his speed and passing ability to cut through opposing defences.
“I try to set up my team-mates more than score myself, which is why the boss (Gustavo Morinigo) is playing me out on the left, because I can get to the by-line and cross the ball,” he told FIFA.com. “I used to play on the right, on my wrong side, but I’m creating more chances now.”
Lopez has been working on his team-mates, letting them know what needs to be done when going forward: “I always tell them that the most important thing for me is that they get the ball out to me from the midfield. That's because I’m always open for the pass, out on the touchline. I like to face the goal when I get on the ball and use my pace to reach the by-line.”
A born ball player
It is perhaps no surprise that Lopez is starring in Brazil, given the fact his life story has a Brazilian flavour to it: he was born in Santa Rita, a city founded by Brazilian immigrants and the hub of Paraguay’s soybean industry.
“I started playing there when I was seven,” he said. “I was a goalkeeper but I always brought the ball out, just to show off. My heroes were all outfield players and I’ve always admired Messi. When I was nine my coach put me up front. I played at centre-forward, on the right, and on the left.”
His big break came when he was 13: “I went to Qatar. I was among the four best players in Paraguay and I played against Barcelona, with team-mates from other countries and continents.”
That experience brought him to the attention of Libertad’s scouts: “They came to my house to see me.” Saying yes to one of Asuncion’s big clubs was not without consequences, however. At the age of only 14, he would be living a six-hour drive away from his mother.
“I had to leave my family and friends behind, when I’d hardly ever been out before,” he recalled. “I missed my mum more than anyone. When you’re living in a hostel you have to do everything yourself: wash your things, make the bed. It was no wonder I shed a tear or two whenever I spoke.”
Having overcome that adversity, he is now reaping the reward: “What I’m most proud of is that I’m living a dream I’ve had since I was a boy: to play for the national team. I was so excited when I found out I was going to the World Cup. Everything I’d gone through as a kid flashed through my mind.”
Should they beat the Netherlands on Sunday, Paraguay will reach the semi-finals of the U-17 World Cup for the first time in their history. “We’re getting a lot of messages from people and they’re proud of us,” said Lopez. “We want to keep going and take the cup back to Paraguay and our families, who always support us.”