“We’re telling ourselves we can still do it.”
Cristian Riveros has no intention of throwing the towel in just yet. The 34-year-old midfielder knows that Paraguay have just 180 minutes left to try and book a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. And despite the difficult situation
find themselves in, they are banking on the latest South American qualifiers to throw up yet more surprises: “These last few games have produced some pretty crazy results.”
Paraguay are seventh in the table on 21 points, three places below Peru, who occupy the fourth and final direct qualifying slot, and two below play-off place occupants Argentina. “It’s out of our hands now,” said Riveros, a veteran of Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010. “It’s all got a lot more difficult for us. We need to win in Colombia and then against Venezuela at home.”
An experienced campaigner, he is well qualified to analyse what has been a hugely unpredictable qualifying competition, with seven teams separated by just seven points and with the three remaining automatic slots for Russia 2018 and the play-off berth still to be decided in the final two matchdays.
“The teams who were down at the bottom have improved no end, and the teams who were playing really well have all fallen away a bit, except Brazil, who made a slowish start and are now way above the other sides,” he said. “And that’s how the table’s got so congested.”
As for Paraguay, they are paying the price for their own inconsistency, a feature once again of their most recent double header. After earning an impressive 3-0 win over Chile in Santiago,
went down at home to Uruguay. “It really, really hurt us,” said the Olimpia midfielder.
“You want to go out and make up for it straight away but the best thing you can do in these qualifiers is rest up a bit, go back to your club, put in some good performances and come back with a clear head, batteries recharged and the determination to go out and pick up six points in the last two games. If we don’t, then we’re almost certainly out.”
Riveros, a timeline
1982: born on 16 October
1997: starts out with Cristobal Colon JAS
2000: makes first division debut with Sportivo San Lorenzo
2006: lifts the Paraguayan title with Libertad, the first of his three career league wins
2007: makes first move abroad, to Mexico, in a career that would later take him to England, Turkey and Brazil.
2017: becomes the seventh player to win 100 caps for Paraguay
What does the future hold for Paraguay?“We’ve got a really good generation of players. Some of them featured in the last qualifying competition but they were very young then. They’re 24-25 now and the average age is really good. By the time the next qualifiers come around we’ll be very firm contenders to make it, with players who are established in the team and who are playing abroad for some big teams.”
His international future?“There are a lot more players in every position than before. There are a lot of alternatives now. These are definitely my last qualifying matches, and that’s not because I want to give up but because there are players coming though who are old enough now to take on that responsibility.”
Why does he wear the No16 jersey?"The first time I was called up to the national team I was handed the No16 jersey, which was the number of my team. I’ve asked for that number everywhere I’ve played and, looking back, it’s gone pretty well for me, for which I’m grateful. I’ve also scored 16 goals for Paraguay. I hope I can get one or two more – God willing, at the World Cup in Russia."