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Paraguay's remarkable progress

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Tim Vickery | 10:35 UK time, Monday, 15 September 2008

Eight rounds out of 18 have been played in South America's World Cup qualifying campaign, and sitting pretty at the top of the table are Paraguay. Four points clear, they are well on course for a fourth consecutive appearance in the finals.

Their progress is truly remarkable. I have visited Paraguay on several occasions. The place and the people have a certain serene charm, but one of the abiding impressions is of mangy dogs snoozing on shattered paving stones.

Of the 10 countries in the continent only Uruguay has a smaller population, and only Bolivia is poorer. And yet Paraguay are able to outperform a football-crazy country like Colombia, which has a population almost eight times larger.

Paraguayan football has always been able to count on fighting spirit. The game brings out the warrior in the people, who knit together naturally to build teams feared all over the continent for their durability.

This, though, has always been the case. In recent times Paraguay's progress has been based on adding more things to the mix.

Their youth development work has been good, with players coming up through the ranks of the Under-20s into the senior side. The local championship became more competitive when the number of teams in the first division was reduced, while staging the 1999 Copa America led to a slight decentralisation of the game, with the entire top flight no longer clustered around capital city Asuncion.

And in this current campaign, Paraguay have also benefited from having a foreign coach keen to implement new ideas.

Gerardo Martino from Argentina has introduced more attacking ambition to go with Paraguay's customary resilience.

At first he tried to move too quickly - a surprising error, because he had coached top clubs in the country and should have known what to expect.

His mission was to get the side playing in the opposition's half, imposing themselves on the game. In his first competitive match in last year's Copa America his team beat Colombia 5-0, and Martino was not happy. It was a counter-attacking triumph, and not at all the tactical approach that he was searching for.

The problem really became apparent when Paraguay had their keeper sent off right at the start of the quarter-final against Mexico. The back three were caught between Martino's desire for them to push up and play high, and their own instinct to defend on the edge of their penalty area. Mexico danced through the confusion to win 6-0.

Gerardo Martino

Defeat made Martino more pragmatic. He reverted to a back four and made a virtue of his players' versatility. For tough away games his full-backs have stayed deep and covered. At home they bomb forward and supply crosses. He has midfielders who can mark or create as the situation demands. And, unlike some of his predecessors, Martino can call on a talented and aggressive group of strikers.

The prince among them, of course, is Roque Santa Cruz, who helped set up both goals in last Tuesday's 2-0 win over Venezuela. It is perhaps surprising that his success at Blackburn has not been followed up with Premier League clubs looking at other Paraguayan players.

The Mexican league has certainly caught on. Of Paraguay's squad for the recent World Cup qualifiers, nine are based in Mexico, and some of the others have had spells there.

One who readily comes to mind as theoretically being suited to the English game is midfielder Cristian Riveros, currently with Cruz Azul. Away to Argentina, in the absence of the normal holding midfielder, he did a good marking job on Juan Riquelme.

Three days later at home to Venezuela it was back to normal service - he passes off either foot and has the dynamism to keep popping up in the box. He scored his third goal of the campaign and his 7th in 33 internationals.

With his mix of warrior spirit, talent and versatility Riveros is an appropriate symbol of Martino's Paraguay, and would not look out of place on the pitches of the Premier League.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Fantastic blog Tim, probably my favourite on the BBC website.
    Paraguay have always been a country that has interested me, however I thought they would struggle for a few years once their charasmatic goalkeeper Chilavert retired. But they have certainly showed themselves as a major force in South American football and I hope they go from strength to strength.

  • Comment number 2.

    Agreed, your contributions are always insightful and provide a welcome view of football away from the greasily-slick Premiership. I'll wager you are one of those lucky people who love their job!

    Btw I think your tagline at the top right should read 'endlessly fascinating' - sort it out editors.

  • Comment number 3.

    Tim,

    Always enjoy reading your articles. One thing though, a feature I really like, where has the readers question part gone?

    They always tended to give me useful info on players.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 4.

    Great blog again Tim, but whats happened to the readers questions section? I always enjoyed reading your answers to those.

  • Comment number 5.

    Tim, do you know anything about Liverpool's new signing Vitor Flora?

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree the question part is a good end to the article and should come back.

    Really interesting though, the only article on bbc sport i always read.

  • Comment number 7.

    I know you get asked an awful lot of questions in this blog Tim but can I ask why Fabio Aurelio is constantly overlooked for a place in the Brazil squad? I know he's suffered many injuries but I can't imagine that Brazil have many full backs as good as him. He's still only 28 as well..

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi Tim,

    I agree with other posters, the questions part should come back and was always a fitting end to your quality articles.

    Thank you for your efforts and i for one look forward to your article more than any other, as im sure many others do. Id go as far as to say maybe 90% of my south american football knowledge comes from reading your articles, for that, many thanks.

    Kash

  • Comment number 10.

    Thanks for the great article on the "Albirroja." I totally agree with your comments regarding our players. Riveros would fit very well in the EPL, he is a Lampard/Gerrard type of midfielder. Others like Salvador Cabañas and Paulo Da Silva could well be playing in Europe.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Tim

    Suprised you haven't mentioned Cardozo, who has a great scoring record and has looked good at Benfica. Would be fascinated to know what you make of him - will he be ready for the Premiership in the near future at all?

    Crane

  • Comment number 12.

    Nice article, Tim. You covered Cabanas in the past but I think a mention of Oscar Cardozo is also needed with respect to Paraguay's excellent strikers. He was a star for Newells Old Boys and now for Benfica.

    Also, Morel Rodrigues is beautiful player with some of the technique of passing and the style and looks of Deco.

    This team has the talent to do very well if we have very warm weather in South Africa.

  • Comment number 13.

    Unfortunately, Cardozo has not performed well for the team the few times he has been called upon to cover for one of the main stikers (Salvador, Roque and Haedo) and the fans are starting to heavily critizice him. I think he is the only big name player that has not found his place/game in this team.

    Cheers from Asuncion!

  • Comment number 14.

    So, in the context of this article, I think this is why Tim did not mention Cardozo.

  • Comment number 15.

    Just wanted to add my voices to the others here and say that this is the best blog on the bbc sport website. I do enjoy the question section though so look forward to them being brought back.

  • Comment number 16.

    haha, im gonna start a Tim Vickery fanclub!

    One look at the other blogs shows them to be littered with abuse of the author, this is the only one where people actually comment on how good the article was...and i must concur!

    I wonder, is the relative pressure free environemnt (as opposed to the circus surrounding brazil) a factor in paraguay's success?? As in, they arent weighed down with ludicrous expectations?

  • Comment number 17.

    At the highest level Oscar Cardozo looks very clumsy to me - 2 goals in 19 caps tend to bear that out, and he faces a lot of competition to get in the side, with Santa Cruz, Haedo Valdez and Cabanas all ahead of him on merit.

    Morel Rodriguez is certainly an interesting player, but he's 30 now so it's hard to imagine him in Europe. Paraguay should have roped him in earlier - perhaps his face didn't quite fit because he was brought up in Argentina (son of a Paraguayan who played with Maradona) - it's taken an Argentine coach to get him into the national team on a regular basis and get the best out of him.

  • Comment number 18.

    Tim,

    Just a quick question regarding your blog on the central defensive problems of Argentina last week. What are your thoughts on Gonzalo Rodriguez of Villarreal as a solution? From what little I've seen he seems strong and quick whilst relatively good on the ball. he's had plenty of injury problems but seems to have come back from them. It will be interesting to take a closer look at him against man utd in the Champions league but surely he must be an option for the Argentine defence?

  • Comment number 19.

    Nice and interesting blog Tim.

    Enjoyed reading your deep insights. Thanks for putting up such fine stuff.




    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 20.

    Great article Tim, finally some credit for Paraguay. To be honest, it´s the first time in my life i can remeber a Paraguay team more famous for it´s attacking power than it´s defensive prowess. The only problem we have at the moment is maybe a lack of strength in depth.

    In my opinion, Enrique "Rambert" Vera is one of our most exciting players. His versatility helped LDU de Quito to win the Copa Libertadores and I´m surprised that didn´t earn him a move to Europe.

    However, on a local level, there are several young players who are starting to attarct attention. Nico Martinez, Rodrigo Rojas and a couple of other young players are coming through the ranks at Olimpia (i wish they could replicate the national team´s form), while Roberto "Gatito" Fernandez is starting to show signs of becoming a good keeper. Libertad also tend to find lots of good young players.

    Obviously, the lure of European cash is starting to have an effect, with a handful of young players trying to make the grade over there. Jose Montiel went to Udinses when he was very young, Roanld Huth is at Liverpool, Carlos Acuña is at Cadiz in Spain, Marcelo Estigarribia is now in France and Luis Baez I think is still in Portugal. Hopefully they will all learn the game better over there and make the step up to the national team.

    But my favourite player, other than Oscar "Tacuara" Cardozo, has to be Cristian Venacio Bogado, who I think is now playing in Argentina. He´s a very direct young forward who likes to run at people.

    In my opinion the future is bright for our team. With a bit of luck we might even win a tournament in my lifetime!

  • Comment number 21.

    Aye, great comments on Paraguay, they are playing some good football this campaign, but lets not overlook Chile, we hammered Colombia 4-0 and with 4 different scorers, we are looking good at this stage. We also have one of the best young players in the world right now in Alexis Sanchez.
    BRING ON PARAGUAY!!!
    Cheers

  • Comment number 22.

    Firstly, great to see all the praise as this is the best article on bbc sport every week.

    Secondly, i was wondering what's happened to Mark Gonzalez? When he moved to liverpool he was highly rated and there were rumours of interest from Real and Barca, now he's at Betis and seems to have fallen off the radar.

    How has M.Gonzalez been doing for Betis and Chile? Still not living up to his potential?

  • Comment number 23.

    scottiechileno... we already beat you in Santiago... what more do you want???

  • Comment number 24.

    All these players are partly owned by insurance firms and local councils. Tevez? our teams won't go near them. Forlan had credentials too. Garbage article.

  • Comment number 25.

    What a load of crap. - Oh wait, i might get banned for saying a word that 4 year olds know!

  • Comment number 26.

    P.s i always write garbage article or awful article. They're not really

  • Comment number 27.

    A lot of the young players still playing in Paraguay don´t even have agents yet and are paid measly sums by their clubs. It´s only when someone shows interest that they are asked to sign contracts, usually with club directors or their families....

  • Comment number 28.

    great column but i miss the readers questions bit as well and i always thought there wasnt enough of them. you used to answer 2 questions there should be a minimum of 5 questions.

    come on bbc give us what we want.

  • Comment number 29.

    Of the 10 countries in Conmebol, you mean, Tim. The three Guyanas are also "on the continent." Let's hear it for the little guys - after all, Surinam does produce half of the Dutch team most years!

  • Comment number 30.

    Tim,

    Agreed, i've always enjoyed your insights... Carrying on the Paraguay theme, I was a young football fan who subscribed to World Soccer from about 1985 onwards and keenly followed the Olimpia team of the early nineties. Here's a trivia question - i seem to recall they reached the latter stages of the Cope Libertadores (i think they won it as well) during this period and had a young paraguayan attacking midfielder (a left footer i think) who was getting a lot of rave reviews. Can anyone help me out with his name? I could have a search on google but can anyone suggest who it was

  • Comment number 31.

    theBollard, could it be Luis Alberto Monzon? He´s the only young player i can think of that fits the profile...

  • Comment number 32.

    WHAT AN AWFUL AND BORING BLOG

  • Comment number 33.

    Nice and interesting article as always Mr Vickery.

    redhotbed - I think you should review some of the idiotic comments you've made over the past few months before commenting on anyone else's writing ability.

    Have a look at his semi-literate negativity by clicking on his name.

  • Comment number 34.

    the bollard (no 30)
    - i wonder if you're thinking of Gabriel Gonzalez. He was a class act, and even won a recall to the national team arond the trn of this decade when he wasn't far off 40. Then he lived up to his 'El Loco' nickname and twatted a referee and that was that. Interestingly his brother was an international referee - he must have got all the solid, orderly genes while Gabriel got the wayward genius ones.

    In general, about bringing the questions back - I'll see what I can do.

  • Comment number 35.

    I dislike you Tim.

  • Comment number 36.

    Good article as always Tim,
    your blog remains by far the most informative on the beeb.

    I support ealier posts in requesting the return of the questions section to your blog.


    BombtheDom - Tim probably doesn't care too much but thanks for lettign us know.

  • Comment number 37.

    Who cares about Paraguay !

    You scraping the bottom of the barrel !!!

    ' Tim very nice but very dim'

    Enuf said on this subject .... Tatty bye

  • Comment number 38.

    Tim, excelent article as usual.

    theBollard...could you be talking about Rafael Bobadilla? I reckon Rafa"Gol" and Claudio Borghi were two of the most talented souht american players after Maradona. It's a shame Rafa"GOL" did not take his career seriously and ended up almost as a anonimous player in the early 90s...Borghi enjoyed a little bit of fame but overshadowed by Diego Maradona, the greatest ever - what a great goal the "hand of god" was...Shilton "The Pirate" still having nightmares haha

  • Comment number 39.

    Tim,

    Am i correct in saying that the BBC pay you to stay in beautiful, sun-soaked Rio to watch the most entertaining football around at the minute?

    ugh, a degree in property development, what was i thinking...

    Is Rodrigo Polacio really as good as the few games i've seen him play suggest? The man looks like a genius!

    It's annoying how we have to put up with Setanta showing leagues such as Ligue 1 Orange, just because the French are next to us on the map - they could probably get the South American rights for less!! and then we wouldn't see as travesties like the mighty Franco Costanzo plying his trade in Switzerland!

  • Comment number 40.

    Hey Tim,
    Great blog. This is the only one i read on the site, as its the only one that doesn't seem like a PA press release.

    Just a question, of the Latino Heat that joined the premiership last season, who are the ones you believe will make a lasting impression now after settling down. Lucas (liv), Gilberto (spurs) or ekano (city)?

  • Comment number 41.

    theBollard, you are probably talking about Gustavo Neffa, left footed attacking midfielder who was picked up by Juventus and loaned to Cremonese in 1989. He had so much talent that people were regarding him as the "next Maradona" but failed to even become a decent player after his stint with Cremonese. He later played in Union and Boca Juniors and then back to Olimpia.
    What a waste!

  • Comment number 42.

    ~39 Melbourne1873

    SportXchange is a free UK satellite channel showing 2 Brazilian games (Sat and Sun). The also have the highlights package on the same channel.

    Commentary is in English by the very funny duo of John Cotteril and Birra Brazil. Which brings me to ask Tim V whether he has ever met these 2 chaps?

    The big shame is that Channel Five have pulled the plug on Argentine league football which had been running for many years. I miss Carlos Monaterio's (duck voice) commentary big time.

  • Comment number 43.

    Tim,

    Brilliant blog, and insightful as well. You couldn't have a word with Chick Young and tell him to get his finger out, as his blog is as rubbish as yours is great.

  • Comment number 44.

    What has happened to Kerlon, the Cruziero wonder kid?

  • Comment number 45.

    Kerloon went to Chievo Verona in Italy but he hasn't played a game this season.

  • Comment number 46.

    Are us mere mortals allowed to say "twatted"?

  • Comment number 47.

    I have a theory on why Paraguay always do well in their own continent.
    They play a very physical and direct game which other South American sides are not able to cope with physically.
    However, when the play European sides who are physically bigger and stronger, Paraguay do not have the same success as Europeans can easily negate their style.

  • Comment number 48.

    Paraguay are a team I have always enjoyed watching - probably just as, from what I've read, it seems a bit of a mad place.

    This (very good) article got me thinking about how we see certain teams, though. Paraguay to me have always been the organised, disciplined, warrior team who qualify for world cups and never give up, despite not being obviously of the same calibre as their South American cohorts - the Everton or Allardyce-era Bolton Wanderers of the continent.

    This has always been in contrast to Brazil or Argentina, of whom we tend to emphasise their soaring talent and skills over their steel (especially Brazil).

    Yet Paraguay are playing fantastic football and Brazil are relying on fortune and guile. Just leads me to thinking, is there anything in our preconceptions of "national characteristics" of football?

  • Comment number 49.

    Just to give a mention to Paulo Da Silva.
    A solid, consistent centre back - one of the many Paraguyans playing in Mexico.
    Da Silva is captain and permanent fixture at Toluca.
    To be honest he should be playing in Europe, but I'm not complaining as long as Toluca can keep him!

  • Comment number 50.

    I think the main problem with Paraguayan players playing in Europe is the physical side of things. Very few players here develop physically, and in order to do that they need to leave for Europe earlier. I think that is partly our hope for Jose Montiel. It worked for Roque Santa Cruz at Bayern and has helped Edgar Barreto.

    The only big players we have are naturally big, and tend to lack the necessary skill for the premiership. For example Da Silva is not a ball playing defender in the ilk of Carlos Gamarra, he´s more of an old fashioned English centre-half.

    We do have a lot of players at lower levels in Europe but a lot of them don´t really get a mention here because they don´t feature heavily for their first teams, or are constantly loaned out to lower league clubs. Dante Lopez was one example. he had a cracking season here at Olimpia, then left for a Serie B or C side. He was only brought back into the national side when he came back to Libertad.

    Out of all our players, I think Oscar Cardozo, Enrique Vera, Salvador Cabañas, Nelson Haedo Valdez, Cristian Riveros, Jonatan Santana and Edgar Barreto could all cut it in the premiership.

    More importantly, I think it would help their development. But we saw what happened when Diego gavilan went to Newcastle.... Sometimes it just doesn´t work...

  • Comment number 51.

    Would just like to say thank you Tim for your ever-informative blog. I'm a big fan of most of the content from the BBC journalists but can honestly say that your work is the most consistently incisive and thoughtful, and free from hyperbole and sensationalism. A hugely illuminating and non-condescending way to expand my football knowledge in an area I am all too ignorant of!

    Many, many thanks.

  • Comment number 52.

    Tim (No 34)

    Thanks for the comment - seems there were a few candidates but slahaye got it right (from my memory's perspective anyway...). I remember reading about Luis Monzon in the pre-internet days in World Soccer and he seemed like a superstar - what ever happended to him?

    By the way, Gabriel Gonzalez would probably fit into my local sunday league from what you comment suggests (although he'd have to lose the skill.....)

  • Comment number 53.

    hi tim
    i was wondering if you could give me some info on eder, the brazilian footballer who played in the 82 world cup. He was the most spectacular player i've ever seen, but i don't know what happened to him after that tournament.

    thanks

  • Comment number 54.

    Tim, I think you got it wrong on the Terry red card. Mr. Halsey was correct in his decision to send JT off for serious foul play for the studs up challenge directed at Jo's ankles (can you say Eduardo) a split second prior to the holding back foul (yellow). Watch it again!

  • Comment number 55.

    Thanks for your insightful reporting from Latin America. I really follow your blogs with compassion and you are doing great service to soccer fans around world. By the way you can act as a scout for EPL clubs.

  • Comment number 56.

    Paraguay have some great young players but they use the long ball way too much. They do well in qualifying due to most of there players give everything and still play in the Americas. The Braziians and Argentinians are in Europe and there club side becomes more important until the World Cup Finals.
    But that said for such a small population they could be considered the best footballing nation in the world (if you average success and population per capita) when you consider they have 6.5 million people compared to Brazil's 179 million and they can compete with them an win.
    Its alot about tactics and diry play though, which is the only way they could top Brazil.

  • Comment number 57.

    I agree, the blog is just awesome.

    Personally, as a Brazilian, I am delighted with Paraguay. They fight all adversities to build up such a consistent team! On the other hand, pathetic episodes like Robinho forcing the sending-off of a Bolivian player - last week, Brazil 0 x 0 Bolivia - makes me very disappointed with my fellow country footballers... I really can't believe Man City has spent so much money on this guy.

  • Comment number 58.

    As a Millwall fan Tim, I was overwhelmingly shocked to see Juan (Maldonado Jaimez Junior) come off the bench for Brazil last week. He was once on loan at the Den from the Arsenal and at the time a few people compared him to Sylvinho. I recently wondered where the kid went to and then I saw him play for A Seleção. How good is he? Did Millwall miss out on a quality player once again?

  • Comment number 59.

    It's just a shame that when they have qualified for past World Cups they tend to adopt the following (negative) tactics: Play for 0-0 in their first 2 group games then hope to scrape a win in the last group game.

  • Comment number 60.

    grooverJesicar is right... we´ve only ever been to the qwolrd cup to defend. But luckily Tata Martino is a much more concerned with attacking than his predecessors, especially one Maño Ruiz... awful negative tactics.

    Hopefully we´ll start playing more of a passing game and start showing the world we really can play, not just score a goal and defend...

    It´s also great to see that there´s so much interest in this topic. When i lived in the UK hardly anyone knew anything about Paraguay.

  • Comment number 61.

    hi Tim, I'm an ex-pat who has spent the last ten years investigating the Bolivian League (1977- until present) I have all the goalscorers of which most are argentine. Thanks for your blog, it really puts things in perspective. timuka@gmail.com

  • Comment number 62.

    hi Tim,

    I just want to say your blog is possibly the best thing on the internet. The only problem i have is, that it is not daily.

    I wanted to ask you about your thoughs on Rodrigo Possebon. I actually wanted to ask you when Utd bought him for £240,000, but I think it is more relevant now since he almost had his leg amputated by Pogatetz.

    From what i have seen, he looks like an excellent prospect. Calm on the ball, good touch, quick feet and doesnt lose possesion.What are your thoughts, and how is he regarded in Brazil?

 

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