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Caniza experience crucial for Paraguay

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Tim Vickery | 07:37 UK time, Monday, 29 March 2010

Can Lionel Messi reproduce his Barcelona form for Argentina? Will Wayne Rooney be able to sustain his current level of performance into June and July? Might Cristiano Ronaldo, or even Kaka, be fresher at the end of the club season because Real Madrid are out of the Champions League?

The World Cup is where reputations are confirmed and football fans across the planet are hoping the stars to be firing on all cylinders in South Africa.

But football is a collective activity, with a variety of functions that need to be carried out in order for the team to be successful. Bobby Charlton has spent over 40 years reminding people of the importance of Nobby Stiles to England's World Cup victory in 1966, winning the ball, using it wisely and demanding the best from all around him.

Brazil were first victorious in 1958, a tournament in which Pele and Garrincha made their names - but Didi, the midfield brains of the side, argued that the best player in the campaign was centre-back Orlando Pecanha. Brazil did not concede a goal until the semi-final, and it was this defensive solidity that gave the platform for the attacking players to show their skills.

The World Cup, then, is also the story of the unsung heroes and an excellent current example - an unsung hero in an unsung side - is Denis Caniza of Paraguay.

South Korea v ParaguayCaniza battles for the ball with South Korea's Lee Keun-Ho during a friendly in August 2009 - photo: Getty

The chances are that unless you come from Paraguay or Mexico you may never have heard of him, but his team-mates, past and present, and a succession of coaches are well aware of his value.

For an impoverished country with a population of just over 6m, making it to a fourth consecutive World Cup is a remarkable achievement and Caniza has been there from the start. He is the last member of the France '98 squad still in contention for a place in the Paraguay squad, and he has played in every game of their last three World Cup campaigns - with a versatility that pays tribute to his usefulness.

A centre-back by preference, he is, at well under 6ft, probably too short to play there at the highest level, but he can fill other positions effectively. In France, he came off the bench to stiffen the midfield in the opening game against Bulgaria and the epic second round match against the hosts, when Paraguay were just a few minutes away from forcing a penalty shoot-out. In the other two games he featured as a left wing-back.

In Japan and South Korea four years later, he played on the left of a back three against South Africa, as a conventional left-back against Spain and Slovenia, and then at left wing-back when they reverted to 3-5-2 in the second round clash with Germany.

Four years ago in Germany, he was at right-back in all three of Paraguay's games but was denied what would have been only his second goal for Paraguay.

In their final group game, he broke forward from right back, latched on to a chest down from midfielder Edgar Barreto and fired a shot past the Trinidad and Tobago keeper. It was an excellent goal, and would have been a real landmark - the 2000th goal in World Cup history. Perhaps the referee thought that someone more glamorous than Caniza should score it because Barreto was wrongly adjudged to have handled, and the goal was disallowed.

That appeared to be the end of his international career. Caniza was pushing 32 at the end of the tournament and announced that he was no longer interested in representing his country, but the following year coach Gerardo Martino persuaded him to return. He played eight times in the qualification campaign, at both right and left back, and is surely worthy of selection for South Africa, if only for the experience he brings to the squad.

Last year he provided clear evidence of his continuing quality when he spent a few months with Nacional, a traditional but tiny club in Paraguay's capital Asuncion. They have the reputation of being everyone's second club - both because they produced Arsenio Erico, the country's greatest player, and because they never offered a serious threat to anyone else.

But with Caniza captaining the side, Nacional ended the long wait for the club's seventh title, and their first since 1946. He then moved to Mexico, where he has spent much of the last decade, to join Leon in the Second Division. Without him, Nacional are not the same side - back in mid-table and comfortably beaten in all four of their Copa Libertadores games.

So Denis Caniza continues in relative anonymity. But when national team coach Martino says his side's strength is their "collective play" and that teamwork "is a natural characteristic of Paraguayan players", he might well be thinking of the solid and selfless contribution of his veteran defender.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Q) I saw Messi yesterday and he broke Zargoza but my Latino friend kept talking about 'Cintura.' I am not sure that that means in football terms, its something about the waist, can you tell me a bit more about it?
Omino Gardezi

A) Football is a game of twisting and turning, where players are constantly changing direction, so the idea of having flexibility in the waist ('cintura') is very important, especially in the tradition of the South American game.

When Uruguay amazed everyone with their play in winning the 1924 Olympics contemporary reports compared them favourably with the English professionals - up until then seen as the best in the world. Where the English were seen as strong, in comparison with the Uruguayans they were adjusted inflexible in the waist, and therefore straight line runners.

With greater flexibility - and also I would argue a low centre of gravity - the South Americans were better at changing direction and therefore surprising and confusing their opponents. Maradona and now Messi are fantastic examples.

Q) What are your thoughts on Sandro and his move to Tottenham?
Eoin Barry

This is what I wrote about him in World Soccer magazine at the start of last year when he captained Brazil to victory in the South American Under-20 Championships: "A tall, powerful central midfielder with fierce tackling and defensive anticipation who organises the team in possession, can distribute off either foot and rumble forward to link up with the attack. His range of passing needs improving, but in a problem area for Brazil it will be interesting to see if he is fast tracked into the senior squad."

I still stand by that. He was indeed fast tracked into the senior squad, and he is a promising, competitive player, though I'm still not particularly impressed by his passing - at times I think he has tunnel vision.

I see him as a good squad addition, as long as he's not weighed down by expectations to produce 'samba soccer,' because that's not his game.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Tim - what is your most recent memory of a team playing collectively well at a World Cup but with no real stars?

    I'd have to say South Korea in 2002 put in a great effort - their workrate was exceptional but obviously they were conditioned perfectly for the tournament being as it was in their own backyard.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Tim

    I was wondering about the fiercest domestic and international rivalries within South America. Everyone knows about the big ones like River-Boca and Brasil-Argentina, but having lived in South America for a few years I know there are some perhaps even more passionate derby matches involving lesser known clubs or less glamorous countries.

    You must have some eye-watering stories.....

  • Comment number 3.

    To add to your comments about "Cintura", the waist is also a critical element of S American dancing. From Salsa, to Tango, to Samba, to Capoeira, this msuical rythmn and flexibility which is steeped in their culture, transmits itself via football. Ronaldinho was prime example of someone adding this "cintura" to his game. The elasticity and swaying this way, then that way, deceiving the opponent and enchanting him like an Indian snake Charmer does it to a Cobra.

    It is a cultural heritage which they have applied to the way they express themselves on the football field. Which is why we associate it with Brazilian football even though now it is fewer players (perhaps Robinho) in the Brazil national squad who evoke this as Vickery has pointed out in many columns (increased brazilian players using strength, stamina and directness as their footballing philosophy).

  • Comment number 4.

    Great article, really enjoyed reading that, Tim,

    As someone who does take a passing interest in Paraguayan football, I'm ashamed to say that, yes, I've hardly heard of Caniza before, apart from seeing his name on the team-sheet.

    By chance, I was in Paraguay for the group stages of the last World Cup -I watched England v Paraguay on a big screen in a supermarket canteen in Asuncion, with the locals all wearing Paraguayan replica tops - perhaps the calmest group of supporters I've ever come across in my life - as indeed I found them as a people, generally - very calm compared to their excitable neighbours in Argentina and Brazil I thought.

    But that's not to say they're not passionate about football - they just don't express it so much in the shouting, chanting, and jumping up and down department, in my opinion. Certainly, the whole country got into the spirit of the World Cup; all decked out in replica tops, and it was sad when they didn't get through the group stages.

    Two questions:

    - Does Paraguayan football have any sort of hooligan problem? Or are they too laid back for that?

    - Have you seen this remarkable story about Cabañas? He's started training again, says he could still make it to the World Cup - but he still ahs the bullet in his head!

  • Comment number 5.

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  • Comment number 6.

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  • Comment number 7.

    This notion of "cintura" sounds as though it might relate to the idea of core muscle strength - abdominals, back etc that has risen to prominence in recent years. Certainly sounds as though it would have a big impact on balance, posture etc.

  • Comment number 8.

    Cheers gts1 - I'll bookmark that for later...


    I was right impressed with Paraguay during the SA Qualifiers right enough, but sadly perhaps more on reputation than being able to actively watch their performances. Anyone else know what players might be key for them at WC2010? Perez (I believe at Villareal)??

  • Comment number 9.

    i know bryan ruiz from his days with Gent and while he already impressed me there , he took the step up to the dutch league with ease and is probably the best player in holland right now.
    how do they rate him in central-america and how far do you think he can get?

  • Comment number 10.

    Not really sure you can class Paraguay competing in 4 consecutive WC's as any great achievement. Qualifying from the SA group is not really that hard is it? I mean 50% of the teams go through. So that Argentina and Brazil. Then any 3 from


    I mean finishing even in 3rd of these 8 will get you there. I would even expect the likes of Scotland to make it once in a while, and that is saying something!

  • Comment number 11.

    Him Tim, nice piece, nice to see someone else rates caniza as highly as i do. Sadly, i don't really see anyone coming through to replace the likes of Celso Ayala, Carlos Gamarra, Chiqui Arce and Denis Caniza.

    @ Clacky1 - Paraguay has a terrible problem with hooligans, sadly. Just this weekend there were fights between fans ina 3 de Febrero - Sportivo Luqueño game, and in the futsl final, the players and fans had a right old go at each other. It's very sad to see, and makes it uncomfortable to go to games.

    People who watch the EPL here can't believe the premier league don't have fences separating the fans from the pitch, and can't believe that nobody ever (ewith the exception of the odd nutter/streaker) runs on to the pitch.

    The Barra Bravas (hooligans) here are usually allowed into the stadiums free here, as they provide most of the atmosphere, and in some cases even get access to the changing rooms to threaten players etc.

    Nobody here really tries to control them, and it's not uncommon to see knives and guns being taken to games. It's a sad state of affairs, but such is life here.

  • Comment number 12.


  • Comment number 13.

    Dunga and Maradona have clearly invested everything in a counter-attacking strategy, but their omission of Ronaldinho and Riquelme seriously impairs their ability to dictate the game if Kaka or Veron tire or lose form.

    Brazil's only Plan B seems to be an aerial bombardment while Argentina's only option would be to unleash the diddymen.

    Do the Brazilian and Argentine publics endorse these ultra-defensive counter-attacking strategies? Does either team have an alternative creative outlet?

  • Comment number 14.

    In response to post 10.

    Phil, i would have agreed with you about the difficulty of qualifying from south america a couple of years ago, but after following the latest qualifying campaign for south africa I was struck by how few easy games there are as compared to europe, for example.

    I don't know if it is to do with the fact that after Brasil a lot of the teams are not greatly different in terms of ability, or that playing as an away team in South America seems to be a much tougher proposition, but almost all of the matches i saw were bitterly contested and extremely competitive.

    Even bolivia and peru, who were both pretty poor, pulled off some decent results at home (got to love that altitude as a balancer)!

    So to qualify for 4 world cups in a row shows a real level of consistency that isn't shared by the other teams (apart from arg and brasil). Be interesting to see which of the other countries there have been qualifying consistently over the last 20 years.

  • Comment number 15.

    @ Phil

    Of those countries you mention, only Uruguay has fewer people than Paraguay. Compare the population of Paraguay (6.5 million approx) to Colombia's, Peru's, Venezuela's and Chile's.

    Paraguay is also one of the poorest of those countries.

    Let's just say we've been punching above our weight for a long time.

  • Comment number 16.

    I would argue that most of the teams are much of a muchness, with a lack of any real quality like we see in Euro qualifiers - but this is just my opinion. Personally, i think if you put Paraguay in a European group they would probably be ranked as a 3rd tier team. I very much doubt they would win a European group. It would be a MAJOR shock if they did. Maybe they would scrape in second and have a play off. Would they therefore have qualified for 4 consecutive WC's in Europe? No chance. The weakness of South American teams is highlighted by the fact that it would be a major shock if one of them (excluding Brazil and Argentina) made it past the second round. In fact, even getting out of the group is an achievement. Surely this shows the weakness of qualifying?

    Out of the other nations, Venezuala finished just outside the play off spot and their national sport is baseball. Very few people play football. Colombia has been in decline for years. Chile have been poor since '98 - although now look like a dark horse. Teams like Ecuador and Bolivia have huge home field advantage, but on the road they get found out.

    I believe teams like Scotland would fare reasonably well against such opponents. Which therefore makes them a second, but more like third tier nation at an international level.

    But for a nation of 6million, its not bad, but like i said, its not like they have an improbable task - like a nation such as Slovenia did, who managed to qualify.

  • Comment number 17.

    If population had any correlation to success then India, China and the US would be World Champions. Whats more important are factors such as the national psyche - ie are you a 'footballing' nation. Paraguay are. Im sure this stands them in good stead when up against nations like Venezuala. Probably more Paraguayans play football than Venezualans. Also money, whilst it plays a part in football, doesnt determine World Cup winnners or qualifiers. Nations like Argentina and Brazil are not rich by Western standards, yet are successful. So saying Paraguay is poor really doesn't wash, especially in a continent of 3rd and 2nd World countries.

    Don't get me wrong, ive got nothing against Paraguay - ive actually travelled there before - its just that 4 straight qualifications in my opinion is not the greatest achievement ever. Put them in a tougher qualifying group and they wouldnt even be in South Africa.

  • Comment number 18.

    I will keep commending you Tim for a more than impressive knowledge of the South American game. It is envied.

    Caniza's playing versatility would have done Rinus Michel proud. I also love this player's humility and acceptance of disruptive (if not irritating) positional changes. I wish more of today's spoiled soccer "stars" would adhere to such discipline. The likes of Caniza, Javier Zanetti, Mascherano, Kuyt, Gerrard or Lampard have a playing discipline that is admirable, while proving a challenge for youngsters in how to balance stardom and the game of soccer itself.

    I wonder how Caniza will fare as a manager, seeing that he has a first class footballing brain and an ability to learn new things all the time, all without incessant complaining.

    Related to my point above, [and an observation] English players should take up the challenge of learning to play multiple positions versus specialization - I am a central midfielder and the coach is playing me out of position, etc. etc. This is one point where foreign players excel. How about other skills like positional awareness or learning to shoot with either foot as many Spanish players are taught to do? This will ensure the next step up in soccer circles, and the difference between them and the Lionel Messi's. Only then, of course coupled with a few significant sporting triumphs, can any player be considered for true stardom and such tags as "world class". Food for thought.

    I would also appreciate more historical articles regarding the game and discussions of tactics and formations. Otherwise, a fan of your writing commends you.

  • Comment number 19.

    In response to #2, I heard in Colombia that the Cali derby is quite a feisty affair, although I don't know if it resonates on the national stage. I happened to be there on the day of one of these games and was considering going but even the locals advised to watch it on the tv. I think the teams are America and Deportivo.

    In reponse to Phil, I think Paraguay would comfortably qualify from every qualifying zone in the world apart from Europe, every time, and give some european teams a run for their money. South America has 4 spots because of it's world cup heritage, Europe has 15 because of heritage but also more because of power and money to gain influence in FIFA. We in Britain have 4 vice-presidents of FIFA. Why?
    A group of 11 is a practical and fair solution in South America, to give the smaller countries a chance to gain points against their peers. In Europe it is totally impractical with 50 countries.
    And I think Scotland might struggle to compete at 2500m above sea level. Both Argentina and Brazil lost to Bolivia in the last campaign, the former in most humiliating fashion.

  • Comment number 20.

    @ Phil,

    I would argue that Paraguay qualifying for four successive world cups is an achievement. I agree that when you take out the top two from the South American grouping then there appears to be more of a level playing field. Surely this makes it even more of an acheivement for one of the remaining 8 countries to continually bag themselves one of the three remaining qualifying positions?

    And to state that Paraguay are a third tier team, you are taking a eurocentric world view. Yes in the European qualifying section they would likely struggle to qualify, but I would state that the bigger european teams would not particularly relish playing them (I think tkaing your example, Scotland would be far preferable to have in your qualifying group if you are the likes of Germany, Italy, Spain etc.)

    Furthermore, the South American group is a relatively strong grouping compared to the rest of the world - in North/Central America, Mexico tend to be strong, as do the USA, but you would expect Paraguay to form tough opposition to both those teams, and likely qualify with ease. Afica - although the top teams are maybe better than Paraguay, the top African teams are not as strong as the top two in South America, and the rest of the continent is probably on average of lower quality than the South American nations when you exclude Brazil and Argentina. Asia - well take Australia, they struggle to qualify when in the Oceania section, and qualify with ease the first time they move to the Asian section.

    Therefore by your view, most of the decent teams from outside Europe are "2nd/3rd tier" teams not worthy of qualifying for the world cup (and certainly not have ideas beyond the group stage) when compared to the "middling European teams.

    I stand by my thoughts that for a small country in a tough qualifying group to consistently qualify for the World Cup over such a long period of time to be an achievement (remember England haven't been that brilliant at qualifying for World Cups/European championships over the last 20 years or so, having gone out to teams such as the mighty Poland! - does that make them a 2nd rate team?).

  • Comment number 21.

    I agree with #20. If it was no great achievement then why haven't the likes of Chile, Colombia and Ecuador achieved similar. As for the comparison with Scotland: where are Scotland's Cardozo, Cabanas and Santa Cruz?

  • Comment number 22.

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  • Comment number 23.

    Sorry to beat on poor old Scotland (but you have set yourself up for it), did not Scotland lose to Peru and go out of the World Cup in 1978 when they considered themselves worthy of a semi or final appearance in a fit of overblown expectations that would make us english look humble?

    The World Cup has much greater value when teams with genuine football skills and attractive football, like the teams that tend to qualify 3rd or 4th in S.America, make it through to the second round ahead of very average workmanlike european teams. Who wants a repeat of Ukraine vs Switzerland (2006)? I know I will flick over to another channel if a similar matchup occurs this time.

  • Comment number 24.

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  • Comment number 25.

    Hi Tim,

    Caniza sounds like the Paraguayan equivalent of Steve Bull.

    A determined player who deserved to be at the top sides, but for one reason or another he became a footballing journeyman [although Bull stayed with Wolves and could have went higher].

    If you ever get the chance you should read John Gimlette's At the tomb of the inflatable pig - an excellent and rather bizarre insight into Paraguay and its workings.

    Look forward to next week's edition.

    All the best,

  • Comment number 26.

    As for as I can recall to 4 months ago Argentina just scrapped through qualification. I am fr from being a foloower of S. Americn football but for Paraguay to qualify for their 4th consecutive finals is an achievement. Qualification may not be that tough but still competitive, who knows what they would do in a european group but as we all know thay have beaten what some may class and 3nd and 3rd tier european team as well as some 1t tier teams and I still remember the game against France when they were minutes away from taking them to penalties. So tbh they are always there or there abouts and never to be written off

  • Comment number 27.

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  • Comment number 28.

    25 - I have read the book - 'At the tomb...' Wonderful on the historical side, but first you have to wade through an appalling chapter on Asuncion when he only seems to hob nob with the elite - there's no football, for example, and going to games is always an excllent way to get inside a country's mass culture.

    4 -the paraguayans are indeed unique. I see them a bit like the harp music they love so much. They can be gentle and serene, but they're also capable of swelling up to moments of violence. Their warrior spirit has long been feared on the continent, and football can bring this to the surface.

  • Comment number 29.

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  • Comment number 30.

    2 - The derby in Guayaquil, Ecuador is real nasty - El Clasico del Astillero - between Barcelona and Emelec is quite nasty. I went once (against advice) and someone was shot dead with a flare gun. Decided that would be my last visit.

    I have also been to the Allianza vs Universitario de Lima Clasico ... can get quite heated ... if i am seen in the universario shirt by an allianza fan on any day they will usually shout "allianza until death!" and possibly look for a fight. I read a story that when the official flag was taken by allianza fans opposing "La U" fans stormed them to steal it back only to then set it on fire because it was infected.

  • Comment number 31.

    I often think the fiercest derbies are not in the capital. but in provincial cities where there are only two bog teams - gremio versus Internacional in Porto Alegre, Brazil, for example, or in Argentina the Rosario derby between Central and Newells.

  • Comment number 32.

    that was supposed to read 'big teams' - not bog - just in case any fans of Gremio, Inter, Central or Newels decide to take out their fierceness on me!

  • Comment number 33.

    Hi Tim
    please Tim just want you to comment on Javier Zanetti of Inter Milan espeacilly his form aganist Chelsea and if he can make it to South Africa..

  • Comment number 34.

    "I would argue that most of the teams are much of a muchness, with a lack of any real quality like we see in Euro qualifiers - but this is just my opinion."

    A fact that has absolutely no factual basis i am afraid to say... look all across european club football and the number of south american football players is immense, the vast majority of national squads include players that compete or have competed at the very highest level.

    Peru for example, the very worst team at the qualifiers (for many reasons that i wont get into) have player such as Vargas (who almost single handedly knocked Steven Gerrards Liverpool out of the Champions League) Players like Sergio Aguero who is not even a first team starter for Argentina tearing it up in Spain and Chgampions League, reportedly Chelsea going to pay £40m for him!

  • Comment number 35.

    #19 - South America realistically get 5 berths between 10 teams - a 50/50 chance to qualify. Europe gets 15 berths from 50 teams. So i dont think Europe are over represented in the slightest - 30% chance. And i agree that Scotland or indeed any team would find it hard to compete with such a huge disadvantage as altitude. However, this does not make Bolivia or Ecuador good teams, it just means they have a huge advantage and any opposition has a huge handicap. The boys are soon sorted from the men when the playing fields are level.

    #20 - if Paraguay are so strong, then how come the player mentioned is playing in the Mexican 2nd division? I do not think any club in the World Cup will fear Paraguay - respect them for sure, but no fear whatsoever. Also, if you look at the USA in recent years, they have faired far better than all the South American nations (ex. Br and Ar) and Mexico tend to do just as well as any of the S.A. teams too. So i really believe Paraguay would finish 3rd in the Central/North American qualifying. South American qualifying is the easiest in my opinion. Which other continents have 50% of their teams qualify!

    I rate teams for sure, and i think 1st rate teams in this World Cup are teams with a genuine chance of the semis, such as Brazil, Spain, Italy, Germany etc etc. 2nd rate are those good enough to get out of the groups but unlikely to go too far IMO Ivory Coast, Ghana, Serbia etc. 3rd rate are the rest. Just my opinion.

    Im not Scottish btw, im English, so sorry for getting the Scots into trouble :D

    My point is this. Paraguay have a 50% chance of qualifying every tournament, its a HUGE advantage to be in a group with 50% of teams qualifying! I wonder how they would fare in a 5 team group like Europe with lets say Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Venezuala and only the top goes through. Then would they have qualified for 4 straight finals? NO.

  • Comment number 36.

    Phil @ # 17,

    I recommend you have a look at the book titled "Soccernomics: Why England loses,...", by Simon Kuper and Stefan .

    You'll see that population, resources (wealth) and a footballing tradition has a lot do to with how countries do in international competition.

  • Comment number 37.


  • Comment number 38.

    @ Phil.

    What position do you think England would finish in if they had to play in the S American Qualifiers?

    just out of curiosity....

  • Comment number 39.

    @ #35

    I think you are still missing the point. The South American group is not easy to get out of - purely quoting 5 of 10 qualifiers being 50% does not sum up the full story. For a start there are three South American countries who whose to play in the North American grouping - Surinam, Guyana and French Guiana. This would instantly reduce your ratio to 5/13. If S.America is so easy why do these teams compete in N America (although I accept it may well be cultural reasons as they are more akin to the former dutch/english/french colonies (respectively) in the Carribean.

    Secondly pretty much all the countries in the South American grouping have the ability to mount a succesful campaign for qualification -they may have bad campaigns here and there, but there is sufficient depth of talent for a good crop to emerge in one country at the same time, and therefore mount a succesful qualification campaign. Paraguay have managed to maintain this emergence of players.

    If you look at Europe (and your 15/50 ratio) - you can rule out probably half of these (at least a third) that will just never make it to the world cup - this includes the minnows such as Andorra/San Marino etc, but also includes other countries (the 4th/5th seeds in the group - Iceland, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova, Albania etc. etc. By the time you rule this lot out, you have maybe 35 countries that could ever mount a succesful challenge to compete for the world cup - the ration suddently becomes 15/35 and begins to look not too disimilar to the S.American team ratio.
    So now look at the European teams - how many (not ranked as a 1st seed team (i.e. the equivalent of Argentina and Brazil) have qualified for each of the last four campaigns? - If any have (anybody care to provide the stats?), then this is an achievement comparable with Paraguay.

    You then go on to state that the article is about a Paraguay player from the second tier of the Mexican league - the article itself points out that he may not make it into the squad, and if does may likely be a fringe player.
    Compare this to European teams - and since you picked Scotland, lets start with them - how many of their squad play in the second tier or lower of a country's league system - quite a few isn't it?. Even the England squad have David James - potentially a first team player, and he plays for a club which is about to be relegated into the second tier - this is European team who are in the top seeds for the world cup?

    Paraguay may not be a world class team, but that's the point, they've still got there consistently, when even apparent other "world class" teams have missed the odd WC here and there! This is why it should be considered an achievement
    S.American qualifying has to be far harder than all other regions other than Europe for the sheer fact the quality of teams is there pretty much right to the bottom of the group. Furthermore there is no seeding of groups, everyone plays everyone, This is certainly not the case elsewhere, such as N.America where the big seeds don't clash until the final group (and even then you get the likes of Trinidad or Jamaica in this final group). And even in Europe, if you're say a second/third seed in your group, qualification pretty much all comes down to the matches against the best two other teams (4 matches) - S America, you've got to maintain that form for 18, with no easy matches inbetween against the likes of Leichtenstein or the Faroe Isles!

  • Comment number 40.

    To sum up - Paraguay are a good team, but not a strong team insofar as getting to the semi's of the WC. Yet to qualify from a very tough world group and have done this for each of the last 4 campaigns is a testament to that achievement (even not all the top tier Euro teams have managed it).
    Therefore to assert that a) Paraguay are a poor team, and b) they only qualify for the WC because their group is the easiest to get out of is absurd.

  • Comment number 41.


    You have assumed much and understood little...

    * The teams or structure of the qualifiers tells us nothing about the quality of Paraguay. They qualified against good opposition, they fared better than Argentina, Uruguay, and Ecuador so they are not to be underestimated.

    * It is true that a higher proportion of South American teams qualify, yet the continent contains a lower proprtion of minnows such as San Marino, The Faroe Isles or the mighty Liechtenstein.

    * Playing in the Mexican 2nd tier does not automatically make you poor. Jonas Gutierrez has proved this for Newcastle in terms of English football, and I would hope you have a vast knowledge of Mexican football to underestimate their leagues.

    * Your 50% theory makes little sense. A nation qualifies for a World Cup largely on merit, by obtaining the most points primarily by winning games. Paraguay have achieved this comfortably.

    I'm not indicating they will go on to win the tournament, or even make the last four, but to judge them with little prior understanding is foolhardy. The World Cup has a habit of shocking the ignorant.

  • Comment number 42.


    You beat me to it with an incredible duality of thought process (even using the word 'minnows') that can only lead me to conclude that you are a Jedi of the highest order.

    Top marks.

  • Comment number 43.

    I am ex-pat, brought up in Paraguay, left in 89 at the end of the dictatorship and returned three years ago (18 years after I left) and have no intention of ever leaving again. In terms of the level Paraguay have profited from the globalisation of football, I remember in 86 Paraguay got to their first World Cup in 28 years and their players Romerito, Cabañas, Cañete, Fernandez, Delgado, Caceres, Guash, Torales didn't have the first clue who the England players were and the only Paraguayans who played outside the country were in Colombia and Brazil, now Roque and Da Silva are in the Prem, Tacuara is at Benfica, Villar at Villarreal, Vera at Liga, Cabañas was at America, need I go on. Secondly Paraguay have placed emphasis on the future, They have qualified for eight of the last 10 youth world cups and in the league you have under 20s, under 19s, under 18s, under 17s, under 16s, etc for every team playing every week. Paraguay performs best when you get under their skin, I will never forget 2003 in Calama (high altitude) Olimpia were losing 2-0 and down to eight men and they won it 3-2; and when they are the underdog, the last time they lost an away qualifier to Argentina was in 1973.

  • Comment number 44.

    While we're on the subject of Paraguay, let me just ask you all your opinion on players being nationalized to represent a country not of their birth.

    Paraguayans are going crazy at the moment due to the Argentine player Jonathan Fabbro receiving his Paraguayan nationality. Instantly, half the country want him to be called up, and the other half are strongly against it. We already have Jonathan Sanatana playing for us. he was also a nationalized Argentine and Claudio Morel, who i believe was born here but moved to Argentina at a young age.

    I know Spain have Marcos Senna, a Brazilian, and Portugal have Deco, also Brazilian, but what do you all think?

    PS: Agree totally with 41

  • Comment number 45.

    #44 Interesting question.

    In general I have no problem with this. Eduardo is a proud Croatian and deserves to feature for the national side.

    Where it falls down is the situation of being able to choose your country based on which you think you have more chance playing for.
    This happens in England when players decide they are, e.g. Scottish or Nigerian, because they have some lineage to that country and they feel they have litle chance of ever breaking into the England team.

    As well as citizenship, they could include a similar test to the 'Habitual Residence Test' given to immigrants claiming benefits in the UK, which seeks to prove a desire to stay in the UK, and understand the culture and values.

    If a player has Paraguayan citizenship and proves a desire to live and work there then they should, in my humble opinion, be permitted to play for their adopted nation.

  • Comment number 46.

    @ Phil

    I guess you need to take a look to the South American leagues to see how changing all of them are, in every sense. There are loads of different dominating teams through the year, squads are completely different every 6 months and the constant manager change make consistency a tougher challenge.

    All this affects big time the National Team manager, their frame is, I dare to say, always different for every single fixture. The long time settlement of a player in a team, as it happens in Europe, make life easier to the national managers, while in South America this rarely happens.

    While in Europe changes every fixture are not to the core of the team, in South America most of the Nations have to revamp almost the whole team every fixture.

    That's why things get difficult in SA. Put the European qualifiers on that frame and things would be radically different.

  • Comment number 47.


    It's an interesting article but you make it sound like Paraguay were a revolutionary side? Did I miss something? The Paraguay '98 side bowed out in the knockout stage, the same held true of the 2002 side. The 2006 side lost in the group stage?

    You seem to be arguing that it's some type of big achievement, but Paraguay sounds like they're lucky to get in, they never do anything in the World Cup, and have been eliminated by European countries the last 3 World Cups combined (France, Germany & England)...

    The reason why nobody heard of this guy is because nobody really saw this team play, please don't compare Paraguay to teams that have actually won the World Cup.

  • Comment number 48.

    47. No one is saying Paraguay is revolutionary, the knockout stage is their natural ceiling just like England's is quarterfinals, no one is comparing them to World Cup winners, this is a blog about South American football, the World Cup is upon us and Paraguay have qualified for it.

    The remarkable thing is that they have managed to cut out the uncertainty and hit this target consistently. With the exception of Argentina and Brazil who might have scares but always seem to make it to the World Cup, South American teams seem to qualify through generations of players, Colombia 90 and 94, Bolivia 94, Chile 98, Ecuador 02 and 06, what is noteworthy of Paraguay is that they have managed to maintain the "success" crossing over the generation change.

  • Comment number 49.

    47 - who's talking about Paraguay winning the World cup. All i'm doing is shouting out about an unsung hero - though as Timuka points out, it is remarkable that Paraguay have been able to make the generational change witout suffereing.
    That hasn't happened to anyone else, countries with much bigger populations - for peru, colombia and perhaps now ecuador it was one generation and out.

    The naturalisation issue (44) is fascinating. In the case of Fabbro, he's clearly an Argentine, who happens to play in Paraguay. Lots of others - like Santana or Ortigoza - are part of the diaspora. Lots of Paraguayans moved to Argentina looking for work. These players have a Paraguayan parent, so there's no doubt that they are qualified for Paragauay. But the fact that they haven't grown up there - and crucially, that they don't speak Guarani, makes it hard for the local population to accept them. it's even been hard for Claudio Morel Rodriguez, son of a great Paraguayan player, to be accepted because he grew up in Argentina.
    I think Paraguayans are going to have to come to terms with this issue, because it's not going to go away.

  • Comment number 50.

    Ease to qualify from South America vs Europe:

    First, I think it depends which team you’re talking about (let’s assume for simplicity that the fifth-place South American team qualifies). I think it’s a relatively fair assumption that Brazil and Argentina typically find it much easier to qualify from South America compared to if they were in European qualification. For example, on current rankings (let’s assume the worthiness of FIFA rankings!), these two teams have to only be better than the sixth best South American team (currently ranked 35th) to qualify.

    But for Paraguay, currently ranked 29th, is it so easy? Arguably yes—for example, Europe has half-a-dozen or so teams currently ranked higher than Paraguay who did not qualify (including Croatia and Russia ranked 11th and 12th respectively, two teams that are ranked higher than Chile who, like Paraguay, won more qualifying games than Brazil) and a total of ~16 teams overall ranked higher.

    But, this is just opinion! For example, the European qualifying saw Denmark (ranked 33rd) finish above Portugal (6th), Slovakia (36th) beat out Czech Republic, and Serbia out-qualify France.

  • Comment number 51.

    # 47
    Did you see the 1998 2nd round defeat from France? Blanc pinched a goal 6 minutes from penalties and les bleus went on to lift the trophy. Chilavert and Ayala were awesome that day and the world woke up to Paraguay as a strong footballing nation.

    # 50
    Is it so easy to qualify from South America? Arguably no, and so Colombia, a team with world class stars like Ivan Cordoba, found out this time around with a paltry 7th place finish. As for Argentina, they left it very, very, late and I have no doubts that they would have qualified from the vast majority of european groups.

  • Comment number 52.

    It's nice to have folks like Phil and El Presidente around to balance the mostly rational and fair minded folks who read this blog.

    Is Phil seriously saying that because half the teams in South America qualify for the World Cup, that qualification is easy? There is more depth in South American football than European - on their day, any SAm team can beat any other SAm team, especially at home. In a WC qual game last year, second-from-bottom Bolivia beat Brazil 2-1. It's difficult to see Liechtenstein beating Germany even if the Germans were playing in just underpants and wet socks.

    Is it the fault of South America that it has so few countries (blame colonial Portugal for that), and that a third of those countries have won the World Cup - causing FIFA to give it more than three World Cup places? Indeed, the fraction of World Cup places going to South American sides has actually dropped over the years.

    Africa and Asia think Europe has too many places, and the reason for this - Europe does well at World Cups - is exactly the same reason south America has so many (relatively) places.

    As for not wanting to compare Paraguay to countries that have won the World Cup - in the 2010 WCQual campaign, they beat Argentina 1-0, Brazil 2-0, Uruguay 1-0 (all at home) and drew 1-1 with Argentina in Buenos Aires. And before you say 'oh well, nobody can beat them at home because of high altitude', note that Chile and Colombia both did exactly that last year with 2-0 scorelines in Ascunsion.

    Thank you Tim, for this article. Educational, as always.

  • Comment number 53.

    The South American qualification games are very difficult and tricky, they last like 2 years so they are fun to watch. You also see a lot of different players because of that. Most of the teams are very even. Paraguay was very strong in the first years of qualifications and then it sort of run out of fuel, so I am not sure how they will do in SA, specially now without its best player, Salvador cabanas. Paraguay tends to be a very defensive team in South America (the Italy of South America), So a lot of times are not fun to watch, but they have a reputation for having a lot of heart.

    South America has a lot of popular derbies. The Argentinians have several in addition to the big Boca-River, like Independiente-Racing, Estudiantes, Gignasia Esgrima, Colon vs Union,etc. The Uruguayan classic between Penarol and Nacional is pretty significant. In Chile, the Colo Colo and U de CHile is traditional too. The Peruvian derby between Universitario de Deportes (U) and Alianza Lima, already mentioned, is quite interesting too. Having its origins to racial differences in Lima. Alianza Lima was traditionally formed by black and mulatto players and Universitario by white and mestizo college players. The popular sections in those stadiums still do not have regular seats, so the action does not just happens in the field

  • Comment number 54.

    Great topic, terrific discussion. Phil (who seems to be our man now!), I think you raise an interesting issue. I do not believe S.American's qualifiers are the easiest. I don't like ranking different qualifiers because you can't replicate conditions, but I'd say Asian's are the easiest because there's a massive gulf between Japan, Australia and Korea and the rest. Even larger than Brazil - Bolivia.
    The S.American qualifiers are similar to European given its unpredictability. You can get easy or tough groups in Europe. In S. America, you have the top two, 6 medium level teams and 2 poor (Bolivia and Ven/Peru). The level of the qualifiers depends on the medium teams' moods. If they are up for it, then all games are gonna be tight, massive home advantage and suffering 18 rounds. If they are poor, then most of it it's a waste of time. Now, 5 of these 6 teams have shown mood swings in the last 4 qualifiers. Except Paraguay. That's the sort of achievements we're praising here. They've gone through different generations and have established themselves in the Brazil-Argentina comfort zone.
    I can't finish this post without mentioning poor old Scotland. In European groups, you have generally 6 teams. The bottom team is atrocious and the 2nd bottom has mood swings. So it's roughly 2 spots between 4 or 5 teams. If you had Scotland playing against Czech Rep, Norway, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Belgium and Hungary, with 2.5 spots available, do you think the Scots would qualify four times in a row?
    Definitely not!

  • Comment number 55.

    # 51

    Of course it’s opinion. But, I think top European teams like France and Portugal would have found it much easier to (hypothetically) qualify for South Africa through South American qualifying than the European groups they were in. Perhaps Argentina’s form would have seen them fail at the group stage (like Croatia) or the play-off (like Russia)? And bear in mind that, although Europe provides 13 teams for this World Cup, Europe also has 11 of the world’s top 13 teams right now.

    Let us assume the rankings are the best unbiased tool of comparison… I do think it’s a little baseless to assume that Colombia, languishing in 38th in the current rankings (with 22 European teams above them and many world class strikers), would have “qualified from the vast majority of European groups”. I see three European groups that Colombia just might have finished second but I don’t see a playoff match-up they would have won. And I think those three groups are potentially the easiest groups [to at least qualify for a playoff] we’ve seen in recent times.

  • Comment number 56.

    I remember a few years back when France came across to play Chile in a farewell match for Ivan Zamorano. of course, it was ony a friedly, but France were world champions at the time, brought a very strong squad and took it seriously - they needed the practise on the way to defending their title.
    Chile won - and at the time they were South America's bottom team.

  • Comment number 57.

    I'm surprised nobody has pointed out the mistake in Phil's mathematics - 4 automatic qualifiers = 40%. The fifth has to play off.

    It's also worth pointing out that Paraguay finished a single point behind Brazil and five ahead of Argentina.

  • Comment number 58.

    Hi Tim,

    Will we see this Paraguay team attack the opposition, in the last 4 world cups the team has been based on strong defence. In 2002 against Germany and 2006 against England these teams were there for the taking but Paraguay played in their shell. I understand that Gerado Martino is trying to get them playing higher up the pitch which was in evidence when I watched Paraguay outclass Brazil and Argentina in the qualifiers, so why is it that when they play the europeans they seem afraid?

    With a very easy group and strikers such as Santa cruz,valdez and cardozo Paraguay can surely mount a challenge.

  • Comment number 59.

    # 55

    I didn't mean to sound argumentative the first time, you were right that there are arguments on both sides regarding the toughness of qualifying from South America and it is all opinion.

    But now you have referenced me incorrectly, read #51 again, I said Argentina would have qualified from most european groups, not Colombia, who would admittedly struggle.

  • Comment number 60.

    Interesting stuff about the derbies. Living in Argentina at the moment I've been able to go or watch on TV some of the bigger ones, here's my run down of what I've seen so far...

    Went to independiente-racing as an away (racing supporter)- no crowd trouble in the ground but racing fans taken to hospital after fainting in the crush to get tickets from the ground beforehand!

    Newell's Rosario last year- fans arrested for trying to sneak guns in, a knife thrown at the Newell's keeper and fans beaten up and robbed outside by their own team's barra brava (organised hooligans)

    Gimnasia- Estudiantes, played without away fans after massive crowd trouble a few years previously!

    For me the boca-river game is one of the tamer ones in comparison because of all the hype and tourist interest. Went to River-Boca last year for work and I heard more foreign voices than anything, they're the only ones who can afford tickets I suppose.

  • Comment number 61.

    # 59
    Sorry for the mis-reference! I suppose I assumed you meant Colombia since normally (apart from this qualify campaign obviously, re: France and Portugal) I'd think Argentina would qualify easily enough as a number one seed in Europe.

    In my opinion, if one wanted to compare South America and European qualifying, one would answer the question: “would a team FIFA-ranked in Xth place have more chance of qualifying in Europe or South America?”. For Brazil and Argentina I think they would qualify with similar ease in both continents, though all other South American teams would perhaps have more difficulty. I think all of France, Portugal, Croatia, Russia, and the Czech Republic (if they replaced any one South American team in qualifying) would have a noticeable easier qualifying path (as would any number one seeded European team). I think the case for more difficult European qualifying is pretty strong. Personally, I don’t think the strength of European qualifying is particularly important, BUT, I do think it odd when some assume that South American Qualifying is more difficult!

    # 56Re: France Friendly
    I see that, earlier in 2001, Chile lost to Bosnia-Herzegovina (albeit with neither side presumably fielding a complete first-team since it was the “Sahara Cup”!!) at a time when Bosnia-Herzegovina were ranked 79th in the world. I don’t recall myself, but 2001 must have been an annus horribilis for Chile – losing every “away” game and dropped 20 places in the FIFA rankings.

  • Comment number 62.

    #57 @IanW "I'm surprised nobody has pointed out the mistake in Phil's mathematics - 4 automatic qualifiers = 40%. The fifth has to play off."

    Actually, I (who disagree with Phil) did consider it - I counted the playoff place as half a place. So South America's 9 countries have 4.5 places.

    PS: Aint nobody mentioning Paraguay's silver medal at the 2004 Olympics? (Argentina took gold, Italy bronze)

  • Comment number 63.

    I don't think European qualifying is harder than in South America: there are a lot of, frankly, rubbish teams in Europe whom even Peru would expect to get at least four points. Take England's qualifying group: one good team (England), two reasonable teams (Croatia, Ukraine), one plucky outsider (Belarus) and two no-hopers (Kazakhstan, Andorra). Of the 53 countries in Europe, I'd say only about 30 stand any realistic chance of qualifying for World Cup 2014, so 13 out of approx 26 is not radically different from South Americas quota. And there are more away wins in Europe; home advantage isn't so telling.

  • Comment number 64.

    Some good points Pat and buyme, I just think it's difficult for any team to qualify for the world cup, unless you're New Zealnad in the Oceania group ince the Aussies left for Asia (how that works is anyone's guess)

    Furthermore, I feel many Brits are incredibly ignorant to South America, and moreso Central America. Mexico is a hotbedof football with very little european exposure.

    We have seen from Timuka and others that football is growing in Paraguay and may continue to do so. For me, it is the same in West Africa, the USA, Australia, and Central Asia to some extent. In the future I can see more growth in Ukrainian football as well as in middle eastern nations such as Iran.

    I also believe that the North African leagues, coaching, and scouting will improve and one day Morocco and Egypt will be major powerhouses. Anyways, I digress, back to Paraguay!!!

  • Comment number 65.

    I personally think that its not a great acheivement that paraguay have made the last 4 world cups..but it does show consistency none the less. i still think the european qualifying is harder though even though you do get easy games against san marino and the faroe islands..its still a hard system with the first team going straight through and the best 8 second places playing-off for the other 4 spots because you come up against some teams that would compete with the likes of brasil and argentina for the top places in the south american qualifying for example france, russia and portugal...maybe i have a rather dodgy point of view as i am a bitter irishman still reeling over thierry henry's antics that cruelly denied my country wich only has a population of 4 million by the way a chance of going to the world cup but how and ever my theory is that european qualifying is harder and i would like to see the south americans have a go at our way of trying to qualify and see how they fare..

  • Comment number 66.

    When was it that Chile beat England 2 - 0 at Wembley with 2 goals from Marcelo Salas? Was that '99?

  • Comment number 67.

    How many European teams have to face former world champions in their qualifiers? In SA, there are 3 former world champions and all teams play home and away, add to that the limited time they have to get their teams together prior to a qualifying round (because of restrictions imposed by European clubs btw) and it can be clearly seen that it's more difficult to qualify from SA. In addition, it's only 4 direct qualifiers, the 5th one goes to a playoff.

    As an example for Europe, let's take Spain. They had to beat Bosnia, Turkey, Belgium, Estonia, and Armenia to qualify. Not many football powerhouses there. So the difference between the seeded team and the rest is quite big. In SA, Argentina qualified 4th and they weren't certain of qualification until the last round. I'm not going to even mention the group where Switzerland and Greece qualified from.

    Problem is, many Europeans (like Phil) aren't familiar with SA football, apart from Brazil and Argentina. (I guess that's where Tim's interesting articles prove helpful) That was quite evident back in 1978 when Scotland totally underestimated Peru, who at the time had a very good team so it was no surprise when the Peruvians beat them, although this would've been a big surprise for Phil though had he been around back then.

  • Comment number 68.

    FIFA Rankings?... Greece are currently the 10th best team in the world... that should tell you a lot about how useful that ranking is.

  • Comment number 69.

    As a South American fan as unaware of european futbols qualiies as Phil is of la nuestra and as he is into percentages could I make a suggestion.As South American teams have a 100% record of winning WORLD CUPS outside of Europe and obviously as European teams have a 100% failure rate outside of Europe let us sinply have a home and away match in the Monumental and Maracana and decide the World champion.The other advantage opf this is Dunga and Maradona can finish with their negative tactics they need to adopt against European athletes and futbol can be restored to its beauty

  • Comment number 70.

    Regarding Scotland :

    They qualified five times in a row (74, 78, 82, 86 & 90), but in 78, when they were much better than they are now, they were well beaten by Peru.

  • Comment number 71.

    "FIFA Rankings?... Greece are currently the 10th best team in the world... that should tell you a lot about how useful that ranking is."

    Are you suggesting a systematic bias against South American teams? Without such a systematic bias (i.e., don't cherry pick!), I'd suggest the rankings are actually a useful metric for such a general discussion... don't you agree?

  • Comment number 72.

    As Tim says away from Rio and São Paulo most big Brazilian cities have a great clássico - Galo v Cruzeiro in Belo Horizonte springs to mind, and some of the northeastern derbies are fearsome - Bahia v Vitoria in Salvador and Santa v Sport in Recife. I´m sure Remo v Paysandu must be a spectacle in Belém too, though I´ve never been. Brazilian derbies are often given an added spice by the historical division of the teams along class lines into a "time do povo" and a "time de elite" - Vitoria and Cruzeiro are "of the elite", Atletico, Santa and Bahia "of the people". It doesn´t mean that much any longer as you´ll find "time de elite" fans in any walk of Brazilian life, and vice versa, but it´s still interesting and plays some part in each team´s identity.

  • Comment number 73.

    # 67
    "How many European teams have to face former world champions in their qualifiers?"

    I think this illustrates, in my opinion, the misunderstanding here (aside from your inside joke about Uruguay!). To qualify from South America, realistically you only to be better than the 6th best team which, is probably ranked about 40th in the world. This is clearly not true for Europe (let's say on 3 out of 4 times).

    Or, how about we pick a South American country which, on more occasions or not, would qualify more easily in Europe. Certainly not Brazil since they've qualified every time (same for Germany). I don't suppose Argentina would find it any less or more difficult (apart from this time round. Chile, who let's say are a top 20-30 team, would likely struggle more (re: Croatia, Russia, Ukraine...). One could argue that Chile (maybe Uruguay this time) might be OK if they were a first seed in Europe... but they wouldn't be. As for the playoff - I think most of us would take Costa Rica over any of the 8 European teams in this past playoff!

    BUT, beyond caring about correcting erroneous thoughts, my point would who cares about relative qualifying!? We can't interchange Continental teams. Personally, I'd much rather watch the South American qualifying games.

  • Comment number 74.

    No, I'm not suggesting any bias, I'm just saying the FIFA rankings are worthless.

  • Comment number 75.

    #73 "(aside from your inside joke about Uruguay!)."

    True, I guess we can't consider Uruguay as a football power these days. But considering that England would be the European equivalent of Uruguay, then we just remove two former world champions, one from each continent. Personally, I'd split the history of the WC into Old (1930-1970) and Modern (1974-now), which would coincide with the 2 different trophies FIFA has awarded btw.

    Of course, all this discussion about SA vs Europe falls in the what-if fantasy scenarios but I'd also rather watch entertaining football than some dull team that goes to the WC to just try to avoid defeat. Maybe taking some of the European/Asian spots and giving them to African/North American teams would be a good start.

  • Comment number 76.

    #69 "As a South American fan as unaware of european futbols qualiies..."..."let us sinply have a home and away match in the Monumental and Maracana and decide the World champion"

    I guess you are also unaware of the World Cup qualities. Having different football styles come together to compete against each other is the magic of the WC, seeing the SA creativity pitched against European pragmatism and against the unpredictability of the Africans makes for fantastic entertainment.

    As for your statement of deciding the world champion by home/away games at the Maracana and the Monumental...well, the Maracana, ok but the Monumental...that's a bit far fetched considering that Argentina haven't done anything in the WC since 1990 and haven't won it since 1986, so they are quickly becoming the England of South America just living off some ever more distant memories.

  • Comment number 77.

    Lotsa comments (incl mine) here about SAm vs Euro WC Qualifing... four out of seventy comments actually mention Caniza. Sorry Tim.

  • Comment number 78.

    Tim, it's funny you mention Fabbro, I was at the Olimpia - Guarani game on Saturday and the Olimpia fans were mocking him by singing "paraguasho" which is how the argies say paraguayo.

  • Comment number 79.

    interesting, you get a mention on denis caniza's wikipedia page for this article tim. good job!

  • Comment number 80.

    In a sense there is an element of far right thinking to this. In the modern world nationality is not so clear cut.

    Kevin Kuranyi - A German international born in Brazil to a German-Hungarian father and Panamanian mother.

    However.....Had Fabbro lived in Paraguay before joining Guarani in 2007? If so should that be enough time to obtain citizenship?

    My friend has lived in Prague for 4 years and has recently been invited to play for the Czech national cricket team. The question remains, how much time, desire or lineage is required for to warrant citizenship?

  • Comment number 81.

    Do you see Caniza getting many games this WC Tim? With the players we have in defence (JC Caceres, Dario Veron, Paolo da Silva, Topo Caceres, Claudio Morel, Carlos Bonet, Rambert Vera, Antolin Alcaraz) and the emergence of players like Miguel Samudio and Victor Hugo Ayala it might be difficult for him to get a game.The area that worries me most is in goal. Justo Villar is a good shot stopper with good reflexes but his quite short and not too good in the air. Aldo Bobadilla, although taller, is similar to calamity James, in that he also flaps at crosses. Apart from those 2, i don't see anyone else challenging for the number 1 spot. Diego Barreto has good days and bad days, sometimes all in one game. My two hopes for the future were Robertot Gatito fernandez and Anthony Silva, but the first has disappeared in Argentina and the second was suspended for 2 months and was rumored to be on his way to the MLS.

  • Comment number 82.

    wait.... the czech republic have a cricket team???

    To be honest, it's not Fabbro being Argentinean that bothers me. It's his character. He has had several disciplinary problems at Guarani, fighting with teams mates and the like and getting preferential treatment from the directors. At one point several players even went on strike because Fabbro wasnt being disciplined by the club for breaking rules. I just think he would be disruptive if he were taken to the WC. Spending a month with a bunch of people he hardy knows, it would be like big brother.

    I would, on the other hand, be totally in favor of calling up Lucas Barrios of B. Dortmund, if he decided to accept nationality. He is entitled to through one of his parents, so has a paraguayan bloodline, and is a quality player. He is, though, hoping for a call up to the argy squad....

    Fabbro actually came to paraguay from chile, so no, he hasn't lived here for very long.

  • Comment number 83.

    It doesn't sound worth it, from a supporter, players, or coaches point of view. And Barrios? If he is hoping to play for the Argies then he has little of the desire I was speaking about.

    I read this morning Nedum Onuoha is now considering playing for Nigeria at the WC, despite playing for England U-21 for over 4 years. He rejected the super Eagles last approach because he stated he wanted to play for England.

    What has changed? Does he suddenly feel more Nigerian or is he just potentially short-termist and greedy?

  • Comment number 84.

    #38 I believe England would comfortably finish in the top 3. Certainly they would qualify from the South American group with their current squad. Would you agree?

    #39 Its harder with 1 qualifier from a group of 6, than 5 from 10. Even the so called 'biggest' teams sometimes fail to qualify from European groups. When do Brazil or Argentina fail to qualify? Never. If it was 'hard' then they wouldnt qualify EVERY time. Argentina were appauling this qualification and still qualified, what does this say about the standard? It shows any team not totally inept can qualify. Argentina would not have qualified from a European group for this years tournament. So does this make it easier to qualify? YES. Even when Argentina play their very worst (like Brazil did in 2002 qualifiers), they still make it!

    Some example Euro groups included:

    a) Denmark, Sweden, Portugal
    b) Czech, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia (ranks 3 and 4 progressed!)
    c) England, Croatia, Ukraine
    d) Serbia, France, Romania
    e) Italy, Ireland, Bulgaria

    You genuinely believe Paraguay would qualify from any of these groups? Highly unlikely. Therefore is South American qualifying easier than European? YES.

    This year, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay qualified. Lets look at who didnt...

    Venezuala - a baseball nation, with minimal interest in the sport. Never qualified.
    Bolivia - Qualified once in 60 years (1994)
    Peru - Not qualified since 1982
    Colombia - one good spell from 90-98 and in decline since
    Ecuador - made it in 2002 + 2006

    So yes, this looks like a pretty straight forward qualification group to me. Bolivia, Venezuala, Peru you would really not expect to make it. Only in very recent years have Ecuador begun to play well. Colombia have been in decline for over a decade.

    This leaves the 5 sides who qualified. You would only have expected pre qualifying that Ecuador would have challenged for one of the spots.

    If you seriously think these are great teams who would qualify from European groups, then clearly your knowledge of football is not as good as you think it is.

    Im not saying Paraguay are a bad side, just that they would not have qualified for 4 successive tournaments from a European group. If you think they would have, then thats your opinion. But i think you are having a laugh

  • Comment number 85.

    Ortigoza also said he wanted to talk to Maradona before applying for Paraguayan citizenship, i guess to see what his chances of getting a call up for them would be. In the end, he chose us, so i guess he wasnt needed by them. I suppose that if they want to play for us, it's no problem, as long as they put in the effort. I just wonder how they would play if they had to face the other country, say in the WC semis.

    Santana played very well against argentina for us in qualifiers, whether to prove a point or not i don't know, but it was kind of the turning point for him, where the crowd realized he was determined to do well for us. Not so Morel, who went off "injured" in the first half, having played badly. Supposedly, he was under pressure from people at Boca Juniors.

  • Comment number 86.

    #84 - The fact you conveniently left out the Euro group 2 headed by the massive Switzerland and Greece says a lot.

    Messi would have a field day....

  • Comment number 87.

    BTW i have spent a lot of time in South America and the only countries i have not been to are French Guyana and Suriname. So to say i don't know South America, or the football there is laughable.

  • Comment number 88.

    Mr Wang, i said here are some examples. To show that if you get unlucky, then your group is certainly VERY tough. With up to 4 nations of a good standard competing for 1 spot.

    This also isnt me saying European teams are better than South American. Far from it. Just that to qualify 50% of teams, when most of them rank outside the top 30 is not such a big deal!

    Also, i think South America should get 5 teams in the WC, im all for it. Different continents should be well represented to add to the magic of the WC.

    The Asian qualifying is probably becoming one of the hardest to qualify from if you arent South Korea, Japan or Australia. Essentially every other country is fighting for one place. Whereas in South America every other country after Brazil and Argentina are fighting for 3 places.

  • Comment number 89.

    # 87 Nobody has said you don't know South America or the football there. Whether you have understood it, or appreciated it, is another matter entirely.

    Certainly it is true that to show so little respect to Paraguay is fodder for the people who do appreciate their improvement.

    I haven't been to Paraguay and so am limited to watching a few games on the TV here and there. I rate Cabanas highly, and it is testament to the nation that without him they have Santa Cruz and Cardozo.

    This team can compete with the likes of Croatia and Ukraine, teams I also rate, so this is not about dumbing down European teams, rather recognising the progress of Paraguay and possible surprise packages like Denis Caniza.

  • Comment number 90.

    Ok Phil, you have made a good point that luck with the groups is perhaps more important in Europe.

    Paraguay have proved themselves either way, and I believe they would have qualified had they played in europe.

    To denounce the less successful South american nations, simply because, like European teams, they have good and bad spells is folly.

  • Comment number 91.

    Paraguay's inability to win firendly games obviously affects the fifa rankins, as both chile and uruguay are higher than us. If it were based purely on competitive games, i'm sure the ranking would be different. I think the quality of the opponents also affects the way the rankings are collated.

  • Comment number 92.

    Again Mr Wang, you misunderstand me. Im not saying Paraguay are a terrible team. Im merely saying that their qualification record is not amazingly impressive, as they have an easier group. This doent mean they are a bad side, i have never said that.

    Whilst FIFA rankings serve as a rough guide, i think they are highly unaccurate. I also think that friendlys mean nothing. Anyone can beat anyone in a friendly. Experimental tactics, 10 subs at half time etc.

    I think its a shame that South American and European clubs only get to pit their wits against each other every 4 years. This is the only time we can really see how good they are in comparison.

  • Comment number 93.

    I’m not sure I can think of a single South American team that would increase their chance of qualification by replacing a single European team, but can think of many that might improve their chances in the opposite direction. However, I do think most European teams (including #1 seeds) would struggle to finish first or second in South American qualifying.

    Although I think it’s a no-brainer to which continental qualifying competition would be more difficult for any single team, I do think that qualifying should be both equitable and entertaining. I think South American qualifying is certainly more equitable (albeit somewhat repetitive) and arguably more entertaining…

    … For example, if the top eight European countries are always seeded in qualifying, then we never see a competitive match between ~top European countries during qualifying… ever! What a waste—imagine if one qualifying competition every four years was replaced with a South American-style league format consisting of the top eight or ten European countries… that would be 56-90 top, competitive matches in a two year period (as opposed to zero).

  • Comment number 94.

    I don't consider it to be an impressive feat either, because i think the paraguayans have finally realized that they are there on merit. We havent been lucky to qualify, we have shown consistency, and i think qualification has become a standard. I would be more surprised if we failed to waulify.

    The fact that such a poor, small country can consistenly out qualify bigger, richer countries is suprising though. I'd say that over the last few years we have been the 3rd best team in s america. The next step is progress in the actual WC. Last time out was a terrible disappointment, but with negative tactics from a negative coach, it was to be expected. The country expects a lot more this time.

    We don't take qualification for granted. Countries like Urguay, Ecuador, Chile and Colombia are decent sides and difficult to beat, plus we know we will suffer from altitude, just as others suffer from heat or cold. But i think we have gotten to the stage where we expect to qualify for WCs. And long may it continue.

  • Comment number 95.

    To number 62

    Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay equal 10 countries, not nine. Let's settle for 45% then.

    Asuncion is at 43 meters above sea level.

    Difficulties for SA teams: much larger travel distances, play at high altitude against Ecuador and Bolivia, the majority of players arrive from Europe or Mexico a couple of days before games and play two matches in 4 days, campaign is 18 games long.

    Difficulties for European teams: short group schedules can mean disaster if team has a couple of bad matches with no time for picking up points... usually it comes to dicy pairings or groups of three balanced teams almost in a sudden death situation... and the 8 team playoff is a lottery of course. My heart goes out to the Irish btw.

    I am South American and I would get a bigger stomach ache with my SA team playing in the European qualy system. Yet I think that a fourth place SA qualifier comes through on the basis of consistency and real strength whereas there is far more luck and dark horses involved in the European qualifying system.

    The comments above exclude former world champions, first tier teams who very rarely fail to get there.

  • Comment number 96.

    # 93 - As I've already indicated - How about Paraguay, as a seed 2 in Europe, replacing Greece? Or even Ecuador, as a seed 3 in the same group, replacing Israel?

    Having to face Switzerland, Greece or Israel as the toughest competitors, or Moldova and Luxembourg as the easiest, hardly compares with Brazil or Argentina as a hard encounter, and Peru as a supposedly easy one.

    Don't get me wrong, Peru could potentially lose to every team in group 3 bar San Marino but they would still have the same chance of qualifying.

    Imagine Argentina in group 4 replacing either Germany or Russia. Even if they lost both matches against one of those teams they would destroy Finland, Azerbaijan, Wales and Liechtenstein.

    Their struggles to qualify this time was proof of how difficult it is in South america, not how weak the opposition are.

  • Comment number 97.

    Paraguay are obviosuly underestimated by our European friends, but that can only be a good thing. Sadly, i don't think Lippi will be. We have done well to qualify from tough WC groups in the past.

    In '98 we had Nigeria, Spain and Bulgaria qualifying unbeaten and knocking out spain and bulgaria.

    '02 was Spain, S Africa (who we play tomorrow) and Slovenia, again finishing second kncking out the last 2.

    In both tournaments, we went on to play the eventual finalists (France and Germany) losing by the smallest margin (and only golden goal ever).

    2006 was a disaster, with England for the taking and only a deflected goal/own goal between the two sides. I think if that game were played now, it would be much more open and exciting and we'd have a good chance of winning.

  • Comment number 98.

    # 96

    “As I've already indicated - How about Paraguay, as a seed 2 in Europe, replacing Greece? Or even Ecuador, as a seed 3 in the same group, replacing Israel?”

    Unless I’m much mistaken, Greece was the number one seed in that group (they were reigning European champions when the groups were drawn presumably). It’s a little (though not a lot) bit of a push to see Paraguay being a second seed (instead of Switzerland in this case)… but I’ll play ball. Latvia were a surprise, but I certainly would not see Paraguay finishing above Israel AND Greece. And even if they finished second (a better second than Norway), I wouldn’t have fancied their chances in the playoffs. Ecuador would be less likely to succeed this time around I think.

    Paraguay have just qualified four consecutive times for the World Cup, which I think we can all agree is an impressive and laudable feat. In Europe, realistically I’d say Paraguay’s best bet would have been the Spain or Netherlands groups (2-out-of-9 groups) and grab second place (i.e., IF they could cherry pick!). And then their playoff chances would have to be 1-in-4 at best—they wouldn’t have been ranked so they would have had to played France, Russia, Portugal, or Greece in the playoff. I think Paraguay would be lucky to qualify 1-in-4 times from Europe, maybe 1-in-8… don’t you agree?

    Here’s what I see – Brazil and Argentina would [typically] qualify just as easily in Europe as South America. Peru and perhaps Bolivia would struggle to qualify equally in UEFA and CONMEBOL. And I think the other six would find UEFA a more difficult qualifying route (I think EUFA is less equitable for second tier teams). And from the European side, even if they have more difficult games against Brazil and South America (NB: this irrelevant for qualification), I see many, many European countries having an easier time.

  • Comment number 99.

    Actually, i think Paraguay could qualify relatively easily in a group with greece and israel. remeber we beat both Brazil and Argentina these qualifiers. I think the last time we lost to argentina was in '98.

  • Comment number 100.

    Actually, we lost in '97 and since them we've played 6 qualifiers winning 2 and drawing the others.


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