Paraguay will prove that they are South America’s best-kept secret
Qualifying in joint second place in South American qualifying, one point behind leaders Brazil, Paraguay’s participation in their fourth consecutive World Cup was rarely in doubt.
Wins over fellow World Cup finalists Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina suggested that 2010 might be the year they step out of the shadows of their high-profile South American rivals and improve on their World Cup best of reaching the last 16.
But their World Cup preparations have been blighted by the most unusual of incidents. Only recently they had over $100,000 stolen from their training camp, while they continue to come to terms with the shocking shooting of star striker Salvador Cabanas in a bar in January. While the Club America forward has so far made a miracle recovery and still has hope of reviving his career, he will play no part this summer.
So it will be difficult to predict just how the Paraguayans will adapt without their best player from qualifying, and their three friendlies this month should give a clear indication. They remain unbeaten in the two games since the incident, drawing 1-1 with South Africa and beating North Korea 1-0, results that, while far from being disastrous, can hardly be described as promising.
Yet there remains cause for optimism. Although Italy are not the force they once were, Paraguay will be looking more confidently at their fixtures with New Zealand and Slovakia, and a possible second round tie against an untested Holland side should not be seen as an impossible task – particularly as they drew 0-0 with them in November.
Much will depend on whether Roque Santa Cruz can discover some form but there are no such concerns for Oscar Cardozo, the 38-goal Benfica striker who could be given his chance in Cabanas’ absence. Sunderland pair Paulo Da Silva and new signing Christian Riveros will be important figures, and if Paraguay can turn their adversity into a unifying positive, a Cabanas-dedicated success story could well be the outcome.