It is a strange time for Paraguayan football. Despite their best-ever qualifying record and defeating Brazil and Argentina in recent years, they are still unfavourably compared to the golden generation of the ’90s and early ’00s. Despite lacking the character of these teams, the current crop look likely to go further than ever before and expectations are high for the country that is oft-forgotten in South American football. The match against Slovakia is likely to be a decider on qualification and could prove to be one of the surprise thrillers of the tournament.
How well Paraguay do in the World Cup depends on the tactical acumen of ambitious Argentine coach, Gerardo Martino. The coach has transformed a team famed only for the solidity of its defence into an efficient attacking force.
Player to watch
Roque Santa Cruz
Having had a quiet season for Manchester City, Roque Santa Cruz will hope that a handful of goals and some eye-catching performances could arouse the interest of European clubs, or at least win him a starting place at Eastlands.
We’re on the ball
World Cup appearances: 8
Previous best: Last 16, 1998 & 2002
Odds of winning: 66/1
Strange but true: Paraguay are still fondly remembered for the exploits of their flamboyant goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert – his outfield forays saw him tally an astonishing 64 professional goals and become one of football’s greatest characters.
Fixtures: Italy, June 14, 10.30pm, Cape Town Slovakia, June 20, 3.30pm, Bloemfontein New Zealand, June 24, 6pm, Polokwane