Paraguay Camp Focus – Martino maintains spirits are high going into World Cup

Paraguay’s stars are remaining optimistic and the expectations still high, as they head to South Africa looking to put uninspiring performances and bad luck behind the team.

The World Cup warm-up games have come thick and fast for the South Americans, with a 1-0 victory over DPR Korea and a 3-1 victory over a second-string Athletic Bilbao team followed by a 2-1 defeat to Republic of Ireland in Dublin. Coach Gerardo Martino has used the games to experiment with fringe players and adventurous formations.

A Roque Santa Cruz penalty was enough to defeat DPR Korea, whilst the Manchester City striker also scored in the 3-1 win over the Spanish league team. Santa Cruz admitted he is not in his greatest form after a season filled with injuries, and has been desperate to feature in the pre-tournament games, getting that vital match and shooting practice to get ahead in a strong striker selection. The striker is a definite favourite to retain his place in the 23-man squad, when the June 1 deadline comes around. He has a legendary status in his home country and the media and fans will regard it as a shock if he were to be left out. The former Blackburn striker has admitted it has been tough after undergoing knee surgery last summer, struggling with the same knee ever since, but was upbeat about his fitness as he spoke to FIFA.com after the Republic of Ireland match: “I felt very good, and also against North Korea the last time, I felt very good. We have two more games now before the World Cup starts, and I think those games are going to help me get into the best rhythm possible.”

However the striker nearly scored into his own net at Lansdowne Road against Ireland, a header against his own bar setting up Kevin Doyle for the first. The 2-1 defeat was a bitter end to a perfect record in the friendlies, leaving the South Americans disappointed after a poor performance. Before the game against Ireland, the team was subjected to a robbery at their training base hotel of Evian-les-Bains, south-east France. It was reported that $110 000 was taken from a safe of one of the hotel rooms, leaving the Paraguayans in bad morale ahead of the friendly. Martino expects a better performance stronger morale when they come up against world champions Italy in the first game of the group stages. Although not a full-strength side, Paraguay were expected not to make as many mistakes in defence as they did throughout the game against the Irish.

The Coach has stated that he is wary of Italy and the attacking threat that they pose. Players like Giuseppe Rossi and Alberto Gilardino are expected to capitalise on any mistakes the defence might make. However, the attacking threat and attacking formation that the Paraguayans pose themselves will certainly test Fabio Cannavaro and Giorgio Chiellini. Martino has promised fans that his team will be up for the challenge on the June 14 and will have a settled team ready before then.

The whole team have stated they expect to reach the quarter-finals and share the Coach’s optimism, something Nelson Haedo Valdez explained: “Paraguay has never gone beyond the last 16. I think we’ll get that far but after that every game is like a final. I have every confidence that this generation is the one to go further than we’ve ever been before.”

They will have to come through Group F against Italy, New Zealand and Slovakia. If they were to qualify in second place, a tough game against the Netherlands is expected. However, if they did overcome the champions in their first group game, they are to face the runner-up in Group E. The opponent for that fixture is hard to call with Denmark, Japan and Cameroon all capable of the second spot from Group E.

Paraguay look forward to finishing the warm-up games against a strong Ivory Coast side, which will provide a strong test for any team going in to the World Cup. They also face Greece on the June 2, a very similar team who will be hoping to progress, like Paraguay, past the group stages.

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