Paraguay Camp Focus – Santa Cruz ready after injury

There is a worry in the Paraguayan camp as Roque Santa Cruz is struggling with an injury. The idol in his homeland only came on for the South American side in the second half against Italy, when he was expected to start the match.

The Manchester city player has never really settled in the first team for the English club after suffering numerous knee problems and undergoing two operations. He missed vital qualifying games through injury, and appeared in 19 Manchester City games this season, which were mainly from the substitutes bench. Although he featured and starred in the practice games leading up to the Italy game, he was big miss for his team. He admitted that the injury is only a concern and was suffering some discomfort in his leg. He told Fifa.com: “I was not really 100%. I had a muscle problem and didn’t know if I could play from the beginning, so I think the Coach took the best solution and the right choice. It has been the story with injuries through my entire career, not just this season. It is disappointing but something I have lived with through my career.”

Lucas Barrios and Nelson Valdez started the match against Italy, with the two Dortmund players causing problems in the first half. The two players are not likely to join up again against Slovakia, as Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardozo are likely to be fully fit. The quality of the strikers available allowed Coach Gerardo Martino to rest Cardozo and Santa Cruz, something that will be the nation’s strength throughout the tournament. Santa Cruz said: “It’s very hard to pick players from our team, we are players playing in hard leagues and anybody can play. Right now, I think we have an advantage that we have such players in the team and there’s no need to force people in. In the last World Cup I risked a lot to play, but there’s no point now. I hope I’ll be fully fit for the Slovakia match, I felt okay against Italy when I came on.”

The former Bayern Munich forward has six days to recover from the Italian game, in which a poor performance from the current four-time world champions gave La Albirroja their first point. The Coach and players must be very proud of the point, as they were labelled underdogs in the Cape Town fixture. The Coach has praised his players after the game, crediting they way they match the world champions in throughout the 90 minutes. The players can now be free from the minnows tag after beating Brazil and Argentina in qualifying and holding the world champions. The Coach said after the game: “We played this game equally against the current world champions. To play against a rival with such skills is a very good sign for us. It gives is a lot of confidence going ahead in this tournament. There are some teams that allow you to make mistakes but with Italy you know that one mistake could be very costly. We attach great importance to what we have done.”

Something that Paraguay will have to build on in the next two games, is their build up play and the accuracy of their passing. The lack of accuracy and chances in front of goal is something that Martino blames on the opponents pressing and quality. “We weren’t terribly accurate when we played the ball. Italy didn’t make it easy for us,” he said.

Although there were weaknesses in the performances, there were also strengths. The first half performance particular in defence was certainly a positive. The way they squeezed the Italians in certain areas was good and only an error coming from the goalkeeper giving the Azzuri a point. The Coach could now go to a 4-3-3 formation, taking the attacking approach against the less favourable nations. The two attacking starters, Barrios and Valdez are likely to retain their places in the first team against New Zealand and Slovakia. If they were to go for an attacking formation, Santa Cruz will likely to make way for a midfielder, making the two Dortmund strikers push for a wide winger position.

They now have to pit their wits against Slovakia and New Zealand, something in which they are expected to be favourites. Now the South American nation expects plenty of goals in the last two goals and with a strong attacking field, it can certainly happen.

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