World Cup Wonder – Martino looking for Paraguay progress

This will be Paraguay’s eighth World Cup but they are yet to get past the second round of the tournament. Head coach Gerardo Martino has been charge of the national side for four years and this will be his first time coaching in a World Cup. Martino has some very talented players at his disposal who ply their trade across the globe. This time Paraguay have a good chance of advancing through the group stages and reaching the quarter-finals is a realistic goal. However, Martino has some tough decisions to make in order to see his side prosper.

In goal for La Albirroja (the White and Red) will be Valladolid keeper Justo Villar who has over 70 caps. During his two years in Spain, Villar has shown himself to be a reliable keeper and one who will not be fazed on the biggest stage of them all. In reserve are Diego Barreto and Aldo Bobadilla who will fight it out for a place on the bench. Expect Barreto to get the nod as he needs to gain further experience of major tournaments.

Much will be expected of captain Paulo Da Silva in central defence. The defender has over 70 caps and plays in the Premier League for Sunderland for whom he had an impressive debut season. Alongside Da Silva will be Julio Cesar Caceres who has extensive experience of the Argentinean league with Boca Juniors and playing in Brazil with Athletico Mineiro. Caceres also featured in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, so is unlikely to be fazed by the occasion. In the full-back positions will be Dario Veron and Claudio Morel. Morel has demonstrated his technical prowess with Boca Juniors over the past few years. But he will need to be at the top of his game to deal with the tournament’s best wingers, especially if Paraguay reach the latter stages. Likewise Veron must step up to the plate although he may struggle as he lacks experience at the highest level. Back-up options in central defence include Denis Caniza and Antolin Alcarez, while at full-back Martino can call on Carlos Bonet and Aureliano Torres in case of injuries or suspensions.

In midfield Martino has a balance of grafters and skill merchants. Out wide, he will be expecting much from Jonathan Santana and Cristian Riveros. Santana has proven quality, playing in the Bundesliga for Wolfsburg with some degree of success and consistently performing well for Paraguay. He will need to demonstrate the creativity that won him his move into European football if Paraguay’s impressive strikers are to impose themselves on the tournament. Riveros meanwhile has recently secured a move to join Paulo Da Silva at Sunderland in the Premier League. He has talent in abundance and will be keen to impress his new club and show he is able to hack it among the best. In central midfield will be Atlanta’s Edgar Barreto who has demonstrated his worth at Serie A level and a capacity for scoring wonder goals. Barreto’s tenacity in the centre will be needed if Paraguay reach the latter stages as the team will likely spend long periods of time without the ball. Another defensive-minded midfielder Enrique Vera will partner Barreto and look to break up the opposition play and give the ball to Santana and Riveros. Both central midfielders have experience of major tournaments so will not crack under the pressure. Further options available to Martino are Nestor Ortigoza and Victor Caceres.

Up front, Martino has a great deal of firepower to help his team into the later rounds. The standout forward is Man City’s Roque Santa Cruz who has a great record at international level – although the injury-jinxed striker struggled to make Man City’s starting II this season and managed only three goals. Alongside Santa Cruz will be Benfica’s Oscar Cardozo who is also a threat playing on the wing. Cardozo has been a revelation for Benfica and will be looking to bring his goalscoring form to the tournament and further enhance his reputation across the globe. Other alternatives for attack are Dortmund duo Nelson Valdez and Lucas Barrios, the latter scoring 19 goals in his debut season and pushing Cardozo and Santa Cruz all the way for a starting berth. Martino also has Edgar Benitez and Rodolfo Gamarra available if required.

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