2010 World Cup profile: Paraguay
In the absence of Salvador Cabanas, the scoring burden falls upon Roque Santa Cruz for Paraguay.
Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images
Through May, SI.com will profile World Cup teams weekly. We continue with Paraguay. Click here for the full archive.
More than a decade ago, Roque Santa Cruz was leading the Paraguayan attack at the age of 17 and inspiring hopes that he would go on to become a global superstar. An awful run with injuries has thwarted such expectations, but when he's healthy, he's dangerous in the air and full of quality on the ground.
His fitness is even more important since the tragic shooting of Salvador Cabanas, a squat figure who has developed relatively late in his career from a midfielder to a feared striker with a rocket shot. Cabaņas was the top scorer in qualification, and though there are signs of remarkable recovery, will surely have to sit out South Africa, where he will be sorely missed. His place on the roster has been filled by newly-naturalized Lucas Barrios, a prolific Argentine striker who play for Dortmund.
The only midfielder to get on the score sheet during qualification was the versatile and dynamic Cristian Riveros. His endurance and strength offers the hope that Paraguay's gifted strikers won't be left isolated. If Riveros is found popping up in the opposing penalty area, it's a sign the team is willing to put into action its coach's attacking intentions.
The captain is experienced goalkeeper Justo Villar In Germany '06, he conceded an own-goal and suffered a serious injury inside the first five minutes of Paraguay's opening game against England. He's due better luck this time.
In Gerardo Martino's first competitive game in charge, Paraguay won 5-0, and still, the coach was unsatisfied. The triumph, over Colombia in the '07 Copa America, was won on the counterattack, when Martino was looking for his players to operate higher up the field and take the initiative.
With time, Martino saw the need for greater pragmatism -- deep, dogged defense is part of the DNA of the Paraguayan game. So he developed a side that could play both ways -- either pushing forward, keeping the opposition under pressure or soaking up the opponent's attacks and playing on the break.
At the highest level of the game, when it matters, will the Paraguayans be bold enough to throw off their historic timidity and show off their positive side in South Africa? La Albirroja has the strikers to do it.
Key match in group stage: June 20 vs. Slovakia. Paraguay will expect to beat its final opponent, New Zealand, and anything it gets from the opening game against Italy will be a bonus. So it's the meeting with Slovakia which is likely to define whether or not it makes the second round.
I think Paraguay has a lot of chances in this World Cup. They have a very good team and a dream would be to see
*The top-ranked player from Paraguay on the WTA Tour was born in Asuncion. As told to Bryan Armen Graham.