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Bulldog spirit

Flamboyant Chilavert still Paraguay's biggest star

Posted: Thursday April 25, 2002 6:30 AM

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) -- Tough, temperamental and talented, Paraguay's Jose Luis Chilavert is among the world's top goalkeepers -- and certainly one of the game's most flamboyant characters.

Now 36, the national team's skipper may be a tad slower and a touch heavier than at the last World Cup, but he remains the side's undoubted star.

Currently at French second division side Racing Strasbourg, Chilavert has played at top teams in Paraguay, Argentina and Spain.

He has won a winners medal in the Copa Libertadores -- South America's top club tournament -- as well as four domestic league titles and last year's French Cup.

In 1996, he was voted the top player in the Americas.

At the 1998 World Cup, Chilavert steered Paraguay into the last 16 while producing a mind-boggling display of goalkeeping prowess.

He conceded just two goals in 386 minutes of soccer as Paraguay shut out Spain, Bulgaria and eventual world champion France.

He's not one for false modesty.

"I am the best in the world," Chilavert had declared before the tournament. By the end of the month, he had FIFA agreeing with him. It named him the tournament's top goalie.

Yet for all his skill in front of goal, Chilavert's fame comes as much from his feet as his hands.

The 1.88-meter (6-foot-2), 80-kilogram (176-pound) goalie is Paraguay's set piece specialist. He's a craftsman of curling free-kicks -- of which he claims to practice 150 per day -- and a great penalty taker.

Among the almost 60 goals he has netted, Chilavert can boast a 50-meter (yard) free-kick against current Argentina goalie German Burgos during a league match for former side Velez Sarsfield. On another occasion, he bagged three penalties in a single game, a world record.

Chilavert has one more burning ambition.

"My dream is to score a goal in the World Cup," he once said.

And just as Chilavert has lost none of his touch on the pitch, the "Bulldog" has lost none of his bite off it.

The keeper, who says he plans to be Paraguay's president one day, is rarely out of trouble.

He has punched journalists, spat on opponents and publicly assailed fellow goalies. He infuriated his own government when he boycotted the 1999 Copa America in Paraguay, saying authorities should spend the money on education. He also once accused the entire Australian national team of taking drugs.

Last July, he was back in hot water when he spat at Brazil's Roberto Carlos during a World Cup qualifying match. FIFA handed the keeper a four-match ban for the incident -- later reduced to three -- meaning the keeper will miss Paraguay's opening World Cup game against South Africa. Paraguay will also face Spain and Slovenia in the first round.

Chilavert reacted to the ban in typical fashion, suggesting it was "premeditated" by "the black hand of FIFA."

 
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