Paraguay's 'Babygol' aiming to build on promisePosted: Thursday April 25, 2002 6:30 AM
ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) -- He's known by fans simply as "Babygol."
Roque Santa Cruz, Paraguay's promising young striker, is just 21, but he has already notched more than 20 appearances with his country's national team.
A rising star on a mostly defensive-minded squad, Santa Cruz is hoping to make a name for himself as Paraguay seeks to build on its World Cup success four years ago.
"I certainly hope it's going to be my World Cup," he said, looking ahead to Japan and South Korea. "I am feeling well, I am playing well and I am confident we have a strong team so we hope we can do even better this time."
The Bayern Munich forward arrived on the world scene at the tender age of 18, attracting the eye of former German coach Franz Beckenbauer.
The tall, curly-haired youngster -- who has since won a cult following among fans back in Paraguay -- was photographed getting off the plane in Germany with a guitar in one hand and a hammock in the other.
A stellar performance at the U-20 World Championships catapulted him from Paraguay's professional league to the Bundesliga after a US$8 million transfer -- the highest amount ever paid for a Paraguayan player.
Although he has struggled to break into the Bayern starting lineup, he has won praise from many South American coaches. He scored three times in the qualifiers, and Paraguayan goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert has said he is already shaping up as a vital link in the team.
Paraguay has an aging team, and many of the veterans agree that Santa Cruz is the top candidate to take over as the team's leader in the short term.
A skillful, two-footed player with an eye for goal, he first showed glimpses of his promise during the 1999 Copa America in Paraguay, where he finished among the tournament's top scorers, his name sitting alongside the likes of Brazil's Ronaldo.
His adjustment to European soccer has proved a learning experience, and this season he has scored some crucial goals for Bayern when called up to the first team.
At the World Cup, Babygol will try to spark his team against Spain, Slovenia and South Africa.