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2010 World Cup profile: Paraguay

By Tim Vickery, SI.com

Paraguay
Paraguay
Group F
Roque Santa Cruz
In the absence of Salvador Cabanas, the scoring burden falls upon Roque Santa Cruz for Paraguay.
Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images
Schedule
DATEOPPONENTSITE
June 14ItalyCape Town
June 20SlovakiaBloemfontein
June 24New ZealandPolokwane
Fast Facts
FIFA WORLD RANKING: No. 29
COACH: Gerardo Martino (third year)
HOW THEY QUALIFIED: Finished third in CONMEBOL qualifying
PREVIOUS WORLD CUPS: Seven appearances (1930, '50, '58, '86, '98, '02, '06)
ODDSMAKERS LINE: 95-1
Projected Starting Lineup
POS.PLAYERCLUB TEAM
GJusto VillarValladolid (Spain)
DDario Verno PumasUNAM (Mexico)
DJulio Cesar CaceresBoca Juniors (Argentina)
DPaulo da SilvaSunderland (England)
DClaudio Morel RodriguezBoca Juniors (Argentina)
MEnrique VeraLDU de Quito (Ecuador)
MEdgar BarretoAtalanta (Italy)
MJonathan SantanaWolfsburg (Germany)
MCristian RiverosCruz Azul (Mexico)
FRoque Santa CruzManchester City (England)
FNelson Haedo ValdezBorussia Dortmund (Germany)

Through May, SI.com will profile World Cup teams weekly. We continue with Paraguay. Click here for the full archive.

Key players

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. Cabañas 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.

What to watch for

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

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.

Celebrity scouting report: Rossana De Los Rios*

Rossana De Los RiosI think Paraguay has a lot of chances in this World Cup. They have a very good team and a dream would be to see La Albirroja in the final. ... I think all the players that have been called up are at a good level at the moment. ... Paraguay is in a very difficult group with World Cup holders Italy, New Zealand and Slovakia, but we are hopeful that they can progress to the next round. ... I think it affects the team that Salvador Cabanas [the prolific striker who was shot in January] is not in it, but we expect a full recovery. ... Defense was the team's strength during qualifying and they struggled in attack, but I think that the most important thing for the team is to win and I am sure that they will score many goals.
*The top-ranked player from Paraguay on the WTA Tour was born in Asuncion. As told to Bryan Armen Graham.

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