Copa America preview: Paraguay hopes former Manchester City player Roque Santa Cruz can lead squad

While playing in Group B, Paraguay’s challenge at the Copa America is not so much to win the trophy they came close to lifting in 2011 as to recover the lost strengths of a well-organised defence and incisive counter-attack.

Paraguayan footballer Nestor Ortigoza stands before the start of a friendly international football match against Honduras on June 6, 2015 in Asuncion, ahead of the upcoming Copa America to be held in Chile. AFP PHOTO / NORBERTO DUARTE
Powered by automated translation

Paraguay’s challenge at the Copa America is not so much to win the trophy they came close to lifting in 2011 as to recover the lost strengths of a well-organised defence and incisive counter-attack.

The Paraguayans lost their way after the tournament in Argentina four years ago, where they were beaten by Uruguay in the final, having reached the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in South Africa in 2010.

Brazil 2014 was their next goal but Gerardo Martino, the architect of those achievements, quit.

Paraguay got through three coaches as they failed to find the right replacement to steer them through the qualifiers to a fifth consecutive World Cup tournament. They turned to Martino’s fellow Argentine Ramon Diaz last December and he has rebuilt Paraguay into a solid team.

Photo gallery: 12 Copa America players to watch

Diaz has mixed the experience of captain Roque Santa Cruz, record 122-cap centre-back Paulo da Silva and goalkeeper Justo Villar with talented young midfielder Oscar Romero and striker Raul Bobadilla.

A good Copa America in Chile will help them turn the page on a dismal World Cup qualifying campaign in which they finished bottom of the 10-nation South America group.

Diaz’s first results in charge in March were a 0-0 draw away to Costa Rica in San Jose and a 1-0 loss to Mexico in Kansas City in which he was satisfied with the players’ organisation and attitude, but where he identified failings in ball retention and distribution.

The team plan is in its infancy and Diaz is looking further ahead to the 2018 World Cup qualifiers this year, but a berth in the Copa quarter-finals as one of the two best third-placed teams is realistic in a group containing Argentina, Uruguay and Jamaica.

Previous appearances 34 (first in 1921)

Best performance winners twice - 1953, 1979

Fifa world ranking 85

Coach: Ramon Diaz

Diaz is in his first job as a national team coach having made a name for himself at club level, which included winning the South American Libertadores Cup with River Plate in 1996.

The Argentine was appointed in 2014 shortly after steering River, where he began a successful playing career, to the Argentine title for the sixth time in his third spell and taking his tally to seven after also winning one with San Lorenzo.

Diaz angered Paraguayan media for telling Reuters in an interview that he was basing his strategy on the team’s traditional strengths in defence and in the air, saying that building a new team for the 2018 World Cup would take time.

He has gone largely for experience in his squad picking strong, tall defenders like Mexico-based duo Paulo Da Silva, Paraguay’s most capped player with 118, and Pablo Aguilar.

Striker Roque Santa Cruz, the country’s top scorer with 30 goals,hs been selected to lead an attack that includes Nelson Haedo Valdez and Lucas Barrios, also veterans of the side that reached the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals.

Key player: Nestor Ortigoza

Argentine-born Ortigoza is typical of the modern Paraguay midfielder with his command of the centre of the field, good marking and judicial ball distribution. He is also an accomplished penalty taker.

He has spent all his playing career in Argentina, apart from the 2012/13 season with Emirates Club in the UAE, the highlight being victory in the Libertadores Cup with San Lorenzo last year, scoring the deciding goal with a penalty.

The 30-year-old obtained Paraguayan citizenship in time to play in the 2010 World Cup side that reached the quarter-finals for the first time and the 2011 Copa America final in Argentina.

Ortigoza will be looking to help Paraguay overcome the disappointment of failing to reach last year’s World Cup finals in Brazil with a good showing in Chile in a group containing favourites Argentina and title holders Uruguay.


Goalkeepers Justo Villar (Colo Colo), Antony Silva (Independiente Medellin), Alfredo Aguilar (Guarani)

Defenders Paulo Da Silva (Toluca), Pablo Aguilar (America), Fabian Balbuena (Libertad), Marcos Caceres (Newell's Old Boys), Bruno Valdez (Cerro Porteno), Ivan Piris (Udinese), Miguel Samudio (America)

Midfielders Victor Caceres (Flamengo), Nestor Ortigoza (San Lorenzo), Osvaldo Martinez (America), Richard Ortiz (Toluca), Osmar Molinas (Libertad), Eduardo Aranda (Olimpia), Oscar Romero (Racing Club)

Forwards Roque Santa Cruz (Cruz Azul), Nelson Haedo Valdez (Eintracht Frankfurt), Raul Bobadilla (Augsburg), Lucas Barrios (Montpellier), Edgar Benitez (Toluca), Derlis Gonzalez (Basel)

Follow us on Twitter at our new home at NatSportUAE