Paraguái / Paraguay
- Capital: Asunción
- Official Languages: Spanish, Guarani
- Nicknames: Los Guaraníes; La Albirroja (The White and Red)
- Association: Asociación Paraguaya de Futbol (APF)
- FIFA Code: PAR
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Quarter Finals (2010)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Copa América Result (Men): WINNERS (1953 & 1979)
- Best Copa América Result (Women): Fourth Place (2006)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 8th (March 2001)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 47th (December 2018)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 103rd (May 1995)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 131st (December 2012)
- Most Capped Player: Paulo da Silva – 150 caps
- Top Scorers: Roque Santa Cruz – 32 goals
The Republic of Paraguay (República del Paraguay / Tetã Paraguái) is a landlocked South American country situated roughly in the centre of the continent. The country is sandwiched between Brazil to its east and northeast, and Argentina to its south and southwest, with Bolivia bordering the country to the northwest. Named after the river of the same name which flows through the country and links the country to the Atlantic Ocean via the Paraná-Paraguay Waterway, it gained its recognised independence in 1842 from Spain. The country’s football association, the APF, was founded as early as 1906 with the nation joining CONMEBOL in 1921, and then FIFA in 1925. Paraguay is currently the centre of South American football with the Paraguayan city of Luque being the location for the headquarters of CONMEBOL.
The Paraguayans have participated in 37 Copa Américas, giving them the fourth-highest appearance total in the competition, with their debut tournament appearance coming in 1921. They have won the continental tournament twice, firstly in 1953 by beating Brazil 3-2 in the final, and then in 1979 on aggregate against Chile after a playoff, whilst also finishing as finalists a further six occasions, most recently in the 2011 Copa América when they lost 3-0 to Uruguay. Overall, La Albirroja (named due to their red & white vertical striped shirts) are the fourth-most successful nation in the Copa América’s history.
Los Guaraníes have also appeared in eight World Cups with Paraguay being one of the nations to appear in the inaugural World Cup held in nearby Uruguay in 1930. They further appeared in the 1950 and 1958 editions albeit not progressing beyond the group stage on either occasion. They would have to wait until 1986 when they would reappear at the highest stage, progressing to the knockout stage for the first time in their history before losing to England 3-0 in the Round of 16. Paraguay’s golden era arrived in the late 1990s and extended throughout the whole of the 2000s. During that period, they qualified for four consecutive World Cup progressing to the Last 16 in 1998 and 2002, before achieving their best ever performance in the 2010 World Cup. They topped their group, which included defending world champions Italy, before beating Japan in a penalty shootout after a goalless 120 minutes to progress to the quarter-finals for the very first time. Sadly their campaign ended despite a spirited performance, losing to eventual World Cup winners Spain 1-0 in Johannesburg with David Villa’s winner coming just seven minutes from full time.
Alas since their heroics in South Africa, Paraguay have disappointingly failed to qualify for the past two World Cups. They finished bottom of the qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup and then missed out on automatic qualification by three points for the 2018 qualifying. However with a new generation of players progressing into the national team, there are some hopes that their absence from the world’s biggest tournament will come to an end. At the time of writing, they are currently undefeated in their qualifying campaign albeit only winning one of their opening four games. Should the Albirroja manage to convert some of those draws into victories, then it will be looking increasingly likely that the red & white striped shirts of Paraguay will be seen in the stadiums of Qatar come late 2022.
To talk about the two-time Copa América champions and quarter-finalists of the 2010 World Cup, we interviewed the excellent Paraguayan football expert, Ralph Hannah. A Londoner who is currently living in Miami, he writes about all things involving the fascinating world of Paraguayan football on his blogsite The Paraguay Football Blog. In addition, he is also the co-host of the Guarani Vision podcast, an English-language podcast which talks about ongoings of Paraguayan football. To find his social media accounts and blog, as well as Guarani Vision‘s social media accounts and podcast on YouTube, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @paraguayralph
- Paraguay Football Blog: https://paraguayfootball.wordpress.com/
- Guarani Vision’s Twitter: @guaranivision
- Guarani Vision’s YouTube: GV’s Channel
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all time, and the reasoning behind the choices?
José Luis Chilavert is probably the one player who managed to win top trophies like the Copa Libertadores, and the World Club Cup at club level but was also a leader and broke barriers at international level. In many ways he was an atypical Paraguayan being very outspoken and non-conformist which we saw on the pitch with his free-kick and penalty taking despite being a goalkeeper.
Tata Martino was the best manager, the only coach to take them to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup and a year later dragged them to the final of the Copa América despite not winning a game. If we have to stick with a Paraguayan coach then Manuel Fleitas Solich revolutionized domestic football with his focus on exercise, diet and focus on tactics. He won the 1953 Copa América and would later coach at Real Madrid.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
A lot of Paraguayans remember Nelson “Pipino” Cuevas fondly, he was a fast winger and famously came off the bench to score twice in the 2002 World Cup. He is from humble beginnings, very happy-go-lucky, and now retired is often on social media sharing anecdotes with a beer or two.
In the current squad the Romero twins, Óscar and Ángel [Óscar and Ángel are 28-year-old attacking midfielders/forwards at Argentine side San Lorenzo], are appreciated by fans for their performances but also for standing up to xenophobia in Brazil and Argentina.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Paraguay currently?
Miguel Almirón [27-year-old attacking midfielder currently at Newcastle United], the only player competing regularly in the ‘Top 5’ leagues of Europe. He is exciting going forward but also has great energy without the ball – something that Paraguay are often without.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
In transition, and looking for an identity with head coach Eduardo Berizzo (a Bielsista) trying to impose that particular style but without the right players at his disposal. They have also been “left behind” somewhat with the rise of Chile in mid-2010s and improvement of Peru, Venezuela, and Ecuador making World Cup Qualification even more of a daunting task.
Q. Are there any Paraguayan players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
Right now there are two to look out for, 22-year-old Robert Morales is a striker from Concepción in north of country who originally made debut with Olimpia but was snapped up by arch rivals Cerro Porteño. He has a great sense of space and killer instinct in and around the box.
In Libertad, well respected for their youth system, a 17-year-old Julio Enciso exploded onto the scene with a Copa Libertadores goal last year. Since then he has scored important goals in their 2021 title run and has searing pace to complement technical ability.
Q. Looking at Paraguay’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance for the national team in your opinion?
I was in Pretoria when Paraguay beat Japan on penalties to reach their first World Cup quarter-final which is for sure the most important result. In terms of recent performances the 2-0 home win over Brazil en route to South Africa with goals from Salvador Cabañas and Roque Santa Cruz was stuff of dreams.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Losing at home to Venezuela in the final qualifier to miss out on going to Russia 2018, especially as La Vinotinto had nothing to play for and brought a weakened side to Asunción.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Paraguayan national team?
The best is that, for a country of 7 million people, you are generally always the underdog against your bigger neighbors so every win (and sometimes draw) is precious.
The worst, at least recently, has been missing out on World Cups!
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
There was a very old one that still prevails called ‘Adelante Albirroja‘ and in recent years a rock version became popular that is still used on TV coverage pre-game that people get behind:
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
Yes I went to England versus Paraguay at the 2006 World Cup as an England fan! After the game we were having some beers with a group of Paraguayans and a shirt swap was suggested. They thought we were crazy because the England shirt was double retail price but they gave me the Reebok one that the Albirroja used in France 1998.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Paraguayan national team?
Qualification for 2022 is already looking very difficult, so from a selfish view, and as I now live in Miami, is to see Paraguay at the 2026 World Cup here and hopefully can take my kids to see them! In the short-term, it would be great to see them compete at a U20s World Cup again and build a new golden generation to really compete.
A massive muchas gracias to Ralph for answering our questions on La Albirroja. Remember you can find their social media accounts and blog in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.