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Paraguay Prepares for World Cup Football Finals - 2002-04-29


It's no real surprise to have Paraguay in the World Cup football finals starting next month in South Korea and Japan. The 13th-ranked team in the world is making its second straight appearance in the finals and sixth overall. Experts would not be surprised to find Paraguay in the final 16.

Paraguay has filled its coaching vacancy by hiring Italy's former national coach, Cesare Maldini. The team is drawn into Group-B along with Spain, Slovenia and South Africa. International football commentator Derek Rae says Paraguay should do well in its group. He said, "I think Paraguay has a very good chance of being in the round of 16. I think they'll fancy their chances against Slovenia and South Africa."

Rae says Paraguay did well in qualifying play for the 2002 World Cup. "They qualified without any real problems," he says, "and it was never really in doubt. And they have some good young players coming through, such as Roque Santa Cruz, a big, tall, athletic areial forward, who has excellent technique as well. And then the steady man in the middle of the pack, Roberto Acuna. He just sits in front of the back four and solves problems before they get to the defense."

Rae says defense should be a one of Paraguay's strengths. "They're very tight at the back," he continued. "They have, of course, Jose Luis Chilavert, their flamboyant goalkeeper, though he is suspended for the first two games, which won't help their cause."

Chilavert will miss the games as part of a four-match suspension for spitting at Brazil's Roberto Carlos during a qualifier last August. Despite the team's reputation for a strong defense, Paraguay allowed 23 goals in 18 qualifiers, an average of 1.28 goals per game - the worst among the teams headed to the World Cup. The Paraguayans will need to improve on those numbers to do well in the tournament.