Paraguay – functional rather than spectacular
Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino has used his pre-tournament friendlies for experimentation, both in terms of formation and personnel, making his starting line-up for the opening game against Italy difficult to predict.
After experimenting with a 3-4-3 against Ireland and a 4-3-3 in subsequent friendlies, it now appears that he might revert to a defensive-minded 4-4-2 formation, despite the fact he possesses plenty of good forwards, and a lack of creativity in midfield.
Roque Santa Cruz is one player who would prefer that system – when Paraguay have fielded a three-man attack, Santa Cruz has looked lost out on the right-hand side, and he will partner Lucas Barrios upfront in a 4-4-2.
The possible XI
In goal will be Justo Villar – remarkably small for a goalkeeper, and one who looks nervous whenever the opposition fire crosses into the box, but Paraguay’s clear No 1 having started 17 of the 18 qualification games.
The defence in front of him is fairly unexciting but not particularly solid either. It will probably feature two full-backs who can also play at centre-back, Dario Veron on the right and the more attack-minded Claudio Morel on the left. Paulo da Silva is a definite starter in the middle, possibly alongside Antolin Alcatraz, who has come from nowhere to be in with a chance of starting, although Julio Cesar Caceres is the more established option, a committed but technically-limited character.
The problem with a 4-4-2 is that the midfield will be overwhelmingly functional rather than creative. Martino looks likely to go with Enrique Vera, Victor Cacares, Cristiano Riveros and Aureliano Torres – the first three being steady, unfussy midfielders, and Torres being a converted left-back.
Paraguay named six forwards in their 23-man squad, and it will probably be an unfamiliar starting pairing of Santa Cruz and Barrios. Barrios is an Argentinian-born striker who only became Paraguayan three months ago, but has started his international career with three goals in three games and looks likely to start.
But many would favour a third forward, with Nelson Valdez and Oscar Cardozo both excellent options from the bench, but then Paraguay seem to be more effective with the 4-4-2 they displayed in qualifying, rather than the three-striker formations Martino has tried in friendlies.
Paraguay are often the least exciting of the South American teams at the World Cup, and that seems unlikely to change here, with a technically-limited defence and an overwhelmingly functional midfield.
The key man is Barrios, in form both for his club and his (new) country, and Santa Cruz will have to make a positive start to maintain his place in the side – he rarely featured in qualifying, and Cardozo is a ready-made replacement.
The biggest positive for Paraguay is that they are in a very weak group. If they avoid defeat to Italy in their first game they can win the group, although they won’t win many friends.Paraguay – functional rather than spectacular