Gerardo Pelusso new coach of Paraguay national team

Several weeks after Chiqui Arce’s sacking the Paraguayan FA (APF) have confirmed Uruguayan Gerardo Pelusso as the new coach of the national side who leaves Olimpia to take the reins of the albirroja. Here is a short summary and our views on the pros and cons of the appointment.

Gerardo Pelusso

Gerardo Pelusso

D.o.B: 25 February 1954

Place of Birth: Florida, Uruguay

Former Clubs Managed: Emelec (Ecuador, 1984), Club Atlético Florida (Uruguay, 1985-88), Liverpool (Uruguay, 1991), Club Atlético Quilmes (Uruguay, 1992), Cerro (Uruguay, 1993-95), Deportes Iquique (Chile, 1996-97), Everton (Chile, 1998), Frontera Rivera (Uruguay, 1999), Racing (Uruguay, 2000), Aucas (Ecuador, 2001-02), Cerro (Uruguay, 2003) Danubio (Uruguay, 2004-05), Alianza Lima (Perú, 2006-07), Club Nacional (Uruguay, 2007-09), Universidad de Chile (Chile, 2010), Club Olimpia (Paraguay, 2011-12)

Club Honours: 2004 Uruguayan Apertura, 2004 Uruguayan Championship, 2006 Peruvian Apertura, 2006 Peruvian championship, 2008 Uruguayan Apertura, 2008-09 Uruguayan Championship, 2011 Paraguayan Clausura

Recent International Tournaments: 2009 Copa Libertadores semi-finalists, 2010 Copa Libertadores semi-finalists, 2011 Copa Sudamericana Last 16, 2012 Copa Libertadores Group Stages

Pros

Employing a coach with experience of Paraguayan football is certainly a bonus, with the short timeframe before the next World Cup Qualifier (7 September away to Argentina) there wouldn’t have been much time for a coach to try and get to know his players. Pelusso can get straight to work in trying to qualify for the World Cup which is the principal aim.

Pelusso’s recent track record is certainly enviable, he wins things and got far in international tournaments with both Universidad de Chile and Nacional (URU). Also one of the characteristics of his Olimpia team was the mental strength he installed which is something the Paraguay players will need if they are going to revive their qualification hopes.

Historically Paraguay have been a defensive and counter-attacking side which may not be pretty but has allowed the nation of 6 million to punch above their weight on the international stage. Pelusso will immediately bring more defensive organisation than seen under Chiqui Arce and the Uruguayan is a pragmatist who is willing to employ the tactic that works; at Olimpia he moved from a 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 when he lost key players in mid-season.

While Pelusso is animated on the touchline he was generally eloquent and tranquil in press conferences and his general handling of the Paraguay press and the pressure of managing Olimpia was excellent. It will stand him in good stead for what he is about to face at international level.

Cons

Paraguay is in a transition and unlike club management Pelusso won’t be able to draft in big names to help him out, this will be a renewed test of his ability to get the best out of a limited talent pool something he hasn’t had to deal with recently in Uni. de Chile and Olimpia both filled with stars.

What will happen to the progress made by Chiqui Arce’s administration in the youth set-up? Unfortunately it is unlikely that he will show the same interest into the Paraguayan youth set up. This was one of the criticisms of the previous foreign-coach Gerardo Martino who had very little success at youth level.

International football is full of ‘big-games’ where you plan for weeks or even months and need to get your tactics right for that particular opponent. In two crucial ‘big-games’ this year Pelusso could be accused of getting it wrong, on Sunday he went for an ultra-defensive formation needing just a point against Cerro Porteño and ended up going two goals down (admittedly earling sendings off also had an effect). Similarly in the final Copa Libertadores group game against Emelec he was unlucky to lose key players to injury but the late substitution in search of a winning goal was a striker for a defender (rather than defensive midfielder) and Olimpia ended up conceding.

Conclusion

Given the limited time frame and the APF’s resolve to qualify for the 2014 World Cup rather than plan long-term this seems one of the best possible appointments. Pelusso is a solid candidate with good managerial credentials and his championship win at Olimpia will surely have earned plenty of respect among the players he will now be coaching. The pressure is certainly on, starting with that crunch qualifier in Córdoba against Messi and co. followed by a huge grudge match (for sporting and political reasons) in Asunción against Venezuela. If Pelusso can take four points from those two qualifiers it will put him in good stead and expel any nagging doubts about his qualification to manage on the international stage.

By Ralph Hannah

Chiqui Arce: A victim of time

On Monday evening, Chiqui Arce’s contract as manager of the Paraguay national team was rescinded by the APF (Parguayan FA) just two days after Paraguay suffered their third defeat in their fifth World Cup Qualifier. The head of the APF, Juan Angel Napout called it a “difficult decision” and it was  genuine comment because the decision wasn’t really whether Arce should stay or go but what do the APF value more, the short-term or the long-term. Ultimately, as is so often the case in top level football, the desire for immediate results won out over the long-term vision.

Arce’s Vision

Chiqui Arce was sacked by the APF – Photo: Prensa Selección Paraguaya de Futbol

Chiqui Arce was brought in just under a year ago and spoke of a ‘project’ to change Paraguay’s play from the traditional counter-attacking and set-piece-reliant style to something more attractive and reminiscent of Brazil or even Barcelona. It seemed a good move as Paraguay’s golden generation was ageing, Roque Santacruz, Justo Villar and Paulo Da Silva were now in the twilight of their careers and it was time to  nurture a new generation of young players through the state-of-the-art high performance centre in Ypané. In fact, Chiqui Arce would spend two days a week there with domestic-based players for most of his time at the helm often accompanied by 100 youngsters forming the U15s, U17s and U20s teams. The trend in international football seemed to support the Arce-way, Uruguay had just won the Copa América with the longest-serving coach in the CONMEBOL region to follow-up a World Cup semi-final. Earlier this year in Africa, Zambia were crowned champions of the continent thanks to almost a decade of work.

Tata’s Legacy

Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino is arguably the greatest coach of the Paraguay national team thanks to their historic World Cup Quarter-Final finish in 2010, an incredible result for a country of 6 million people rated as the 2nd-poorest nation in South America. But while Martino got an excellent nucleus of players together and turned Paraguay into a well-organised team with tactical discipline he didn’t invest much in the future. Other than the 2009 U20s World Cup appearance, Paraguay have been desperately poor in youth football since winning the silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Martino realised too that he had little to work with, when Salvador Cabañas was ruled out of South Africa he turned to Argentine-born Lucas Barrios and fast-tracked citizenship. There is nothing wrong with nationalising players born in other countries, the reality of the 21st century is that borders are much more imaginary than ever before, but Martino’s penchant for picking players from his home country proved just how small the pool of international level players there were within Paraguayan borders. Then of course there is the style of play, the albirroja reached the Copa América final without winning a game and during Martino’s 70-game reign they only averaged 1.09 goals per game, in Arce’s 12 games that was up to 1.25 and the win ratio (admittedly skewed by the poor quality opposition in friendlies) was up to 58% from Tata’s 34%. But one thing Gerardo Martino always did was ‘win when it matters’.

The pressure of Brazil 2014

Ale Dominguez (left) and Juan Angel Napout couldn’t wait any longer for results – Photo: ABC.com.py

Arce had public pressure on him from the start, partly for not being from the Rio de la Plata region (all the top clubs here have Argentinian or Uruguayan coaches) and for getting off to a perceived poor start in the qualifiers, losing to Peru and drawing at home with Uruguay. He was also a victim of increased expectation as Paraguayan football fans have become spoiled in recent years qualifying for the last four World Cups. When Arce went to France 1998 as a player he was just the second group of Paraguayans to be on the world’s highest stage in ten attempts. This year there is added expectation because of the destination; Brazil borders Paraguay and it will be the first World Cup in South America for 36 years meaning everybody in CONMEBOL wants to be at the party on their doorstep. After five games Paraguay are penultimate in the nine-team group with four points and their qualification hopes are hanging in the balance. Juan Angel Napout and the APF must have been feeling the pressure of Brazil too, the money that World Cup qualification generates for the association to help develop domestic football is vital if the Guaraní want to maintain their status as one of the best on the continent. The top brass knew that now was the moment to make a decision, either continue with Chiqui Arce or let him go so a new coach would have time to resurrect Paraguay’s qualification hopes.

Conclusion

The APF took a very difficult decision and one that is understable considering the results, it is also highly risky.  The worst case scenario now is that a high-profile and well-paid coach comes in but fails to qualify, leaving Paraguay penniless and without the conditions to bring through a new crop of players. Under Arce at least they could have taken solace that they would be in good stead for 2018. Personally I can understand people’s frustration at Arce’s lack of results (and the comprehensive manner of the defeats which left  bitter taste in the mouth) but I believed in his long-term vision. He inherited a team in transition lacking a natural leader to instill the traditional ‘garra’ into the side and seriously lacking in quality players. As mentioned above, achieving aims at international football takes time, it should be remembered too that the Paraguayan side that went to the World Cup in 1998 had began life together as the Olympic team in 1992 under Sergio Markarian. Ultimately success must be sown in the youth team fields if rewards are to be reaped. Chiqui Arce was a victim of time, he needed more than 10 months and 12 games. The APF were victims of the times, with major tournaments every two years and a population craving results, they couldn’t wait any longer.

By Ralph Hannah

Weekend Wrap: Olimpia bounce back as León leaves Luque

I wasn’t in Asunción over Easter so had to resort to listening to both Cerro Porteño and Olimpia on the radio (no cable in the countryside) but I did get my fill of football and of course all the weekend’s action (and there is a lot) is here. See how Cerro Porteño and Olimpia warmed up for this Sunday’s superclásico, Libertad’s limp response to a dramatic late win in the Copa Libertadores and finally, finally, Tacuary celebrated a win (as predicted here)!

Main Games

Sol de América vs Cerro Porteño
Estadio Oddone Sarubbi
(1-0) 2-2 – William Mendieta 38′, Enzo Prono 47′, Julio Dos Santos (pen) 60′, Jony Fabbro (pen) 72′

Somewhat surprisingly Sol de América brushed off recent form (three straight losses) and the José Ortigoza shaped hole in attack to go two goals in front in Ciudad del Este. William Mendieta opened the scoring, picking up Enzo Prono’s flick from a long ball and skirting his way round Cerro’s defence to finish with a clever chip. Just after the break Prono profited from an incredible mix up by Pedro Benitez and Alexis Gonzalez, the Sol striker pouncing on the mistake to tuck away a simple chance.

The Cerro comeback began on the hour mark, a penalty given to the away side for handball which seemed correct – the Uruguayan left back Diego Ciz had his arm away from his body as he leaned to block an overhead kick. Julio Dos Santos whipped the spot kick into the top corner, 2-1. When Angel Enciso was shown a second yellow less than ten minutes later it was clear the tide had turned in El Ciclon’s favour and sure enough on 72 minutes they had equalised, again from 12 yards. This time Edgar Segovia went for a routine clearance only to find that Jorge Rojas had reached the ball first so rather than smashing the ball 60 yards he smashed Rojas about 6 yards instead. Clear penalty. With Dos Santos no longer on the pitch, Jonathan Fabbro stepped up and smashed it hard enough that the keeper’s touch only pushed it into the roof of the net.

Dos Santos celebrates his goal - Photo: Estadio.com.py

After the game the imposing figure of Sol coach Ricardo Dabrowski took on some serious menace when he growled to journalists after the game about the refereeing and in particular an elbow on his player William Mendieta. ” When these things happen, Sol doesn’t lose, Paraguayan football loses.” indicating that the reason that the big Paraguayan clubs suffer in international football and “ship 6 goals” [Olimpia lost 6-0 to Lanús last week] is because they don’t get the same favourable treatment from referees abroad as they do at home. The big man might have a point there.

Sol de América: Roberto Acosta; Roberto Bonet, Ricardo Martínez, Édgar Segovia, Diego Ciz; Reinaldo Ocampo, Ángel Enciso, Alfredo Rojas, David Mendieta; William Mendieta, Enzo Prono

Subs: E.Orzusa for R.Ocampo, C.Dominguez for E.Prono, S.Escalante for W.Mendieta

Sent Off: A.Enciso (two bookable offences)

Cerro Porteño: Diego Barreto; Matías Corujo, Mariano Uglessich, Pedro Benítez, Luis Cardozo; Jorge Rojas, Alexis González, Julio Dos Santos, Édgar Benítez; Jonathan Fabbro, Santiago Salcedo

Subs: W.López for J.Dos Santos, G.Beltrán for E.Benitez, L.Caceres for J.Fabbro

======================================

Olimpia vs Sportivo Luqueño
Estadio Manuel Ferreira a.k.a Para Uno
(0-1) 2-1 – Arnaldo Castorino 73′, Gabriel Montiel 82′; Carlos Martinez 14′

Olimpia took the first steps to erasing the Buenos Aires humiliation with a typically gritty win over Luque in Para Uno. The relegation strugglers were a goal up against their illustrious rivals when youngster Carlos Martinez scored. He was given time and space on the right hand side to drive home from outside the box. Luque would have been two up at halftime were it not for Salustiano Candía’s goal line heroics, Luque striker Guido Di Vanni had lifted the ball over Martin Silva and it was heading into the empty net only for Candia to race back and stretch out a leg to keep the score at 1-0.

El Decano pushed and pushed for an equaliser, it finally came 17 minutes before the end from an Arnaldo Castorino header who reacted to Sergio Orteman’s flick on following a corner. As ever the black and white machine driven forward by captain Orteman didn’t stop there. The Uruguayan shrugged off his marker on the right to send a looping cross over to the other side of the box where the debutant left-back Gabriel Montiel (the Paraguayan press insist on calling him Eugenio but he uses Gabriel on his facebook so I’m sticking with that!) had made a lung-busting run into the box and side footed in on the half volley to win the game and extend their lead at the top of the Apertura Table to four points.

Arnaldo Castorino gets the equaliser - Photo: D10.com.py

It was a wonderful moment for Montiel, from Mariano Roque Alonso on the outskirts of Asunción, who had everything to owe to his parents who supported him with the little money they had. His mother, like many Paraguayans in tough economic situations, moved to Spain to work as a maid and send money home so her son could continue his dream of playing football. Now 20 years old that dream is starting to come true.

Olimpia: Martín Silva; Francisco Nájera, Adrián Romero, Salustiano Candia, Gabriel Montiel; Eduardo Aranda, Fabio Caballero, Sergio Orteman, Alberto Contrera; Pablo Zeballos, Luis Caballero

Subs: A.Castorino for A.Contrera; S.Almirón for L.Caballero, O.Hobecker for F.Nájera

Sent Off: O.Hobecker (straight red – elbow)

Luque: Tobías Vargas; Juan Gamarra, Ronald Huth, Pablo Aguilar, Sergio Vergara; Claudio Vargas, Édgar Robles, Juan Raponi, Carlos Martínez; Guido Di Vanni, Pablo Giménez

Subs: C.Caceres Cañete for P.Gimenez, J.Britez for J.P.Raponi, R.Gamarra for C.Martinez

======================================

OFF THE BALL

Libertad punch up: Libertad’s last gasp Copa Libertadores win meant nothing at the end of a 1-1 draw with lowly Independiente in the league. In the previous home game there had been verbal exchanges after the same result against Carapeguá but this time things got physical. Pulciano Aquino, the assistant to Jorge Burruchaga, sought out ex-board member Gustavo Invernizzi who had been verbally abusing the coach’s wife as an angry mob gathered around the press conference area to vent their anger at results. A full on fight was only avoided by the private security present (if you thought that should read police, dream on) who waded in to pull the potential pugilists apart.

León out the door: Felix de León has left Luque to become the third manager to lose his job so far this season having garnered just 12 points from a possible 30 which keeps the auriazul in relegation trouble. His replacement is Carlos Kiese which has been received with a mixed reaction, in his previous tenure as Luque manager he won just one game!

Tacuary win twice! Not only did Tacuary win their first game of the year in the Primera but their namesake in the regional league of Caraguatay got the better of my local team 6 de Julio on Maundy Thursday. They are the ones in green and white!

Tacuary won 2-1 in the Easter rain

Player of the Week: Must be the aforementioned Montiel!

Donkey of the Week: Sorry Federico Carballo of Guaraní – your own goal was one for the ee-aw collection!

Goal of the Week: Derlis Gonzalez showed everybody why he is on Benfica’s books, gliding past two challenges to fire home clinically from the edge of the box. It is the first goal in the link below!

ALL THE GOALS HERE

======================================

Results: Guaraní 2-1 Carapeguá, Tacuary 1-0 Cerro PF, Libertad 1-1 Independiente, Nacional 0-2 Rubio Ñu, Olimpia 2-1 Sportivo Luqueño, Sol de América 2-2 Cerro Porteño

Intermedia Results:  Atl. Colegiales 2 – 0 Paranaense FC, General Díaz 0 – 0 Fernando de la Mora, Sp. Iteño 2 – 2 29 de Setiembre, 2 de Mayo 1 – 2 General Caballero, 3 de Febrero 0 – 1 Resistencia FC, River Plate 1 – 1 Sport Colombia, Sp. Trinidense 0 – 0 Dvo. Santaní, San Lorenzo 1 – 3 Dvo. Capiatá

By Ralph Hannah

Weekend Wrap: The Messi family celebrate goals but mixed fortunes

While Lionel Messi scored for Barcelona in Spain, across the Atlantic his cousins Maxi and Emanuel Biancucchi netted goals in Asunción on Saturday and Sunday respectively. But while Maxi scored the only goal of the game to keep Olimpia top of the league, Emanuel scored what turned out to be nothing more than a consolation penalty as his Independiente side were mauled 5-2 by a rampant Nacional. The Ricardo Gregor stadium is where we kick off…

MAIN GAME

Independiente vs Nacional
Estadio Ricardo Gregor
(1-2) 2-5 – Emanuel Biancucchi (pen) 31′, Herminio Miranda (og) 83′; Denis Caniza 15′, Javier Gonzalez 45+1′ & 54′, Angel Orué 64′, Ricardo Teixeira 71′

This weekend I visited Independiente’s ground for the first time to watch Sunday’s early kick off between Alicio Solalinde’s strugglers and Javier Torrente’s title challengers. Just ten minutes before kick off a black cat ran past the stand, it was clearly an omen as Independiente played well for 45 minutes only to be beaten out of sight.

Stern refereeing at the game saw five yellow cards - Photo: Prensa Club Nacional

The game began with neither team fashioning an opening, Nacional were better in the middle where Marcos Riveros and the excellent Silvio Torales controlled posession and the tempo of the game. Independiente however were dangerous on the wings with Francisco García, on loan from Cerro Porteño, showing excellent movement and technique on the left hand side, supported ably by his full back Richard Lugo. But that left gaps to be exposed and after 15 minutes the Nacional right back Denis Caniza profited with an excellent volley from Ramón Caceres’ cross on the left. Caceres had got in behind the Inde defense thanks to Torales incisive pass despite having little space to work in. On the half hour mark Independiente got a deserved equaliser via an undeserved penalty, Emanuel Biancucchi was allegedly fouled and brushed himself off to score from twelve yards. It came at a time when the home side had been creating chances with García drifting inside and Luis Miño linking well with his strikers. Nacional had taken their foot of the gas after the goal and there was often 30-40 yards between the midfield and two strikers as they visitors were forced deeper and deeper.

Both sides threatened to take the lead before halftime, first Caniza had space on the right to put in a wonderful cross for Angel Orué but the big number nine headed wide, down the other end Miño nearly replicated his ‘golazo’ against Olimpia with a dangerous dipping shot from distance tipped over by Ignacio Don. In the end Independiente went into the break a goal down thanks to some shocking defending. A routine long ball to Orué (Nacional’s strategy throughout the half) saw the lanky striker win a freekick, Javier Gonzalez was quick thinking at tapped the ball to Ariel Bogado who returned the ball to Gonzalez in the area to finish. 2-1, halftime and Independiente bemused and demoralised.

Javier Gonzalez with his second of the game - Photo: Prensa Club Nacional

If that goal on the second stroke of halftime knocked Independiente, the third goal killed them as it opened the floodgates in 17 forgetful minutes. Nacional were gifted the ball and a searching pass should have been cut out by Lugo but he was too weak and allowed Gonzalez to nick it from him and finish with aplomb. The next goal was down the left, Caceres muscling past his man to square to Orué for a simple tap in. Four became five when substitute Carlos Ruiz Peralta carved out some space on the right before passing to Caniza, the right back found another sub, Ricardo Teixeira, with a clever cross who chested down to poke home. The consolation, Herminio Miranda’s comic own goal, didn’t raise a smile amongst Independiente’s players or directors who aired their complaints to the club president before entering the home dressing room after the game to let the footballers know more was expected of them.

As for Nacional they now go into the crunch Copa Libertadores with Corinthians full of confidence and still in title-challenging territory.

ALL SEVEN GOALS HERE

Independiente XI: B. Hermosilla; R. Martínez, M. Godoy, M. Almirón, R. Lugo; V. Dávalos, J. Báez, L. Miño, F. García, E.  Biancucchi, I. Iriberri

Subs: C. Machuca for F. García,

Nacional: Ignacio Don; R. Mazacotte, H. Miranda, Denis Caniza, David Mendoza, Carlos Ruiz Peralta, Marcos Riveros, Javier Villarreal, S. Torales, A. Orué, A. Bogado

Subs: C. Ruiz Peralta R. Teixeira W. Pereira

=========================================================

TV GAMES

Olimpia vs Sol de América
Estadio Para Uno
(0-0) 1-0 – Maxi Biancucchi 63′

Olimpia fresh from their heroics against Flamengo and looking ahead to their Buenos Aires showdown on Tuesday with Lanús had to overcome a stubborn Sol side to remain top of the league.

The first half ended goalless with Olimpia in control but without somebody at the sharp end of things, with Luis Caballero and Pablo Zeballos rested it was the turn of Sergio Almirón and Maxi Bianucchi to start up front. Both missing excellent chances in the early stages, Biancucchi losing his footing after a one-two with Alberto Contrera put him through on goal while his partner headed wide from a Sebastián Ariosa cross. Sol’s main tactic was to try and get balls over the top to José Ortigoza but their best chances came from headers. On 23 minutes David Mendieta got on the end of Angel Enciso’s centre but somehow Martin Silva got down to the ball, a world class save. Four minutes before the break Edgar Segovia sent a weak header into the floor which subsequently reached Silva’s gloves after a deflected freekick had given the Danzarín defender a golden opportunity.

In the second half Olimpia survived a penalty shout, Ortigoza went down under Salustiano Candia’s hefty challenge and replays indicate a spotkick would have been a fair decision. After 60 minutes came the turning point of the match, Zeballos replaced Almirón and his impact was profound. He brought verve to Olimpia’s offense almost immediately latching onto a through ball and causing Sol’s defenders to get disorganisedwith his surging runs from deep. Three minutes after his substitution and El Decano were ahead, Zeballos played a slick one-two with Contrera before putting in Biancucchi, it was the Argentine’s hardest chance of the game but he found the net, scooping the ball over Roberto Acosta. That was Maxi’s first goal since the late winner against Nacional six games earlier.

Biancucchi celebrates his goal - Photo: D10.com.py

Sol had no way past Silva who pulled off another fantastic save from a header in the 76th minute, this time down to his left from Alfredo Rojas. Ortigoza cut a frustrated figure on the eve of his 25th birthday and late on his cross to find substitute Enzo Prono was cut out by Enrique Meza who has been in commanding form in recent weeks. Olimpia held on for the victory and it was no surprise, their last 13 triumphs have been by a single goal.

Olimpia XI: M.Silva; R.Revoredo, S.Candia, A.Romero, S. Ariosa; O. Hobecker, F.Caballero, C.Paredes, A.Contrera; M. Biancucchi, S.Almirón

Subs: E.Meza for A.Romero, P.Zeballos for S.Almirón, F.Nájera for R.Revoredo

Sol de América XI:  R. Acosta; R.Bonet, E.Segovia, R.Martínez , D.Ciz; R.Ocampo, A. Rojas, Á.Enciso, D. Mendieta; W. Mendieta, J. Ortigoza

Subs: E. Orzusa for A.Encisco, E.Prono for W.Mendieta, C.Dominguez for J.Ortigoza

=========================================================

Cerro Porteño vs Guaraní
Estadio La Olla
(0-0) 1-0 – Santiago Salcedo 48′

Like Olimpia, Cerro were made to battle but got the only goal of the game as the two rivals continue to battle it out at the top of the table. Travelling back from the Independiente game, I missed the goalless first half, but the two key moments were shortly after the recommencement of the second period.

Santiago Salcedo celebrates his strike - Photo: D10.com.py

48 minutes had gone when Julio Dos Santos, in his deeper role picked out Santiago Salcedo with a wonderful pass, the 30-year-old striker had moved in between the two centrebacks, controlled the ball with his chest and scored with a terrific scissor kick. It was his fourth goal in six games and was enough to sink Guaraní who now have just one goal in their last three games despite playing well in all three. Salcedo was then involved moments later when Cerro were awarded a penalty, Jorge Rojas sliced through the Aborigen defense before being clumsily chopped down by Luis Cabral, the defender saw his second red card of the season for what was a very similar challenge that saw him sent off against Rubio Ñu. Salcedo stepped up but the spotkick lacked direction and power as it trickled into Joel Silva’s grateful arms.

Salcedo nearly made amends with a vicious shot that was well saved by Silva and in general Cerro Porteño looked motivated and showed good energy in midfield as they kept pushing to extend their lead. In theory the numerical advantage and their will to keep going forward should have suited the home side but Guaraní managed to take advantage of the space despite being down to ten men. Dante Lopez rounded Barreto but took the ball too far and was unable to get a shot on target, later Barreto made a super stop with his left hand to deny Guaraní an equaliser.

The result means Cerro continue just two points behind Olimpia with one more game until the Superclásico meanwhile Guaraní have suffered the same fate a few times this season, unable to take all three points because they just lack that finishing touch up front.

Cerro Porteño: D. Barreto; M. Corujo, M. Uglessich, P. Benítez, L. Cardozo; J. Rojas, J. Dos Santos, A. González, J. Fabbro; É. Benítez, S. Salcedo

Subs: F. Oviedo for E. Benitez, I.Torres for E. Benitez, L. Caceres for J. Dos Santos

Guaraní: J. Silva; E. Filippini, L. Cabral, J. Manzur, E. Marecos; N. Romero, M. Palau, D. Figueredo, B. Cáceres; D. Ocampo; D. López

Subs: F.Escobar for B.Caceres, C.Hidalgo for D. Lopez, P.Chavez for D.Figueredo

Red Card: Luis Cabral (professional foul)

=========================================================

OFF THE BALL

Almirón Angry: The Independiente central defender walked off the pitch and instead of heading right to the dressing room he went left towards the car park and specifically a fan who had been laying into him for the heavy defeat. Fortunately he was held back by friends and the fan was dragged away. Almost 30 minutes later when Almirón emerged from the dressing room his family asked “Who was that you nearly had a fight with?” – the response was a grunt, he clearly hadn’t calmed down.

Team of the Week: Diego Barreto (Cerro Porteño); Denis Caniza (Nacional), Luciano Vera (Tacuary), Pedro Benitez (Cerro Porteño), Sebastián Ariosa (Olimpia);  Julio Dos Santos (Cerro Porteño), Silvio Torales (Nacional), Fabio Caballero (Olimpia), Eduardo Echeverría (Carapeguá); Javier Gonzalez (Nacional), Pablo Velazquez (Libertad)

Player of the Week: I was tempted to give Eduardo Echeverría an honorary mention as the Carapeguá midfielder has now joined José Ortigoza at the top of the list but as I didn’t see him play it would be a slightly blind decision. Therefore this week’s winner is veteran full back Denis Caniza who scored a good goal, got an assist and was generally a pest all day down Nacional’s right hand side.

The 37-year-old is player of the week - Photo: Prensa Club Nacional

Goal of the Week: Salcedo’s scissor kick by far

ALL THE GOALS

Donkey of the Week: The barra or barras of Cerro Porteño fighting amongst themselves in the stands making it unsafe for families who want to go to a game and not pay a fortune. It should be of huge embarrassment to J.J.Zapag and his board of directors that they are still unable to control this the same weekend that their arch-rivals Olimpia were launching a new ‘smart card’ ticketing system for their socios. As one club moves forward the other stays stuck in the past.

Results: Cerro PF 0-2 Libertad, Olimpia 1-0 Sol, Independiente 2-5 Nacional, Luque 1-1 Rubio Ñu, Carapeguá 1-1 Tacuary, Cerro Porteño 1-0 Guaraní

Intermedia Results:  2 de Mayo 1 – 2 3 de Febrero, Resistencia 1 – 4 Sportivo Trinidense, Fernando de la Mora 2 – 3 Sportivo Iteño, General Caballero ZC 2 – 2 29 de Setiembre, Deportivo Capiatá 5 – 0 Atl River Plate, Paranaense FC 0 – 0 General Díaz, Sport Colombia 0- 1 Atl. Colegiales, Deportivo Santaní 0 – 0 Sp. San Lorenzo

=========================================================

By Ralph Hannah

Weekend Wrap: Olimpia and Cerro Porteño pull away from rivals

This weekend was spent in Mexico at the Coatzacoalcos Carnaval so I haven’t watched a single game, the following is therefore a brief round up drawn from the reports I’ve read. I also defer Player of the Week and Team of the Week suggestions to you, my faithful readers – vote by making a comment below or tell me on Twitter!

Main games

Guaraní vs Olimpia
Estadio Defensores del Chaco
(0-0) 0-1 – Pablo Zeballos 51’

Football returned to the Defensores del Chaco with the clásico añejo decided by the only goal, Pablo Zeballos registered his third strike in as many games to win the match. Guaraní had the better of the first half but couldn’t make an impact, it took Olimpia just six minutes of the second period to mark the difference. El Decano were never likely to surrender their lead, even less so when Luis De La Cruz was shown his second yello card to reduce the aborigen to ten men.

The win ensured Olimpia would remain top of the table ahead of their big game with Flamengo in the Copa Libertadores this week.

Guaraní XI: J.Silva; T.Bartomeus, L.Cabral, J.Manzur, E.Marecos; L.De la Cruz, M.Palau, D.Figueredo, D.Ocampo; N.Romero, F.Escobar

Subs: E.Filippini for T.Bartomeus, D.Lopez for F.Escobar, O.Ruiz for N.Romero

Olimpia XI: M.Silva; F.Nájera, A.Romero, E.Meza, S.Ariosa; E.Aranda, O.Hobecker, S.Orteman , V.Marín; P.Zeballos, L.Caballero

Subs: M.Biancucchi for L.Caballero, C.Paredes for O.Hobecker, R.Reveredo for E.Aranda

====================================

Sol de América vs Sportivo Luqueño
Estadio Luis Gigani
(1-2) 2-3 – Enzo Prono 14’, Roberto Martinez 46’; Pablo Gimenez 30’, Juan Abente 38’, Guido Di Vanni 64’

Sol vs Luque

A goal fest in Villa Elisa as the drop in temperature allowed football to replace suffering in this early kick off. Enzo Prono got a much needed goal early on to boost his confidence and open the scoring for the third time this year for the Danzarín.  However Sol were undone by two Luque responses before the break. Pablo Gimenez got the first and then Juan Abente just after entering the field of play as a substitute scored in an 8 minute spell to put the Kuré in front as they look to haul themeselves out of the promedio. Straight after the restart Ricardo Martinez equalised for Sol before young striker Guido Di Vanni scored his third of the season to improve his already rising stock.

Sol de América XI: M. Santilli;  R. Bonet, R. Martínez, D. Arrúa, D.Ciz; R.Ocampo, Á.Enciso, E.Orzusa, W.Mendieta; E.Prono, J. Ortigoza

Subs: C.Dominguez for E.Orzusa, M.Duré for W.Mendieta

Sportivo Luqueño XI: É.Caballero; C. Vargas, R.Bogado, P.Aguilar, S.Vergara; É.Robles, J.Brítez, J.P.Raponi, C.Cáceres Cañete; P.Gímenez, G.Di Vanni

Subs: J.Abente for J.P.Raponi, Y.Cano for P.Gímenez, N.Cuevas for C.Cáceres Cañete

====================================

Tacuary vs Cerro Porteño
Estadio Defensores del Chaco
(2-2) 2-4 – Jorge Ortega 21’ & 26’; Edgar Benitez 31’ & 58’, Santiago Salcedo 43’, Jonathan Fabbro 90’

Cerro scoring four goals and winning is no surprise but it was a shock to see them go behind on 21 minutes and alarm bells were ringing in the azulgrana ranks when they were two goals down just five minutes later. Jorge Ortega the impressive young striker was the author of both strikes as he moves onto four for the season, equalling his tally in last year’s Clausura.

But Cerro’s lethal attacking combination was enough to put them into the break on level terms, Edgar Benitez has been the best player of the Apertura so far and his goal was accompanied by teammate’s Santiago Salcedo’s. Benitez grabbed another on 58 minutes as Cerro completed the remarkable turnaround. It was only left for Jonathan Fabbro, now relegated to ‘supersub’ status by Mario Grana, to complete the scoring in the final minute to seal victory.

Tacuary XI: C.Servín; G.Giménez, P.Espinoza, D.Viera, M.Acosta Rojas; P.Palacios, L.Silva, J.Ortega, S.Alvarenga; R.Román; D.Centurión

Subs: G.Vieira for P.Palacios, C.Mora for S.Alvarenga, E.Ortiz for R.Román

Cerro Porteño XI: D.Barreto; M.Corujo, M.Uglessich, L.Cardozo, W.López; J.Rojas, J.Dos Santos, A. González y É. Benítez; S.Salcedo, R.Nanni

Subs: P.Benitez for W.Lopez, J.Fabbro for R.Nanni, F.Oviedo for J.Dos Santos

====================================

OFF THE BALL

Player of the Week: Was it Jorge Ortega for his two goals or Pajaro Benitez for his double, Martin Silva for another superman display? Vote for these players or anybody you feel deserves the award below!

Team of the Week: As above open to your suggestions, post them below!

ALL THE GOALS HERE

Stat of the Week: 435.195.000 guaranies, just over 100.000 US dollars were the combined gate receipts from the two games at the Defensores del Chaco at the weekend. The national team stadium makes a welcome return as it was Guaraní and Tacuary who were the ‘home’ teams to profit.

Primera Results: Nacional 2-1 Cerro PF, Rubio Ñu 2-1 Independiente, Guaraní 0-1 Olimpia, Sol de América 2-3 Luque, Tacuary 2-4 Cerro Porteño, Libertad 1-1 Carapeguá

Intermedia Results: 3 de Febrero 4-2 Gral. Caballero, Atl. River Plate 0-2 Dvo. Santaní, Atl. Colegiales 1-1 Dvo. Capiatá, Gral. Diaz 1-0 Sport Colombia, Sp. San Lorenzo 1-0 Resistencia, Sp. Trinidense 0-1 Sp. 2 de Mayo, Sp. Iteño 1-1 Paranaense, 29 de Septiembre 1-0 Fndo. de la Mora

====================================

By Ralph Hannah

Weekend Wrap: Olimpia, Cerro and Guaraní with hard fought wins in title battle

The wins for Olimpia, Cerro and Guaraní has put them 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the table respectively while 4th, 5th and 6th all suffered defeats, namely Sol, Nacional and Libertad. It is too early to call this a three-horse race but with Libertad seemingly distracted it seems the country’s three biggest clubs are starting to rise to the top. Next week’s clásico añejo between Olimpia and Guaraní will be one to savour.

Cerro Porteño vs Libertad
Estadio La Olla
(1-0) 1-0 – Walter Lopez 29′

Cerro Porteño went temporarily top of the table with a narrow win against a Libertad side who seem to have run out of steam, currently boasting one win in their last six games. Uruguayan defender Walter Lopez got the only goal of the game, a deft header, as El Ciclon recorded only their second cleansheet of the year and held on for a crucial win.

Cerro were certainly the better side in the first half, Libertad with a ‘mix’ team fielded their reserve full backs Jorge Moreira and Gustavo Mencia who struggled against Edgar Benitez, outstanding again, and Jorge Rojas. Julio Dos Santos had been moved back from his usual ‘enganche’ role to sit as a deep lying playmaker which worked as Libertad’s midfield had to give him space as they tried to help cover their full backs. The goal came from just that kind of situation on 29 minutes, Benitez was too strong for Moreira but as Topo Caceres came across to support his right back he clipped the Cerro Porteño player. Dos Santos fizzed in the resulting free kick for Lopez to score his first goal for the azulgrana.

However, the game could have been so different if the referee and his assistant had been more vigilant after 3 minutes. Roberto Nanni lived up to his reputation as a bruising forward with an elbow in the face of centreback Ismael Benegas. The officials missed it and Nanni survived while Benegas was on and off for bandaging during the first 45 minutes as the Libertad medics couldn’t stop the bleeding. By half time Libertad had got into the game but were unable to create anything clear cut, their most dangerous player was Nestor Camacho playing on the left, but they had to be constantly alive to the threat of Pajaro Benitez who was dangerous on the counter.

Benegas battle bravely on despite his wound from Nanni - Photo: golazotropical.com.py

In the second half Libertad had their chances and squeezed game at times as Cerro began to concede territory after 60 minutes by bringing on a defender for Nanni.  . Throughout the second period the home side conceded possession and backed away allowing Libertad more time but Mariano Uglessich in particular defended well. Libertad had chances to equalise, undoubetdly Pablo Velazquez’s header onto the post from a wonderful Victor Ayala cross was the best of the bunch. But Cerro were firm and Libertad were left to ponder how they are failing to cope with the two competitions (League and Copa) despite having such a strong squad.

=====================================

Cerro XI: D.Barreto; M.Corujo, M.Uglessich, P.Benítez, W.López; J.Rojas, J.Dos Santos, A.González, E.Benítez; R.Nanni, S.Salcedo

Subs: L.Cardozo for R.Nanni, F.Oviedo for A.Gonzalez, L.Caceres for W.Lopez

Libertad XI: R.Muñoz; J.Moreira, J.Bizera, I.Benegas,G. Mencia, V.Ayala, V.Cáceres, J.Santana, N.Camacho; J.A.Núñez, P.Velázquez

Subs: M.Caballero for J.Moreira, L.Civelli for V.Cáceres, R.Gamarra for N.Camacho

=====================================

Sol de América vs Guaraní
Estadio Luis Giagni
(0-0) 0-1 – Dario Ocampo 79′

During the week Sol’s star striker José Ortigoza said “I’m only playing because I have to” in reference to the early kick off time which sentenced the teams to play in the brutal Sunday afternoon heat. I didn’t see the first half, as I decided to empathise with the players and walk round Ñu Guazu in the beating sun. It was to no surprise that I returned for the second half to find the score 0-0, as mentioned in the preview, heat is usually a goal killer.

Guaraní certainly had the better of the second half and in the end it was a case of role reversal, the away side controlling possession and territory with the home team sitting back and trying to nick a goal on the break. Dario Ocampo’s winner had been coming, the aborigen had a 15 minute spell of pressure prior to his header. Firstly, on 64 minutes,  Ocampo played the pass for Fabio Escobar who had made a good diagonal run but his left foot shot was expertly saved by Mario Santilli, the goalkeeper was called into action again just five minutes later tipping over Elvis Marecos’ header from a corner. Marecos, who had been playing very advanced from his left back position also flashed a long shot wide just moments before the goal.

Guaraní celebrate their vital winner - Photo: abc.com.py

The goal came with eleven minutes left on the clock Dario Ocampo is only a tad taller than a garden gnome but he managed to score with a header. Substitute Ivan Gonzalez Ferreira was alive to the loose ball and picked out Luis de la Cruz on the right who measured the timing and accuarcy of his cross perfectly to find the little man unmarked in the box. Incredibly Ocampo used his head again in the 86th minute to preserve Guaraní’s lead, Joel Silva was off his line when he was chipped but the midfielder had rushed back and managed to divert the ball over the crossbar.

Another win for Guaraní, three in a row, and another excellent performance from the little Argentine Ocampo.

=====================================

Sol XI: M. Santilli; R.Bonet, R.Martínez, E.Segovia, D.Arrúa; R.Ocampo, E.Orzusa, A.Enciso, D.Ciz; W.Mendieta, J.Ortigoza

Subs: E.Prono for W.Mendieta, S.Escalante for R.Ocampo, J.Maldonado for D.Ciz

Guaraní XI:  J.Silva; T.Bartomeus, L.Cabral, J.Manzur, E.Marecos; N.Romero, L. De la Cruz, B. Caceres, D. Ocampo; N.Figueredo, F.Escobar

Subs: C.Hidalgo for F.Escobar, I.Gonzalez Ferreira for N.Romero, O.Ruiz for L. De la Cruz

=====================================

Olimpia vs Tacuary
Estadio Manuel Ferreira
(1-0) 2-1 – Pablo Zeballos 29′, Vladimir Marín 46′; Diego Centurión

For all Olimpia’s problems in the lead up to this encounter (see OFF THE BALL below) they pulled together to win the game as expected and return to the top of the table having been briefly displaced by arch rivals Cerro Porteño. Goals from midweek heroes Pablo Zeballos and Vladimir Marín was enough for victory with substitute Diego Centurión getting a consolation for the hapless Tacuary team.

Zeballos celebrates his goal against Tacuary - Photo: D10.com.py

Tacuary played much better than their last two outings where they conceded ten goals, they were organised at the back and managed to press Olimpia’s midfield and unsettling teenager Hernan Perez early on (who later performed much better). It was an archetypal Tacuary performance, lots of niggly fouls to break up play and the defence giving Olimpia’s three strikers no room. The only chance of note for the home side in the first 20 minutes was a wayward Sergio Orteman shot.

On 28 minutes the quality of the champions showed, albeit with a little help from Biancucchi’s handball in the build up, as Messi’s cousin ran at the defence before squaring the ball from the right for Pablo Zeballos who made no mistake. With that the Tacuary defence began to show cracks, Carlos Servín saved from Biancucchi, put through one on one with a great Luis Caballero pass and Caballero himself headed just wide from a wonderful Marín cross when he found an inch of space on the left.

Marín was on the scoresheet himself just seconds after half time, his curling free kick from the right beat everybody and snuck into the Servín’s right hand corner. With that Olimpia were in control and began to take the foot off the gas after the hour mark, Tacuary had a glimpse of a chance when substitute Diego Centurión shot straight at Martin Silva but there was nothing until the 74th minute when Centurión went one better. Raúl Román found full back Gustavo Gimenez on the right and his good cross was nodded in by the forward. With the sniff of a point, Tacuary grew into the game, Centurión again got in behind the defence but Silva proved himself equal to the task bearing down on the 29-year-old striker to block his shot.

Tacuary threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Olimpia with a flurry of set pieces in stoppage time but to no avail as the Olimpia machine rolls on, last defeat in the league? Libertad in October 2011, 16 games ago.

=====================================

Olimpia XI: Silva; Revoredo, Romero, Meza, Candia; Orteman, H.Perez, Marin; Zeballos, Biancucchi, Caballero

Subs:  F.Najera for E.Meza, A.Castorino for M.Biancucchi, C.Paredes for P.Zeballos

Tacuary XI: C.Servín; G.Giménez, L.Vera, D.Viera, M.Acosta; E.Ortiz, C.Mora, P.Espinosa, S.Alvarenga; R.Román; J.Ortega

Subs: D.Centurión for C.Mora

=====================================

OFF THE BALL

Paraguay U20s Victory: Paraguay continued their preparations for next year’s Sudamericano in Argentina with a trip to Corrientes to face Boca Unidos U20s. The albirrojitas won 2-0 with goals from Sol de América’s Cecilio Dominugez and a freekick from Diego Escobar.

Paraguay U20s celebrate victory in Argentina - Photo: Alejandro Bogado via facebook

Paraguay U20s XI: Diego Morel; Carlos González , Teodoro Paredes, Rubén Monges, Manuel Balbuena; Iván Ramírez, Diego Escobar, Ángel Lucena, Bladimiro Ojeda; Juan Sánchez, Cecilio Domínguez

Subs: Carlos Desvars, Ariel Benítez, Carlos Avalos, William Candia, Miguel Almirón, Gustavo Santacruz, Victor Del Puerto

=====================================

Referee’s look to East: With the state of refereeing seemingly getting worse by the day the head of referees has turned to Japan with the idea of an exchange to help with referee’s training. Personally I commend this positive step to try and solve this now chronic problem.

=====================================

Olimpia players with ‘terrorist’ letter: This weekend the Olimpia players didn’t go into ‘concentración’ owing to a dispute over unpaid wages and bonuses. Originally Marcelo Recanate stated he was ‘up to date’ with all the payments except for Martin Silva (who had gone to the press earlier in the week) which brought a peculiar reaction on Sunday before the game. Olimpia players handed the press a sheet with all the outstanding payments underlined with “The punishment for being Champions”. MR later reacted to the note saying it was like a ‘terrorist’ letter referring to how it appeared with no signature. If this issue isn’t sorted by Thursday, coach Gerardo Pelusso has said he will resign – MR says he will go with him. We have of course seen this all before, everything will be sorted by Wednesday night.

Letter handed to press before the game - Photo: @CaeDuarte

=====================================

Luque losers: After last week’s sad reports about Luque fans running riot and smashing up cars we had more problems on Sunday as the auriazul’s game was temporarily suspended when the referee was hit by a streamer thrown from the expensive seats or ‘preferencia’ section. Luque deep in the relegation zone were losing 2-1 at the time and had just been reduced to nine men. This blog awaits tough sanctions from the APF although it could be waiting a long time.

Magic Mario: Carapeguá have won all three games since Mario Jacquet took charge, the latest triumph was against Nacional, they are pulling clear of the promedio.

=====================================

Team of the Week: M.Santilli (Sol); G.Gimenez (Tacuary), M.Uglessich (Cerro), Ismael Benegas (Libertad), E.Marecos (Guaraní); D.Ocampo (Guaraní), Julio Dos Santos (Cerro), José Báez (Independiente), Vladimir Marín (Olimpia);  E.Benitez (Cerro), P.Zeballos (Olimpia)

Player of the Week: He was desperately close last week but now, finally, Dario Ocampo gets the coveted award – the darting winger is dangerous wide with his crossing and when he cuts inside dribbling or to thread a pass through. This weekend he got the winner for Guaraní with his head, despite being just 1.63 metres.

Dario Ocampo is player of the week - Photo: abc.com.py

Goal of the Week: Not really sure, enjoyed Lopez’s clever header and Carapeguá scored a good goal but no outright winner – any suggestions yourselves?

Donkey of the Week: Edgar Orzusa, a talented player but he lost his head in the Sunday afternoon heat as his Sol side were losing to Guaraní in a closely fought game. With seconds on the clock and Guaraní keeping the ball in the corner he went through the back of his opponent with a vicious kick – incredibly the referee didn’t send him off despite the serious injury he could have caused with such a mindless act.

Stat of the Week: 318.130.000 guaranies or a touch over US$74,000 were the combined gate receipts for Week 7

=====================================

ALL THE GOALS

Results: Cerro PF 3-1 Rubio Ñu, Cerro Porteño 1-0 Libertad, Sol 0-1 Guaraní, Carapeguá 2-1 Nacional, Olimpia 2-1 Tacuary, Luque 1-3 Independiente

By Ralph Hannah

Weekend Wrap: Nine-man Olimpia win, Sol hit Tacuary for six and Nacional scupper Cerro again

Libertad vs Olimpia
Estadio Nicolas Leoz
(0-1) 0-1 – Luis Caballero ’4

Olimpia strolled out on a hot Friday evening in limited edition shirts bearint 1902 across the chest to commemorate their founder, William Paats. While it certainly wasn’t a vintage game, Olimpia were the better side for long periods and, having been reduced to nine men by the end, deserved winners.

The game started in perfect fashion for the away side, Sergio Orteman was simply too strong for Luciano Civelli and Sergio Aquino, motoring past them in a breakaway before releasing Luis Nery Caballero with a perfectly weighted pass. The young Paraguayan striker used the outside of his right foot to bend the ball past Libertad’s goalkeeper, the first time he has ever scored in three consecutive games.

Caballero celebrates early goal that proved to be winner, Photo: http://www.abc.com.py

In a surprisingly open first half both sides had chances to score, Cristian Menendez saw his poked effort saved by Martin Silva after 8 minutes as the referee missed Civelli’s handball in the build up. Maxi Biancucchi had three great chances for Olimpia in the space of ten minutes, the first after the quarter-hour mark forced Rogerio Muñoz into a good save as Libertad were at sixes and sevens at the back, his shot from the right went wide and he went even closer with his left foot as the ball struck the upright and bounced out of harm’s way. Olimpia were better all over the pitch, Orteman was powerful and found space in midfield, in contrast to Aquino and Topo Caceres while El Decano defended well, epitomised by Francisco Nájera who won a crucial challenge against Civelli inside the box minutes before half time.

The heat was getting to the sides in the 2nd half, Enrique Meza and Nery Bareiro saw yellow for handbags at a corner and Topo was incensed as he received the same fate. In between that Silva lived up to his Superman pseudonym with a fantastic save from Menendez with his feet who had got in behind the defence. Libertad were starting to grow into it, Topo found himself in pockets of space on the right and Civelli had to score on 66 minutes, he was free in the box as he received Menendez’s cross but inexplicably the ex-Ipswich man shot wide with his favoured left foot.

The pressure was enough for Sebastian Ariosa to trip Rodolfo Gamarra just two minutes later and get his marching orders for a second yellow. Libertad brought the game to their opponents and young Fabio Caballero was lunged into a rash challenge on Topo, the referee showed a straight red which was totally out of context with the game but the foul fell into the “seen them given” drawer. With that Gerardo Pelusso took off his remaining striker, Luis Caballero, and set up in a 4-4-0 formation for the final 15 minutes. They conceded territory and possession  but critically not a goal as the defenders, especially Enrique Meza, worked heroically to bail balls out of the box repeatedly.

Olimpia's special edition kit, Photo: golazotropical.com.py

After 87 minutes the aforementioned Meza drops down in box, seemingly hit by Menendez. The referee’s decision was bizarre. Having consulted his assistant he booked Silva for portesting and then booked Menendez for the punch which falls into the “he’s had a shocker” drawer. But it was to no avail, Olimpia held on and at the final whistle Gerardo Pelusso let out a huge scream of what was surely relief and a poignant moment, Olimpia were top of the league.

Olimpia XI: M.Silva; F.Nájera, E.Meza, S.Candia, S.Ariosa; E.Aranda, F.Caballero, S.Orteman, V.Marín; M.Biancucchi, L.Caballero

Subs: R.Reveredo for M.Biancucchi, O.Hobecker for V.Marín, C.Paredes for L.Caballero

Red Cards: S.Ariosa (2 Yellow Cards), F.Caballero (Dangerous challenge)

Libertad XI: R.Muñoz; C.Bonet, I.Benegas, N.Bareiro, M.Samudio; R.Gamarra, V.Caceres, S.Aquino, L.Civelli; C.Menendez, P.Velazquez

Subs: M.Caballero for L.Civelli, J.A.Nuñez for P.Velazquez, N.Camacho for M.Samudio

========================================

Guaraní vs Luque
Estadio Dos Bocas
(2-0) 3-1 – Marcelo Palau ’2, Fabio Escobar (pen) ’24 ,Carlos Hidalgo (pen) 90+3′; Roberto Gamarra 61′

Marcelo Palau’s piledriver after two minutes was the dream start for this rejuvinated Guaraní side, the ever-impressive Dario Ocampo played a simple pass across goal on the edge of the box for Uruguayan who smashed the ball with the outside of his foot past Tobias Vargas. Fabio Escobar later won a penatly, Sergio Vergara adjudged to have pushed the striker inside the box, Escobar was on hand to convert from the spot.

Palau celebrates his goal, Photo: D10.com.py

In the second half, the Aborigen gave Luque a glimmer of hope when Juan
Pablo Raponi’s corner was headed in by substitute Toto Gamarra despite having been reduced to 10-men with left back Vergara receiving his second booking. Luque seemed to have received a confidence injection with the goal and began attacking with more purpose, Raponi especially a danger. The glimmer became a bright light when the otherwise impressive Palau had a rush of blood to the tongue, he was show the red card and the referee pointed to his lips and made a gesture to suggest it was something he had said that earned him his final yellow card. Luque went for it urged on by their voracious away support (who overstepped the line when they threw things onto the field of play in the direction of Elvis Marecos) but they were leaving gaps at the back.

Eventually the auriazul paid the price late on as the long ball was latched onto by Carlos Hidalgo, he tried to take the ball round Vargas but the goalkeeper brought him down. A straight red for Luque’s last man and with no substitutions remaining, a defender put on the gloves. Hidalgo had no trouble scoring his first Guaraní goal and sealing the victory.

Guaraní XI: J.Silva; T.Bartomeus, J.Manzur, L.Cabral, E.Marecos; P.Chavez, L.De la Cruz, M.Palau, D.Ocampo; F.Escobar, N.Romero

Subs: I.Gonzalez Ferreira for L.De la Cruz, D.Figueredo for P.Chavez, C.Hidalgo for F.Escobar

Red Card: M.Palau (2nd yellow for dissent)

Luque XI: T.Vargas; Y.Cano, R.Bogado, J.Aguilar, S.Vergara; E.Robles, J.Britez, J.Abente, J.P. Raponi; C.Caceres Cañete; G. Di Vanni

Subs: R.Gamarra for J.Britez, C.Martinez for C.Caceres Cañete, P.Gimenez for G.Di Vanni

Red Cards: Sergio Vergara (2 Yellow Cards), T.Vargas (denied goalscoring opportunity)

========================================

Nacional vs Cerro Porteño
Estadio Felicano Caceres
(1-0) 2-0 – Ariel Bogado ’35, German Cano ’63

In the 2011 Clausura the defining game in Cerro’s title challenge was probably the 3-1 defeat to Nacional, that day Marcos Melgarejo tormented them and Cerro were left to rue a missed opportunity. It is too early in the season to say this loss affects their title aspirations but it is a massive confidence knock particularly as El Ciclón were playing so well previously.

Cano's strike sealed it for Nacional, Photo: abc.com.py

The goals came either side of half time, Ariel Bogado (in a rich vein of form) was the first to profit as a corner from the right evaded everybody and practically landed on his instep. In the second half substitute striker German Cano turned in Marcos Miers’ cross from the left hand side. The Barrio Obrero derby (played in Luque ironically) finished with ten bookings in what had been a scrappy affair, that suited Nacional more than their rivals and arguably the key player was defensive midfielder Marcos Riveros who stopped the supply to messrs Pajaro and SaSa up front.

Cerro Porteño XI: D.Barreto; M.Corujo, M.Uglessich, P.Benitez, W.López; J.Rojas, A.Gonzalez, F.Oviedo, J.Dos Santos; S.Salcedo, E.Benitez

Subs: R.Nanni for A.Gonzalez; L.Caceres for J.Dos Santos, G.Beltrán for M.Corujo

Nacional XI: G.Caffa; R.Mazacotte, R.Piris, D.Caniza, M.Miers; G.Noguera, J.Villarreal, M.Riveros, D.Orué; A.Bogado, R.Texeira

Subs: G.Cano for A.Bogado, C.Ruiz Peralta for G.Noguera; D.Mendoza for R.Texeira

========================================

Tacuary vs Sol de América
Estadio Roberto Bettega
(1-5) 2-6 – Jorge Ortega ’45+1, Raúl Román ’71; José Ortigoza 4′, 22′, 31′ & ’64, David Mendieta ’10 & ’15

Tacuary don’t try and score many but they pride themselves on being able to defend so when they concede four like they did last week against Guaraní you know something is going wrong. When they concede four after just 22 minutes then it is safe to say you are in ‘disaster’ territory.

Sol weren’t sublime but they were ruthlessly efficient as they plundered down Tacuary’s left-hand side in the early stages. José Ortigoza was first to profit, the cross from the right was cleared but rebounded off a Tacuary player and fell at his feet inside the box, only one result. After 10 minutes ‘Robinho’ Ocampo got down the right and slipped the ball across the face of goal to David Mendieta who turned the ball in from the six yard line, his first professional goal. Two soon became three and Mendieta had his second senior goal with a fantastic header from behind the penalty spot, it was Ocampo again (played onside by the hapless Braian Brizueña who you can read more about in OFF THE BALL) with the cross.

Sol celebrate Mendieta's goal, Photo: abc.com.py

In general Ortigoza is a mismatch for most Paraguayan league defences (expect to see him in Europe come June) and against this Tacuary back line he made hay, a short corner routine saw the ball flicked on and having sucked in the defender to keep him just onside Ortigoza headed home. On the half hour mark he had his hattrick, a routine ball over the top from David Mendieta was met by the Sol striker and bearing down on Carlos Servín he hit the ball through his legs on the half volley. Such was the ‘paliza’ that Sol were handing out that the referee cut Tacuary some slack, Ortigoza was perfectly onside as he muscled past Diego Viera to score his fourth and the Danzarín’s sixth only for the official to disallow the goal, citing a mythical foul in the build up. There was to be a sixth goal of the half but it went to the home team, Jorge Ortega (unfortunate to find himself in this side) picked up a good through ball from veteran Raúl Román and rounded the keeper to get a consolation.

In the second half the teams swapped goals, first Ortigoza got his fifth as Ocampo’s deflected cross found him unmarked (again!) at the back post and his shot crept in having brushed the defender on the way past. For Tacuary it was Raúl Román who scored the pick of the bunch in with a stunning strike that rebounded in off the crossbar. Sol could have had seven, substitute Enzo Prono dragged a chance wide in what was another day to forget for Tacuary.

Tacuary XI: C.Servín; G.Gimenez, L.Vera, D.Viera, M.Acostas Rojas, B.Brizueña; G.Vieira,P.Espinoza, M.Gimenez: R.Román; J.Ortega

Subs: E.Ortiz for B.Brizueña; D.Centurión for G.Vieira, S.Alvarenga for M.Gimenez

Sol XI: M.Santilli; R.Bonet, R.Martinez, D.Arruá, D.Ciz; R.Ocampo,  E.Orzusa, A.Enciso, D.Mendieta; W.Mendieta, J.Ortigoza

Subs: S.Escalante for D.Mendieta, E.Prono for W.Mendieta, A.Rojas for R.Ocampo

========================================

OFF THE BALL

APF and Police get it wrong (again): Back in December I wrote an article for IBWM about violence in Paraguayan football and on Saturday night it reared its ugly head yet again. But the saddest part was not the damage done by marauding Luque hooligans (I refuse to call them fans) but that the Police refused to act (one eyewitness claims a policeman said they were too scared) and that the APF once again allowed a game involving Cerro Porteño to be held in Luque. With Luque playing in Asunción beforehand it was highly likely that they would return towards the end of the Cerro game. The long standing bad blood between the hooligan groups or barras is common knowledge and there was one report of a bus belong to Cerro fans being set on fire as the Chanchooligans (Luque’s Barra) waited for them. Another 40 cars of innocent families who had gone to watch the game were damaged and one woman reported her business had been destroyed by a tear gas canister thrown inside. The sensible decision would have been to stage this game on the Sunday or at the very least switch the kick off times so Luque’s fans were in the Guaraní ground while Cerro and Nacional fans came out of the Feliciano Caceres stadium.

Just one of the cars damaged by Luque hooligans, Photo: D10.com.py

Squad strength: Libertad fielded the following starting XI in their reserve game against Olimpia, not bad at all.

Bernardo Medina; Jorge Moreira, Pedro Sarabia, Cristian Nassuti, Gustavo Mencia; Marcos Melgarejo, Jonathan Santana,Victor Ayala, Nestor Camacho; José ArielNuñez,Mauro Caballero

Debut to forget: Poor Brahian Brizueña making a start at left back for Tacuary in what seems to be his professional debut, he lasted 17 minutes before being subbed off as all three goals had come down his side. Not that Tacuary got much better afterwards (see above).

Team of the Week: Martin Silva (Olimpia); Franciso Nájera (Olimpia), Enrique Meza (Olimpia), Julio Manzur (Guaraní), Marcos Miers (Nacional);  Dario Ocampo (Guaraní), Marcos Riveros (Nacional), Sergio Orteman (Olimpia), Eduardo Echeverría (Carapeguá); José Ortigoza (Sol de América), Ariel Bogado (Nacional)

Goal of the Week: Marcelo Palau gets it again for this peach, the defensive midfielder could have been player of the week had he not got himself sent off for dissent.

Player of the Week: Apologies to José Ortigoza and Dario Ocampo who get on the podium but this goes to Enrique Meza of Olimpia, what a crucial role he had in keeping a cleansheet as he headed everything that came his way and never allowed Cristian Menendez the space he needed to turn and cause problems. So frustrated was Menendez that he gave the centre-back a forearm to the face late on. At the end of the game manager Gerardo Pelusso went off hugging the defender as he knew how important that performance was in such a tight match.

Olimpia's DT shows his appreciation to Enrique Meza, Photo: Olimpia.com.py

Donkey(s) of the Week: Luque hooligans, the APF and the Police (again) find themselves in the dock for not avoiding the avoidable.

Stat of the Week: 87 – Raúl Román is the active player with most goals scored in Paraguayan football (via @riquelmeandres)

ALL THE GOALS HERE

By Ralph Hannah