The New Year means the start of a new season in Paraguay and a brutal pre-season. The searing heat of January a reason for most Paraguayans to migrate to the beaches of Brazil or Uruguay but spare a thought for their footballers who will be shaking off festive excess in temperatures of around 40c. For three of the 12 clubs, Libertad, Guarani and Cerro Porteño, the Copa Libertadores is set to provide the main distraction but for Olimpia, Nacional and a rejuvenated Sportivo Luqueño their sights are set on the Apertura title.
What follows is a club-by-club guide from the major contenders so you know what to expect more or less in the coming 6 months. It all kicks off on 31 January (or maybe the 30th, this is Paraguay).
2014 Apertura: 1st
2014 Clausura: 1st
Pedro Sarabia won his first two full tournaments as a coach bringing Libertad their first “bi-campeonato” since 2008. While he was attracted to a role under Ramón Díaz and the Albirroja the former-River man has surrounded himself with Argentinians and as such Sarabia will continue this year. The main aim is of course the Libertadores but they have a strong squad and with the inclusion of two full-backs Saldivar and Vergara they will have strength in depth in defence. Jorge Gonzalez has stayed and they’ve retained the services of both goalkeepers. Oscar Ruiz, who had a great campaign with Capiatá, has returned to the club and will add more creativity up front.
One to Watch: Oscar Ruiz – this is the big year for the 23-year-old to really prove if he has what it takes, dangerous from the dead ball and a great shot from distance he is exciting to watch
Predicition: Title challengers but with Libertadores they won’t have enough to win it
2014 Apertura: 2nd
2014 Clausura: 3rd
A wonderful calendar year and if Libertad weren’t so strong they may well have picked up a tournament. They were aided by the record-breaking 36 goals from Fernando Fernandez that contributed to a record 105 goals by the team during 2014. With Fernandez’s exploits likely to see him move abroad they have already brought back Julian Benítez and incorporated Roberto Gamarra to make sure the goals don’t dry up. Capiatá goalkeeper Antonio Franco is set to join while Marcelo Palau should stay on – he is a key man in midfield. Alberto Contrera, Arturo Aquino, Rubén Maldonado are the other main signings for 2015.
One to Watch: Left winger Iván Gonzalez Ferreira the younger brother of Julio Gonzalez (ex-Vicenza player who lost his arm in a car accident) is hugely talented and has had spells in Germany, Switzerland and Brazil. He blows hot and cold but regardless is a constant danger for opposing teams.
Prediction: Top 6 but the Libertadores is no.1 priority
Club Cerro Porteño
2014 Apertura: 4th
2014 Clausura: 2nd
Leo Astrada is known to favour the Copa Libertadores and don’t expect much from them domestically as the azulgrana continue their quest for that elusive international tournament. Julio Dos Santos has left the club just two goals short of becoming the record topscorer (from midfield) while fellow veteran Diego Barreto has decided it is time to finally move on Oscar Romero will surely head off although he did show up for pre-season. Some good signings have been made though with young striker Cecilio Dominguez getting his first shot at a big club and the pacey left sided player Blas Cáceres joining the ranks, both players are currently sporting what can only be described as a “Fellaini”. Right back Angel Martínez comes in from Capiatá and David Mendieta has returned from Jaguares in Mexico to bolster the midfield.
One to watch: Sergio Díaz is too young to move abroad so the 16-year-old is set to wow us all for another season, expect even more goals from him this year he is a serious talent
Prediction: 5th or 6th
2014 Apertura: 3rd
2014 Clausura: 6th
A decent start to the year and the promotion of some exciting youngsters and signing of Christian Ovelar led many to believe – including me – that the Clausura would be Olimpia’s but having been top after 9 games they faded away. Pumpido will continue into 2015 and new president Trovato has given him plenty of support in the transfer market with the signings of ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Christian Campestrini and Claudio David Vargas from current champions Libertad. The former’s inclusion however has caused a rupture with only one space for another foreign player and Pumpido is said to prefer Miguel Amado to Juan Manuel Salguiero and the ex-San Lorenzo playmaker didn’t show up for pre-season. Other key signings are Iván Torres (Ex-Cerro), Fredy Bareiro, Jorge Salinas and Eduardo Aranda who returns to the club.
One to Watch: Although Salinas has European experience the more exciting player is teenager Carlos Guerreño who should be back from injury in time to terrorize full backs once again
Prediction: Top 3
2014 Apertura: 7th
2014 Clausura: 5th
Last year was arguably the biggest in the club´s history, they may have knocked around mid-table but they were Copa Libertadores finalists a tremendous achievement considering the size of the club. With no such distractions this year they are firm candidates for the Apertura with Morinigo still at the helm. He’s brought in Dionicio Perez from Libertad who covers for Julian Benítez (now Libertad) and in midfield the departure of Torales to Mexico has been filled by the arrival of Joel Lesme from 12 de Octubre while on the left 19-year-old Hector Bustamante has come in from 3 de Febrero. Other signings included Roque Cardozo, Arnaldo Castorino, José Montiel and Milton Benítez.
One to Watch: If he stays Marcos Riveros, the main man in central midfield, otherwise goalkeeper Ignacio Don with cleansheets so important to Morinigo and this Nacional team
Prediction: 1st or 2nd – they have a habit of winning while the other big clubs focus on the Libertadores
2014 Apertura: 8th
2014 Clausura: 4th
A brilliant 2nd half of the year saw the Kuré (Pigs) fly up the accumulative table and into the 2015 Copa Sudamericana draw. Pablo Caballero will surely look to find his best team for that competition during the Apertura but he will be wary of keeping the 2014 Clausura momentum going. Ex-Olimpia Esteban Ramirez was the marquee signing for Luque but they’ve also snaffled Diego Centurión who played some of his best football under Caballero at Guaraní. The other two main signings are Jorge Ortega and Marcelo Baéz.
One to Watch: Luis Miño is a very talented midfielder and impressed last year pulling strings in the middle
Prediction: Knocking around 4th again
Sol de América
2014 Apertura: 5th
2014 Clausura: 9th
A poor Clausura campaign has left Sol hanging just above relegation so the board of directors have given Mario Jacquet everything he’s asked for in terms of new players. Juan Pablo Raponi is going to add creativity and is just one of several eye-catching attacking signings including Hugo Lusardi and Nelson Romero. José Domingo Salcedo adds experience and will look to guide young talents like Teodoro Paredes a central defender who shined at U20s but couldn’t break into the Cerro first team. Other signings include Arnaldo Pereira, Arnaldo Recalde, César Coronel and Cristian Martínez. The icing on the cake will be Santiago Salcedo who is trying to arrange a move away from Banfield to join his brother.
One to Watch: Lorenzo Frutos is a speedy striker who has been unsettled by injuries, if he gets a run with the new supporting cast of Raponi, Lusardi et al he will be a serious threat
Best of the rest
Deportivo Capiatá and General Díaz will look to maintain their solid form to allow to enjoy the Clausura without the threat of relegation, barring any major surprises both will be fine and will probably occupy mid-table once again. Rubio Ñu are in big trouble and if either one of the newly promoted sides perform well they could return to the Intermedia after winning promotion in 2008. Deportivo Santaní and Sportivo San Lorenzo are the new additions to Primera – Santaní is situated some 150 km from Asunción and are in the top tier for the first time. San Lorenzo, like Capiatá, is a populous commuter town so will have good support during their home games. Their prize signing is surely Matías Perez the 20-year-old central defender who joins from Sporting Lisbon.
By Ralph Hannah