It is one of the stories most resonant with Paraguayan football, two years ago today with the Albirroja qualified for the World Cup later that year the topscorer in CONMEBOL qualifying and the side’s talisman Salvador Cabañas was ruled out injured but in the most shocking of circumstances. The forward, then at Club America in Mexico, was shot in the head by JJ Balderas Garza a man with strong ties to drugs trafficking in a Mexico City bar and left for dead. Cabañas however, to the delight of 6 million Paraguayans, confounded JJ and survived the gunshot wound.
It was a long road to recovery, at first just being able to talk, then remember what happened that fateful night and even remember the incredible achievements he had made with both the national side and Club America where he earned the unique distinction of finishing Copa Libertadores top goalscorer in consecutive seasons. From the offset Cabañas spoke with determination of returning to professional football and two years later the incredible story has taken another giant step.
He watched the 2010 World Cup in his family home, however he trained with his former teammates in the build up to the 2011 Copa America and in October 2011 played 15 minutes for both sides in his testimonial between Paraguay and Club America. Throughout the rest of 2011 ‘El Mariscal’ continued training with Paraguayan first division club Libertad and news arrived from doctors that he was clear to play football from a medical perspective. “The player [Cabañas] has no problem heading the ball” commented doctor Luis Geinner who also confirmed that there is no chance the bullet would be dislodged from a clash of heads or similar “the projectile is permanently lodged in one zone and won’t migrate”
Salvador Cabañas’ patience, dedication and pure ‘garra’ was finally rewarded earlier this month when 12 de Octubre, the club he started his career with in his home town of Itaguá, confirmed they would incorporate him into their squad for the upcoming season pending clearance from Club America (who technically still own the player). On Friday 20th January he came on for 15 minutes for his new side in a friendly against a Combined Free Agents XI and it could be just a matter of months until we see the Guaraní idol back in competitive football. A true modern-day miracle.
By Ralph Hannah