Below my thoughts on each team’s chances this season and all the transfer ins and outs. Best to get a cup of tea before starting this one!
The pressure on the azulgrana to win the Apertura title is enormous in this, their centenary year. With major rivals Libertad and Olimpia likely to be occupied with the Copa Libertadores the Barrio Obrero club should be able to capitalize. The midfield has seen the incorporation of Fidencio Oviedo and the problem left back position is set to be filled by Uruguayan Walter Lopez . The longest summer saga was that of ‘SaSa’ (Santiago Salcedo) but in the end he hasn’t rejoined El Ciclón despite being very close to re-signing.
Ins: Fidencio Oviedo (Independiente), Diego Godoy (returned from loan), Pablo Noguera (returned from loan), Walter Lopez (Peñarol)
Outs: Digno Gonzalez (Atletico Huila), Nelson Cuevas (Luque), Fredy Bareiro (Estudiantes Tecos), Javier Villarreal (Nacional), Luis Nuñez (Deportivo Cúcuta), Juan Maldonado (Sol de América)
The defending champions have seen some movement in the squad but crucially coach Gerardo Pelusso remains as does top scorer Pablo Zeballos, having been linked with most of Europe. El Decano have been excellent in pre-season but ultimately the league will be a distraction as club president Marcelo Recanate is interested in the prize money from Copa Libertadores progression. It will be interested to see how the shift to three at the back will affect the side in the early games.
Ins: Arnaldo Castorino (3 de Febrero), Osvaldo Hobecker (Rubio Ñu), Salustiano Candía (Colón de Santa Fe)
Outs: Edgar Robles (Luque), Jamell Ramos (Once Caldas), Diego Benitez (Carapeguá), Blas Hermosilla (Independiente CG), Matías Donnet (Unión de Santa Fe)
Despite plenty of interest in talented young striker Federico Santander and Dante López the aurinegro have kept most of their squad together and have a great blend of experience and youthful talent. Last year they seemed to suffer the loss of Jony Fabbro and then from an unsuitable manager, no excuses on the second count now with Pablo Caballero at the helm having done an excellent job at Independiente last year. The reinforcements all bring quality in key areas.
Ins: Edgar Aranda (3 de Febrero), Iván González Ferreira (Atlético Paranaense), Marcelo Palau (Cruz Azul), Luis Cabral (Sol de América), Diego Figueredo (Independiente de CG)
Outs: Joel Benítez (Luque), Miguel Paniagua (Deportivo Cuenca), Jorge Brítez (Luque), David Mendieta (Sol de America), Victor Gómez (released), Pablo Caballero (released), Benigno Ruiz Diaz (Rubio Ñu)
Brimming with players and money the title would be theirs if it wasn’t for the Copa Libertadores which is likely to distract them. Very much the Manchester City of Paraguay, money no object and have an unbelievable number of players out on loan and incredible talent coming through the reserves. Maurito Caballero is the most talented of the lot, he scored twice on his first start for the senior side, the striker is blessed with pace and a deadly left foot that makes you think Robbie Fowler.
Ins: Carlos Martinez Arce (returned from loan), Marcos Melgarejo (Nacional), Hugo Santa Cruz (returned from loan), Nestor Camacho (Newell’s Old Boys), Nery Bareiro (returned from loan), Joe Bizera (Bella Vista), Jonathan Santana (Kayserispor), Rodrigo Muñoz (Nacional, URU)
Outs: Manuel Maciel, Robin Ramirez (Dep. Tolima), Ángel Orué (Nacional), William Mendieta (Sol de America), Ignacio Canuto (Figueirense), Tobias Vargas (Luque), Pedro Portocarrero (Patriotas)
Prediction: Top half with title challenge inversely correlated to Copa Libertadores run
The 2011 Apertura champions will enjoy six games in the Copa Libertadores and, like last season, will be sensible enough to give the league due importance as they hope to qualify for a continental tournament next year too. The loss of coach Juan Manuel Battaglia and talented midfielder Marcos Melgarejo is a blow but new boss Javier Torrente is a winner, having picked up titles with Cerro and Libertad previously. Expect them to be as dogged and effective as ever.
Ins: Denis Caniza (Irapuato), Germán Cano (Deportivo Pereira), Javier Villarreal (Cerro Porteño), Germán Caffa (La Equidad), Gustavo Cristaldo (Luque) Ángel Orue (Libertad), Sergio Gómez, David Mendoza
Outs: Marcos Melgarejo (Libertad), Arnaldo Vera (Liga de Loja), Fabio Ramos, Roberto Gamarra (Luque), Gustavo Morínigo (FC Absheron)
Prediction: Top half
Narrowly avoiding relegation last year, the Kure have made wholesale changes bringing in more than a dozen players to try and save them from the drop. They have both the Apertura and Clausura to gather as many points as possible and a good start is vital. Look out for talents Carlos Junior Florenciañez and Marcelo Ferreira promoted from youth squad while veteran César Cáceres Cañete has been in great goalscoring form in pre-season.
Ins: César Cáceres Cañete (3 de Febrero), Tobías Vargas (Libertad), Edgar Robles (Olimpia), Pablo Aguilar (Defensa y Justicia), Roberto Gamarra (Nacional), Guido di Vanni (Ferro Carril Oeste) Jorge Brítez (Guaraní), Ronald Huth (Tacuary), Rolando Bogado (Independiente CG), Leonardo Villagra, Juan Gamarra, Joel Benítez (Guaraní), Oscar Giménez (Olimpia), Éver Caballero (Deportes Copiapó), Nelson Cuevas (Cerro Porteño)
Outs: Mario Villasanti (Inti Gas), Celso González Ferreira (Carabobo), Fidel Amado Pérez (Caracas), Wilson Quiñonez (Sportivo Carapeguá), Fredy Coronel (Rubio Ñu), Francisco Esteche (retired), Gustavo Cristaldo (Nacional), Aldo Vera (Independiente CG), Ángel Enciso (Sol de América), Osvaldo Díaz (Independiente CG), Jonathan Philippe (released), Diego Alfonso (released), José Arrúa (released), Jony Cabrera (released), Matías Passarelli (released), Martín Saríc (released), Milton Benítez (Huachipato), Luis Armando Ovelar
Having lost loaned players as per usual the club have made key reinforcements to spine of side with Gilberto Velazquez (DEF) and Cesar Llamas (MID) in particular bringing experience and quality. The focus as ever will be on the younger players, the albiverde are bursting with precocious talent watch out for attacking players Bladimiro Ojeda and Francisco Vera. Benfica’s Derlís Gonzalez continues at the club on loan at least until he turns 18.
Ins: Gilberto Velázquez (Colo-Colo), César Llamas (3 de Febrero), Carlos Ortiz (3 de Febrero), Josías Cardozo (General Caballero ZC), Oscar Velázquez (Guaraní), Pedro Arce (Libertad), Fredy Coronel (Libertad), Alberto Espínola, Claudio Correa (Luque), José Devaca (Banfield), Benigno Ruiz Diaz (Guaraní)
Outs: Diego Godoy (returned to Cerro Porteño), Fredy Vera (released), Osvaldo Hobecker (Olimpia), Osvaldo Cabral (released), Luis Closa, Diego Vieira (Tacuary), David Mendoza (released)
Prediction: Juan Arce to get them in top half
Sol de América
A bright young squad excelled under new coach Ricardo Dabrowski whose name is as obscure as the league he came from (Argentine Primera B Metropolitana). Low on resources but high on team spirit and talent they will be more concerned with relegation than continental qualification for now. The loss of captain Luis Cabral may not be felt so much if their pacey attacking front line can continue to score plenty of goals.
Ins: Juan Maldonado (Cerro Porteño), Aquilino Villalba (Aurora), Ángel Enciso (Sportivo Luqueño), José Ortigoza (returned from loan), Fidel Miño (Independiente CG), Sergio Escalante (3 de Febrero), William Mendieta (Libertad), David Mendieta (Guaraní), Roberto Acosta (Tacuary)
Outs: Luis Cabral (Guaraní), Victor Ferreira (Caracas), Leandro Wagner (released), Jonathan Hereñú (released), Sergio Suffo (released)
Not pleasing on the eye but their defensive record would bring a smile to Alan Hansen’s face. They have made a name for themselves as a gritty, determined side who also produce quality young talent – the best example being Brian Montenegro now at West Ham United. They managed to qualify for continental competition so will be present in the Copa Sudamericana in the second half of the year meaning the Apertura will be of maximum importance to obtain a good points tally.
Ins: Francisco Silva (3 de Febrero), Oscar Ruiz (Libertad), Gabriel Vieira (Cerro Porteño), Diego Vieira (General Caballero), Marcos Benítez (Newell’s Old Boys), Marcos Giménez (Libertad)
Outs: Ronald Huth (Luque), Ramón Cardozo (León de Huánuco), Juvenal Cardozo (released), Nery Bareiro (Libertad), Roberto Acosta (Sol de América), Carlos Martinez Arce (Libertad)
Prediction: Knocking about mid-table as per usual
Independiente de Campo Grande
An excellent year that saw them stay up was much in part to coach Pablo Caballero, midfielder Fidencio Oviedo and defender Mario Saldívar, now all departed. The mayan predictions for the end of the world in 2012 does apply to Independiente’s time in the Primera, they are staring into the abyss before we have even started. Their only hope is that the two-promoted sides are even worse…oh and that Roberto Martinez has bought some of La Masia with him from Barcelona.
Ins: Roque Cardozo (Nacional), Michel Godoy (3 de Febrero), Oscar Nadín Díaz (3 de Febrero), Leandro Gareca (Figueirense), Aldo Vera (Luque), Elvis Duré (Deportivo Santaní), Roberto Martinez (Lota Schwager), Sergio Álvarez (Nueva Chicago), Pablo Despósito (Independiente Medellín), Francisco Javier Garcia (Cerro Porteño), Richard Lugo (Colón de Santa Fe), Osvaldo Diaz (Luque), Blas Hermosilla (Olimpia), Alberto Ortega Rosa (Deportes Copiapó), Felix Vargas (Sol de America), Victor Dávalos (Libertad)
Outs: Fidencio Oviedo (Cerro Porteño), Mario Saldívar (Figueirense), Derlis Gomez (released), Rolando Bogado (Luque), Luis Cupla (released), Emerson Matías (Defensa y Justicia), Diego Figueredo (Guaraní), Rafael Dos Santos (released), William Schuster (released), Fidel Miño (Sol de America), Jorge M. Nuñez (released), Richard Leite (released), Sergio Samudio (Cerro Porteño PF), Julio Augilar (released), Juan Cadelago (released)
Prediction: Will be close to newly-promoted sides and looking over shoulder, especially if Luque have a good season
Cerro Porteño PF
The boys from the east will hope to do better than Ciudad del Este’s representatives from last year, 3 de Febrero, who were relegated. Things will be tough for coach Eduardo Rivera as they are set to struggle financially and have the disadvantage of being over 300 km away from the rest of the Primera sides. Nevertheless they impressed in the summer friendlies and have the two best strikers from last year’s Intermedia in their ranks in Leichtweis and Prieto.
Ins: Arístides Nuñez (Bolivia), Rafael Agüero, Nelson Figueredo, Arnaldo Recalde, Marco Prieto (Sportivo Carapeguá), Rogerio Leichtweis (Sportivo San Lorenzo), Sergio Samudio (Independiente CG), Matías Sliveira
Outs: Israel Rodriguez (released), Gustavo Samaniego (released), Gustavo Orué (released), Derlis Espínola (released)
Prediction: Likely to go into Clausura with relegation worries
The second side promoted to the Primera are also only the second side out of the Asunción/Central nucleus of teams. Concerns over the eligibility of the stadium have resided for now as the APF granted them an extension until June. Having lost coach Juan Arce to Rubio Ñu things will be even harder and the opening game against defending champions Olimpia is going to give us an idea of how they will fare.
Ins: Tom Ortiz (3 de Febrero), Jorge Cáceres, Hugo Fleitas, Rodrigo Cantero (General Caballero), Diego Benítez (Olimpia), Cristian Martinez (3 de Febrero), Esteban Ramirez (Unattached), Julio Irrazábal (Vasco de Gama), Wilson Quiñónez (Luque), Gustavo Arévalos, Alejandro Bernal, Aldo Olmedo (General Caballero), Ariel Frasqueri (Sportivo Iteño), Éver Barrientos (Sportivo San Lorenzo), Jorge Florentín (La Paz FC), Danilo Carando (Sportivo Patria), Cristian Santacruz
Outs: Juan Cardozo (released), Victor Hugo Cabrera (released), Carlos Vera (released), Claudio Delgado (released), Miguel Rojas (released), Marco Prieto (Cerro Porteño PF)
Prediction: Will be a fantastic experience for the city of Carapeguá to be in the Primera and by the end of the Apertura, pretty sure that a year is as long as it will last
By Ralph Hannah
Author’s Note: If anybody can help with the destinations of some of the released players pleased contact me via Twitter or in the comments below