Paraguay Legends: The other Cabañas

You probably all know who Salvador Cabañas is but he isn’t the first albirroja legend to bear that surname, back in the 1980s there was another striker with the same name on all the Paraguayan’s lips. Welcome to the Paraguay Football Blog Hall of Fame (still under construction) Roberto Cabañas.

 Name: Roberto Cabañas

D.o.B: 11th April 1961

Height: 1.80 metres

Position: Striker

Domestic Clubs: Cerro Porteño, Club Libertad

Foreign Clubs: New York Cosmos, América de Cali, Brest, Lyon, Boca Juniors, Barcelona (ECU),   Independiente Medellín, Real Cartagena

Honours: 2 x NASL championships, 2 x Colombian championships, Argentine championship, Copa América

The Pilar-born striker was just 18 years old when he got his first taste of glory, the 1979 Copa América was won by Paraguay for only the second time in their history. Far from the star, Cabañas was limited to the bench and appeared for just 10 minutes in the 2nd of the three finals against Chile. Julio César Romero or “Romerito” as he is better known was the teenager that made the headlines, the 18-year-old scoring three times and was one of the best player’s of that tournament. So in 1980 Romerito made his way to the NASL with Cabañas, both were signed by New York Cosmos looking for a new star after the retirment of Pelé.

A young Roberto Cabañas at Cosmos – Photo:

With ‘El Mago’ playing a key role alongside players such as Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Neeskens the East Coast side were dominant in his first three years, winning the trophy in 1980 and 1982, finishing runner-up in 1981. But the striker’s best season individually was in 1983 when the forward notched 25 goals in 28 games and was named MVP. That year he also scored one of the league’s  most memorable goals, a stunning acrobatic strike that was voted goal of the year.

In 1985, with New York Cosmos and the NASL no more, Cabañas found himself in Cali, Colombia with América who had enjoyed sustained success the local league (winning the previous three titles) but were unable to make an impact in continental competition. The arrival of the Guaraní goalscorer continued the domestic domination and was desperately close to making América de Cali the first Colombian Copa Libertadores champions on three separate occassions. In 1985 the club won their fourth title and reached the Copa Libertadores final where they faced Argentinos Juniors inspired by midfielders Sergio Batista and Emilio Commisso. With either side winning their home leg by the single goal the final went to a third game at a neutral venue which coincidentally was Asunción, Paraguay. Once again the teams couldn’t be separated and the game went to penalties, Cabañas scored his but the Colombians lost 5-4 when Antony de Avila saw his shot saved.  1986 was a serious case of Dejá Vú as América were crowned ‘Pentacampeón’ thanks to a 3-1 win over bitter rivals Deportivo Cali in the ‘clásico vallecaucano’ with Cabañas opening the scoring. But once again they fell at the final hurdle in the Libertadores this time to River Plate, losing 2-1 in Cali and 1-0 in Buenos Aires, with El Paraguayo getting the only goal for the Los Diablos Rojos.

Switching briefly to international football and Roberto Cabañas was part of the Paraguay 1986 World Cup squad that made history by reaching the knockout stages for the first time. The achievement owed a lot to a brace the striker bagged against Belgium to secure second place in the group.

The 1987 Copa Libertadores final witnessed América’s third successive final and their third successive defeat with Cabañas playing a crucial role in all three games. In the first leg he smashed home the second goal in the 2-0 victory after his compatriot Juan Manuel Battaglia opened the scored. Peñarol were winners of their home leg 2-1, Cabañas got the consolation. In those days the finals weren’t decided on aggregate so like 1985 they went to a neutral city, this time Santiago de Chile, to decide the championship. América would lose 1-0 with a goal in the final minute of extra time but Cabañas’ final ended after 74 minutes when he was sent off for brawling with José Herrera.

Having enjoyed success in North and South America it was now time for Cabañas to try his luck in Europe and he relocated to France for several years playing for Brest and later Lyon. In the 1988/89 season Brest, who included a teenage Stephane Guivarc’h and former Rangers and Lyon manager Paul Le Guen in their side, finished second in the second division and were promoted. Cabañas played 38 games that season and scored 26 goals in all competitions. The next season was tougher for both the team, who finished tenth, and the striker who saw less game time with Gerard Buscher and Ronan Salaün the favoured forwards.  However, with almost a goal every other game, 9 goals in 20 matches, the Paraguayan caught the eye of Lyon who had been  taken over by Jean-Michel Aulas in 1987 (the businessman is still at the helm today).  At Lyon Cabañas moved from playing 4-4-2 to being the central striker in a 4-3-3 formation. He played 24 games, scoring 9 goals with current Lyon manager Remi Garde also in the side as the Rhône outfit finished in fifth place.

Unable to win the favour of new manager Raymond Domenech, Cabañas returned to South America in 1991 with Boca Juniors where he won the Apertura title in 1992 to add to his trophy cabinet. While not prolific in Argentina the striker is fondly remembered by fans for a series of superclásico goals against River Plate, like this screamer in 1992 or this wonderful header a year later.

His final years were spent in Ecuador and Colombia with a brief trip back to Paraguay and  Libertad in 1995. Incredibly the player can have claimed to have played in four decades, despite retiring in 1996 her returned to Colombian football at the turn of the century. Aged 39 he scored the Real Cartagena’s 100th goal in the top division in a game against Deportivo Pasto on 19 August 2000 lending weight to the old adage about class being permanent. Roberto Cabañas was indeed a class act.

By Ralph Hannah

Author’s Note: Special thanks to Andrew Gibney at French Football Weekly for the input on Cabañas time in France and to Carl Worswick for some vital information about América de Cali.

Panini Sticker Photos were taken from


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