Paraguay will face Argentina for the 15th time World Cup Qualifying in what is set to be an historic encounter, the first ever meeting outside of the respective capital cities. There is good reason for the venue switch, the last five qualifiers in Buenos Aires have ended in a draw meaning the last albiceleste win on home soil was 1973.
The albirroja treat this game as their superclásico, while the rivalry with Brazil is also big for historical reasons the Paraguayans have many more links with their opponents south of the border. Not just the shared language, there are shared blood-ties with an estimated 500,000 Paraguayans living and working in Argentina and several Argentine-born players have represented the Guaraní in recent years.
The natural neighbourly rivalry has been increased recently by several spats – Cristina Kirchener led the move to suspend Paraguay from the free trade bloc Mercosur. Then there was the curious case of Moria Casán, an Argentinian celebrity who is accused of stealing jewelry after a show in Paraguay and has been criticised locally for subsequent comments. Also an inflammatory ‘opinion piece’ last month about the nationalization of Argentinian-born players on a website I’ve written for previously (to my huge embarrassment) provoked an angry reaction in Paraguay.
Anyway, now we’ve established this is a clásico (at least from one team’s perspective) we return to the footballing history. The first qualifier between the sides was in Buenos Aires in 1965 with Argentina winning comfortably before a goalless draw in Asunción. It was a repeat for the 1974 Qualifiers when the nations tied in Asunción with Argentina winning in Buenos Aires to qualify at Paraguay’s expense.
That was the last time Argentina would win at home.
1994 World Cup Qualifiers
The teams were thrown together again for the USA ’94 qualifiers with Paraguay losing at home for the first time to the albiceleste, the game is also remembered as the only international goal for ex-Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Redondo which you can see below.
The return game later that month finished 0-0 in the Estadio Monumental, once again Argentina went to the World Cup while Paraguay watched on the TV.
1998 World Cup Qualifiers
There were big changes for France ’98 – firstly CONEMBOL decided to put the 9 competing teams together (Brazil qualified as holders) in one big league and so began the marathon qualification format that prevails today. Secondly Paraguay had welcomed in a golden generation of players, including Chiqui Arce, Carlos Gamarra and José Saturnino Cardozo – not to mention of course their talismanic goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert who made history in Buenos Aires, the first ever goalkeeper to score in a World Cup Qualifier much to the disbelief of the Argentine commentators.
While that game ended in a 1-1 draw, Paraguay were beaten at home 2-1 but it is also worth noting that the guaraní goalscorer that day was Buenos Aires-born Roberto Acuña, in case you were thinking nationalization is a relatively new phenomenon.
2002 World Cup Qualifiers
The Argentines were almost unstoppable under Marcelo Bielsa, finishing top of the qualification standings with 43 points and losing just once to Brazil away. I say almost unstoppable because during that period there was only one team they were unable to beat neither home nor away, that was of course plucky Paraguay.
A 1-1 draw in Buenos Aires was followed by a 2-2 draw in Asunción. Once again Roberto Acuña scored against the country of his birth in his native city while the game in the Defensores del Chaco also saw Chilavert score (this time from the penalty spot). Paraguay led three times over the two games but that elusive victory still escaped them…
2006 World Cup Qualifiers
03/09/2005 – HISTORY IS MADE – Paraguay win their first qualifier against the old enemy, a 14th minute strike from Roque Santa Cruz was enough to separate the sides. The goal came after the albirroja blew away their opponents in the opening stages and in the second half they were able to hold onto their lead following Gabriel Heinze’s red card.
The earlier meeting in Buenos Aires was nothing to write home about – Paraguay (reduced to ten men on the hour) showed plenty of grit to hold out for a goalless draw against a home strikeforce of Carlos Tevez, Javier Saviola and Hernan Crespo.
2010 World Cup Qualifiers
The customary Buenos Aires stalemate took place in 2008 with that man Heinze helping Paraguay again (his comic own goal put them ahead) before Carlos Tevez received his marching orders after half an hour. Sergio Aguero equalised on the hour after combining well with Lionel Messi.
The sweetest of victories was then recorded in front of a raucous crowd in September 2009 when a bit of Salvador Cabañas magic set up Nelson Haedo Valdez who walloped the ball in with his left foot. The win secured Paraguay’s qualification for their fourth straight World Cup and even better it ensured they would finish above Argentina in the table for the first time since its introduction.
Later in the week we’ll have a full stats pack for the game followed by the standard pre-match preview on Friday.
By Ralph Hannah