Juan Villamayor’s late goal was enough to overcome Ecuador and take Paraguay to the U20s World Cup in Turkey, they become the 13th nation to book their ticket to the showpiece tournament and the 2nd side from CONMEBOL after Colombia who also won last night. It is the eighth time the albirrojita have made it to this stage, most recently in 2009 where they reached the last 16. Qualification is great news for the APF who have invested a lot of the 2010 World Cup money into youth development, opening new state of the art pitches in Ñu Guazu on the edge of Asunción, and have housed 100s of players from U15s upwards every week at the high performance centre in Ypané. It is no surprise that APF President Juan Angel Napout was in Mendoza last night to watch the latest stars in the production line, Gerardo Pelusso has also been keeping a close eye on the progress of these youngsters.
Paraguay’s excellent preparation for this competition – which has involved not just the weekly sessions mentioned above but also international friendlies against the likes of Brazil, Uruguay and participations in cuadrangular tournaments – is evidenced by their ability to come back into games from losing positions, strength at set pieces and also their high fitness levels. Nine of their 14 goals have come in the final half hour a sign of their dominance in the later stages of games. Last night was no exception, the winner coming in the 86th minute from substitute Juan Villmayor, the tiny Libertad forward whipped in a freekick that evaded everybody and sneaked into the corner.
The goal was nothing less that Paraguay deserved based on an improved second-half performance, they managed to contain Ecuador’s captain and playmaker Uchuari and began to build several good moves from the back spearheaded by Miguel Almirón in central midfield. Before the goal Derlis Gonzalez had scored only to be ruled off (correctly) for offside and Teodoro Paredes had crashed a header onto the bar.
Surprisingly this was Paraguay’s first cleansheet of the competition, although they can point to the joint second best defensive record amongst the finalists along with Chile so even in their weakest area they are at the front of the pack. This could be the beginning of a new golden age for Paraguayan football just when the senior side look to be losing their sparkle.
Paraguay XI: Diego Morel; Teodoro Paredes, Gustavo Gómez, Matías Pérez; Miller Mareco, Ángel Cardozo Lucena, Miguel Almirón, Manuel Balbuena; Jorge Rojas, Derlis González, Cecilio Domínguez
Subs: Juan Villamayor for Cecilio Dominguez, Rodrigo Alborno for Manuel Balbuena, Robert Piris for Teodoro Paredes
Next Fixture: Uruguay, Weds 30 Jan, 22:00 Paraguay time (00:00 GMT)
By Ralph Hannah