After many years in the international wilderness, Paraguay have become a regular feature of the World Cup since the 1998 tournament. Although not many would consider them realistic challengers, their team contains enough quality to potentially shock an elite nation. This nearly occurred in 1998 as they pushed eventual champions France all the way in the second round before an extra time goal sent Paraguay out. Four years later, they were narrowly defeated in the second round by Germany before a tough draw in 2006 saw them eliminated in the group stage.
As usual, Paraguay competed in the ten team qualification competition which lasts for around two years. With Argentina and Brazil normally occupying two spots, the other two automatic qualification positions are often fiercely contested with the likes of Uruguay, Columbia, Ecuador and Chile providing stiff opposition.
The campaign began with an underwhelming 0-0 draw away to Peru before a tough home match at home to Uruguay. A single goal from Nelson Valdez gave Paraguay a 1-0 win to get them up and running. The victory seemed to spur Paraguay into life as they destroyed Ecuador 5-1 in their next home match with a Cristian Riveros double as the highlight.
The team maintained their impressive start with a fantastic 3-0 away victory against Chile. Next up was the visit of Brazil to Asuncion. Despite the star names that flooded the Brazil line up, an efficient and impressive performance saw the hosts run out 2-0 winners with goals from Roque Santa Cruz and Salvador Cabanas. This ensured that Paraguay sat at the top of the standings with 13 points from a possible 15.
The first defeat came in the 6th match of the campaign as Bolivia took advantage of the high altitude at their home ground to win 4-2. With a visit to under fire Argentina to follow, it was crucial that Paraguay didn’t embark on a losing run. A fine performance in Buenos Aires saw a 1-1 draw consolodate Paraguay’s position near the top of the group. Another winning run was soon to follow as the team beat Venezuela 2-0 at home, snuck a 1-0 victory away to Columbia and triumphed with a late goal in the 1-0 home win against Chile.
With just over half the campaign gone, Paraguay already had 23 points and were well on their way to qualifying for South Africa. Nevertheless, the first poor run of four games without a win raised a few questions as to whether the team had the mentality to qualify in style. With four matches to go, a scrappy 1-0 victory at home to Bolivia boosted the team to 27 points before a fantastic 1-0 win at home to Argentina secured their qualification to the prestigious tournament next year.
The final two irrelevent matches saw Paraguay win 2-1 away to Venezuela before losing 2-0 at home to Columbia. Nevertheless, an overall impressive campaign saw Paraguay finish 3rd, level on goal difference with 2nd place Chile, to book their place on the plane to South Africa 2010.
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