Paraguay strikers a spearhead

HAVING just put together their best-ever qualification campaign, Paraguay are entitled to think big ahead of their fourth consecutive appearance at the Fifa World Cup finals.

Under the guidance of Argentinian coach Gerardo Martino, the current Albirroja crop look to have what it takes to build on the progress made by their predecessors at France 1998 and Korea and Japan 2002, where the Paraguayans reached the round of 16 before being knocked out by France and Germany respectively.

While maintaining the defensive standards set by those two sides, Los Guaraníes have added an exciting attacking dimension to their game, thanks to the emergence of a clutch of powerful and talented forwards with the ability to unsettle any opposing rearguard.

That offensive threat could make all the difference as Paraguay look to make amends for their first-round elimination in Germany in 2006, a setback that several members of the current squad experienced first-hand and are determined not to repeat in South Africa.

Paraguay will play against Italy, New Zealand and Slovakia in Group F matches.

The road to South Africa: Paraguay broke through the 30-point barrier for the first time since the current qualifying system came into being. Recording 10 wins (the most in the group along with Chile), three draws and five defeats, they collected 33 points to finish third behind the Chileans and Brazil.

Martino's side confirmed their ticket to the finals in style with a 1-0 defeat of Argentina in Asuncion in September, with President Fernando Lugo declaring a national holiday to allow the nation to celebrate the achievement.

Paraguay will be making their eighth Fifa World Cup finals appearance next year and their fourth in a row. They have yet to progress beyond the round of 16.

The Coach:

Born in November 1962 in Rosario, Martino is yet another Argentinian tactician excelling in the South American game.

The man they call "El Tata" made his name in the 1990s as a talented attacking midfielder before moving into coaching in 1998.

After working for a number of lesser-known sides in his native country, he made the switch to Paraguay, taking over at Cerro Porteno and then Libertad, where he enjoyed his greatest achievements at club level.

The Stars:

Coach Martino can call on the services of several internationally renowned players, most of whom play their club football in Mexico and Europe.

And while the side is sprinkled with proven performers in every area, the Paraguayans' biggest names can be found upfront.

Roque Santa Cruz needs no introduction after several successful seasons in England, his importance to the national side undiminished despite his absence from most of the qualifying competition. Deputising admirably throughout the campaign were Salvador Cabanas and Nelson Haedo Valdez, who scored 11 goals between them. - Fifa website