Roque Santa Cruz still Paraguay’s top poacher ahead of Copa America
Having announced their preliminary Copa America roster, Paraguay (40/1 with Coral to win the tournament) will compete in Pool B with a heavily South American-based squad, with the exception of attacking positions, where the selection is peppered with poaching talents to have made their name in Europe.
The two-time tournament winners were surprise runners-up last time in 2011, but will need a drastic improvement on recent form, encompassing just one win in their past seven, to challenge for the crown again.
Combating the likes of giants Argentina, 2011 final rivals Uruguay and, to a lesser extent, guests Jamaica in Group B, Paraguay will require a strong strikeforce, and Ramon Diaz has called up his most in-form forwards for the formidable task.
Former Benfica striker and ninth-all time Eagles top scorer, Oscar Cardozo, currently terrorising Turkey with Trabzonspor, has hit 18 across all competitions this campaign and can expect to feature significantly.
Argentina-born Montpellier marksman Lucas Barrios, on loan from Spartak Moscow, has also been lethal in Ligue 1, dispatching 11 strikes, while Augsburg threat Raul Bobadilla is also an adopted Argentine native and has struck 10 times this term.
Despite these dangermen in the midst of purple patches, it is veteran predator Roque Santa Cruz who Paraguay still turn to in times of need. The former Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Malaga sharpshooter is both his country’s captain and all-time leading scorer and has notched up 30 goals in 104 caps. At 33, however, Santa Cruz is not likely to have many shots at international silverware left.
While La Albirroja lack youthful exuberance in attack, with only one recruit under 27, they more than make up for that in midfield, with Argentina-based Racing Club wing wizard Oscar Romero, 22, potentially set for a starring role. Meanwhile, Richard Ortiz, 24, who represents Mexican club Deportivo Toluca will likely compete with Villarreal-owned Hernan Perez on the right flank.
Ortiz’s namesake Celso, of AZ Alkmaar fame, will provide support from central midfield, with vice-captain Victor Caceres also in the frame to add much-needed steel.
There are perhaps less familiar names to be deployed in the defence, aside from Udinese full back Ivan Piris, though 17-year-old Olimpia centre half Saul Salcedo could be the wildcard in the pack and put stalwarts Paulo da Silva, once of Sunderland, and Marcos Caceres under pressure.
Dark horses they may be but, with a raft of forward-thinking talent at their disposal, Paraguay, who have only once failed to make it to or past the Copa America quarter-finals in their last eight attempts, should not be discounted.
Preliminary Paraguay squad for 2015 Copa America:
Goalkeepers: Justo Villar (Colo Colo), Alfredo Aguilar (Guarani), Anthony Silva (Independiente Medellin), Joel Silva (Deportes Tolima)
Defenders: Pablo Aguilar (America), Fabian Balbuena (Libertad), Marcos Caceres (Newell’s Old Boys), Paulo Da Silva (Toluca), Jorge Moreira (Libertad), Ivan Piris (Udinese), Saul Salcedo (Olimpia), Miguel Samudio (America), Bruno Valdez (Cerro Porteno).
Midfielders: Eduardo Aranda (Olimpia), Victor Caceres (Flamengo), Hernan Perez (Real Valladolid, on loan from Villarreal), Jonathan Fabbro (Cerro Porteno), Osvaldo Martinez (America), Osmar Molinas (Libertad), Nestor Ortigoza (San Lorenzo), Richard Ortiz (Toluca), Celso Ortiz (AZ), Oscar Romero (Racing Club).
Forwards: Lucas Barrios (Montpellier, on loan from Spartak Moscow), Edgar Benitez (Toluca), Raul Bobadilla (Augsburg), Oscar Cardozo (Trabzonspor), Derlis Gonzalez (Basel), Roque Santa Cruz (Cruz Azul), Nelson Haedo Valdez (Eintracht Frankfurt).