Posted by Michael Griffin
This World Cup calendar year started off in shocking fashion for Paraguay's national team when striker Salvador Cabanas was shot in the head outside a bar in Mexico in January. Although Cabanas continues his miraculous recovery from the attack, and claims he will soon return to action, it was announced late last week that he would be left off coach Gerardo Martino's preliminary 30-man squad.
Paraguay might be without its leading goal scorer from qualifying for this World Cup, but Cabanas' absence has allowed some emerging talents to make a name for themselves in Martino's upcoming training camp -- including two teammates from German club Borussia Dortmund, Lucas Barrios and Nelson Haedo Valdez.
The Argentinian-born Barrios is freshly nationalized and earned his initial call-up to the Paraguay squad with the preliminary announcement. His club partner Valdez, who has earned more than 30 caps for his country, has played the last nine seasons in Germany and was part of the Werder Bremen team that captured the league and cup double in 2004.
But two other European-based forwards included in the provisional roster should be regulars in the Paraguay lineup come June, as Roque Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardozo represent Paraguay's most formidable striking options now that Cabanas will officially be left home.
While Santa Cruz has endured an inconsistent season at Manchester City, Cardozo has been in brilliant form for Benfica during the 2009-10 campaign. His two goals in a weekend win over Ave Rio clinched the Portuguese Liga title for the Lisbon side, and the 6-foot-4 forward has netted an amazing 25 goals in 28 league games while also playing a key role in Benfica's run to the quarterfinals of the Europa League competition.
Cardozo has caught the eye of some English Premier League teams looking to strengthen their attack in the upcoming offseason, but it is one of Cardozo's Paraguay teammates on the preliminary roster -- Cristian Riveros -- who has already been signed by an English side. The versatile midfielder, who was free to seek a new employer as his contract with Mexico's Cruz Azul was expiring, became Sunderland's initial signing of the summer, so he can now turn his focus to contributing to his national team's efforts in South Africa.
Defender Paulo da Silva, who also plays for Sunderland, should be part of a Paraguay back line looking to thwart the attacks of Italy, Slovakia and New Zealand in the group stage of the World Cup. The defense will be helmed by goalkeeper and national team captain Justo Villar -- who saw just eight minutes of action at the 2006 World Cup before an opening-game injury put him out of that tournament.
A young Paraguay side failed to advance out of its group at Germany 2006, but the team has gained experience since then and finished just one point behind Brazil in South American qualifying. Italy may be regarded as the favorite in Group F, but look for an in-form Cardozo to lead Paraguay into the knockout rounds in South Africa.
Goalkeepers: Justo Villar (Real Valladolid), Aldo Bobadilla (Deportivo Independiente de Medellin), Diego Barreto (Cerro Porteno)
Defenders: Claudio Morel Rodriguez (Boca Juniors), Denis Caniza (Leon), Paulo da Silva (Sunderland), Dario Veron (Pumas UNAM), Julio Cesar Caceres (Atletico Mineiro), Julio Manzur (Tigres), Carlos Bonet (Olimpia), Aureliano Torres (San Lorenzo de Almagro), Marcos Caceres (Racing), Antolin Alcaraz (Bruges)
Midfielders: Edgar Barreto (Atalanta), Cristian Riveros (Cruz Azul), Osvaldo Martinez (Monterrey), Victor Caceres (Libertad), Enrique Vera (Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito), Jonathan Santana (Wolfsburg), Sergio Aquino (Libertad), Eduardo Ledesma (Lanus), Nestor Ortigoza (Argentinos Juniors), Marcelo Estigarribia (Newell's Old Boys)
Forwards: Roque Santa Cruz (Manchester City), Nelson Haedo Valdez (Borussia Dortmund), Oscar Cardozo (Benfica), Edgar Benitez (Toluca), Lucas Barrios (Borussia Dortmund), Rodolfo Gamarra (Libertad), Jorge Achucarro (Newell's Old Boys)