South America has always shown that they associate with the game of football more than anything else. You'll find people coming together in schools, parks and beaches of every South American country to show their footballing skills. Even in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, a bunch of kids can be seen playing relentlessly from sunrise to sundown, unperturbed by the muddy grounds and without proper boots. It is just this love for the game that sets South America apart in world football.
Argentina, Brazil and Colombia are some of the continental giants that come to mind. From national teams to U-17 sides, their footballing culture has mesmerised fans across the globe for decades. Even at the ongoing U-17 World Cup in India, Brazil and Colombia have not only outsmarted their opponents but made a statement of intent with their attacking style of football.
On the other hand, Paraguay, who took a while to become relevant in South American football, have maintained the South American dominance at the world event. To call them a surprise package would be unfair as their beautiful and artsy style of play has been a treat to watch in Group B.
Clubbed in a tricky group with Mali, New Zealand and Turkey, their path to the knockout stages could be have been perilous, but Paraguay have presented a great exhibition of both their technical and mental ability, especially in their come-from-behind win against New Zealand.
“You can expect South American teams like Brazil, Chile and Colombia to be dominant in the competition. The level of football played in the Campeonato Sudamericano Sub-17 is very tough. So, it comes from there,” Paraguay coach Gustavo Morinigo said.
In the opening game, they dominated African champions Mali on a breezy night at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. The first half of their second match served as a wake-up call as the Kiwis took the lead via two own goals by the Paraguayan captain Alexis Duarte. However, Paraguay made amends for it in the next 45 minutes to score three times to seal a 4-2 win.
The continental stereotype of demonstrating football with flair, domination and emotion was quite apparent. While we witnessed the Samba dance from the Brazilians and the Colombian dance moves after they scored against United States, Paraguayans prefer a more traditional way of celebration. “We do it (go down on the knees with fingers pointing to the sky) to acknowledge our effort. We also believe it’s God’s will,” captain Duarte explained. Paraguayan teens celebrated in their traditional routine thrice in their final group stage match against Turkey, which was the icing on the cake for the South American outfit.
However, these three results also show how they haven’t been able to stop their opponents from netting a goal or two in reply. “For us, the defensive aspect of our game is very important. Our plan for this game was to keep a clean sheet but we conceded one deep into injury time. That's something we need to focus at. We have two days to work on that,” said Morinigo.
Goalscoring is one of the world’s most lucrative skills and it seems like the teenagers have already mastered it. Paraguay have scored 10 times in three matches so far, maintaining a 100 percent record in the group stage. It would be foolish to forget how Paraguay only lost once from 12 games in South America and was the only side to hold the rampaging Brazilians to draws not once, but twice.
“They (Paraguay) are dangerous because of those fast attacks. Also, they are physically strong. According to me, Paraguay are quick and physically capable of becoming champions. If the team is physically competitive, there is always room for improvement and can perform better,“ said Turkey coach Mehmet Hacioglu, whose side was beaten by Paraguay in the final group game.
Paraguay, who were on the verge of making it to the Round of 16 two years ago when New Zealand scored a late winner in the last group match to knock them out, would have wanted to bury their past results and start afresh. Ever since Paraguay sealed qualification, Morinigo's young guns underwent a series of training sessions at the Albiroga complex in the city of Ypane. Not only that, coach Morinigo also made his players undergo two training sessions a day — one dedicated in the gym and the other on-field drills to up their game. Such is the seriousness among the dedicated bunch.
The talented La Albirroja is a mixture of South America's natural style of football and discipline altogether. They might not be the competition favourites like neighbours Brazil but when Morinigo's inseparable group take the field, they play with exuberance. All that a football team needs on the pitch.
Updated Date: Oct 13, 2017 13:15 PM