Ecuador give good performance, but suffer from lack of cutting edge
For the first time in CONMEBOL Group 2 would there be a fixture not containing Colombia, who were 75 % through with their programme while the group was at its halfway stage. Today’s hosts, on the other hand, had just played a solitary qualifier, which had been the highly eventful 2-1 home win against the Colombians a fortnight earlier. Another win would send them atop the table having played a game less than Colombia, and so set them in good stead ahead of their two away fixtures. As for Ecuador, they’d just gained a sole point from their two ties so far, and had yet to open their goal account. In order to stand a chance of finishing top of the pile, they would need to claim both points here in Asunción.
Paraguay team news
After that extremely dramatic finale to their opening qualifier, in which Paraguay had notched the winning goal against their main group rivals Colombia, thus repeating their winning margin against them from the Copa América a month and a half earlier, thanks to a penalty in the sixth minute of injury time, the face-off against Ecuador probably represented a different kind of challenge: This was a fixture which Paraguay now would be expected to win. Not that they didn’t have it in them; of course they did. They had showed that they were a match to just about anyone on their day.
Manager Cayetano Ré, who had only returned to the top job in Paraguayan football about a week prior to the qualification, had made just a solitary change in the matchday squad of 16 compared to two weeks ago: France based striker, the imposing Roberto Cabañas, had returned after his ineligibility last time around, when he’d featured in his Brest’s 1-0 home defeat against Paris Saint-Germain the day before the qualifying fixture. This had left his club rooted to the bottom of the French top flight. Cabañas had also not featured during the Copa América (not in squad).
The only player not in the squad who had been part of the 16 two weeks ago, was left-sided forward Alfredo Mendoza. He had done well against the Colombians, and he could be missed unless señor Ré manages to find a solution to his absence. Mendoza was on the books of the same French outfit as his Paraguay team mate Cabañas, and was the one among the pair who had not been released for this qualifier. Mendoza had played the full 90 minutes of Brest’s 2-0 home win against Cannes on the eve of Ecuador’s visit in Asunción.
Paraguay’s 4-3-3 outline had served them well in their previous fixture, and in tigerish midfielders Guasch and Nunes they had two players capable of providing both bite and quality. Their most internationally acknowledged performer, midfielder Romero, had been a disappointment, though he had not been fully fit. 20 year young substitute Javier Ferreira had provided a lot of inspiration once he had stepped out onto the pitch, even scoring the opener. Would we see a similar tactical approach from the manager for this tie?
Ecuador team news
The Ecuadorians had completed their schedule against Colombia, though with just a solitary point and no goals to show for their endeavours, they will have felt somewhat hard done by. They had not been outplayed, but in Barranquilla, they had been exposed to two world class headers from Iguarán, and they had perhaps ridden their luck a bit during the scoreless draw in Guayaquil.
Their European manager, Yugoslav Dušan Drašković, had arrived with ideas of quick transitions from defence to attack, though while there was certainly promise within their ranks, it was also clear that they still had some way to go in order to be the finished article. If they were to stand any kind of chance of progressing through to Italia ’90, they would need to win here in Paraguay. Was it beyond them?
They had lined up in 4-4-2 in both their ties hitherto, with their two wide players often working in inverted capacities. Their two midfield flankmen were among the more vital players in the team: captain Cuvi and starlet Aguinaga. In the centre, holding man Fajardo had given an accomplished account of himself, whereas Rosero, more a box to box kind of player, had yet to excel. This latter fact could well have to do with Aguinaga/Cuvi demanding plenty of the ball. Did Drašković still see Rosero as a vital part of his plans?
There had been three changes in their 16 man strong matchday squad: Defender Wilson Macías and midfielders Enrique Verduga and Pietro Marsetti, who had all been among the five players on their substitutes’ bench during last week’s drawn match, had been replaced by Freddy Bravo, Carlos Muñoz and Nelson Guerrero. The former was a defender, while the two others were considered midfielders. Was the manager contemplating changes to his starting eleven?
The officiating trio came from Peru, with referee José Ramírez, a 44 year old, in the middle. He had been on FIFA’s list since 1976, but had rarely extended his tasks beyond club level. Ramírez had had two Copa Libertadores assignments in 1980, and then had waited until 1987 for his next such task, continuing through to 1989. He had also taken charge of two matches in the recently held Copa América tournament, both in the first group stage: Argentina v Ecuador (0-0) and Uruguay v Chile (3-0). He had incidentally sent Ecuador’s left-back Luis Capurro off there in Goiânia, Brazil.
These two countries had previously met on 20 occasions. The first had happened in 1939, when Paraguay had won 3-1 in Lima, Peru, and indeed all of their first 12 meetings through to 1975 had come about in the continental championships. They had come across one another in World Cup qualification for the first time in 1981, and in qualification for the 1982 Spain event, they had won each their home fixture. Historically, the stats read 13-4-3 in favour of Paraguay. Most recently, they had met in a Guayaquil friendly the previous year, with the visitors running out 5-1 winners on that occasion. Since then, there had been big turn-arounds in both countries’ squads.
Just like two weeks before, Paraguay had welcomed their visitors to Estadio Defensores del Chaco, situated to the west in the city, not far off the bank of Río Paraguay. The capacity was said to be around 60,000, and a full house had been expected after the triumph against the fancied Colombian team. In addition to international fixtures, the stadium is also used for big domestic league clashes, with the capital’s main teams, Olimpia (1989 league champions), Cerro Porteño, Libertad and Guaraní all drawing reasonable crowds.
|1 José Luis Chilavert||85′||24||Real Zaragoza|
|2 Virginio Cáceres||27||Guaraní|
|3 César Zabala||28||Cerro Porteño|
|4 Juan Torales||33||Libertad|
|5 Rogelio Delgado (c)||29||Independiente|
|6 Jorge Amado Nunes||27||Deportivo Cali|
|7 Ramón Hicks||sub 58′||30||Oviedo|
|8 Jorge Guasch||28||Olimpia|
|9 Roberto Cabañas||28||Stade Brest|
|10 Javier Ferreira||20||Libertad|
|11 Gustavo Neffa||sub 68′||17||Olimpia|
|12 Roberto Fernández||35||Cerro Porteño|
|13 Luis Caballero||26||Guaraní|
|14 Julio César Romero||on 68′||29||Puebla|
|15 Buenaventura Ferreira||on 58′||29||Guaraní|
|16 Eumelio Palacios||24||Libertad|
|1 Carlos Morales||24||Barcelona|
|3 Hólger Quiñónez (c)||26||Barcelona|
|5 Kléber Fajardo||24||Emelec|
|6 Luis Capurro||28||Emelec|
|8 Álex Aguinaga||sub 67′||21||Deportivo Quito|
|11 Nelson Guerrero||90+1′||27||LDU Quito|
|14 Raúl Avilés||25||Emelec|
|16 Julio César Rosero||sub 74′||24||El Nacional|
|17 Carlos Muñoz||24||Filanbanco|
|18 Tulio Quinteros||26||Barcelona|
|21 Freddy Bravo||27||Filanbanco|
|x Víctor Mendoza||28||Aucas|
|2 Jimmy Izquierdo||27||Barcelona|
|9 Byron Tenório||on 67′||23||El Nacional|
|10 Hamilton Cuvi||on 74′||29||Filanbanco|
|19 Ermen Benítez||28||El Nacional|
We arrive in time for the TV presentation of the two line-ups and the officiating trio. The stand on the far side is crammed with people, and the atmosphere generated appears to be precisely what the Paraguayans would’ve wanted. This is the kind of noise which brings a level of intimidation that can put a visiting team off. Will it provide the tonic which the hosts would’ve been looking for pre-match?
There are two changes to Cayetano Ré’s starting eleven from last time around. The most glaring one is Julio César Romero’s omission, with his successor two weeks ago, 20 year old Javier Ferreira, earning his starting berth. With no Alfredo Mendoza in the squad, there’s also space for the returning Roberto Cabañas, who looks set to partner young Gustavo Neffa and the experienced Ramón Hicks up front.
For the visitors, there’s no less than three changes since their 0-0 home draw against Colombia last week, with all three players who had come into the squad immediately picked in the XI. Giving way was right-back Jimmy Izquierdo, for whom Freddy Bravo surely was expected to fill in, while burly striker Byron Tenório had been relegated to the substitutes’ bench. Even Hamilton Cuvi, who had worn the captain’s armband for their two matches against the Colombians, was now among the five players on the bench, with both Carlos Muñoz and Nelson Guerrero coming into the eleven. Big, lanky centre-back Hólger Quiñónez had been given the responsibility of captaining the side on this occasion.
Proceeding with the kick-off are the visitors’ Álex Aguinaga and Raúl Avilés, kicking from right to left as we’re watching.
The game starts unremarkably, with little in terms of quality from either side, and with several free-kicks further disrupting any possible flow or rhythm. Paraguay had looked sound in possession in their win against Colombia, but they do not manage to pick up where they had left. Instead, they fail to move the ball around with tempo, making it a fairly doable task for the visitors to get close to their adversaries and fend them off.
Ecuador had failed to score so far, but it had not been due to a lack of trying. Also, they were no push-overs, and especially with the pace of the game relatively pedestrian, they look no inferior to the hosts. They seem to have packed their defence and central midfield areas, further congesting their final third of the pitch, leaving few paths towards goal for Paraguay. It is clearly up to the home side to be inventive in order to unlock what appears to be a well organized unit, but they will need to use the ball more cleverly than they have managed inside the opening ten minutes.
One Ecuadorian who had given a sound account of himself in their opening two qualifiers, had been defensive midfielder Kléber Fajardo. The 24 year old from Emelec of Guayaquil, again wearing the number 5 shirt, sits just in front of his centre-backs, protecting them from exposure. He is also someone capable of instigating a counter-attack with his ability to guide a measured pass in the forward direction. With Álex Aguinaga and Hamilton Cuvi previously having operated in the two wide midfield berths, they had often been his ambition to reach. While Cuvi is on the bench this time around, Aguinaga does not feature out wide. Fajardo needs to look elsewhere for his ambitious, angled long passes.
Visitors more expressive
After about a quarter of an hour, the visitors remain the more incisive outfit, while the hosts can barely get out of second gear. Surely, Paraguay would not have underestimated their opponents beforehand, as Ecuador were no push-overs, but they did find it hard to get going. Ecuador, on the other hand, looked a more flexible side on this occasion, with no big ‘plank’ up front to be their centre of attention, something which eliminated high balls in the forward direction. The Ecuadorians were rather playful, and even pushed their two full-backs forward when the opportunity arose. The nippy Avilés had demonstrated his pace and energy previously, and worked himself into a crossing position from the right after advancing past Torales. Chilavert fumbled the cross towards the near post, and it could’ve spelled danger had Aguinaga been more alert. As it were, Zabala put the ball out for a right wing corner. Quiñónez rose well to Bravo’s ball in from the flag, but the referee claimed he’d prevented the ‘keeper from getting to the ball, and so his header, which was otherwise cleared off the line by Cáceres, was immaterial.
Gradually, hosts come into it
After Aguinaga had failed to get any conviction behind his attempted first time shot from inside the area, after Bravo had fed him the ball, the Paraguayans would finally appear to wake from their slumber. They were able to make their way into the final third of the pitch with the ball intact, and they won a free-kick in a highly promising position on 16 minutes. Somehow, though, Guasch was allowed to fire from the edge of the penalty area, just inside the ‘D’. Clearly looking as a player who favours his right, the angle had called out for a left-pegged shooter (Ferreira or Nunes) rather than the holding midfield man. Morales saved comfortably low down by his right hand post, and the Ecuadorian custodian looks confident again when he comes a few yards off his line to claim Neffa’s lofted ball towards the back post, where Hicks had lingered. The game was approaching 20 minutes, and Paraguay were finally beginning to portray themselves more like the team which had given Colombia such a difficult time two weeks earlier.
A run through the Paraguay set-up
Manager Ré had once again set his eleven up in a 4-3-3, and with 24 year old Spain based goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert available yet again, he had prefered the Real Zaragoza man ahead of back-up Roberto Fernández, just like against the Colombians. Having featured 37 times in the Spanish topflight during the 1988/89 season, when Zaragoza had ultimately qualified for the UEFA Cup, he had kept a clean sheet in the curtain raiser (3-0) at home to Rayo Vallecano the previous Sunday. Chilavert would miss out on his club team’s 2-1 loss away to Real Sociedad, though, as it was played on the same day as this qualifier. The ‘keeper seemed a very determined character, and someone who was clearly not lacking in self-confidence. He appeard vocal, and would let his defenders know his whereabouts.
Paraguay’s four man strong defensive unit was identical to the one which had taken to the pitch two weeks earlier. They were Virginio Cáceres at right-back, César Zabala at libero, captain Rogelio Delgado in a more marking capacity at the heart of their defence, while the seasoned Juan Torales was found at left-back. Cáceres did not always seem too comfortable when striding forward, and was somewhat more muted in his approach than Torales across from him, though defensively the 27 year old of Guaraní appeared sound enough. While 33 year old Torales was more frequently seen trotting forward from his left-sided position, neither full-back were particularly adventurous. It was noted how Torales conceded a few crosses from his side, and also how he had struggled to keep pace with Avilés.
Zebala of Cerro Porteño once again worked as their spare man, offering depth in the centre. He seemed apt in the air, and was not foreign to putting himself about in challenges, even if airborn balls were not first and foremost what the visitors were looking to deploy. The libero was also at times a ‘safety first’ player, and could be seen booting the ball away for security when perhaps there could’ve been an option to maintain possession. He would also be thrust forward for a few attacking set-pieces, something which seemed to happen less for the bearded Delgado. The latter, now 29, played in the Argentinian league for Independiente, and was clearly seen as this era of Paraguayan football’s big leader. He certainly put himself about in challenges, and would time and again come up against Aguinaga.
Their midfield three had welcomed 20 year young Javier Ferreira as a starter. Having replaced continental star Julio César Romero during the second half in their opening qualifier, and then scored the first goal of that game, the left-footed player’s introduction last time around had proved a fruitful one. It seemed a natural fit for him to operate as something of an inside left midfielder on this occasion, where he was able to make use of his prefered foot for passes and crosses. Ferreira was, like Torales behind him, of Asunción club Libertad.
The two remaining midfield components were Jorges Nunes and Guasch. Against the Colombians, the latter had been sitting in the deep, central position, and he had rarely contributed through possession inside the opposition’s half of the pitch. Clearly a combative player, Guasch was an asset to the side, though on this occasion he had been shifted into an inside right position. Still, he remained relatively deep, certainly more so than Ferreira across from him, as he looked to balance the Paraguayan midfield along with Nunes, daily plying his trade with Deportivo Cali in Colombia. Nunes was a mixture of tenacity and skill, and he would use his strength in possession to good effect, often directing their play from the centre of midfield, and spraying passes with his cute left foot.
Up front, Ré had once again gone with a trio, although with no Alfredo Mendoza available for selection this time around, there had been a recall for the strong Roberto Cabañas. Now based in France, the player who had scored twice during their draw with Belgium in the last World Cup would start the game to the left among the front three. That is not to say his role mirrored that of Mendoza from the Colombia match, as the latter was a more natural fit in a left-sided position. Cabañas was much more a typical centre-forward, and so he would invariably switch positions with teenage sensation Gustavo Neffa, who had done so well against the strong Colombian rear line last time around, and who once again had got the nod as the central striker initially. Neffa moved well, was compact and strong, with a physique which certainly belied his tender years. He could hold his own even in combative surroundings.
The hosts were relatively narrow up top, with Cabañas often prefering more central areas rather than work out wide, and with his strength in the air, the 28 year old Brest forward was definitely a bonus to have in the side. He held the ball up well, and was even not foreign to participate in build-ups, at times coming deep to play an active role in construction. 30 year old Ramón Hicks, again the right-sided forward, also seemed less wide than he had been last time out, although he was more prone to working in the channels than either of the other two. Hicks was Paraguay’s second Spain based player after Chilavert, with northern club Real Oviedo his current employer.
Home side are improved
Paraguay have certainly come more into it after their slow opening 15 minutes, and more of the play is happening inside Ecuador’s half of the pitch now. The visitors, however, are defending compactly, and with Fajardo dropping deep, he works almost as a third centre-back, and thus further preventing the hosts space from 20-25 yards and in. Ferreira does more drifting about since his almost invisible opening to the game, where he had become quite isolated in that midfield role of his, and when he can come deeper and provide distribution with his left foot, he is able to contribute to pulling the visitors further apart. Movement up top, however, is not quite what it ought to be, and yet Morales is to be truly tested from open play.
Speaking of Morales: The 24 year old Barcelona goalkeeper is clearly manager Drašković’ first pick, starting for the third time in the qualification. He appears not shy, although his quality does not always match his confidence levels. He can be a bit error prone, even if he had had a couple of lucky escapes during the 0-0 draw at home to Colombia. His shot-stopping is secure, and his aerial handling is also not bad. Morales does seem to have the attributes of a very good ‘keeper, and at such a tender age for a ‘keeper, he has plenty of time for development yet.
The four man defensive line consists of right-back Freddy Bravo, who is a 27 year old Filanbanco player who’s just come into the side at the expense of Jimmy Izquierdo, who is found among the five substitutes for this fixture. Bravo doesn’t distinguish himself greatly from his predecessor; in fact, they appear to have several of the same qualities. Is Izquierdo perhaps slightly better defensively? Bravo comes forward on various occasions, something which is demanded of him, as the wide midfielder ahead of him has a tendency to pull inside.
At the heart of the Ecuadorian defence are, just like in their previous qualifier, Tulio Quinteros and Hólger Quiñónez. The latter has been donned the captain’s armband for this game, with Cuvi on the bench. At times a bit erratic in his expression, the 26 year old Barcelona man is still a huge player for this team, both with his size and through his pace. Quiñónez also enjoys the occasional forward foray. He sits to Quinteros’ left, and should there be a libero tag to either centre-back, it must go to Quiñónez. However, he’s clearly not as deep as Zabala down the other end of the pitch. Quinteros is another quite imposing figure, and he looks a more composed player, but he does far from possess the same level of pace as his colleague. Still, they’re a good match, and it is an obvious advantage that they both play for the leading Guayaquil club.
An accomplished performer by the name of Luis Capurro is, again, Ecuador’s left-sided defender. The 28 year old of Emelec is the oldest player in their select, and he performs with such natural composure that you’ve got to admire him as a player. He’s comfortable in possession, and does contribute inside the opposition’s half on a number of occasions, even if he’s mainly tasked with looking after Hicks defensively. Capurro is two-footed, and had indeed made it into a shooting position from just outside the area after side-stepping both Cáceres and Guasch on 23 minutes. His right-footed attempt had been woeful, though.
Previously, Drašković had used Cuvi and Aguinaga for the two wide midfield positions, but on this occasion neither is found where they had started in the two face-offs against Colombia. Instead, Carlos Muñoz and Nelson Guerrero had come into the team, appearing right and left respectively. However, in particular the former, a 24 year old of Filanbanco, would tuck inside and reinforce their central midfield, something which at times saw Ecuador play without a designated right-sided midfielder. Guerrero stuck more to his wide role, but even he would contribute from more central areas at time, even if it happened much less frequently than with Muñoz. Guerrero belonged to LDU Quito, and was 27 years of age.
In the centre of midfield were Kléber Fajardo and Julio Rosero, just like the manager had elected for their two previous qualifiers. Fajardo, as we’ve touched on, was sitting very deep at times, though he remained one of the team’s more influental players. He knew how to break up play at the base of their midfield, and he was also not shy to use the ball, often looking to play it rapidly in the forward direction. His battle skills were also very sound, and he was a far more visible player than Rosero, who had often looked peripheral in their first two matches, and who once again struggled to truly make his mark on the proceedings. He was working box to box, though he had had a brief spell in which he’d been useful, looking to interact with Aguinaga well inside the opposition’s half.
Álex Aguinaga, still only 21 years old. The Deportivo Quito man will be off to Mexican football once the qualification is through, and on this occasion he’s been given a forward role, as opposed to having played wide in midfield in both the Colombia fixtures. He does not appear particularly pleased to come up against the rugged Delgado, and in battle he always comes out second best. He does seek to orientate himself away from the Paraguayan captain, trying to come deep to participate in the build-up of attacks. He enjoys some success, but probably doesn’t have the influence on the game which his manager would’ve hoped. Aguinaga plays just off striker Raúl Avilés, who once again gives the impression of being something of a threat, until he arrives in the area. He’s quick, he’s pacy, and he likes to take a player on. He is dynamic, and can also work the channels. Avilés, the domestic league’s leading scorer, seems to be just a hint of confidence away from proving a goal threat also at international level.
By the half hour mark, Paraguay are again back to being lackadaisical: They are not cohesive in their pressure, which is performed by single individuals rather than the collective, and they do not have sufficient aggression in their midfield, often allowing the visitors to maintain control of possession in the centre of the park. Even the audience is getting in on the act when Torales decides to play a back pass 30 yards away from goal, as they sound their displeasure with the performance hitherto. The Ecuadorians, on the other hand, must be feeling very content with how the game is progressing. They are in need of a win in order not to be entirely out of the qualification picture, and you wouldn’t bet against them at this stage.
While the hosts’ midfield does not work as effectively as it had done against Colombia, Ecuador’s certainly does the trick. Both those two men who have been brought into that unit, Muñoz and Guerrero, have done well, working their socks off, and the former giving a clever interpretation of that inverted right-sided role. He covers plenty of grass, does Muñoz, and on 27 minutes, he is near the left corner flag, winning a corner off Cáceres. Guerrero, meanwhile, opted to play a neat ball through for Avilés, who had made a clever run cross field outside the area, though as he attempts to lift it past Paraguay’s last man of defence in that instant, Delgado, the forward’s brought down right on the edge of the area.
It was probably a decision from the referee in the previous incident where he thought: “Oh, there might be trouble here if I award a penalty for this against the home side”, and so the home skipper got away with one, the referee allowing for play to continue. A couple of minutes in advance, Delgado had probably felt humiliated when Guerrero flicked the ball over the top of his head following a short Capurro pass deep inside the Paraguayan half. The wide left midfielder, who had momentarily moved into the centre, caught his subsequent effort sweetly, though his left foot volley went straight at Chilavert.
We have a goal!
There had been a warning sign for the away team as Paraguay had again been awarded a free-kick around the right side of the penalty area ‘D’. It was hit straight into the defensive wall by Cabañas this time around, but that would be immaterial as the same man found himself on the end of Neffa’s cleverly swung cross in from the left, where the young striker found himself having been fed the ball back from Cabañas. Ecuador had suffered two goals against which had both been tremendous Iguarán headers for Colombia, and here they were again, with another superb headed effort into the back of the net from Cabañas, as Quinteros couldn’t get anywhere near him. 36 minutes and 1-0, and the permutations made a powerful swing into the hosts’ advantage. Were they to hold on to that scoreline by the end of the tie, they’d have a total of four points from four possible, and be top of the group even ahead of Colombia, who had played three, with ‘only’ three points to show for.
Through to half-time
Our live images conclude at 45,03, though it is impossible to say whether there had actually been a jump or not in the tape during the first half. If not, then the referee was extremely precise. Perhaps had he felt that the visitors were hardly on the top of their game in the minutes after the goal and through to half-time, and so felt like he would offer them some respite by sending them back to the dressing rooms right on cue.
From the home side’s perspective, they had hardly given an optimal first half display, but they’d have been elated by the fact that they were a goal to the good nevertheless. It had felt like a stop-start tie so far, and hopefully, the second half will have fewer breaks in play.
With the return back on to the pitch for the start of the second half, it became evident that neither manager had made any half-time changes. Would there have been any need for such? Well, the hosts had looked inspired only during spells, and with the awareness that a capacity such as ‘Romerito’ was sitting on their substitutes’ bench, perhaps would a switch have been something which señor Ré had contemplated? Romero had, however, failed to convince against Colombia, and was perhaps still not quite 100 %.
It seemed perfectly understandable why the Ecuadorians, despite being a goal down, had not made any substitutions during the break. They had performed well, and even though they had failed to truly test Chilavert, their approach play had been neat. Which kind of mirrored what they were about so far in the qualification. They had yet to score after two and a half games, and they would surely introduce a more physical striker, either of Byron Tenório or Ermen Benítez, at some stage during the second half to add more presence up top should the score remain the same.
The very moment of kick-off has not been caught on tape, as the producer felt like giving us a viewing of a floodlight instead. Not a bad replacement, mind, but I’ve always considered the kick-off ritual vital, so it is disappointing to not know for sure exactly which two Paraguayan players performed it.
Early second period
If the home fans had been looking for signs of improvement early in the second half, it is likely that they would’ve been disappointed. Well, only to an extent, of course, as they were well aware that their team were a goal to the good, but there had not been a whole lot in their performance which had explained why they were in front. It was not far-fetched to assume that the majority of their inconsistency this time around stemmed from their midfield, as neither of the three starters had played to the standards which could’ve been hoped for. The switch since last time, when Guasch had performed in the central role and Nunes as the inside left man, had not worked very well, and Ferreira’s inclusion looked to have unrhythmed them somewhat. Were they not a little unbalanced?
The visitors had arrived at the first opportunity of the second half, although they had once again failed to trouble the Paraguayan goalkeeper. As had happened a few times during the opening half, right-back Bravo had been given plenty of space to head into, and upon arriving in the vicinity of the penalty area, he swung a cross in which Guasch failed to connect with, although Avilés’ snapped header went both wide and over.
There really is not a whole lot which the home side are able to create, though yet again it must be emphasized that they’re still in front by a goal. It is not like it is their highest priority to cause havoc, but it has been an under par performance almost throughout. The manager can hardly be pleased from his position in the dugout. He appears to have made a permanent switch in the appearance of the strikers, with Cabañas clearly working through the centre, and Neffa out in that left-sided channel position in which Cabañas had started. Not that it matters a whole lot, as the Ecuadorian centre-backs are dealing well with the hosts’ threat.
Lack of flow
Due to the amount of free-kicks which the Peruvian referee keeps dishing out, a positive flow to the game is impossible. There might be little niggles going on all around the pitch, but the game does not appear ill-tempered, and one can’t help thinking that if he had not set the bar so low from the outset, it would’ve developed differently.
One player certainly standing out, is Paraguayan defenceman Delgado. The bearded captain, who’s got tremendous physique, wins just about every challenge which he is involved in, and as a result, starlet Aguinaga has been reduced to almost a mere spectator. It is like the Ecuador forward doesn’t even wish to contemplate conjuring up anything, with the risk of running into Delgado being so obvious. They arrive at another effort, and this time they get their header on target, but Guerrero’s try from Bravo’s right wing corner is a very straightforward catch for Chilavert 12 minutes after the restart.
The game can do with some inspiration; this is all getting a bit tedious. On 58 minutes, Ré opts to withdraw Hicks and bring on Buenaventura Ferreira. The latter is the oldest outfield player in Paraguay’s squad at 29, and we know already that he’s a wide forward, just like the player whom he was replacing. Would it be a straight swap, with the second Ferreira of the afternoon coming on in the right-sided attack role? Or would we see another order of appearance among the three home strikers?
With the second half reaching its midway stage, little in terms of quality and indeed danger in front of either goalkeeper is still happening. Paraguay continue to be woefully short in presence on the ball, while the lack of creativity is quite apparent in the visitors’ play. They dominate possession so much, but they have scant fantasy in midfield, and what little has been directed at goal has come from set-pieces.
The Paraguayan substitute proved to be a straight swap, with Guaraní player Ferreira taking up his position to the right among the home side’s three forwards. However, they’re not playing particularly wide, and on the rare forward forays from the Paraguayans, all three can occasionally be seen crammed towards the centre. At this rate, how the game is going in general, the hosts risk to concede an equalizer, something which would be a major blow to their chances of finishing ahead of Colombia.
There’s a first substitution for the visitors on 67 minutes, when the massively disappointing Aguinaga is brought off for imposing striker Byron Tenório. Aguinaga had been unable to leave his print on the proceedings, and he had almost seemed frightened of Delgado, who had used his physique to great advantage in most challenges, and not only with Aguinaga, but against any player who had come into his territory. Tenório, a 23 year old of Quito club El Nacional, had played the full 90 minutes in the home draw against Colombia, whilst coming on as a substitute in their first qualifier. Would some added strength to their forward line aid them to an equalizer here in Asunción?
As soon as Tenório had made his way on, Paraguay chief Ré also decided to make a change. His second such of the afternoon meant no more game time for 17 year old Neffa, who had perhaps not excelled to the same extent as he had done against Colombia, but the starlet had nevertheless delievered a competent performance. As he trudged off, Julio César Romero was finally introduced. The 29 year old playmaker had studied events from the touchline, and was surely introduced with the idea of strengthening a weak midfield. Here was a player well capable of keeping possession and indeed delievering a telling pass.
Immediately upon Romero’s introduction, Paraguay increase their lead. They won a free-kick in the left hand channel when the latest acquisition had been tripped by Bravo, and when Nunes swung the ball into the centre, it was eventually worked out to the right corner of the penalty area, where Zabala, who had come up for the initial set-piece, was positioned. The defender in turn crossed towards the far post, where Bravo had gone AWOL from his right-back spot, and where both Ferreiras could be found. Morales could only get a couple of fingers to the cross, and while that was enough to divert the ball away from Buenaventura Ferreira, it fell kindly for Javier Ferreira, who was on hand to ram the ball into the roof of the net for 2-0. It was the 20 year old’s second goal in as many games, and this came during a pretty average performance. Not that anyone in Paraguay cared.
In the wake of that second goal
After conceding a second, Ecuador no longer looked as spirited as they had done up until that point. They realized that Javier Ferreira’s goal was the final nail in their qualification coffin. There was no way back now. They went long, both due to the fact that they needed to get a goal from somewhere quickly, and also because there was now a better chance to win aerial challenges with the Paraguayan defence, with Tenório having come on. Their new tactics were not very fruitful, though, as Delgado, in particular, continued to boss his own area.
The Paraguayans, who had not strung together lengthy sequences of possession inside the Ecuadorian half of the pitch all game, were by now beginning to see more of the ball. They had switched Romero into his favoured inside right midfield position, with Guasch returning to the centre, and Nunes now operating as their inside left man. The two Ferreiras, Buenaventura and Javier, were working right and left to Cabañas up front respectively. The former of the two got the chance to stretch his legs when a long clearance from Delgado was flicked on by Cabañas and into space for him, though a terrific recovery run by Capurro saw the Ecuadorian left-back concede a right wing corner for the hosts, as he blocked Ferreira’s attempted cross from the byline.
Dušan Drašković made his second substitution with just over a quarter of an hour left for play. It was the ineffective Rosero who was taken off, and on directly in his place came Hamilton Cuvi. The 29 year old of Filanbanco had worn the captain’s armband in their first two qualifiers, though also been substituted at some point during either second half. Now it was his opportunity to showcase what he could offer coming on. As Rosero had been their more advanced central midfielder, this was the role which Cuvi was brought on to fill, with Muñoz and Guerrero continuing in the more wide positions.
Substitutes make impact
The quality on the ball from Romero is plain to see: He has such composure, something which had been a rare commodity in the Paraguayan midfield until he arrived. Also, the balance which their midfield now had after the playmaker’s introduction was much greater than previously. Guasch offered plenty of bite in that holding role, while Nunes, too, seemed more at home in that inside left position, where he dared to hold on to the ball, no longer afraid that losing possession would spell immediate danger behind him.
Cuvi’s arrival briefly seemed to offer the visitors some renewed impetus, as he sought the ball time and again. He’s quite a technically gifted player, Cuvi, capable of maintaining possession in tight areas, though he was also well surrounded by opponents, and with Guasch rarely far away, it was difficult even for Cuvi to orchestrate attacking moves. He had arrived at a shooting opportunity on 78 minutes, but 23-24 yards out, he misfired, and the ball drifted yards wide to the left. Four minutes later, down the other end, Romero sidestepped both Cuvi and Guerrero with a simple turn on the ball, and then struck a shot from 28 yards, only to see it aimed straight at Morales, who caught it without much ado.
84 minutes into the game, Ecuador finally get the goal which their play had warranted. They had enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession, and though they had looked down and out after conceding that second goal earlier, they had never just laid down and surrendered. Cuvi received the ball to the left in the area, twisting and turning Zabala, before delievering a cross towards the back post for fellow substitute Tenório, who in turn ducked down to head the ball square on past Chilavert and into the accepting feet of Avilés. The lively striker could not miss from two yards out. Was there hope after all? They would need two more goals to still have a faint hope of World Cup qualification.
There’s drama right in the wake of the goal. As Avilés ran into the net to pick the ball up and bring it back to the centre spot, Chilavert deliberately tripped him. The goalkeeper, who had not always seemed so convincing on this display, perhaps due to a slight lack of concentration, had earlier looked to shove the Ecuador striker in the face after catching an Ecuador right wing corner, though this seemed pretty pointless. The visiting players surrounded the referee, who had the yellow card out of his pocket, though he must have changed his mind, because during a replay of the goal, Chilavert had been shown the red instead. The next thing we see is Romero taking the gloves and the goalkeeper’s jersey, with Chilavert leaving the pitch bare-chested. They had used both their substitutes already, so Roberto Fernández could not be brought on.
Final few minutes
Paraguay, to their credit, manage to keep the visitors away from their area for the rest of the tie. There is no need for replacement goalkeeper Romero to display whatever skills between the sticks he had. The only time he got to touch the ball as a ‘keeper was when it was played back to him straight after kick-off. The hosts use all their guile and experience to disrupt the game rhythm, and there’s a break in play of nearly two minutes after Cabañas has been given a whack in the back of his head from Quinteros in an aerial challenge deep inside Ecuadorian territory.
There is no final push from the visitors. They look disjointed after the break in play with Cabañas nursing that knock, and some of their players vent their frustration against the paramedics, who run on to the pitch with a stretcher for the Paraguay striker. Ultimately, he’s back on his feet. Javier Ferreira wins a left wing corner. Nunes gains a free-kick in the left sided channel. And as the clock is about to round 90 minutes, there’s another set-piece for the hosts, this time 28 yards out, leaving Nunes with a chance to have a pop at goal. Before he can get that far, Guerrero earns a yellow card for racing out of the defensive wall and into the direction of the shooter, before Nunes has even struck the ball.
On 92,23, time is eventually up, and the Peruvian referee signals his whistle one last time. The Paraguayan players can celebrate their two points, which now takes them to the table summit. They face trips to both Colombia and then Ecuador, and either a draw in the first of those or a win in Ecuador will suffice to see them through to a second successive World Cup. Ecuador are down and out.
It is the visitors who look the stronger initially, accepting plenty of possession, and pinning the hosts on the back foot. Ecuador show plenty of promise, although they can not quite unlock the host defence, which stands tall, leaving goalkeeper Chilavert with little to do. Paraguay, who had looked convincing in their defeat of Colombia, are second best for most of the first half, yet they enter the dressing room at half-time a goal to the good. They score through a superb Cabañas header.
In the second half, there’s more territorial dominance from the Ecuadorians, but yet again they fail to put the home ‘keeper to the test. When the hosts introduce star player Romero around the halfway stage in the second period, they notch their goal number two right after. Youngster Javier Ferreira is on hand to tuck it into the back of the net with his left foot, after a cross from Zabala which Morales had failed to get to.
Ecuador never truly surrender, despite the fact that they’re more or less down and out, at least as far as passage through to the World Cup goes. They have a goal back six minutes from time, when Avilés prods it over the line following a headed assist from substitute Tenório, their first goal of the qualification. The goalscorer is subsequently unnecessarily tripped by Chilavert, who is sent off, leaving Romero to take over in goal for the final few minutes. The visitors can’t make their extra man count, though, and Paraguay see time out to earn their precious win.
1 Chilavert 6.6
seemed to suffer from a lack of concentration which saw Ecuador gain two corners. Commanded his area, though generally did not have so much to do. Very needlessly got himself sent off late on
2 Cáceres 6.9
defended when he had to, and would often carry the ball across the halfway line. Rarely advanced far inside the opposition’s half. Reliable at the back, where he would face Guerrero or Capurro
3 Zabala 7.1
gave a fine display of defensive solidity and assuredness. Strong in the air, which is why he was thrust forward for attacking set-pieces, and took out necessary depth behind Delgado
4 Torales 7.0
drew on his experience a couple of times, and looked composed for most of the game. Offered limited services attack wise, but only challenged for speed down his flank by Avilés
5 Delgado 7.7
such a colossus at the heart of the defence, and only grew stronger the longer the game went. Brushed aside anyone who attempted to challenge him, and though his dominance in the air was total, he also tidied up so well along the ground
6 Nunes 6.8
had battled very well last time out, but was much less prominent on this occasion. Would use his sweet left foot to pin set-pieces into the area, but in open play could not quite stamp his authority on the game from the deep midfield role
7 Hicks 6.3
largely anonymous along his flank. Enjoyed little success against Capurro, and it made sense to take him off early in the second half
(15 B Ferreira 6.7
seemed to keep width very well, and also threatened on the counter with his pace. Close to getting on the end of Zabala’s cross when his namesake netted their second)
8 Guasch 6.8
more of an inside right job this time around, which may not have suited him as well as last time in the deep role. Passing not always accurate, but put in a couple of big challenges. Adapted back into the deep role when Romero entered the pitch
9 Cabañas 7.3
brought some steel to the forward line with his presence, and proved his worth when he rammed home that delightful header for 1-0. Big tussles with Quinteros all afternoon
10 J Ferreira 6.8
quite technical, always favoured his left foot, but did seem to struggle in his positioning: Very attack-minded, which brought a level of unbalance to midfield. Vitally scored for the second game running
11 Neffa 6.8
worked a tremendous cross to assist Cabañas for 1-0, and would put himself about, but did not show a whole lot of quality in possession. Found it difficult against solid defenders, but at least proved flexible in his positioning, as he worked both through the centre and more towards the left. Ultimately replaced to level up their midfield
(14 Romero –
quickly showed his quality with some delicate touches and passes, and had indeed looked to steady an ailing midfield, coming into that inside right role. Would ultimately see the game out in goal, with Chilavert sent off, but never got tested)
1 Morales 6.7
alert to a couple of first half threats, whilst stood little chance to keep Cabañas’ header out. Second half disappointingly flapped for the second goal
3 Quiñónez 6.9
captain on the day. Agile defender, whose long limbs would often see him arrive first to the ball in challenges. Not so erratic this time around, and generally comfortable in possession, even if his advances into enemy territory remained few on this occasion
5 Fajardo 6.9
operated very deep at times, deeper than previously against Colombia, but once again displayed his quality. An asset on the ball with his vision and range of passing, and capable of breaking up the opposition’s play. Would disappear more towards the end
6 Capurro 7.0
few difficulties against Hicks, who rarely challenged wide. Again looked very composed in his forward advances, although he failed to get on target with either of his two shots from distance. Displayed his pace when storming back to prevent Buenaventura Ferreira from getting a cross in
8 Aguinaga 6.2
showed a few nice touches during the first half, but would soon disappear into the back pocket of Delgado, from whom he enjoyed no success at all. Disjointed by the time he was substituted
(9 Tenório –
until his arrival, Ecuador had looked lightweight up top. He worked himself into a couple of good positions, and assisted for the goal. Wisely elected to seek away from Delgado)
11 Guerrero 6.8
plenty of running along his left hand side, which he generally kept well and thus providing an outlet for his team mates. Rarely decisive when looking for a telling pass inside the final third
14 Avilés 6.9
displayed more of what he’d shown so far in the qualification, which had been plenty of endeavour and running down the channels. Very quick, took on opponents for pace, but had little end product. Could not miss when sidefooting home his late goal
16 Rosero 6.5
for a third qualifier on the trot, he was largely invisible. He was in possession inside the final third a few times, and would typically look to interact with Aguinaga. Rarely successfully. Understandably replaced for tactical reasons
(10 Cuvi –
came on and added some ability in that advanced central midfield position through little touches and runs off the ball. Swung in the cross for the late consolation goal)
17 Muñoz 6.9
brought into the side as the right-sided midfield option, and would often look to tuck in, thus providing an extra man through the centre. Good engine, quite clever, and some decent passes. Little pace, which made it seem a wise decision for him to pull inside
18 Quinteros 7.0
he needed to battle it out with Cabañas for much of the game, and it was always a difficult task. Could not cope with the striker for his goal, but other than that looked fairly competent, especially with the ball on the deck
21 Bravo 6.6
displayed his attacking credentials from the right, though his crossing was not always spot on. Defensively conceded a couple of crosses, and did not always look totally secure