Paraguay Copa America 2024 squad guide: Frailty up front. And in defence. And injury trouble in the middle.

Having given Diego Gomez as long as possible to get fully fit, Paraguay will have to make do without Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami teammate. Without him, they look a little light on outstanding talent. They might need their Premier League pros to be at the top of their game to have any hope of progressing…


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The manager

Argentine coach Daniel Garnero only moved to Paraguay in 2015, but you would never know it. His touchline persona — a kind of performance art project exploring themes of anger and perceived injustice — chimes perfectly with the traditional values of the Paraguayan game. A national team that has always prioritised attrition over aesthetics now has an appropriate ringleader.

Garnero got the job on the back of his work in the Paraguayan domestic game. His record of eight league titles with three different teams is impossible to quibble with, even when you take into account the fact that those were all 18-match, half-season competitions. He was the logical choice to replace another Argentine, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who was sacked last year.

Yet despite his success at club level, Garnero is not a hugely popular figure. He can be temperamental with journalists and has an arrogance that is not to everyone’s taste. While he has calmed down a touch since taking the Paraguay job, he still spends matches berating the referee, backed up by his entire backroom staff.


Daniel Garnero playing it cool on the touchline (Christian Alvarenga/Getty Images)

In tactical terms, Garnero favours a 4-3-3 system and is more progressive than his image would suggest. He has spoken about the need for Paraguay to be more brave in the final third, even if it means sacrificing some of the doggedness that has made the team so hard to play against over the years.

“I think defensive solidity is essential for any team, but from my perspective, you have to think about attacking the opponent,” Garnero said earlier this year.

“Previous teams didn’t have players with the ability to turn a game with individual brilliance, players with blistering pace who do really well in one-on-one situations. Those kinds of tools have to be added to the equation.”

That is an admirable stance. Results, however, have not yet backed him up: Paraguay have scored just once in the four competitive games since he took over and were comprehensively beaten by Chile in their first Copa America warm-up match. Little wonder, then, that there is already a feeling of pressure mounting.

The household name you haven’t heard of yet

Premier League stars Miguel Almiron and Julio Enciso are two of the players charged with injecting a little more pizzazz into the Paraguay attack. Perhaps the most exciting, however, is Ramon Sosa, an electrifying winger who can play on either flank.

Sosa, 24, was a relatively late developer but has been in excellent form for Talleres in the Argentine top flight. Quick, direct and brave, he is also a step-over demon, forever luring defenders into challenges they can’t complete. It’s unrealistic to expect Paraguay to morph into great entertainers overnight, but Sosa should provide a little eye candy.

Strengths

They may be without Diego Gomez, who has shone alongside Lionel Messi at Inter Miami but was unable to shake off an ankle injury quickly enough for this tournament, but Paraguay still have decent options in midfield. There is Mathias Villasanti, a rangy ball-winner who has in superb form for Brazilian club Gremio over the last year.

Andres Cubas, too, is worth keeping an eye on: he looks like schoolboy but does a lot of the dirty work, snapping away at opponents’ ankles like the best Paraguayan hatchet men of yore.

These two complement each other well and will be key to La Albirroja’s hopes this summer.

Weaknesses

Paraguay cannot seem to find a reliable goalscorer up front. Antonio Sanabria, the great hope for a number of years, was never able to reproduce his club form at international level and has been left out of the squad. There was some public backing for Cecilio Dominguez, top scorer in the domestic league this year, but he didn’t make the cut either.

The incumbent seems to be Adam Bareiro of San Lorenzo, but he has yet to find the net in red and white. There are other options — Brighton’s Julio Enciso as a false nine, the once-capped Alex Arce and Derlis Gonzalez, back after an 18-month absence — but none is bullet-proof.

At the other end of the pitch, too, there are concerns. Paraguay’s defence has historically been an area of strength, but recent displays have been shaky and there is a feeling that even Gustavo Gomez — the captain and a star at Palmeiras in Brazil — is not quite the force he was a couple of years ago.

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Thing you didn’t know

Paraguay’s striker problem is so acute that Oscar Cardozo got a brief run-out for La Albirroja last November, six months after turning 40. Cardozo, who spent seven seasons clobbering goals in for Portuguese giants Benfica in his pomp, has been playing back in his homeland since 2017 and there is little sign that he is planning to quit any time soon: he scored 27 times in all competitions last year.


Paraguay’s Oscar Cardozo (Norberto Duarte/AFP/Getty Images)

Admittedly, Cardozo is no longer able to start every match, but when he needs a rest, Libertad have another surprise up their sleeve in the form of — yes! — ex-Manchester City and Bayern Munich forward Roque Santa Cruz, somehow still going at 42. Now that’s what you call an experienced frontline.

Expectations back home

The longer-term outlook for Paraguay is more positive than it has been for a while: they won the under-23 South American Pre-Olympic Tournament earlier this year and have some handy players coming through. Nonetheless, the sense is that this Copa America could be a gruelling one.

For all Garnero’s ambition, performances have been mediocre and there has been scant indication that he can unlock the potential of Enciso and Newcastle winger Almiron, both of whom have flattered to deceive at this level despite their proven Premier League quality. Throw in the worrying lack of goals and you can understand why pessimism is the name of the game in Paraguay this summer.

Paraguay’s Copa America squad

Goalkeepers: Carlos Coronel (New York Red Bulls), Alfredo Aguilar (Sportivo Luqueno), Rodrigo Morinigo (Libertad)

Defenders: Gustavo Gomez (Palmeiras), Junior Alonso (Krasnodar), Fabian Balbuena (Dynamo Moscow), Omar Alderete (Getafe), Ivan Ramirez (Libertad), Matias Espinoza (Libertad), Nestor Gimenez (Libertad), Gustavo Velazquez (Newell’s Old Boys)

Midfielders: Miguel Almiron (Newcastle United), Mathias Villasanti (Gremio), Richard Sanchez (America), Alejandro Romero Gamarra (Al Ain), Andres Cubas (Vancouver Whitecaps), Matias Rojas (Inter Miami), Hernesto Caballero (Libertad), Damian Bobadilla (Sao Paulo), Fabrizio Peralta (Cerro Porteno)

Forwards: Derlis Gonzalez (Olimpia), Angel Romero (Corinthians), Julio Enciso (Brighton & Hove Albion), Ramon Sosa (Talleres), Adam Bareiro (San Lorenzo), Alex Arce (LDU Quito)

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(Top image: Nelson Almeida, Fran Santiago via Getty Images; design by John Bradford)

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