Friday, 2 July 2010

Made in Paraguay...... Finished in Argentina

Looking at the nations who have made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup leaves us in no doubt that to-date this has been South America’s tournament. Amongst the inevitable delights that four weeks football brings high on the list has to be the backtracking and squirming of professional pundits and analysts on their pre-tournament predictions. Whilst not wanting to engage in schadenfreude and appreciating that for all the statistics, form guides and technology that surrounds football the game is still perilously difficult to predict. Switzerland’s win against Spain, Italy’s dismal performances and England’s failure to top their relatively weak group all bear testament. However a fairly consistent argument trotted out prior to the tournament was that this being a winter World Cup the conditions would inevitably favour European sides. Teams were dismissed with an air of colonial like contempt on the basis that they hail from warmer climes; completely disregarding the fact that the vast majority of South American footballers play in Europe. Brazil and Argentina aside South America’s other representatives were relegated to mere supporting roles before the group stages.

Paraguay’s historic march to the last eight has surprised many, not least in the UK; for the English media the country's contributions to football can be condensed into the 3-0 reverse to England in Mexico 1986 and Roque Santa Cruz. The current squad demonstrate that Paraguayan talent is well represented in the world's toughest leagues including Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga. The country's proximity to Argentina has seen many players pursue their careers further down the Parana River. The most revered of these is undoubtedly Arsenio Erico (1915 -1977) - Argentina's all time record goalscorer bagged 293 goals in 332 games for Independiente of Avellaneda, he shares this acolade with Angel Labruna of River Plate who achieved the same total but in 515 games. Born in Asunción he secured his passage to the Red Devils after being spotted playing in a Red Cross team which toured Argentina to raise funds for victims of the Chaco war between Paraguay and Bolivia. The little known conflict which killed over 100,000 in three years demonstrates that Europe doesn't have the monopoly on mechanized industrial scale slaughter. Erico joined Independiente in 1934 and formed an attacking trio with Vicente de la Mata and Antonio Sastre. Famed for his heading ability and capacity to outjump goalkeepers he netted the first of his goals against Chacarita Juniors, scored a record 6 against Quilmes in 1936 and was leading marksman in three seasons between 1937 - 1939. Along with la Mata and Sastre they secured championships in 1938 and 1939 and scored 556 goals between them. As with all great players fans attended games specifically to see Erico and no less than Alfredo di Stefano cites him as a major influence in his formative years. It's impossible to gauge the strength of the Argentine league at this time in comparison to Europe and perhaps futile to do so. What is apparent is that the years following the advent of open professionalism were amongst the most exciting and successful with the majority of legendary players remaining in Argentina including but not limited to River Plate's famed 'La Maquina'.

Arsenio Erico was asked to play for Argentina at the 1938 World Cup an offer he turned down. On the eve of Paraguay's quarter final against Spain and things seem to have come full circle. Another prolific goalscorer Argentine born Lucas Barrios will be representing Paraguay by virtue of his mother. Perhaps it's time for the commentators to acknowledge that Paraguay has a football history and not merely a football past.