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Last Updated: Monday, 12 June 2006, 06:22 GMT 07:22 UK
South American World Cup view
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Villar (left) had a nightmare World Cup debut
Villar (left) is helped off the pitch after only eight minutes against England

Paraguay keeper Justo Villar has waited patiently for his chance.

Four years ago he was third choice. Since then he had established himself as first choice - but then, when his World Cup debut finally arrived, he conceded an own goal and hobbled off injured in the eighth minute against England.

Perhaps Villar, who has been ruled out of the rest of the finals, can take heart from the story of two South American defenders who have already shown that World Cup heartbreak can be mended four years later.

Ecuador's Giovanny Espinoza was a fixture in the side as his country finally qualified for their first World Cup in 2002.

But come the hour, Espinoza was on the bench. It was thought the limitations of the gangling centre-back would be exposed at the highest level.

At the time it was probably a fair judgement.

But since then Espinoza has worked on his game and, if he is never likely to be selected for a world XI, has become a thoroughly competent international defender.

Ecuador's Giovanny Espinoza (right) in action against Poland
Espinoza (right) has improved significantly since 2002

He was the only player in South America to appear throughout the 18 rounds of the marathon qualification campaign.

And when Ecuador made it through again, this time there were no thoughts of leaving Espinoza on the bench.

The game against Poland showed why. It took the Poles until the 83rd minute to muster a shot on goal. They had expected to dominate Ecuador in the air. Espinoza made sure it did not happen.

And on the ground he produced an excellent saving tackle on Radoslaw Sobolewski, which prevented a likely equalizer.

Last Friday night is one that Espinoza should treasure forever.

Meanwhile, Argentina centre-back Roberto Ayala has good reason to look back on Saturday night with pleasure.

In 2002, Ayala got even closer to the pitch than Espinoza.

He was an automatic selection for his country but when he went out for the warm-up before the opening game against Nigeria he promptly injured himself and was unable to take part in the tournament.

In the last two years he has had more injury problems and has even had the Argentina captaincy taken away from him.

Argentina centre-back Roberto Ayala
Ayala was outstanding as Argentina won their opener

But Saturday's stirring game against Ivory Coast showed exactly how much he was missed in 2002 - and how important he remains to the current side.

Against skilful and awesomely strong opponents, Argentina, at times, looked on the verge of being overrun.

The quality of Ayala's defending kept Argentina in the game, bought them time to get their passing going, helped them go two goals up and then threaten a third early in the second half.

It was a cushion they needed. Argentina's recent record at holding on to a lead is awful. Coach Jose Pekerman was surely too quick to take off his strikers and invite the Africans forward.

Ayala could not do it all on his own but he did enough for Argentina to hold on and claim the points - and he did enough to give Villar a ray of hope.

If Germany 2006 did not turn out to be the tournament Paraguay's keeper was dreaming about, perhaps South Africa 2010 will be a different story.

Search for more Vickery columns
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