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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Maldini's daunting task
Former Italy coach Cesare Maldini
Maldini would be a strange choice as Paraguay coach
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Making it through to the 2002 World Cup was an historic moment for Paraguayan football.

It was the first time that they had ever qualified for two consecutive World Cups.

As a reward, coach SÚrgio Markarian was given the sack.

A feisty Uruguayan, he had made some enemies in the Paraguayan Football Association.

They were looking for an excuse to get rid of him, and found one when the team concluded their campaign with a 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Colombia.

The players were not consulted and were not pleased. After all, it was Markarian who had begun Paraguay's current boom when he qualified their under-23 side for the 1992 Olympics.

Former Paraguay coach SÚrgio Markarian
SÚrgio Markarian was sacked after defeat to Colombia

And many of the players from that side are now the senior professionals of today's team.

Their loyalty to Markarian was considerable, and they were less than impressed by the FA's initial efforts to replace him.

The choice of Maldini initially seemed bizarre. He was a dreadful coach of the Italian national team and is now 70.

In qualification for France 98, he seemed unable to grasp the fact that three points were awarded for a win.

After beating England at Wembley, his attempts to play safe were so foolish that Italy nearly failed to make it.

And, in the World Cup, he made pitiful use of abundant resources.

Four years on, the players at his disposal will be far less accomplished.

Paraguay's strength in depth is restricted and the experienced core of the team are key to their hopes at the World Cup.

The suspicion remains that if the star names are unimpressed with their new boss they will effectively coach themselves.

They have the perfect tool to do so in the guarani language. The Indian tongue is spoken all over Paraguay and by the majority of the squad.

Maldini hardly speaks Spanish and certainly does not speak guarani.

Paraguay's players do and they could use it to shoot arrows into the pretensions of their coach at any time.

But a potentially volatile relationship could prove harmonious if they are keen to adopt and adapt to Maldini's prefered style of play of three at the back.

The South Americans played 4-4-2 under Makarian but performed wonders at France 98 with three centre-backs.

The Italian's defensive approach could lay the foundations for another successful tournament as long as his man-management skills are also up to scratch.

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GROUP B
  P GD PTS
SPAIN 3 +5 9
PARAGUAY 3 0 4
SOUTH AFRICA 3 0 4
SLOVENIA 3 -5 0

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