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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Gamarra gets back to his best
Carlos Gamarra of Paraguay
Gamarra has been a rock at the back for Paraguay
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Paraguay's 1-1 draw with Nigeria in March contained one outstanding piece of news: the return to form of Carlos Gamarra.

The AEK Athens centre-back is now in his third spell in Europe, each time in a different country.

Even so, his reputation remains far higher in South America where, in addition to his native land, he played briefly in Argentina, and with great success in Brazil.

Open Quote
I have a lot of power and good positional sense - I know more or less where the ball is going to go
Close Quote
Carlos Gamarra

In Europe, club selection has been his problem.

He first went to Benfica, and then to Atletico Madrid, at the very moment when both clubs' financial problems and political turbulence gave him little chance to shine.

And the Greek league is perhaps not the best stage for his talents.

If only he could chose his clubs with the precision he shows in timing his tackles.

Gamarra belongs to a rare breed; a defender so good he has ittle need for fouling.

Four years ago his wonderful displays in Paraguay's backs-to-the-wall World Cup campaign were not blighted by a single foul.

On his return to club football in Brazil he left the referee untroubled for another four games.

In all, he went a total of 870 minutes without infringing the laws.

Not that he is a soft touch. Gamarra is as hard as nails and can tackle with shuddering force.

He is an experienced professional with his method of marking well worked out.

Gamarra has been capped over 70 times by Paraguay
Gamarra has been capped over 70 times.

"I think I have a lot of power and good positional sense," he says.

"I know more or less where the ball is going to go.

"I'm happy to go one-on-one with a striker.

"I let him decide what he wants to do, generally by offering him to go to my right, my best side, where it's difficult for him to get away from me."

Gamarra is on the small side for a centre-back. "But size isn't everything," he says.

"Timing is more important. There are things you pick up with experience, such as jumping before the striker and hanging in the air.

"The big, strong forwards are easier to control. They move less, waiting for the cross.

"More difficult are the little, quick guys who move well and fall over at the slightest contact."

Now Paraguayans hope that Gamarra will give another centre-back masterclass in the World Cup.

Open Quote
Within two or three years, 10 or 12 of our players will be leaving the game - we lack depth in a number of positions
Close Quote
Carlos Gamarra

Some feel that, at 31, he has fallen off his perch of late.

He has been prone to injuries over the past two years and an unfamiliar vulnerability crept into his performances at the end of the qualifiying campaign.

But against Nigeria, he was back to his best, and even scored the goal that put Paraguay into the lead.

He makes it clear that the stakes are high in this World Cup.

"Today, our team is much better than in France 98," he says.

But the long-term view is not so rosy: "I'm pessimistic. Within two or three years, 10 or 12 of our players will be leaving the game.

"Jose Luis Chilavert, myself, Francisco Arce, Celso Ayala, Jose Cardozo, Struway, Benitez and Alvarenga are all around 30 or over, and without ready replacements.

"We lack depth in a number of positions."

Gamarra has hinted that he might retire from international football after the World Cup.

And in his own quiet way, he would love to go out on a high note.

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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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