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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Time for the hard decisions
Youri Djorkaeff and Julio Cesar Enciso tangle at France 98
Julio Cesar Enciso (right) in action at France 98
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Paraguay's controversial coach Cesare Maldini is adamant that he picks the side, and that there is no inteference from either Jose Luis Chilavert or the Paraguayan FA.

Now he has a chance to prove it.

Midfield is the weakest part of his team. Linking defence with attack has been even harder this year as injuries have so far deprived Maldini of Roberto Acuna and Guido Alvarenga.

Paraguay have little strength in depth.

They can hardly afford to waste a good player, which makes the absence of Julio Cesar Enciso difficult to justify.

There is nothing flashy about Enciso's game, but he is extremely useful.

The 27-year-old midfielder is the type of player who knits a team together.

Jose Luis Chilavert
Chilavert is a dominant character
He wins the ball unobtrusively with sound positioning and sharp tackling, and uses it intelligently with swift and accurate passing.

"We need Enciso," says veteran defender Carlos Gamarra.

But Chilavert and some in the Paraguayan FA are not so sure.

Enciso blotted his copybook when he declared himself unavailable for last August's qualifier away to Brazil.

Crucial to Brazil's chances, it was a strange match all round, featuring an illegal change of venue and some eccentric refereeing.

Enciso had a long spell in Brazilain football with the Internacional club.

He has a Brazilian agent, Gilmar Veloz, who is a close friend of the rival coach.

According to Chilavert, Veloz phoned Paraguay's then-coach Sergio Markarian to tell him that Enciso had legal problems in Brazil, and would therefore have to miss the match.

When it was then revealed that no legal problems existed, Enciso had made some powerful enemies in the Paraguayan camp.

He has not played for his country since.

But leaving him out last year could be justified on purely footballing grounds.

He spent some time without a club, and the lack of activity took its toll.

Cesare Maldini
Maldini has been drafted in at great expense
Now it is a different story. He has played his way back to form and fitness with Olimpia, one of Paraguay's big two clubs.

And he has been a key part of Olimpia's run in the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League.

The press and public want him back in the national team and the pro-Enciso campaign was strengthened when Paraguay lost 4-0 to England.

Maldini has tried to fill the hole in midfield by promoting Carlos Bonnet, but admits that the player lacks experience.

With 60 caps and a World Cup behind him, Enciso has experience in spades.

Paraguay's coach has reached a telling moment. If Maldini recalls Enciso he risks irritating some powerful figures.

But if he keeps Enciso out it will appear that he is not making the decisions and he would then have the Paraguayan public questioning why so much money is being paid to a puppet.

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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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