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Saturday, 1 June, 2002, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Maldini's date with destiny
Maldini issues instructions during a warm-up game last week
Maldini issues instructions during a warm-up game last week

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The waiting is coming to an end for Cesare Maldini, who will take his Paraguay side into a competitive match for the first time when they meet South Africa on Sunday.

All the controversy about his appointment and the off-field political pressures will be forgotten for 90 minutes - ready to flare up once more if things go wrong on the field.

Open Quote
Ayala said Maldini doesn't know 70% of the team - Maldini had to agree
Close Quote

It has not been an easy few months for the veteran Italian, who, if nothing else has at least shown an adventurous spirit in agreeing to take charge of the Paraguayan challenge.

His lack of knowledge of the Paraguayan game was always likely to cause teething troubles.

Last month stalwart defender Celso Ayala complained that Maldini "doesn't know 70% of the Paraguayan players". Maldini was forced to agree.

Now, though, the percentage should be lower. The veteran Italian has finally had some time to work with his squad, who now have a clearer idea of what he requires from them.

Midfielder Roberto Acuna explained that "Maldini wants us to defend deep and strike with speed on the break".

The plan, then, is to follow the patient counter-attacking model so identified with Maldini┐s native country.

But the South Africa game raises an important question of degree. Just how patient are Paraguay prepared to be?

Their next opponents are Spain, who are spoiling for revenge. A 0-0 draw between the two teams ended up knocking Raul and company out of France 98.

There is no way that Spain will underestimate Paraguay this time.

So Maldini┐s men will not want to go into the match against Spain carrying an obligation to win.

They will want to get their three points in the bag against South Africa, giving them the option of losing against Spain and still being able to make it into the second round by beating Slovenia.

Maldini has a selection dilemna on the left side of his midfield - and how it is resolved should shed some light on his intentions against South Africa.

Jorge Campos is a flying left winger. Extreme pace makes "Campitos" well suited to the counter attacking game.

His selection would be an indication that Maldini is stressing patience, that he wants to draw the South Africans forward and hit them on the break.

Guido Alvarenga is a very different type of player. "The Wizard" is physically lightweight, but has a wonderfully subtle left foot which could serve as an important supply line for strikers Cardoso and Santa Cruz.

His selection might indicate that Maldini is keener to take the initiative, to bring his team further up the field and have the majority of the possession.

It may not be an easy decision, but it is exactly for his experience in such matters that Paraguay placed Maldini in charge of their World Cup campaign.


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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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