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Saturday, 15 June, 2002, 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK
End of Paraguay's era
Chilavert and Gamarra leave the field
Chilavert and Gamarra leave the field
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Oliver Neuville's late winner did more than bring a cruel end to Paraguay's campaign. It also closed the book on what has been a wonderful era for Paraguayan football.

Ten of Cesare Maldini's squad are over 30 years of age (only Belgium have more) and almost all of the veterans are key players who will now be bowing out of international football.

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Their tragedy is that the World Cup was not held 18 months ago - for a while they could claim to be the best side in South America
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The bulk of them have been together for just over a decade, ever since the South American Olympic qualifiers at the start of 1992.

Boosted by home advantage, Paraguay made it through to the Olympics, giving valuable big tournament experience to the generation which has subsequently done so much to put Paraguay on the map at senior level.

For the first time ever, Paraguay qualified for consecutive World Cups.

Four years ago in France they showed their spirit and defensive solidity. This time round they had more firepower, but also paid the price for carrying so many ageing limbs.

Their tragedy is that the World Cup was not held 18 months ago. For a while they could claim to be the best side in South America.

Roberto Acuna
Paraguay will have to rebuild without Acuna

They beat Brazil at home, beat Uruguay and Colombia away and even outplayed Argentina in a 1-1 draw in Buenos Aires.

Their formidable defensive unit was still in place, and the rise of Roque Santa Cruz had given them a much needed cutting edge.

They were seldom pretty to watch, but they did the simple things well, kept calm under pressure, and had the capacity to snatch goals from nowhere. They looked set to cause a World Cup sensation.

But by the time the tournament came round, the passage of time had eroded their chances. Collectively they had passed their peak.

It was clear in the second halves against South Africa and Spain, in the mistakes of Jose Luis Chilavert, in the fact that Francisco Arce could hardly hit a ball right in the last two games, in the fact that Celso Ayala was unable to keep up with Neuville at the vital moment.

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At least Paraguay come back from Asia having revealed two young players who should have important roles to play for many years to come
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Paraguay will now have to move on without these players - and others too, such as the incomparable Carlos Gamarra, Roberto Acuna "the bull" and so on. Intensive rebuilding work will have to be done.

The short-term future for the Paraguayan national team is bleak. But at least Paraguay come back from Asia having revealed two young players who should have important roles to play for many years to come.

Pitched into the deep end, 22-year-old Julio Cesar Caceres looked every inch an international defender. He will now have the responsibility of replacing Gamarra thrust onto his shoulders.

And then, of course, there is flying little winger Nelson Cuevas, who, three years after his Paraguay debut, chose exactly the right moment to score his first international goals.

Against Germany, Paraguay were preparing to unleash "Cuevitas" in extra time. The big regret now is that they did not bring him on with 15 minutes to go.

But that is now part of the past. The task of Cuevas, Caceres and company now is to see if they are capable of shrugging off the loss of the older generation.

It will not be easy, but if they can do it they will make history by taking Paraguay to a third consecutive World Cup.


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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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