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Paraguay have a big problem without Cabanas

Published:Saturday | April 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM
A fan of the Mexican team America signs a poster of Salvador Cabanas supporting him outside of the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on Tuesday, January 26, while the player was in critical condition in hospital after being shot at a Mexico City bar. - File

ASUNSION, Paraguay (AP):

With a bullet still lodged in the head of Paraguay's top player, the South American country will head to the World Cup in South Africa with a problem like no other team.

Salvador Cabanas was the victim of a brutal shooting in January in a Mexico City bar. For several days, the Club America striker hovered between life and death, but he defied the odds and survived. Still, his football future is in doubt as doctors opted to leave the bullet fragment where it is.

"We hoped for a miracle with Cabanas," Paraguay Football Association president Juan Angel Napout said. "First, that he survived and after - if this is possible - that he returns to the field as a player or coach."

Paraguay's modest attack will be in trouble without Cabanas. The team's other top forward, Manchester City striker Roque Santa Cruz, is also in doubt. He missed all of Paraguay's key 2009 World Cup qualifying matches with recurring knee problems.

It was Cabanas and Santa Cruz who scored in Paraguay's 2-0 victory over Brazil in a World Cup qualifier in June 2008.

Clearly, Paraguay have high hopes going into their fourth straight World Cup. The South Americans reached the second round in 1998 and 2002, but were knocked out in the group stage four years ago in Germany.

Working harder

In one of his last statements after Paraguay secured their spot in South Africa, Cabanas said: "We can even reach the final. It's a question of working harder because this group has the technical ability."

Paraguay are drawn to play defending champions Italy, Slovakia and New Zealand in Group F.

If Cabanas and Santa Cruz can't play, the starters up front are likely to be Oscar Cardozo, who plays with Portuguese club Benfica, and Nelson Haedo Valdez of Borussia Dortmund.

Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino has constructed a solid defence, which allowed the team to qualify third in South America behind Brazil and Chile, and ahead of Argentina and Uruguay.

But producing goals will be the problem. Even with Cabanas, the South Americans scored only 24 goals in qualifying, far behind Brazil's 33 and Chile's 32.