FIFA RANK: 30
Paraguay, welcome to the pressure cooker. Hope you enjoy your stay in South Africa while the weight of lofty expectations bare down on your shoulders. OK, now I'll admit, that's a little dramatic, but I firmly believe this may be Paraguay's best shot in its soccer history to make a deep run in the World Cup.
This is the fourth consecutive trip to the World Cup for "La Albirroja" (The White and Red) and they are no longer considered just a feel good story of South American soccer.
In '98, Paraguay lost a heartbreaker in the knockout stage against eventual champion France. In '02, finalist Germany knocked La Albirroja out with a last minute goal and four years ago, an inexperienced and young national team failed to make it out of the group stage.
This time around, Paraguay has no excuses. La Albirroja finish third in South American qualifying, ahead of powerhouse Argentina. They also dominated Brazil at home and lost a close match to the Samba Boys on the road. Its almost equal to Texas Tech beating UT and OU in the same season, just not going to happen. Sorry Red Raider fans, but it's the truth.
Leading La Albirroja's hopes this summer is striker Roque Santa Cruz (Probably one of the coolest sport names ever right next to Pops Mensah-Bonsu!) and goalie Justo Villar. Santa Cruz plays for Manchester City and is finally in form after a recent string of injuries. Villar has become one of the top goalies in Spain for Villadolid. Unfortunatelty, the player local soccer fans might recognize most will not play. Salvador Cabanas, striker for Club America in Mexico, is recovering from a gun shot wound to the head! The fact he's even kicking around a soccer ball right now is a miracle.
Still, the hopes remain high for Paraguay. They were placed in what's considered the easiest group in the cup, and its time for them to step up and take on that pressure or get out of the kitchen.
June 14 vs. Italy - 1:30 p.m. CT (Two best teams in group meet in first match)
June 20 vs. Slovakia - 6:30 a.m. CT (Tricky matchup, but Paraguay should win)
June 24 vs. New Zealand - 9 a.m. CT (Might need points here, can't ask for better matchup)
NEXT ON THE PITCH: IVORY COAST