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Paraguay must wake its sleeping panther

— Photo: AFP

Come Saturday and Paraguayan midfielder Jonathan Santana (right) will be hoping that ‘La Pantera' Lucas Barrios drops the smiles and reveals his fangs against Spain.

Johannesburg: Paraguay's hopes of reaching the last four of the World Cup may rest on “panther” Lucas Barrios.

Barrios has not found the net in regular play till now, but the South Americans badly need his strike power. Paraguay has managed just three goals so far, with neither Barrios, his Borussia Dortmund teammate Nelson Valdez nor Manchester city striker Roque Santa Cruz scoring.

The Dortmund duo, however, slotted home their penalties in the shootout victory over Japan.

Missing Cabanas

Paraguay has been missing Salvador Cabanas, its leading scorer during the qualifiers, who was shot in the head by a drug dealer in a Mexican bar in January. His teammates are dedicating every match to the 29-year-old striker who is continuing his recuperation.

Paraguay was able to compensate for the unfortunate loss of Cabanas by the granting Paraguayan citizenship to Argentina-born Barrios.

Known as “La Pantera” (The Panther), 26-year-old Barrios has an unerring eye for the net and was the Bundesliga's third top scorer last season with 19 goals in 33 games.

Before joining Dortmund he had made a name for himself in Chile, with Deportes Temuco, Cobreloa and Colo Colo where he was top scorer in 2008 in both the Clausura and Apertura championships, scoring 37 goals and equalling a Colo Colo record held by Luis Hernan Alvarez that had stood since 1963.

But so far Barrios has drawn blanks in South Africa, with Paraguay unable to find the net in its last two games.

Coach defends strikers

Coach Gerardo Martino has defended his strikers, saying the negative approach of Paraguay's opponents has made it difficult.

“One mustn't be too hard on our strikers. If they aren't scoring well, maybe it's because the balls aren't arriving fast enough to them,” he said.

“To score goals, you need to receive the ball in advantageous positions. I wouldn't like to be unfair to the strikers.

“Against Spain, we should have more space, because they play to win. In three of our games so far, we've had to take the game to our opponents.”

“Despite not managing to score in these games, I think you help the team by sacrificing yourself, trying to help recover the ball,” said Barrios.

“A striker sometimes goes through negative or positive phases. At the moment I am not scoring but I know how to handle the situation.”

And strike partner Valdez promised Paraguay would be giving everything against Spain to make the last four.

“If nothing else, we'll cause them a headache and make them tired for the semifinals,” he said. — DPA

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