Paraguay football (also known as soccer to Americans) is a national pastime and source of pride for every local! Soccer culture in Paraguay is pervasive, and during your travels in Paraguay, you’ll see many signs of local pride in Paraguay’s great national team.
Paraguay’s national team is controlled by Asociación Paraguaya de Fútbol, and boasts a proud record of competing for the World Cup in the second round of the tournament three times. They have won the Copa America tournament twice, and they hold a silver medal from the 2004 Olympic Games. Paraguay also holds the distinction of being rated as one of the top three teams in South America since 1998, as judged by the South American Football Confederation.
Paraguay’s soccer culture has 100 years of history. The first football game in Paraguay happened in 1910, and took off by the 1970s. Excitement for soccer in Paraguay has grown especially in the past ten years. Between 2004 and 2006, Paraguay qualified for the World Cup every year and reinvigorated local soccer culture. While they didn’t win the World Cup, the qualification brought Paraguay to the forefront of the soccer world for the first time since the early 1990s.
In 2007, after a long run, the head coach Aníbal Ruiz resigned and was replaced with Gerardo Martino, nicknamed “Tata”. His reign as head coach has been very well lived. In 2009, Paraguay selected new members for their squad to replace the popular José Luis Chilavert, Carlos Gamarra, Francisco Arce and Celso Ayala. Despite having quite a few fresh faces on the 2009 lineup, the national football team qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup after crushing Brazil, Chile and Columbia. The 2010 FIFA World Cup will be held 11 June to 11 July, 2010 in South Africa, with the winners receiving $30 million.
Much like baseball players in America, football players in Paraguay are some of the richest Paraguayans. They are elevated to celebrity status and given sponsorship from international companies. Paraguayan football players are paid to promote local restaurants and appear in commercials within Paraguay. Local street vendors carry merchandise with favorite football celebrities of the past and present. The team colors of red and white are proudly displayed on bright flags, signs and popular jerseys sold throughout the entire country.
All throughout Paraguay, as a tourist you will see many street soccer games, no matter what the social class of player. Poor communities often play soccer in nothing more than a dirt field and with an old soccer ball and wood for a goalie. Wealthier Paraguayans live in neighborhoods that are close to community soccer fields, and the wealthiest Paraguayans have memberships to exclusive soccer clubs. All in all, Paraguayans are taught soccer and participate in a team from age 6 onward.
During festival times and especially during tournament times, don’t be surprised if Asuncion and neighboring cities become decked out in red and white. Paraguayans love to celebrate their team and host enormous celebrations during tournament season. Despite economic and historical difficulties, Paraguay’s vibrant soccer culture is a wonderful experience for any traveler.