Saturday, February 9, 2013

Paraguay – practically off the radar for years. Used to be known for reliable, fearless, and often brutal players, flocking in Spain. Never stars, though. Paraguayans were the way to avoid Spanish prohibition on imports – they were often from provable Spanish descent and therefore permitted to play as 'oriundi'. But the 60s were gone and Paraguayans were forgotten. No great clubs in the country – that is, no club had international success – and Paraguay did not qualify to World Cups for a long time. One thing known, thanks to common sense, was that the country had regular championship. Which in 1977 was won by Cerro Porteno.

Libertad, the champions of 1976, still played strong and finished second. They were may be the third club in Paraguay – by 1977 they had 8 titles, but hardly known abroad, especially in Europe. This year they lost a bit more familiar name – Cerro Porteno.

19th title for Cerro Porteno – much more than Libertad, but still behind the arch-rivals Olimpia – they had 23 titles so far. If anything, the general picture of Paraguayan football can be made clear: a duopoly of Olimpia and Cerro Porteno, occasionally disturbed by Libertad and very rarely – by some other club. All of the above hail from Asuncion, so the big clubs were located in the capital, leaving nothing to provincial football. As in many a country, the best football was concentrated in the capital, which had large number of clubs. Yet, this is very general knowledge, if it is knowledge at all. The champions left no names.
No names, but there is no certainty that the photo is from 1977 – it is from the time period alright, but which season exactly? Mysterious champions at best.

The only real news of Paraguayan football was the debut of talented striker, almost immediately compared to Pele. The desire of new Pele was strong – and pretentious – but the talent of young boy was impressive. Curiously, the rising star did not play for any club from Asuncion:
He debuted for Sportivo Luqueno from the city of Luque. And the name?
Julio Cesar Romero. He became known right away - called in South America 'Romerito'. A different player from the usual perception of Paraguayan footballers – he was skillful and deadly striker, a leader. He dazzled not just the Paraguayans and quickly became one of the best South American players. May be he deserves to be even bigger world star, but his career choice practically prevented that – he not only never played in Europe, but did not join South American giants: Romerito went to USA to play bypassing even the big Paraguayan clubs. He joined Cosmos, but NASL was regarded almost as a joke and Romerito was never fully appreciated. He got recognition largely in South America. As for Paraguay – he is the best ever player of the country, something seemingly clear from the moment he debuted. It turned out, 1977 was an important year for Paraguayan football.