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Nelson Valdez

What is your earliest World Cup memory?
I remember France ’98 well, like it was yesterday. We qualified from a ‘group of death’ which included Spain, Bulgaria and Nigeria. Only Paraguay and Nigeria went through.

I was 14 and we watched as Laurent Blanc scored the first ever golden goal in the history of the World Cup in the last 16, which eliminated us from the competition. I looked at my mother and she was crying. She is a big football fan, my mother – very passionate whenever Paraguay play.

I looked around the room and everyone was crying. I felt like crying too – I felt the emotion in the room. But I looked at my mother and said, "I will play in the World Cup for Paraguay. I will score in the World Cup finals for Paraguay."

She never forgot that moment – she always reminds me. I made her very proud and I will score in the World Cup. I started all three games for Paraguay in the 2006 World Cup finals but didn’t score.

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You played against England in the 2006 finals…
I’ve got bad memories of that game too, because we lost the match with an own goal. It was an equal game – not a very good match – and England didn’t have many opportunities to score. It was our first in the competition and it should have been 0-0. We never really recovered from that first defeat and went out of the first round, a big disappointment for us. These things happen in football.

What do you think of your group in South Africa?
It will not be easy with Italy and Slovakia, but I think it’s possible for Paraguay to go through with Italy. I think we can surprise Italy. Their football is very technical and ours very humble, but we have big hearts. Paraguay v Slovakia is the key game – but I don’t want to discriminate against New Zealand either, because they have been good enough to reach South Africa.

Are Paraguay better than in 2006?
Yes. We were often regarded as being too defensive in Germany. Now, we attack more. We still have a good defence, but we attack too. In the qualifying stages we beat Brazil, Argentina and Chile, who finished second in the group on the same points as us. We also have a coach, (Gerardo) Martino, who was himself a very good player. He gives us the trust that we need from a coach. He’s a very reliable person, with a high self-esteem. He never wants to lose or draw: it doesn’t matter if we’re playing in Brazil or Argentina, he wants to win. Because we beat these teams, he believes that we can win the World Cup. He says that this is the best Paraguay team that he has ever had.

Tell us how Paraguay play.
We always play with respect, and we also think we are going to win every game. It was that mentality which took us to South Africa. People look at our results and respect us for that. But it’s not just in South America where we have played well. We drew 0-0 with Holland in a friendly game and 0-0 with France.

What’s it like to score the only goal against your biggest rivals Argentina?
It’s true that they are our biggest rival. They’re nice people – I’ve got Argentinian friends – but they think they’re the best. We joke in South America that the Argentinians carry mirrors around so that they can look at themselves. Sometimes Argentina really are the best and that’s why they are so confident, but they are not the best in everything.

I wouldn’t say that we hate Argentina, but we really want to win against them because apart from anything else, they are our neighbours. But it’s more than that because Brazil is also a neighbour and the intensity of the rivalry is not the same. Maybe it’s because Brazil is neighbours with lots of countries.

It was a great honour for me to score agai