Francisco “Chiqui” Arce at the helm of Paraguay
Francisco “Chiqui” Arce is at the very root of Paraguay’s World Cup qualifying success that began in 1996. A great memory of Arce is from the France 1998 World Cup qualifier. The setting was the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, Uruguay. After losing in the first match day to Colombia, Paraguay travelled to Uruguay for another very difficult game. Halfway through the first half there was a free-kick for Paraguay. “Chiqui” Arce stood before the ball, fired, and scored. The game was close, but towards the end of the match, Aristides “la Flecha” Rojas pounced on the counter and buried Uruguay 2-0.
The day Arce scored on Uruguay in the Centenario, Paraguay began a journey of football success that has never ended. More than twenty years later there is a whole generation of Paraguayans who have never seen a World Cup without Paraguay and possibly cannot even imagine it. I imagine young footballers feel the same way, they cannot say they will try to qualify for the World Cup. They have to.
It all started with Francisco Arce and it is now his job to continue this success. Arce’s coaching career is not nearly as rich and accomplished as his playing career. As a player, he had an eight year spell in Brazil playing in Gremio and Palmeiras, where he won the Copa Libertadores with each club once. Among the most influential coaches in his life are Sergio Markarian, Paulo Cesar Carpegiani, and Luis Felipe Scolari. The first two coached Arce in various Paraguayan national teams. Arce played for Markarian during the Barcelona 1992 Olympics and the qualifier for the Korea Japan 2002 World Cup (Markarian was sacked right before the World Cup). Carpegiani coached Arce during the France 1998 World Cup. These are Arce’s main credentials as a coach, having prolonged experiences with some of the coaching greats.
As a coach, he has lead Rubio Ñu in Paraguay for four years now. His main achievement with Rubio Ñu is keeping this recently ascended team high on the table for several seasons. However short his coaching experience, Arce’s experience makes him an extremely wise manager. In just two friendly games, Arce has made a great impact on Paraguay’s game, the most remarkable of which has been Paraguay’s 3-0 demolition of Honduras in San Pedro Sula.
This self-described low profile man has had much greater exposure to the press since his appointment. In these press exchanges, he expressed himself softly but with great assertion. He does not beat around the bush and has said he does not want to be “politically correct”. You better believe that since there are already many reports circulating in the internet he said he believes many people in Paraguay want him to fail. It is more than likely people are still surprised the faith the president of the Paraguayan association has put in a man will clearly limited coaching experience. Some of his statements also come off as arrogant, very far from the usually easy-going Paraguayan style.
Still, I think Arce will prove his critics wrong and will lead Paraguay to new great success. This Friday will be Arce’s first test of fire, his first World Cup qualifier in Lima, against Peru. The manager on the opposing team will be his long time mentor Sergio Markarian. The squad Paraguay is taking is loaded with talent and quality. In addition to that, several key players are doing very well in their clubs. Edgar Barreto is playing in a leading team of the Italian Serie A. Oscar Cardozo recently scored on Manchester United and Roque Santa Cruz has also been scoring and playing regularly. On top of that, Hernan Perez has finally played for Villarreal and scored.
Just like Arce lead Paraguay to a win against Uruguay on the road more than 20 years ago, he will lead Paraguay to another great win in the World Cup 2014 opener.
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