Paraguay International, Roque Santa Cruz is set to lead his country to possibly his last Copa America tournament before he retires after playing 20 years as a professional footballer.
The 34-year-old striker has not only made himself a glittering career on the pitch, but managed to do some good off it as well. The player is Paraguay’s all-time leading scorer, which is as much a result of longevity as it is quality.
Santa Cruz started as a professional for Olimpia in his home country before most American kids even learn to drive, at the absurdly young age of 15. Two years later he moved to the club where he truly made his name – Bayern Munich. In eight years with the Bavarian giants, Santa Cruz won a number of trophies, but never found any real consistency and never scored more than 10 goals in a season.
After leaving Bayern, he landed in England, bouncing from Manchester City to Blackburn – he scored 20 goals in a season there, the best year of his career – before taking off to Spain with Betis and Malaga. In 2015 he signed with Cruz Azul for a short spell before then returning to Spain, where he currently plays with Malaga on loan.
The player is also unsurprisingly a hero in Paraguay. The people love him for his work off the pitch, but it also helps that he’s been brilliant on it. And now he gets another big stage to shine on in Copa America Centenario.
Drawn into Group A with the United States, Colombia and Costa Rica, Paraguay face a tough test even though they have beaten Brazil in penalties at last year’s Copa America, expectations are high. With Santa Cruz as vice captain of the team and other experienced player, Paraguay can only wish for the best in the tournament.