Justo Villar: a great Paraguayan goalkeeper
Paraguay has always had a history of legendary goalkeepers safeguarding its goal. The likes of Ever Hugo Almeida, Roberto Fernandez and Jose Luis Chilavert are always a tough act to follow but in Justo Villar, they can breathe easy, for they have a worthy successor.
It is no coincidence that Paraguay have hit a rich vein of talent, qualifying for the World Cup four times consecutively in a time which happens to have Villar coming up through their ranks.
Thanks to his prominent role in La Albirroja’s last two FIFA World Cup qualification successes, the Real Valladolid custodian and Paraguayan captain has become one of the most reliable leaders of the team going on to represent them 76 times.
Villar began his professional career in 1996 with Sol de America, coached by Almeida, one of the country’s finest keepers of all time. Over the next five seasons he acquired a reputation for excellence and was snapped up by Libertad, where he won league titles in 2002 and 2003.
His excellent rise to prominence earned him a national team call up in 1999 in a home encounter against Guatemala on March 3, after already representing his country in the FIFA World Youth Championship in ’97.
His heroics in his home country earned him a transfer to Newell’s Old Boys, one of Argentina’s most recognizable club names where he had a stellar time, helping them to the 2004 Apertura Championship and given the mantle of Keeper of the Year by the press. He also won the Paraguayan Footballer of the Year award in the same year.
But while his domestic form pushed him to the top, his World Cup stories have been quite heart breaking. He travelled to Korea in 2002, backing up legendary José Luis Chilavert.
He was already a starter in the 2006 edition, but had a brief participation: during the first seven minutes of the opener against England, just after Carlos Gamarra’s own goal, Villar got injured and was replaced by Aldo Bobadilla, and subsequently was side-lined for the rest of the tournament, in which Paraguay was eliminated in the first round.
“Yes, it was a huge blow,” the keeper conceded in an interview with FIFA. “I’d played all through qualifying and was an important part of the team, so I had high hopes of having a great World Cup.”
That’s football, though, and I kept plugging away. I’ve now got the chance to be here, thanks to my perseverance. The Germany injury was really tough, and it would have been for anybody. But now I’m very grateful to be here.”
After four years in Argentina he moved to the La Liga with Real Valladolid where, with a slice of luck due to starter Sergio Asenjo’s injury, he was able to appear in 15 La Liga matches in his first year, and managed to shine in that period.
The next year he spent his time competing with fellow keeper Jacobo, appearing in 23 games that season after which his club took a bow to the Second Division.
This year will be a rare chance for the 32 year old to shine on the big stage. He’s played 17 out of the 18 gruelling COMNEBOL games and has conceded a miserly 12 goals in the campaign.
His performance left national coach Gerald Martino full of praise. “He’s got a lot to offer as a leader, because he’s a player who really pays attention to the small details and he’s very good towards his team-mates. For that reason he’s a huge help to our coaching staff. He’s the ideal person to provide a link between the players and the coaches.”
Following up immediately behind the safe and goal-scoring Chilavert made it that much more difficult for Villar to firmly embed himself as an influential member. But he did, and this will be that elusive chance for him to join his country’s luminaries in the Hall of Fame.