Sandwiched between continent giants Argentina and Brazil, landlocked Paraguay can often be overlooked and underappreciated. Despite missing out on World Cup qualification, Paraguayan clubs usually go deep in continental competition and are always tough, combative and hard to beat.
Between 1998 and 2011 la Albirroja enjoyed something of a golden period, qualifying for four consecutive World Cups and reaching a Copa America final. Since then they have been going through a transitional phase but some exciting players are beginning to come to the fore. Antonio Sanabria is finally realising his potential at Betis, while Derlis Gonzalez, Miguel Almiron and Oscar Romero are all creative attacking midfielders reaching their prime.
On the fringes of the Paraguay senior set up are a number of U20 graduates ready to make the step up too. 19-year-old Sergio Diaz is on the books of Real Madrid and full back Blas Riveros is getting minutes in the Champions League with Basel. There are also high hopes for midfield talents Cristhian Paredes and particularly U20 captain Jesus Medina.
Medina made his debut for Libertad at the tender age of just 15 years old back in 2012, an early taste of first team action before returning to the fold in 2016. In his first proper campaign for el Gumarelo Medina notched nine goals in 38 games, helping Libertad to win the Torneo Apertura. Medina has continued that form this year with another 8 goals in 32 league games and a second Torneo Apertura crown.
A regular at youth level for the national team, Medina first showcased his talents at the 2013 U17 Sudamericano with four goals in eight games. One of the youngest members of the squad for the 2015 U20 Sudamericano, he returned as captain this year with another two goals in four games. Medina then went on to make his senior debut as a late substitute versus Mexico in July and it won’t be long before his full debut follows.
Here we analyse in more detail what makes Medina such an exciting talent…
Primarily a left winger, Medina possesses an excellent delivery when whipping balls in from the flank and has already chalked up numerous assists for los Repolleros. The young wideman always provides width that stretches the opposition and his crossing is consistently pacey and accurate – a dream for any centre forward.
As you would expect, this trademark crossing ability means he is also dangerous from dead ball situations, as demonstrated by the devilish corners and wide free-kicks in the video below.
Medina is also a threat when cutting in from the right onto his favoured left and, as the last few clips show, his in-swinging balls can often sneak in at the back post, leaving the goalkeepers stranded at they anticipate a touch from a forward that might divert the ball.
PENALTY BOX MOVEMENT & FINISHING
One thing that you immediately notice about Medina is his impressive scoring record for a player who usually plays out wide. Rather than stay on the flank, Medina is not afraid to gamble and make runs into the box to provide an extra option.
It is this clever movement, reading of the game and timing of his runs that often see him steal in at the back post for what looks like a simple tap in. Medina combines the technique and instinct of a seasoned poacher, making him a much more varied threat than your average winger and means he can also be utilised in a more advanced role or front three.
LONG RANGE SHOOTING
On top of his penalty box prowess, Medina is also a threat from distance thanks to his good long range shooting. Cutting in from either flank, Medina can get good dip and swerve on his strikes, as shown by his goals for Paraguay U20s against Brazil and Bolivia.
Medina’s expertise on set pieces extends to direct free-kicks as well, as shown by the last few clips in the video above.
PACE & DRIBBLING
A big part of Medina’s effectiveness as a winger is his whippet-like pace. Whether it be bursting round the outside and getting to the byline or using his extra yard of pace to steal in behind a dozing full back at the back post, Medina has the ability to break through the lines of play and make things happen.
One of his particular favourite pieces of skill is his penchant for nudging the ball past or nutmeging an opponent before running onto the ball. This is known in Spanish as the ‘autopase’ which roughly translates as passing to oneself.
Although he possesses good close control he seems to rely more on his pace when it comes to dribbling, which may favour more counter-attacking systems. He must learn not to over-rely on this knock-and-run tactic as in the future he’ll most likely be in leagues with less time and space on the ball.
For a player who excels in the attacking phase of the game, Medina rarely shirks his defensive responsibilities. Paraguayan players are generally more associated with toughness and ‘garra’ and so perhaps it’s not surprising that this defensive capability is part of his DNA.
His good pace allows him to get back to track runners, make recovery runs and generally support his full back. He’s not afraid to get stuck in with the occasional big challenge and rarely picks up cards.
Obviously Medina is not the most physically imposing and could probably do with some added strength but nevertheless his commitment to working without the ball means he is a very modern winger in this sense.
Medina has managed to get some good experience, both domestically and continentally, under his belt for a player still yet to turn 21. After his title-winning exploits and performances for the U20s, you feel the time to move on is approaching, although perhaps it would be wise not to make too big a jump straightaway. Genoa and Deportivo La Coruna reportedly had bids turned down in the summer but perhaps somewhere like Portugal or the Netherlands might be a good introduction to European football.
Having said that, perhaps the most sensible decision would be to move to a more visible league within Latin America. Mexico has been a popular destination for Paraguayans, while Argentina would be easier transition and has proven fruitful for the likes of Almiron and Romero in recent years. Boca Juniors were heavily linked in the summer and Medina’s width would be well suited to Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s style of play at the Argentina champions.
While Medina might only just be making his first forays into the national team senior set up, he remains one of his country’s most highly rated prospects and should steadily become a regular squad member during the next World Cup qualification campaign. It may be too early to say how important a role he might play but by the time Qatar rolls around he’ll be 24 and entering his prime.
As Paraguay’s new generation emerges, Medina could well be an important figure in recapturing some of the success they achieved a decade ago and now seems ready to take the next step in a highly promising career.