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Jose Luis Chilavert: The goalscoring Bulldog that redefined the role of goalkeeper

09:00 WAT 07/12/2022
Jose Luis Chilavert Paraguay Cult Hero HIC 16:9
Jose Luis Chilavert wasn't just a great shot-stopper - he was also a dead-ball specialist who made history at the 1998 World Cup.

Football fans of a certain age will remember watching Paraguay's meeting with Bulgaria in Montpellier in June 1998 and praying that the South Americans would win a free-kick within striking distance.

It proved an agonising wait. But, in the 72nd minute, Trifon Ivanov hacked down Jorge Luis Campos some 35 metres out.

Jose Luis Campos' moment had finally arrived. He would become the first goalkeeper to take a direct free-kick in a World Cup match – and he damn near scored it too, only denied what would have been a sensational and historic goal by a fine save by Zdravko Zdravkov.

Not that we should have been surprised that Chilavert nearly found the top corner of the Bulgarian net. Goalscoring was a long-established part of his game at that point.

Rene Higuita may have been the first man to introduce the World Cup to the role of a sweeper-keeper, but it was Chilavert who proved that a shot-stopper could also be a set-piece specialist.

Indeed, Chilavert had always felt that a goalkeeper's importance, and indeed potential, was undervalued.

"If you think all we need to do is stop the other team from scoring, then you don't even notice what we do," he told FIFA's official website.

"That's such a negative way to look at it. On the contrary, a good team starts with a good goalkeeper.

"The Brazilian side of 1982 was fantastic, second only to the team of Pele and Garrincha, but the problem was they had Valdir Peres in goal.

"Every time their opponents attacked, they scored. Enough said."

Chilavert believed a goalkeeper should be just as capable with his feet as his hands.

So, he spent hours upon hours practising his striking of the ball, regularly taking between 80 and 120 free-kicks after training.

Obviously, his style of play met with some resistance. During his time at Real Zaragoza in the late-80s, even his own team's fans used to "freak out" when he would come out of his area.

But, for Chilavert, it made perfect sense.

"I see it as a way of helping your team to win," he said. "If you've got a goalie with a good shot, you should make use of it."

And many teams did, realising that Chilavert was no novelty act; he was a dead-ball expert in his own right.

Indeed, he scored 67 goals in his career, including eight for Paraguay.

His most famous strike came from approximately 60 metres out when he caught River Plate counterpart German Burgos napping in a Primera Division game in Argentina.

"Some players have scored from long distances, but it was usually by chance," Chilavert later explained to Four Four Two. "This was different.

"I saw that [River Plate keeper] Burgos was outside the box, watching birds rather than concentrating on the game.

"So, I started running desperately. As I arrived, I noticed the referee was in the way and shouted: 'Move!' Luckily, he did – the shot could have knocked him out if he hadn't ducked.

"Even River players congratulated me! It was very special for me as my father was recovering from heart treatment and I could dedicate it to him.

"We won the game and I gave my shirt to the referee. It was his last professional game and, besides, he deserved it for his reflexes!"

Chilavert beat Burgos with another free-kick in a World Cup qualifier in Buenos Aires the following year, which is why there was such anticipation surrounding his participation in the finals.

However, by that point, he had also attained a level of notoriety befitting a man known as 'The Bulldog'.

He had even been suspended for four games during the qualifiers for an on-pitch altercation with Faustino Asprilla which could have very easily had tragic consequences.

Many years after the clash, the Colombia striker revealed that he had received a call after the game from a hitman who wanted to kill Chilavert.

"What? Are you crazy?" an astounded Asprilla claimed. "You’ll destroy Colombian football, you can’t do that!

"No, no, no, no! What happens on the pitch stays on the pitch."

Chilavert was hit with another ban in the lead-up to the 2002 World Cup which ruled him out of Paraguay's opening fixture.

This time, he had spat at Roberto Carlos, whom he had accused of racially abusing him during a qualifying loss to Brazil.

"At the first corner kick, after he called for a foul, this dwarf shouted to me: 'Get up, Indian!' After that, when they scored, he touched his genitals to provoke me," Chilavert told Cadena COPE.

"When the match was going to end, he pointed to the scoreboard, as we greeted each other he told me: ‘Indian, we have won 2-0, you are a disaster’ and he hit me.

"That’s when I defended myself and I spat at him."

When he did manage to belatedly get back on the pitch for Paraguay at the World Cup, he only had one thing on his mind.

"We knocked Spain out last time and we're going to do it again," Chilavert told Radio Nanduti.

"I've got (Santiago) Canizares in my sights, because I'm going to score against him from a free-kick."

Sadly for Chilavert, he didn't find the back of the net and Paraguay once again bowed out in the last 16, beaten 1-0 by eventual runners-up Germany in Seogwipo.

He had failed to make more history but he had already left an indelible mark on the tournament.

More importantly, he had completely redefined what a goalkeeper could be.

Indeed, later in the year, he felt compelled to offer Germany No.1 Oliver Kahn some advice.

"He showed his quality in the World Cup, even though he's got weaknesses just like everyone else," Chilavert explained.

"He needs to iron out a few flaws in his game, like playing with the ball at his feet and coming out of his area as a sweeper – but you can't do that overnight."

Indeed, while Chilavert will be forever remembered for stepping up to take free-kicks like the one he so nearly scored at France 98, the hard work and dogged determination that put him in that position in the first place should never be forgotten either.