Jose Luis Chilavert: The goal-scoring bulldog who redefined the role of goalkeeper
Jose Luis Chilavert was not only a great shot stopper – he was also a set piece specialist who made history during 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 for the South Americans to win a free-kick from striking distance.
It turned out to be an agonizing wait. But in the 72nd minute, Trifon Ivanov hacked down Jorge Luis Campos 35 meters out.
Jose Luis Campos’ moment had finally arrived. He was to become the first goalkeeper to take a direct free-kick in a World Cup match – and he almost scored that too, but denied what would have been a sensational and historic goal with a fine save by Zdravko Zdravkov.
Not that we should have been surprised that Chilavert almost found the top corner of the Bulgarian net. Scoring goals was a long established part of his game at that point.
Rene Higuita may have been the first man to introduce the WC to the sweeper-keeper role, but it was Chilavert who proved that a shot-stopper could also be a set-piece specialist.
In fact, Chilavert had always felt that a goalkeeper’s importance, and indeed potential, was underrated.
“If you think all we have 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 of looking 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 that a goalkeeper should be as skilled with his feet as his hands.
So he spent hours upon hours practicing hitting the ball, regularly taking between 80 and 120 free kicks after practice.
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 came out of his area.
But for Chilavert it made perfect sense.
“I see it as a way to help your team win,” he said. “If you have a goalkeeper with a good shot, you should use it.”
And many teams did, realizing that Chilavert was nothing new; he was a set piece expert in his own right.
In fact, he scored 67 goals in his career, including eight for Paraguay.
His most famous strike came from about 60 meters when he caught River Plate opponents German Burgos asleep in a Primera Division match 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 instead of concentrating on the match.
“So, I started running desperately. When I got there, I noticed the umpire was in the way and yelled, ‘Move!'” Fortunately, 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 when my dad was recovering from heart treatment and I could dedicate it to him.
“We won the fight and I gave my shirt to the referee. It was his last professional fight 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 so much anticipation surrounding his participation in the final.
But by that time he had also achieved a level of notoriety befitting a man known as ‘The Bulldog’.
He had even been suspended for four matches during the qualifiers due to an argument on the pitch with Faustino Asprilla that could very easily have had tragic consequences.
Years after the clash, the Colombia striker revealed that he had received a call after the match from an assassin who wanted to kill Chilavert.
“What, are you crazy?” claimed an astonished Asprilla. “You want to destroy Colombian football, you can’t do it!
“No, no, no, no! What happens on the field stays on the field.”
Chilavert was hit with another ban ahead of the 2002 World Cup, which ruled him out of Paraguay’s opening match.
This time he had spat at Roberto Carlos, who he had accused of abusing him during a qualifying loss to Brazil.
“At the first corner kick, after he called for a foul, this dwarf yelled at me, ‘Get up, Indian!’ After that, when they scored, he touched the genitals to provoke me, Chilavert told Cadena COPE.
“When the game was about to end, he pointed to the scoreboard, as we were greeting each other he said to me: ‘Inder, 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 belatedly managed to get back on the field for Paraguay in the World Cup, he had only one thing on his mind.
“We knocked Spain out last time and we’re going to do it again,” Chilavert told Radio Nanduti.
“I have (Santiago) Canizares in my sights, because I’m going to score against him from a free kick.
Unfortunately for Chilavert, he failed to find the back of the net and Paraguay once again bowed out in the round of 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.
Later in the year, he actually felt compelled to offer Germany No. 1 Oliver Kahn some advice.
“He showed his quality in the World Cup, although he has weaknesses just like everyone else,” explained Chilavert.
“He needs to iron out some flaws in his game, like playing with the ball at his feet and coming out of his area like a sweeper – but you can’t do that overnight.”
While Chilavert will forever be remembered for taking the free-kick he almost scored at France 98, the hard work and dogged determination that put him in that position in the first place should also never be forgotten.