At 30, Jose Cardozo can make no claims to being a promising youngster. He is, though, a striker at the height of his powers, who confirmed in the Libertadores Cup that he has made a dramatic improvement.

There were few tears in Paraguay when injury forced Cardozo out of the 1999 Copa America, held on home soil. Two years later, however, he is firmly established as his country’s leading forward andwas sorely missed when suspension forced him out of the June World Cup qualifier against Chile. Cardozo has frequently caught the eye in the World Cup campaign with his awareness and aggression, the very virtues that made him so important to Cruz Azul’s run to the Libertadores Final.

In the group stage the Mexicans lacked a cutting edge. For the knockout stages they drafted in Cardozo from Toluca and the Paraguayan seemed as if he had been playing for Cruz Azul all his life. He established an excellent relationship with Mexican international striker Juan Francisco Palencia, and suddenly the attack was full of movement and options.

Cardozo scored twice to see off Cerro Porteno in the second round and one each against River Plate and Rosario Central in subsequent rounds. He was unable to score against Boca Juniors in the Final but in the second leg in Buenos Aires set up the only goal for Palencia. Shortly afterwards he got on the end of a free-kick but hit a post. Had it gone in, Cruz Azul would have become the first Mexican winners of the Libertadores.

Cardozo can find consolation in the fact that his performances have attracted the attention of Boca, while next year brings the possibility of being part of Paraguay’s best-ever World Cup team.