Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ever Almeida - Paraguayan legend from Uruguay

Small cities are not always on people's minds when it comes to the creation of great things. On a continent that produced and still produces great footballers in abundance, cities like Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro or Montevideo spring to mind quickly. A smaller one, with just about 120.000 inhabitants is the birthplace of two of Uruguay's greatest current footballers: Salto. Over in Europe, Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani fight for Europe's scoring crown. The holder of the record for most games in the Copa Libertadores was also born in the city in Uruguay's northwest. This is a story about Ever Almeida, the Uruguayan goalkeeper that became a legend in Paraguay.

Salto, Uruguay (Photo:
Salto is a lovely city, popular among tourists visiting the small country along the Río Uruguay. The city presents itself with beaches along the river, about 20km of length. Most popular for its beaches and its various hot springs, Salto offers a lot of tours in a culture-profile city. With stunning architecture from the 19th and 20th century, you can see quite quickly why Uruguayans enjoy this place as much as tourists do.

Who knows what the reasons are for the surprising rate of high quality footballers, but the list of Suárez, Cavani and Co. cannot lie. Ever Almeida was born in the same city, over 68 years ago, on July 1, 1948. It was quite clear early on, that Almeida would be something special. As a goalkeeper, he signed his first professional contract with CA Cerro aged 19. Almeida quickly found his place and collected 128 appearances in his home country. When he moved away from home, Salto knew they had lost a good player, but did not know he would never come back. Instead, he went on to become a true legend in his new surroundings. Just across the border, Paraguay's Guaraní became aware of his potential in 1972 and signed him for their team. 

Ever Almeida on the shoulders of his Olimpia teammates (Photo:
Just 12 appearances after, Almeida received an offer that changed South American football history forever. It was Guaraní's rivals Olimpia, that secured the services of the then-25 year old. What nobody knew at this point was the fact that Ever Almeida would remain a part of the team until the end of his career, a long 19 years later. In the process, he beat every record imaginable. One of them for the most appearances in the Copa Libertadores. His 113 appearances, all with the same team, are likely never going to be beaten, considering not one other player in history even reached 100. 

Apart from all his titles, that one game in 1984 stood out. About ten minutes from the end, his teammates let him step up to take a penalty against Argentina's Estudiantes while the score was 0-0. He converted for the only goal in his professional football career and the first goal ever to be scored by a goalkeeper in the competition. Sadly, I was unable to find any video content on this game online. Even better than his ability to score from penalties were his skills to save them on the other end. Strikers feared going up against the born Uruguayan.

Talking of his titles however, Almeida collected quite a handful. After becoming a naturalized Paraguayan in 1975, the collection started with his first league title. Nine more domestic titles in Paraguay should follow, along with two Copa Libertadores triumphs, a Copa Interamericana, the Intercontinental Cup, Supercopa Sudamericana and a Recopa Sudamericana in his final year. Especially 1979 stood out dramatically with Olimpia winning four titles in one season, crowing their title hunt with the win over European champions Malmö FF

Considering he his new-found home in Paraguay, he also played football for the countries' national team on 20 occasions, most notably being a part of the World Cup 1986 squad. He could not play in Mexico's event due to an injury but saw his team do quite well until the round of 16 and a 0-3 knockout against England.

Goalkeeper of Paraguay's national team on 20 occasions, here on a Panini sticker.
If you had thought his success would stop when ending his career, you found yourself wrong very quickly. After taking over Asunción's Nacional as coach for a year in 1992 , he found himself back home already. Olimpia was calling and Almeida was on his way. It fits the storyline that he won the Paraguayan league title right away in 1993. It was the start to a long journey as a football coach that is still going strong today. Going back to Olimpia and Nacional on two more occasions, he is currently in charge of the latter once again. In the meantime, he was also involved at Sportivo Luqueño, Sol de América, Paraguay's national team, Municipal (Guatemala), El Nacional, Barcelona SC, the Guatemalan national team and Libertad. 

In particular his time in Guatemala was regarded very highly and brought him many trophies on club level and successful nights with the national side. His work led the U20 team of Guatemala to the World Cup in Colombia, an achievement noone had ever accomplished in the Central American country before. 

Is Almeida showing any signs of slowing down just yet? Not really, but his Nacional side will need to improve in Paraguay's Primera. They currently sit in last with no wins after six games. Even if they fail to a win a game all season, Ever Almeida's legacy cannot be torn down. Who knows, maybe Olimpia will inquire for the man's help again soon as well. A Paraguayan legend from Salto, the city of hot springs. More than just tourists.


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