When Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi announced his squad for their latest two qualifying matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, the Colo Colo dressing room roared its appreciation with shouts of “¡Grande, Tanque!” (“You’re the man, Tanque!”).
The ‘Tank’ in question was Esteban Paredes, who repaid Pizzi for his faith and his club-mates for their support by finding the back of the net twice in La Roja’s 3-1 defeat of Venezuela on Tuesday. In the process, he became his country’s oldest ever goalscorer, aged 36 years and 239 days.
Paredes chose the right time and the right place to showcase his enduring nous in front of goal: the right time because La Roja kicked off the match outside the qualification places for Russia 2018; and the right place because Colo Colo’s home ground of Estadio Monumental – where he plays his club football – hosted the match instead of the Estadio Nacional, which is closed for the rest of the qualifying competition.
“Obviously it helps when you know the stadium and the pitch,” said the record-breaking veteran, who came into the side at the expense of Nicolas Castillo, a starter in the defeat to Argentina last Thursday. “You have to make the most of the chances that come your way and be there at the right time.”
The Chileans took the lead on four minutes, when Alexis Sanchez curled home a superb free-kick to pull level with Marcelo Salas as La Roja’s all-time leading scorer with 37 goals. It was then that Paredes took the limelight, prodding in a Charles Aranguiz pass on seven minutes, after a fine Alexis run.
A quarter of an hour later, the centre-forward doubled his tally, glancing the ball over the line after Sanchez had headed a deep cross back across goal. Both goals came in the six-yard box – Paredes’ natural habitat.
Impressing at home
Prior to this month, almost three years had elapsed since his previous appearance for Chile, a June 2014 friendly against Northern Ireland. Though he was called up on a few occasions after that and made the squad for Brazil 2014, having made an important contribution to Chile’s qualification for the world finals, Paredes has had to bide his time before seeing any further action.
His chance to resume his international career came courtesy of his superb form with Colo Colo. Last October he became El Cacique’s third-highest scorer of all time, behind club legends Carlos Caszely and Francisco Valdes, and has ten goals and seven assists to his name this season, a haul that has helped his side move to the top of the Chilean league.
After coming on for three minutes against Argentina last week, Paredes was handed a start against the Venezuelans and took his chance with both hands, breaking a national-team record that had stood for 80 years, since the defender Guillermo Riveros scored at the age of 34 at the 1937 South American Championship.
Paredes was beaming after his two-goal return: “I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I’m happy with the win and the goals. I’m happy to have scored for the national team.”
Born to plunder goals, Esteban Paredes shows no sign of falling out of love with his job any time soon.