Ben Spratt1 Comment


Ben Spratt1 Comment

Nerves prevent most people from enjoying penalty shoot-outs. Managers required to trust evidently edgy players; supporters internally recalling past misses; and star centre-forwards with their somersaulting stomachs: each have cause to fear a cup stalemate. For goalkeepers though, so we're told, spot-kicks represent the opportunity to be the hero - and, at Velez Sarsfield in the 1990s, Jose Luis Chilavert certainly became that.

Yet Chilavert's penalty expertise went beyond the intimidating goal-line antics later used to good effect by Liverpool's Jerzy Dudek or Netherlands' Tim Krul. In a decade where Velez, Buenos Aires' third club, saw a spell of supreme success shaped from 12 yards, their goalkeeper came up with the goods as both a saver and taker of spot-kicks.

The Paraguay international had big gloves to fill in that regard when he arrived at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani in 1991 as, just months earlier, retiring 41-year-old goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol had saved a penalty on the final day of the Primera Division's 1990 Apertura campaign to deny city neighbours River Plate top spot. However, Chilavert rose to the challenge of replacing the veteran, later explaining that he rarely worried too much about how he fared on the pitch. "Pressure? This is just a football match," he said of the 1998 World Cup. "When you do not know how to feed your children, that is pressure." That viewpoint did little to calm his passionate displays, though, and, at Velez he quickly set about making a mockery of Fillol's achievements.

Velez was a club sitting firmly in the shadow of Buenos Aires rivals River and Boca Juniors. As many as 17 Argentine clubs could better Velez's tally of a sole domestic title, while six had also triumphed in the Copa Libertadores - a competition El Fortin had only qualified for on one previous occasion. But, assisted by his ability at dead balls, Chilavert - although a goalkeeper - was a genuine star, ready to propel Velez into a glittering period.


In 2017, sweeper-keepers are all the rage. Chilavert offered more than that. At San Lorenzo and Real Zaragoza, he honed his set-piece skills - both direct free-kicks and penalties - and fired his first career goals from the spot.

"A lot of people were against my way of playing at the start," he told "When I started coming out with the ball at my feet, for Real Zaragoza in 1988, the fans used to freak out and scream at me to get back in goal. I see it as a way of helping your team to win. If you've got a goalie with a good shot, you ought to make use of it. I've never stopped to think about what others are saying. I just rely on my abilities. Later on, I started to practise penalties and free-kicks until they gave me the job for real."

Having impressed in Europe, Chilavert returned to South America and Argentina with Velez and on June 8, 1993, nine years on from his only previous major honour - where he had claimed the Primera Division in Paraguay with Guarani - Chilavert fired Velez to the Clausura title, netting his first goal for the club from the spot in a decisive 1-1 draw with Estudiantes. He punched the air with almost every step on his return to the other end of the pitch and similar scenes of celebration would be constant throughout his career at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani.

Having qualified for the 1994 Copa Libertadores, Velez soon made their mark on the continent. Carlos Bianchi's side drew with Boca and Cruzeiro in the group stage, before beating both sides in their respective reverse fixtures, having also seen off Palmeiras at home. Velez's progression to the last 16 was sealed comfortably before their final group game and, despite a 4-1 defeat with a much-changed team at Palmeiras' formidable Estadio Palestra Italia, they finished top as bottom-placed Boca crashed out.

With captain Roberto Trotta now on spot-kick duty, Chilavert came to the fore again in the knockout stages. Velez drew 1-1 with Defensor Sporting on aggregate, meaning a place in the last eight would be decided by penalties. Chilavert followed Trotta in finding the net and saved brilliantly from both Guillermo Almada and Ruben Dos Santos to secure a 4-3 shoot-out win.

In the quarter-finals, a 2-0 second-leg home victory against Minerven was enough to progress and set up a meeting with Atletico Junior in the last four. The first leg went the way of the Colombian club, 2-1, but Velez won by the same scoreline in the return game to again take the contest to a shoot-out. Once more, Chilavert coolly netted; once more, Chilavert crucially saved - from Ronald Valderrama. A 5-4 success this time took Velez into their first continental final.

Against Sao Paulo, Velez would face their toughest test yet as they pitted their wits against the likes of Zetti, Cafu and Muller - three players crowned world champions earlier in the year with Brazil. A fine Omar Asad finish in the home leg was cancelled out by Muller at the Morumbi. More penalties for Chilavert to take and face; more penalties for Chilavert to score and save. As in the previous two shoot-outs, the goalkeeper came up trumps, diving low to his left to keep out Palinha's effort and clinch the title.

Chilavert was mobbed by team-mates and coaches alike, but this was still just the start for Velez. World domination would follow their continental triumph.

As South American champions, Velez qualified for the Intercontinental Cup, a forerunner to the FIFA Club World Cup, and on December 1 1994, in Tokyo, they took on an AC Milan side marshalled by Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini. "Prince vs pauper" was how the New York Times painted the fixture, but the Argentine club's rise from domestic also-rans to challengers on the world stage was complete when Trotta and Asad netted in a 2-0 win, Chilavert cruising to a clean sheet following a late red card for Alessandro Costacurta.

Honours continued to arrive for Velez, with Chilavert central to their success. They achieved wins in the 1995 Apertura, the 1996 Clausura, the 1998 Clausura, the Supercopa Sudamericana, the Copa Interamericana and then the Recopa Sudamericana, where a remarkable final against River saw Chilavert score and concede from the spot, miss in the shoot-out and make two saves - the second from former team-mate Trotta.

With trophies, though, came an inflated ego for Chilavert. Ahead of the clash with Milan, he had talked up his own skills and played down those of other ball-playing custodians. "I am not the same as Rene Higuita or Jorge Campos - they can't shoot like I do and I don't take as many risks as they do," he said.

Perhaps it was hard for the Paraguay goalkeeper to keep his feet on the ground when his talent allowed him to score free-kicks from inside his own half, as he did against River in 1996. "Some players have scored from long distance, but it was usually by chance," he told FourFourTwo, in 2015, of his best goal. "This was different. I saw that [keeper German] Burgos was outside the box, watching birds rather than concentrating on the game."

Chilavert's aggressive arrogance tended to rile opposition players, too, leading to infamous spats with Diego Maradona, Sebastian Abreu, Faustino Asprilla and Roberto Carlos, but the indiscipline that accompanied his crazed style of play could not halt a stream of individual accolades. In 1996 he was Rey del Futbol de America - 'the king' of South American football, ahead of Enzo Francescoli, Ariel Ortega and Carlos Valderrama - as well as the Footballer of the Year in Argentina. From 1994 through to 1999, Chilavert was included in El Pais' best XI "Equipo Ideal de America" every year, while IFFHS voted him the world's best goalkeeper on three occasions.

His career, in his opinion, was building towards the 1998 World Cup in France. Paraguay qualified into a group with Bulgaria, Spain and Nigeria and Chilavert, the captain, kept two clean sheets from three matches as his side progressed, unbeaten, in second place. In the round of 16, they came up just short as France, the hosts and eventual winners, netted a golden goal through Laurent Blanc late in extra-time to send the South Americans home.

Still, Chilavert considered it a positive experience. "Prior to 1998, nobody had ever heard of Paraguay," he told So Foot years later. "Our pride is to have demonstrated to our country and the rest of the world that when a team is united, everything becomes possible." The goalkeeper was hopeful, too, to have another crack at European football.

But Velez, unsurprisingly, were keen not to see their talisman go, prompting the first of a number of contract wrangles as Chilavert was denied a move to Liverpool. "They've completely messed me around and, until they pay me what they owe me, I'm not training," he said. "By not allowing me to move, they've deprived me of $8million over three years."

Although Chilavert continued with Velez into the millennium - notably scoring a hat-trick of penalties against rivals Ferro Carril Oeste - the all-conquering side built by Bianchi was gradually dismantled. Along with Trotta's exit, stalwarts Raul Cardozo, Christian Bassedas, Marcelo Gomez and Jose Flores departed to clubs across the globe. Finally, Chilavert left for Strasbourg.

Despite winning the Coupe de France in 2001 - on penalties, of course - Chilavert suffered relegation to Ligue 2 in the same year. He helped to guide Strasbourg back into the top flight the following season, but the Paraguay international's European transfer had not been the success he had hoped for and he was sacked amid another contract dispute. He moved back to South America and retired as a champion with Penarol in Uruguay.

There was still time for a change of heart that saw Chilavert return to Velez, although his only appearance in his second spell in Buenos Aires came in his own testimonial, where he dispatched a cheaply awarded penalty past Rene Higuita.

Since hanging up his gloves for good, Chilavert has seen Rogerio Ceni surpass his record of 67 goals, the Brazil international more than doubling that tally before his own retirement in 2015.

However, the former Velez man remains quite unique in marrying the two arts - goalkeeping and goalscoring - so successfully, becoming one of the world's finest stoppers while hitting the net on a regular basis. Walter Zenga, Peter Schmeichel and Oliver Kahn might be recalled with more favour than Chilavert in Europe, but that's certainly not the case in the Liniers neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.

"I don't know what a Chilavert would be worth at today's prices, but I'm sure it'd be a lot of money," he speculated to in 2010. "There aren't many keepers who can go forward and score goals."

By IBWM Senior Writer Ben Spratt