“When he stood so straight behind the ball, I felt he wouldn’t be able to swing it inside me, so I didn’t hesitate to throw myself to my left. And that’s exactly where he put it.”
Antony Silva vividly remembers the stoppage-time penalty he saved from Yangel Herrera, which allowed Paraguay to return from Venezuela with a 1-0 win in their second match of South American qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
In fact, the player recalls everything he did from the moment the referee sought confirmation from his Video Assistant Referee (VAR) that Rolf Feltscher had indeed been fouled. “I kept saying to myself, ‘this can’t be happening to us again’,” Silva tells FIFA.com, referring to the late equaliser his side conceded to Peru on the opening matchday.
“We gave everything from the first minute, but we couldn’t score. They’d had a goal disallowed and we finally went ahead near the end. But then they signalled eight minutes of added time! That’s almost another game, which is why I said to myself, ‘this can’t be happening to us.'”
With the penalty confirmed, the mind games began. “We’d studied several of their kickers, but not Herrera, who convinced his team-mates to let him take it. Several of our guys told me he was going to curl it to my right, and so I was imaging them telling me afterwards, ‘I told you he’d put it there’,” the 36-year-old recounts with a laugh.
At the same time, he knew that, in compliance with the new rule, he had to have at least one foot on the goalline when the kick was taken. “I think that helps the goalkeeper as it forces you to wait until the very end to decide which way to go, and that can often throw off the kicker.”
Silva trusted his judgement and managed to push the kick out for a corner, although he still had to be on his guard. “I didn’t want my team-mates to get distracted by congratulating me because, if we’d conceded then, the penalty save would have been for nothing.”
As fate would have it, the keeper was also responsible for the last penalty saved in the South American qualifiers. Back in March 2017 in the preliminary competition for Russia 2018, he denied Brazil’s Neymar but could not prevent Paraguay losing that day 3-0.
“I don’t feel like a penalty specialist, and anyway this one was worth much more for what it meant to us. Taking four of the first six points is very good. It puts you on track and lets you work with a bit more peace of mind.”