(Reuters) – Salvador Cabanas, the Paraguay striker missing from the World Cup after he was shot in the head in Mexico in January, will inspire the team who intend to pay tribute to him, coach Gerardo Martino said Sunday.
Paraguay begin their World Cup Group F campaign against Italy in Cape Town Monday, and later meet New Zealand and Slovakia.
Cabanas, who led Paraguay through a strong qualifying series to a World Cup berth, was lucky to survive the shooting at a Mexico City night club and has been at a rehabilitation center in Argentina, where he has started to play football again.
“It is a very sensitive issue for all of us in Paraguay. The players have been in touch with Cabanas and of course he is a great inspiration for us,” Martino told reporters.
“He would have been here had he not suffered the accident. He is recovering, it is a very important stage in his recovery now. His development is favorable and we hope to find him looking very well when we get back,” he added.
Lucas Barrios, the Argentina-born striker who obtained Paraguayan nationality through his mother in April as Martino sought to fill the void left by Cabanas, said players had a surprise in store for their injured team mate.
“We have three matches ahead of us and we will play for Salvador.”
Cabanas’s doctor, Lisandro Olmos, told Reuters last month he beat the odds to survive the shooting and continues to surprise as he recovers.
Damage from the bullet forced doctors to remove part of his skull to relieve pressure from brain swelling. The skull bone was replaced but doctors were forced to leave the bullet.
An advertisement, filmed last year, has taken on special symbolic value in Paraguay. It shows Cabanas first as a field commander, riding a horse and encouraging his team mates, then manning the wheel of ship in the middle of a storm.
(Editing by Ossian Shine)