Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz, a veteran of three World Cups, announced on Tuesday he will retire from international football after their qualifiers against Peru and Bolivia.
The 35-year-old, who is winding down his career at his first club Olimpia, was included in coach Francisco Arce’s squad for the World Cup 2018 qualifiers against Peru in Asuncion on Thursday and away to Bolivia in La Paz next Tuesday.
“With this call-up I am bringing to an end my time in the national team,” Santa Cruz told reporters after a team practice on Tuesday.
“It’s a decision that’s hard to take but had to be taken at some point… I think it’s time to just dedicate myself to my club,” said Santa Cruz, Paraguay’s top scorer with 32 goals in 111 appearances.
“I’m happy to retire at a time when I still feel good enough to play,” added Santa Cruz, who has played for clubs including Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers, Real Betis, Malaga and Cruz Azul.
He said he would like to play in these two qualifiers but the decision rested with Arce, who was his international team mate at the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea.
“We’re mature and professional and understand there is a footballing need (more important) than if I’m going to play my last match or not,” Santa Cruz said.
Paraguay, who failed to reach the 2014 finals in Brazil, are seventh in the 10-nation South American group with 15 points from 10 matches, six points behind leaders Brazil.
The top four qualify for the tournament finals in Russia with the fifth-placed team going into an intercontinental playoff.