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Episode 135: Una victoria en la cancha (A Victory on the Soccer Field) - Revisited

By Duolingo on Thu 11 May 2023

In May 2019, twenty Paraguayan soccer players traveled from their hometown to Asunción, the nation’s capital, to play the most important game of their lives. Led by their captain, José Elías Argaña, they were the first indigenous team to qualify to Paraguay’s national soccer league.

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Martina: ¡Hola listeners! For this special season of the Duolingo Spanish Podcast, we’re revisiting some of our favorite stories from Indigenous communities across Latin America! Today, we’ll travel to Paraguay to hear an episode from October 2019, where we’ll meet the country’s first Indigenous soccer team and their captain: José Elías Argaña. Keep listening to hear his inspiring journey, and stay tuned at the end for an update on José Elías and his team. Now, onto the episode.

Martina: Puerto Diana is a small indigenous village in Paraguay. It doesn’t normally get national attention but this year, something extraordinary happened in that community.

José Elías: Gol. Gol. ¡Gooool!

Martina: That’s José Elías Argaña, captain of Club Sportivo Puerto Diana, the village’s famous soccer team. Like most people in his community, José Elías usually speaks a local language called Ishir. But to celebrate a goal, he uses a universal word, gol.

José Elías: Nuestro equipo es joven e intrépido, pero también somos pobres. Solo tenemos una pelota y muchos jugadores no tienen zapatillas.

Martina: Zapatillas are athletic shoes. In this case, the word refers to soccer cleats. As in most of South America, professional soccer in Paraguay is a privilege of urban areas, where wealth and sponsors are concentrated. That’s why the whole country was in shock when Club Puerto Diana qualified to play in the Copa Paraguay, the national league.

José Elías: Nosotros éramos el primer equipo indígena que iba a jugar la Copa Paraguay. Todos los medios de comunicación lo decían.

Martina: Journalists soon announced Club Puerto Diana’s victory as a miracle, an event of biblical proportions. Club Puerto Diana was the little David dreaming to defeat Goliath, the giants of the national league.

José Elías: Nosotros tuvimos que ir a la capital para enfrentar a nuestro siguiente rival en un estadio profesional. Todo eso era nuevo para nosotros. Ganar significaba que podíamos seguir jugando; perder significaba que nos iban a descalificar. ¡Estábamos nerviosos!

Martina: For them and for all of their fans, the next game was going to be the most important of their lives.

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast. I’m Martina Castro. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories, to help you improve your Spanish listening, and gain new perspectives on the world.

The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I’ll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again. We also offer full transcripts at

Martina: As we said earlier, José Elías’s first language isn’t Spanish. It’s an indigenous language native to Paraguay called Ishir. But José comes from a community that has been historically silenced, not only in Paraguay, but throughout South America. That’s why we felt it was important that you hear him tell his own story, even if his Spanish sounds a little different than our previous storytellers.

Martina: Puerto Diana, population 1500, is a village along the Paraguay River, on the northeast border with Brazil. People in Puerto Diana either fish in the river or hunt in the forest to put food on their tables.

José Elías: La vida aquí es muy distinta a la vida en la ciudad. No tenemos supermercados, ni buses de transporte público, ¡ni siquiera tenemos electricidad!

Martina: Puerto Diana is not an exception in Latin America. Most of the indigenous communities in tropical areas of South America are far from big cities, and they lack public services such as hospitals and universities. Life is a daily challenge.

José Elías: La época de lluvia es muy buena para la pesca. La gente se pone contenta y trabaja mucho. Sin embargo, el agua destruye los caminos y los carros no pueden entrar o salir del pueblo. El río es nuestra única vía de comunicación, o la menos peligrosa.

Martina: It takes four days to get to Puerto Diana by boat from Asunción, Paraguay’s capital. José Elías and his neighbors sometimes feel like they live in total isolation. Until it comes to soccer, or fútbol. Fútbol offers them a link between their community and the rest of their country.

José Elías: Yo siempre he jugado al fútbol, desde pequeño. Ahora tengo veinte años y mi sueño es ser un jugador profesional.

Martina: José Elías is a fisherman, currently devoted to finishing high school. On the field, he is a natural leader. He’s very good at communicating with his fellow players and at reminding them of strategies. He would play a key role in his team’s bid to qualify for la Copa Paraguay.

José Elías: Para clasificar para la Copa Paraguay, los equipos aficionados primero tienen que ganar en sus distritos y luego en sus departamentos. Solo así un equipo como el nuestro puede pasar a la etapa nacional. Allí nos esperan los mejores equipos del país.

Martina: It’s an uphill battle for an amateur team like Club Puerto Diana. The players all have day jobs as fishermen and they usually train in their spare time. Other teams in the Copa Paraguay have professional players — that means they get paid to play.

José Elías: Casi todos mis compañeros en el equipo son pescadores. Algunos salen a pescar en la noche y regresan a casa a las seis de la mañana para dormir. Otros salen a pescar a las seis de la mañana y regresan al mediodía a sus casas. Ellos duermen un poquito y luego tienen que entrenar.

Martina: Being the captain, is an additional responsibility for José Elías. Sometimes he has to say no to jobs because he has to be on the field before anyone else. He goes to work with the coach or just to serve as an example for his teammates.

José Elías: No importa si dormiste o no, si tuviste buena pesca o no, todos tenemos que estar en el campo de entrenamiento a las tres de la tarde.

Martina: Well, that’s the goal, but sometimes only a few players show up. The field is dusty. Dogs and pigs are common visitors. If it rains, it gets really muddy.

José Elías: Esto es normal para nosotros. El único problema es que las zapatillas se arruinan muy rápido y, a veces, tenemos que entrenar sin zapatos. Sin embargo, hemos tenido nuestros éxitos.

Martina: Founded in 2008, the club is a mix of strong young players and committed managers who work to get resources for the team. The combination is crucial. For ten years, they haven’t had problems defeating their local adversaries. They easily qualified for the regional level of the competition.

José Elías: Para llegar a nuestros partidos, a veces teníamos que viajar ocho horas con muy mal clima y en diferentes botes.

Martina: A few days before the game that would decide if they’d go to Copa Paraguay, a news website from Asunción said, “Faraway from modern civilization and luxurious technology, but with all the energy, a fully indigenous team will face the most important game of its short life.”

José Elías: El partido fue muy emocionante. Nosotros ganamos 3 a 1. Sin embargo, nuestro rival nos había ganado en el partido anterior, así que nos tuvimos que ir a penales.

Martina: In penalty kicks, five players from each team take turns shooting goals while the opponent’s goalkeeper has to stop them. Club Puerto Diana is known as a strong team, but winning a game in penalty kicks requires mental focus, technique, and a bit of luck.

José Elías: Mis compañeros sabían que teníamos que hacer historia y esta era nuestra oportunidad. Todos estábamos muy concentrados.

Martina: Club Puerto Diana made five successful penalty kicks. The opponents only three. With this score they qualified to the national level of the Copa, and the media went crazy.

José Elías: Fue bonito, inesperado. Nosotros regresamos a la comunidad y cada quien se fue a su casa a celebrar con sus familias. Pocos días después, la televisión, los periódicos y las redes sociales estaban hablando de nosotros.

Martina: They couldn’t stop talking about how this was the first time in the history of the country that an indigenous team qualified for the Copa Paraguay. Now they were going to play in the capital, a place many of the Club Puerto Diana players had never been.

José Elías: Poco a poco, nosotros nos dimos cuenta de algo: éramos un equipo muy pequeño y pobre, y ahora íbamos a jugar con los mejores equipos del país.

Martina: In two months, they would go to Asunción for their first game in the Copa Paraguay. The experience could be a life changing success or a complete disaster.

Martina: When it came time to go to Asunción, 20 players from Club Puerto Diana set off to go there by boat. They were accompanied by a coach, the president of the club, and a TV crew from the capital that would produce a short documentary about them.

José Elías: El partido estaba programado para cuatro días después. Nuestro rival era un equipo del sur del país llamado “Sol de América Pastoreo”. Nosotros teníamos solo unos días para llegar a la capital y prepararnos.

Martina: During the trip, José Elías noticed that some of the players looked worried.

José Elías: Mis compañeros parecían tristes, en especial los muchachos casados. No era por el partido, era porque nunca habían estado lejos de su familia tanto tiempo. Ellos tenían hijos, esposas, y no iban a trabajar por varios días.

Martina: So to shorten the travel time, the manager decided to do half of the trip by boat and half by bus. Now, it would take two days instead of four.

José Elías: Éramos veinte jugadores, pero solo había cuatro camas en el barco. Nosotros hicimos un plan para dormir por turnos de dos horas cada uno. A mí me tocó el primer turno a las cuatro de la tarde y otro turno a las dos de la madrugada.

Martina: Not having enough beds on the boat was just one of the many challenges the team faced before their game. The impact of the weather on their soccer field, or cancha, was another.

José Elías: Durante las semanas antes del partido no pudimos entrenar mucho a causa de las lluvias. La cancha estaba en muy mal estado. Además, muchos de los compañeros tenían trabajo y no venían a jugar.

Martina: On the other hand, the recent popularity of the team had helped Club Puerto Diana get some donations. A marketing company from Asunción also offered to manage their social media.

José Elías: Nosotros estábamos preocupados porque nuestras zapatillas estaban rotas. Solo uno de mis compañeros y yo pudimos comprar zapatillas nuevas. ¿Cómo íbamos a jugar así? Pusimos en Twitter: “Pueden faltarnos las zapatillas, pero la pasión nos sobra”.

Martina: They took to Twitter and wrote: “We don’t have shoes, but we have lots of passion.”

José Elías: Recibimos muchos mensajes bonitos. Uno de los mensajes era del administrador de un equipo profesional. Él nos dijo que nos iba a regalar las zapatillas. Otra persona nos regaló las camisetas. Así, poco a poco, nosotros completamos el uniforme.

Martina: When the team arrived in Asunción, many of the players were shocked by the hustle of the city. It was full of people. The buildings were tall, the streets were paved and full of cars.

José Elías: Todo esto era nuevo e increíble para mis compañeros.

Martina: The weather was another surprise. Puerto Diana is typically hot and humid, so Asunción felt cold to the players, especially at night.

José Elías: En Asunción hacía mucho frío y al menos siete compañeros se enfermaron.

Martina: Finally, they could focus on training for the game, but then they faced another challenge: they had never played on a professional grass field before. They were used to playing on dry dirt, even on the mud, but they had never played on grass.

José Elías: Para nosotros, lo más importante era usar el tiempo al máximo para entrenar en una cancha de pasto.

Martina: Cerro Porteño, a famous professional team, let them use their stadium for one day. But Club Puerto Diana couldn’t use it because that very day there was an important meeting to attend.

Martina: Aware of Puerto Diana’s odyssey, the President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez, had invited the team to his palace.

José Elías: Nosotros llegamos al Palacio temprano en la mañana y ya estaba lleno de periodistas. El presidente nos recibió en un salón muy elegante. La ministra de deportes también estaba ahí.

Martina: Club Puerto Diana wasn’t only playing a soccer game. They felt like they were in Asunción to represent all of the indigenous communities in the country, which are often invisible, and they had prepared for that. When the time came, they had something to say to the authorities.

José Elías: Nuestras camisetas no solo tenían el número de cada jugador en la espalda. También tenían mensajes sobre la vida en Puerto Diana. Por ejemplo, una camiseta decía: “2 pelotas para entrenar”. Otra decía: “13 jugadores son pescadores”. Y otra: “17 horas para llegar a la ciudad”.

Martina: A few authorities from Puerto Diana were present at the meeting with the President as well, and they reminded him that they still don’t have electricity in their community. They also invited him to visit Puerto Diana.

José Elías: El presidente nos escuchó y prometió que nos iba a visitar para conocer nuestra realidad. Él nos regaló pelotas, zapatillas y camisetas. También nos invitó a desayunar.

Martina: After their visit, the team finally went to practice on a grassy field for a few hours. But they couldn’t remain focused, so they went to bed early. José Elías remembers that day being particularly exhausting for them.

José Elías: El día del partido todos nos reunimos en los vestuarios una hora antes del juego.

Martina: Vestuarios are locker rooms.

José Elías: El entrenador nos dio las últimas instrucciones. Luego, nos pusimos en círculo y rezamos juntos. Yo sentía que íbamos a ganar 2-1, incluso 2-0.

Martina: This was their first game in the Copa Paraguay, their first time in Asunción, and the first time they were going to play on a grass field. It was also the first time they were going to play in a stadium full of people.

José Elías: Cuando salimos a la cancha, la cantidad de gente nos sorprendió. Había miles de personas. Todas gritaban. Había incluso bandas de música. ¡Había mucho ruido!

Martina: A hundred people from their community had traveled to attend the game. When it was time to begin, both teams got on the field. The players had official pictures taken, the captains shook hands and the referee blew his whistle… It was time to play.

José Elías: Durante los primeros minutos del partido, yo me sentía perdido. Miraba para todos lados y no podía concentrarme. Mis compañeros se sentían igual que yo. El ruido y la cantidad de gente nos molestaban.

Martina: The players of Sol de América Pastoreo, the opposing team, quickly got the ball and made a goal. Once, twice and then a third time. Three goals in less than ten minutes.

José Elías: Tres goles después, nosotros reaccionamos y comenzamos a jugar mejor. Yo les dije a mis jugadores: “¡Tranquilos, muchachos! ¡Vamos a salir de esta situación!”.

Martina: Eventually, José Elías and his fellow players got their act together and they armed a counterattack.

José Elías: Nuestro equipo jugó a la defensiva. La pelota llegó al medio campo, un compañero la tomó y pasó entre tres jugadores. Luego, le hizo un pase a otro jugador y él le dio a la pelota… y ¡gol!

Martina: The striker was so happy that he ran to the stands to celebrate with the fans.

But the joy was short lived as the opposing team got the ball again and it felt like they had never lost it. By the end of the first half, the score looked like a nightmare: 10 to 1.

José Elías: Nosotros cometimos muchos errores.

Martina: As they sat in the locker room, José Elías started having regrets.

José Elías: Yo pensé que ir a visitar al presidente no había sido una buena idea. Necesitábamos entrenar más. Sin embargo, pensar eso era ignorar las verdaderas diferencias entre los equipos.

Martina: Things got a little better for Club Puerto Diana during the second half. They completed a couple of plays and scored twice. But the final result was still painful: 16 to 3. This eliminated the team from the Copa Paraguay.

José Elías: Mis compañeros estaban muy tristes. Yo era el capitán y tenía que ayudar a mi equipo a olvidar esta situación. A la mañana siguiente, yo me reuní con todos y les dije: “Esta es la primera vez que jugamos acá y vamos a regresar. Nosotros tendremos una segunda oportunidad”.

Martina: A couple of days later, the team traveled back home. This time, it was on a plane, a local company gave them tickets for free. It took them less than an hour to cover the same distance they had covered in almost two days on their way there.

José Elías: La mayoría de nosotros nunca había viajado en avión. Fue extraño, pero yo prefiero viajar en barco porque puedes ver el paisaje y pensar.

Martina: The flight was so fast that they didn’t have a chance to reflect on what had happened. They landed in Bahía Negra, the capital city of their district.

José Elías: Estábamos muy tristes y deprimidos. Sin embargo, para nuestra total sorpresa, unas doscientas personas nos estaban esperando en el aeropuerto. Había carros para llevarnos al pueblo y una banda de música. Incluso jugadores de otros equipos vinieron a felicitarnos.

Martina: For many of the neighbors, this was about more than accomplishing something on the soccer field. The team had also brought political attention to their struggles. Now, people all over the country knew about Puerto Diana.

José Elías: Esa demostración nos hizo creer más en nosotros mismos. Algún día vamos a regresar a la Copa Paraguay. ¡De eso no hay duda!

Martina: A few days later, Club Puerto Diana was back on the training field. But something had changed.

José Elías: El campo estaba lleno de chicos que querían ser parte del equipo, que querían ser futbolistas.

Martina: José Elías Argaña is the captain of Club Sportivo Puerto Diana, and his team continues to compete in soccer tournaments. Since this story first aired, the club has launched a youth soccer league, and welcomed new players to the field! We’ve also learned that in January of 2022, Paraguay welcomed its first soccer team for Indigenous women! It’s called “Atlético Maká”, dedicated to the Maká community near the country’s capital. So far, more than 30 women have joined and are training to play soccer.

This story was originally produced by Marco Avilés, a journalist based in Philadelphia. It was adapted by Tali Goldman, a journalist and writer based in Buenos Aires.

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The Duolingo Spanish podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media. I’m the executive producer, Martina Castro. Gracias por escuchar.


This episode includes recordings from Quistard, comountaller, tiotilo2003 and dobroide under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Producer: Marco Avilés
Narrator & Protagonist: José Elías Argaña
Script Editor: Catalina May
Mixed by: Samia Bouzid
Sound Design & Mastering Engineer: Martin Cruz Farga