Kick-off: Saturday, 3rd July – 7:30pm
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
World Cup Quarter-Final
Paraguay may be forgiven for settling for their quarter-final appearance against the reigning European champions, but there work is far from done and they’ll now have eyes on their first World Cup semi-final encounter although know they must somehow evade the technical Spaniards if they are to make further inroads as well as personal history. They are the underdogs for this last-eight clash with Spain, huge outsiders in fact, but they will know the Spanish aren’t unbeatable despite their almost infallible record in recent years and will go for the throat of a team which has yet to live up to their pre-tournament billing.
All the hard work was done in the group, Group F, as Paraguay finished above the likes of Italy, Slovakia and New Zealand to ensure their first knock-out encounter was a more forgiving fixture. They were rewarded with Japan in the last-sixteen, arguably the weakest of the sixteen teams to progress from the group stage, but the South American’s made heavy work of despatching of the Asian side, failing to find a way past a dogged Japanese defence in 90 minutes. Martino’s men found little success in Extra-Time and so needed some calm and composed individuals to see them through the dreaded shoot-out. Looking back, every single one of Paraguay’s penalties were of high quality and their 5-4 spot-kick victory will do them the world of good in terms of confidence, especially if this game was to go all the way.
Gerado Martino’s team weren’t at all convincing against Japan despite looking the liklier of the two sides to score throughout 90 minutes. It’s common knowledge that Japan aren’t known for their attacking prowess, and that defence is often the way forward for the Asian side, so to see Paraguay offer little from a forward perspective was very disappointing and a worry ahead of their clash with the world’s second best team in Spain. Somehow, and even we aren’t sure how, they’ll need to break down a defence which has conceded just two goals so far whilst remaining resolute at the back themselves. Paraguay themselves have been difficult to break down, conceding just the one goal in four games, but it has come a time when a hero is needed, where one of their forwards must step forward because the likelihood of Spain drawing blank for the second time in the tournament is miniscule. With that said, Martino will look to work from the defence up and will set his team up to defend in numbers, get plenty of men behind the ball and try to win this gruelling encounter to nil if possible. No way will he want this to be an open contest, so expect a ‘man the battle station’ job from Paraguay in the opening exchanges.
The Spanish were the team to beat before the tournament, but it took just one game before the team to beat were beaten, by lowly Switzerland of all the teams. A result which shook the World Cup has aided Spain in awakening from their slumber of arrogance, with the Europeans going on to win their following three matches against Honduras (2-0), Chile (2-1) and Portugal (1-0) as they continue their quest for their first FIFA World Cup triumph.
It would be an understatement to say Vicente Del Bosque has established a team of real quality, one with the potential to win a competition they have never got their hands on previously. The Spanish have always been slated for having glamorous teams but never delivering on the big stage, and well, the frightening factor about it all is should Spain not clinch the 2010 crown, they will have failed to win the competition with arguably their strongest squad ever assembled. It would be even more disappointing considering they seemingly ditched their ‘underachieving’ status two years ago when winning the 2008 European Championships in Austria/Switzerland. So why have they not set the tournament alight? Why are the Spanish holding back and will their stuttering start to the tournament come back to haunt them?
We’ve found it difficult to put our finger on any one factor, although Fernando Torres not performing is certainly one of them. David Villa has been carrying the sole burden of scoring Spain’s goals – accounting for four of Spain’s five goals so far – and without the Barcelona forward, Spain may have been sat at home right now. While identifying one major factor for Spain’s sluggish start may be difficult, we have come to realise that Spain do have a major flaw and that kicks into life whenever they pit themselves against a team which opt for a strong defensive settlement, and in Paraguay, who they’ll face on Saturday, Spain will have to face their nemesis. Against the Swiss, Spain were frustrated and despite creating chances, clear cut opportunities were at a premium. The same can be said for when they played Portugal on Tuesday, although they did eventually squirm their way through. Because of their tendency to keep possession for as long as possible, often waiting for the gap to appear, teams have enough time to get settled as Spain waste so much time passing the ball around in the midfield. If a team is committed and patient enough, they can frustrate Spain although the Spanish did shown on Tuesday that they had the patience required and that they weren’t afraid to win games ugly.
Spain will need to set a fast tempo early on, it’s imperative they don’t let Paraguay settle as the South Americans have a strong defensive unit ready and willing to set up camp. Spain don’t have very man flaws but one is that they struggle to break down sides with defensive commitments. With this in mind, an early goal is so important and if they can spri9nt out of the blocks and give Paraguay something to think about, they may win this game early as we don’t see Paraguay scoring if truth be told. They could do with Fernando Torres returning to his former self as well.
Match Verdict: Spain to WIN – 1.50
An obvious pick, the only pick in our minds, as Spain look to take another huge stride towards that illustrious first FIFA World Cup title. It’s baffling to hear that Spain have only ever appeared in one semi-final previously, way back in 1950, but even more startling that they’ve only accumulated five goals thus far. A lightening quick start to proceedings on Saturday and they should bag themselves a couple more. Add into the mix one forward looking to find some form ahead of a possible semi-final and final in Fernando Torres, and another gunning for the FIFA World Cup Golden Boot in David Villa, whom is level with Higuain and Vittek on four goals, and you have a victory/goal hungry Spain.
Paraguay will need the defence performance of their life’s to hold Spain we feel. They are capable, we just don’t see it that’s all.