Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Preview of Round of 16. Match 7: Paraguay v Japan

This is La Albirroja versus the Blue Samarai. This is South America versus Asia's final representative, made all the more interesting by virtue of the fact that an Asian side has never beaten a South American side at a World Cup. These are two teams that have never got past the Round of 16. Paraguay have been in this position four times, Japan only once (and that in their own continent). But for one of them - this is about to change! I should also add that neither of them has even scored a goal in the second round!

Both come into the knock-out range with confidence. Paraguay believe this is their best ever team, they finished only one point behind Brazil in qualifying and they finished unbeated top of Group F. Japan's manager Takeshi Okada stated before the World Cup that they would make the semi-finals and they've certainly looked the best Asian team at the tournament. For both teams however it is hard to know whether they looked good because they really were that good or because their opposition didn't perform to potential at the tournament.

Paraguay looked very assured and skilful against Italy, completely dominated Slovakia and did enough against New Zealand to score the requisite point. Japan narrowly defeated Cameroon in a poor game, suffered a narrow loss against Netherlands before playing an excellent game against Denmark, defeating them 3-1.

Head-to-head: They have played each other on six occasions - Paraguay winning twice, Japan and there have been three draws. Paraguay's wins have been in the 2004 Olympic Games and the 1999 Copa America.

Suspensions: Caceres is unfortunately suspended for Paraguay. Vera and Santa Cruz (Paraguay) are one booking short of a suspension as are Abe, Endo, Nagatomo (Japan).

Key players

Paraguay: Alcarez has impressed in defence, Vera has been one of the most enterprising players in South Africa and scored a delightful goal against Slovakia. Santa Cruz will need to start showing why he is considered the star of the team.

Japan: Honda is their inspirational captain and in fine form. Endo is another one with a big talent. Often employed as a defensive midfielder he has a brilliant creative pass. Tulio is an imposing and effective 6 foot tall centre-back.

Expectations: Paraguay have a stellar defence who have conceded only once in South Africa and had the second best defensive record in South American qualifying. But it is also true to say that Japan are quite miserly having conceded twice in South Africa and with a good defensive record in qualifying. Perhaps then it will be a low scoring match? I certainly expect them to spend a while feeling each other out. Paraguay do love to attack but the likes of Santa Cruz, Barrios and Cardozo have not really demonstrated much of this in South Africa. Perhaps tonight is the night that they really let their South American flair go wild. Japan will be neat and quick in possession and potentially lethal from free-kicks. It should be a fascinating contest. Paraguay are favourites, and rightfully so, but this could easily go either way...

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