Sunday, July 04, 2010

Preview of Quarter-final 4: Spain v Paraguay

Neither Spain nor Paraguay have ever won the World Cup or ever really come close. For Spain this is very surprising considering the quality they have often had at their disposal. But for this generation there is the suggestion that these players have what it takes, particularly after finally breaking their major tournament duck by winning Euro 2008. If they do manage to get past Paraguay they will face a repeat of the Euro 2008 final against Germany. Paraguay have a worse world cup record than Spain having just reached the quarter-finals for the first time ever. They will be hoping that in this game they can write another wonderful chapter in their history. This Paraguay side are considered the best they have ever produced and progressing to the semi-finals would not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

The Spanish game is based on possession and lots of it. They pass the ball around beautifully, mesmerically and with sublime ease. There is not a team in the world better at keeping possession. They have a midfield to die for in Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets - a midfield that doesn't even have enough room for the brilliant Cesc Fabregas. They are very used to working together and they all have their own specific qualities that complement each other well. Villa up front is in top form having scored four out of Spain's five World Cup 2010 goals. Pique and Puyol are an experienced centre-back pairing and Ramos provides a good attacking option from right-back as well as being solid in defence. Capdevila is probably the weakest player in the team at left-back. Casillas is one of the world's best keepers. The man likely to partner Villa in attack is Torres but he has looked rusty all tournament. Llorente impressed in his cameo against Portugal but I don't expect him to start in this game.

Paraguay are a defensive unit. They have only conceded one goal all tournament (in the first game against Italy). Centre-back Alcarez looks particularly strong and he even scored a goal against Italy. They also play with deep central midfielders who break up the play effectively. Vera, Riveros and Caceras are more than just extra defenders however - Vera and Riveros both scored excellently finished goals against Slovakia. Paraguay have had some problems keeping possession so (especially given my comments re Spain) I would expect Spain to dominate this area of the game. But with Santa Cruz and Barrios up front Spain must still be wary. They may not be Cabanas but they are very capable. I expect Paraguay to adopt a defensive approach to this game though not as badly as Switzerland did against Spain. They would be more than happy with penalties I imagine.

It's hard to see Spain not progressing but a Paraguay win wouldn't be as big a shock as some would contend. They finished second in South American qualifying and I expect La Albirroja may not be as easy for La Roja to get past as it might appear on paper.

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