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The Cup Running Over


June 28, 2010 5:57 PM

Paraguay-Japan Preview: Score First (or at all) and You Win


JAPAN


The Good News: This team has been a revelation really, a squad that was supposed to finish last in its group but outlasted the Danes to finish second and even pushed the Dutch in its loss. (Cameroon, as we know, inexplicably failed to show for the tournament.) It has achieved its success by trying to retain possession in a 4-1-4-1 formation, converting free kicks, and displaying a much tighter defense than expected.

The Bad News:
Japan hasn't played anyone as physical as the Paraguayans yet, nor anyone that is quite as rugged on defense.

Pedigree:
Almost non-existent. This is its fourth tournament and until this go-around, Japan had never won a World Cup game on foreign soil. When it co-hosted in 2002, it did get out of the group but lost in this round.

Player to Watch:
So far, 24-year-old winger Keisuke Honda has been all-tournament and has provided the Japanese an offensive threat formerly lacking.

To Win: Let Paraguay play physically, draw the free kicks as a result, and  convert them. Above all, score first. If Paraguay gets a lead, it knows how to salt away a game almost better than anyone.



justo-villar.jpg
Paraguay needs a decent game from keeper Justo Villar.



PARAGUAY



The Good News: It won its group playing Paraguayan soccer -- tough and physical -- displaying what is known in the South American world as "garra guarani," which roughly translates as "Paraguayan guts." It only conceded once in the qualifiers -- on a set play. Its keeper, Justo Villar, is good too.

The Bad News: The team has trouble scoring. Its physicality can get it into trouble with teams that are good at converting free kicks or a ref who calls the game closely. And even though it won its group, it was the weakest in South Africa.

Pedigree: Outstanding for a small nation. This is its eighth tournament and the fourth time it has emerged from the group stage. However it has never gone any farther than this -- though in 1998 it lost to eventual winner France in extra time in this round and in 2002 did the same to finalist Germany in the final minute of regulation.

Player to Watch: Striker Roque Santa Cruz was supposed to be the team's great offensive threat but his tournament has been quiet so far. Unless he gets going, Paraguay won't go far.

To Win: Zonal Marking has accurately described the team as "functional rather than spectacular." If it can keep its shape and its head -- and avoid conceding too many free kicks in the area--  it can win.



Prediction: An intriguing game tactically but not one likely headed for the highlight reels. This will be trench warfare, so to speak, with the Japanese trying to play organized soccer and Paraguay basically trying to disrupt them and strike on the counter. Both will seek to control possession in deep midfield. Going into the tournament, one would have handed this game to Paraguay in a second but Japan has been quite impressive so far and could prevail if it scores first. If it goes to penalties, the Paraguayans probably have the slight edge because of their keeper.



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