The Cup Running Over

July 3, 2010 6:07 AM

Spain-Paraguay Quarterfinal Preview: Spain Is Better But Paraguay is Capable of a Surprise

In a Nutshell: On paper the most one-sided match of the quarterfinal round though the score may not reflect it because the Paraguayans, if nothing else, know how to slow a game down. Which means that as long as they can keep it even, they have a chance.

Recent History: They've never played when it counted because both haven't been to recent World Cups often. All in all, there have been three meetings with Spain winning one and the other two ending up tied.

What We Learned Last Game: Spain still has a problem with defensive teams but against Portugal it showed it can break one down, though it may take some time. Paraguay demonstrated that it is tough to score against but labors mightily to score itself.


The Good News: Even though the offense hasn't been as good as advertised, striker David Villa has been. And, the defense has been much better than predicted. It still has only lost two games in three years.

The Bad News:
Iker Cassilas has been uncharacteristically jumpy in net. Spain still has trouble breaking down defensive-oriented teams -- and Paraguay is certainly one of those. The all-world midfield has been sub-par -- fatigued maybe? The same goes for striker Fernando Torres, who hasn't scored for the national team in a year. According to tactical expert Jonathan Wilson, the Spanish have yet to settle on a consistent formula.

Ah, the woes of Spain. For a variety of reasons, this team has never gone past the quarterfinals. Win this game and we're in uncharted territory.

Player to Watch:
Yes, Villa is the scoring threat but midfielder Andres Iniesta needs to pick up his game for Spain to win this tournament.

Telling Stat:
Spain has only received one yellow card in the tournament and is tied for the lead between times they've been fouled and times they've fouled themselves. Expect that to continue here.

To Win:
Don't allow Paraguay to score, much less first. Be patient and attack down the wings, not up the middle. Bring in Fernando Llorente up front to to replace Torres as soon as possible -- Spain was a much better team last time when he was in the game. 

To win, Paraguay could use a touch of brilliance from someone like Roque Santa Cruz.


The Good News: The defense has proven to be world-class -- one goal allowed in four games.

The Bad News:
The offense has proven to be third-class -- three goals in four games. Vaunted striker Roque Santa Cruz has been a no-show and there has been no one to pick up the slack.

Paraguay is a perennial overachiever in world soccer but this is the most it has overachieved.

Player to Watch:
The keeper -- Justo Villar. As long as Spain doesn't score, Paraguay has a chance. He's underrated. 

Telling Stat:
In its history, Paraguay has played in four games past the group stage and has never scored in any of them.

To Win:
Use the Swiss game plan. Keep playing rugged defense, frustrate the Spanish, and strike accurately on the counter the few times chances arise. It's that last point that is going to cause problems for the Paraguayans.

Prediction: On paper, Spain of course. But we know now that a lesser team can beat the Spanish by frustrating them and scoring on the counter -- they are a far different team when they have to play from behind. Paraguay has to get lucky (or far more skillful than it has been so far) and find a way to finish clinically when it gets a chance on the break. If it does, an upset is possible since the Paraguayans play very rugged defense. The cold and altitude could help them.

If It Goes to Penalties: Spain is one for three in penalty shootouts. Paraguay, of course, comes to the game just having won a shootout against Japan and never missing the net.

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