The first penalty shoot-out of the 2010 World Cup has seen Paraguay progress at the expense of Japan after a tense but ultimately tepid encounter in Pretoria.
There were few genuine chances over the course of a tense match. La Albirroja had the better of the play but struggled to create chances against a well disciplined Blue Samurai defence, while the Japanese were frequently found wanting for real imagination in the attack. Lucas Barrios had a promising opening midway through the first half, which was quickly followed by a Daisuke Matsui shot off the bar at the opposite end of the field.
Extra-time was only equally tense, so it took penalties to decide the outcome in favour of la Albirroja.
Contrary to prior expectations, the game actually started out with a nice tempo. Either side pushed on purposefully, but neither seriously threatened to score. Yuichi Komano drove meaningfully forward from his role as the right-back in the Japanese defence but fired wide from an ambitious range.
Roque Santa Cruz offered some kind of riposte from the South Americans, firing a dangerous high cross along the line of the six yard box that was narrowly too long for Edgar Benitez, who had taken Nelson Valdez’s spot in the starting XI.
This promising opening would not last the duration of the fixture, which quickly nosedived into the kind of tactical affair that few neutrals would relish. The pressing of Japan in the middle of the field was commendable, but only on a handful of occasions would either defence look like being punctured.
Paraguay were bossing the ball but largely lacked imagination in the final third. A cute pass gave Lucas Barrios the chance to spin away from the defence on the edge of the box, which was a skill he executed brilliantly, but faced with Eiji Kawashima, the Borussia Dortmund forward was thwarted.
Daisuke Matsui quickly offered a reply, quickly reacting to a loose ball 25 yards out to bend and dip a fine effort against the top of the Paraguayan crossbar.
Set pieces had been tipped to pose the Japanese real problems, though the delivery of Claudio Morel was questionable in the early stages. When he did finally get a corner right, the ball dropped kindly to Santa Cruz, who smacked his short marginally wide of goal.
Six minutes before the break a strong break down the right from Matsui, who was arguably the best player on the park in the first half, created a clean shooting chance for Keisuke Honda. From the edge of the penalty box, the CSKA Moscow player slashed his shot just wide, though Justo Villar was scrambling desperately.
There were few signs in the early stages of the second half that things would improve. Nestor Ortigoza dallied a little too long when seemingly well placed allowed Yuto Nagatomo to make a good block, while similar hesitancy would also cost Benitez when usefully positioned.
Cristian Riveros’ influence would rise and it would be the midfielder who had the first meaningful Paraguayan effort on goal after the restart, thumping a header straight at Kawashima.
By this stage Nagatomo had already had a shot deflected into the gloves of Villar and soon afterwards Tulio would head wide from a corner kick.
During this brief period there was real life about the game, but once again it would deteriorate into an uninspiring slugfest. Edgar Barreto tried a desperate shot from distance after 75 minutes but it was easily stopped by Kawashima, who might have had an issue with the awkwardly bouncing ball.
There was life in the latter stages of the game, but neither side looked capable of finding a breakthrough against cautious opponents. Extra-time was therefore the logical outcome.
Barrios was thwarted by Kawashima, who would make an even better block from Valdez moments later after the forward had spun effectively at the edge of the box.
Once again this hopeful start proved to be little more than a false dawn as the fear of losing outweighed the desire to claim victory. Set pieces provided the likelier route to goal, but neither goalkeeper was tested in the closing 20 minutes of the additional half hour
The best moment came through a Keiji Tamada break down the left. Though his initial spurt was arrested, a clever flick from Shinji Okazaki had the veteran through on goal, though his attempted pass from a difficult angle couldn’t pick out a team-mate.
After all of the first five penalties had been scored, Komano sent his kick against the top of the bar. Paraguay were thereafter flawless from the spot and deservedly progressed to the last eight of the competition for the first time.