Kick Off: Thursday, June 29, 2010, 1600 CET.
Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria.
Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria.
South American Stalwarts
Of the South American sides that entered the World Cup, Paraguay were perhaps the least heralded, but have shown they are here to prove they can be just as good on the world's biggest stage as they were in their qualifying section, if not better.
Starting with a positive draw against Italy and a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Slovakia, the draw with a spirited New Zealand was a bit of a let down, but they still ended Group F in top spot and advanced only conceding one goal.
Of note has been their three-man midfield. In particular, Enrique Vera, Cristian Riveros and Victor Caceres (who will be suspended) have been excellent so far, and their industry in terms of both defense and offense has been a crucial success story and the midfield will need to be at their best again against a very hard-working Japanese team.
Samurai Proving Stronger Than Most Anticipated
Coming into the tournament, Japan were billed as an overly defensive side that did not know how to score and would play purely defensive football, coached by someone whose tactics were no longer relevant in the modern game. However, they have perhaps been the surprise of the World Cup so far - proving everyone wrong.
The last Asian representatives after South Korea's exit to Uruguay, they are keeping the continent's slim hopes alive. Goal.com's John Duerden even suggests that coach Takeshi Okada could lead his side to historic feats in South Africa.
The Blue Samurai have said they hope to make the semi-finals and that is looking far less far-fetched than two weeks ago. With players fighting hard to step up and lend star playmaker Keisuke Honda a hand they will be confident of making it through to the quarter-finals after their convincing 3-1 win over the Danes.
DRAW 0-0 (n) New Zealand (World Cup, June 24)
WON 2-0 (n) Slovakia (World Cup, June 20)
DRAW 1-1 (n) Italy (World Cup, June 14)
WON 2-0 (n) Greece (Friendly, June 2)
DRAW 2-2 (n) Ivory Coast (Friendly, May 30)
WON 3-1 (n) Denmark (World Cup, June 24)
LOST 1-0 (n) Netherlands (World Cup, June 19)
WON 1-0 (n) Cameroon (World Cup, June 14)
LOST 2-0 (n) Cote d’Ivoire (Friendly, June 4)
LOST 2-1 (n) England (Friendly, May 30)
Midfielder Victor Caceres, who has played every minute so far, is suspended having picked up two yellow cards. Edgar Barreto could take his place. Otherwise there is a full line-up available to tactician Gerardo Martino.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Villar, Bonet, Alcaraz, Da Silva, Morel; Vera, Barreto, Riveros; Barrios, Valdez, Santa Cruz.
Okada has no suspensions to worry about and the same players that did so well against Denmark are likely to line up to take on Paraguay with Honda leading the line.
Probable Starting XI (4-5-1): Kawashima; Komano, Nakazawa, Tulio, Nagatomo; Matsui, Abe, Hasebe, Endo, Okubo; Honda
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Enrique Vera (Paragauay)
The veteran has been as enterprising as any Paraguay player in South Africa. Whether tracking back or making a dangerous run forward, Vera adds another dimension to the South American outfit. His skillful goal against Slovakia was evidence that he is capable of being a game-changing player.
Keisuke Honda (Japan)
A rising star, Honda's good form with VVV-Venlo and CSKA Moscow at club level has transferred to the world stage in South Africa. His free-kick against Denmark showcased his finishing ability, while his sublime assist to set up their third was evidence of his sublime skill. For his performance, he was rated as the Goal.com Player Of The Day. A similar display will take them through to the last eight.
These are two sides who have both performed above expectations thus far at the 2010 World Cup and played some good football, while keeping it tight at the back. Expect a very hard-fought contest that could go either way. Extra time or penalties is a real possibility. I'll go for an Eastern surprise again, but this match is anyone's for the taking.
Paraguay 0-1 Japan
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