It's South America against Europe in the quarter-finals.
Kick-Off: Saturday, July 3, 20:30 CET.
Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg.
Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg.
Paraguay were not expected to make it to the quarter-finals and indeed many observers thought that they would struggle to make it past their group stage. However, the South Americans have proved all their detractors wrong and are now in with a chance of making it to the semis.
This is the first time in their history that La Albirroja will feature in the last eight of the World Cup. Gerardo Martino's side defeated Asian giants Japan 5-3 on the penalties in the second round after the match ended 0-0 after extra-time. It wasn't exactly a glittering performance from Paraguay but it was quite effective nevertheless. Moreover, they eventually won and that is what matters for the South Americans.
Needless to say, Paraguay will be the underdogs going into the match against Spain on Saturday evening, which also means that they will not be under any pressure to win. Having said that, one would be naive to suggest that Paraguay cannot upset the European chaampions as they held 2006 World Cup winners Italy to a 1-1 draw in the group stage. Their midfield and attackline are the departments to watch and having already created history, the former Copa America winners will be seeking to craft more.
Spain's defeat to Switzerland in their opening game of the World Cup had many wondering whether the European champions would be able to get past the group stage. However, wins against Honduras and Chile saw them win Group H. Against Portugal in the second round, Vicente del Bosque's side carried on their winning run as they defeated the Euro 2004 finalists 1-0 more comprehensively than the scoreline suggests.
Spain have yet to hit top form in the competition but they have still been winning quite comfortably. Moreover, they have an enviable record as they have earned only one yellow card so far: that was Xabi Alonso against Portugal. La Furia Roja will go onto their quarter-final tie against Paraguay as favourites and are expected to win with relative ease.
However, Spain cannot be complacent as Paraguay, the least fancied of the South American sides in South Africa, have shown that they can compete with the big boys. Spain reached the quarter-finals eight years ago in the World Cup but that time they controversially lost to co-hosts South Korea, while four years ago in Germany they couldn't get past the second round. This time Spain have one of the best squads in the World Cup and they will be looking to step up a gear on Saturday evening.
June 29: Paraguay 0-0 Japan (5-3 penalties) (World Cup)
June 24: Paraguay 0-0 New Zealand (World Cup)
June 20: Slovakia 0-2 Paraguay (World Cup)
June 14: Italy 1-1 Paraguay (World Cup)
June 2: Greece 0-2 Paraguay (Friendly)
June 29: Spain 1-0 Portugal (World Cup)
June 25: Chile 1-2 Spain (World Cup)
June 21: Spain 2-0 Honduras (World Cup)
June 16: Spain 0-1 Switzerland (World Cup)
June 8 Spain 6-0 Poland (Friendly)
There are no injury or suspension worries for coach Gerardo Martino. Midfielder Victor Caceres, who missed the match against Japan due to suspension, will be available for selection and is likely to be drafted into the starting line-up.
Probable Line-up (4-3-3): Villar, Bonet, Da Silva, Alcarez, Morel; Vera, Caceres, Riveros; Santa Cruz, Benitez, Lucas
Coach Vicente del Bosque is likely to retain faith in the same line-up that started against Portugal. Striker Fernando Torres has been woefully out of form but the former Real Madrid coach has already said that the Liverpool forward will be on his teamsheet. Centre-back Raul Albiol is still out injured.
Probable Line-up (4-3-3): Casillas, Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevilla; Xavi, Busquets, Alonso; Iniesta, Torres, Villa
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Antolin Alcaraz (Paraguay)
The Paraguay centre-back was immense at the back against Japan in the last 16 and looked quite comfortable against Keisuke Honda on most occasions. Alcarez also scored against Italy in the group stage and has been a very vital player for the South Americans in the World Cup. The former Fiorentina centre-back will have to marshal the Paraguayan backline well and see that Spain striker David Villa is not give much space or time.
David Villa (Spain)
Spain have scored five goals in the World Cup finals so far - Villa has scored four of them and has set up the other. Villa scored the winner against Portugal in the second round and was a menace for the Portuguese defenders for the 88 minutes he was on the pitch. The 28-year-old is now just three goals short of becoming Spain's all-time top goalscorer and one can lay a bet on him to be on the scoresheet on Saturday evening too.
Spain should have the edge as they have more quality in their side. The European champions have yet to hit top gear in South Africa but they didn't have much trouble against Portugal in the last round.
Indeed, the Castrol World Cup match predictor gives Spain a whopping 76% chance of winning the match while Paraguay are given just 24%. However, the first goal in this game is going to be crucial as Spain could be rattled if they concede early. But if Vicente del Bosque's side score the opening goal, then Paraguay could be in for a slaughter.
Paraguay 0-3 Spain
Who will come out on top? Check out Castrol Football's 2010 World Cup Match Predictor.
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