Goal.com examines the crucial battles in la Furia Roja's encounter against la Albirroja...It may be a clash of the two Latin nations, but it’s a clash of two very contrasting styles when Spain meet with Paraguay in the quarter-finals of the World Cup on Saturday. La Furia Roja are very much the artists and will pass the ball about at every given opportunity, while Paraguay’s strength has been their defensive solidarity and organisation in the early stages of the tournament.
Given the opposing approaches of the two sides, which is liable to get the upper hand in the key battles that will be fought out all over the field?
Fernando Torres (Castrol Ranking: 7)/ Fernando Llorente (Castrol Ranking: 193) v Antolin Alcaraz (Castrol Ranking: n/a)
Spain are considered to be one of the most potent attacking forces in the world, yet they have failed to truly fire in this competition. Meanwhile, Paraguay’s rock solid defence makes this an especially interesting area of examination.
Generally speaking Fernando Torres would be the automatic choice for Vicente del Bosque to select as his spearhead striker. Quick and deadly in front of goal, the Liverpool forward has been the envy of many nations in the past, but not so in South Africa. Looking distinctly off the pace, El Nino continues to struggle infront of goal and if fails to fire on all cylinders, he will be taken off.
Should Torres cut a forlorn figure again, Spain could potentially introduce a very different threat in the form of Fernando Llorente, who came off the bench to great effect against Portugal. His physique and willingness to tussle with the Seleccao defence had an unsettling factor, and as a result the Spaniards looked more dangerous going forward.
On the other hand, Paraguay boast Antolin Alcaraz at the heart of their rearguard. One of the steadiest defenders of the competition thus far, the robust centre-back has seen his reputation rise sharply over the last three weeks as he has produced a number of steady performances.
Verdict: Paraguay are likely to play deep and attempt to counter, thereby negating Torres’ advantage of pace. Given the striker’s recent lack of form, Alcaraz may well come out on top in that battle, but he may find life tougher against Llorente, who is less likely to start.
David Villa (Castrol Ranking: 9) v Carlos Bonet (Castrol Ranking: n/a)
Carlos Bonet is the man with the most unenviable task in world football on Saturday as it will likely be his job to police David Villa, who is now being deployed by la Furia Roja almost as a left winger. If Barcelona’s new signing cannot be contained, la Albirroja will have a tough time shutting their European counterparts out.
Villa’s form since arriving in South Africa has been exceptional and has been one of the reasons that Del Bosque’s side have progressed this far in the competition. Not only capable of scoring poacher’s goals, the forward has displayed his aptitude at scoring from distance, almost becoming for Spain what Arjen Robben has been for Bayern Munich, only playing on the opposite flank. He loves to cut in on his favoured right foot and strike at goal, but he is equally capable of driving to the byline with his left.
Bonet is likely to need support from his midfield, probably Enrique Vera, who has played on the right side of a central trio, and the Olimpia man is going to need every modicum of experience he has gained over his 66 caps if he is to contain the former Valencia player. The 32-year-old has looked sturdy defensively thus far, but he has not yet come up against such a potent threat.
Verdict: If Villa can replicate the kind of form he showed against Portugal, there is only going to be one winner in this battle... and it’s not Bonet.
Xavi (Castrol Ranking: 26) v Nestor Ortigoza (Castrol Ranking: n/a)
In high profile matches, one of the key battlegrounds is always the quest for dominance in the centre of the pitch. This is where Spain have excelled in recent years and this is the bedrock of their remarkable success. If Paraguay are to spring a shock, they will need to disrupt the Spanish midfield as often as possible.
Xavi is generally the man who makes Spain tick. Capable of playing a killer pass, the Barcelona star is equally content simply maintaining possession and waiting until the correct time to strike. He has perhaps given away possession a little more freely than he would have liked in this competition to date, though he still remains a force to be reckoned with and a real fulcrum of the side.
While Xavi’s list of honours is long and distinguished, holding midfielder Ortigoza, who is likely to be deployed to mark the Barcelona man, is a relative rookie. The 25-year-old only has six caps to his name to date but did a decent job against Japan in the previous round. Xavi presents a very different challenge, but one the Argentinos Juniors player must rise to.
Verdict: It's impossible to see past Xavi, who has single-handedly controlled so many games in the past.
Carles Puyol (Castrol Ranking: 24) v Lucas Barrios (Castrol Ranking: 16)
Paraguay’s goal scoring record in the World Cup has been anything but impressive as they have mustered only three goals to reach this stage and have been shut-out against both New Zealand and Japan. Spain, on the other hand, have conceded only twice, yet they have not always looked steady in the middle of their defence.
Attempting to remedy this will be defensive leader Carles Puyol, who will look to marshal the back line at every given opportunity. The Barcelona defender has not always looked entirely commanding in the centre of defence, but the veteran is capable of so much better. A useful tackler, the 32-year-old must maintain his concentration as Spain are likely to dominate possession and only be attacked at rare moments on the counter.
Lucas Barrios will be the man to lead the Paraguayan charge. The Argentine-born striker is a newcomer to the international game but has been scoring regularly for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and also for the Albirroja in the build-up to the World Cup. Since the serious stuff started he has yet to find the net but the 25-year-old has looked sharp and tricky. He must not be given a sight of goal by the Spanish.
Verdict: Barrios has previously been left too isolated in attack, really limiting his impact. If he is deserted in such a manner again, Spain should be able to quell his threat but the Spanish Armada will certainly have to stay on their toes.
Spain are hot favourites - and rightly so. They may not score a heap of goals against a solid defensive unit, but they'll have enough to see off this challenge.
Spain 2-0 Paraguay
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