Gerardo Martino's record-breakers gave La Furia Roja their biggest test of the tournament, says Goal.com's Andy BrassellIn a game as tight as this, there was always likely to be a fall guy. Poor Oscar Cardozo, the author of a spectacular 38-goal-season for Benfica, looked desolate after Paraguay's agonising World Cup exit. In many ways it was his international career in microcosm. He's never been able to hit the heights for his country that he has with his club.
It seems a bit disingenuous to call a defeat to arguably the world's greatest current international side and the reigning European champions a missed opportunity, but Cardozo's tears are representative of what Paraguay will be feeling after losing to Spain.
Having already made it further than ever before by reaching the quarter-final, it was suggested by many that Gerardo Martino's men would wilt against fancied opposition, having already done their bit. Back home people were celebrating pre-match, with president Fernando Lugo appearing live on television this morning dancing the waka waka, clad in a Paraguay shirt.
Settling for what they had already achieved couldn't have been further from Martino's mind. He ripped up the blueprint from the narrow last 16 win over Japan, making an astonishing six changes. Paraguay's intentions were never to be judged on their excellent defensive record - they only conceded once in their opening four games - and their coach sent them into the Ellis Park clash with genuine ambition.
Martino sensibly admitted pre-match that Spanish territorial domination was inevitable, but Paraguay were the better side in the first period. They showed their intent as Jonathan Santana hit an excellent shot from Cardozo's knockdown in the very first minute.
The mood was clear, and left-back Claudio Morel smashed a ludicrously optimistic free-kick over the top from fully 40 yards shortly after. Meanwhile Spain took nearly half-an-hour to have an effort on goal, when Xavi shot narrowly over. Nelson Haedo Valdez may even have given his side a lead late in the half, but his effort was understandably, though debatably, ruled out for offside against strike partner Cardozo.
One sensed it would always be a steep challenge for Paraguay to maintain their pressing and work-rate in the second period, and so it proved, though they stuck to their task admirably as the game opened up. Cardozo had the chance to help his side 'do a Switzerland' from the penalty spot with the game goalless after Gerard Pique's ludicrous foul on him, but 'San' Iker Casillas came to Spain's rescue.
If the Benfica hitman can bring himself to look at the highlights, he may well feel wronged that Spanish encroachment during his kick wasn't spotted to allow him a life, especially in the light of referee Carlos Batres' strictness in penalizing lesser offenses at the other end and forcing Xabi Alonso to re-take.
Still there could have been salvation, even after David Villa's winner, but Casillas denied substitute Roque Santa Cruz after initially spilling Lucas Barrios' shot. But the Albirroja had had their chance. Paraguay can be proud of its team, their pride, their belief and their ability in going toe-to-toe with one of the favorites. But with so many regrets fresh in the mind and the heart, it will take a while for the team, at least, to acknowledge the extent of their achievement.
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