Paraguay win 5-3 on penalties
Paraguay progressed to their first ever World Cup quarter-final, beating Japan 5-3 on penalties after a dire 120 minutes of negative football. Yuichi Komano hit the bar with the third Japanese spot kick, leaving Oscar Cardozo to net the winning penalty to send the Paraguayans through.
Japan had two sighters at goal within the first three minutes. Yoshito Okubo cut in from the left and fired wide just seconds into the match and then Komano got forward from right-back and shot low at Justo Villar from wide of the area. Lucas Barrios sparked the game into life after 20 minutes, spinning on the ball in the box to work himself free of his marker but he could only poke his effort straight at Eiji Kawashima. Within a minute, Daisuke Matsui had hit the bar at the other end with a first time curler from 30 yards. Roque Santa Cruz fired just wide under pressure from Keisuke Honda after a corner fell to him 10 yards out. Honda was inches away five minutes before half time, lashing a first time effort just wide from the edge of the box.
Yuto Nagatomo’s long range volley was deflected into the arms of Villar after 54 minutes. Cristian Riveros had a header saved four minutes later, meeting Claudio Morel’s whipped cross but unable to steer it away from Kawashima. Marcus Tulio Tanaka headed wide at the near post from Yasuhito Endo’s outswinging corner in the 62nd minute. The game drifted away with little in the way of chances, and it took until extra time for either team to come close. Shinji Okazaki headed Endo’s corner across goal and wide, then Barrios headed Morel’s cross straight at Kawashima. The Japanese goalkeeper then reacted quickly to smother at the feet of Nelson Haedo Valdez after the Paraguay substitute muscled his way into the area. After Villar helped Honda’s low freekick wide at one end, Edgar Barreto spooned the ball over the bar at the other from close range with Tulio blocking his path to goal. The match went to penalties, with the Paraguayans netting all five of theirs as Komano proved to be Japan’s fall guy.
The first half was typically cautious for a game that would earn the victor their first ever World Cup quarter-final. There were shades of the opening days of the competition when teams seemed more scared of losing their first match than they were willing to try and win it. Japan were happy to have a few pot shots from distance early on but it took 20 minutes for a genuine chance to arrive. Japan showed against Denmark that they are capable of playing on the front foot and attacking their opponents but they have also shown they excel at playing a cautious, patient game. Paraguay are also capable of taking a defensive approach with their ability to stick rigidly to two banks of four, and they seemed caught between wanting to utilise this system and have a go at the Japanese.
The introduction of Haedo Valdez just before the hour gave Paraguay some of the impetus they needed. The Borussia Dortmund striker was full of running down the left side of attack, with the Paraguayans switching to their alternative plan of three forwards. Haedo Valdez was unable to make significant inroads into the Japanese defence but he was at least winning freekicks and asking questions. The switch of style by Paraguay had the knock on effect of opening the game up at the other end, with Japan finding more and more space. Coach Takeshi Okada responded by sending on Shinji Okazaki, a player with an eye for goal, but he limited his impact by denying him enough support.
If there was one game from the Round of 16 that no one watching wanted to see extra time in, it was this. Having seen some rampant attacking from Germany, a spirited contest between Argentina and Germany and the class of Brazil, here were two teams who did nothing to suggest they deserved a place in the quarter-finals. Japan looked the more likely to conjure a winning goal before the 90 minutes were up but only because Paraguay seemed to have already settled for penalties, let alone extra-time. The play in the additional half hour was an improvement on the dire fare that had preceded it but there were still few signs that there would be any drama other than a penalty shootout. The quality of the penalties was far higher than the football on display in the game, with eight well-struck efforts converted and even Komano’s miss being close to a perfect hit.
With Spain or Portugal awaiting in the next round, few will back Paraguay on this display. The Iberian neighbours would probably have had more to fear from the Japanese, with their settled and well-drilled defence, although they would have had to change it for the first time in the competition if they had progressed after Nagatomo picked up a suspension. Paraguay qualified from what proved to be a poor group with Italy woefully below par, New Zealand overachieving but still not good enough and Slovakia having one good match in the four games they ended up playing. There is a real lack of goal threat from the Paraguayans with no striker having scored yet at this World Cup and they will face far a far stiffer test of their defence from either the Spanish or the Portuguese.
Paraguay – Villar (c), Morel, Da Silva, Alcaraz, Bonet, Vera, Riveros, Oritgoza (Barreto 75), Santa Cruz (Oscar Cardozo 94), Benitez (Valdez 60), Barrios
Japan – Kawashima, Komano, Tanaka, Nagatomo, Nakazawa, Abe (Nakamura 81), Endo, Matsui (Ozazaki 65), Hasebe (c), Honda, Okubo (Tamada 107)