Today’s World Cup Preview – Clash of the underdogs, followed by the Battle of Iberia

The last 16 comes to a close at the World Cup. Firstly, a Paraguay and Japan clash in a battle of the underdogs. And then Spain and Portugal meet in the match with plenty encouragement for goals, on paper at least.

PARAGUAY vs. JAPAN
3.00pm –Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria

One of these outsiders has the chance to put the cat amongst the pigeons at the World Cup, with an unexpected quarterfinal spot in store for the winner between Paraguay and Japan in Pretoria.

The Japanese, who were not fancied at the start of the tournament after a poor showing in their warm up games, have grown in confidence throughout the tournament and despite a slightly fortuitous defeat by Netherlands, a superb performance against Denmark confirmed their place in the last 16. As has been the way in this tournament the success of Keisuke Honda is vital to the team’s progression as every time the forward is on target for Takeshi Okada’s team, Japan go on to win.

It would be fair to say of Paraguay that their attacking resources should be producing far more in the final third. Roque Santa Cruz’s performances have left a lot to be desired, with his involvement against New Zealand labored at best. Oscar Cardozo may have to chip in for Gerardo Martino’s side and they should expect no easy side against a sturdy Japan back four.

SPAIN vs. PORTUGAL
7.30pm –Green Point Stadium, Cape Town

With both countries geographic proximity one of the closest between any two countries at this years finals, there’s more than just a spot in the last-eight up for grabs as some sort of local pride will also be on the line.

Both sides have hardly had group campaigns becoming of their heritages with little passion and color inserted in either team’s play, maybe with the exception of Portugal’s demolition of North Korea. Spain are yet to have fully recovered from their opening day defeat to Switzerland, while Portugal’s prowess at the back has been another surprise during this unpredictable World Cup.

Even an injury to Xavi Alonso could still mean a start on the bench for Fernando Torres, a player very much out of sorts on the Spain team. On the other side a trio of varying attacking formations are yet to be favored yet by Carlos Queiroz, and whether Crisitano Ronaldo starts up front alone, like he did against Brazil, is unsure. Maybe the biggest question mark however is that of the performance of both sides, and how that might contribute to a low-key affair in the round of 16.

Both teams seemed happy in the group stage to let the game go by without forcing the issue but let’s hope the will to win between these Iberian neighbors is greater than ever.

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