Paraguay Camp Focus – Quarter-final aim achieved, now for the unthinkable

Before the World Cup kicked off, some people predicted Paraguay would have a difficult campaign – many expected them to go out at the group stage. This was something the squad certainly did not agree with and set themselves an aim of a quarter-final place, which was proved to be correct on Tuesday afternoon.

After two hours of football and no goals, the game had to come down to dreaded penalties. The Paraguay squad relished that opportunity as they calmly slotted home all five penalties. Japan’s Yuichi Komano’s penalty hit the crossbar, which was the only thing to separate the two sides, allowing the South Americans to progress.

Tonight will be their first quarter-final appearance when they come up against pre-tournament favourites Spain, and La Albijorra are relishing the chance of an upset. “We’re all going to have to play very well again if we want to advance,” said Paraguay goalkeeper and captain Justo Villar. “If we keep working hard, all things are possible and we can beat Spain.”

The defence has been an impressive factor in the success so far in the tournament, only conceding a single goal against world champions Italy. Paulo Da Silva and Antolin Alcaraz have been in impressive form, with the midfield also performing in front of their own goal. That defensive attitude got them through the group stage and allowed them to progress as winners, avoiding potential champions Holland. “Compared to other teams, we’re more defensively orientated but we also have attacking options,” Coach Gerardo Martino said. “We have good players up front but we haven not proved that so far, as we have not scored many goals.”

Although the defence has been rock solid, the attack has not lived up to its potential. This could be blamed on the lack of match time the strikers have managed in their quest to return from injury. Roque Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardozo had both returned from injuries before they joined up with the national squad, with minimal form and time on the pitch for their clubs. The Benfica striker was the one who slotted home the winning penalty, and someone who did not need match practice to win the game for his country. He admitted he did not feel the pressure as he told Fifa.com it was just like scoring a penalty back home. “It was just like taking a penalty back home in my neighbourhood,” said the striker. “There was nothing going through my head, nothing at all. I didn’t feel any pressure whatsoever.”

With the game tonight at Ellis Park, rest will be key for players as they face a team that is not likely to give up possession very easily. Manchester City forward Santa Cruz believes that going beyond the aim initially set is well under way and with the European champions not producing their best form, a surprise could be on the cards. “We’re very pleased, very happy. It can’t be measured yet how big an achievement this is for us but we are very happy to get through. We set our goals very clearly and we said anything below this (reaching the quarter-finals) would be a disappointment. We’ve achieved that goal, but now that we are here we want to get even further and keep making history for our country. We are very pleased with the result, but we are also very keen to go back and rest now and have a great game in the next round.”

The Paraguayan hero is yet to score in the tournament; something that he believes is just down to a case of bad luck. “I think we’re getting in positions and we’re doing the right things. Some day things will start to fall for us, and hopefully it will be in the quarter-finals. It’s going to be a hard one,” he said. “We’re going to have to play as hard as we have to get this far. All the time our goal has been just to try to win games.”

The star striker is likely to be a starter against Spain, with the Coach sticking to the same squad as before. The only expected change is likely to be Victor Caceres after returning from a two yellow card suspension. Edgar Barreto will also likely to be in contention after becoming fully fit, after entering the tournament with a slight injury. Paraguay will join fellow South Americans Uruguay in the semi-finals should they manage to upset Spain tonight.

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