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FIFA World Cup: Spain v Paraguay – Quarter-Final Preview

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

Slowly but surely pre-tournament favourites Spain have steered their way through the group stages and the round of 16. Such has been the impact of the Spanish speaking countries at this tournament that three of Spains colonial offspring - Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay have joined her in the last 8.

The draw has panned out in such a way that even though Spain is facing Paraguay in the last quarter-final match, there is still the real possibility that three of the Spanish speaking nations will contest the semi-finals. 
On paper this contest is a no-brainer. Spain the No.2 and reigning European Champions, a nation of 40 million people of whom 2.8 million play football. Against 29th ranked Paraguay with 1 million footballers among a population of only 6 million people.
Spain after an initial wakeup call loss against Switzerland in their opening pool match advanced to the round of 16 with wins over former colonies Honduras and Chile. To keep the colonial theme going the round of 16 match against Portugal pitted two countries that not only share a border but in years gone by vied with each other for domination of the America's. The hard fought 1-0 victory over Portugal would have been particularly sweet for the Spaniards.
Between Spain and a place in the Semi-finals is Paraguay. No other team in World Cup history has advanced to the quarter-finals on the strength of 3 goals for and 1 against. It is only the 2-0 victory over Slovakia in pool play that got them through. They really are the team that just won't go away.
With a strike force of Cardozo, Santa Cruz and Valdez, 3 goals is a poor return and they are a distant last in goals scored among the quarter-finalists. In goals conceded though they are first equal with Uruguay as the most miserly team in the last 8. A case of the midfield playing a bit deep and not linking effectively with the strikers.
Spain is not much better though with 5 goals for and two against. Despite that David Villa sits 1st equal on 4 goals in the golden boot contest.
Paraguay has shown that they can concentrate well in defence for the full match. If they can continue that on against Spain then there is every chance as the match progresses that one of the world class Paraguayan strikers might hit the back of the net. They are long overdue.
Paraguay had to play well to overcome Japan in the round of 16. The Japanese are a fit well drilled side who play for each other and fight hard. Mind you the Paraguayans are fighters too. They fought for their independence from Spain 200 years ago and have been involved in a number of violent wars with their neighbours since. The worst of which in the six years leading up to 1870 claimed the lives of over half the population. Few nations in the world today have fought so hard and suffered so much.
Paraguay will need all that fighting spirit to overcome the Spanish. The game plan will be relatively simple. Defend like they have been doing. Put a good close marker on David Villa and pump whatever possession they get in the attacking third towards the heads or feet of their talented strikers.
Spain for their part is vulnerable. They had a good 3-0 win over Chile in the round of 16, but the score line flattered them. Increasingly the focus of their fans and the media has been on the form (or lack of it) of Fernando Torres. He has worked his way through the tournament so far, playing ok but with a tortured look on his face that indicates he knows only to well that he is not living up to the hype. He is definitely suffering from a bad dose of the 'Rooney' virus. Torres would be better coming off the bench. Fresh legs against a tiring defence.
It seems obvious but Spain need to concentrate on Paraguay and how they are going to break them down. It is always the danger for a raging hot favourite like Spain that they will turn up thinking more about the next game than the opponents in front of them. The mental stamina required to play at their best against Paraguay will need to be stronger than what they mustered to defeat Portugal. Anything less and they could be in trouble.
But the winner of this match in all likelihood is going to be Spain. They have the form; the pedigree and man for man are far superior. But if those ingredients alone decided a winner then we would all be getting filthy rich down at the betting shop. The result is determined by the score at end of the match. The best team is not always the winning team. That is the beauty of football. Paraguay might just refuse to go away one more time.             

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