Saturday, July 3, 2010

Spain vs Paraguay - Preview


18:30 GMT, July 3, 2010
Ellis Park, Johannesburg, South Africa

Paraguay have found goals increasingly hard to come by at this World Cup and as a consequence became the first team to face the trauma of a penalty shootout following a drab 0-0 draw with Japan in the second round. Gerardo Martino's side began their campaign with a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Italy and cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win over Slovakia before the goals dried up against New Zealand in their final group game and then again against the Blue Samurai.

However, at the back La Albirroja have been breached just once and if they are to stand a chance in their quarter-final with the Spanish they will mainly have to rely on that solid defence again. The good news is that Del Bosque's Spain have struggled against defensive sides. Ottmar Hitzfeld's well organised Switzerland pulled off a shock 1-0 win against the European champions in their opening game and Carlos Queiroz's Portugal held firm for 63 minutes before eventually losing their second-round match 1-0.
Del Bosque will once again be looking for David Villa to lead the charge. Barcelona's new €40 million striker has already scored four crucial World Cup goals to get Spain out of some sticky situations and the manager's biggest problem is who to play alongside the Golden Boot contender.

Out-of-sorts striker Fernando Torres, who has been publicly backed by Del Bosque, has played in all four games and started the last three, but has been hauled off around the 60-minute mark in every game after failing to make an impact. Against Portugal, Torres was replaced with Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente and his introduction had an immediate impact, with Villa scoring the winner just minutes later. It would be no surprise if Llorente started ahead of Torres, who attempted just two shots on target in four games, in an otherwise unchanged Spanish team.
Having reached the quarter-final stage for the first time in their history, it's already mission accomplished for Paraguay. In many ways all the pressure is on Spain, who are joint-favourites to win the tournament.

Competition Stats

GoalsCristian Riveros 1David Villa 4
AssistsDavid Villa 1
YellowsVictor C├íceres 2Xabi Alonso 1

Paraguay player to watch: Cristian Riveros - Sunderland's new signing is the hub around which Paraguay's midfield operates. He offers a mix of sharp tackling, box-to-box running and an excellent pass-and-move game. La Albirroja have used him on the left of a three-man midfield to control and win the ball back and he will have to be at the peak of his powers against Spain's much vaunted midfield duo of Xavi and Andres Inieista. So far he has met every challenge.
Spain player to watch: Xavi - The best playmaker in world football has already created more chances, played more successful passes and had more touches of the ball than any other Spanish player since 1966 so it would be incredibly difficult to overstate his importance to the team. His passing range is unmatched and his awareness of what is going on around him gives him the vision to pick out a killer pass. He created eight goalscoring chances in his last match against Portugal alone and no player has created more in a single game at this World Cup.
Key battle: David Villa v Paulo Da Silva - Barcelona striker Villa finished Euro 2008 as the tournament's top scorer and he is well on the way to winning the Golden Boot in South Africa after scoring four goals in four games. With regular strike partner Fernando Torres unable to hit a cow's arse with a banjo at the moment there is even more pressure on Villa to maintain his goalscoring touch and few would back against him doing so. Hoping to stop one of Europe's most fearsome strikers is Paraguay skipper Da Silva, who will have to call on all his years of experience as a versatile defender to do so. The 30-year-old's main aim will be to stop Villa cutting in from the left flank and he may well have to call on defensive partner Antolin Alcaraz to help him out.
Trivia: No team that is still in the competition has conceded as many fouls and so few shots on goal as Paraguay. But despite their physical approach the South Americans have given away nearly no free kicks in the danger area.
Stats: David Villa has scored five of Spain's last six goals at the World Cup. He assisted the other.
Odds: Paraguay (7.50), Spain (1.50) the draw (4.00) are all on offer at Bet365. But a 0-0 draw after 90 minutes will get you 9.00.
Prediction: These two sides have met on three previous occasions, with two of them ending in goalless draws and Spain winning the other. It is likely to be a low-scoring affair with Del Bosque's team just edging it.

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