Paraguay make Japan pay the penalty for negativity

Paraguay's Oscar Cardozo is jubiliant after scoring Paraguay's decisive fifth penalty in the shoot out between Paraguay and Japan in a round of 16 clash.

Paraguay's Oscar Cardozo is jubiliant after scoring Paraguay's decisive fifth penalty in the shoot out between Paraguay and Japan in a round of 16 clash.  

It was perhaps inevitable that the knockout stages of this World Cup would produce a stinker at some point, and it duly arrived this afternoon in Pretoria before Paraguay advanced to the quarter-finals with a 5-3 victory after penalties.

Before that there had been 120 minutes of nervy and goalless tedium.

But in the penalty shoot-out, there were few nerves from the Paraguay team, who scored with all five of their efforts. And shortly after Yuichi Komano smashed his kick – Japan's third – against the bar, Oscar Cardozo rolled the ball into the bottom-left corner of the goal to put Paraguay through.

But judging on this evidence the winners of tonight's match between Spain and Portugal, who face Gerardo Martino's side on Saturday evening, will surely fancy their chances of reaching the last four.

The game started with brightly with Yoshito Okubo and Keisuke Honda both letting fly from distance. Sadly, it was no precursor of what was to come. A pattern took hold, with Paraguay playing tidy but unthreatening football and Japan content to counterattack, and never really let go. Caution ruled.

There was just one sustained burst of excitement in the whole match, which came in the 20th minute. First Lucas Barrios spun around Yuichi Komano before shooting weakly at the goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, and then a lightning break for Japan ended with Daisuke Matsui smashing a whirling shot over the scrambling Justo Villar and against the bar.

Just before the half-hour, Roque Santa Cruz missed a glorious chance, pulling his shot from a corner wide from eight yards. A goal would have spared us all of what was to follow. Then, moments before half-time, Honda – leaning back – screwed a shot wide.

Paraguay had the better of the second half and Yuki Abe had to be brave to throw himself in front of Edgar Benítez after he was played in by Santa Cruz. But long before the end, both teams seemed content to drift towards the choppier waters of extra-time and penalties.

The substitute Nelson Valdez did provide a brief burst of excitement in extra time and came closest to breaking the deadlock when he took Claudio Morel's pass on the spin only for Kawashima to dash out to smother. Valdez then flicked over the bar after a scramble in the six-yard box. Japan's best opportunity, meanwhile, came from a 25-yard free-kick from Honda, whose toe-poke was going wide when Villar pushed it round the post.

Perhaps we had become overly accustomed to the open football that had led to 21 goals in the first six knockout games. In recent World Cups that hasn't been the norm. In 2002, for instance, there were 25 goals from 15 knockout games (excluding the third-placed play-off), while in Germany 2006 only 26 in 15 matches. Still, the penalties were exciting. © Guardian News and Media 2010

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 1:42:41 PM |

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