History will be made whatever the outcome when Paraguay meet Japan in the Round of 16 – for whoever prevails in Pretoria will advance to the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals for the first time. Having gone beyond the group stage on three of their past seven finals appearances, Gerardo Martino's Paraguay will be determined to build on their success in finishing top of Group F against a Japan side through to the knockout phase for the first time on foreign soil.
Previously famed for their tenacious rearguard, Paraguay are not just about defence, their 4-3-3 formation including the vastly-experienced Roque Santa Cruz in attack alongside Borussia Dortmund duo Lucas Barrios and Nelson Valdez. Yet they also carry a scoring threat from midfield as Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros showed when each scored in their 2-0 win over Slovakia. Opponents Japan have shaken off the lacklustre form they showed in the build-up to this tournament to defeat Cameroon and Denmark en route to the last 16.
Coach Takeshi Okada's tactical gamble has paid off in style, with Keisuke Honda thriving in a new attacking role. Behind him, Yasuhito Endo and Kakoto Hasebe have bossed the midfield and Japan showed against Denmark that their armoury includes a distinct set-piece threat – two of their three goals coming direct from free-kicks. Of course their tireless approach also gives them a seeming edge in fitness over some of their rivals. While there is likely to be no change in the Japan lineup, Paraguay have to make do without defensive midfielder Victor Caceres through suspension although centre-back Antolin Alcaraz could return after sitting out the last game through an ankle injury. It is the two sides' first match-up at the FIFA World Cup but they are by no means strangers having met six times previously. The South Americans have recorded two wins to Japan’s one, though the Asians prevailed in the most recent friendly in 2003.
Injured in the opening minutes of Paraguay's Germany 2006 campaign, Villar has been seeking to make amends this time and conceded just one goal during the group campaign. The 32-year-old Paraguay captain, however, will have to be wary of Japan's danger man Honda, the midfielder-turned striker who has scored twice so far. The 25-year-old CSKA Moscow man has quickly become Japan's new talisman over the past months, scoring six goals which led to six wins.
4 –South Africa 2010 marks the fourth FIFA World Cup for the 35-year-old Denis Caniza, who made his tenth finals appearance for Paraguay in the 0-0 draw with New Zealand. Hot on his heels are Roque Santa Cruz and Julio Cesar Caceres, who each made seven appearances during the past two FIFA World Cups.
What they said
"With their pace and agility, Japan are a team hard to play against. They have players who can change the direction of a game so we have to come out very focused and keep running throughout the game," Roque Santa Cruz, Paraguay forward.
Voice of the fans
"Paraguay has the players to advance and has experience especially playing with the likes of the Brazil and Argentina. But Japan also has a lot of talent – it will be a good match," FIFA.com user Vinnie-ECU.
Having managed their first FIFA World Cup wins on foreign soil, can Japan continue their history-making run?