Paraguay and Spain might share the same language but they have entirely different approaches to playing football. While the South Americans have made stoic defence one of their hallmarks, the reigning European champions are committed to a possession-based, attacking game. Those contrasting approaches will be set in even clearer focus when the two sides meet in Johannesburg on Saturday evening. The reward for the winners is a place in the semi-finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
The team that comes out on top will be making history. In the last eight for the fifth time, Spain have never reached the semi-finals, although they did finish fourth at Brazil 1950 when the Trophy was decided by a four-team final group phase. As for La Albirroja they ave already broken new ground and are intent on venturing further.
Saturday's showdown is the fourth meeting between the countries. Two of their previous encounters ended in goalless draws, one a 2002 friendly and the other a first-round match at France 1998. Spain scored the only win by either side when prevailing 3-1 in another first-round meeting at Korea/Japan 2002.
La Roja have not lost to South American opposition in the FIFA World Cup since Mexico 1986 (a 1-0 reverse to Brazil) but are in no mood to rely on the record books after their surprise group setback against Switzerland. Coach Vicente del Bosque has no injury or suspension problems and is set to keep faith with the system and the side that got Spain out of a tight spot in Group H before they edged out Portugal in the Round of 16. As they showed in the second half of that match, the silky Spanish are working their way back to top form.
Del Bosque's opposite number, Gerardo Martino, has asked his players to pay special attention to Spain's quality and the speed with which they move the ball around. The Argentinian supremo has also vowed that his men will not sit back and let their opponents dictate the play, urging his midfielders to press hard and deny the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez the space to thrive. With central midfielder Aureliano Torres an injury doubt, Martino’s other main concern is the fatigue his charges may be still feeling after their punishing last-16 tie against Japan.
Players to watch
Defence v attack
Having let in just the one goal to date, against Italy in their opening match, Los Guaraníes boast the tightest defence in the competition along with fellow quarter-finalists Uruguay. That record is sure to be put to the test against the enterprising Spanish, who have created more goalscoring opportunities at South Africa 2010 than anyone, though their finishing has not been up to the expected standard. That said, the in-form David Villa is the competition’s joint top-scorer on four goals with Gonzalo Higuain and Robert Vittek.
3 - The number of times Paraguay have reached the Round of 16 and the number of times they have lost to European opposition there. At Mexico 1986 La Albirroja went down 3-0 to England and lost to a golden goal to the host nation at France 1998. Four years later Germany ended their hopes with a 1-0 win.
What they said
"They have players who can make all the difference, especially in midfield where we can't afford to even let them turn round. We are really up for this game and that's going to make up for any tiredness we might feel. The team can't wait for this game to get started. We're doing a great job but we still have more to give, and our best performances so far have been against the big sides," Nelson Valdez, Paraguay striker.
"Paraguay are not unlike Chile. As we all know they gave us a lot of problems, and it would be silly of us to underestimate them. I'm not worried about overconfidence because there's none of that in the squad. We have an awful lot of respect for Paraguay and they've been brilliant in getting this far, beating a strong Japan side the other day," Vicente del Bosque, Spain coach.
Voice of the fans
"Grit and strength in the air (Paraguay) against touch and skill (Spain): those are the keys to the game. The first team to score will win, take my word for it," emi_ECU (Ecuador), FIFA.com user.