Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino believes the first goal in Tuesday's last-16 showdown with Japan could prove crucial as both teams look to create history by reaching the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time.
With just three goals to their credit, Paraguay were the lowest scorers of any of the eight pool winners, although Martino's men only conceded once in their three Group F games. Japan, who finished second in Group E, were not much more prolific, scoring one more goal and conceding one more than the South Americans, and tomorrow's encounter in Pretoria could well be a tight affair.
Martino said: "I personally think that it's really important to score the first goal. It is really decisive to score the first goal in the World Cup, especially when you get to the knock-out stages, where with a win you stay and with a defeat you go home. If you have a goal scored against you, it is very difficult to catch up knowing you only have 90 minutes to do so."
Neither side have reached the last eight of the FIFA World Cup before. Paraguay have reached the last 16 in three of the last four FIFA World Cups, but so far have not been able to get any further. When asked about the possibility of his side writing their names in national folklore, Argentinian Martino said: "Well of course we came to the World Cup with dreams and we're working on it, we're still in the race."
To achieve their goal, Martino believes it is vital they get one key area of their game right. "I believe if you want to aspire to something higher in the competition you must have better ball possession and use it better," he said. "We're making a huge effort to improve our ball possession, as I think this is the basis of our ambition in the World Cup. We've succeeded in doing that in some matches, and in others less so. Tomorrow's match, if we have good ball possession and use it well, as well as putting pressure on our opponents, then we may win."
Regarding opponents Japan, Martino insists he is well aware of the danger the Samurai Blue pose to his side. "We played against them in the Kirin Cup two years ago [drawing 0-0] and many of those players are still around, so we have quite a bit of knowledge about the Japanese team both individually and collectively," he said.
"We've also been able to observe what they've been doing in this World Cup. They've changed the way they tackle matches and they are a very fast team. They can sit back and wait but then they can switch quickly from defence to attack. They are different and, as such, they are more complicated to handle. I think their best virtues are speed and taking advantage of the spaces left by their opponents."