Paraguay and Japan both stand on the verge of making history ahead of their 2010 FIFA World Cup™ last 16 encounter as neither nation has previously reached the quarter-finals.
For Paraguay, their success in winning a group which contained outgoing champions Italy is the culmination of two years hard work which saw the Guaranis lead the way through the opening half of the 18-match South American qualifying campaign before coming in third, just a point behind leaders Brazil. They also posted victories over both Brazil and Argentina along the way.
That impressive form owes much to an Argentine connection in the shape of coach Gerardo Martino as well as impressive striker Lucas Barrios. Martino's men are now riding the crest of a wave after beating Slovakia and drawing with both Italy and New Zealand to advance to the second stage for the fourth time after 1986, 1998 and 2002 - but for the first time as group winners.
To come top of the group is very important, - but it's only a first step.
"To come top of the group is very important, - but it's only a first step," said Martino after the goalless draw with New Zealand proved enough to pip the Slovakians by a point. Martino says his team have the bit between their teeth, sensing this is their big chance. "If we don't go through nobody much will remember us (but) if we turn in Paraguay's best ever showing then they will talk about us for a good while."
It is a sentiment echoed by striker Roque Santa Cruz. "These can be historic times for us as we feel stronger than ever. We are a tight-knit group with bags of quality to get us through to the next round," the Manchester City striker said. They now play Japan in Pretoria after the Asian team's own impressive showing. "We don't mind who we go up against," insists Santa Cruz, although Martino insists that "any team at this level can give you a hard time.
Martino professes himself very happy with his men's defensive work but believes they need to mix things up in attack after only three goals in three games. "We have a few permutations up front as we saw against Slovakia (a 2-0 win). But in the first half against New Zealand from an attacking point of view that was the worst we've been. Nonetheless, our objective was to qualify and now we have to tweak things to keep our hopes up and advance still further."