Both Paraguay and Japan did not expect to be in such fortunate positions as they prepare for their round of 16 clash. Yet once they step onto the pitch in Pretoria, both sides must forget about their advantageous predicaments and focus on prolonging this dream run.
Paraguay was pegged heading into this year’s World Cup as an underdog team that could ruffle feathers. But to beat out Italy for the Group F title was well beyond their initial expectations. They have yet to lose a match in South Africa, and will look for that trend to continue against a Japanese squad comprised of great speed and counter-attacking ability.
For Japan, the only person who believed in their chances in South Africa, was head coach Takeshi Okada, who boldly proclaimed his side has the talent to play in the semi-finals. Widely perceived to be the basement dwellers of Group E, they easily disposed of both Cameroon and Denmark, and gave the eventual winners of the Netherlands all they could handle. They remain a well-organized side, always willing to do whatever it takes to secure victory.
Although an element of significant surprise still exists with both teams playing in this match, it presents an exciting opportunity for an unexpected birth in the quarter-finals.
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Paraguay vs Japan Odds:
Paraguay Advances (-190)
Japan Advances (+165)
Keys to the Game:
Japanese head coach Takeshi Okada would be the firs to admit that what his team lacks in individual skill, they make up for in team spirit. Throughout the group stage, Japan turned in a series of admirable performances, and drew overwhelming praise for their gritty efforts and clever tactics. However, a side like Paraguay will pose a vast array of problems for the Blue Samurai. Okada is aware that the Paraguayans, similar to his Japanese squad, possess a scrappy dimension to their game, and will be hard to dispose of. Japan will see a lot of their characteristics within Paraguay as they too exude a winning mentality, and play strong technical football.
Japan hasn’t had much success generating offensive opportunities off of counter-attacks or in maintaining offensive possession, yet have scored their fair share of goals off of set pieces. In their surprising victory against Denmark, two of their three goals occurred as a result of direct free-kicks. Against a defensively aware Paraguay side, the Japanese cannot be reliant on receiving those opportunities. Paraguay possesses great strength along the back-line and it will be up to the Japanese attacking players to break down their seemingly impenetrable barrier. The likes of Keisuke Honda, and Shinji Okazaki will need to be dangerous throughout the match and put constant pressure on Paraguay’s defense.
Despite Paraguay’s unexpected Group F conquest, head coach Gerardo Martino has called for a much better offensive display against Japan. Although more was certainly expected from the Paraguayan attack, goals will be hard to come by against a staunch Japanese backline. Following a goalless draw to a weak New Zealand side, Paraguay is aware that the only way to advance to the quarter-finals, will be to manufacture some offensive chances resulting in goals. Only generating three goals in their first three matches isn’t all that impressive, but their defensive record has been the backbone of their side’s success. Consistency at the back, combined with a sharper touch around the net from the likes of Roque Santa Cruz, and Oscar Cardozo.
Paraguay must get the attack going against a side devoid of one in Japan. Their overly hyped offense must begin to show its might, using the quick passing and deft finishing they displayed throughout the qualifying stages. If they fail to display their potentially lethal attack, it could mark a disappointing end for Paraguay, against a clearly inferior opponent.
What to Expect:
Expect the unexpected in this game, which has been thus far, the main theme of this year’s World Cup tournament. The offense of Paraguay should wake up and pressure the Japanese defense throughout the match. Expect Paraguay to possess the ball for at least sixty percent of the fixture, but will ultimately need to capitalize on the chances they’ve been missing in previous games.
If the Paraguayans end up providing the Blue Samurai with ample opportunities off of corners, and set-pieces, the Japanese could manufacture yet another chapter in their magical run. That said, don’t count on another upset in South Africa. Paraguay holds far more ability and skill within their lineup, and their sleeping giant offense is ready to awake at the expense of Takeshi Okada’s Japanese side.
Paraguay vs Japan Prediction: Paraguay 2 – Japan 0
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