Japan are to Asia what Ghana are to Africa i.e. the last nation left standing at the World Cup from the continent. They play Paraguay in today’s knock out match and whoever wins, makes history as neither of these sides have made it to the quarter-finals of a World Cup before.
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Paraguay were the surprise winners of Group F which also had the defending champions Italy in it. They are the minnows of South America and won their group by winning one match and scoring just 3 goals. Their strength lies is their defence which has seen then concede only 1 goal in South Africa. Another thing working to the South American’s advantage against Japan will be their large forwards.
Paraguay manager, Gerardo Martino will most likely go with a 4-3-3 formation with Justo Villar in goal and Carlos Bonet, Antolin Alcaraz, Paulo Da Silva, Claudio Morel at the back. Paraguay’s 3-man midfield made up of Enrique Vera, Cristian Riveros and Victor Caceres has been a crucial factor in their success at this World Cup. However, Victor Caceres is suspended for today’s match, having picked up 2 yellow cards and will be replaced by Edgar Barreto. Paraguay have quality strikers in their line-up but have struggled to score in their last matches. They will look to Roque Santa Cruz, Lucas Barrios and Nelson Valdez to change that today.
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Many considered the possiblity of the Japan manager Takeshi Okada having lost his mind when he announced that Japan could reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. Japan, the minnows of Asia, were considered anything but a threat by teams at the start of the World Cup. They were dismissed as being a very defensive team with absolutely no attacking skills lead by a crazily optimistic manager whose tactics were outdated. However, Japan have surprised everyone. The Blue Samurai seem to know exactly how to handle the moody Jabulani perfectly and became the first team to score a goal from a free-kick.
They have great spirit and defend like a team. Their manager will most likely not make any changes to the team and will play a 4-5-1 formation with Eiji Kawashima in goal and Yuichi Komano, Yuji Nakazawa, Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Yuto Nagatomo at the back. Keisuke Honda will play upfront on his own and will be supported by Daisuke Matsui, Yuki Abe, Makoto Hasebe, Yasuhito Endo, Yoshito Okubo. Although the headlines have been dominated by Honda’s goals, Daisuke Matsuito and Yasuhito Endo have been brilliant for Japan in the last matches. Yuki Abe is key to Japan’s formation as he shields the defence while allowing the creative players a bit of freedom.
It is interesting to note that Japan have very bad passing and of all the teams remaining, Japan have completed the least amount of passes (709) with a completion rate of only 62%. However, Japan proved with their 3-1 win over Denmark, of which 2 goals game from free kicks that they have tamed the Jabulani. This gives Japan an edge over Paraguay today.
The game will be a cagey affair with a very crowded midfield. Both these teams have already performed above expectations at the World Cup and neither will want to go home today. They both have good defenses and the game might end up going in to extra-time or penalties.
A Paraguay win will mean four South American teams in the the quarter-finals (along with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay), while a Japan will see an Asian team beat a South American one to reach the quarter finals.
“If we don’t go through nobody will remember us but if we turn in our best ever showing then they will talk about us for a while.” – Gerardo Martino, Paraguay manager
“I think we’ve to play with extra pride as we are now the only Asian representatives. My desire to beat Paraguay is even more resolute.” -Takeshi Okada, Japan manager
Players to Watch Out For
Paraguay: Enrique Vera, Nelson Valdez, Lucas Barrios
Japan: Keisuke Honda, Yasuhito Endo, Daisuke Matsui
Paraguay have lost all three of their second-round matches in World Cup history, failing to score on each occasion
Japan have lost both of their World Cup matches against South American sides, losing 4-1 to Brazil in 2006 and 1-0 to Argentina in 1998
Paraguay are unbeaten in four World Cup matches. Only once have they gone five matches unbeaten, with that run straddling the 1958 and 1986 World Cups
Japan have won on the six occasions that Keisuke Honda has scored and on the 11 occasions that Shinji Okazaki has found the net for them