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FIFA World Cup: Listless Slovakia beaten 2-0 by Paraguay

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lucas_barrios_parag.jpgAn inspired performance from Paraguay, who looked hungry for a win right from the word go, handed them a 2-0 win over an ordinary Slovakian side in a crucial Group F encounter at the Free State stadium in Bloemfontein today. The win propels Paraguay to the top of Group F, and with New Zealand being their opponent in the final group game, their passage to the knockouts looks pretty simple. The Paraguayans dominated the game right from the outset, with continued pressure finally yielding in a 27th minute Enrique Vera goal, even as Cristian Riveros put the matter beyond doubt late in the second half.

Paraguay came into the game on the back of an inspired performance against Italy, restricting the defending champions to a 1-1 draw. Slovakia, on the other hand, led New Zealand 1-0 till the dying minutes of their opening game, only for the Kiwis to equalize in injury time and snatch a point in the process. With all four teams in Group F on 1 point each, this game was all the more crucial for both teams.

As expected, Roque Santa Cruz walked back into the squad, having recovered from injury, as Paraguay laid out a 4-4-2 formation. Slovakia responded with a 4-2-3-1, with Marek Hamsik and Zdeno Strba doing holding midfield duties, while Jan Kozak prowling behind lone striker Stanislav Sestak. With both sides having a natural flair for attack, and three points almost set to ensure qualification, the game was tipped to be a high scoring one.

Santa Cruz could have celebrated being in the starting line-up as early as in the 3rd minute, when his drive deflected off Martin Skrtel to dip wickedly on the Slovakian goal. Jan Mucha was at hand though, to tip the ball away, as Paraguay got off to an aggressive start. Paraguay's passing got increasingly better soon, as Enrique Vera played the ball in for Santa Cruz to have another crack at the goal. The Manchester City striker though, could only manage a shot wide.

Lucas Barrios too joined the action from the left as Paraguay put Slovakia under pressure in the opening minutes of the game. Two free kicks soon followed for Paraguay, and though nothing much came out of them, they ensured that the ball remained in the Slovakian half. The first hint of a Slovakian attack came in the 15th minute, with Vladimir Weiss passing the ball to Sestak in the box, only for the striker to be dispossessed.

Minutes later though, the momentum was back with Paraguay with Cristian Riveros producing a rasping drive from 20-yards out. Riveros' effort came from a Nelson Valdez pass but was aimed straight at Mucha. Barrios then produced a beautiful back-heel which fell in the path of the incoming Vera, whose shot went just above the bar.

Two minutes later, it was the Barrios-Vera duo that combined again, this time, producing a well deserved Paraguayan goal. Vera received the pass even as he entered the box, and with two defenders crowding him out, produced a lovely right-footed tap to send the ball over the approaching Mucha. A goal down, Slovakia sensed the need to up the tempo, and though their play improved considerably, they failed to create any real chances.

Their best chance fell to centre-back Kornel Salata from a corner, but he could only head the ball over the crossbar from 6-yards out, under no pressure. Weiss, the coach's son, was the bright spot in an otherwise uninspiring Slovakian setting, showing a lot of intent in the midfield. It was Paraguay once again, who ended the first half on the up, with Santa Cruz almost doubling the lead. A horrific back-pass having been intercepted by the striker, his low shot managed to find Mucha as the chance went begging.

Though Sestak was booked a minute into the second half, Slovakia played a lot better than they had in the first, as a prolonged period of pressure followed. It was once again Weiss, who provided the inspiration with some lovely touches to get the momentum going for the Slovakians, though they lacked quality near the goal. Not much came out of the possession though, as the Paraguayan defence looked increasingly comfortable against virtually no threats.

Manager Weiss soon put Sestak out of his misery by bringing in Holosko in the 70th minute, but the lack of any danger to the Paraguay goal meant the South Americans were slowly back in the ascendancy. Vera went close twice in quick time, first with a Santa Cruz cross which he headed wide, and then being struck by a Mucha clearance which went out for a throw-in. Aureliano Torres, then let fly a rocket drive which went over the bar.

The final minutes saw a few substitutions from both sides, with Slovakia bringing on striker Miroslav Stoch in place of Salata, though it was Riveros who put the matter beyond doubt in the 84th minute. Defender Paulo da Silva, up for a free kick, set the ball up for Riveros, whose drive smashed into the roof of the net, giving Mucha no chance as Paraguay made it 2-0.

The four added minutes produced one inspired effort from Robert Vittek but it was obviously too little too late for Slovakia, who had only themselves to blame for an insipid performance.They face Italy next on Thursday 24th June, and it is very difficult to imagine them getting any points from that fixture on current form. Paraguay meanwhile know that a point against New Zealand in their final game will be enough to see them through, though ideally they would be dreaming of attempting to top the group in an effort to avoid running into the Dutch in the second round.

Teams:

Paraguay: Villar (GK), Alcaraz, Da Silva, Morel, Bonet, Caceres, Riveros, Vera (Baretto 88'), Valdez (Torres 68'), Santa Cruz, Barrios (Cardozo 82').

Slovakia: Mucha, Salata (Stoch 83'), Skrtel, Durica, Pekarik, Hamsik, Strba, Sestak (Holosko 70'), Kozak, Vittek, Weiss.

Paraguay 2-0 Slovakia (Vera 27', Riveros 84')

Check out the Points Table

Also Read:

Paraguay 1 - 1 Italy - Match Report

Slovenia 1 - 1 New Zealand - Match Report

Italy 1 - 1 New Zealand Match Report

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