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FIFA World Cup: Paraguay edge Japan 5-3 in penalty shootout

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lucas_barrios1.jpgThe 2010 FIFA World Cup witnessed its first penalty shootout at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium today as Paraguay just made it past Japan to earn a first ever place in the quarter-finals of the showpiece event. The game, which had not much to talk about otherwise, saw both sides buckle down and play out 120 minutes before the use of spot-kicks was employed to separate the two sides.

Both sets of players looked calm and composed as the shootout score quickly went up to 3-2 before Yuichi Komano struck the crossbar to leave Paraguay ahead. Oscar Cardozo soon finished off proceedings with a coolly taken pen, much to the delight of the Paraguayan bench, even as the Asians were left heartbroken.

Both teams came into the game in search of history, having never made it to the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup. Sadly for the fans in Pretoria, the last game to be played at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium proved to be a largely uneventful affair. While Roque Santa Cruz led the attack for Paraguay with the impressive duo of Cristian Riveros and Enrique Vera in the midfield, Japan depended on the set-piece specialists Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo for some inspiration.

With both sides vary of the opposition, the game got off to an extremely scratchy start with neither of the two teams managing to come close in the opening 20 minutes. While Paraguay enjoyed most of the possession, Japan were happy to sit back and defend in numbers while sending in the long balls for their strikers to try and make use of. The game sprung to life in the 20th minute though, when Lucas Barrios turned in the box but hit his shot straight to Eiji Kawashima, an opportunity the Paraguayan should have scored off. Daisuke Matsui then produced a cracking shot two minutes later, and with Justo Villar beaten, the Paraguayans were lucky to see the ball hit the top of the bar.

The momentum of the game quickly fell away though, with Paraguay struggling to convert their opportunities in the resulting passage of play. Japan were guilty of playing far too cautiously, and with Keisuke Honda the lone man upfront, he managed little impact on the game. Japan's possession and hence their game improved in the final 15 minutes of the half, as Endo swung in a freekick from a dangerous area followed by Honda showing some promise in the final third. Japan too, failed to convert the pressure into their advantage though, as a very uninspiring period of play came to a close.

Apart from an inspired run into the box from Nestor Ortigoza, the beginning of the second half matched the first in every way. Claudio Morel did manage a few dangerous crosses from the left, but with the fear of the big stage gripping both teams, there were no goals to be seen on the horizon. With not much action on view and extra-time looking like a strong possibility, both managers focused their attention on bringing in fresh players. Japan once again enjoyed a promising period of play towards the end of normal time with Honda looking lively, but failed to create anything on note.

Morel was once again the provider of Paraguay's best and the games only chance in extra-time, but his cross was headed over by Edgar Baretto. Benfica's Oscar Cardozo replaced Roque Santa Cruz early in the first half of extra-time as the coaches started to prepare for the shootout. The last 15 minutes saw some yellow cards dished out and though Japan managed a late scare, the game always looked destined to go to the penalties.

Here's a lowdown on the thrilling shootout:

Paraguay 1-0 Japan, Barreto gets a hard and low shot in to the keeper's right
Paraguay 1-1 Japan, Endo sends the keeper the wrong way with a lovely shot in the opposite direction
Paraguay 2-1 Japan, Barrios' shot just sneaks in after Kawashima guesses correctly to his left
Paraguay 2-2 Japan, Hasebe gets another rasping shot in, Japan level
Paraguay 3-2 Japan, Riveros sends in a confident and calm shot, Paraguay lead again
Paraguay 3-2 Japan, Komano hits the crossbar, misses!
Paraguay 4-2 Japan, Valdez smashes it in straight down the middle
Paraguay 4-3 Japan, Honda beautifully rolls the ball in, Japan hang on
Paraguay 5-3 Japan, Oscar Cardozo sends the keeper the wrong way, Paraguay win!

Paraguay would now await their opponent in the quarterfinals as Spain meet Portugal in the last of the second round games tonight, and though the South Americans can rejoice being in the last 8 for the very first time, today's performance would not give them much confidence going into the game against a much tougher opposition. One hopes they create a lot more in terms of shots on goal and chances in the quarterfinal, and continue the rich vein of form South American sides seemed to have struck in South Africa!

The Teams:

Paraguay (4-3-3): Villar, Alcaraz, Da Silva, Rodriguez, Bonet, Ortigoza (Baretto 75'), Riveros, Vera, Benitez (Valdez 60'), Barrios, Santa Cruz.

Japan (4-5-1): Kawashima, Tanaka, Nakazawa, Nagatomo, Abe (Nakamura 81'), Endo, Hasebe, Okubo (Tamada 105'), Honda, Matsui (Okazaki 66').

Final Score: Paraguay 0-0 Japan (Paraguay win 5-3 on penalties)

Also Read: Spain 1 - 0 Portugal (Match Report)

Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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