Venue – Johannesburg, Ellis Park
Date – Saturday July 3rd
Kick-Off – 19:30
Spain will face-off with surprise quarter-finalists Paraguay on Saturday night, with the weight of expectation hanging over them. All, except maybe the most avid Paraguayan football fan will strongly favour the Spanish to progress from this match.
The teams took very different routes to reach this stage, while Spain battled to a narrow, but deserving victory over Portugal, Paraguay endured 120 minutes of stalemate with Japan, eventually prevailing 5-3 on penalties.
Paraguay have made history in reaching the quarter finals of a World Cup for the first time, but they will need an extra special performance to overcome the gifted Spanish side and improve on that record.
Spain have slowly showed signs of improvement since their shock opening defeat to Switzerland, with glimpses of their superb brand of passing football evident against Portugal. Leading the line fantastically for them is the recent Barcelona signing, David Villa. He has fired 4 goals thus far and sits just 2 goals behind the all-time leading Spanish goalscorer, Raul.
Whereas, quite the opposite can be said of Villa’s strike partner, Fernando Torres who has come under strong criticism for his performances in the tournament to date, with the Liverpool striker looking jaded and slightly short of match sharpness, following his lengthy injury lay-off. Despite this, boss Vicente Del Bosque has quashed calls for Torres to be dropped and has insisted he will remain a vital component of his side.
It is expected that Del Bosque will stick with the same side for the third game running, utilising Villa and Iniesta from the left and right of central forward Torres once more. Xabi Alonso is the only Spanish player with a potential suspension hanging over his head if he were to receive a booking on Saturday night.
Xavi will look to pull the strings in midfield once more
Paraguayan coach Gerardo Martino may welcome back Victor Caceres to his starting line-up after he missed the victory over Japan through suspension, with Nestor Ortigoza the likely makeweight. They have three players walking a disciplinary tightrope, Enrique Vera, Cristian Riveros and Roque Santa Cruz would all miss the semi-final if cautioned.
Paraguay have been resolute in defence thus far, with Wigan new boy Antolin Alcaraz and Sunderland’s Paulo de Silva in particular impressing. They will attempt to press their opponents throughout, preventing the talented Spanish midfield the space they yearn to weave their magic. Spain will be wary of the underdog’s tag their opponents will hold and will hope to move up another gear as the business end of the tournament arrives.