Johannesburg: Spain will be wary when they face Paraguay on Saturday in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium of not making the same mistakes as in the past.
Until two years ago when the Spanish finally delivered on their undoubted promise by winning the European Championships, they had been known as the perennial chokers, or underachievers.
Such was the bemusement and indeed amusement in some quarters it Spain’s repeated inability to turn potential into achievement that the term “perennial underachievers” actually seemed to have become a permanent prefix to the word Spain.
That was finally disbanded two years ago in Vienna when they beat Germany 1-0 to lift the European title and coming into this competition Spain were seen as joint-favourites alongside Brazil.
But not all lessons had been learned as the Iberians stumbled in their opening group match and were beaten 1-0 by Switzerland.
That seemed to focus minds, though, and the Spanish regrouped and rediscovered their form to move ominously into the last eight.
But coach Vicente Del Bosque is determined that his team should not fall back into the pitfalls that have tripped them up before and he is eager for his team to not take the South Americans lightly.
“We shall not underestimate Paraguay and prepare for them with great respect,” he said.
“They have very good defenders but also attackers. We must be fully focused to win that match.
“We know how difficult it is to be victorious; we can’t take anything for granted. We must be hugely respectful of our next opponents.”
Spain have certainly appeared to be on the right track in their last three matches, beating Honduras, Chile and Portugal.
But one thing they can be sure of in their next game is that it won’t be easy to score.
Paraguay have conceded only one goal in this competition, in a 1-1 draw with then reigning champions Italy in their opening game.
But they have only scored three times in regulation time, needing penalties to advance past Japan in their second round clash following a 0-0 stalemate.
And it is their attacking play that is of concern to their Argentine boss Gerardo Martino, although he says his strikers are not to blame despite the fact they are yet to find the net.
“One mustn’t be too hard on our strikers,” said the 47-year-old. If they aren’t scoring well maybe it’s because the balls aren’t arriving fast enough to them.”
Martino also believes that his team has been hampered by their opponents’ own lack of ambition; something he believes will not be a problem against the European champions.
“I hope that our next opponents will allow us to play differently and it won’t be simply down to us to dictate the game,” he said.
“Against Spain, we should have more space, because they play to win.”
Whatever happens, this Paraguay team has gone further than any other in the country’s World Cup history and that is something that Argentine-born striker Lucas Barrios, whose mother is Paraguayan, is keen to remind people of.
“The important thing is not who scores the goals, but that we formed a united squad which was capable of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in the history of Paraguay,” he said.
Paraguay’s attack has been shot-shy and fairly ineffective so far. They failed to score against either New Zealand or Japan but they will most likely have to find the net against the talented Spaniards.
Spain will no doubt enjoy a lot of possession and have been looking increasingly threatening up front as the tournament progresses, so Paraguay will not be able to bank on holding out at the back.
They will have to take more risks going forward and the pressure is on Roque Santa Cruz, Lucas Barrios and Nelson Valdez, none of whom have scored yet, to deliver the goods.