Buoyant Paraguay faces deflated Slovakia

Last Updated: Jun 19, 2010, 14:12 PM IST

Bloemfontein: Despite opening
their World Cup campaigns with matching results, Paraguay and
Slovakia will enter Sunday`s Group F showdown in Bloemfontein
with very different feelings.

Paraguay is sure to be buoyed by its 1-1 draw with world
champion Italy in Cape Town.

Slovakia is certain to be deflated after conceding a 93rd
minute equalizer to unfancied New Zealand in its 1-1 game in
Rustenburg.

Group F is the tightest at the tournament, with all four
teams showing exactly the same records: each has one draw, and
has scored one goal and conceded one goal.

Sunday`s second round of group games gives each country
another chance to emerge as contenders for a place in the
knockout stage.

After holding the group favorites at Green Point Stadium,
Paraguay feels it has the momentum and is confident enough to
talk of a first ever appearance in the World Cup
quarterfinals.

"We want to go at least to the quarterfinals because in
Paraguayan history it`s never been done," striker Roque Santa
Cruz said.

Santa Cruz, the Manchester City striker and Paraguay`s
best player, is also positive about his own fitness after
struggling with injury in the run-in to the tournament and
only playing the final 22 minutes against Italy.

Santa Cruz is back in contention for a place in Argentine
coach Gerardo Martino`s starting team against Slovakia even
though that will mean breaking up the forward line of Borussia
Dortmund teammates Nelson Valdez and Lucas Barrios, who
impressed against Italy.

"I hope I`ll be fully fit for the Slovakia match," the
28-year-old Santa Cruz said. "I felt OK against Italy when I
came on, and I felt I could have played longer."

Slovakia, which is playing in its first major tournament
since the former Czechoslovakia divided in 1993, was forced to
shake off the bitter disappointment of allowing a 1-0 lead
over the New Zealanders to slip in the dying moments at the
Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

Coach Vladimir Weiss described Winston Reid`s injury-time
header for the All Whites as "a minor sporting tragedy" and
Slovakia will have to pick itself up for the contest with a
confident Paraguay at Bloemfontein`s Free State Stadium.

Weiss` son, Vladimir junior, said the Slovaks had learnt
a harsh lesson in their first World Cup appearance.

"Winning would have been the perfect start," the
20-year-old winger said, "but conceding a goal in the last
minute has changed everything."

"That was our big debut in the World Cup ... and we`ll do
our level best to prevent the same thing from happening
again."

Coach Weiss will again likely rely on a strong spine
against Paraguay with the focus on central defenders Martin
Skrtel of Liverpool and Jan Durica and forwards Stanislav
Sestak and Robert Vittek _ who combined for Vittek`s opener
against New Zealand.

Paraguay is still favored to win Sunday`s game following
its performance against Italy and a run in World Cup
qualifying that saw Martino`s men beat Brazil and his native
Argentina.

Martino said his team can improve on its impressive
opening performance, which gave Paraguay "a lot of
confidence."

"We attach great importance to what we have done (against
Italy)," Martino said. "We need to improve on our possession
and how we move the ball."

Paraguay also has extra motivation and has dedicated its
World Cup campaign to striker Salvador Cabanas.

Cabanas, the former South American footballer of the year
who top scored for La Albirroja in its qualifying campaign, is
recovering at home after being shot in the head in a bar in
Mexico City in January.

PTI