Defence not enough for proud Paraguay
Johannesburg: Paraguay exit the World Cup having reached the last eight for the first time and conceded just two goals in the entire tournament. With a little attacking ambition they may have made an even more lasting impression.
Gerardo Martino`s side will certainly be remembered as one of the best defensively organised teams who showed, in all their games, an impressive team ethic and discipline.
A 1-1 draw with Italy was a solid start to the tournament and the 2-0 win over Slovakia effectively secured passage to the last 16 -- a process confirmed by a dull but calculated goalless draw with New Zealand.
The game with Japan in the second round, though, showed a disappointing side to the Paraguayan approach.
Facing a team that they should, given the pedigree of their players, have been confident of beating, Martino`s men focused on frustrating Japan`s midfield and the game ended a goalless stalemate.
Had Paraguay lost the penalty shootout, they would have headed home with a certain sense of under-achievement but they won the lottery and their prize was a meeting with the European champions at Ellis Park.
Oscar Cardozo had a second-half penalty saved by Spain keeper Iker Casillas and once David Villa put Spain in front it was hard to imagine a way back for Paraguay although Casillas had to be alert to keep out Lucas Barrios and Roque Santa Cruz.
"We gave our all, we had opportunities but unfortunately Spain scored and we didn`t. We didn`t have luck with us," Martino said.
Luck was one factor but Martino`s reluctance to push players forward and really test the Spanish defence, the inherent cautiousness of Paraguay`s approach, was also part of their undoing.
The back-four, marshalled superbly by Antolin Alcaraz, proved to be of the highest standard throughout the tournament but despite having some quality in attack, Paraguay were not able to penetrate enough.
Martino`s team have, however, established themselves among the South American elite, and in what has ultimately become a disappointing tournament for that region, Paraguay`s resolute rearguard will stand them in good stead for next year`s Copa America.