Spain goes for historic win in WCup quarterfinals
Johannesburg: Spain coach Vicente del Bosque believes his players are ready to make history: They can startby winning a World Cup quarterfinal for the first time.
Surprisingly, Spain has never advanced to a semifinal match at a World Cup in four opportunities between 1934 and 2002.
Standing in its way at Johannesburg`s Ellis Park on Saturday is a resolute Paraguay team that is the most successful ever sent to a World Cup from the South American nation.
"We know we`re in good shape," del Bosque said yesterday. "It`s been more than 30 days together training as a team and I think these players want to make history."
Spain has once reached the last four at a World Cup, at the quirky 1950 tournament when just 13 teams showed up in Brazil and the four group winners advanced to a round-robin pool to decide the honors.
When the World Cup format has used a knockout bracket, Spain has always been stopped at the quarterfinals stage.
Spain lost to South Korea on penalties after a goalless draw in a 2002 matchup remembered for disputed referee calls, and Roberto Baggio lifted Italy to a 2-1 victory in 1994. In 1986, Belgium prevailed in a shootout after a 1-1 draw, and 1934 host Italy ousted the Spanish 1-0 in a replay.
Del Bosque would not be drawn to suggest the European champion has a golden chance to break the streak, and earn a final four tie against Argentina or Germany.
"If you had to choose one of the other seven who reached the quarterfinals, I don`t know which one would be the easiest," he said.
"Paraguay, like all of the South American teams, show so much character, with players who exercise great pressure. They are players who know their trade, with the ball or without and they have a similar style to Chile, who we already know about."
Spain won that match 2-1 to top Group H despite losing its opener 1-0 against a Switzerland side that frustrated by defending in depth just like the Paraguayans shape to do Saturday.
"We`d all like to play nicely, scoring five goals a game and sometimes that happens," midfielder Andres Iniesta said.
"There are good moments and difficult moments but what`s important is that we`re in the quarterfinals."
Paraguay arrives at this stage on the back of three straight shutouts by its defense, and a perfect five-for-five record in the penalty shootout against Japan when the teams` second-round game was goalless after extra time.
Goalkeeper Justo Villar expects more of the same "hard work and tactics" against Spain.
"It`s going to be a good match where you will see two types of football," Villar said. "One side trying to attack skillfully while we try to stop them and then try to take advantage of our chances."
Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino is still looking for a first goal from his forward line in South Africa.
However, two of Spain`s squad know all about their opponent`s attacking potential.
Forward Fernando Llorente and midfielder Javi Martinez were in an Athletic Bilbao team which lost 3-1 to the Paraguayans in a friendly match in March.
"It`s a team to be wary of," Llorente said. "They gave us a good romping and the feeling I got was that this is a team with a coach who does his job well, with players of great ability who play in big teams in Europe."
Llorente impressed when he came off the bench minutes before David Villa scored the only goal, his fourth, to share the tournament lead, in Spain`s second-round victory over Portugal on Tuesday.
However, Del Bosque is expected to keep the same starting lineup with Liverpool`s Fernando Torres partnering new Barcelona signing Villa.