World Cup Tuesday: Super Spain Pip Portugal

Paraguay 0, Japan 0 (Paraguay win 5-3 on penalties)

A penalty shootout is always dramatic, but the 120 minutes of buildup might have been some of the worst soccer played at this World Cup. The goalkeepers came up empty in the shootout, but wingback Yuichi Komano drilled Japan’s third spot-kick off the crossbar to hand the match to Paraguay.

I’m really struggling for words to describe how boring the run of this match was. Opportunities were few and far between as these teams cancelled each other out. Even as the teams tired in the extra time, and balls started to get through the midfield uncontested, neither side really knew what to do in the attacking third of the pitch.

Paraguay have played very much to the level of the opposition in this tournament, and while they’ll be very unfancied in the quarterfinal, they’re the type of team that can be backed as an underdog. The quarterfinal with Spain is an opportunity. Paraguay tries to grind the opposition down. It was never likely to happen with the Japanese—beyond the top three or four players, Japan lacks skill but has fitness and discipline in spades. Against more mercurial Spanish opposition, Paraguay might well smash-and-grab a result.

Spain 1, Portugal 0

No goals in the first half here either but a great deal more energy. David Villa and Fernando Torres each signaled their intent early with great shots. Portugal had a couple headers flash wide. Goalkeepers Iker Casillas of Spain and Eduardo of Portugal each had to be tops of their games or it would have been 2-2. 

The revelation of the first half, however, was Portuguese left back Fabio Coentrao. I’d never seen this guy play before but he’s got the whole skill set—speed, tackling, and great control on the ball. Brazil’s Maicon came into this tournament as the wingback to watch; Coentrao will be a man to watch in next year’s club season.

Portugal started the second half on the front foot but Spain worked their way back into the game with a rash of chances on the hour mark. Andres Iniesta fed the ball to Villa who smacked it past Eduardo at the second time of asking for the match’s only goal on 63 minutes. Spain had 62|PERCENT| of the ball overall and seemingly 80|PERCENT| in the final quarter-hour as they killed the game off. Portugal played injury time with 10 men after left back Ricardo Costa was shown a straight red for elbowing Joan Capdevila (a yellow was warranted).

Portuguese fans will lament Nani’s pre-tournament injury that kept him out of the World Cup, but Cristiano Ronaldo had a poor tournament. We always said Ronaldo would face extra marking with Nani out, but the world’s most expensive player was largely invisible in four matches. He had very few touches in this loss, and never threatened the Spanish goal.