Paraguay 0-0 Japan (Paraguay 5-3 Japan on Penalties)
My Prediction: Japan
Paraguay and Japan played 120 scoreless minutes which, had they played another 120, would probably have ended the same. The opening match of the final day of the Round of 16 saw these two nations equally astute in defense and equally inept at offense; the scoring chances were few and far between, with Paraguay having the better of things overall but Japan putting a shot off the crossbar. After extra time saw more of the same, the inevitable penalty kick drama ensued; the worst way to end this match would have been to play until someone scored as, at this point, I think we may have had another Mahut /Isner situation on our hands. When the kicks finally, inevitably came, neither keeper made a save and a single miss by Yuichi Komano, who put his penalty kick off the crossbar. Paraguay never missed; when Oscar Cardozo sent Japan's keeper Eiji Kawashima the wrong way on Paraguay's fifth penalty attempt, it was all over. It was a harsh exit for Japan, who played bright, organized football, but whose inability to cope with high, bouncing balls and the physical style of Paraguay saw them struggle to find a rhythm on the night. In the end, it was a series of fine saves by Kawashima that kept Japan in it, and while they didn't make it to the Quarterfinals, they can hold their heads at their excellent display.
Komano's Cruel Fate (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
Paraguay, on the other hand, now face a lot of questions, the main one being where in the world the goals are going to come from in their next match? While their organization was strong enough to handle Japan's style, they left this match facing the prospect of playing either Spain or Portugal and, while goalkeeper Justo Villar has been excellent in controlling the box, the Quarterfinals pose a real problem for Paraguay; unable to score against New Zealand or Japan, their best chances of advancing may rest on another round of penalties if they hope to move on again. It's going to be interesting to see how they respond to the challenge.
Spain 1- 0 Portugal (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
My Prediction: Spain
They don't call them the knockout stages for nothing; one punch from David Villa in the 63rd minute and it was all Spain needed to bury a tough, tenacious Portugal at the Green Point Stadium. This was a classic match, a battle of wills between a defensive minded Portugal and Spain, who hold possession like no one else and play the game with more control and grace than most other teams could even imagine. It was the Barcelona duo of Iniesta and Xavi who agian provided the close control and prodding balls, standing at the periphery of the Portuguese back line and sending balls in and collecting them on the way out, allowing Xabi Alonso to shift the point of attack with swinging passes to the wings, where David Villa and Sergio Ramos lurked all night. It was too ad Portugal couldn't muster a brighter attack, but they were set up to play nine behind the ball at all times, breaking through an excellent Fábio Coentrão on the left wing or through Tiago in the middle. But with Cristiano Ronaldo receiving physical treatment from the Spaniards and getting few if any calls from the referee, it was going to be a tough night for Portugal to make an impression in front of the Spanish goal; a Carlos Puyol deflection that bounced inches wide of the post was Portugal's best chance on the night.
And so, like so many of these games between such deep, talented teams do, it came down to a single moment of brilliance; Andres Iniesta played a lovely one-two at the top of the box and slotted the ball to Xavi, who flicked a back heel on to David Villa, who saw his initial shot saved by an outstanding Eduardo before the rebound landed at Villa's feet and he flicked a shot over the outstretched arms of the Portuguese keeper, under the crossbar and into the net. It was no less than Spain deserved and you got the sense from the Portuguese that it was almost expected; they quickly regrouped and tried to press for an equalizer, but Spain were string at the back and, when Ricardo Costa put a "stray" elbow into the jaw of Joan Capdevilla and was sent off, it was too much to ask of a Portuguese team that always looked more comfortable playing defensively than expressing themselves in attack. While Manager Carlos Quieroz's tactics may have gotten his team to a shootout on another day, it was good to see offensive brilliance rewarded. Portugal were a touch nut to crack but, once opened, found themselves headed home. You roll the dice when you play that conservatively, and this time, Quieroz lost when Villa hit the jackpot.
David Villa Is The Best Striker In The World
Well, the Round of 16 is over and while the USA was the only Group winner not to advance to the Quarterfinals, I did pretty well in my predictions;
seven out of eight isn't too bad, eh? I will be taking the day off from football tomorrow and will be back on Thursday with my Quarterfinal predictions. What a great Tournament it has been so far... loving it. If only my boys could have handled their business against Ghana... *sigh*...
Up Next: Quarterfinal Predictions