What We Learned From Spain vs Paraguay (1-0)

Unstoppable Force Meets Immoveable Object

Or the potentially hardest working defence left standing meets the apparently most intricate passing team in the world. And bugger me it was boring. Paraguay are the Switzerland of South America, and not just because they were the home of fleeing ex-nazis and secretive bank accounts. No, they are set up to defend. And harry. And press. And harry some more. And do everything but actually score. And, like Switzerland, they work bloody hard at it. So hard that it wasn’t until very late on in the game that Spain finally got their act together. But, also like Switzerland, they really can’t score. One goal against Italy and two against the mighty Slovakia in the Group stage have taken them to the brink of a World Cup semi-final. And very odd moments aside they really never looked even vaguely threatening. I mean at 72 minutes, with the score 0 – 0 they play their joker, taking off their by now knackered striker Valdez and bringing on Rocque Santa Cruz, who hasn’t scored for Paraguay for two years and hasn’t scored for Man City since the Mark Hughes era. Even then he manages to scuff up their only real chance from open play.

It’s All Gone To Penalties

Thank fucking christ it didn’t because the tedium would have finished me off. But for a crazy 5 minutes this game went off the charts. First Paraguay got a penalty, which they contrived to tamely tap into Casillas’ midriff, then Spain got a penalty, which Alonso scored, then had to retake, then missed. For a second it was like the shoot out had come early, before normal service (and tedium) was resumed. You feel that if Paraguay, like Ghana, had scored their penalty, they would have won this match. And you could feel that the pressure of being here, having gone further in the tournament than they had really believed they would, weighed heavily on the penalty takers.

Tikki Takki’s All Gone Messy

The Spanish have got a problem. They’ve arrived with half a good game and no idea of how to make it a whole game. Admittedly it works better than teams like Engerland, who arrive without any part of a good game, or teams like New Zealand, Switzerland and Paraguay, who arrive with one that they’ve borrowed from Jose Mourinho but haven’t read all of the user manuals. Spain’s real problem is that their chosen game has both declined and been susssed out. I don’t think they’re implementing their clever passing game as well as they did in Euro 2008 and I think teams have discovered how to put them off their game. All of which sounds a little pedantic given that Spain have Tikki Takka’d their way to the semi-finals, but they have been fantastically lucky. Chile gifted them the game, Paraguay surrendered it and they were lucky to beat Portugal. But they really need a way to combine clever, good looking football with incisiveness, speed and variation. Too often their attacks come down the middle at a pedestrian pace with no great effect. Take out David Villa and Spain don’t look remotely threatening, just pretty in the middle of the park.

60 Down 4 To Go 4 Teams Remaining

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