Spain goes for semifinal breakthrough against Paraguay

Friday, July 2, 2010

Spain goes for semifinal breakthrough

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque sees something special ahead — like a World Cup title.

The next step is Saturday in the quarterfinals.

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 will be Paraguay, which is in its first World Cup final eight.

“We know we’re in good shape,” del Bosque said Thursday. “It’s been more than 30 days together training as a team and I think these players want to make history.”

Spain reached the final four at a World Cup at the quirky 1950 tournament, when only 13 teams showed up in Brazil. Four group winners advanced to a round-robin pool to decide the title, which Uruguay won.

When the format has included knockout rounds, Spain has hit a roadblock in the quarterfinals.

The Spaniards lost to South Korea on penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw in a 2002 matchup remembered for disputed referee calls.

In 1994, Roberto Baggio lifted Italy to a 2-1 victory, and the Azzurri went on to the final. In 1986, Belgium prevailed in a shootout after a 1-1 draw. Way back in 1934, it was Italy again, eliminating the Spanish 1-0 in a replay.

Del Bosque would not suggest the European champion has an easier path than anyone else.

“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.

The other quarterfinal Saturday could be an ill-tempered affair, between Germany and Argentina at Cape Town. Argentina is one of four South American nations to advance to the quarterfinals, and the fifth team here, Chile, lost to Brazil in the second round.

“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 beat Chile 2-1 to win Group H despite losing its opener 1-0 against a Switzerland team that frustrated the Spanish by defending all game — similar to what the Paraguayans tend to do.

“We’d all like to play nicely, scoring five goals a game, and sometimes that happens,” Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta said. “There are good moments and difficult moments but what’s important is that we’re in the quarterfinals.”

Paraguay got this far thanks to three straight shutouts, and a perfect 5 for 5 in the second-round penalty shootout against Japan. 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.”

The Argentina-Germany match has had the juiciest of buildups, with both sides criticizing each other and diving into trash talk.

“We have to concentrate on our own game,” said defender Philipp Lahm, Germany’s captain. “They are temperamental, we’ll see how they deal with defeat on Saturday. They are impulsive, temperamental and they don’t know how to lose.”

Lahm referred to the 2006 quarterfinals, when host Germany eliminated Argentina on penalty kicks, then a near-brawl broke out involving players and team officials.

“The boys are thinking about getting out on the pitch and getting revenge for 2006,” Maradona said.

“I don’t’ worry about what (Lahm) says about the penalties, about the kicking, that we don’t know how to lose. That doesn’t bother us.”

Maradona’s players second that claim.

“Diego has gone through every experience possible in football and that helps us a lot. If you’ve got a doubt about something or a question, he knows what to say,” midfielder Javier Pastore said.

Unlike Spain-Paraguay, the Argentina-Germany match should feature lots of offense by both sides. Argentina has scored 10 goals so far and Germany nine.

“We’ll be well prepared and we’ll know how to beat a strong opponent,” Lahm said. “We have to show that we can beat a really strong rival. It’s been a long time.”

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