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Tuesday’s Round of 16 play at the World Cup opens with Paraguay, the winner of Group F, facing Japan, the runner-up in Group E.
Paraguay’s group win has to be considered a surprise since most expected Italy to finish atop it. But the Paraguayans opened this tournament by drawing Italy and then beat Slovakia to take control of the group. They finished up the group stage with a rather dull scoreless draw against New Zealand in a match neither team took many chances in. For example, the Kiwis had just four shots (to Paraguay’s 17) and none on goal. This is the fourth time Paraguay, which has allowed just one goal in this tournament, has reached the second round, also doing so in 1986, 1998 and 2002. It has never reached the quarterfinals.
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Coach Gerardo Martino wasn’t overly happy with that 0-0 result against the All Whites.
"We were not very mobile and we were quite inaccurate against New Zealand," he told reporters. "We had a lot of problems in an area where we didn't expect, and that was in attack.”
Japan opened the World Cup with a 1-0 win over Cameroon and a 1-0 loss to the Dutch before facing Denmark in the group stage finale. That match was unique because it was the only group stage finale where a win advanced a side and a loss eliminated it. But Japan won 3-1 behind first-half goals on free kicks from Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo. That was the first time a team has scored two goals directly off free kicks since Yugoslavia had three versus Zaire in 1974. It was also the first time in 44 years that a team from Asia scored three goals in a World Cup match. Honda has been one of the best players in this tournament with two goals and numerous other good chances created.
"Our team has a strength that other teams do not have, which is the 23 players and the entire staff are truly united and as a single team we wanted to demonstrate that football is a team sport,” Honda said in published reports.
The Japanese won matches in the World Cup on foreign soil for the first time and reached the knockout round for the second time; they also advanced in 2002, when they were tournament co-hosts with South Korea.
The winner of this match faces the Spain-Portugal winner in the quarterfinals.
Paraguay vs. Japan World Cup Odds:
This match is a pick’em on the goal line, although Paraguay is -225 and Japan +165. If you wager with the draw (regulation + injury stoppage time only), Paraguay is a +120 favorite with Japan at +225 and a draw at +220. The total is 2.5 goals, with the under a -180 favorite. Odds are courtesy of Bodog and Sports Interaction.
Paraguay vs. Japan Picks and Predictions:
Paraguay will win if: Japan has yet to face a South American side so far, and that continent’s teams have been the story of this World Cup so far. Plus the Japanese faced more attack-minded teams in the group stage while Paraguay is a terrific defensive team with a good back line. And it will tackle better than any team Japan has seen so far. Paraguay is unbeaten in its last six World Cup meetings against non-European sides.
Japan will win if: Honda and/or Shinji Okazaki score a goal. Okazaki, who netted 15 goals for Japan in 2009 to lead all international scorers, had been struggling but scored Japan’s third goal in the group stage finale against Denmark. Japan has won on the six occasions that Honda has scored and on the 11 occasions that Okazaki has scored during international matches. Okazaki’s tally against the Danes made him the first striker to score for Japan in seven international matches. Japan is 0-2 all-time against South American teams at the World Cup.
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