Paraguay kicks out Japan
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
Paraguay's Oscar Cardozo celebrates with goalkeeper Justo Villar after scoring the winning goal after a penalty shootout on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci)
PRETORIA -- In the past few days, South American representatives Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay qualified for the quarterfinals of South Africa 2010 with a roar.
On Tuesday, Paraguay did it with a yawn.
In reaching the Final Eight of the World Cup for the first time in history, Paraguay ensured that half of the teams in this year's quarterfinals will come from the continent of South America.
But the similarities end there.
While Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay all have showcased up-tempo, exciting soccer to this point, flair is a feature that has been lacking from Paraguay's repertoire for much of this tournament, especially on Tuesday.
In the end, Paraguay deservedly advanced 0-0 (5-3 on penalties) in a real snoozefest at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld Stadium, a venue where members of the less-than-capacity crowd were probably clamouring to the concession stands for coffee to keep their droopy eye lids open.
That certainly wasn't the case for Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino, however. In fact, he broke down with emotion at the final whistle, euphoric that his country had grinded its way through Japan and into the Elite Eight.
"The reason for my tears is because this is an emotional moment for me," Martino said. "Everybody knows that penalties are unfair, but that's how the match had to be decided and I am happy that we won.
"Japan played as they usually do, they gave us difficulties, but what is important now is that we are through to the next round. For now, we are having a party with our fans back in Paraguay. I can imagine the excitement and celebration back there."
The Japanese, meanwhile, were in no mood for a party.
Many of Japan's players dropped to their knees when Paraguay's Oscar Cardozo drilled home the winning penalty, tears in their eyes at the realization that their World Cup dream had come to an end.
And no one was more despondent at the outcome than Japanese defender Yuichi Komano, who was the only player on either team to misfire on his penalty attempt, clunking the crossbar with his effort.
That would turn out to be the difference.
The defeat likely marked the end of Takeshi Okada's tenure as manager of Japan, a possibility he acknowledged in his post-game press conference.
"I don't think I have anything left to do now, probably," Okada said.
"It's my responsibility. We did not insist enough. I can not elaborate any further. When I look back at what I could have done for the players and what I did as a head coach I should have been more insistent on winning."