Japan the 'good' falls to Paraguay the 'bad'
By GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency
JOHANNESBURG -- It had to happen sooner or later. A team finally made the quarterfinals playing negative soccer.
The infamous team among the eight is none other than Paraguay. The South American side moved on, beating Japan in penalties in what was an otherwise dire affair.
It was a case of evil defeating good, if you want to use that reverse analogy. The Japanese, also known as the "good," although defensively organized and willing to play without the ball, still attacked with purpose when on the ball. Japan exhibited speed, skill and initiative in a game that had little. The Japanese played to win, where as their opponent played not to lose.
There is a massive difference there. And Japan's willingness to attack in numbers and force the issue won over a largely non-partisan crowd. More importantly, they were unlucky to end up on the losing end.
As for Paraguay, or the "bad," talk about a team unwilling to take chances and comfortable keeping the ball without advancing. Paraguay dominated possession. But 58% possession means nothing when the majority of the time it's in your own end. The ball being played from defender, to defender, to goalkeeper, to defender virtually every possession was difficult to watch. And the lack of adventure rendered their attack useless.
In comparison to their next opponent, while Spain keeps the ball with pizzazz and imagination keeping defences on their toes, Paraguay attempts to bore you to death. Laze them into a slow pace game and take advantage of weakness. Give Paraguay credit, it got them wins but it will only take them so far.
For a team with ample talent, it's all too disappointing. It's unfortunate those tactics are deemed the proper way to win, when other teams in the tournament proved otherwise.
Argentina barely plays with four defenders, choosing to attack at will. Germany and Netherlands are solid in defence, but go forward with ease in a natural flow. Uruguay and Brazil are built to soak up pressure, but are class in attack. And even Ghana, for all the trouble the side has finishing, it moves the ball with purpose and makes it difficult for the opposition.
None of these teams is content sitting back. All play with confidence. No matter the system they play or how they're organized, it's a complete game they play, reflecting the modern brand of soccer.
The old school kick and run, or defend at all cost, doesn't jive anymore. Players are capable of punishing teams refusing to attack. It's cliché, but the way soccer played truly makes the best defence is a string offence ring true. Teams must attack or they'll be punished.
Paraguay was lucky a Daisuke Matsui strike caromed off the bar. And emerging star Keisuke Honda narrowly going wide on an out-swinger, both in the first half.
Coach Geraldo Martino's midfield lacked creativity and movement off the ball. Paraguay has more than enough talent upfront gone wasted. The static play made it difficult for the skillful Lucas Barrios and company to create anything of substance. No movement, no chance. It's this same kind of inactivity that cost teams such as England and Denmark chances of going deeper into the tournament. There's being direct, and there's being predictable.
Spain now lies ahead. This isn't a good sign for an inferior squad with no creativity. Spain's Iniesta and Xavi will have a field day carving the Paraguay backline. And best of luck to them attempting to break down a speedy, smart and physically strong Spanish rearguard.
Paraguay's run will end Saturday in Johannesburg at Ellis Park. Spain will give Paraguay a thrashing. Spain is not Italy. Nor are they New Zealand. They are a current world power intent on playing the game it's meant to be played.
Paraguay is not.