8. Paraguay

What Went Right?  This side was all about DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE! Paraguay dropped a number of players back into their own half and with workmanlike organization closed it down. They were so good at compacting the center of their own end and maintaining their defensive rigidity that they gave their opponents hardly any space to get an attack through (there’s actually a certain genius to that). The players did such a fantastic job of playing within this disciplined system, subjugating their individual aspirations for the good of the, together conspiring to make every team they faced look like bumbling heavy-footed idiots with an almost pathological inability to complete a pass. Basically, they did nothing that hasn’t characterized this team for the better part of 15 years. They gave up a lot of possession but that was intended. The idea was to lure their opponents into a false sense of security in the back, and then – WHAM – hit them on the quick counterattack. Like every other defense-first team Paraguay of course relied heavily on opposition mistakes and mental lapses. Made extensive use of long passes and through balls. Definitely a different team as the game progresses; once they’ve frustrated their opponents with their ability to close down the back Paraguay gets a little more adventuresome in the last 15 to 20 minutes, actually sustaining some semblance of an attack and employing a mostly east-west approach to going forward. They were pretty decent at set pieces and corners, though. Most of all, not unlike Uruguay and Ghana, were the recipients of an obscene amount of good fortune with their draw; minnows Slovakia and New Zealand, an Italian side that was barely a shell of its former glory, and an upstart Japan side to face in the Round of 16.

What Went Wrong?  Counterattack was slipshod at best. Crosses, through balls, and long passes weren’t very good at all, which goes a long way towards explaining why the target men up front weren’t able to get on the end of them. Front players didn’t have the world’s greatest finishing skills. Midfield couldn’t create a thought, much less any kind of imaginative or sustained attack. The few times Paraguay did attack it was almost exclusively through the center, virtually ignoring the flanks altogether. Didn’t make diagonal runs or take advantage of space at all.

Who Stepped Up To The Plate?  The one big mistake aside, Justo Villar was pretty steady in goal. The backline of Antolin Alcaraz, Paulo da Silva, Claudio Morel Rodriquez and Dario Veron were as disciplined and reliable as they come. Victor Caceres was pretty good starting the break. Oscar Cardoza and Nelson Valdez got on the end of quick service and got some quality shots off. Good attacking energy when Enrique Vera came into a game off the bench

Who Didn’t Show Up?  Cristian Riveros was just a statue in the midfield; good on defense but a stop sign in possession. Edgar Baretto and Jonathan Santana were sad excuses as wingers; I’m still trying to figure out what their purpose was. Outside of Vera the reserves were pretty useless. It’s time for Roque Santa Cruz to go; he just hasn’t done anything to justify his inclusion on the side for years.

How Was The Coaching?  Paraguay executed the unwavering, inflexible system Gerardo Martino employed, so I guess Martino did a pretty good job. It wasn’t very pleasing to watch, but damned if it didn’t get them to the quarterfinals. I hear that Martino tried to install an attacking system two years ago in qualifying but got some really bad results. Sorry it didn’t work.

Did They Finish Where They Were Expected?  No, they finished much better than expected. Most of us surmised before the World Cup that Paraguay would get out of their group. We were just hoping there would be somebody with a little more football oomph than Japan waiting to take them out and save the rest of us the torture of having to watch them any further.

Now What?  Unfortunately for Paraguay this 8th place finish is probably going to convince them that they should keep doing what they are doing at the expense of playing more attack-minded, positive football, instead of realizing that an obscenely favorable draw is what got them this far. If so then this is as good as it’s going to get for Paraguay for the foreseeable future. That’s really too bad…