Paraguay put one foot in the second round of the World Cup with an impressive attacking display over a disappointing Slovakia side that puts them top of Group F going into the final round of matches.
Slovakia were barely recognisable from the team that played some stylist stuff of their own against New Zealand. Vladimir Weiss struggled to leave his mark on the game and highly-rated captain Marek Hamsik, the Napoli midfielder supposedly coveted by a host of Premier League clubs, was poor once again. Slovakia were wasteful in possession and seemed bereft of ideas.
Paraguay, with an attacking 4-3-3 formation pressing high up the pitch, beat Brazil and Argentina in qualifying but it was a relief to see them come out of their shell after a defensive performance yielded a 1-1 draw in their opening match with Italy. On this evidence they will go far, with only New Zealand standing between them and a place in the second round.
It took almost half an hour for Paraguay to take the lead, but they had already spurned numerous chances when with 27 minutes gone a defence-splitting pass by the excellent Lucas Barrios found Enrique Vera, who curled a fine finish past Jan Mucha in the Slovakian goal.
Manchester City striker Roque Santa Cruz returned from injury but wasted a host of chances to get on the scoresheet. Having barely played for his club in 2009/10 Santa Cruz’s ring-rustiness can be excused but Paraguay will not be so lucky as to keep facing teams that give up as many chances as Slovakia did here.
Despite Paraguay’s obvious superiority they sat back in the second half, happy to hold onto a 1-0 lead against an impotent Slovakian attack, and waited until five minutes from time to make the game safe. Torres floated a free kick to the back post, it was nodded down and was played into the path of Sunderland’s Cristian Riveros, who smashed home from the edge of the area.
Slovakia can still qualify but few would back them to do so on the strength of this performance. They will face an Italy side needing their own win to secure qualification. For Paraguay a point against New Zealand will be enough, and while their next opponents are for some the surprise package of the tournament so far, Paraguay have shown more than enough quality in their opening two games to deserve a place in the second round.