Three quick thoughts after Paraguay eased past Slovakia 2-0 in Group F:
1. Paraguay is just fine in attack. Between the lingering knee injury to Roque Santa Cruz and the tragic loss of Salvador Cabanas -- the side's top scorer in World Cup qualifying who is recovering from being shot in the head in a Mexican bar -- there was some question of how dangerous Paraguay would be. But thanks to a newcomer, Lucas Barrios, la albirroja looked plenty threatening against Slovakia. Barrios, who was born in Buenos Aires, gave up his hope of playing for Argentina in March and elected to cast his lot with Paraguay, the birthplace of his mother. His first competitive game was last Monday against Italy; his performance was so-so, understandable given the opposition and the stage on which he was making his debut. On Sunday, he was the most dangerous player on the pitch. He deftly controlled a throw in and then picked out Enrique Vera with a gorgeous pass to set up Paraguay's first goal, just minutes after he started a move with a slick backheel and finished it by sending a screamer just over the bar. Barrios is nicknamed La Pantera, which sadly has nothing to do with the thrash metal band Pantera. It means panther, and it's apt. At 6-foot-2, Barrios is big, fast and pounces when he senses an opportunity. He and Santa Cruz -- who also had a nice game -- could be a handful for the rest of the tournament.
2. Once again, Slovakia waited too long to play with any urgency. It seemed to coast through stretches of the New Zealand game, and its inability to tack on a second goal cost them dearly when the All Whites snatched a draw in the dying minutes. Today the Slovaks were awful for the first half-hour, looking disinterested in building up any kind of attack, giving the ball away far too often and letting Paraguay slice them up and eventually take a 1-0 lead. That snapped Slovakia to life, but even then it seemed too late -- which is more of a compliment for Paraguay than a knock at Slovakia. Paraguay did a nice job dealing with everything Slovakia came up with -- long balls, crosses, winger Vladimir Weiss' fancy stepovers -- before Cristian Riveros' goal put the game out of reach. If you're looking for a dark horse as we approach the knockout stages, you could do a lot worse than Paraguay.
3. For once the vuvuzelas were a good thing. The Free State Stadium was barely half full for this entertaining-but-not-so-glamorous matchup. (The announced attendance was 26,643.) Each team brought a small contingent of fans. Both groups were vocal, but the incessant buzzing of the horns kicked the atmosphere up a needed notch or two. The locals got a wave going -- backwards, which I assume is because we're in the southern hemisphere -- and they seemed to spur the Paraguayan and Slovak fans to make more noise. I talked to a group before the game that was given tickets by Adidas; they were genuinely psyched to be at the stadium. Here's hoping that FIFA sees to it that more unwanted tickets find their way into the hands of people who will gladly use them.
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