The millions celebrating in Paraguay won't care, but its penalty-shootout victory over Japan on Tuesday came after probably the worst game of the World Cup so far.
There was much talk of fear, of the sense of occasion becoming too much for two sides that had never reached the quarterfinal before, and maybe there was an element of truth to that. But neither of these sides is naturally creative, and the result was tedium. Paraguay at least took some sort of initiative, and from that point of view probably deserved its victory, but let's not pretend this was anything other than deeply disappointing.
That Paraguay was able to dominate possession came down to its fullbacks,
Both sides managed two chances in a first half that kept threatening to burst into life without actually doing so. For Paraguay,
Although Morel became increasingly involved in the second half (he sent over a number of vaguely threatening crosses, one of which
Yet even that was more than Japan mustered.
There has been much excitement about Japan's four goals in this tournament, but two were direct free kicks, the winner against Cameroon was an appallingly defended cross to the back post, and the final goal, against Denmark, was created by Honda when Denmark was piling forward seeking a late goal. Honda up front alone is a negative tactic because it allows coach
That is not to blame Okada, for it's not clear what options he has. Given Japan's pre-tournament form, to win two games and reach the last 16 is an achievement. That it did so playing technically efficient but predictable football is only reprehensible if there's any sense Okada could have done better playing any other way. At least his side was organized and by and large frustrated the opposition: Two goals conceded in four matches is a record to be proud of.
Against Paraguay, he even brought on two forwards in
That's never a good idea with a lone center forward, and even less so against two center backs as good in the air as
At the other end, Kawashima blocked superbly against
And so it went to penalties. Poor
Paraguay, rigorous and tough, has allowed one goal in four games entering the quarterfinals, where a far tougher opponent than the toothless sides it has faced so far awaits.
This wasn't quite as bad as Ukraine's goalless draw with Switzerland at the same stage last year, but it was close.