The World Cup quarter-finals conclude tonight in Johannesburg when Paraguay aim to cause a huge upset by knocking out Spain.
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This is the first time Paraguay have ever reached the quarter-final stage of a World Cup, and having emerged victorious from their penalty shootout against Japan in their last 16 match, they may just feel that luck is with them in South Africa.
Gerardo Martino’s side won Group F with draws against Italy and New Zealand and a win over Slovakia, and when you consider that they were 0-0 with Japan after extra time, it’s clear that they have hardly set the world alight on their way to the quarters. They are rightly the big outsiders here at 13/2, with the draw available at 14/5 and Spain 1/2 favourites.
A defensively solid unit, Paraguay have only conceded one goal so far, an equaliser by Italy’s Daniele de Rossi, but they have only managed three themselves and haven’t shown a lot ambition going forward, so Paraguay to score no goals in the 90 minutes looks like a great bet at 4/6.
The most recognisable name on the Paraguayan team sheet is Manchester City striker Roque Santa Cruz, an 11/1 shot to score the first goal of the match, and if you do fancy the upset here with Paraguay throwing off the shackles, Blue Square offer 28/1 about him scoring two or more goals.
The shortest priced of all the Paraguayans to score at any time in the 90 minutes is Lucas Barrios, and the Borussia Dortmund striker is a 7/2 shot to add to his three international goals in just his eighth appearance. Barrios is 4/1 to score the first goal for Paraguay, 11/1 to score a header which does carry some appeal, and he is as big as 150/1 to score a hat-trick.
Spain have recovered well from the big upset they suffered at the hands of Switzerland in their opening game, though they still haven’t looked like the same fluent, at time unplayable side who strolled to the European Championship title two years ago.
They have been bailed out by David Villa after a couple of goals from nothing by the prolific Barca man, but that’s the difference between teams like Spain and ones like Paraguay. It’s little surprise to see Villa – joint top scorer with four in the tournament – as the red-hot 11/4 favourite for the first goal, and he is 8/11 with Blue Square to score at any time. Its just impossible to argue with backing this man, so sharp is he, and 42 goals in 62 internationals is simply a phenomenal record.
It was a Villa double that won the game against Honduras for Spain, and Andres Iniesta is the only other man to score for Spain so far in this World Cup, the midfielder adding a second against Chile, and he looks like a decent bet to score at any time here at 10/3.
A lot has been made of Fernando Torres’s lack of form so far at these finals, though Vicente del Bosque is likely to stick with the misfiring Liverpool striker and Blue Square make him evens to break his duck in this match. Premier League fans will be well aware of his ability to suddenly turn it on from nowhere, and the 11/2 about him to score two or more could be a wise investment.
I’d expect Paraguay to have a few chances in this one, but Spain’s class should certainly be too much for what is ultimately a fairly limited team, and I think Spain to win 3-1 at 14/1 looks like another decent bet. Over 2.5 goals also appeals at 5/4.