Paraguay squeezed through to the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time in their history as Yuichi Komano’s penalty miss sent Japan crashing out of the tournament. With the game goalless at the end of extra time in Pretoria, South Africa witnessed its first shoot-out and, after Komano had clipped the crossbar, Oscar Cardozo rolled home the winning spot-kick to give the South Americans a 5-3 win and a last-eight tie against either Spain or Portugal.
Neither side had ever reached a FIFA World Cup quarter-final, and perhaps the weight of expectation explained a largely uninspiring contest at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium. Paraguay enjoyed the majority of possession in the early stages but were struggling to find their range as much as their opponents. The game suddenly, albeit very briefly, exploded into life around the 20-minute mark when both goalkeepers were finally awoken from their slumbers. First, Paraguay’s Lucas Barrios turned neatly in the penalty area to escape the attentions of two Japan defenders, before firing straight at Eiji Kawashima. Then, a minute later, Daisuke Matsui crashed a curled long-range effort against the crossbar.
Paraguay almost made their mark in the 29th minute when Roque Santa Cruz found himself unmarked in the area. The Manchester City forward looked surprised to find Claudio Morel’s corner at his feet, and that moment of hesitation proved his undoing as he subsequently flashed his shot wide. Shortly after, Honda’s ball into the box appeared threatening but Carlos Bonet was able to step in and steer the ball to safety. Yasuhito Endo then whipped in a free-kick at pace but Santa Cruz, now on defensive duty, was able to clear the danger with a diving header.
Minutes later, Japan broke at pace and should have done better in a promising situation, with three advancing forwards outnumbering the Paraguay defence. Matsui squared the ball to Keisuke Honda but the CSKA Moscow star chose to ignore the run of the unmarked Yoshito Okubo to his left, instead opting to try his luck from distance. Disappointingly, his left-footed drive finished wide of goalkeeper Justo Villar’s post.
Takeshi Okada’s side began the second half with a team huddle, aware they needed to break free of their first-half shackles if they were to make that crucial breakthrough. But it was Paraguay who fired the first statement of intent as Nestor Ortigoza did his best to change the pattern of the game but his mazy run into the box was eventually smothered by the Japanese defence. It was a rare moment of enterprise in a game that had so far failed to inspire. As Gerardo Martino’s team picked up the pace, only the outstretched boot of Yuji Nakazawa prevented Edgar Benitez from finding the target, while Cristian Riveros could only plant his header into the palms of Kawashima. Marcus Tulio Tanaka was unlucky not to profit from Endo’s dangerous corner or substitute Shunsuke Nakamura’s knock-on, while Santa Cruz’s looping header was easily beaten away as the game drifted towards extra time.
With another Japan huddle dismantled, Shinji Okazaki looped a header just over and Barrios’s firm header was an easy collect for Kawashima, while Nelson Valdez’s toe-poke was smothered. Edgar Barretto’s hooked shot finished a yard over as both sides finally started to loosen up in the additional 30 minutes but after Okazaki went close with a header in the dying minutes, it was left to penalties to decide the seventh quarter-final place. Only one player of nine missed but victory was Paraguay’s by this narrowest of margins.