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Monday, June 28, 2010
WORLD CUP: Tuesday's round-of-16 previews

By Scott French

PARAGUAY VS. JAPAN

When: 7 a.m. PT. Where: Loftus Versfeld Stadium (Tshwane/Pretoria)
TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), 7 a.m.; ESPN Classic, delayed, 3 p.m.; TeleFutura (KFTR/Channel 46), delayed, 7 p.m.; ESPN2, delayed, 11 p.m.
Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium)
Players to watch: Keisuke Honda, thrust forward into the attack as the Cup began, has emerged among the biggest successes, his speed, skill and guile wearing out opponents and creating goals; he's been behind three of the four Japan scored in group play. Paraguay's attack can be as dynamic as Japan's, but we've seen that only in the 2-0 victory over Slovakia, and the key to get things rolling is Roque Santa Cruz. Antolin Alcaraz's return from injury bolsters a backline that will challenged by Honda and Co.
The scoop: Neither Paraguay nor Japan have ever reached the World Cup quarterfinals, and how they handle the prospect of advancing so far will determine what kind of game we see and who moves on. Japan's free-flowing attack has been immensely entertaining, with Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe supporting Honda with intelligent midfield work. If Takesha Okada sticks with his tactics, the Blue Samurai are the team most likely. Breaking down Paraguay's defense isn't simple -- 12 of La Albirroja's past 13 wins have been shutouts, and they've conceded just once here, in the opener against Italy. Paraguay hasn't looked as agile as South American rivals Chile and Uruguay, but they've got the players to do so in Santa Cruz and Borussia Dortmund teammates Lucas Barrios and Nelson Valdez.
History: Only two Asian nations had advanced from the group stage before 2002 World Cup co-hosts Japan and South Korea got through, so the ancient cross-sea rivals' success in South Africa is rare, indeed. Dutch East Indies -- now Indonesia -- was Asia's first World Cup participant, in 1938, and it was battered, 6-0, by Hungary for a quick exit. North Korea was the continent's second entrant in 1966, when it stunned Italy and gave Portugal a battle in the quarterfinals. Asia was 0-16-5 over the next five World Cups, but Saudi Arabia won twice in 1994 to reach the round of 16. South Korea and Japan won their groups in 2002, with the Koreans getting to the semifinals, but no Asian teams advanced from the group stage four years ago. Asia's records in this World Cup -- 1938-1990: 1-19-6; in 1994: 2-3-2; in 1998: 1-9-2; in 2002 (in Asia): 5-9-3; in 2006: 1-7-4; this year: 4-7-2.
Prediction: Paraguay 1, Japan 1 (Paraguay advances on penalties)

SPAIN VS. PORTUGAL

When: 11:30 a.m. PT. Where: Cape Town Stadium/Green Point Stadium (Cape Town)
TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), 11:30 a.m.; ESPN Classic, delayed, 5 a.m.; Galavision, delayed, 9:30 p.m.; ESPN2, delayed, 1 a.m. (Tuesday)
Referee: Hector Baldassi (Argentina)
Players to watch: All the attention will be on sublimely talented Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo, who hasn't impressed in this Cup after a subpar qualifying campaign. He's always been better for club than country, and a lot of that has to do with tactics -- coach Carlos Queiroz prefers him inside rather than on the flank. Xavi and David Villa are the critical duo for Spain, although if Fernando Torres can find his game after recoving from a late-season injury, Spain will be tough to stop.
The scoop: Spain claimed the European Championship on this date two years ago, and it arrived in South Africa as the title favorite. But that opening loss to Switzerland knocked La Furia Roja off its axis, and coach Vicente Del Bosque's defensive tactics seem to prevent them from weaving the glorious game that blew the world away at Euro 2008. They've shown glimpses of their beautiful game, but that's all, and losing Xabi Alonso (to a sprained ankle) isn't going to help. Portugal is fancied by many, but it's hard to fathom why. Yes, there's a lot of talent, and A Seleccao das Quinas are unbeaten in their last 19 games, and Deco is back from a hip injury, but they weren't good in 0-0 draws with Ivory Coast and Brazil -- the latter a tactical victory nonetheless -- and the 7-0 rout of North Korea was a 1-0 game at halftime, with most of the goals coming after the Koreans' will was fractured. This could be the game of the tournament, and it could be another disappointment with the victor doing just enough to get by.
History: The Iberian rivals have played 32 times, with Spain winning 15 -- but just once in 10 encounter since 1958 -- and Portugal just five, including a 1-0 decision to eliminate the Spaniard from Euro 2004. They've never met at the World Cup.
Prediction: Spain 2, Portugal 1