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Spain need to overcome weight of expectations

india Updated: Jun 29, 2010 01:45 IST
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Paraguay against Japan should be entertaining. The Japanese have been a surprise — they defeated the physically stronger Cameroon in their opener, were unfortunate in losing 0-1 to the Dutch, and then produced two stunning free-kicks to eclipse Denmark 3-1.

The player who has impressed most is Keisuke Honda who has shown great skill and commitment. Masui and Okubo have also been outstanding, while Tanaka has ably manned the defence, but in truth, they are very much a team --- they work hard, attack together, defend together, and they play fast-moving, one-touch football. Games at this stage tend to be very close and their ability at free-kicks is a threat. The South Americans will pay dearly if they concede free-kicks within shooting distance. Paraguay have excellent forwards in Santa Cruz, Cordoba and Valdez, and are creative in the midfield. They are strong defensively and will have Santana and Alcatraz back from injury. They play a tough game and are difficult to break down. In attack, they have quality players but they failed to score against minnows New Zealand. Spain against Portugal is a war between next-door neighbours. Portugal have one of the meanest defences in the world.

Brazil could not breach them — will Torres and David Villa do better? In Ricardo Carvalho, they have one of the best central defenders. They also have Cristiano Ronaldo who, at his best, is impossible to stop.

Spain have an experienced defence and the best midfield in Iniesta, Xavi and Xabi Alonso. How well these three play, could be the key. If Torres rediscovers his form and Villa continues at the same level, Spain will be strong. Player for player they are better. As a team, built upon the foundation of Barca, they are better. The problem is the weight of expectation that has drained the team of confidence and strength.

If Spain play free, they will win, if not Ronaldo and Carvalho could sink them. Expect a tight game, fought mainly in the midfield, with Spain enjoying most of the possession and the massed ranks of Portugal breaking with speed to snatch a goal.