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World Cup Preview: Slovakia vs. Paraguay, Group F

What: Slovakia vs. Paraguay, Group F, Matchday 2

When: Sunday, June 20, 2010, 7:30 am ET

Where: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein

The Slovakians came out of their first game gutted. Giving up a stoppage-time equalizer to the minnows of the entire tournament, New Zealand, was called a “minor sporting tragedy” by coach Vladimir Weiss. They must overcome that sinking feeling, something that will not be easy against a Paraguayan team that earned a draw in their opener with the defending champions, Italy. The South American side feel they couldn’t gotten the three points and will be out to prove that was true. 

Slovakia

Given the powerful attacking weapons stocked by Paraguay, Slovakian coach Vladimir Weiss is setting the stage for a tight defensive effort. “We will have to run much more and much more quickly,” he said. “We will also have to be more disciplined.”

The discipline issue obviously refers to the late goal given up against New Zealand. Several different players were at fault on that play, and Weiss is contemplating some changes, but playing his cards close to his chest. Besiktas striker Filip Holosko could get the starting nod, an attempt to improve Slovakia’s shooting record (13 shots, only 3 on goal against New Zealand).

Changes and tactics are all well and good, but the key for the Fighting Jondas will be the mindset. Can they overcome the dispiriting feeling of dropping points in their opening game. 

Paraguay

As Weiss fears, the strikers of Paraguay are a formidable arsenal: Roque Santa Cruz, Lucas Barrios, Oscar Cardozo. However, they needed a goal from a defender, Antolin Alcaraz, to score against Italy, redirecting a freekick. Set pieces could again be central to this tilt.

Manchester City striker Santa Cruz, who barely recovered from an injury and played in a sub’s role in the opener, should be back in the starting lineup. And he and his cohorts are feeling good about their chances of a win—and advancement. “We want to go at least to the quarterfinals because in Paraguayan history it's never been done,” he said.

To do that, they most likely need three points against Slovakia, with a final matchday game against the group’s weakest side, New Zealand, after that. 

Players to Watch

Slovakia: Robert Vittek. He scored the goal—if a few inches offside—in the opener, but the big striker will have to play as more of a target man this time around, relieving pressure for the backline.

Paraguay: Justo Villar. The captain and goalkeeper had a howler to gift Italy the equalizer. Any errors like that against Slovakia will be punished by the likes of Vittek or Holosko, and doom La Albirroja’s chances.

Final Analysis

Paraguay are the stronger team, both on the field and in their minds right now. But Slovakia have a young side that could explode at any moment. If they withstand Paraguay’s initial pressure, they should be able to scratch out a draw.