The final day of Round of 16 action took us to settle up groups F and G, with Paraguay taking on surprise Japan, and Spain and Portugal trading blows yet again. First, Paraguay's 4-3-3 squad led by Benitez, Barrios and Santa Cruz took on Japan's 4-5-1 attack headed by Keisuke Honda. Japan has miraculously avoided injuries and bookings and have ran the table so far with their starting eleven, while La Albirroja only have one booking suspension to deal with in Carcares out, Bonet was his replacement. Early on the game broke out into near fistfights as both teams expressed an ardent desire for physical play and the referee didn't seem eager to blow the whistle at all. That devolved into midfield detente' as both sides had difficulty issues penetrating the back line with 6 up, 4 back. Both teams led sorties to probe the other's defense and were rewarded with a couple of break chances, but the defending and goalkeeping were what got both these teams into this round, and it held up during the first half. Few shots, a couple corners and no bookings...a boring but safe match heading into the break. In the second half, both teams saw scoring opportunities and went towards more physical play, the Samurai Blue finally picking up a few bookings, and Paraguay's defense upped their game with a couple of solid counter-strikes. Both teams subbed in strikers for backs in order to generate offense and fought valiantly, but nothing could find the strings. We went to overtime for only the second time in this Cup. Paraguay exploded off the blocks to try to do Japan in with a couple of excellent chances, but keeper Kawashima blocked everything thrown at him. Likewise, Honda's free kick was blocked out by Villar and in the second OT period, both sides went for broke but couldn't come up with anything left in the reserves to try to break the keepers. We went to penalty shots to decide it, and Japan's Komano missed the third shot off the bar while Paraguay nailed all 5, giving them the win in what has to be a heartbreaker for the Samurai Blue. Paraguay was the better team for most of that match however, and Japan has nothing to be ashamed of after their run.
But that brought us to Spain and Portugal in the battle for the Iberian Peninsula, and these ancient foes squared off yet again, La Furia Roja rolling out a 4-4-2 attack fronted by the dangerous Fernando Torres and David Villa, while Portugal's Shield Select went on the offensive with a 4-3-3 formation that featured strikers Cristiano Ronaldo, Almeida, and Simao. Portugal's plan was to go on the assault and ding Spain early and they did get a few chances to do just that, meanwhile Spain was winning the set piece battle only to take ill-advised shots. Both teams were playing trebuchet ball rather than driving in, and nothing was going anywhere near box. While the early minutes belonged to Spain, Portugal came on very strong in the end of the first half with some brutal attacking and narrowly missed chances...but missed all the same. In the second half Portugal went on the attack again and made a number of brilliant near misses that looked to drain the fury out of La Furia Roja. Meanwhile Spain looked ragged and blown out, so when both teams subbed in at 58' for fresh strikers, Danny's arrival for Spain (replacing the totally ineffective Almeida) was just the spark they needed to get back on offense. It was David Villa off the Xavi pass at 63' that found the net as La Furia Roja came storming back. Portugal managed to stanch the bleeding but the frustration boiled over as La Ablirroja's Ricardo Costa picked up a red card for a thrown elbow at the end of regulation and in the 3 minutes of stoppage time there was nothing doing. Spain wins 1-0 and will face Paraguay as now only eight teams remain, and they will clash this weekend.