Paraguay to pin hopes on strike trio


JOHANNESBURG — Paraguay will look to a trio of sharpshooters to see them into the World Cup second round while New Zealand, surprise contenders for a place in the last 16, are hoping luck favours them at last.
The South Americans seemed the better team for much of their opening 1-1 draw with world champions Italy and easily beat Slovakia 2-0 to top Group F ahead of today’s match.
New Zealand, one of the lowest ranked sides in South Africa at 78th in the world and with no big name players, have confounded the pundits by holding Slovakia for their first ever World Cup point and then Italy by the same 1-1 scoreline.
As underdogs, the affable All Whites are fast becoming a favourite for neutrals across the world and should garner most cheers at Polokwane’s Peter Mokaba Stadium.
Their fans at home have been glued to screens watching an unheralded squad surprise the world, leading to an explosion of interest in soccer in a rugby-mad land.
But a win, or even another draw, may be a bridge too far.
Paraguay are expected to push for goals through Roque Santa Cruz, Nelson Valdez and Lucas Barrios – a striking trio that overpowered Slovakia.
“When we face New Zealand, we need to go out with the same attitude. Qualifying is down to us,” said Paraguay defender Paulo Da Silva.
Paraguay, who have four points ahead of Italy and New Zealand on two, need only draw to guarantee their progress but will be wary of the Kiwis’ height and prowess at set pieces.
“New Zealand have shown in their two previous matches that they have an important physical strength and that they are good in the air,” Da Silva told reporters.
“They are good on counter attacks and we have to keep doing what we did against Slovakia.”
Paraguay’s Argentine coach Gerardo Martino could slot the fit-again Santa Cruz in behind Barrios and Valdez – a potent attack that would test a New Zealand back four. —Reuters