By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Tuesday: Coming into the day, we knew that one of the world's top three teams would be eliminated in fighting for the quarterfinals' last spot. Spain's David Villa ensured that Portugal would be the squad sent off. After Spain patiently sought out opportunities and dominated in possession through the match's first hour, Villa collected his own rebound to give Spain a 1-0 lead in the 63rd minute that would hold. La Furia Roja maintained a strong possession advantage after the goal and Portugal was unable to muster much of a comeback bid. The world's No. 2 team eliminates No. 3 and secures a trip to the quarterfinals.
That trip, of course, is one that has long haunted Spain. Despite long being a soccer threat, La Furia's never gone further than the quarters. With only Paraguay standing in the way of breaking through, it seems likely that this will be the year they at last break through.
Also Tuesday: Japan and Uruguay's morning match felt from the start as if it might take the tournament's first penalty shootout to yield a result. After both sides spent the first 20 minutes finding their footing, the first half ended with little in the way of opportunity for either side. The second stage saw a lot of time spent in both attacking thirds with neither team showing particularly strong midfield play, but very few shots threatened to disrupt the scoreless tie. Extra time also failed to produce a goal and after 120 minutes of defensive struggle, the exhausted squads were set to settle things with penalty kicks.
After the first five shots were converted three by Paraguay, two by Japan the Blue Samurai fell behind when Yuichi Komano sent his shot rattling off the crossbar. Paraguay converted its final two kicks to seal the victory, with Benfica striker Oscar Cardozo nailing the clincher. Paraguay, historically considered the outcast of South American soccer, advances to its first ever quarterfinals.
FIFA has budged some on the possible inclusion of technology to assist in officiating. While apologizing to England and Mexico for the mistaken calls that effected the outcomes of their eliminating matches, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said that it would be nonsense not to take another look at incorporating replay in tough decisions along the goal line. This could lead to some level of justice for England, who were infuriated when Frank Lampard's goal was not recognized by officials. But Mexico, who surrendered a goal to a clearly offsides Carlos Tevez, will have to be content with just the apology as offside calls will not be a part of the discussion. Still, this is clearly a step in the right direction.
A day after the resignation of French Football Federation head Jean-Pierre Escalettes, Blatter issued a warning to Nikolas Sarkozy, the president of France who is bent on uncovering the reasons for Les Bleus' horrendous World Cup performance both on and off the pitch. Blatter made it quite clear that government involvement in the team's matters will not be tolerated, threatening suspension from competition for the once-proud soccer country. Sarkozy has already met with Thierry Henry, French captain Patrice Evra, and the man who coached the team to train wreck, Raymond Domenach, and plans on meeting with every member of the squad.
For their part, the French players have expressed some remorse for their childish behavior and horrible performance. The only player to score for France in the tournament, Florent Malouda today referred to Les Bleus' refusal to train before its final match against South Africa as a big disaster. Ya don't say.
What it all means: Spain and Paraguay will meet on Saturday afternoon. La Furia Roja is the number two ranked team in the world. Paraguay? Thirty-first. It's pretty clear who the favorite is here. In Paraguay's favor, however, is Spain's past failures in making it any further in World Cup play. The weight of history can be mighty straining on a team's shoulders in international sports. Paraguay will hope that it checks in particularly heavy on Saturday.
It's a disappointing but understandable finish for Portugal, who survived the Group of Death only to be matched up against a team that so many have pegged to win the tournament. With Cristiano Ronaldo and England's Wayne Rooney both having seen their tournament end in the Round of 16, Argentina's Lionel Messi is unquestionably the biggest star still standing in the 2010 World Cup.
Japanese soccer, who some consider on a similar development path to the US, got a big boost in South Africa. The Samurai won a tough group and took a Round of 16 match as far as it could possibly go. Keisuke Honda, Yasuhito Endo, and Daisuke Matsui established themselves on the international stage in bringing the Samurai to their first knockout round off Asian soil.
What happens Wednesday: After 19 straight days of at least two games a day, the World Cup sees its first break in action before quarterfinal play starts Friday. With so much media in South Africa and no matches to cover, there is sure to be plenty of off-field news to keep tabs on.
Question of the Day: Paraguay's made it to the quarterfinals on the strength of strong defense, but can they compete with Spain? La Albirroja has beaten only Japan and Slovakia and drew Italy and New Zealand. To go from facing that opposition to a quarterfinal match-up with Spain will be like finishing up Twilight and next tackling Dubliners. I've little doubt that Paraguay will prepare itself as best it can, but such contrast in quality of competition could be completely shocking.
Quote of Note: We have to improve in all sectors of play. - Brazil coach Dunga referring to his team, which is unbeaten in the tournament, is ranked No. 1 in the world, and holds an 8-2 scoring advantage over its opposition. Yikes.