Paraguay silences Slovakia

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa -- At a World Cup lacking offense, Paraguay showed some punch.

Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros each scored Sunday as Paraguay took a big step toward the round of 16 with a 2-0 win over Slovakia.

The win puts Paraguay atop Group F with four points after two matches. Defending champion Italy and New Zealand tied 1-1 later Sunday, leaving each with two points. Slovakia has one.

"We played a good match and we are getting closer to the round of 16," Vera said. "Our intention now is to be first in the group."

Playing with a three-man front line spearheaded by Roque Santa Cruz, Paraguay controlled the tempo from the start at Free State Stadium.

Vera broke through for La Albirroja in the 27th when forward Lucas Barrios slipped a pass into the box and Vera angled it past Slovakia goalkeeper Jan Mucha with a one-time shot.

Riveros added a goal in the 86th minute, a left-footed blast from the edge of the penalty area.

"We did very well in the first half and we got a goal, but that didn't mean we could relax in the second [half], and I don't believe we did," Vera said.

Playing in its first major tournament since the former Czechoslovakia divided in 1993, Slovakia looked outclassed and unsure of itself facing a big, physical Paraguayan team that beat both Argentina and Brazil in World Cup qualifying.

"We made two mistakes and conceded two goals," Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss said. "There was always a punishment for our mistakes. Our opponent was a really high quality opponent and their victory was deserved."

After Paraguay tied Italy 1-1 in its World Cup opener, national coach Gerardo Martino opted to switch from a 4-4-2 formation to an attacking 4-3-3 against Slovakia, with Santa Cruz, Nelson Valdez and Lucas Barrios up front.

The trio of powerful strikers proved a handful for the Slovakia defense, outjumping, outmuscling and outrunning the Slovaks.

Forced to focus on defending, Slovakia never mounted a serious challenge to Paraguay goalkeeper Justo Villar. Slovakia's first and only shot on goal came with Robert Vittek's drive in injury time.

"We played better today because we made some corrections from the first game, and we got the early goal, which we were looking to get," Martino said.

"We barely gave Slovakia any chances to score early in the match, and that made a difference. And yes, it is a good thing we have gotten a lead against both of our opponents so far."

Santa Cruz, who plays for Manchester City, was a welcome addition to Paraguay's starting lineup. The striker has been hampered by a leg injury, and only came on as a second-half substitute against Italy.

He made his presence felt almost immediately Sunday, collecting a ball at the top of the box in the 3rd minute and hitting a right-footed shot that forced a diving save from Mucha.

He also came close to scoring in the 39th, when he broke free for a low right-footed drive that Mucha kicked wide -- and Vera headed his cross just wide of the left post in the 72nd.

"This is a result that will put us in a good position, but the result of the next game will decide," Martino said. "This is a very significant win for us, of course, but the math shows that we are not through yet."


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