Paraguay took a big step towards second-round qualification with a 2-0 win over Slovakia on Sunday at the FIFA World Cup in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
The main storyline
Paraguay continues to be the revelation of the tournament.
La Albirroja confounded the critics with their third-place showing in South American qualifying, finishing ahead of perennial heavyweight Argentina and challenging Brazil for top spot.
But at this tournament, when it was drawn into a group with defending world champion Italy and European upstarts Slovakia, many thought Paraguay would flounder, unable to duplicate its stellar qualifying campaign when it really mattered.
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Once again, though, the South Americans have deviated from the script, playing some exceptional possession soccer and putting opponents under a constant stream of pressure with their free-flowing attacking play.
Slovakia, on the other hand, continues to look dour and uninspiring. With only one goal, the Slovaks showed a surprising lack of urgency on Sunday and didn't register a shot on goal until the 92nd minute.
The winning goal
The Slovaks were careless in possession right from the opening kickoff, and Paraguay made them pay in the 27th minute. After Slovakia coughed up the ball in its end, Lucas Barrios slipped a perfect pass through the legs of a defender to Enrique Vera, who showed great technique by hitting the ball with the outside of his foot to curl the ball past goalkeeper Jan Mucha.
Turning point of the game
Slovakia looked a beaten team right from the start and Vera's goal, scored off a turnover, put the game out of reach. Cristian Riveros's goal with four minutes left in regulation simply made it official.
What this result means
Paraguay leads Group F with four points. Italy and New Zealand played to a surprise draw later on Sunday and they each have two points, while Slovakia has one.
Paraguay looks poised for the second round, needing only a tie with New Zealand to advance. Slovakia will need a win to keep its World Cup hopes alive.
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Man of the match
Not only did Vera score the winner with a brilliant finish, the hard-charging midfielder was also at the heart of Paraguay's attack, making dangerous runs and effectively linking up with forward Lucas Barrios.
Goal of the match
Vera's goal was the product of some nice build-up play by the Paraguayans and the finish was simply sublime.
The Paraguayan perspective
"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." — Enrique Vera
The Slovakian perspective
"We made two mistakes and conceded two goals. There was always a punishment for our mistakes. Our opponent was a really high-quality opponent, and their victory was deserved." — coach Vladimir Weiss
Slovakia takes on Italy in Johannesburg on June 24 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 9:30 a.m. ET), while Paraguay meets New Zealand the same day in Polokwane (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 9:30 a.m. ET).