Soccer fans have been drooling over Spain since the European Championships two years ago. But Paraguay will not be intimidated. After all, they come from a tough neighborhood where to qualify they must play Brazil and Argentina home and away.
Paraguay has been underestimated before in the World Cup. Case in point: 1998, when Spain lost its opening group game to Paraguay.
Here are three reasons to expect a repeat of that upset:
1) Underdog mentality. They have an underdog mentality fortified by a strong team spirit that has seen them transformed from South American also-rans to habitual qualifiers. Impressive victories against both Brazil and Argentina helped them to a fourth consecutive appearance in the finals. It could be ugly, but Paraguay will choke the life out of the game. And the Spanish artists have already shown against the USA in the Confederations Cup and Switzerland in the first group game that they struggle against teams not willing to stand back and admire their pretty passing patterns.
2) Strong defense, able scorers. Paraguay will rely on their hard-tackling game centered on defensive pair Antonio Alcaraz and Paulo da Silva. But Paraguay also has players who can score. National idol Roque Santa Cruz has yet to get on the score sheet in South Africa, but that should worry Spain. Such a classy striker will be desperate to break his duck. And he will have chances when the likes of Sergio Ramos and Carlos Puyol disappear up-field in order to try and break down the defensive wall that Santa Cruz’s team-mates will erect in front of their goal. Paraguay also has a dead ball specialist in Benfica striker Óscar Cardozo, who calmly slotted away the final pressure penalty against Japan.
3) Spain's kiss of death. Spain has been widely backed to win the World Cup since it won the European Championships in 2008. But that is exactly why it will fail to do so. Winning that continental competition is the kiss of death for World Cup aspirations. Only one European champion has gone on to lift the biggest prize of all – big tournament specialists Germany in 1974, and only then with home advantage. Such historical precedent should worry a national side that has a long record of bizarre and humiliating eliminations at tournaments, whether at the hands of the officials as in 1994, 1996, and 2002 or by meek shows against supposed minnows such as ... Paraguay in 1998.
Don't buy the argument? Read three reasons why Spain will likely beat Portugal.
World Cup 101: