Sunday’s early match may be the most important in determining which teams go through Group F. While it has been assumed that Italy will win this group, a win by Paraguay ahead of their Thursday match with New Zealand could put them on-track for seven points and the group’s top seed. Slovakia, on the other hand, need three points if they are to stay in position to advance ahead of a third round match against Italy.
Those needs belie two teams that are very evenly matched. Paraguay’s wealth of attacking talent is offset by Slovakia’s strength in midfield, with the potential deciding factor being the team’s willingness to use their strengths. A conservative approach from their coach kept Paraguay from using their firepower in their first match, while a formation chance away from four midfielders mitigated Slovakia’s advantages against New Zealand.
Paraguay, Going Forward: Gerardo Martino looks set to employ three strikers against Slovakia, a bit of irony as the switch from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 is part of the reason Slovakia failed to get their expected three points against New Zealand. It is an equally precarious move for Parguay, who are set to put Roque Santa Cruz on in place of midfielder Aureliano Torres, taking a midfielder out against a team that already had an advantage in the middle of the pitch. While moving to three strikers will help Paraguay attack a central defense that looked suspect for Slovakia against New Zealand, it will come at a huge cost.
Slovakia, Going Forward: Slovakia looks set to move back to a 4-4-2, and if they put Miroslav Stoch back into the lineup, they will have significant speed advances on the flanks. Regardless, the Slovaks will need to get a strong match from captain Marek Hamsik, who will need to win an individual battle with Paraguayan midfielder Victor Caceres. If the Napoli-man can, Slovakia can expect strong matches from Robert Vittek and Stanislav Sestak and Hamsik creates space for them.
How The Match Turns: If Paraguay places as aggressively as their pre-match formation changes hint, they could be underestimating the Slovaks, and while Gerardo Martino rarely makes such mistakes, the Slovak midfield could make him pay for not showing them similar reverence that was shown the Italians.