An unexpected South American group winner takes on an upstart team from Asia in the Round of 16, and while Uruguay kept South American dominance of World Cup 2010 going in the first installment of this formula (knocking-out South Korea), Paraguay faces a more difficult match-up today against Japan.
Paraguay's a team deep in attack but with few options in midfield, something that could prove cumbersome against a team that sometimes seems like it's nothing but midfielders, and while that sacrifice entails less of a presence at the head of attack, the quickness of Japan's attackers (running onto to play from deep positions) will be problematic for Paraguay's central defenders.
Those are tactical considerations, assuaged for supporters of Paraguay by their players' talent; specifically, their depth in strikers.
Paraguay, Going Forward: Gerard Martino has more depth at forward than any team in the tournament, having to choose from Lucas Barrios, Oscar Cardozo, Roque Santa Cruz, and Nelson Valdez for two or three striking positions. If it's only two striking positions, it will be a sign of respect from Martino, whose swap between 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2 formations is often defined as much by in-match tactics as something more basic: "We're better, so I want to play more goalscorers."
Against Japan, he should play four midfielders. Japan will play five or six midfielders, so Martino may need to help Cristian Riveros and Victor Cáceres with both Enrique Vera (right) and Aureliano Torres (left). With Japan clogging central midfield, Vera and Torres can be used to go around Japan's strength.
If Nelson Valdez starts at forward, Martino has a player that can go wide, link-up with Torres, and work back toward Santa Cruz.
Japan, Going Forward: Takeshi Okada's 4-5-1 formation often plays without a forward, with deployed striker Keisuke Honda floating in a way you're more apt to see from an attacking midfielder. This creates an effect where Japan seems like they're counter attacking even when they're not, all of their players running at the defense from deeper positions, making it more difficult to pitch-up and track players.
This will make life difficult for a player like Paulo da Silva, Paraguay's veteren central defender. A stalwart option in the middle, de Silva has some lead in his boots. It will be difficult for him to pick-up Honda, especially when Japan goes down the right side, leaving the Sunderland defender responsible for players who are going to run to the middle goal.
Japan's midfield has stayed very tight in when defending, but once they get the ball, players like Daisuke Matsui and Makoto Hasebe will need to pull Paraguayans wide to open put space in the middle for Honda and others to run at da Silva and Antonlín Alcaraz.
How The Match Turns: Eventually Paraguay will adjust to how Japan is set-up and start identifying which spaces are available to use. They need to do this before Japan scores, because as Denmark found out after falling behind early, if Japan is allowed to play the midfielders deep throughout the match, those spaces become smaller, they become more difficult to break down, yet they but still remain dangerous on a counter attack which, having the lead they'll have license to use exclusively.