PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — The last thing Paraguay wanted was to wind up in a shootout with Japan. After all, the South Americans almost never practice penalty kicks — or have any success when they do.
Yet Paraguay took the most difficult route to its first World Cup quarterfinals Tuesday. After 120 exhausting minutes without scoring, the Paraguayans found their touch in penalty kicks, making all five to beat Japan.
Oscar Cardozo clinched the 5-3 shootout win after a 0-0 draw with a low left-footed drive past goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. The only miss in the shootout was by Japan defender Yuichi Komano on the third try when he hit the crossbar. That made the difference.
“We practiced penalty kicks once, so nobody could say we weren’t prepared,” coach Gerardo Martino said. “But our executions weren’t too good.
“You can’t recreate the environment you’ll face in a real game, with 40,000 fans.”
But the execution was perfect, climaxed by Cardozo’s winner.
“Character plays a big role,” Martino said. “What can you say when a Cardozo asks to kick the fifth penalty and he does it the way he did it?”
The Paraguayans are the fourth South American team into the final eight; only Chile fell short, and it lost to Brazil in the second round.
When Cardozo easily beat Kawashima to end the exhausting match and nerve-racking shootout, his teammates stormed onto the field in celebration of the nation’s biggest World Cup win. Cardozo pulled at his jersey, goalkeeper Justo Villar jumped on him, and they were quickly swarmed on by the whole team.
“This is tough. Both teams made a great effort. God was on our side,” added Martino, who was in tears after the game. “Now we hope to recover and to continue making history.”
Japanese players watched the final shot on their knees with their arms around each other. When it went into the net, they let go and sagged. Keiji Tamada fell onto his back, while Japanese players and fans wept.
Paraguay will play Spain in the quarterfinals on Saturday. Spain beat Portugal 1-0 Tuesday night.
“We are very happy as we never got this far,” Cardozo said. “Japan has great players, but we controlled the ball, which is what we wanted, and they didn’t score.”
It was the first match of this World Cup that went to penalty kicks, and for Paraguay it was no problem. Edgar Barreto, Lucas Barrios, Cristian Riveros, Nelson Valdez and Cardozo didn’t come close to missing.
Neither did Japan’s Yasuhito Endo, Makoto Hasebe and Keisuke Honda. But Komano’s right-footed blast ricocheted off the crossbar as Komano put both hands to his head, realizing it could be a decisive miss.
“It is very difficult to narrow down why we didn’t score,” Japan coach Takeshi Okada said. “We should have made the opportunities. I think it is my responsibility.”
The Paraguayans have conceded only one goal, against Italy in the first round.
Both teams played cautiously at Loftus Versfeld, but had chances to score.
Paraguay dominated possession in the first half, yet Japan had the better chances. Midfielder Daisuke Matsui intercepted a poor clearance from the Paraguay defense and his shot from 25 yards hit the crossbar in the 22nd minute. Honda curled a shot just wide from the edge of the area after a quick break down the right by Matsui in the 40th.
Barrios took a pass in the 20th and sidestepped the last defender into the penalty area, but his weak shot with the outside of his foot went straight at Kawashima.
There was more of the same in the second half, with Paraguay controlling the ball, but doing little with it.
Paraguay had the best chance in the first period of extra time when Claudio Morel cut in from the left and fed the ball to a sliding Valdez, whose shot went straight to Kawashima.
Japan’s prowess on free kicks nearly paid off a minute later when Honda forced a save by Villar.
“I have no regrets over the way we played,” Okada said. “I am really proud of the players.”