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Posted by Maura Gladys on 06/19/2010

It’s amazing how the same 1-1 draw can mean such different things to two football teams. New Zealand is still basking in the glow of it’s historic first World Cup point, while Slovakia is still trying to pick itself up off the ground after Winston Reid’s 93rd-minute knockout punch. Things have been bleak around the Slovakia camp these past few days, with most of the team still reeling from its tie against New Zealand. But the past is the past, and the Repre now have to turn its attention to its upcoming match up with Paraguay.

The match is a must-win for Slovakia. A victory would give the European side three precious points, and a total of four points overall. This would put it at the top of Group F (at least momentarily). Assuming that Italy defeats New Zealand (but really, who can assume anything in this tournament anymore?), both Italy and Slovakia would have four points going into their showdown on Thursday, where a tied would see both teams through. This is all just speculation though, and the bottom line is, Slovakia needs to win on Sunday.

That will not be an easy task, Paraguay storms into the match full of momentum and confidence, from both a strong qualifying run, and an opening match draw with Italy. Paraguay seems to be firing on all cylinders and disrupting its rhythm will not be easy.

Here’s a breakdown of the South American side, and what Slovakia needs to do to stop it.

Italy 1-Paraguay 1: Paraguay struck first in the 39th minute when defender Antonin Alcaraz nodded Aurelio Torres’ free kick past a frozen Gianluigi Buffon, but Italy equalized in the 63rd minute when Daniel De Rossi capitalized on Paraguayan goalkeeper Justo Villar’s misjudgement of a corner kick. Paraguay failed to show much offense in the match, putting only one shot on goal and creating only two scoring chances, but they created several set piece opportunities, earning 16 free kicks. Paraguay adopted a defensive strategy for most of the game, sitting back and weathering Italy’s attack, then counterattacking when they had opportunities and making the most of set pieces.

Strategy: There’s a chance that La Albirroja will adopt a similar defensive strategy on Sunday. With their toughest opponent already behind them, a tie against the Repre plus a win against the All-Whites would mean five points and safe passage into the second round. So, Paraguay will be patient, not push forward too much, play staunch, effective defense, then counterattack when the opportunity presents itself. If they can net a goal early, and then sit back on their lead, that will be very tough for the Repre to overcome.

Must-win for Slovakia: Unlike Paraguay, Slovakia needs to win this match, so it will be pushing forward and looking to create scoring chances whenever possible. If he is fit, Miroslav Stoch needs to start. Look for Weiss to go with Stanislav Sestak and Robert Vittek up top, Weiss Jr. and Stoch on the wings, Hamsik as an attacking midfielder, Zdeno Strba as the holding midfielder, and an unchanged back line. Stoch and Weiss need to run at the defense, stretching the field and leaving Sestak and Vittek room to run in the middle. At the core of all of this strategizing however, is Marek Hamsik. The captain was not nearly as effective as he should have been in the New Zealand match, and if the Repre have any chance of winning on Sunday, Hamsik needs to play a bigger role in the match.

Shaking off the doubts: Slovakia’s worst enemy going into this match is not La Albirroja, but their attitude. They could potentially enter the game shaky, nervous and lacking in confidence, doubting its ability after such a devastating last-minute goal. But if Slovakia can shake off those doubts, and play loose and relaxed, it will have a much better chance at being successful. Basically, Slovakia needs to do the same things they needed to do last match: shake off their nerves, eliminate little mistakes that lead to big goals, and play with heart and passion.

My prediction: 1-1 draw with goals from Sestak and Barrios.

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