SOGWIPO, South Korea — There are some soccer matches that fly past in a frenzy of rapid thrusts, parries and counterthrusts. This was not one of those.
This was a poor game of few opportunities, disappointing endeavor and little excitement for a crowd that must have expected more from Germany, World Cup winner not too many years ago, and Paraguay, which can play some exciting football when it is unshackled.
For the record, a goal in the 87th minute by Oliver Neuville settled this dour encounter, putting Germany through to the last eight of the tournament.
Rudi Voeller’s team, which extended its streak of reaching the quarterfinals or better in every World Cup final since 1954, now faces Mexico or the United States in the quarterfinals on Friday in Ulsan, South Korea.
“Either team will be tough to beat. They both played very well in the group stage,” Voeller said.
Paraguay coach Cesare Maldini summed up the spectacle well, describing it as “A very equal game with very few scoring opportunities for either side. Most of the match took place in midfield and this was a typical German performance.
“Germany are very strong physically but perhaps not so strong technically, but we were just glad to get through to the second round,” said Maldini, who was in charge of the South American side for the last time.
Maldini said he was resigning to return to AC Milan as chief scout — the club where he had fame as a player and coach. He joined the South Americans in December on a six-month contract.
Voeller echoed those assessments, saying the first half was “not really a football match, more like just shooting the ball all over.
“In the second half we started to press Paraguay and it was a victory that we deserved,” he said. “Paraguay is a very difficult and strong team. We made changes in the second half and played more on the wings.”
“We’ve went down like heroes,” said Paraguay goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert. “The Germans didn’t outplay us, we played them equally. We leave having made our country proud.”
After a promising opening spell from Germany, in which Bernd Schneider had two bites at the cherry from a corner, miskicking the first and putting the loose ball wide, and then Michael Ballack put a headed shot across the face of Jose Luis Chilavert’s goal from a corner, the game rather died.
While the Germans had displayed their undoubted abilities early on, Paraguay had given the ball away cheaply and didn’t look as if it was confident of pulling off the next big shock of this tournament.
A left-footed shot by Denis Caniza in the 18th minute seemed to instill some of the required self-belief, although Oliver Kahn — celebrating his 33rd birthday — had the ball covered all the way past his post. Two minutes later, he had to punch clear a bullet-like shot from Francisco Arce and then the German No. 1 had to pull off a spectacular save to tip over a shot from substitute Jorge Campos that was arrowing into his top right corner.
A concerned Voeller was off his bench as the half drew to a close, berating his defense for allowing Caniza to find space and time on the edge of the German box to try another shot.
True, Germany was deprived of three of its regular starters as a result of the cautions that Carsten Ramelow, Christian Ziege and Dietmar Hamann had picked up in earlier games, but there seemed little fluency about its attacking moves.
Marko Rehmer had been selected in defense for his first match of the tournament, and it was Rehmer who inadvertently came closest to bringing about the best scoring opportunities of the half, playing his goalkeeper into trouble twice in the first half with back passes that were perilously short and which Kahn had to be alert to.
Rehmer was replaced at halftime by Sebastian Kehl, but it was both sides’ attacks that needed an injection of vim.
Schneider shot straight at Chilavert early on, a chance that left Voeller holding his head, while a free-kick after 52 minutes by the same German midfielder raised a cheer from the crowd until they realized it hadn’t gone in.
Torsten Frings then wasted a good opportunity after cutting in from the right wing, shooting over Chilavert’s bar when a cross to teammates in the center of the penalty area would almost certainly have been more profitable.
For its part, Paraguay was limited to occasional raids on Kahn’s goal, with the German ‘keeper punching away a free-kick from Arce in the 64th minute.
Perhaps the biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for Chilavert when he stepped up in the 73rd minute to take a centrally placed free-kick after Carlos Bonet had been fouled, but he could only put the ball high into the stands.
The match seemed to be headed for extra time — and probably another 30 minutes of tedium — before Schneider got clear down the left wing with three minutes left on the clock and whipped in a cross that Neuville connected sweetly with on the half volley before Chilavert could react.
Pretty much the final act of the afternoon involved the sending off of Paraguay’s Roberto Acuna, but that was merely a footnote.
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