Martino is a coach keen on leaving Paraguay a lasting legacy

Gerardo Martino is another South American who presses his men to the attack, Japan will test their methods.

Paraguay hope to make the last eight of the World Cup for the first time in their history when they face Japan tonight.
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Employment is one thing, securing a legacy is quite another. Gerardo Martino, the coach of World Cup dark horses Paraguay, would prefer to leave the World Cup with the latter. "In the national team, you work for two possibilities: you can work for having a job or for making history. I want to work for the second option," the Argentine said prior to the tournament, Paraguay's fourth consecutive World Cup appearance.

By installing a forward-inclined attack, Martino has transformed the tactical foundations of the Paraguayan national team's mentality. Martino, who played under countryman Marcelo Bielsa, the South American commissioner of attack-minded football and present coach of Chile, is eager to follow in his mentor's footsteps. Having beaten quarter-finalists Argentina 1-0 to clinch World Cup qualification with two games to spare, Paraguay opened their South Africa campaign with a 1-1 draw against Italy, the defending champions, then beat fellow last-16 qualifiers Slovakia 2-0 before a determined, point-worthy New Zealand held them scoreless. The five points amassed over the three games saw them finish top of Group F. No avalanche of goals so far, but Martino's side are a joy to watch. He favours a 4-3-3 formation with two free-scoring midfielders. The attack is led by Nelson Valdez, the talented playmaker who plies his trade in the German Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund. Surprisingly, Martino is not averse to dropping Roque Santa Cruz, the team's star striker who plays his club football in England for Manchester City, to the bench. He did so against Italy, a dreary stalemate in Cape Town, when he paired Valdez with Oscar Cardozo. That, however, has proven a rare deviation from the new, attacking order. Buoyed by the sudden eligibility of Lucas Barrios, a striker who switched national allegiances in March after formerly dreaming of playing for Argentina, Martino has rejuvenated options. Salvador Cabanas was Paraguay's top scorer in qualifying, but the Club America striker was shot in the head after a match in Mexico and faces years of rehabilitation. Barrios has filled the void. In only his second international game, the newcomer supplied an exquisite pass for Enrique Vera to open the scoring against the Slovaks. With victory over Japan tonight, Paraguay can reach the quarter-finals for the first time, where either Spain or Portugal would be waiting. The temporary glitch in the attacking intentions of La Albirroja is not expected to be repeated against Japan. "Fundamentally, they are a team who get back into their defensive positions very well, using a back line of four and practically five midfielders, with [Keisuke] Honda generally up front," Martino said of the Japanese. "When they get the ball they come out very quickly on the counter-attack. This is what we have to be careful of most, the fast breaks." Japan's passage to the last 16, the Blue Samurais' first time to this stage outside of their own World Cup, has made them a dangerous proposition. Martino's warning to his goal scorers, Cristian Riveros and Vera, the midfield enforcers who allow Martino's attackers to express themselves, is a timely and telling reminder of their principle duties. With history on the horizon, Martino's demand is for Paraguay to remain focused. Bold play should not give way to complacency. The smallest of moments will dictate whether Martino ultimately is adjudged to have done his job and set a standard for the future. The directive: no squandering of possession and, with Japan's dead-ball specialists in such potent form, no silly fouls in dangerous territory. "When they find space they get men forward into attack and this is the most important issue to be careful about," Martino said. The defensive-concentration speech aside, Martino's pursuit of history rests on the striking accuracy of Santa Cruz, Valdez and Barrios, as well as scoring support from Vera and Riveros at the other end of the pitch. emegson@thenational.ae

Roque Santa Cruz v Tulio Santa Cruz, had an injury-plagued season for Manchester City, but he starts for Paraguay and will face a challenge in the air from Tulio, Japan's Brazil-born centre-back. Tactics Japan are unlikely to differ from their ploy of using Keisuke Honda as a lone front man, with support from the midfield. A 1-0 win would suit them fine; Paraguay will have more attacking intent History The sides have met six times previously, with Paraguay holding the edge with two victories to Japan's one. The last time the teams met was in a friendly in May 2008, which ended goalless.