BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa: A powerful Paraguay side beat toothless Slovakia 2-0 in Bloemfontein on Sunday to leave the South Americans on the brink of qualification for the World Cup knockout phase.
A first-half goal from Enrique Vera and a late strike from Cristian Riveros at a sun-drenched Free State stadium gave Paraguay the crucial win that takes them to four points with only Group F minnows New Zealand still to play.
Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino made his intentions clear from the kick-off with three attackers in his starting XI, including Manchester City forward Roque Santa Cruz, and his team established a vice-like grip on the match.
"I think we ran the match very well," said Martino, adding: "We are getting closer to our objective to make it to the final rounds."
"I think these results first have strengthened us mentally, spiritually not just as football players but in our attitude."
Martino said his team could have had more goals and loosened their grip at the end of the first half and beginning of the second.
"We were pushing forward. We had goalscoring opportunities but I guess we simply forgot what we were doing well," he said.
Man-of-the match Vera said Paraguay were aiming to top their group, which includes defending champions Italy.
"We know we`re getting closer but we know also that we must go on working and our intention is to be first in the group," he said.
A disappointed Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss said: "They were fast and in personal head-to-head fights they were better. That`s why we lost today."
Paraguay took the lead on 27 minutes when Vera bent the ball around the goalkeeper with the outside of his right boot after a pass from Lucas Barrios.
It followed incessant pressure on the Slovakian defence in a first half in which the eastern Europeans could muster just a single shot to the South Americans` eight in front of 26,643 spectators - 16,000 short of capacity.
The goal forced lacklustre Slovakia to come out of their shell and attack but Paraguay came close to doubling their lead when Santa Cruz forced Slovak goalkeeper Jan Mucha to save with his legs.
After a more even start to the second half, the South Americans once again established a grip on the match as Slovakia struggled to break down their defence.
Weiss threw on forward Filip Holosko for Stanislav Sestak as the Slovaks desperately looked for an equaliser but they could not hold onto possession long enough to pose a goal threat.
Vera almost headed Paraguay into a two-goal lead after a cross from Santa Cruz but his effort flew narrowly wide.
Substitute Aureliano Torres, on for Nelson Valdez, then drove over as the South Americans` continued to look the more likely scorers.
In a last throw of the dice Weiss sent on midfielder Miroslav Stoch for defender Kornel Salata but Slovakia failed to threaten and in the 86th minute Riveros gave Paraguay the two-goal margin their play richly deserved.
The World Cup hopes of Slovakia, heartbroken after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser to New Zealand in their opener, now hang by a thread with Italy still to play.
Italy, who drew 1-1 with Paraguay in their opener, were playing New Zealand in Nelspruit in the later kick-off.
BDST: 1320hrs, June 21, 2010