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World Cup Diary

GAME 20, GROUP B, JUNE 15, 2006 --BERLIN
SWEDEN 1, PARAGUAY 0
FINAL

Here we go... Both teams need a big win if they want to advance; Sweden isn't necessarily less pressured: if it ties here and loses to England, its fate is in other teams' hands, and both Paraguay and Trinidad would have a big chance to make it past Sweden into the second round. Same goes for Paraguay: a win here gives its chances a huge lift. So the only thing decided in this group is England, and even that: barely.

5... Sweden's first big chance, free kick on goal outside the box? Slam against the Paraguay wall.

10... Those Swedish heads rising up for their corner kicks are like pistons looking for their spark. So far, nada.

Rooting for Paraguay? Not quite: the team gave no reason for supercheers in its last game, and Sweden is generally an exciting, high-scoring team. The Swedish attacks are raining. So are the foul: 9 in 15 minutes.

15... And another Swedish run down the wing, squared for a cross into the box, stopped in the nick of time by a Paraguayan boot.

Paraguay is being outplayed, Sweden is playing with style: good pace, already 4 shots by Sweden.

20... I don't like the 60 seconds it took Jorge Nunez to take his corner kick--a high-flying, unpredictable curve that found no Paraguayan fire--considering that Paraguay can't afford to take its sweet time in this game, where it's obviously against the ropes.

22... A qualitative dip now: balls worked up at midfield, never good enough for the penalty box.

25... The game has evened out downward: fewer Swedish attacks, but no more Paraguayan attacks. A draw could conceivably favor Paraguay, if it can pull off a victory in its last game and hope for a Sweden loss or draw against England. Corner sweden. Ibrahimovich heads it out.

31...Possession favors Sweden, quality in the last 4-5 minutes has favored Paraguay, with Roque Santacruz making shot after shot. Sweden's Larsson and Ibrahimovich are doing well when they get the ball, heading it on goal, shooting it, forcing the corners, but they're not getting it that much.

The best thing to look forward to at this point is a nice tall pilsner at the half.

Once again the day's fun belonged to a second-division team (Ecuador), while its big guns have fallen short of expectations and excitement. Combine that with a low-scoring world cup overall, and we're talking more duds than doozies.

40... Paraguay's Jorge Nunez juts took a slammer of a shot left to right, wide of the goal post, Sweden answers with Ibrahimovich--who finally gets the ball, taking it all the way from a goal kick--forcing the Paraguayan keeper down on his side for a save.

42... Larsson tried one of them hail mary scissor kicks in front of goal. Whiffle ball. These two teams have played 270 minutes of scoreless football so far this World Cup. Great. We go into half time half-way through another strain on football's patience.

Second half... Ibrahimovich is out. Paraguay is on fire. Sweden isn't lulling itself to sleep, as a tv commentator is saying. It's lulling us to sleep.

Paraguay shot on goal: Nunez. Paraguay shot on goal: Valdez. . Paraguay shot on goal: Bonet. All, nothing doing, but here come Sweden, Lundberg taken down at the edge of the box, extra-dangerous free kick , Sweden's biggest chance. SAVED! lARSSON TOOK A WONDERFUL SHOT, CURVING IT AROUND THE WALL, HOW DID THE Keeper see it, go figure.

Acuna and Lundberg fight, tumble, get up, kiss and make-up.

57... Paraguay just put together its best run, a half dozen passes and a shot straight on goal, Swedn answers with an attack of its own killed by an incorrect off-side call... And Sweden comes back on a breakaway, a lob over the keeper, A SURE GOAL? NOOO! Denis Caniza saves the hell out of it, kicking it out just in the nick of time! Just like in the England-Trinidad game...

63... Good, sustained action in this half, even if short on goals yet.

67... This game has taken on the characteristic of the England-Trinidad game we just saw: same frantic, desperate attitude on Sweden's part, same doggedness on Paraguay's part, same close calls, even that shot that looked fated to give Sweden the lead only to be cleared miraculously. So: are we to see two late-breaking goals, too?

70... Sweden presses, Paraguay plays silly (except on defense). What was that shot to nowhere by Paraguay's Canisa?

Paraguay will be happy with a draw. Very happy. It can then beat Trinidad & Tobago, and hope for a Sweden loss or draw against England: it'll be Paraguay in the next round. Then again, there's also the possibility of a Paraguay win at this point. Ridiculous, on Sweden's part.

77... The way this is going, Paraguay is the one with the next goal on its boot. And by the way, Trinidad's fortunes are rising too, with a Sweden draw (and even better with a loss).

78... Keep this up Paraguay and we cab officially say that it will have outplayed Sweden.

80... Paraguay just made the save of the match on what looked like another sure goal, a lateral flock by Allback, his back to goal.

82... Another Paraguay shot one foot above the crossbar. Corner Paraguay.

85... Sweden's Lundberg had a great break-away chance, sent the cross behind all three of his attackers. Paraguay clears. Sweden attacks again, takes its 14th shot, 7th directly on goal, keeper saves.

AND THERE IT IS

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL SWEDEN!

Lundberg takes a header from a smartly, smartly headed pass by Allback, who passed it back toward the onrushing Lundberg, fooling all the defenders who were marking two other Swedes along Allback's line, and Lunberg slammed it in for the 1-0 lead.

Once again the late-breaking goals, once again, elimination at the last minute. Paraguay is out. A fine second half, a heartbreaking loss for a Paraguay side that had earned itself at least a draw in this. And again with the low scores.

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