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19 June 1998 Group D Saint-Etienne - Stade Geoffrey-Guichard
Spain Paraguay
Group D has indeed proved a "Group of Death" for favourites Spain who tonight failed miserably in their 0-0 draw against Paraguay in St Etienne and are now precariously close to non-qualification for the second stage. Following this result Nigeria now progress to the last 16 as group winners whilst Spain need to beat Bulgaria and hope that Paraguay fail to beat the Africans. The Spaniards looked to gain an early initiative against a Paraguayan side who, as in their first match against Bulgaria, were content to sit back and put plenty of men behind the ball. However, Spain were sadly lacking in confidence and despite neat passing up to the final third, their problems lay in who would score the goals to win them the game. An early 'Mexican wave' after just 15 minutes was a sign that the expectant crowd were growing restless, but apart from a succession of wasted corners and shots from distance, Jose Luis Chilavert in the Paraguay goal was seldom troubled. The South Americans always looked dangerous on the break with Miguel Benitez a constant thorn in the Spanish defence, but the best chance of the first half fell to Raul right on the stroke of half-time. The little striker turned superbly in the box to fire in a low shot that Chilavert kept out superbly and Celso Ayala then made a magnificent saving tackle to deny a certain goal for Pizzi. After the interval Spain continued to press in search of that elusive vital goal and despite numerous goal attempts, notably from Martinez Luis Enrique, the Paraguayan defence stubbornly held firm. Indeed in Benitez they possessed the player most likely to break the deadlock as his selfish forward play almost paid dividends after 62 minutes when his curling left-footed shot was clawed clear by Andoni Zubizarreta. Both coaches made their full quota of substitutions as Spain replaced strikers Pizzi and Raul with Morientes and Kiko in attempt to win the game whilst Paraguay were content to shore up their defence further against the predictable Spanish onslaught. Two late free-kicks for Spain in dangerous positions at least ensured a bit of drama in stoppage time, but in keeping with the previous 90 minutes, the quality and end product was sadly lacking.
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Page created by Christakis Ioannou on Friday, 19 June 1998
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