Gatecrashers Japan and Slovakia can spoil giants’ last 16 party
The World Cup continues to humble the mighty and provide a springboard for the surprise packages, and Japan and Slovakia are the latest outsiders to reach the last 16.
Japan and Slovakia progressed from groups E and F respectively, and the Japanese may fancy their chances of making the last eight by beating Paraguay. A Japan win is 11/4.
Both sides’ qualification for the round of 16 is particularly noteworthy because, for Japan, it is their first appearance in the knockout stages on foreign soil, while Slovakia are playing in their first ever World Cup.
Japan were impressive in their 3-1 win against Denmark, and should the Blue Samurai reproduce such form against Paraguay, they could reach their first ever quarter-final.
Keisuke Honda has been the star performer for Japan at this World Cup. The CSKA Moscow midfielder scored a belting free-kick against Denmark, and he struck the winner in Japan’s 1-0 win over Cameroon.
Honda also provided a cleverly disguised assist for Japan’s third and clinching goal against Denmark, and the fleet-footed 24-year-old will be a threat to Paraguay, who are evens to win the round of 16 tie.
Japan’s progress is another boost for Far East Asia, which is proving to be one of football’s most consistently improving world regions.
With South Korea already having qualified for the second round, Far East Asia now has two representatives in the last 16. An Asian team to win the World Cup is priced at 28/1.
Having slain the reigning champions Italy, Slovakia will now hope to topple another lofty opponent as they face Holland in the second round.
Slovakian striker Robert Vittek, however, is currently the joint top scorer at the World Cup, and having netted a brace of goals against Italy, he is 33/1 to win the Golden Shoe.
One of his rivals for this award is Robin Van Persie, and the Holland striker is 7/2 to score first when the Dutch take on Slovakia.