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History-hunting Spain target first semi outing

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque believes his players are ready to make history, and they can start by winning a World Cup quarter-final for the first time.

Surprisingly, Spain have never advanced to a semi-final at a World Cup in four opportunities between 1934 and 2002.

Standing in their way at Johannesburg's Ellis Park tomorrow is a resolute Paraguay team that is the most successful ever sent to a World Cup from the South American nation.

"We know we're in good shape," del Bosque said. "It's been more than 30 days together training as a team and I think these players want to make history."

Spain have reached the last four at a World Cup, in 1950 when just 13 teams showed up in Brazil and the four group winners advanced to a round-robin pool to decide the honours.

When the World Cup format has used a knockout bracket, Spain have always been stopped at the quarter-final stage.

Spain lost to South Korea on penalties after a goalless draw in a 2002 match-up remembered for disputed referee calls, and Roberto Baggio lifted Italy to a 2-1 victory in 1994. In 1986, Belgium prevailed in a shootout after a 1-1 draw, and 1934 hosts Italy ousted the Spanish 1-0 in a replay.

Del Bosque would not be drawn to suggest that the European champions have a golden chance to break the streak, and earn a semi-final four tie against Argentina or Germany.

"If you had to choose one of the other seven in the quarter-finals, I don't know which one would be the easiest," Del Bosque said.

"Paraguay, like all of the South American teams, show so much character, with players who exercise great pressure. They are players who know their trade, with the ball or without, and they have a similar style to Chile."

Spain beat Chile 2-1 to top Group H, despite losing their opener 1-0 against a Switzerland side that frustrated teams by defending in depth, just like the Paraguayans intend to do tomorrow night.

"We'd all like to play nicely, scoring five goals a game and sometimes that happens," Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta said. "There are good moments and difficult moments, but what's important is that we're in the quarter-finals."

Paraguay arrive at this stage on the back of three straight clean sheets, and a perfect five-out-of-five record in the penalty shootout against Japan when the teams' second-round game was goalless after extra time last Tuesday.

Paraguay 'keeper Justo Villar expects more of the same "hard work and tactics" against Spain.

"It's going to be a good match where you will see two types of football," Villar said. "One side trying to attack skillfully, while we try to stop them and then try to take advantage of our chances."


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