PRETORIA, South Africa - The last thing Paraguay wanted was to wind up in a shootout with Japan. After all, the South Americans almost never practice penalty kicks - or have any success when they do.
Yet Paraguay took the most difficult route to its first World Cup quarterfinals Tuesday. After 120 exhausting minutes without scoring, the Paraguayans found their touch in penalty kicks, making all five to beat Japan.
Oscar Cardozo clinched the 5-3 shootout win after a 0-0 draw with a low, left-footed drive past goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. The only miss in the shootout was by Japan defender Yuichi Komano on the third try when he hit the crossbar. That made the difference.
"We practiced penalty kicks once, so nobody could say we weren't prepared," coach Gerardo Martino said. "But our executions weren't too good. You can't re-create the environment you'll face in a real game, with 40,000 fans."
But the execution was perfect, climaxed by Cardozo's winner. "Character plays a big role," Martino said. "What can you say when a Cardozo asks to kick the fifth penalty and he does it the way he did it?"
The Paraguayans are the fourth South American team into the final eight; only Chile fell short, and it lost to Brazil in the second round.
"This is tough. Both teams made a great effort. God was on our side," said Martino, who was in tears after the game. "Now we hope to recover and to continue making history."
Japanese players watched the final shot on their knees with their arms around each other. When it went into the net, they let go and sagged. Keiji Tamada fell onto his back, while Japanese players and fans wept.
Paraguay will play Spain, winners over Portugual, in the quarterfinals Saturday.