Historical Tidbit: Japan, famously, withdrew from the world in the eventeenth century, barring foreigners from its ports and maintaining its isolation until Commodore Matthew Perry showed up with a US fleet in 1853. But Paraguay, too, was synonymous in the 19th century world with mysterious seclusion. In the 1810s dictator Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia -- "El Supremo" -- cut off all trade with other nations, making his country an unknown oddity to Americans and Europeans alike. In the 1850s, American oceanographer and South America propagandist Matthew Maury blasted Paraguay for the exclusive "Japanese spirit" that guided its foreign relations. Indeed the United States did not have an official representative in Paraguay (like Japan) until the 1850s, long after it had made commercial agreements with far-flung regimes in East Africa, Arabia, and Southeast Asia.
But Japan’s Brazilian is a little different. Not a deft dribbly creator –- the Japanese have enough of them already –- Tulio is a strapping, pillar-like fullback who seems to win headers on both ends of the pitch with unsettling frequency. (Yes, his ancient Roman namesake would be proud of his rigidity.) Japan is most dangerous at set pieces, but even if Keisuke Honda (the Japanese Maradona, apparently) doesn’t place the Jabulani in the corner of the net, they can look for Tulio’s magnetic dome right in front of the goal. A man who must be marked with care.
Who to Support: Japan. For geographical diversity, if nothing else – I expected South American success, and I’m enjoying the satisfaction of being right, but it’s getting a bit monotonous, isn’t it? (Do you think FIFA should consider allowing a sixth South American team next year? Maybe?) Japan has the towering Tulio, spunky attackers in Honda and Yoshito Okubo, and, best of all, more blondes than Team Denmark. Paraguay may have the Cup's sexiest man, but I'm pulling for the Blue Samurai.
What to Expect: A conservative, defensive game, in truth. The Paraguays are always chary with goals, both scored and allowed. Japan is tricker to figure, so much will depend on which Samurai team emerges in this match – the cautious, deep-defending squad that tried to stifle Holland into a 0-0 draw, or the open, attacking side that took the game to Denmark with real offensive confidence. To be honest, I fear it could be the latter; with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line, neither team will want to concede the first goal. I see a 0-0 marathon that sees extra time and possibly penalties; and if it comes to that, somehow, my gut says Japan will survive.