BLOEMFONTEIN, June 20- A powerful Paraguay side beat Slovakia 2-0 in Bloemfontein on Sunday to leave the South Americans on the brink of qualification for the World Cup knockout phase.A first-half goal from Enrique Vera and a second-half strike from Cristian Riveros at a sun-drenched Free State stadium gave Paraguay the crucial win that takes them to four points with only Group F minnows New Zealand still to play.
Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino made his intentions clear from the kick-off with three attackers in his starting XI, including Manchester City forward Roque Santa Cruz, and his team established a vice-like grip on the match.
Paraguay took the lead on 27 minutes when Vera bent the ball around the goalkeeper with the outside of his right boot after a pass from Barrios.
It followed incessant pressure on the Slovakian defence in a first half in which the eastern Europeans could muster just a single shot to the South Americans’ eight.
The goal forced Slovakia to come out of their shell and attack but Paraguay came close to doubling their lead when Santa Cruz forced Slovak goalkeeper Jan Mucha to save with his legs.
The South Americans kept their grip on the match in the second half as Slovakia struggled to break down the South Americans’ defence.
Coach Vladimir Weiss threw on forward Filip Holosko for Stanislav Sestak as the Slovaks desperately looked for an equaliser but they could not hold onto possession long enough to pose a goal threat.
Vera almost headed Paraguay into a two-goal lead after a cross from Santa Cruz but his effort flew narrowly wide.
Substitute Aureliano Torres, on for Nelson Valdez, then drove over as the South Americans’ continued to look the more likely scorers.
In a last throw of the dice Weiss sent on midfielder Miroslav Stoch for defender Kornel Salata but Slovakia failed to threaten and as the clock ticked down Riveros gave Paraguay the two-goal margin their play richly deserved.
The World Cup hopes of Slovakia, heartbroken after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser to New Zealand in their opener, now hang by a thread with defending world champions Italy still to play.
Italy, who drew 1-1 with Paraguay in their opener, were due to play New Zealand later on Sunday in Nelspruit.