Copa America Day 15 action round-up - Paraguay v Venezuela semi-final
Paraguay reached their first Copa America final in 32 years with a penalty shootout victory over Venezuela in the early hours of Thursday morning. The result was a bitter pill for La Vinotinto to swallow after they dominated proceedings for almost the entire 120 minutes preceding the dramatic denouement. The two teams were surprise semi-finalists; Paraguay having knocked out the holders Brazil in the quarter-finals, while Venezuela were making their maiden appearance in the last four after a fairy-tale run.
Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino made a host of changes from the side that beat Brazil. Ivan Piris came into the heart of defence in place of Wigan Athletic central defender, Antolin Alcaraz, who was sent off on Sunday. In midfield only former Sunderland player, Cristian Riveros, retained his place from the last-eight victory. Venezuela also had to contend with suspensions. Tomas Rincon, red-carded in the win over Chile, was replaced by Giacomo Di Giorgio. Record goal scorer, Giancarlo Maldonado was left out with Salomon Rondon, who scored against Paraguay in the group game, preferred to partner Alejandro Moreno up front.
The opening ten minutes of the match offered hope of an open semi-final with both sides making attacking inroads, in part thanks to poor defending. The first quarter was Paraguay’s best period of the game, their greater experience allowing them to settle quicker than the Venezuelans, who were in virgin territory. However, once they had overcome their nerves, the underdogs took a firm grip of the game and were desperately unlucky not to take the lead in the closing 10 minutes of the first period. Firstly they had a goal incorrectly ruled out when Rondon was flagged offside, despite not touching the ball as Oswaldo Vizcarrondo powered home a header from a cross from the left. Then a delightful clipped ball by Cesar Eduardo Gonzalez was headed against the bar by Moreno, with the follow up shot by Rondon well saved by Justo Villar.
The second half was a non-event as Paraguay struggled to find any rhythm, seemingly settling for extra time midway through the half. Venezuela lacked the craft to take the game by the scruff of the neck, despite the introduction of Miku and Maldonado to boost the attack. In extra-Time Venezuela took complete charge but the events of the opening five minutes of the additional period made it clear it was not going to be the underdog’s night. A delightful piece of skill by Maldonado created a shooting opportunity 20 yards out and, despite choking his strike, a clever deflection by Miku saw the ball beat Villar only to come back off the post. Then a minute later a flighted free kick from the right by Juan Arango deceived Villar only to hit the inside of the post and fall to the only Paraguayan in the vicinity, Jonathan Santana who hacked clear.
Paraguay were more than happy to sit in and wait for penalties, particularly following the dismissal of Santana for two bookable offences at the end of the first extra period. When the shoot-out came, Paraguay were impeccable from the spot. A weak kick by Frankiln Lucena was saved by Villar allowing Dario Veron to apply the coup-de-grace and send La Albirroja into Sundays final against Uruguay.