Another Copa America quarterfinal, another tense penalty shootout. Brazil, the early tournament favorites, couldn’t convert a single spot-kick and Paraguay triumphed after making two out of three.
Brazil had plenty of chances to win in regulation but didn’t score thanks to fine goalkeeping from Justo Villar. Santos’ young striker Neymar could have had a brace if not for the ‘keeper and his own wayward shooting. Paraguay, who sat back for much of the game, were not the better team. Lucas Leiva of Brazil and Antolin Alcaraz of Paraguay were sent off in extra-time after a large scuffle involving players from both sides.
Brazil will need to work on their penalties: Elano, Andre Santos and Fred, who took the decisive final shot, couldn’t even get their spot-kicks on target. Marcelo Estigarribia and Christian Riveros scored for the underdogs, who face surprise semifinalists Venezuela on Wednesday in Mendoza. The two sides drew 3-3 in a thrilling encounter during the group stage.
With his team out, Brazil coach Mano Menezes must make a decision: should he keep faith in Pato, Neymar, Ganso and the other youngsters he has promised will shine at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil? Or will he, under pressure, recall older faces like Kaka, Nilmar and Juan? Of course, Menezes will only have the chance if the Brazilian federation don’t fire him first. Brazil were expected to win this tournament and their fans are already calling for the coach’s head. Menezes’ “rebuilding” project might be over after just a year.
Uruguay and Paraguay are strong teams so no surprise that they are in the semis. But it’s a shocker that Peru and Venezuela are the other semifinalists, ahead of hosts Argentina and giants Brazil. The final week of the Copa will be interesting without the heavy-hitters. Uruguay last won the tournament in 1995, Paraguay in 1979, and Peru in 1975. Venezuela have never even been in the final and have only made the knock-out stage twice since their first participation in 1967.