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PARAGUAY
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URUGUAY

Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti, Buenos Aires
July 24, 2011

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When Copa America 2011 kicked off, very few football fans would have predicted a final between Paraguay and Uruguay. This has been a Copa of upsets, where big guns have been silenced surprisingly early and unexpectedly. In the end, two of the most determined and gritty, but not necessarily exciting teams have made it to Copa final.

Uruguay

Uruguay, the original swings kings of South American football, suffered from decades of underachievement till 2000s. In last two years however, Uruguay has gotten back its place among the high and mighty of world football. After a creditable 4th place finish in World Cup, Oscar Tabarez’s men are on verge of creating history. A win in this year’s Copa would land Uruguay’s 15th continental title, taking it past Argentina, as the most successful team in South America. For Uruguayan fans, this occasion can’t get any sweeter, as their record title will come on the soil of their most bitter local rivals.

No one deserves credit for Uruguay’s revival more than current coach Oscar Tabarez. The former defender is one of the rare breed of South American managers, who knows the correct balance between attack and defense. He has also shown admirable ability to change his tactics when needed. Uruguay came into Copa America sticking to a 4-3-3 formation, with Serie A trailblazer Edinson Cavani as the center-forward. Cavani’s injury meant Uruguay was short of one world class striker, so Tabarez changed his formation to a 4-4-2, with great effectiveness.

Can he turn on the magic one more time?

Diego Forlan hasn’t hit his golden form of South Africa but nonetheless, he has added both flair and industry to Uruguay’s frontline. Luis Suarez has been the main marksman and notched up both goals in the semi-final win over Peru. The unsung heroes for Uruguay are undoubtedly the two wing-backs – Maxi Perreira and Alvaro Perreira. Both these players have caused problems in tandem to opponent defenders with Martin Caceres also providing width with his marauding runs.

Diego Lugano hasn’t missed a trick so far in defense and has led from the front. 20-year old Sebastien Coates is sure to be one of the hottest prospects after Copa ends, as he is yet to put a foot wrong. In semi-final, he was given the job to mark Peru’s dangerous winger Manuel Vargas. Coates put in a flawless performance frustrating Vargas so much that the Fiorentina man got himself red carded after disgracefully elbowing his marker.

Road To Final: Drew against Peru (1-1), drew against Chile (1-1), defeated Mexico (1-0), defeated Argentina (1(5)-1(4)), defeated Peru 2-0.

Paraguay

In recent times, Paraguay has proved itself to be one of the most consistent performers in South America. They have qualified in each of the World Cups since 1998 and went to the quarter final in last edition. Paraguay’s reputation has been built on being unspectacular but effective. But their show in this edition of Copa America has been even more disappointing than their usual style. Paraguay hasn’t scored a single goal in knock-out rounds, winning both ties in the tie-breakers. Their style of play has come under immense criticism from multiple quarters and the entire nation can be thankful to the 34-year old goalkeeper, Justo Villar, who pulled out a number of top drawer saves against Brazil.

Paraguay was hardly so dour in group stages, where they played much more attacking football, scoring 5 goals in three matches. They should have won two of the three games, but ended up drawing them after conceding late goals against Brazil and Venezuela (two in injury time). That trend seemed to have given rise to their less expansive style in knock out rounds, where they were happy to sit back and not concede a goal.

Captain Fantastic !

Paraguay was clearly the worse team in semi-final, as rookies Venezuela dominated the game. They started off well but became more and more defensive, as Venezuela took control of proceedings. Incredibly the Venezuelans hit the post thrice despite beating the seemingly impregnable Villar. The goalkeeper again came to his team’s rescue in tie-breaker, saving Franklin Lucena’s spot kick. Venezuelan fans, including iconic president Hugo Chavez, were left fuming after losing a match they dominated. Despite Paraguay’s negativity, they do deserve credit for playing with grit and determination and taking some freakishly calm penalty kicks.

Former Bayern Munich striker Roque Santa Cruz was forced off because of a hamstring injury after six minutes and he might miss the final. Without him La Albirroja lacks some serious firepower, as Nelson Valdez is an extremely limited striker. Paraguay is also set to lose more players due to injury, while midfielder Jonathan Santana will sit out for the final after getting a red card in last match.

Road To Final: Drew against Ecuador (0-0), drew against Brazil (2-2), drew against Venezuela (3-3), defeated Brazil (0(4)-0(0)), defeated Venezuela (0(5)-0(3))

Trivia

  • Uruguay and Argentina are tied with maximum number of Copa America wins – 14. 14 is also the number of times other countries have won the title, combined.
  • Paraguay has led for just 59 minutes out of 510 they played in this year’s Copa.
  • Uruguay will be first team Paraguay will face in this year’s Copa, who was not in the same group in group stages.
  • Luis Suarez is tied with Sergio Aguero, as top scorer with three goals. If he fails to score in final then this would be first time since 1983, that tournament top scorer will have three goals against his name.
  • The goal per game ratio in this year’s Copa is 1.92 – one of the least among International tournaments in recent times.

Key Player(s)

Justo Villar (Paraguay): Villar has unarguably been the lynchpin behind Paraguay’s run to the final. His performances before and during tie-breakers have brought back memories of Oliver Kahn and Sergio Goycochea. Paraguay will line-up for the final with a depleted squad, so there is a good chance that they will again play defensively. Under these circumstances the 34-year old captain will have to lead from the front one more time.

Diego Forlan (Uruguay): Forlan has hardly shown the form of last summer’s World Cup but he has still been one of the crucial players for Uruguay. He has often dropped deep and linked Suarez with rest of the midfield with his wonderful array of passes. He fought for every ball and was omnipresent in knock out games. His set-piece delivery has also caused a lot of problem for opponent teams.

Prediction

Despite the world wanting them to win, Uruguay will not find this match easy. The 14-time champions have struggled to break down opponent teams despite dominating possession in last three matches. They have struggled somewhat against well-organized teams and they don’t come better organized than Gerardo Martino’s men. It promises to be a cagey and nervy final, which can go to extra time.

Uruguay 1-0 Paraguay