The cagey opening to the Copa America continued this evening as Paraguay and Ecuador played out a goalless stalemate in Santa Fe. After fellow Group B contenders Brazil and Venezuela also drew a blank earlier in the day, tonight's draw means just three goals have been scored in the tournament's opening four matches.
Better will surely come as the tournament progresses, and indeed the encounter at Estadio Brigadier General Estanislao Lopez was not without clear-cut chances for both sides. Ecuador's Christian Benitez spurned arguably the best of those in the first half, although Paraguay were the better side after the break and were unlucky not to make the breakthrough.
Paraguay carved out the opening chance after 12 minutes as a brilliant piece of skill by Marcelo Estigarribia took the midfielder into the box. He unselfishly squared the ball for Edgar Barreto who saw his shot pushed over the bar by Marcelo Elizaga. The keeper then had to keep out a Roque Santa Cruz drive and also reacted sharply to parry away a close-range Nestor Ortigoza shot.
Benitez denied solo stunner
Ecuador had barely threatened but they should have taken the lead after 27 minutes as striker Benitez beat three defenders and the keeper on a wonderful run, but he was robbed of possession by Paulo de Silva when poised to pull the trigger. Midfielder Segunda Castillo then drilled narrowly wide of the right-hand post from the edge of the area.
Paraguay had the best of the second half, and on 55 minutes spurned a glorious chance to go in front when Estigarribia surged down the left channel but dragged his low shot just wide of the far post. Eight minutes later Ecuador had Elizaga to thank for a superb save to keep the scores level, the keeper getting down brilliantly to his left to deflect away a Santa Cruz header that looked destined to nestle just inside the post.
Paraguay threw on Nelson Valdez after 73 minutes to try and force a goal, and within two minutes the forward went close with a shot from the edge of the box which bounced just wide. Fellow substitute Pablo Zeballos had Paraguay's final chance of the night with a dipping long-range effort five minutes from time, but the Ecuador goal again held firm.