Underdogs eye unlikely final berth
© AFP

Few would ever have described Paraguay and Venezuela as favourites prior to their respective quarter-finals with Brazil and Chile, but a pair of impressive results saw them move on at the expense of their more illustrious opponents. Both now find themselves one victory away from the final of the Copa America 2011. FIFA.com previews the forthcoming battle in Mendoza, the winners of which will take on Uruguay for the title on Sunday.

The game 
Paraguay-Venezuela, Wednesday 20 July, Mendoza, 21.45 (local time)

The stakes
Just a week after their highly entertaining 3-3 draw enthralled watching fans in Salta, the fates have conspired to pair up La Albirroja and La Vinotinto once again. That match, the teams’ third and final group-phase fixture, was remarkable for the Venezuelans' last-gasp comeback from 3-1 down, a feat that secured second place in Group B and relegated their opponents to third spot.

Despite being the highest-scoring teams in the last four, a similar number of goals might be regarded as surprising this time around, given both coaches’ desire to avoid a repeat of the defensive errors that characterised their previous meeting. Gerardo Martino and opposite number Cesar Farias both have doubts about their starting line-ups. While Dario Veron is likely to be shifted to centre-back by Argentina-born Martino in order to offset the absence of the suspended Antolin Alcaraz, the match-fitness of defender Aureliano Torres and forward Roque Santa Cruz remains uncertain. His Venezuelan counterpart, meanwhile, will also need to rejig his team-sheet following Tomas Rincon’s red card in the previous round, and should opt for either Luis Seijas or Giacomo Di Giorgi to replace the influential midfielder.

The duel
Justo Villar (Paraguay) vs Renny Vega (Venezuela)

Both goalkeepers played a crucial role in helping their teams negotiate tricky last-eight encounters, and are likely to be instrumental again. Vega’s fearless but slightly unorthodox style between the sticks is in marked contrast to his Paraguayan rival’s more traditional approach, but each has shown himself capable of coming to the aid of his team-mates in effective and timely fashion during the competition.

In addition, both will be keen to prevent the opposition strikeforce scoring three times against them as they did in the group stage, although the Venezuela No1 would doubtless welcome a repeat of the unlikely assist he provided for his nation’s late equalising goal in that match.

Did you know?
Argentina is a venue that tends to smile on the Paraguayans, as out of the eight Copa America tournaments played in the country, Los Guaraníes have been part of the final quartet on six occasions, once finishing in second position (1929), three times in third (1925, 1946 and 1959) and twice in fourth (1921 and 1937). As for the two other instances that the Argentinians hosted the event, Paraguay did not take part in 1916 and failed to get beyond the group stage in 1987.

The stat
3.8 – The average number of goals that La Albirroja have scored against Venezuela in five previous Copa America encounters. With four wins and a draw – the latter coming in the aforementioned 3-3 stalemate played during this year’s group stage – the statistics appear to point to a Paraguayan victory.

What they said
“If we do things right, we should reach the final. We’re just one match away, and we now need to put in an almost flawless performance to overcome Venezuela, because they’ve already shown what they’re capable of if you lose your focus,” Dario Veron, Paraguay defender.

“The first game with Paraguay is very useful, but we shouldn’t forget that we had already qualified, mathematically speaking, and therefore didn’t field our strongest team. On top of that, they hardly threatened our goal at all from open play, although their set-pieces did cause us problems and we’ll need to be on our guard against that. We’re satisfied with what we’ve achieved, but we still want more,” Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, Venezuela defender.