Paraguay’s penalty shoot-out win over Venezuela on Wednesday evening sent them through to the final of the Copa America for the first time in 32 years. That long-awaited and much-celebrated success now leads to a meeting with Uruguay and the chance to become the kings of South America and earn a place at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013.
One of the central figures in their spirited campaign has undoubtedly been goalkeeper Justo Villar, who has come to La Albirroja’s rescue on several occasions in Argentina.
In drawing their five games in the competition to date, Los Guaraníes have once again brought their organisational skills and tactical discipline to bear, all of which is founded on Villar’s rock-solid keeping. And just as he had done against Brazil in the quarter-final, the Paraguay custodian dealt with everything the Venezuelans threw at him in the semis.
“We could have gone further,” lamented Vinotinto striker Giancarlo Maldonado after their elimination. “We did everything right and we put absolutely everything into winning this game. You could see that on the pitch, but the woodwork wasn’t on our side and we had no luck in the penalties.”
Luck is a commodity every goalkeeper needs and Villar has certainly enjoyed his fair share in Argentina. On the occasions when Brazil managed to find a way past him, the woodwork and his defenders came to his rescue. And in the penalty decider that followed, wayward shooting by the Brazilians, combined with Villar's save to deny Thiago Silva, allowed Paraguay to take their place in the semi-finals for the first time since the competition format was changed in 1993. It was a formula that also served La Albirroja in good stead against Venezuela.
One last mission
“We’ve played two very good games,” said the 34-year-old shotstopper, who has just agreed terms with Estudiantes. “We had to work very, very hard for the win, which came on penalties too, and we ran ourselves into the ground.”
Paraguay had no other option against a Venezuela side that had already made history and was determined to scale greater heights. But as the game made its inexorable way towards extra time and the dreaded spot-kicks, Villar was there to dash the Vinotinto dream.
“It was a real fight for us to stay in the game and we just couldn’t get into our rhythm at all,” he added. “And when we saw that we couldn’t, we just tried to keep the score all square for the penalty lottery.”
With Paraguay leading 3-2 in the shootout, SuperJusto worked his magic, flinging himself to his right to thwart Franklin Lucena and set his side up for another victory parade.
“We can’t go into the final and do what we’ve been doing the last few days, because Uruguay have been playing well and they’ve got some very important players,” concluded Villar, who will be doing his utmost to help secure Paraguay some long-overdue Copa America glory come Sunday in Buenos Aires.