Argentina must be relieved to have avoided a semifinal showdown with arch-rivals Brazil. In a dramatic game on Saturday, Paraguay first equalized from a penalty award and then benefitted from the penalty misses by Everton Ribeiro and Douglas Costa, when the match went to the penalty shoot-out. It was the second consecutive time that Paraguay have eliminated Brazil on penalties in the quarter-finals of the South American tournament. Neymar’s absence saw Brazil playing a powerless game and despite the early lead, failed to consolidate in the end. The Paraguayans played with vigor in the second half and they will now face Argentina for a place in the final on Tuesday. In the other semifinal earlier on Monday, hosts Chile will play against Peru.
Brazil was already having a bad tournament and their progress through to the last-eight stage, had been less than convincing. They somehow scraped through in the match against Peru and Venezuela and lost to Colombia. Against Paraguay, they took to the field without their star and captain Neymar, who was red-carded for an intended head-butt on Jeison Murillo in Brazil’s game against Colombia. Brazil not only lost that match but also lost Neymar for the rest of the tournament since he was served a 4-match ban for an extraordinary tussle with referee Enrique Osses. But on Saturday, Brazil still managed to score first, though they failed to create any impression. The move came in the 15th minute from Robinho, who moved smartly on the right flank with the ball, before passing it to Elias. In a quicksilver move, Elias found Dani Alves, who crossed the ball to Roberto Firmino. But Fermino nudged it back to Robinho, who slotted it cleanly to put Brazil up 1-0. However, it was the only time that a Brazil player would touch the ball in Paraguayan goal area in the first half. More often, Paraguay played in Brazil’s half and had a greater share of ball possession but without creating any genuine goal-scoring chances. The halftime ended at 1-0 in Brazil’s favor.
When play resumed after the break, it was Paraguay all over as Brazil looked subdued. Within a short time, Gonzalez curled a free-kick that could have been dangerous if Brazil goalkeeper Jefferson had not been alert. Jefferson came to Brazil’s rescue once again when Paulo Da Silva headed from 12 yards. The equalizer for Paraguay came with 20 minutes remaining in the game. Thiago Silva was adjudged to have handled the ball in the penalty area while challenging Roque Santa Cruz, who was about to head a ball in. The ensuing penalty was converted by Gonzalez and Paraguay drew level. In the remaining time, both sides launched the attacks but at the final whistle, the score was still 1-1 and it was time for the shoot-out.
Fernandinho scored the first penalty for Brazil but after that the zest had gone out of the Brazilians. While taking their penalties, midfielder Everton Ribeiro missed the target but the worst penalty kick performance came from striker Douglas Costa, who skied the ball into the stands. When Paraguay’s Derlis Gonzalez converted the winning spot-kick, it was all over for Brazil.