Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

More Sports

Uruguay vs. Paraguay in odd Copa America final

One fact illustrates this bewildering Copa America: Paraguay enters Sunday's final against Uruguay without a single victory in five games.

Then there are the flops of Brazil and the Lionel Messi-led Argentina, a repeat of their disappointing exits in the 2010 World Cup when both also went out in the quarterfinals.

This leaves Uruguay the clear favorite, again showing that teamwork trumps star power in this country of only 3.5 million. Uruguay reached the World Cup semifinals in South Africa a year ago before losing to the Netherlands.

Uruguay plays in the final in Buenos Aires with 20 of the 23 players it took to the World Cup and coach Oscar Tabarez, affectionately known as "Profesor" or "Maestro."

"This group knows each other by heart," midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios said. "We try to play when we can, and when we can't the important thing is that we keep our tactical shape and order."

Uruguay's attack has been steady, but not great. Liverpool's Luis Suarez scored both goals in the 2-0 semifinal victory against Peru, regularly fed passes by teammate Diego Forlan, the savvy Atletico de Madrid striker.

The rugged defense is another matter. Led by Lazio goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and defenders Diego Lugano and Sebastian Coates, Uruguay has yielded only three goals in five matches.

Muslera has been as good as any player in the tournament, and he was the difference with a diving save on Carlos Tevez in the penalty shootout against Argentina in the quarterfinals, which provided the 5-4 margin following a 1-1 draw in extra time.

Unlike Paraguay, Uruguay is almost injury-free at it seeks a record-15th Copa America title. Argentina has 14 and Brazil, which won the last two finals and four of the last five, has eight. Uruguay won its last Copa America title in 1995 and lost in '99 to Brazil in the final.

"We're really ready, fired up to win the match that will crown us champions," midfielder Alvaro Gonzalez said.

Paraguay finds itself having to defend its right to even be in the final.

It was outplayed by Venezuela in the semifinal, but won 5-3 on penalties after a 0-0 draw after 120 minutes. Again the goalkeeper, in this case Justo Villar, was the difference.

Even Venezuela President Hugo Chavez jumped into the fray, saying in a string of Twitter messages his team had been "robbed" of a goal. In fact, a disputed goal by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo was disallowed correctly with TV replays showing it was offside.

Venezuela faces Peru in Saturday's third-place game. Win or lose, it will be Venezuela's best finish in the continental championship. Peru is a two-time champion.

"Some comments are saying that Paraguay reached the final without having won," said Juan Angel Napout, president of the Paraguayan Football Association. "I say we have reached the final without losing."

The match will be played at Monumental Stadium, the home of Buenos Aires club River Plate. A month ago, the stadium concession areas, toilets and thousands of seats were vandalized by hooligans following a match that relegated River Plate to Argentina's second division. After some initial concerns, the stadium appears ready.

Paraguay is coping with injuries as it tries for its third Copa America title following victories in 1979 and 1953. Forward Roque Santa Cruz and winger Aureliano Torres will miss the final. Forward Nelson Haedo Valdez and midfielder Edgar Barreto are likely to play despite nagging injuries.

Coach Gerardo Martino and top assistant Jorge Pautasso have been suspended after their ejection for repeatedly arguing with the referee in Wednesday's loss to Venezuela.

"Paraguay has played against difficult teams and has yet to lose," said Gonzalez, the Uruguay midfielder, pointing out that Paraguay drew twice with Brazil — once in the group stage and again in the quarterfinals.

Martino acknowledged his team had been "lucky" after defeating Brazil on penalties in the quarterfinals. Nelson Haedo Valdez echoed the sentiment after the defeat of Venezuela.

"Football is like this," he said. "Not always the winner is the best. ... I hope we are having some champion's luck."