Football: Paraguay wilt under weight of expectation

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The Independent Online
THE HOSTS, Paraguay, went out of the Copa America in the quarter- finals, losing to Uruguay in a penalty shoot-out, while Mexico beat Peru in another spot-kick decider.

Both of Saturday's matches in Asuncion produced surprises. Mexico, shorn of two players who failed drug tests and one who was suspended, held their own against Peru in a barrage of first-half goals and levelled the score two minutes from time to force penalties. Paraguay seemed to be in control against Uruguay in the second match of the double-header at the Defenders of the Chaco stadium but began to look edgy and conceded an equaliser. Their end came, to the disappointment of the vast home contingent in the 43,000-crowd, when Miguel Benitez missed their fourth penalty in the shoot- out.

Mexico, without Raul Lara and Paulo Cesar Chavez, who had failed drug tests last week, and their key attacker, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who had been sent off against Venezuela, quickly found themselves two goals behind. Roberto Palacios put Peru ahead with a brilliant individual goal and Jose Pereda made it 2-0 inside 15 minutes before Mexico wrested control of midfield.

Two goals in four minutes by Luis Hernandez levelled the scores but Newcastle's Nolberto Solano put Peru back in front in the 41st minute with a beautifully struck curling shot from the edge of the penalty area.

In the second half Mexico pushed the Peruvians back into ever more desperate defence and with two minutes left a poor clearance fell to Gerardo Torrado, who scored from 25 yards.

Mexico converted their first four spot kicks in the shoot-out but Peru's Jorge Soto and Juan Reynoso blazed their penalties over the bar.

The Paraguayan fans in the stadium settled back in expectation of seeing their side beat a Uruguayan team missing their leading European-based players, who had been rested. It seemed the locals would go home happy as Paraguay took command, inspired by their captain, the superb defender Carlos Gamarra. Benitez duly gave them the lead after 15 minutes, but then the nervousness began to creep in. Uruguay grew in confidence and their revival was capped in the 65th minute by an equaliser from Marcelo Zalayeta who, like Benitez, claimed his third goal of the tournament.

Mexico will again be without Lara and Chavez in ther semi-finals, but the Mexican federation is appealing against the bans imposed on them after their urine samples showed traces of testosterone and nandrolone, respectively.