Uruguay awaits the winner of Paraguay and Venezuela in the final of the 2011 Copa América.
The tournament has shown no respect for reputation and heavy favourites Paraguay will be taking nothing for granted in this semi-final.
The two teams already played out a fascinating 3-3 draw in the group stage of the competition. Paraguay struck three times from set-pieces to take a two goal lead into second half stoppage time before Venezuela staged a remarkable comeback.
During their quarter-final Venezuela displayed their own threat from dead balls when they dispatched Chile. The 2-1 win was thanks in no small part to the pinpoint delivery of Juan Arango.
Paraguay took a step closer to their third 2011 Copa América title when they dumped out Brazil. Paraguay’s goalkeeper and captain Justo Villar put in a massive performance between the sticks in La Plata to see la Albirroja through to the semi-finals.
Paraguay’s head coach Gerardo Martino will be forced to make a few changes to the team that lined up against Brazil. Centre-back Antolín Alcaraz of Wigan Athletic is suspended after scrapping with Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva.
Elvis Marecos is set to fill in for Alcaraz while the fitness of left-back Aureliano Torres continues to worry Martino.
On the plus side for Paraguay it appears Roque Santa Cruz has shaken off a thigh strain and looks set to partner Lucas Barrios in attack.
Santa Cruz to establish himself as the tournament’s top goalscorer with a hat-trick against Venezuela is priced at 50.00 with paf.com.
Wing wizard Marcelo Estigarribia, a pre-tournament transfer target for Rangers, gave an insight into Paraguay’s recipe for success.
“To do well in this competition you have to get your commitment, attitude and work ethic just right. We know that if we make fewer mistakes than the opposition we are going to win the game.”
Plotting Paraguay’s downfall is Venezuela’s 38-year-old head coach César Farías. The siege mentality Farías has built around his squad has seen him draw comparisons with Jose Mourinho.
During Venezuela’s Copa América opener their head coach engaged in a heated exchange with Brazil’s Neymar. Farías’s behaviour transmitted a message to the whole continent that Venezuela are no longer prepared to lay down and surrender.
After securing the 0-0 draw against the five-time world champions Farías said, “I much prefer it to be me fighting than my players.”
However, a moment of indiscipline late on in the win against Chile could still prove costly for Venezuela. Tomás Rincón’s suspension sees Venezuela denied the services of the central midfielder who has been the heartbeat of the team at this Copa América.
It remains to be seen whether Farías will plump for Luis Seijas or Giacomo Di Giorgi to play the part of Rincón.
Despite the high profile absence of Rincón this Venezuelan team will be out to upset the applecart once again in their first ever Copa América semi-final.
For Venezuelan fans who witnessed their team pick up just three points during 16 qualification games for the 1998 World Cup and get slapped 7-0 by Brazil in the 1999 Copa América, things just keep getting better.
According to César González, scorer of the winning goal in the group game against Ecuador, the players are enjoying the tournament just as much as the fans.
“What is happening to this team is incredible. When I’m on the pitch I can see the unity and fight in my team-mates just by looking into their eyes.”
Venezuela to beat Paraguay 2-0 in normal time is available at 18.00 with paf.com.
Venezuela: Renny Vega, Roberto Rosales, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, Grenddy Perozo, Gabriel Cíchero, César González, Luis Seijas, Giacomo Di Giorgi, Franklin Lucena, Juan Arango, Nicolás Fedor, Giancarlo Maldonado.
Paraguay: Justo Villar, Víctor Cáceres, Darío Verón, Paulo Da Silva, Aureliano Torres, Enrique Vera, Edgar Barreto, Christian Riveros, Marcelo Estigarribia, Lucas Barrios, Roque Santa Cruz
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For more on Copa America 2011, listen to The South American Football Show.