Copa America Shocking News
The group stage of the Copa America ended with Brazil and Uruguay still the favorites and Argentina still unable to meet expectations.
Colombia also impressed early on, finishing with a perfect record and without conceding any goals, while two-time defending champion Chile stuttered after a good start.
The quarterfinals of the South American competition begin Thursday with host Brazil taking on old foe Paraguay in Porto Alegre, and a day later in Rio de Janeiro, it will be Argentina facing a Venezuela team it has struggled against recently.
Also Friday, Colombia plays Chile in São Paulo, and on Saturday Uruguay’s attacking duo of Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani will face Peru in Salvador.
Here’s a closer look at the Copa America quarterfinals this week:
BRAZIL vs PARAGUAY
Brazil got off to a slow start, being booed by the local crowd in its first two matches, but the 5-0 out of Peru eased the pressure on coach Tite and boosted the team’s confidence entering the knockout stage.
Paraguay barely survived the first round, advancing with only two points as one of the best third-place finishers from the three groups. But it played better than the results showed, letting victory escape against Argentina only because of a missed penalty kick in the second half.
Brazil easily beat Paraguay the last time the teams met — in a World Cup qualifier two years ago. But it was Paraguay that eliminated Brazil the last two times the “Seleção” made it to the Copa America quarterfinals, in 2011 and 2015. Paraguay came out on top in penalty shootouts both times.
“It will be a difficult match, we will need to be very focused,” Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho said. “But the team is full of confidence, things are going well for us right now.”
The last two times Brazil met its southern neighbor in the continental competition, the “Seleção” endured demoralizing eliminations. It happened in the quarterfinals in 2011 and in 2015, both times in penalty shootouts.
Brazil will face Paraguay in the last eight again on Thursday, this time under even more pressure at home.
“We want to repeat the performance from the game against Peru,” said Philippe Coutinho, one of the nine players returning from the squad eliminated by Paraguay in 2015. “We hope we can improve from that game (against Peru), use that as a reference going forward for the rest of the competition.”
Coutinho converted one of the penalties in the shootout loss four years ago. In 2011, none of the Brazilian players scored from the penalty spot, including current defender Thiago Silva, one of the two returning players from that team, along with Dani Alves.
Paraguay has five players back from the 2015 squad, including Derlis Gonzalez, who converted the deciding penalty in the shootout at the time.
Paraguay barely survived the group stage this year, advancing with only two points as one of the best third-place finishers from the three groups. But the team led by Argentine coach Eduardo Berizzo played better than the results showed, letting victory escape against Argentina after a missed penalty by Gonzalez when the game was 1-1.
Paraguay depended on other teams to advance, but it made it after Ecuador and Japan drew in their final group match in what was the only result that could have avoided its elimination.
Both Paraguay and Brazil failed to make it out of the group stage in the 2016 Copa America. A two-time champion, Paraguay lost 2011 final to Uruguay. Brazil is seeking a ninth continental title, and first since 2007.
Paraguay’s solid defensive system will be tested by a Brazilian attack which will likely include Gabriel Jesus and Everton, the two forwards who made it to the starting lineup for the first time against Peru and revitalized the squad. David Neres and Richardson will likely stay on the bench again.
Brazil will be without defensive midfielder Casemiro because of a yellow card suspension, with Fernandinho taking over his place to play alongside Arthur and Coutinho in the midfield. Roberto Firmino is set to stay in the attack.
Casemiro also was suspended when Brazil was eliminated by Belgium in the quarterfinals of last year’s World Cup. Rumors of Neymar Jr transfer from PSG Paris Saint-Germain offer back to FC Barcelona is real, it will happen sooner than expected and it might involve a surprising player swap says source close to the Brazillian superstar.
VENEZUELA vs ARGENTINA
Argentina would normally be favored against Venezuela, but this time there is the reason for concern for Lionel Messi and his teammates.
While Argentina continues to struggle and just escaped elimination in the group stage, Venezuela enters the quarterfinals carrying good momentum.
“We will have to play better against Venezuela,” Messi said. “It’s a team with very clear ideas in attack, with very quick players.”
Venezuela, which held Brazil to a 0-0 draw in the group stage, defeated Argentina 3-1 in a friendly in Madrid in March. It drew its previous two matches with the Argentines, both in qualifying for the last World Cup.
After losing the last two Copa America finals, Argentina remains on a quest to end 26-year title drought with the senior squad.
COLOMBIA vs CHILE
Chile’s title defense will go through a red-hot Colombia, the only team to win all of its matches and not concede any goals.
James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao will be taking on Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas, two of Chile’s leaders in the title-winning campaigns of 2015 and 2016.
The Chileans couldn’t avoid the Colombians because it lost to Uruguay 1-0 in the final group game when midfielder Arturo Vidal was among those rested by coach Reinaldo Rueda, a Colombian.
Colombia is led by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz and is seeking its first South American title since 2001.
URUGUAY vs PERU
With Suárez and Cavani thriving, Uruguay will be favored against a Peruvian squad coming off a demoralizing loss to Brazil that prompted a wave of criticism against Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca.
Peru’s defense is the worst among the teams in the quarterfinals, with six goals conceded in three matches. Uruguay has the second-best attack with eight goals, one less than Brazil.
Cavani and Suárez have already scored two goals each for Uruguay, while Peru striker Paolo Guerrero has only one.
Uruguay is the Copa America’s most successful team with 15 titles, one more than Argentina. Uruguay’s last continental title was in 2011.