Hosts Chile will learn which team will stand between them and a first ever Copa America title when Argentina and Paraguay go head-to-head in the second semifinal in Concepción on Tuesday. Chile’s nervy victory over Peru on Monday means the possibility remains alive of what many saw as a dream final between a host nation desperate for a first international title of any description and Argentina, South America’s current top dogs after reaching last year’s World Cup final.
Paraguay, though, have already shown that it would be foolhardy to write off their chances. While they finished bottom of the South American qualifying table for the 2014 World Cup, they are undefeated at this Copa America. And they have already upset one of the continent’s heavyweights, Brazil, with a penalty shootout victory in the quarterfinals. It was a win that drew the mind back to four years ago when Paraguay also beat Brazil on penalties in the last eight as part of a grinding run to the final.
Paraguay have already proven themselves a tough nut for Argentina to crack, having come from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw at the start of the group stage. And their Argentinean coach Ramón Díaz suggested that, despite going up against a star-studded Argentina team led by Lionel Messi, the role of underdogs could play in Paraguay’s favor.
“They have the best player in the world: Messi,” Díaz said reports the Copa America’s official website. “They are the best team in the world, but it will be a difficult match for both teams. Sometimes, when teams are favorites, it is hard for them in these type of matches.”
Argentina had their own shootout drama to reach this stage of the competition. Despite producing arguably their best performance to date in the 2015 Copa America to dominate Colombia over 90 minutes, Argentina’s surprising struggles in front of goal continued as they somehow failed to find the net. A rollercoaster shootout was needed and was finally put to an end by Carlos Tevez’s winning kick, but Martino admits that the lack of goals from a team containing Messi, Sergio Agiero and Angel di Maria, among others, is something of a concern.
“It's clear that we have a problem with our finishing,” he said. "Not just in that famous second half against Paraguay, but in phases of the game against Uruguay and especially against Jamaica. There is a red mark against our finishing and that is something we will have to improve, but I agree with Javier [Mascherano] that it is more coincidence than anything else.”
There is undoubted pressure on coach Tata Martino in what is his first tournament since replacing Alejandro Sabella following Argentina’s loss to Germany in the World Cup final. And the semifinal is given added complexities for Martino by the fact that he previously coached Argentina’s opponents for five years, culminating in that run to the Copa America final in 2011. And the man who subsequently coached Barcelona has admitted it is a situation he would rather have avoided.
“I would have preferred not to have played Paraguay,” he said. “We have a lot of things in common, there are a lot of feelings. I worked there for a long time, we started and finished a process... the World Cup, the Copa America. There is a very close relationship. I trained many of those players and they helped me grow as a coach. They had a big influence in my career.”
Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: beIN Sports, beIN Sports en español
Live stream: beIN Sports Connect