Brazil already managed to escape the Copa America group stages without talisman Neymar, but Selecao face a much more difficult challenge as they enter Saturday’s quarterfinal duel with a determined Paraguay side in Concepcion. Coach Ramon Diaz’s side eliminated Brazil in the 2011 quarters after a nail-biting shootout, but even in the face of Neymar’s suspension Paraguay have taken on the underdog role.
Still Paraguay’s confidence reached high levels after they drew with defending champion Uruguay off Lucas Carrio’s equalizer just before halftime of the final group match. While gaining some revenge on the team they lost to in 2011’s final, Paraguay finished second in Group B to set up the date with Brazil.
Diaz is still careful not let his team’s hopes get the best of them.
“Brazil are always powerful and they proved that in the last 10 games, where they've lost only once. (But) this is Paraguay's moment. We are two games away from earning a place in the history books, and that's not something that happens every year,” Diaz told Tigosports.com. “But now it is not time to think about making history, first we have to face Brazil and that is our final.”
Paraguay’s attack looks primed to contend with Brazil. Montpellier forward Lucas Barrios’s two goals ranks among the best in this year’s tournament, and Edgar Benitez has chipped in a goal and assist.
Yet Selecao have already proven they can succeed without Neymar, overcoming his absence in the 2-1 victory over Venezuela to win Group C for another berth in the quarters.
Manager Dunga tinkered with his lineup and forward Roberto Firmino padded Brazil’s lead with a strike in the 51st minute against Venezuela following Thiago Silva’s goal in the first nine minutes.
And the attack's orchestrator, Chelsea midfielder Willian said success could be on the horizon if Brazil plays like they are capable.
“Paraguay are a tough and competitive opponent. They fight all the time, for 90 minutes, and we know what it's like to play against that kind of side,” Willian said to reporters. “During the last Copa America, we were eliminated by them. I hope it will be different this time.
“It is always difficult to say who is going to get through. Today, football is very even. It is not easy to say, 'that team is favourite', like it used to be. The other national squads have improved a lot. There is always a surprise.”
The winner advances to face Argentina in the semifinals next week.
Kickoff Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
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