Friday, 22 July 2011

Copa América semi-finals - the 'Guays have it

After the unpredictable quarter-finals, something like normality was restored in the semis where the favourite in both games progressed. That, however, only tells half the story. Let's review the action.

Peru 0-2 Uruguay

Luis Suarez was again Uruguay's hero in a major knock-out match, but this time with his feet. He bagged both goals early in the second half before any chance of a Peruvian fightback were dashed by a red card for Juan Vargas. His first came eight minutes after the break following a long range speculator from Diego Forlan which Raul Fernandez couldn't hold. Suarez reacted quickest to it, but still had work to do from a very tight angle to stick it in the back of the net. A couple of minutes later and a neat ball over the top caught the Peru centre backs napping and Suarez raced through, took it round the advancing Fernandez and rolled it in from the edge of the box, absolutely dead weight. An elbow from Vargas on Sebastian Coates was obvious to everybody, especially the referee who wasn't above three yards away, and he was on his way. Uruguay remain on course for a record 15th Copa, but Peru have won a lot of friends on their path through the competition.

Paraguay 0-0 Venezuela (Paraguay win 5-4 on penalties)

Having seen off Brazil by virtue of penalty kicks, Paraguay had to resort to them once again to beat Venezuela. The Vinotinto had much the better of the game during the 120 minutes, especially after the extra time dismissal of Joanthan Santana. They hit the frame of the goal three times in total and had an Oswaldo Vizcarrondo header in the back of the net, only for a pretty harsh offside call to bring play back. Two players were in offside positions, but far enough away to be deemed inactive. Substitute Miku and skipper Juan Arango both saw free-kicks come back off the woodwork in stoppage time at the end of the 90 minutes as Paraguay seemed content to hang on. When Santana got a second caution late in the first period of extra time, all attacking intent left Paraguay as they entrusted the exceptional Justo Villar to save them in the shoot-out.
Nestor Ortigoza was up first for Paraguay and put away an excellent penalty, replied to in kind by Giancarlos Maldonado. Two more top drawer penalties followed from Lucas Barrios and José Grandanos. Cristian Riveros put Paraguay back on top, again in the top corner, before a weak effort from Paulo de Silva was easily saved by Villar. Osvaldo Martinez made the advantage count by smashing his penalty in off the underside of the bar and though Pablo Zeballos scored his, Dario Veron knew his spot kick could win it. He put his foot right through it to send Paraguay to their first final in 32 years.
It didn't end there though as the mother and father of all scraps broke out, involving players and staff from both sides that took some time for police and security to get under control. Venezuela coach Cesar Farias blamed Paraguayan provocation and organisers clearly agreed as Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino was hit with a two-match touchline ban for his part in the melée and will sit out the final.

So Peru and Venezuela play-off for third place - always entertaining games these - in La Plata on Saturday July 23 at 20:00 BST. Few people thought either would get this far and it is the furthest Venezuela have ever gone, but they can be considered unlucky not to have been contesting the final. They have improved out of sight over the last few years. Peru have defied everybody, not least Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfán, in getting to the semis. It should be a cracker. We fancy Venezuela.
24 hours later at the Monumental, Paraguay and Uruguay play the decider. Clever money says Uruguay, but Paraguay are made of stern stuff and have one of the players of the tournament in their skipper and inspirational goalkeeper Justo Villar. You get the feeling that if Uruguay are going to win it, they'll have to do it in normal time. And if it goes to penalties, bet against Paraguay at your peril.

No comments: