Ralph Hannah –
Brazil vs Paraguay — Tite had one forced change, with Allan replacing the suspended Casemiro and then there was a last minute scare as Richarlison came down with mumps on the eve of the match. It meant Gabriel Jesús’ place was assured.
Brazil vs Paraguay Goals: 0-0 (4-3 Penalties)
Berizzo had seemingly grown tired of the debate over Santander or Tacuara Cardozo up front and didn’t choose either of them, deciding to use Gonzalez as a lone forward. He brought Balbuena into the team but not at the expense of Junior Alonso who he moved to left back. Arzamendia stayed on the left flank but in midfield.
The indication was clear, Paraguay weren’t going to win the possession game, so Berizzo had selected a side that would be mobile and able to cover space while also shoring up the flanks with Perez and Arzamendia doubling up as much as they could to stop the threats of players like Dani Alves and Everton.
Brazil were the side that had most shots in the group stages and passed the ball the most, but early on it was clear that tonight they wouldn’t be given an easy ride. The Albirroja were pressing extremely high and fighting, at times quite literally, for every ball. The playing conditions also didn’t favour the home team, Messi had complained about the Porto Alegre pitch, and at times the ball simply didn’t stick especially in tight spaces.
At halftime it was goalless, and but for a penalty shout on 19 minutes when Gustavo Gómez got too tight to Gabriel Jesús, there had been little to write home about for the verdeamarelho. In fact, the best chance of the first half had fallen to Derlis González, the Santos forward tested Alisson after bringing the ball down on his chest and volleying towards goal.
The main worry for Paraguay were the yellow cards, three in the first half with Arzamendia and Piris booked for scything down players on the break and Alonso for bringing down Everton. In the early exchanges of the second period Brazil tried to play Paraguay at their own game, Firmino was cautioned for a strong challenge on Arzamendia – who had done a great man-marking job on Dani Alves.
The game changed on 54 minutes when Firmino finally got the wrong side of Gómez and Fabian Balbuena in trying to cover for his defensive partner brought the Liverpool forward down. The referee blew for a penalty which led the Paraguayan side to scream for VAR. After a typically long delay, the video was reviewed, and it was something of a Trojan horse. The penalty was overturned for a freekick, but that meant Balbuena’s infraction was now worthy of a red card instead of a yellow. The West Ham defender was trudging down the tunnel as Dani Alves flashed the low freekick just wide.
For Paraguay it was now a case of hanging on for penalties, Valdez came on at centreback for the excellent Arzamendia, and that meant Almiron moved to the left to mark Alves rather than be free for counter attacks. Tite decided to go for broke and brought on Willian for the out of sorts Allan who had been second best all game in central midfield.
Yet the Alibrroja remained firm, Iván Piris showed why teams like Roma, Udinese and Sporting CP had acquired his services as he anticipated everything and kept Everton relatively quiet. On the 76thminute it was centreback Marquinhos who was trying to cross the ball into the box as 10-man Paraguay had closed out all the other options.
But the constant pressure was like Chinese water torture, drip-drip-drip or in this case pass-pass-pass. Everton was getting more space in the latter stages, forcing Piris to make a good block. Coutinho was causing havoc with late turns into the box. The best chances came in stoppage time – substitute Willian smashed a left-foot shot against the post. Then in the 96thminute Everton fired over an in the 97thminute Coutinho hit a strike just wide. For all their offensive power, the home side couldn’t breakdown the valiant Paraguayan outfit. Just like 2011 and 2015, it was time for penalties.
As both teams huddled the difference in body language was notable, Paraguay with epic performances from Gatito Fernandez in goal, Gómez, Piris and González were fired up and almost celebrating that they had got to this point. Brazil were much more subdued and serious as they confirmed their spot-kick specialists.
However, it was to be third time lucky for the 5-time World Cup winners helped by Gómez missing the very first kick. The disappointing Roberto Firmino shanked his penalty wide to give the Albirroja a chance to complete an improbable victory, but Derlis González the hero of 2015 also put his effort wide of the goalkeeper’s right post. Gabriel Jesus had a good game, holding the ball up with his back to goal and taking on Junior Alonso one-on-one when he got the chance – but the Man City man missed a late penalty against Peru when there was no pressure at all. But here the 22-year-old, the youngest of all ten takers, kept his nerve to score and put Brazil through to the semifinals.
It was a brave battle by Berizzo and Paraguay who will surely take heart as they look ahead to the World Cup Qualifiers, but Tite’s team showed steel and determination when it mattered to reach their first Copa America semifinal since 2007 when they won the tournament. They are yet to concede and have out-shot their opponents 60 attempts in four games – everything suggests this is once again their year.
Brazil vs Paraguay – Formation
Alisson – Dani Alvés, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Filipe Luis – Arthur, Allan – Everton, Coutinho, Gabriel Jesús – Firmino
Fernandez – Piris, Gomez, Balbuena, Alonso – Perez, Ortiz, Sanchez, Arzamendia – Almiron – Gonzalez
Ralph Hannah is Londoner, who has lived in Luque and is now located in Miami, with a keen interest in Paraguayan football history and statistics. A frequent traveler throughout Latin America he attends games throughout the region and has written for a variety of publications and set up the first English-language blog on Paraguayan Football. When not in the Defensores del Chaco he’s looking after his 2 daughters. Follow Ralph on Twitter @paraguayralph.