Paraguay could surprise Argentina and Messi
Unbeaten against the big guns, Paraguay may spring another surprise against Messi and Co
ARGENTINA v PARAGUAY
(Tomorrow, 7.30am, StarHub TV Ch 202)
The unlikely semi-finalists are plotting another ambush at the Estadio Municipal de Concepcion.
The odds are stacked against them, but they clearly believe in their chances.
Paraguay have written the Copa America's fairy tale. Now's the time to make sure they give it a chance of a perfect ending.
They are bracing themselves to spring the trap on a Lionel Messi-led Argentina tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
They are gathering strength from a glimmer of hope. And yet, their steely determination has gotten them this far.
Everyone knows it's an uphill task on a slippery slope for Paraguay. But no one dares say it. And for good reason.
At the very same ground last Saturday, mighty Brazil were booted out by the unfancied Paraguayans, whose names few in this region recognise.
Perhaps it's about time someone pays heed. For Paraguay didn't get to the last four by striking the lottery.
Argentina should know, because it was only about two weeks ago that they got a taste of Paraguay's resilience. In their opening group match, they raced into a two-goal lead in the first half, only for Paraguay to hit back with goals by Nelson Valdez and Lucas Barrios to force a 2-2 draw.
Following a 1-0 win over Jamaica, Paraguay next held Uruguay to a 1-1 draw in their final group game to seal second place in Group B.
Then came the dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Brazil in the quarter-finals.
A four-match unbeaten streak is the tonic for their confidence.
Led by 33-year-old skipper Roque Santa Cruz, they won't be overawed tomorrow morning.
The striker has unfinished business in the Copa America. Four years ago, he took them to the final before they were beaten by Uruguay.
He may no longer possess the same pace, but his experience and leadership will be crucial.
Behind him, many gutsy players are ready to put their lives on the line.
Paraguay's Argentinian coach Ramon Diaz has moulded a team greater than the sum of its parts.
They lack the star names but they aren't short of grit.
Argentina will be better prepared than in their previous meeting.
But the deficiencies that haunted them in last year's World Cup in Brazil refuse to go away.
They went to Chile armed to the teeth but they haven't been able to find their targets with any regularity.
A world-class attack boasting the likes of Messi, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain should be sending chills down their opponents' spines, but they are precariously close to becoming the tournament's laughing stock instead.
A tally of four goals in four matches doesn't match the talent. Even Paraguay have scored a goal more.
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino must coax the magic out of an enigmatic frontline, who won't have much time to get into the groove.
The danger is very real.
This tournament does away with extra time, instead heading straight to a penalty shoot-out after normal time.
The format works to the advantage of the underdogs.
Paraguay have the teamwork and tenacity to frustrate superior opponents.
If Argentina aren't careful, they will find themselves walking straight into the enemies' trench.
"(Argentina) are the world's best team. We know we are going to face a great team but we are going to fight."
Paraguay coach Ramon Diaz
Messi bemoans scoring woes
"Messi always wants to do better and, when he does not score goals, he starts saying, 'I did not get lucky'. But I tell him, 'Be quiet, the goals will come, you have to be patient'." - Sergio Aguero on Lionel Messi (above) PHOTO: AFP
World Cup runners-up Argentina went to the Copa America in Chile as favourites and were expected to put plenty of goals past their opponents.
Instead, they are the lowest scoring team to reach the semi-finals in which they clash with Paraguay in the southern city of Concepcion tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
"It's terrible what it's costing me to get a goal," Lionel Messi, accustomed to breaking scoring records in Spain and Europe with Barcelona, said after Argentina beat Colombia 5-4 on penalties following a 0-0 draw in their quarter-final.
Argentina's attacking game is improving with each match, but defences at the tournament, especially in their tougher half of the draw, have been hard, putting many men behind the ball to handle the likes of Messi and Sergio Aguero.
Aguero has scored two goals, Gonzalo Higuain one and Messi a penalty in Argentina's four matches.
Their defence has three clean sheets since conceding two goals in a 2-2 draw with Paraguay in their opening match.
"I don't understand, it appears there's a different football in South America," Aguero said after earning a yellow card for dissent protesting at rough treatment from the Colombians and being denied a penalty.
"The referee said, 'This is (Latin) America, kids', yet we're from here," the Manchester City striker added, commenting on something Mexican Roberto Garcia Orozco had said in the heat of the match suggesting forwards could not expect the same protection they were used to in Europe.
Messi, who is also carrying a yellow card into the semi-final, Aguero and Brazilian Neymar, suspended after a red card against Colombia in the group stage, have had a tough time trying to break through defences and been victims of systematic fouling to break their rhythm.
Argentina and Paraguay finished in the top two places in Group B with four goals apiece from three matches.
Paraguay then added a fifth with a penalty in their 1-1 quarter-final draw with Brazil before going through 4-3 on penalties.
Argentina striker Ezequiel Lavezzi said that La Albiceleste are ready to play with "heart" against Paraguay.
He said on Twitter: "We are focused on the semi-final. It is a game that has to be played with the heart, with the soul."
As for Paraguay, coach Ramon Diaz will be without injured midfielder Nestor Ortigoza and will have to wait on the recovery of defender Miguel Samudio.
Paraguay striker Nelson Haedo Valdez knows Argentina are favourites for the match, but is revelling in his side's underdog status.
He told a press conference: "They are favourites. Not only ahead of this match, but also to win the tournament.
"However, we came here to battle every rival, as we usually do.
"We have to give our best, with effort, with passion. We want to achieve more."
Mixed reaction to Jara ban
The Chilean Football Federation has accepted the three-match ban imposed on its player Gonzalo Jara.
The defender is thrown out of the Copa America for his attempt to shove his finger into the backside of Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani during last week's quarter-final.
"We regret this sanction but we will accept it," the federation said of the suspension imposed by the disciplinary committee of the South American ruling body Conmebol yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The ban rules Jara out of Chile's semi-final against Peru this morning as well as the final if applicable.
However, Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli criticised the suspension, saying it set a dangerous precedent.
"If you start acting on allegations outside of the referee's report, things are going to get very complicated. If people start getting suspended on the basis of allegations from one side, then everyone will start trying to do it," he said. - AFP.
By the numbers
8.7% Argentina (four goals so far), have the lowest rate of return among the four teams remaining in the Copa America. They are averaging a goal for every 11 shots, or 8.7 per cent.