Paraguay stun Brazil to set up semis with Argentina

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Concepcion (Chile), June 28 (IANS) Derlis Gonzalez fired Paraguay into a Copa America semi-final showdown against Argentina, converting the crucial spot-kick to defeat Brazil 4-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in regular time here on Saturday.

Brazil suffered a repeat of their 2011 Copa nightmare, when they crashed out to the same opponents in the last eight of the competition, with Everton Ribeiro and Douglas Costa both missing from 12 yards on this occasion.

Roque Santa Cruz had the chance to send his side through to Tuesday’s last-four encounter on the same ground, but could only blaze his effort wildly over the bar, leaving Gonzalez, who had also scored from the spot in normal time, to assume the mantle of his nation’s hero.

Brazil had forged ahead in the 15th minute when Robinho swept home from close range after Roberto Firmino allowed Dani Alves’ low cross from the right to run past him at the near post.

Bizarrely, it was Brazil’s only touch in the Paraguay box in the entire first half, a statistic which demonstrated how they were unable to press home their early advantage against a well-organised Paraguay outfit.

And Ramon Diaz’s men drew level 18 minutes from time when Gonzalez drilled home his first penalty of the night after Thiago Silva inexplicably handled a hanging cross in the box as he battled for the ball with Santa Cruz, meaning further spot-kicks were required at the end of 90 minutes. It took less than two minutes for Dunga’s men to register a shot on target as Philippe Coutinho’s effort from range forced goalkeeper Justo Villar to tip the ball over his crossbar.

Edgar Benitez was proving to be a thorn in Brazil’s side down Paraguay’s left flank early on, but it was the Brazilians who took the lead in the 15th minute.

In the middle of the park, Elias – who had received the ball from Robinho – played a pass wide right for Dani Alves, whose probing cross eventually fell back to the unmarked striker, who had a straightforward tap in.

Coutinho was giving Paraguay all sorts of problems on the wings and he almost produced a magical moment just prior to the half-hour mark on the right touchline.

With Bruno Valdez trying to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick, Coutinho somehow kept it in and played a ball back across goal – only for the assistant referee to rule the ball had crossed the line.Paraguay had their moments leading up to half-time, Santa Cruz trying his luck from range and a Benítez corner causing the Brazil defence problems.

Benítez continued to push Brazil on the left side, with Dani Alves yellow carded for a foul on him five minutes after the interval.

Paraguay’s push to get back into the match saw Paulo da Silva power an on-target header at Brazil goalkeeper Jefferson, who parried it clear in the 62nd minute – but Diaz’s men were level with 18 minutes to play via González after Thiago Silva’s blunder.

Both goalkeepers were called upon in the final stages – González firing a shot from a tight angle strike at Jefferson, before Coutinho’s dipping effort made Villar work.

But neither could find a decisive second goal, as a shoot-out ensued and Brazil suffered penalty heartbreak once again.

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