Paraguay 0-0 Venezuela (AET): Paraguay win on penalties – again
Paraguay are, amazingly, through to the Copa America final having drawn all five games in the competition so far.
As he did for the Spain game in last summer’s World Cup, Gerardo Martino made numerous changes to his side, partly because of Antolin Alcaraz’s suspension, which meant a big reshuffle at the back. Nestor Ortigoza returned to the midfield.
Cesar Farias also changed things due to Tomas Rincon’s ban – Giacomo Di Giorgi replaced him. Upfront, where Farias has rotated his strikers all tournament, Alejandro Moreno played just off Jose Rondon.
The game was not as tedious as a “0-0 after extra time” may look on paper – Paraguay played good attacking football in the opening stages, whilst Venezuela should have scored at least once in extra time.
With Venezuela lining up in their usual 4-4-2 / 4-2-2-2, the interest in this game came from Paraguay. Martino is fairly set on a 4-4-2 / 4-3-3 hybrid that involves a striker starting in a wide position, but he switched things around here, by playing Nelson Valdez predominantly from the left, rather than from the right. He made diagonal runs from the left flank and often ended up in the right-sided channel, combining well with his ex-club teammate Lucas Barrios upfront. A couple of early balls into that channel put Valdez through on goal, but his first touch was often poor.
The first of those balls came from Ortigoza, who provided the invention Paraguay had missed against Brazil. In that game, Martino wanted mobility in the centre of midfield to press Brazil, but here Ortigoza had time and space to pick out clever passes to the flanks and to the forwards – Paraguay might not have scored, but they were still more of an attacking threat.
Because of the change to the shape of the Paraguay side (and Dario Veron moving into the centre) Martino brought in an attacking right-back, Marcos Cacaeres, for his first start of the competition. His positioning and forward runs were good – he stretched the play and forced Juan Arango back, but he frequently played poor passes and failed to put good balls into the box.
Venezuela didn’t simply play on the counter, because there was some desire to win the ball higher up the pitch and break up Paraguayan moves before they’d really started. They struggled to connect their wide players and the two forwards, however, and didn’t create too much in open play. They really missed Rincon’s driving runs from the midfield, and lacked attacking intent from that zone.
Second half + extra time
We haven’t seen many inspiring substitutions in this Copa America, and the six changes here did little other than slowing the tempo and making both sides disjointed. Martino brought on Marcelo Estigarribia for Barreto on the right, and then Roque Santa Cruz for Valdez. Santa Cruz went to the right, with Estigarribia over to his preferred position on the left. Then, however, Santa Cruz only lasted five minutes before collecting an injury, which meant Osvaldo Martinez became the fourth right-winger within ten minutes – and Paraguay were noticeably lacking in ideas when they went forward – as if their midfielders had to check which two players were actually occupying the two wide roles before playing a pass.
The one exception was Farias’ introduction of Giancarlo Maldonado, a forward, for Cesar Gonzalez down the right. He offered a direct attacking option from the flank, and with Paraguayan left-back Ivan Piris playing a much more reserved role than Caceres on the other side, Maldonado didn’t have to do much defending. This substitution, in the 85th minute, helped Paraguay push on in extra time, and Maldonado’s good skill and shot produced a good chance for fellow substitute Miku – his instinctive effort hit the post.
Paraguay played the second half of extra time with ten men after Jonathan Santana’s red card – yet another holding player who has been lured into a needless tackle when already on a booking.
Martino won the tactical battle early on – his shape worked well, creating chances for the front two. The reintroduction of Ortigoza was a big factor in the increased creativity from the centre of the pitch.
Martino’s substitutions hampered Paraguay, however – although he can’t be blamed for Santa Cruz’s injury, which was one sub completely wasted. His side looked disorganised late on, and Farias used his final change for a pure attacking move with the introduction of Maldonado – if it wasn’t for the woodwork, that would have been an inspired move.