Sat, Jun 29, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Brazil end shoot-out streak, beat Paraguay

AFP, PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil

Brazil’s Dani Alves, left, and Paraguay’s Derlis Gonzalez battle for control of the ball in their Copa America quarter-final in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Gabriel Jesus on Thursday scored the winning spot-kick in a tense penalty shoot-out as Brazil exorcised their demons to beat Paraguay and reach the Copa America semi-finals.

Twice before, in 2011 and 2015, Paraguay had beaten Brazil at this same stage on penalties at the South American extravaganza.

Willian came closest to scoring in normal time for Brazil when he hit the post as Paraguay held out for a 0-0 draw for more than 40 minutes following the dismissal of Fabian Balbuena for a professional foul on Roberto Firmino.

Brazilian media had been almost in a state of paranoia before the match, recalling the painful memories from Argentina in 2011 and Chile four years later when Paraguay produced stubborn defensive displays before snatching victory in the spot-kick lottery.

However, it was not to be this time, as Brazil goalkeeper Alisson saved Gustavo Gomez’s opening spot-kick at the Arena do Gremio in Porto Alegre.

While Firmino dragged his effort wide, Derlis Gonzalez also fired past the post allowing Jesus, who missed a penalty in Brazil’s previous match, to be the match-winner.

The tournament hosts will face either perennial rivals Argentina or Venezuela in a semi-final in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday next week.

Brazil started brightly and produced a beautiful passing move in the fourth minute as local favorite Everton drove in off the left wing and found Dani Alves on the edge of the area, with the fullback slipping the ball on to Firmino, whose weak shot was straight at goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez.

However, the game quickly settled into the expected pattern, with Brazil dominating possession and playing countless passes while a well-drilled Paraguay doggedly held their shape and looked to counter at pace with direct runners.

Brazil lacked a cutting edge and even when Philippe Coutinho seemingly played in Firmino behind the defense following a Richard Sanchez mistake, the Liverpool forward was easily muscled off the ball.

The best chance of the first quarter fell to Paraguay as Hernan Perez found Gonzalez unmarked at back post, but Alisson saved his near-post shot.

It was turgid fare on offer to the Porto Alegre crowd, who started a slow clap just after the half-hour.

However, three Paraguayan players were booked before halftime for overly robust challenges.

It was not until five minutes from halftime that Coutinho got in behind the defense on the left and fired in a shot from an angle that Fernandez saved comfortably.

Tite wasted no time in making a change at halftime, but it was a curious one, swapping leftback Felipe Luis for Alex Sandro.

Neat interplay saw Firmino tee up Coutinho just outside the box, but his precise finish was easily saved again.

Brazil had changed tactics and were driving more purposefully at the heart of the defense, with Arthur flashing a shot over the bar.

It paid dividends on 54 minutes when Firmino won a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area — overturned from the original decision of a penalty by the video assistant referee — and Balbuena was shown a red card for a professional foul.

However, Dani Alves’s fierce low free-kick was deflected wide.

Brazil started to pull Paraguay’s overworked defenders out of position and Arthur forced Fernandez into a diving save before Jesus dragged an effort wide.

With Paraguay unable to pose any threat, Tite withdrew defensive midfielder Allan and threw on winger Willian, with Jesus pushed into the middle alongside Firmino.

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