Manager: Gerardo Martino
Group: B (with Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela)
Copa America title betting odds: 18/1
Qualifying for quarter-finals odds: 3/20
Group winner odds: 4/1
Finishing in the top two in group odds: 2/5
Copa America 2007 performance: Quarter-finals
Best Copa America performance: Winner (1953, 1979)
How are they shaping up?
Football betting enthusiasts who had a flutter at last year’s World Cup will remember that Paraguay reached the quarter-finals – their best-ever performance at the tournament. Despite only winning one match in that run, Los Guaranies proved obdurate opponents and frustrated Spain in their last-eight clash, with their resistance eventually being broken by a late David Villa strike. They even had a golden chance to go ahead with a penalty, but Oscar Cardozo fluffed his lines from 12 yards. The Benfica striker is a surprising omission from Paraguay’s 23-man squad for the Copa America, along with experienced Deportivo defender Claudio Morel Rodriguez.
Their good showing in South Africa means that Martino’s men will make the short trip across the border to Argentina in positive mood. Results in 2011 have been patchy, with victories over the USA, Romania and Bolivia tempered by defeats to Mexico and Argentina. Bolivia and Chile were also able to pick up goalless draws from their respective trips to Paraguay in recent weeks. They are expected to emerge unscathed from Group B – as betting odds of 2/5 to finish in the top two suggest – but will have to work for their points against Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil.
Beating the former duo should be well within their capabilities, given that they finished third in the CONMEBOL qualifying section for the 2010 World Cup, leading the standings for much of the campaign before fading in the final few matches. Punters who think that they could upset Brazil will be heartened by the fact that they finished just a point behind Mano Menezes’ men and beat them 2-0 in Asuncion, as well as picking up a win and a draw against Argentina.
The key to those successes was the high-tempo pressing game employed by Martino, whose team selections are notoriously difficult to predict. This makes them very tough to break down – they only conceded two goals in five matches at the World Cup – while their attacking threat is always considerable with the likes of Roque Santa Cruz, Lucas Barrios and Nelson Haedo Valdez around. Sunderland fans will be watching with interest to see how their midfielder Christian Riveros and former centre-back Paulo da Silva fare, while Wigan will be represented in the shape of Antolin Alcaraz.
Caps: 15 Goals: 5
Santa Cruz was the obvious selection here, particularly as the Blackburn front man is just one short of Jose Cardozo’s all-time goalscoring record for Paraguay, which stands at 26. If Los Guaranies win a penalty, expect the 29-year-old to grab the ball straight away!
However, we have decided instead to plump for Barrios, who has scored 19 league goals in each of the last two seasons with Borussia Dortmund, playing a key role as Jurgen Klopp’s men romped to the Bundesliga title last term. His work-rate, movement and deadly finishing will surely present problems for all three of Paraguay’s group opponents.
As he was born in Argentina but failed to break into their setup, Barrios will be doubly determined to show the host nation exactly what they are missing. He can be backed at betting odds of 4/1 to grab the first goal in his side’s opening fixture against Ecuador.
Paraguay should have no problems in making the last eight, as Venezuela are eminently beatable and Ecuador could flop as their coach is under growing pressure. However, I don’t expect them to upset Brazil again and for all their confidence ahead of the tournament, a quarter-final berth could well be as far they go.
It is true that no-one would have predicted their sterling performance at the World Cup and the bigger picture is that they are certainly a team on the up. But waiting for them in the knock-out stages will probably be Uruguay or Chile, both of whom may have too much guile and attacking thrust. And for all his previous success, Martino is departing at the end of the Copa America and the end-of-era feel around Paraguay may lead to their players giving him an underwhelming farewell campaign.
Verdict: Eliminated in quarter-finals
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