WHO will meet Chile in the Copa America final? Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at the best bets on offer for Argentina’s semi-final showdown with Paraguay on Tuesday night.
Argentina v Paraguay | Wednesday 00.30 | Premier Sports
What were you doing in 1993? Were you even born? I was a carefree seven year-old, probably spending the majority of my time collecting Premier League stickers or booting a ball into an unguarded net in the garden. Wondrous years.
Argentina’s football fans were celebrating their last senior title. It’s been a 22-year wait for further silverware since that Copa America success with seven Copas and six World Cups passing during that time. La Albiceleste’s U20 sides have lifted five World Cups and two Olympic gold medals during that run and their clubs have claimed eight Copa Libertadores titles too. But still, the international drought goes on…
So to Concepcion this Tuesday night for the latest chapter in Argentina’s bid for glory. Paraguay oppose and it’s easy to believe La Albiceleste will steamroll their way into the weekend finale with Chile, what with the galaxy of attacking superstars at Tata Martino’s disposal. Well, you’d be wrong because this Paraguay side ain’t here to make up the numbers. More on that later.
Argentina produced their best display of the 2015 edition of the Copa last time out but were still made to go through the agony of penalties against Colombia. Arsenal cat David Ospina was in inspired form between the sticks to deny Martino’s men, extending the curious case of the misfiring La Albiceleste’s attack.
Since the knockout stages of last summer’s World Cup, Argentina have scored just five goals in eight tournament matches. They’ve netted just four in four Copa games this summer but have been surprisingly strong in defensive areas across both competitions – keeping seven clean sheets in those aforementioned eight fixtures.
In fact, Argentina have leaked just twice during that sample and both came against Tuesday night’s opponents. Five of their last six knockout matches have finished all square with the last five also bringing clean sheets for the South American giants. It’s becoming a bit of a trend.
The two teams met in their Group B opener and whilst the tournament favourites dominated the first 45 minutes, they slowed the pace of the game in the second-half and were made to pay for falling asleep by the battling qualities of this Paraguay side. A point to ponder here too; Argentina have visibly faded in all their outings at the Copa so should the underdogs get to the interval all square, they’ll surely fancy their chances.
So what of the underdogs? Paraguay came into the competition with pundits denouncing the side as the worst in their recent history. Finishing bottom of World Cup qualifying, the Albirroja were in poor shape and the appointment of Ramon Diaz in December did little to fill fans with belief the current crop could compete this summer.
But Diaz has rallied the squad superbly, defying expectations in typical Paraguayan form. Building the side around an experienced spine, the former Oxford boss has drilled his charges in the art of defence and the rewards have are clear to see. Since that opening 45 minutes against Argentina, Paraguay have grown and deservedly held Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina at bay.
Most of what the Albirroja do is based around attacking the flanks and defending in deep blocks. Roque Santa Cruz’s holdup play is pivotal and after soaking up pressure, they’ll look to release the likes of Derlis Gonzalez and Edgar Benitez down the wings on the counter. Their dangerous, hard working and have an incredible temperament and will to win.
As in their tournament opener, Paraguay have now come from behind three times to earn draws and their self-confidence continues to grow. I get the sense Argentina don’t completely trust themselves but the same can’t be said of Diaz’s troops. They’re all singing from the same hymn sheet and their 2011 heroics of reaching the final without winning a game is still fresh in their memory – so to you might think is Argentina’s 22 years of failure.
So where to head for a potential bet? We’ve already touched on Argentina’s low-scoring nature, their tendency to draw in knockout matches and now Paraguay’s immense belief. Well how about this? The Albirroja have drawn 10 of their last 13 outings at major tournaments including three against Brazil. They’ve lost just twice – against Uruguay in the 2011 Copa final and in the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals against eventual champions Spain. Impressed? I am.
There’s no way I could recommend a bet on Argentina at 1/2. Yeah, they’ve a ridiculously strong armoury and their growing into the tournament and they should win but we’ve seen it all already in this Copa; shocks are standard. So I like the look of taking Paraguay +1.25 on the Asian Handicap market at 7/9 with BetVictor. We’ll win should the underdogs avoid defeat in 90 minutes but even if they lose by a one-goal margin, we’ll pocket half of our potential full pay-out – the only way in which our stake is lost is if Argentina win by two goals or more.
Argentina v Paraguay – Paraguay +1.25 Asian Handicap (7/9 BetVictor)