MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at Brazil’s meeting with Paraguay in the Copa America quarter-finals.
Brazil v Paraguay | Saturday 22.30 | Premier Sports
Copa America’s Group C winners Brazil meet Paraguay in what could be a potential banana-skin for the five-times World Cup champions. The Samba Boys collected six points in their pool – their loss to Colombia hitting the headlines with star man and skipper Neymar’s antics seeing the Barcelona man now suspended for the remainder of the tournament.
Brazil did beat Venezuela without Neymar but now we enter the knockout stages, Dunga’s men may struggle in 90 minutes with penalties looming. Worryingly for the Selecao, they’ve failed to keep a clean sheet at the 2015 edition of the Copa despite playing with two defensive minded midfielders in Elias and Fernandinho.
With a creaking backline and a forward-line that’s not scored more than twice in any of their last six, Brazil now come up against one of the most resilient and tough to beat sides in South America with Paraguay ready to upset the odds.
Four years ago La Albirroja reached the final without winning a game and we should expect a similarly dogged approach from the current crop under Ramon Diaz.
Paraguay exceeded expectations by beating Uruguay to second-place in Group B, largely thanks to the draw they picked up against Argentina despite being 2-0 down and outplayed for most of the opening hour. The 1-1 draw against the Uruguayans in their final group game was good enough to pocket second spot – again, a firm rear-guard performance and clinical finishing proved plenty.
But La Albirroja are unlikely to get the job done in 90 minutes. Paraguay have won just four of their past 22 matches – beating Jamaica, Peru, Cameroon and Bolivia – and they’ve not won a knockout match at a major tournament in the past 25 years. They’ve scored just three goals in their 13 knockout matches in this time but have managed to draw six of the games and they’ll take comfort from their recent record against Brazil of just two defeats in their last eight meetings including knocking Brazil out on penalties at this stage four years ago.
In fact, many believed the current Paraguay squad to be the worst the nation has produced in at least 20 years but Diaz has worked wonders to rally the troops and the squad are singing from the same hymn sheet. They sure don’t have the quality to go head-to-head with their more illustrious opponents but their spoiling tactics could well make this a tense night for Samba Boys supporters.
I’m happy to have another play on a low-scoring encounter with William Hill’s 2/1 on Under 1.5 Goals standing out. Two of the first three last eight games have followed a similar pattern and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if this one followed suit.
Brazil v Paraguay – Under 1.5 Goals (2/1 William Hill)