|Paraguay’s players celebrate after advancing to their country’s first Copa final since 1979 [Reuters]|
Paraguay advanced to the Copa America final with another penalty shootout victory in Wednesday’s semi-final against Venezuela.
Paraguay, who are still to win a match in the tournament, earned their place in Sunday’s title match in Buenos Aires – the first in the competition since 1979 – 5-3 on penalties after a goalless draw in Mendoza.
The only miss in the shootout came when Justo Villar stopped Franklin Lucena’s shot. Dario Veron netted the final spot kick, sending Paraguay through to face Uruguay, who beat Peru 2-0 in Tuesday’s semi-final.
Venezuela, known more for baseball, twice hit the post in extra time but came up just short of reaching their first ever final in the South American championship.
Paraguay also eliminated Brazil on penalties in the quarter-finals, having advanced to the knockout rounds as the third-placed team after three draws in group play.
“Today we played bad, we played good,” said Paraguay’s Nestor Ortigoza. “The important thing is we won.”
After the shootout, a brawl between the teams started as Paraguay celebrated, and police intervened.
That came after a game in which Paraguay had their coach and assistant coach expelled from the sideline for arguing decisions.
Nestor Ortigoza, Lucas Barrios, Cristian Riveros and Osvaldo Martinez also netted for Paraguay in the shootout.
“We came convinced we could advance,” Venezuela coach Cesar Farias said. “We did everything humanly possible. Our team never lost its focus… We’re not content because we worked to go farther.”
After a lacklustre 90 minutes, the best chances fell to Venezuela in extra time.
Maldonado fired a cross shot that was deflected by Fedor onto the post in the 93rd minute.
A few minutes later, Juan Arango’s long-range free kick struck Villar’s far post and Paraguay’s defenders barely cleared the rebound.
Fedor came close again in the 96th, but his shot from close range was saved by Villar.
Venezuela were able to pressure even more after Jonathan Santana was sent off in the 102nd minute for receiving a second yellow card.
Villar had to make another stop on a shot by Salomon Rondon from near the penalty spot, and Gabriel Chichero shot wide from the top of the area in the 114th.
Venezuela had made it through to the Copa America semi-finals for the first time in their history by beating Chile 2-1 in the quarters.
With the 45,000-capacity Malvinas Argentinas stadium less than half-full on a cold night, those fans on hand saw a game of few scoring opportunities before Venezuela’s extra time flourish.
Paraguay were again without striker Roque Santa Cruz, who had already missed the quarter-final against Brazil because of a muscle injury in his right leg.
The powerful striker came on as a substitute in the 73rd, but only lasted seven minutes before having to go off.
Wednesday’s stalemate was a contrast to the group-stage clash between the teams, which was a thrilling 3-3 draw after Venezuela had trailed 3-1 in the 89th minute.