Argentina v Paraguay Copa América Semi Final – Starting 11 and stats

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When the two sides met seventeen days ago in their Copa América opener, there was far less at stake and they played out the proverbial game of two halves: Argentina dominating the opening 45 minutes and deservedly leading by two goals, only to surrender their advantage and allow Paraguay to snatch an entertaining draw. Now they meet again and there is a place in the final up for grabs with La Albiceleste desperate to lift a trophy for the first time since 1993 and Paraguay hoping to go one better than 2011 when Gerardo Martino led them to the final.

Chile have already taken their place in the final after victory against Peru but after Argentina dispatched of Colombia on penalties in the quarter final, it is still Martino’s side who are slight favourites for the crown. However, after being frustrated by them once, Argentina will not underestimate Ramón Díaz’s team after they too celebrated a victory on penalties in the previous round, against Brazil.

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When the two sides met in the opening group game, Paraguay were very defensive and Argentina enjoyed an opening half that could have seen them take an even more commanding lead. With La Albirroja unable to hold the ball, Argentina were rampant and Tata Martino was correct in a sense to say that it was a game that Argentina could have won 5-2 or 6-2. However, that fails to address the positive changes that Paraguay made in the second half and how poorly Argentina dealt with it. Mascherano was exposed in midfield and it was really little surprise when Lucas Barrios smashed in a late equaliser.

Paraguay have been more adventurous since that opener and enjoyed a greater amount of possession against Brazil in the quarter-final. Díaz will not want to reproduce the first half performance that they mustered against Argentina but equally will not want the game anywhere near as open as it became after the break.

Since that match, Argentina have certainly looked more stable with the introduction of Lucas Biglia and Pablo Zabaleta but goals have been harder to comeby, with only two goals in the three subsequent matches against Uruguay, Jamaica and Colombia.

It is expected that Gerardo Martino will keep with the same eleven that started against Colombia. Midfielder Javier Pastore summed up what many thought about the match: “I think [last Friday against Colombia] was the best of the era of Tata. We played perfectly, but we still lack a goal.”

It wasn’t perfect and certainly the lack of goals that Pastore mentions are a slight concern for Argentina but it was a more controlled performance. La Albiceleste have enjoyed the highest percentage of possession of any side in the tournament but must start converting this pressure. Martino is obviously confident that the goals will come and so the side for the semi-final looks to be….

Starting Eleven v Paraguay: Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay, Nicolás Otamendi, Marcos Rojo; Lucas Biglia, Javier Mascherano, Javier Pastore; Lionel Messi (C), Sergio Agüero, Ángel Di María

Pastore was perhaps one of those players whose position was most under threat after Éver Banega impressed in his short cameo at the end of the quarter-final match but Martino remains a supporter of the Paris St Germain playmaker and in flashes he has proved his worth to the side.

The other player who is currently struggling to find his best form is Ángel Di María. The Manchester United left-footer produced probably his worst game of the tournament against Colombia with some questioning his continued place in the starting eleven but when asked on this Martino was bullish in his reponse: “Dyou remember what I told you before the start of the tournament of Di Maria? Angelito is one of the five best players in the world”. Now would be an ideal time for El Fideo to repay Martino’s faith.

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One concern for Argentina is that Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Agüero are all a yellow card away from suspension after being booked against Colombia. What is perhaps even more of a worry is that CONMEBOL have appointed Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci to officiate after he made the headlines for sending off Edinson Cavani in the quarter-final between Uruguay and Chile. The conspiracy theorists run wild with the idea that Chile have benefitted from questionable decisions on their way to the final and as such Ricci will not hesitate to brandish a yellow card to any of those three. Refereeing bias or not Argentina must be cautious.

Statistics

  • Argentina are unbeaten against Paraguay in the Copa America (W18 D5).

  • Argentina have lost only one of their last 18 Copa America matches (W11 D6): the 2007 Final against Brazil.

  • En route to that final in 2007 – Argentina defeated Paraguay with Javier Mascherano scoring one of his rare international goals.

  • Argentina won their last two Copa America semifinals, both with a 3-0: against Colombia (2004) and Mexico (2007).

  • Argentina have conceded only one goal in their last four semifinals in this competition (W2 D1 L1): a 1-0 defeat against Uruguay in 1987.

  • Gerardo Martino’s team have not conceded goals over their last three games in the competition.

  • Argentina have kept three clean sheets in a row in the current Copa America – they have been able to keep four in a single edition only in 1989.

  • Overall, Paraguay have played five semifinal matches in the Copa America: one win, on the home soil against Brazil in 1979, and four draws.

  • La Albiceleste have fired the most shots over the current Copa America: 66, 22 more than Paraguay.

  • Martino’s side have also recorded the highest passing accuracy in this Copa America so far, 86.3%.

  • Six out of the last eight Paraguay goals in the Copa America were from set pieces: three following a free-kick, two from a corner, one from a penalty.

  • Only four substitutes have found the net in this Copa America – one of them is Lucas Barrios who scored against Argentina at the group stage.

  • Drawing 2-2 at the group stage, Paraguay became the second team that haven’t lost after being 0-2 against Argentina in a Copa America match: the first was Ecuador in 1983.

  • Ángel Di María has made 52 crosses so far, a highest tally in the current Copa America – he also made 11 more than the two best Paraguayans combined (Edgar Benítez 22, Derlis González 19).

  • Lionel Messi has completed the most dribbles in this Copa America: 30, three more than the whole Paraguay squad (27).

  • 33% of the Paraguay shots in this Copa America were headed – the highest percentage so far.

  • Argentina are the team that have attempted the most shots against Paraguay in a Copa America 2015 match: 18, including blocked.

  • Paraguay recorded 31% of possession against Argentina: so far their lowest percentage in a game of the current Copa America.

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