Brazil looks to avoid another Copa America upset
By ERIC NÚÑEZ
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil does not have fond memories of Paraguay in the Copa America.
The last two times Brazil met its southern neighbor in the continental competition, the `Selecao' endured demoralizing eliminations. It happened in the quarterfinals in 2011 and 2015, both after penalty shootouts.
Brazil will face Paraguay in the last eight again on Thursday, this time under even more pressure at home.
"It's a decisive match, we will need to be very strong mentally," Brazil coach Tite said Wednesday. "We can't make mistakes."
As for the previous encounters, Brazil will be considered the favorite to advance. Despite struggling in its first two matches, drawing boos from local fans, it ended the group stage with a 5-0 rout of Peru that boosted the team's confidence for the knockout stage.
"We want to repeat the performance from the game against Peru," said Philippe Coutinho, one of nine players returning from the squad eliminated by Paraguay in 2015.
"We hope we can improve from that game (against Peru), use that as a reference going forward for the rest of the competition."
Coutinho converted a penalty in the shootout loss four years ago. In 2011, none of the Brazilian players scored from the spot, including current defender Thiago Silva, one of two returning players from that team, along with Dani Alves.
Paraguay has five players back from the 2015 squad, including Derlis Gonzalez, who converted the deciding penalty in the shootout back then.
Paraguay barely survived the group stage this year, advancing with only two points as one of the best third-place finishers from the three sections.
But the team led by Argentine coach Eduardo Berizzo played better than the results showed, letting victory escape against Argentina after a missed penalty by Gonzalez when the game was 1-1.
Paraguay depended on other teams to advance, and made it after Ecuador and Japan drew their final group match.
The Paraguayans have been resilient in the Copa America in recent years. Despite having won only one of its last 18 matches in the tournament, the team managed to finish runner-up in 2011 and reached the semifinals in 2015, taking advantage of shootout wins.
Paraguay and Brazil failed to make it out of the group stage in the 2016 Copa. A two-time champion, Paraguay lost the 2011 final to Uruguay. Brazil is seeking a ninth continental title, and first since 2007.
Paraguay's solid defensive system will be tested by a Brazilian attack which will likely include Gabriel Jesus and Everton, the two forwards who made it to the starting lineup for the first time against Peru and revitalized the side.
David Neres and Richarlison will likely stay on the bench again.
Brazil will be without defensive midfielder Casemiro because of suspension, and Fernandinho remains out because of a right knee injury. Allan will take over from Casemiro to play alongside Arthur and Coutinho. Roberto Firmino stays up front.
Casemiro was also banned when Brazil was eliminated by Belgium in the quarterfinals of last year's World Cup.
Brazil's only other loss in 39 matches under Tite also came without Casemiro in the team, a 1-0 defeat in a friendly against Argentina two years ago.
"It's a great opportunity to try to change this statistic," Tite said.
The game will be played in Porto Alegre at the Arena Gremio, which has been criticized by several coaches and players, including Lionel Messi, because of the poor condition of the field.
Neither team practised in the stadium on Wednesday to avoid further damage.
"We can't think too much about the field," Arthur said. "If it's bad, it will be bad for both teams. Our focus has to be on playing well so we can win the game."
AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.
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Updated June 26, 2019