The Copa America semi-finals are set to be contested this week, with Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Peru all in with a chance of making the final. There was a huge shock in the quarter-finals as Paraguay got the better of Brazil, drawing 1-1 before prevailing in a penalty shootout. Argentina did everything but score in their semi-final against Colombia, but the opposition goal led a charmed life and the game also went to penalties. Carlos Tevez struck the deciding spot kick to send his side through to a semi-final match-up against Paraguay.
Chile v Peru 00:30 (BST) Tuesday 30th June
Argentina v Paraguay 00:30 (BST) Wednesday 1st July
Chile were our tip for the tournament before it started, and they have a great chance of reaching the final at least if they can overcome Peru. However, the semi-final that really catches the eye is the one between Argentina and Paraguay.
Draw – +340 with Bet365
A Great Group
These two met in the group stage of the tournament, with Argentina topping the group with 7 points, and Paraguay coming in second with 5 points. They met in the opening group game, back on the 13th of June, and it ended in an entertaining 2-2 draw. Argentina raced into a two-goal lead courtesy of Sergio Ageuro’s strike and a Lionel Messi penalty, but they were pegged back by a dogged Paraguay side. Nelson Valdez netted a spectacular long-range strike to reduce the deficit on the hour mark, and a pulsating second-half ended with Lucas Barrios netting a last-ditch equalizer.
That set a marker for the rest of Argentina’s competition, which has seen them dominate every game but struggle to put the opposition to bed. They followed up that draw with a 1-0 win over Uruguay, with Aguero again claiming the all-important goal. In the final group match against Jamaica they took an 11th minute lead with Higuain’s goal, but failed to build on it and the score remained the same throughout. Winning the group saw them pitched against Colombia in the quarter-finals – who had endured a disappointing tournament and only scraped through as a best third-placed finisher. Argentina absolutely dominated once again, but a string of fine saves by Colombia ‘keeper, Ospina kept them at bay. It looked as though they might pay for missed chances in a penalty shootout, but Tevez kept his nerve to score the vital spot kick.
Paraguay’s comeback in that opening game set them up for a great tournament, and they followed up with a 1-0 win over Jamaica thanks to a goal from Benitez. Their final group match ended in a 1-1 draw with Uruguay, after two first-half headers led to the draw that both sides needed to progress to the quarter-finals. Their tournament has been defined by a dogged determination, and they showed that in spades against Brazil in the quarter-final. Robinho’s 15th minute goal gave Brazil the lead, but surprisingly it was their only venture into Paraguay’s box in the first half – a testament to Paraguay’s defensive organisation. A moment of madness from Thiago Silva gave Paraguay hope, when he handled in the area and conceded a penalty. Gonzalez converted to set up a tense finish to the game, with neither side able to add to the scoring throughout the rest of the second-half and extra-time. Paraguay showed more resilience to come through the penalty shootout and book a semi-final spot.
The Big Game
Those matches give a real pointer to how this one is likely to play out, with Argentina set to dominate the ball and Paraguay looking to defend in numbers. Not many teams can live with Argentina when they get into their passing rhythm, and it could be a long night of chasing shadows for the Paraguay players.
The neighbouring countries have enjoyed many classic encounters down the years, but it’s Argentina who have had the better of the recent head-to-heads, winning the three previous meetings before the 2-2 draw in the group stage here. Neither side have too many injury concerns to worry about, but both have three players walking a disciplinary tightrope. Aguero, Messi and Mascherano are all one booking away from missing the final if Argentina progress, as are Valdez, Aguila and Martinez should Paraguay emerge victorious. The game has added spice because Argentina coach Tata Martino led Paraguay to the last Copa America final – in Argentina.
There should be no such defensive frailties from Argentina as there were in that 2-2 draw, and in truth they should have won comfortably. Despite not scoring against Colombia in the quarter-final, it was arguably their best performance of the tournament, and they could open up here. Argentina are a short price, but they are worth backing to get the job done quickly and easily. With that in mind, we’ve also looked at the first goal scorer markets, and Sergio Aguero looks a decent bet to open the scoring.
First Goalscorer: Sergio Aguero – +375 with Bet365
The Manchester City striker is the man in form at the moment, having got off the mark first in two of Argentina’s four matches so far in the competition. Messi and Higuain have also got on the scoresheet, but Aguero has that knack of being in the right place at the right time, as witnessed countless times for club and country.
He got Argentina off to the perfect start against Paraguay in the first group game, then followed it up by notching the only goal of the game against Uruguay. Obviously Messi is a huge danger in this market, especially as he takes his team’s penalties, but he keeps Aguero’s odds artificially high. The number 11 is worth a speculative punt to get the ball rolling in a game that looks sure to feature goals.
Copa America Semi-final – Argentina v Paraguay 00:30 (BST) Wednesday 1st July
First Goalscorer: Sergio Aguero – +375 with Bet365
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