Brazil exorcise Paraguay penalty demons to reach Copa America semis - GulfToday

Brazil exorcise Paraguay penalty demons to reach Copa America semis

Gabriel-Jesus

Brazil’s Gabriel Jesus celebrates with goalkeeper Alisson after scoring his penalty to defeat Paraguay in the Copa America quarter-final match on Thursday. Agence France-Presse

Gabriel Jesus scored the winning spot-kick in a tense penalty shoot-out as Brazil exorcized their demons to beat Paraguay 4-3 on Thursday and reach the Copa America semi-finals.

Twice before in 2011 and 2015 Paraguay had beaten Brazil at this same stage on penalties at the South American extravaganza.

Willian came closest to scoring in normal time for Brazil when he hit the post as Paraguay held out for a 0-0 draw for more than 40 minutes following the dismissal of Fabian Balbuena for a professional foul on Roberto Firmino.

Brazilian media had been almost in a state of paranoia before the match recalling the painful memories from Argentina in 2011 and Chile four years later when Paraguay produced stubborn defensive displays before snatching victory in the spot-kick lottery.

But it wasn’t to be this time as Brazil goalkeeper Alisson saved Gustavo Gomez’s opening spot-kick at the Gremio Arena in Porto Alegre.

Although Firmino dragged his effort wide, Derlis Gonzalez also fired past the post allowing Jesus, who missed a penalty in Brazil’s last match, to be the match-winner.

The tournament hosts will face either perennial rivals Argentina or Venezuela in Tuesday’s semi-final in Belo Horizonte.

Brazil started brightly and produced a beautiful passing move in the fourth minute as local favorite Everton drove in off the left wing and found Dani Alves on the edge of the area, with the full-back slipping the ball on to Firmino, whose weak shot was straight at goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez.

Gremio forward Everton’s popularity was clear in his home stadium as fans wildly cheered his every touch.

But the game quickly settled into the expected pattern, with Brazil dominating possession and playing countless passes while a well-drilled Paraguay doggedly held their shape and looked to counter at pace with direct runners.

Brazil lacked a cutting edge and even when Philippe Coutinho seemingly played in Firmino behind the defence following a Richard Sanchez mistake, the Liverpool forward was easily muscled off the ball.

The best chance of the first quarter fell to Paraguay as Hernan Perez found Gonzalez unmarked at back post but Alisson saved his near post shot.

It was turgid fare on offer to the Porto Alegre crowd, who started a slow clap just after the half hour.

Brazil reporters had asked coach Tite before the game if he was worried about fouls, which he replied were part of the game.

But three Paraguayan players were booked before half-time for overly robust challenges.

It wasn’t until five minutes from half time that Coutinho got in behind the defence on the left and fired in a shot from an angle that Fernandez saved comfortably.

Meanwhile, fuming Brazil coach Tite raged at the state of the Gremio Arena pitch after the match.

Tite blamed the pitch for the lack of flowing football from his struggling side.

“There is room for improvement,” he said. “But that’s also possible when you play passes on a good ground.

“All the players asked me to complain about it. It’s absurd at such a high level match to have a ground that is so hard to pass the ball on.

“We needed three touches to pass the ball forward. It’s absurd to have such bad quality. It’s inconceivable anywhere in the world to have such a bad ground.”The pitch in Porto Alegre had already come in for harsh criticism from some of the tournament’s leading lights, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez of Uruguay.

It will also host the second semi-final, although Brazil won’t be involved in that.

Agence France-Presse