Copa boils down to the wire

Copa boils down to the wire

Argentina lead final four in semifinals as Messi under pressure to finally deliver

By (AP)

Published: Tue 30 Jun 2015, 12:36 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:52 PM

Santiago — The Copa America semifinals are again missing a local favourite. Argentina did their part, but Brazil — as in the World Cup a year ago, and in this same South American championship four years ago — no longer shine like they once did and are again out early in a major championship.

Paraguay knocked out the five-time World Cup winners on Saturday 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. This was not as shocking as Germany’s 7-1 humiliation of Brazil in the semifinals a year ago in Brazil’s own World Cup, but it’s a reminder that the country has lost some of its mystique and no longer plays the so-called “jogo bonito.”

Paraguay are no strangers to this tournament. They were the losing finalists four years ago against Uruguay and could be headed to the finals again. They face Argentina on Tuesday in one semifinal, and hosts Chile go against Peru later on Monday in the other.

The final is July 4. Not only is Argentina in the semifinals, but all four teams are coached by Argentines: Jorge Sampaoli with Chile, Ricardo Gareca with Peru, Ramon Diaz with Paraguay and Gerardo Martino with Argentina.

Meanwhile, Argentina star Lionel Messi is under pressure to finally deliver, the way he has for his club team Barcelona. Two-time World Cup champion Argentina have not won a major title in 22 years, and Messi is expected to change that.

Messi and Argentina were knocked out of this tournament four years ago in the quarterfinals at home in Argentina, and lost the World Cup final 1-0 to Germany a year ago. Messi must be tired.

Barcelona won the Champions League title against Juventus in Berlin. He then traveled halfway around the globe with the Copa America starting just five days later. Messi has scored only one goal in the tournament, and Argentina have scored only four in four matches. They defeated Colombia 5-4 on penalties after a scoreless draw in the quarterfinals on Friday.

“It’s terrible how hard it is for me to score for the national team,” said Messi, who has 46 goals for Argentina, second to leader Gabriel Batistuta with 56.

Paraguay reached the 2011 finals without winning a single match. They had three draws in group play, and two more in the quarterfinals and semifinals, where they won on penalties.

Paraguay finished last in 2014 World Cup qualifying from South America, but have rebounded under new coach Diaz, who was the most successful coach at Buenos Aires club River Plate before moving to Paraguay.

“We’ve played against Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, and none could beat us,” Diaz said. Paraguay drew 2-2 with Argentina in group play, and 1-1 with Uruguay before ousting Brazil on Saturday.

Chile has never won the title, and this is supposed to be the year with top players — called the “Golden Generation” — like midfielder Arturo Vidal of Juventus, forward Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal, and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo of Barcelona in their side. Chile have been the best — and highest scoring team — in the tournament.

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