CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifiers: Paraguay vs Argentina preview

Paraguay vs Argentina
Defensores del Chaco, Asunción
07 October 2021; 20:00 local time (19:00 EST//00:00 BST)
CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifier

The albirroja resume their oldest international rivalry by welcoming the albiceleste to the Defensores del Chaco, which will be at 50% capacity, for the first time in almost six years. The reigning Copa América champions have won just one qualifier in Paraguay since the turn of the century and that was against a depleted team and interim coach, the late Víctor Genes. Eduardo Berizzo has some key players back but is also missing some important components to his side as he starts this triple header at home. 

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The recent trend against “bigger” teams has been to play with a flexible 4-1-4-1 that can become a back five when Santiago Arzamendia becomes a wing back and the left back (Alderete or Alonso) slots into their more natural central defender role. This backfired against Ecuador where they became too negative and the striker, on that occassion Luis Amarilla was too isolated. However the two banks of four are a good way to protect the Albirroja down the flanks against the likes of Lionel Messi and Ángel di María so we could see this option used again. With Miguel Almirón authorized to travel this time around we can expect to see the Newcastle man straight in the starting XI and his alertness on the counter attack will be vital just as it was in Buenos Aires when these sides met last November. His return coincides with the good form of Alejandro “Kaku” Romero who started the last two home games scoring against Venezuela. That pair have only started together twice, coincidentally against Argentina in the 2021 Copa América (0-1 defeat) and a 3-1 win over Bolivia in the same tournament. If Berizzo was to plump for Arzamendia as a left midfielder it would likely leave Kaku out in the cold with Ángel Romero playing on the right and Almirón accompanying a fellow “presser” like Mathías Villasanti or Hugo Martínez in the middle. 

Argentina come to the Defensores unbeaten in over two years and haven’t lost a WCQ at sea level since Tite pulled apart Pato Bauza’s side in November 2016. Messi had been under pressure having not scored from open play in this edition of the WCQs but responded with a hattrick against Bolivia in the last game. Interestingly the pulga has never managed a non-penalty goal against Paraguay in Asunción having scored two spot kicks in the 5-2 destruction in 2013, the albiceleste’s only victory this century. To learn more about Thursday’s rival check out our Guaraní Vision podcast!

Given the expectant crowd, the guaraní have only lost one of their five home qualifiers to date (against Brazil) and the return of Miguel Almirón there will be a feeling that Paraguay can take something from this match. Only Peru have failed to score at home against Scaloni’s side so far so the real question for Paraguay is if their own defence can hold, something they’ve yet to do at the Defensores. 

Paraguay XI (Possible): Antony Silva; Robert Rojas, Gustavo Gómez, Junior Alonso, Omar Alderete; Jorge Morel; Ángel Romero, Mathias Villasanti, Miguel Almirón, Santiago Arzamendia; Tonny Sanabria

Argentina XI (Possible): Emiliano Martínez; José Montiel, Cristian Romero, Nicolas Otamendi, Marcos Acuña; Ángel Di María, Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes, Giovani Lo Celso; Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martínez

Prediction: 1-1

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STATS AND TRIVIA

Paraguay have only failed to score in four of their last 19 home WCQs dating back to 2012, 

Paraguay vs Argentina head-to-head (World Cup Qualifiers)

Pld 19 W 3 D 10 L 6 GF 16 GA 26

Paraguay’s only cleansheet in the last 14 home qualifiers was against Argentina (0-0 draw in 2015)

Paraguay vs Argentina head-to-head in Asunción

Pld 9 W 2 D 4 L 3 GF 9 GA 13

Parguay are unbeaten in their last three qualifiers agains the “old enemy”, their best run of this kind was six games between 2000 and 2009. 

 

 

By Ralph Hannah

Paraguay continue to drop points at home

Paraguay 1-1 Colombia
WCQ, Matchday 8
Defensores del Chaco, Asunción, Paraguay
05/09/2021

A disappointing draw in which Paraguay dropped points at home from a winning position for the third time in four qualifiers has left them with a rather large sand dune to climb if they want to reach Qatar. It was a match in which Colombia dominated for large stretches but was also scrappy, with the Albirroja committing more fouls than the home duels against Bolivia and Peru. Eduardo Berizzo is now overseeing the lowest point in Paraguayan World Cup Qualifying history with six straight games without a win.

Photo: Prensa Selección Paraguaya de Fútbol

Eduardo Berizzo had made seven changes from the game against Ecuador in Quito, some was due to returns from suspension and injury but there was a slight tactical shift too. They went with a more traditional 4-3-3 and rather than a target man like Luis Amarilla in came Torino’s Antonio Sanabria. Gustavo Gómez and Omar Alderete returned from supsension straight into the cetnral defence.

In the early exchanges it was clear that Jorge Morel would play further back while Mathías Villasanti and Gastón Giménez rotated to drop back and try and receive the ball. But other than Alejandro “Kaku” Romero trying to make progressive passes there was little activity in the final third. It was Colombia that began to pull the strings, Juan Cuadrado was causing problems everyhere – even popping up occasionally on the left hand side. From there he played a good ball into the box that Uribe connected with only to be snuffed out by Jorge Morel. The penalty shout from the visitors was waved away on 24 minutes. Shortly afterwards Cuadrado forced a good save from Silva, shooting from distance in the middle of the pitch and on the 28th minute he had won a foul off Morel as he surged on the right.

Sanabria celebrated his second goal for the Albirroja, Photo: Prensa Selección Paraguaya de Fútbol

Miguel Borja was testing Alderete in the channels, he had burst through on 30 minutes – set away from the excellent Wilmar Barrios – but was adjugded offisde. After 35 minutes the Gremio striker had hit the post, this time he dropped back off the last man to receive the ball back to goal and had time to turn and shoot. It was therefore somewhat of a surprise when the Albirroja took the lead through Antonio Sanabria on 40 minutes.

Ángel Romero found some space in the channel for the first time and lined up Davison Sánchez, nutmegging the Tottenham defender to drive a low cross towards the near post where Sanabria was lurking. The 25-year-old forward had only scored once before, also in a WCQ against Colombia. It marked the first time in these qualifiers that Paraguay had been winning at halftime.

In many ways the second half continued in the same vein as before, Colombia were happy to let Paraguay have the ball but had the penetration to create chances and pressurize. Gustavo Gómez picked up a yellow early into the half, Antony Silva missed a cross and then disaster struck as Arzamendia handled a cross. A lengthy VAR review confirmed the infraction and Juan Cuadrado made no mistake from the penalty spot.

The home side would hardly have chances of note, one arrived in the 66th minute Ángel Romero did well to control a lofted Kaku pass but shot just wide. In soppage time Mathías Villasanti beat his man on the edge of the box and fired a shot on target, but it was saved by David Opsina. The latter being the only shot on target in the second period. In stoppage time substitute Héctor Martínez shot just wide after combining with another replacement Braian Samudio.

But the winning goal didn’t come, just as it hasn’t done in Asunción since March 2017. This dismal home record is likely to cost them a ticket to Qatar.

Paraguay defeated at the death to Ecuador

Ecuador 2-0 Paraguay
WCQ, Matchday 7
Casablanca, Quito, Ecuador
02/09/2021

Paraguay defended spiritedly in the clouds for much of the game but fly back to Asunción empty-handed after Alfaro’s artillery finally penetrated the guaraní guard three minutes from time. While it was the hosts first shot on target there was a sense of inevitability as the Tri consistently overloaded in wide areas and the purposeful runs of second half substitute Gonzalo Plata had thrown the visitors off balance. The result ends Paraguay’s historic run of five straight away World Cup Qualifiers unbeaten, and it means it will be all to play for in the forthcoming fixtures against Colombia and Venezuela in the Defensores del Chaco.

Photo: Twitter @OptaJavier

Eduardo Berizzo had made six changes from the last qualifier, a 2-0 reverse to Brazil at home, some were forced upon him with Gustavo Gómez and Omar Alderete suspended and Miguel Almirón unauthorized to travel from Newcastle. Others were tactical with Jorge Morel preferred to Mathías Villasanti as the disrupter in the middle and youngster Hugo Martínez was handed a debut alongside Richard Sánchez. Up front the options were limited too with both Gabriel Ávalos and Charly González injured, so Liga de Quito forward Luis Amarilla made his first appearance for the senior side at his new home. The 4-1-4-1 system was clear with Amarilla given the thankless task of trying to win headers and run into channels at altitude while Arzamendia and Ángel Romero needed to try and support the full backs without the ball.

Immediately they were hit by injury, Beto Espínola went down after just a minute and by the fifth minute the attacking right back had to be replaced by the more conservative Robert Rojas. The River Plate man was being targeted by Pervis Estupiñán and Joao Rojas who often found overloads there. After 12 minutes the Villarreal man had won his team’s first corner of the game running at Robert Rojas, on 22 minutes he got in behind his man and after 33 minutes Fabián Balbuena had been drawn into that area to try and help out only to committ a foul.

The extra man was being made by Gustavo Alfaro’s men playing out from the back with their three centrebacks and either Félix Torres or Luis Fernando León were pulling wide to make Amarilla’s pressing attempts futile and Huguito Martínez and Sánchez found themselves too far back to close space effectively. This was allowing the home team to create those overlaps on the wings or switch play with ease. Despite dominating possession (67% in that first half) they couldn’t generate any shots on target.

Hugo Martínez debuted with the senior side, Photo: Prensa Selección Paraguaya de Fútbol

In the second half they began to stem that issue with Sánchez playing slightly further forward and pressing the central defenders more effectively. That said just moments into the half Joao Rojas burst down the left and crossed to Enner Valencia who should have scored, the former West Ham man was inches away from becoming outright all-time topscorer but turned the shot wide of the post.

Ángel Romero found himself in the channels more which began to give Paraguay a bit of a foothold and both Sánchez and Martínez found themselves with more time and space than they had before. But the local’s Argentinian coach had spotted this turn in the tide and made the first tactical subsitutions of the game which made all the difference. On 59 minutes he brought on Gonzalo Plata and an extra man in midfield by brinign on LAFC’s José Cifuentes for Seattle Sounders’ defender Xavier Arreaga. Berizzo responded with personnel changes but no tactical shift which proved to be a mistake.

Nottingham Forest new boy Braian Ojeda was on for Martínez in the middle and his energy helped to keep Plata at bay for a while but the full steam approach wasn’t going to work at altitude. On 67 minutes the Ecuadorean youngster got the better of him and Junior Alonso was booked for the resulting foul needed to stop the Sporting CP man. Plata kept exploiting space and had been joined by Washington Corozo another player with pace and tricky feet.

Ecuador’s urgency was clear, but still they couldn’t generate a shot on target, maybe the Albirroja were going to get their fifth draw in seven games in these WCQs. Santiago Arzamendia had struggled during the game, neither getting forward with purpose nor looking composed in defence but when he was subbed off for injury in the 85th minute it coincided with tragedy as time ticked away.

The first goal came from the left hand side, yet another overlap for Ecuador and Pervis Estuipiñán found himself in space to deliver a looping cross to the back post. Héctor Martínez had been relatively solid in the air throughout the game but was beaten easily at the back post by Félix Torres. The central defender had bombed forward knowing Paraguay offered little danger on the attack and headed home. Moments later the lead was doubled, this time on the home team’s right side as Michael Estrada ran at a tired defence slicing through them like freshly cooked mandioca to slot past Antony Silva.

Another defeat where Paraguay started with a sensible gameplan, looked good in patches, but ultimately failed to adapt to changes in tactics and tempo. Tic Tac Toto Berizzo.

Paraguay Talent: Alexis Duarte

Cerro Porteño’s young centreback has attracted attention from the MLS and Liga MX and could well be on his way abroad soon. The azulgrana is in need of selling valuable assets due to the financial pressures of the pandemic including lost revenue from gate receipts as their stadium La Nueva Olla, the largest in the country, shutdown for over a year.

Duarte comes from footballing pedigree, his father Andrés also played for Cerro Porteño winning the league title in 1994 and before that was part of Paraguay’s Olympics team at Barcelona ’92 where he featured alongside current Cerro coach Francisco “Chiqui” Arce. His older brother Andrés Jr also plays professionally, currently at Sportivo Luqueño. The lanky central defender is nicknamed Pulpito (little octopus) after his father was baptised Pulpo (octopus) in his hometown of Areguá because of his use of arms and legs when defending to wrap up opponents. Alexis has certainly picked up some of that ability keeping a raft of top forwards quiet in his breakthrough season in 2020.

Early years and U17s World Cup

Alexis Duarte began playing in Areguá, a laid-back lakeside town about 25km outside of the capital famous for its strawberries and also arts and crafts market. He played at Club 4 de Agosto until he was 12 before trying out at Cerro Porteño’s famed academy. That was when his father played a key role, driving him daily from the family home to the Parque Azulgrana in Ypané, a 2 hour round trip.

In 2017 he was part of the Paraguay squad managed by Gustavo Morínigo that travelled to India for the U17s World Cup. He was ever present in the side that romped to three group game wins only to be sent home in emphatic fashion to a rampant United States team with Josh Sargent, Tim Weah and Sergiño Dest. He played every minute in that tournament so it was no surprise to see him ever-present in the U20s Sudamericano in 2019 as well.

Club 4 de Agosto in Areguá where Duarte first played as a kid – Photo: Club 4 de Agosto Facebook

Cerro Porteño breakthrough

Although he was handed his debut for the senior side in the 2018 Copa Paraguay by Spanish coach Fernando Jubero who has an eye for young talent since his days at La Masia and later managing Guaraní youth teams. The real breakthrough came in the 2020 Apertura, a result of the pandemic which had put an end to youth football (at the time of writing it still hasn’t returned in Paraguay) and also saw the tournament restart after some foreign-based players’ contracts had expired. Chiqui Arce thrust a then 20-year-old Duarte into central defence as a senior partner to then teenager Rodrigo Delvalle in a crunch game against Libertad facing Óscar Cardozo. The azulgrana won that match 2-1 and Duarte hasn’t looked back since.

Photo: Prensa – Club Cerro Porteño

2020 Apertura title

The aforementioned victory over the Gumarelo meant Duarte was two from two (having won on his league debut in 2019 against Nacional) and the Ciclón would go on to win another ten straight games with the youngster at the back. That impressive winning streak saw Chiqui Arce’s team surge from sixth to the summit and they ended the season as champions with the best defence in the division.

It was a fantastic feat for the fledgling defender, during that remarkable winning run he played alongside the more experienced Juan Patiño and was vital with his front foot anticipation and ability to cover behind. He also kept incredible discipline picking up just one yellow card in that victorious streak facing strikers with European experience such as Raúl Bobadilla, Roque Santa Cruz and the previously mentioned Tacuara Cardozo. Towards the back end of the season with fatigue setting in he did pick up five bookings in quick succession but by then the title was on its way to Barrio Obrero, the hard work had been done.

Duarte celebrates winning 2020 Apertura – Photo: Club Cerro Porteño

2021 Copa Libertadores and future

A first taste of senior international competition, having never represented the Albirroja men’s team, came in the 2021 Copa Libertadores and once again he was a pillar of the defence, taking part in every minute of Cerro Porteño’s eight games as they bowed out in the Last 16. Other than the 4-0 defeat in Belo Horizonte to Atlético Mineiro, where he struggled against the physical approach of Hulk, it was a strong showing in his debut season in the competition. Cerro Porteño didn’t concede except to Brazilian opposition and Pulpito only made one error leading to a shot (vs. Fluminense) in the tournament. In fact in the second leg against the Tricolor he was vital in keeping the score down with the Paraguayans otherwise disappointing around the field.

Overall he averaged over 2 tackles and 2 interceptions per game, and while he committed just one foul on average he was fouled 1.4 times per match, an indication he wasn’t out of his depth. One of the biggest testaments to his character was the home game against Atlético Mineiro where he had to show fortitude to bounce back from the performance in the Mineirão. That night Duarte was dominant, winning 6 out of 8 ground duels, making two blocks, five clearances and crucially completing 4 out of 5 long passes and making two successful dribbles from as many attempts demonstrating his composure with the ball at his feet.

All the indications from the player’s camp and local press is that the little octopus will be testing new waters sooner rather than later. At present Transfermrkt rank him as the joint fifth most valuable player in the local league but only Julio Enciso is younger.

The hope is that the young man from Areguá can follow in the footsteps of other recent central defenders such as Gustavo Gómez, Junior Alonso and Fabián Balbuena who themselves took the place of Antolín Alcaraz, Dario Verón and Paulo Da Silva who had followed on from legends Chito Ayala, Carlos Gamarra and Julio César Cáceres. The small country in the heart of South America has traditionally produced top talent at the heart of defence and Duarte is the latest off the Garra Guaraní conveyer belt.


By Ralph Hannah

Clausura 2021 Week 2 Wrap: River Plate riding high

With two weeks gone in the 2021 Clausura the only side with a 100% record is the team that started the season bottom of the relegation standings. River Plate followed up their remarkable opening week win over Olimpia with a strong display in Villarrica to defeat Guaireña.

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Kelito got off to a dream start with Dionicio Pérez’s stunning strike midway through the first half, controlling on his thigh before launching a looping left-footer past a helpless Héctor Espínola in the Guaireña goal. It was the tenth league goal for the “Loco” in River Plate colours and his 44th overall in the Paraguayan top division. Veteran defender Luis Cabral headed in at the near post from a Christian Aguada corner (the left back keeping up his form from opening game!) to give them a 2-0 lead at halftime. A late Rodrigo Alborno goal wasn’t enough for the hosts as Chito Ayala’s side took the spoils.

River’s win came a day after Sportivo Luqueño had crashed to defeat against fellow relegation rivals Sol de América, thanks to Brazilian Francisco Da Costa’s great solo effort on his debut to hand the danzarín a 2-1 win.  That combination of results means the auriazul are in the direct relegation place at the bottom of the Promedio standings.

The two games between the major sides both ended in 1-1 draws, firstly an intense contest between Hernán Rodrigo López’s Nacional and Fernando Jubero’s Guaraní on Saturday night. José Florentín scored his third goal in two games for the aurinegro but much of it was made by a sparkling sprint from Piru Contrera. The hosts equalized from the penalty spot but it was nothing more than they deserved having pressed high up the pitch to force errors.

The other draw was an emotional night for Cerro Porteño coach Francisco Arce, taking to the touchline just a week after the tragic death of his son in a car crash. Mauro Boselli’s opening goal, in front of hundreds of fans allowed under a pilot programme by government, saw the player’s mob their coach who was dressed all in black. The Ciclón couldn’t hold the lead though as a strong Libertad side equalized through Bautista Merlini early into the second half. The major talking point away from the goals was a clash between Brazilian goalkeeper Jean and Albirroja legend Óscar Cardozo, the exchange of words apaprently centred around the Paraguayan’s infamous penalty miss against Spain in 2010 and Brazil’s 7-1 defeat to Germany four years later. Either way the referee didn’t see the funny side and both were booked.

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Finally, Olimpia followed up their heartstopping Libertadores qualification with a solid Monday night win in Itauguá over 12 de Octubre. Alejandro Silva had a stellar game scoring the opener with a fantastic left-footed curler before setting up Derlis González to round off a great team move. Isidro Pitta added the third goal in the second half while the veteran Pablo Velázquez had dispatched a first-half penalty for 12 de Octubre who are now winless in six matches at home.

Week 2 Results: Sol de América 2-1 Sportivo Luqueño; Nacional 1-1 Guarani; Guaireña 1-2 River Plate; Cerro Porteño 1-1 Libertad; 12 de Octubre 1-3 Olimpia

Week 3 Fixtures 

Friday 30th July – River Plate vs Cerro Porteño, Jardines de Kelito, Asunción, 19:30 (00:30 BST)
Saturday 31st July – Sportivo Luqueño vs Nacional, Feliciano Cáceres, Luque, 17:15 (22:15 BST)
Saturday 31st July – Libertad vs Sol de América, Defensores del Chaco,  Asunción, 19:30 (00:30 BST)
Sunday 1st August – Guaraní vs 12 de Octubre, Rogelio Livieres, Asunción, 17:00 (22:00 BST)
Sunday 1st August – Olimpia vs Guaireña, Manuel Ferreira, Asunción, 19:15 (00:15 BST)

Clausura Week 2: Cerro Porteño vs Libertad preview

Cerro Porteño vs Libertad
La Nueva Olla, Asunción
25/07/2021; 19:30 (00:30 BST)
TV: Tigo Sports (Paraguay)

Cerro Porteño face off with Libertad in what is an early title battle in the 2021 Clausura. It will be an emotionally charged match not just because of the presence of fans (several hundred expected under pilot program) but also because Francisco Arce takes charge of the home side exactly a week after the tragic death of his son Alex in a car crash.

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The azulgrana didn’t play in midweek because of the aforementioned accident but they still have a weakened side due to injury and suspension. The midfield duo of Villasanti and Lucena are still missing and the hope is that Carrascal will have found his bearings in the middle with more training sessions with the team. Up front the Boselli/Morales partnership that performed so well during the Apertura will be looking to test that stern Gumarelo defense. As usual they will line up in a 4-4-2 formation looking to work the ball into the box with overlapping full backs as the attacking midfielders tuck in to create space.

The Gumarelo played out a 0-0 draw in the opening week as did Cerro, but in contrast to Sunday’s rivals they did play midweek in the Copa Sudamericana losing to Junior on the night but advancing on aggregate to the Quarter Finals. With so many players at his disposal Garnero has the luxury of playing a changed XI for the league games and can still expect to fight for the title. I would imagine we see a similar side to the one that drew with Guaireña with the main change likely to be Sebastián Ferreira, the striker back from supsension.

Recent games have favoured Libertad who won 3-0 and 2-1 in the Apertura and have picked up maximum points in five of their last seven trips to La Nueva Olla.

Cerro Porteño haven’t won a game with both Ángel Lucena and Mathías Villasanti absent since February 2020 against 12 de Octubre, so it will be a big ask to try and grab a win against the defending champions.

Prediction: 1-2 – the gulf between these two has widened since last season and exacerbated by Cerro’s current injury woes.

Cerro Porteño XI (probable): Jean; Beto Espinola, Juan Patiño, Rodrigo Delvalle, Alan Rodríguez; Enzo Giménez, Rafael Carrascal, Wilder Viera, Claudio Aquino; Robert Morales, Mauro Boselli

Libertad XI (probable): Martín Silva; Iván Ramírez, Luis Cardozo, Diego Viera, Leonel Vangioni; Bautista Merlini, Blas Cáceres, Ramón Martínez, Iván Franco; Rodrigo Bogarín; Sebastián Ferreira

By Ralph Hannah

Copa Libertadores: Internacional vs Olimpia preview

Internacional vs Olimpia
Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
22/07/2021; 20:30 (01:30 BST)
Last 16, 2nd Leg

Olimpia are in Porto Alegre knowing that if they can avoid defeat they should progress to the Quarter Finals (only a 0-0 draw would force the game to penalties). Their last trip to Porto Alegre in a Libertadores knockout tie was May 2003 when they lost 3-0 to Gremio in the Olímpico Monumental, however the previous second leg against Internacional in an elimination game was the 1989 semifinal that El Decano won 3-2 on the night to force a penalty shootout which they also triumphed in. They will be hoping for similar spirit on Thursday. 

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Sergio Órteman will have been pleased with the chances created in the first leg (18 in total) particularly for Isidro Pitta (5 attempts) who on another night could have had a goal. The performances of debutants Víctor Salazar (right back) and Edgardo Orzusa (central midfield) will have also been a cause for hope. Being the away side in Brazil you would expect the plan will be to concede possession and play with a low block ready to break at pace with players like Jorge ´Pollo´ Recalde and Derlis González from the start and maybe options such as the experienced Néstor Camacho and William Mendieta coming from the bench. The latter two played in the weekend league defeat to River Plate with Camacho getting on the scoresheet, his 109th goal in Paraguay’s top division. 

Internacional come into the showdown having finally ended their poor run of form with a win at the weekend in the Brasileirão, they defeated Juventude 1-0 with almost the same XI that started in the Libertadores. Aguirre made four changes welcoming back Taison from injury who was unplayable in the group fixture in Brazil. The 33-year-old playmaker made four key passes in the 6-1 victory and it will be vital he is well shadowed by the visitors to avoid a similar result. 

Prediction: 2-1 – with Taison back and home advantage the Brazilians are likely too strong, but it is likely going to be much closer than the group stage debacle

Olimpia XI (probable): Alfredo Aguilar; Víctor Salazar, Saúl Salcedo, Antolín Alcaraz, Iván Torres; Hugo Quintana, Brahian Ojeda, Edgardo Orzusa, Derlis González; Isidro Pitta, Jorge Recalde

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Stats and Facts

Olimpia vs Brazilian opposition overall (Copa Libertadores)

Pld 55 W 13 D 18 L 24 GF 62 GA 87

Olimpia away to Brazilian sides (Copa Libertadores)

Pld 27 W 2 D 10 L 15 GF 23 GA 51

The two wins were in knockout ties against Internacional (1989 Semifinal) and São Caetano (2002 Final).

Olimpia in Porto Alegre (Copa Libertadores)

Pld 7 W 1 D 1 L 5 GF 6 GA 17

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Copa Sudamericana: Libertad vs Junior de Barranquilla preview

Libertad vs Junior
Defensores del Chaco, Asunción
21/07/2021; 20:30 (01:30 BST)
Last 16, 2nd Leg

Libertad enjoy a one-goal advantage having defeated Junior 4-3 in a pulsating contest last week and will step onto the Defensores del Chaco pitch knowing history is on their side. The Gumarelo have only lost by two or more goals at home three times in 33 Sudamericana games and one of those matches was against local rival Cerro Porteño (2004). With the favourable scoreline they can also draw the Tiburón in and try and counter attack which proved an effective strategy in Colombia. 

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Tito Villalba wheels away in celebration of one of his two goals in first leg Credit: Club Libertad Prensa

Daniel Garnero has often been accused of getting it wrong in big continental matches during his time in Paraguay, and while it did seem he had misread the game with his side conceding three first-half goals he stuck to his guns. In the second half they overturned the deficit but also with Marcelo Díaz playing slightly deeper they limited Junior to just one shot on target despite allowing them 66% possession. At the weekend we saw a totally changed team, in the 0-0 league draw against Guaireña, so there aren’t many conclusions to draw from that game other than Bautista Merlini started. Given his poor performance in the 1st leg we could see him replaced by Ricardo Bogarín or even Lorenzo Melgarejo who made a return to Paraguayan football after ten years. 

Watch/Listen to more of my thoughts on the first leg in the latest episode of Guaraní Vision available on YouTube and Spotify

The Colombians lost 3-1 at the weekend stacking up a third straight defeat and were hit by bad news during the game with striker Juan Sebastián Herrera suffering an injury. In defence both Germán Mera and his possible replacement in central defence Jefferson Gómez didn’t travel due to knocks, so they will need to plug the gap with Ditta or Rosero. The high points for Junior in the previous game were Freddy Hinestroza and veteran Carmelo Valencia, it will be important for Libertad to control that pair to avoid the danger of the tie slipping out of their grasp. 

Prediction: 2-1 – Libertad have the upper hand and with their attacking options they should see this through

Libertad XI (possible): Martín Silva; Iván Piris, Cristian Báez, Alexander Barboza, Matías Espinoza; Héctor Villalba, Hugo Martínez, Marcelo Díaz, Lorenzo Melgarejo; Óscar Cardozo, Julio Enciso

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Stats and Facts

Libertad vs Colombian opposition overall  (Copa Sudamericana)

Pld 7 W 5 D 1 L 1 GF 10 GA 5

Libertad vs Colombian opposition home (Copa Sudamericana)

Pld 3 W 3 D 0 L 0 GF 4 GA 0

The previous results were 1-0 (La Equidad), 2-0 (Itaguí) and 1-0 (Santa Fe)

Libertad recent home record (Copa Sudamericana)

Pld 7 W 6 D 0 L 1 GF 9 GA 2

Libertad only conceded once in those seven games, against Atlético Goianiense, they have scored in all of them. 

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2021 Paraguay Clausura preview

Although the Copa América has only just finished, it is time for club football again with the Paraguay Clausura kicking off on 16th July with Sportivo Luqueño vs Cerro Porteño.

What follows is a club-by-club guide for the main contenders including some of the key movements during the transfer window. To learn more about each club’s history be sure to check out this page.

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Club Libertad

2021 Apertura: 1st

Daniel Garnero made history in the Apertura by becoming the first manager to win the Paraguayan league title with three different clubs. You can read more about that league title win here. The Gumarelo will have sights set on Copa Sudamericana and with that in mind they’ve strengthed their squad which will also aid the Clausura campaign. Chilean midfielder Marcelo Díaz a two-time Copa América winner and Uruguayan right back Camilo Mayada a Copa Libertadores champion were joined by former Benfica & Spartak Moscow man Lorenzo Melgarejo. The experienced core throughout the lines of Martin Silva, Cristian Javier Báez, Daniel Bocanegra and Tacuara Cardozo will be complimented with the youthful exuberance of Julio Enciso, Hugo Martínez and Rodrigo Bogarín.

One to Watch: Tito Villalba – with Antonio Bareiro injured it is likely we will see Villalba get plenty of game time on the right side of midfield. His searing pace and technical ability will cause problems to local defences.

Predicition: Top 3, only thing stopping a title challenge is if they go deep in Copa Sudamericana

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Club Olimpia

2021 Apertura: 2nd

El Decano begin their third consecutive season with a different manager as Sergio Órteman looks to try and build some kind of consistency in the side that has not quite managed to click this year. The club has been publicly linked with financial problems so the only major signings so far have been Víctor Salazar on a free transfer, the right back joins from San Lorenzo of Argentina, and Edgardo Orzusa who joins from Nacional. They do have the advantage, compared to the Apertura, that Derlis González is fit and most of the side has been doing a full preseason in Encarnación rather than having to travel to Brazil with the National Team.

One to Watch: Braian Ojeda – if the central midfielder can stay injury free he could be a key player in the Clausura.

Prediction: Title challengers, could well win the Clausura should Libertad stay distracted.

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Club Cerro Porteño

2021 Apertura: 4th

Chiqui Arce arguably has one of the best XIs in the league, but his squad depth wasn’t strong enough to compete in both league and Copa as they faltered in their title challenge to ensure qualification to the Last 16 of the Libertadores. They’ve tried to address that somewhat with the signings of Luis Fariña, Adrián Martínez, Fernando Romero and Rafael Carrascal to provide cover in midfield and attack. While the defence hasn’t been bolstered, in fact they’ve lost Santiago Arzamendia to La Liga, they can now count on Brazilian goalkeeper Jean who will be eligible for league games. However, last season the Lucena-Villasanti midfield duo were key and with both players featuring heavily for the Albirroja they won’t be well-rested, that could be a deciding factor in the fate of their league campaign.

One to watch: Robert Morales – brilliant in the Apertura and all eyes will be on the young striker from Concepción who can both score and create space for his strike partner.

Prediction: 4th

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Club Nacional

2021 Apertura: 3rd

Hernán Rodrigo López’s side were brilliant in the Apertura, their high-pressing style and the form of Leonardo Villagra, who finished topscorer, took them close to unsettling the major leaders. Led by 38-year-old Cristian Riveros in central midfield they showed much more intensity than most sides in the league. The lack of squad depth and likelihood that more talent could be departing (as mentioned above Orzusa has already moved to Olimpia) makes it improbable they go better than the Apertura.

One to Watch: Carlos Espínola – a young attacking right-back that really caught the eye and fits well with López’s high-tempo style.

Prediction: 5th or 6th

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Club Guaraní

2021 Apertura: 6th

The Gustavo Costas era has ended after two years but Guaraní have managed to tempt back Spanish coach Fernando Jubero who started his managerial career with the aurinegro. They’ve added some real experience in the middle with the Cáceres brothers, Marco (35 y.o. central defender) and Víctor (36 y.o. central midfielder) while also picking up full back Rodi Ferreira and forward Alfio Oviedo. They have surprisingly held onto Rodrigo Fernández Cedres who has formed a strong partnership with José Florentín in midfield.

One to Watch: Rodi Ferreira – the attacking right back was hot property when he broke through at Olimpia as a teenager, his career went on a downward curve but now reunited with Jubero who he played most games under he could surprise many.

Prediction: Top 3 thanks to the Fernando Jubero influence and no continental distractions.

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Sportivo Luqueño

2021 Apertura: 8th

The auriazul are in real danger of relegation which would be unthinkable in their centenary year. With a new President in charge they’ve embarked on an ambitious recruitment project bringing in eight players at the time of writing. Local talent Rodolfo Gamarra, Miguel Samudio and Blas Díaz are complemented by foreign expertise in the Argentinian trio of Jonathan Schunke (34 y.o. defender), Nazareno Bazán (22 y.o. forward) and Iván Colman (26 y.o. midfielder). There is a sense that this is a new start for the club with the change in leadership having languished for several seasons, I for one have faith in this new order.

One to Watch: Diego Huesca is a 20-year-old goalkeeper who was born in Encarnación but has been formed in Spain mostly at Valencia. He also represented Paraguay at the U-17 World Cup in 2017.

Prediction: Top 5 and avoiding relegation

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Guaireña

2021 Apertura: 5th

The team from Villarrica began the season surprising everybody losing just once in their opening 10 games with a defensive counter-attacking style that was hard to breakdown. But in the second half of the Apertura that manifested into a lot of scoreless games (three of last four fixtures were 0-0). With striker Fernando Romero moving to Cerro the goalscoring could become an issue. They probably won’t manage top half this year but certainly not a side to write off.

One to Watch: Junior Marabel – a striker that has always shown promise but not quite clicked in his time at Cerro Porteño or Capiatá, but maybe now at 23 he will have the experience and tactical ability to provide the goals Guaireña will surely need.

Prediction: Sniffing around Sudamericana

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Notes on the remaining three

12 de Octubre have probably done enough to play the Clausura without a threat of relegation, assuming they achieve around 20 points again they should feel safe. They brought in some experience in Jorge “Torito” González & José Ortigoza (Forwards) and Danilo Ortiz (Central Defender).  Sol de América need to outperform Luqueño to stay out of relegation playoff place but it seems a tough task, they picked up GK Nico Campisi from their direct rival and have brought in central defender Jorge Aguilar from Necaxa in Mexico. River Plate are all but doomed to return to Intermedia after three years (six seasons) in Primera.

By Ralph Hannah

Copa Libertadores: Olimpia vs Internacional preview

Olimpia vs Internacional
Estadio Manuel Ferreira a.k.a Para Uno, Asunción
15/07/2021; 20:30 (01:30 BST)
Last 16, 1st Leg

Olimpia welcome back Internacional to Para Uno having faced them during the group stages, in both the home and away leg the Brazilian side were victorious. While the match in Porto Alegre was a blowout (Olimpia lost 1-6), the more recent game in Asunción was a much more even contest. A late Yuri Alberto goal gave the visitors a win finally breaking down the hosts who had held on with ten men since the 66th minute. 

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Sergio Órteman joined halfway through the Apertura and it was clear he struggled to impose a style of play at first as his team laboured through the group stages and the league season. A fantastic victory over Deportivo Táchira to qualify proved that he could get the team playing for him and now with players returning from injury and some new signings they are in a stronger position than the last meeting between these sides. Derlis González and Roque Santa Cruz are in full training having been injured previously while in midfield they have signed Edgardo Orzusa to bolster the central midfield and Willy Mendieta (pictured above in training with Roque) returns after a stint in Mexico. Jorge Recalde will have surely benefited from a rest and he is likely to parter Isidro Pitta up front. 

Internacional come into the showdown on a rotten run of form, winless in their last five and with just two victories in their last eleven games. Miguel Ángel Ramírez was the coach for the group stages but he has been replaced by Uruguayan Diego Aguirre who made central defender Gabriel Mercado his first signing although it is unconfirmed if he will play. 

Refereeing in South America has been controversial during the international break (both Uruguay and Colombia made formal complaints to CONMEBOL) while on Tuesday night the VAR made a huge error in Cerro Porteño’s game and those judges will not be in the booth in this match as originally expected. However, the replacement VAR will be Esteban Ostojich who was the on-field referee in Paraguay’s elimination to Peru where he sent off captain Gustavo Gómez. Don’t be surprised if there are some heated moments in this match. 

Prediction: 0-0 – Olimpia might not have enough firepower while Internacional are still finding their feet under Aguirre

Olimpia XI (possible): Alfredo Aguilar; Víctor Salazar, Saúl Salcedo, Antolín Alcaraz, Iván Torres; Hugo Quintana, Brahian Ojeda, Edgardo Orzusa, Derlis González; Isidro Pitta, Jorge Recalde

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Stats and Facts

Olimpia vs Brazilian opposition overall (Copa Libertadores)

Pld 54 W 13 D 17 L 24 GF 62 GA 87

Olimpia in at home to Brazilian sides (Copa Libertadores)

Pld 27 W 11 D 7 L 9 GF 39 GA 36

They have played Internacional three times at home, drawing in 1976 then losing in 1989 & 2021 group stage.

Olimpia in Asunción (Copa Libertadores)

Pld 243 W 125 D 66 L 52 GF 388 GA 240

Olimpia recent record at the Manuel Ferreira (Copa Libertadores)

Pld 6 W 3 D 0 L 3 GF 12 GA 9

Two of Olimpia’s three defeats were to Brazilian sides, Santos (2020) and Internacional (2021)

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