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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Copa Sudamericana: Junior de Barranquilla vs Libertad preview

Junior vs Libertad
Estadio Metropolitano, Barranquilla
14/07/2021; 20:30 (01:30 BST)
Last 16, 1st Leg

Libertad will take to the field in Colombia exactly three months after their disastrous 4-1 defeat in Medellin to Atlético Nacional which saw them exit the Libertadores and parachute into this competition. Since then the Gumarelo have won the Apertura 2021 and performed well in the Sudamericana group stages, only losing once (at home to Altético Goianiense). With three big signings in the off-season they have strengthened the side and are confident they can overcome the Tiburón over two legs.

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Sebastián Ferreira and Julio Enciso celebrate in win over Newell’s Old Boys in group stages Credit: Club Libertad Prensa

The Gumarelo are safe in the knowledge that they’ve qualified for the 2022 Libertadores by virtue of winning the Apertura, but that doesn’t take away from the pressure on coach Daniel Garnero to progress in this year’s Sudamericana. The Argentinian coach is one of the most successful coaches in Paraguayan league history but has struggled in continental competition, in this case he has plenty of talent and experience at his disposal. Copa América winner Marcelo Díaz, Copa Libertadores champion Camilo Mayada and UEFA Europa League finalist Lorenzo Melgarejo have all joined the side in the close season. During the group stages Garnero played a “mixed” team as he tried to save some key players for the league campaign, but I would expect in the knockouts he will put his strongest XI on the field. Against Junior it won’t be a surprise to see Óscar “Tacuara” Cardozo who was used sparingly earlier this year and last scored in this competition in the 2017 semifinals, a home win against Independiente. With Antonio Bareiro injured (torn ACL while on duty for Paraguay) it is likely we’ll see Tito Villalba on the right, his pace can test any defence in the competition.

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

The Colombian side have a strong home record of late, their last defeat was in February to Deportivo Cali and since then they’ve been 12 games unbeaten. In the Libertadores they drew all three home matches 1-1 and that does point to one of the team’s weaknesses, the defence. In their last 11 home matches in continental competition (Sudamericana & Libertadores) they’ve only managed two cleansheets against Bolívar and Plaza Colonia. Their attacking power in the Libertadores this season was from Miguel Borja who scored four goals, but he won’t be present for the Sudamericana having returned to parent club Palmeiras. 

Prediction: 0-1 – Libertad have improved considerably since start of the year under Garnero and have a chance to go deep in this tournament.

Libertad XI (possible): Martín Silva; Iván Piris, Cristian Báez, Alexander Barboza, Matías Espinoza; Héctor Villalba, Daniel Bocanegra, Marcelo Díaz, Lorenzo Melgarejo; Óscar Cardozo, Sebastián Ferreira

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Stats and Facts

Libertad vs Colombian opposition overall  (Copa Sudamericana)

Pld 6 W 4 D 1 L 1 GF 6 GA 2

Libertad vs Colombian opposition away (Copa Sudamericana)

Pld 3 W 1 D 1 L 1 GF 2 GA 2

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

Libertad recent away record (Copa Sudamericana)

Pld 6 W 2 D 3 L 1 GF 6 GA 6

Libertad have managed to score in 4 of their last 6 away games, only failing in El Cilindro vs Racing and against Atlético Goianiense, both were 0-0 draws.

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Copa Libertadores: Cerro Porteño vs Fluminense

Cerro Porteño vs Fluminense
La Nueva Olla, Asunción, Paraguay
13/07/2021; 18:15 Paraguay (23:15 BST)
Last 16, 1st Leg

Cerro Porteño are back in the knockout stages of the Copa Libertadores for the sixth time in the last eleven editions of the tournament. It will be their sixth knockout tie against Brazilian opposition, they have never managed to beat a team from Brazil over two legs in this competition. The last meeting between these two sides was in the Copa Sudamericana semifinals in 2009, Fluminense scored twice late on in the Maracanã to advance before a huge brawl brokeout between both sides. Flu’s current striker Fred was at his first spell with the club at the time and immediately after the game said “They [Cerro players] should be locked up”. With fans still not allowed in the stands in Paraguay due to COVID-19 we can anticipate a less passionate atmosphere on Tuesday. 

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Cerro Porteño and Fluminense last met in the Sudamericana in 2009

Chiqui Arce has been without some key names during pre-season due to the Copa América with Beto Espínola, Mathías Villasanti and Ángel Lucena all in the Paraguay squad alongside Santiago Arzamendia who as anticipated here made the move to La Liga with Cádiz. Lucena has returned with an injury, and there will be question marks over fatigue for the other two having played almost non-stop since the league restarted this time last year.

It isn’t only Arzamendia who will be missing defensively, central defender Juan Patiño is suspended having picked up three yellow cards with Pablo Adorno likely to get the nod to replace him. In the middle Arce is expected to deploy new signing Rafael Carrascal who played against them in the group stages with América de Cali.

We usually know what to expect from the azulgrana in terms of formation, 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2, and depending on the characteristics of the opposition they will try and dominate possession or sit deeper and play on the break. You would expect the latter in this match despite being the home side, given the Rio de Janeiro side’s impressive array of players. Also the Paraguayan’s strength has been their defence and certainly not offensively, by only scoring four goals in the group stage they had the worst attack of any qualifiers and alongside Olimpia were the only side to qualify with negative goal difference.

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

Fluminense travel to Asunción having played 13 competitive games while Cerro Porteño have been resting or in pre-season, the games have taken their toll on key man Fred. The 37-year-old striker limped off in a 0-0 draw against Ceará, a big blow for the Tricolor having profited from four of his goals in the group stages. His natural replacement, the Paraguayan Raúl Bobadilla is also an injury doubt and they are missing centreback Nino (Olympic squad) and teenage midfielder Martinelli (suspended). One player that the azulgrana will still be worried about is Manchester City bound forward Kayky, the 18 year old left-footer can play on either wing and will be a big test for a new-look defence.

Prediction: 1-1

Cerro Porteño XI (confirmed): Jean; Alberto Espínola, Alexis Duarte, Rodrigo Delvalle, Alan Rodríguez; Matheus Gonçalves, Mathías Villasanti, Rafael Carrascal, Claudio Aquino; Mauro Boselli, Roberto Morales

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Stats and Facts

Cerro Porteño vs Brazilian opposition at home (Copa Libertadores)

Pld 29 W 9 D 8 L 12 GF 39 GA 46

The azulgrana have a slightly better record at La Olla, playing 13, winning 4, drawing 4 and losing 5.

Cerro Porteño in Asunción (Copa Libertadores)

Pld 178 W 86 D 56 L 36 GF 269 GA 178

Cerro Porteño in Libertadores Last 16 home legs

Pld 15 W 7 D 4 L 4 GF 19 GA 13

In La Olla it is Pld 9 W 4 D 2 L 3 GF 10 GA 11

Cerro Porteño recent home record (Copa Libertadores)

Pld 6 W 2 D 2 L 2 GF 3 GA 6

Cerro have only won one of the last five home Last 16 ties (2019 versus San Lorenzo)

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Paraguay Talent: Santiago Arzamendia

With news that 23-year-old left back Santiago Arzamendia is set to make the jump from his first senior club Cerro Porteño to La Liga side Cádiz, we take a look at the Paraguayan’s attributes and rise to fame over the last few years.

Born in the tiny town of Wanda, Argentina in Misiones Province just across the Paraná River from Paraguay, Santiago grew up in a wooden shack with his eight siblings and says he would have been a chainsaw-operator if he hadn’t been a footballer. Fortune would have it that he was discovered by a Paraguayan who took him for trials across the border in Ciudad del Este aged just 13. There he was spotted by Gustavo Florentín and Hernán Acuña who have been key figures in Cerro Porteño’s youth development over the last decade.

Youth Team and debut

Arzamendia was part of a talented crop of players, winning the U17s tournament in 2014 and playing for the U18s in 2015 alongside current captain Mathías Villasanti and Josué Colmán (who had a stint in the MLS). His technical ability saw him preferred higher up the pitch, often playing as a winger. While at the U20s, with another current first-teamer Alexis Duarte, he scored a hattrick against Rubio Ñú to earn the azulgrana a 4-3 win! When he did make his debut in the Primera it was at left back, Roberto “Tiburón” Torres, handed him a start in the 2015 Clausura opener against Capiatá. It was a baptism of fire for the then 17 year old who struggled and saw his side 1-0 down at the break when he was subbed off. He wouldn’t appear again that season with Uruguayan veteran Diego Lugano signed a week later and Junior Alonso shifting across from centre half to left back.

Santiago Arzamendia is far right, bottom row with Cerro Porteño U-18s in 2015

Cerro Porteño breakthrough

The real breakthrough came two years later in the 2017 Clausura as the teenager made 13 league starts under Leonel Álvarez replacing Junior Alonso who had moved to Lille that same year. The azulgrana won 11 games with the rising star on the pitch as they pipped Olimpia to the league title. His attacking style and crossing were lauded by pundits, a year later he would feature in 8 Libertadores games scoring from a cross against Palmeiras in the Allianz Arena, a rare win for El Ciclón in Brazil. In the local league in 2018 he scored four times from left back, profiting from the expansive styles of both Luis Zubeldía and Fernando Jubero.

Paraguay NT and Copa América 2019

In March 2019 new Paraguay coach Eduardo Berizzo handed Arzamendia his first start for the Albirroja in a friendly against Mexico. A few months later he was in the Copa América squad starting all four games that Paraguay played in and excelled both offensively and defensively. The solid performances would have certainly put him on the radar of many clubs in Europe and it was maybe something of a surprise that nobody took a chance on the then 21 year old. More recently he has continued to be a key player in Berizzo’s squads, while he did briefly lose his place to another attacking 23-year-old left back Blas Riveros for the first two WCQs having tested positive for COVID-91. He regained his place soon after when the Brondby man suffered a serious injury. Since then he has only been overlooked when Bielsa’s former assistant prefers to play with four central defenders sometimes using Junior Alonso in that position.

Arzamendia impressed at the 2019 Copa America

2020 Apertura title and beyond

In 2020 Arzamendia continued his development under Francisco “Chiqui” Arce and picked up his second league title to go with the 2017 Clausura. In a season that was obviously punctured by the COVID-19 pandemic, the incredible stability of Cerro’s backline (they had the best defensive record conceding 14) helped them to the title. It ended a run of four consecutive championships by their arch-rivals Olimpia bringing a huge sense of relief and outpouring of emotion at the end of the season. In the Clausura they were knocked out by El Decano in the playoffs on penalties, Santiago had set up the equalizer but it wasn’t enough. 2021 saw his start every Copa Libertadores game as Cerro kept four cleansheets (only conceding to Atlético Mineiro) and while he was often rested for the league matches he still contributed two goals in just nine starts.

Arzamendia overwhelmed after winning 2020 Apertura – Photo: Club Cerro Porteño

What Cádiz fans can expect

An attacking left-back, good technically especially from dead ball situations who has plenty of energy to get up and down the pitch. One of his strengths has been crosses from deep and when Argentinian forward Diego Churin was at Cerro Porteño he profited from that, he was topscorer in the 2017 Clausura when Arza first broke through. With Álvaro Negredo renewing his contract in the Spanish side it could be the start of a lethal combination. His experience higher up the pitch in his formative years does also mean he can make good decisions in the attacking third, he can sometimes be seen driving towards the box rather than trying to take on his opposite number on the touchline.

The lack of aerial ability, he is only 5 ft 8 in (1.72 metres) is something rivals will surely try and target but while he might be small he is tough. “I used to help my dad passing him bricks, mortar or buckets of water” he told ABC Color in an interview in 2018 “Since I was little I started getting strong”. Tactically too he has been learning from one of the best full backs in South American history, his current coach Chiqui Arce was a two-time Libertadores champion and played at two World Cups.

The little lad from Wanda has proved at different points in his career that when he gets a chance he usually makes the most of it, and long may it continue.

Copa América 2021 Preview: Paraguay

The Copa América 2021 is finally upon us having been postponed from 2020, reduced from 12 teams to 10 and then rejected by its original hosts before finally ending up in four cities in Brazil. Paraguay find themselves in Group A alongside Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina and will play their games Goiânia, Brasília and Rio de Janeiro. Here we’ll preview the squad and their chances while also looking at some historical stats surrounding Paraguay in the Copa América against these opponents and in these cities (SPOILER ALERT: Goiânia doesn’t hold happy memories!).

The Squad

Paraguay confirmed a 28-man squad for the world’s longest-running national team tournament on Thursday with just four changes from the recent World Cup Qualifiers where they took on Uruguay and Brazil. Juan Escobar removed himself for personal reasons, there are rumours that the Cruz Azul defender was unhappy at being considered third choice by Berizzo but others have reported a pending legal case that he needs to resolve. Another defender Alexis Duarte missed out and will be doing a full preseason with Cerro Porteño. Finally the fourth goalkeeper Juan Espínola and Libertad’s Hugo Martínez were not considered.

Strength in Defence

Despite conceding six goals in their three home WCQs to date, this current crop do have strength at the back and have generally become more organized under Marcelo Bielsa’s former assistant. Gustavo Gómez is the captain and in the past two games against Luis Suárez and a rampant Brazil he showed the kind of form that has made him a hero in Palmeiras and one of South America’s leading centrebacks. Alongside him the Albirroja can field another one of Brazil’s leading defenders in Junior Alonso or Bundesliga & Premier League players in Omar Alderete and Fabián Balbuena. Such riches in the heart of the defence tempted Berizzo into playing three at the back against Brazil although we’re unlikely to see that kind of set up in the group stages where four out of the five sides qualify.

Midfield Balance

Further up the field the cracks begin to appear in this side who began with a more expansive style that also saw them concede goals (notably 2-2 draws at home to Peru and Bolivia). As they have tried to become more solid in the middle with the Pika Lucena and Mathías Villasanti pairing that has worked so well at Cerro Porteño they have lost some of that creative spark. Finding the right balance in the middle has been difficult, many fans and journalists have been calling for the inclusion of Club América’s Richard Sánchez who is more of a box-to-box player. Gastón Giménez has started all six WCQs so far but other than his well-taken goal against Venezuela he has been shackled and unable to create much. A different option for Berizzo could be the talented Alejandro “Kaku” Romero.

False strikers

In the hope to achieve mobility and pace on the counter attack with a more direct and fluid forward line there has been a lack of a traditional number 9 leading the line. Dario Lezcano was preferred in early games while Tonny Sanabria made one start against Bolivia but neither will be in Brazil. Ángel Romero has led the line valiantly in this month’s matches but all these uses of “False nines” doesn’t seem to have clicked. Both Gabriel Ávalos and Carlos González are on the bench and would offer a much more physical presence in attack and should be able to hold the ball up more with their back to goal. A wilcard option would be to throw the teenage sensation Julio Enciso into the mix, the 17-year-old is even younger than Roque Santa Cruz when he played the Copa América opener against Bolivia in 1999.

Expectations

Pressure has been building recently with the team now four games without a win and seemingly struggling to find a style with the ball despite good signs of better organization. The opening game against Bolivia is a must win fixture to settle the nerves and will almost certainly ensure particpation in the knockout stages with four of the five sides qualifying. Nobody is expected much more than that from this Albirroja side in transition, moreso than results there is a desire for Berizzo to set up his side correctly from the start. It is telling that in his ten competitive games so far the Albirroja have only won the first half on three occassions (twice versus Argentina and Qatar). The tinkering, like playing Mathías Villasanti wide on the right against Brazil, has backfired so with a relatively long preparation and four guaranteed games we expect to see something more cohesive in possession.

Copa América History

Paraguay will be playing their 175th* Copa América game on Monday night against Bolivia, a team they have faced ten times in this competition, winning seven and drawing twice. The only defeat came in Cochabamba in 1963 the year that Bolivia hosted and won the tournament. Their only previous meeting in a Copa América hosted in Brazil was the 1949 edition in Rio de Janeiro, the Albirroja ran out 7-0 victors in the São Januário with Jorge Duilio Benítez netting four times. To this day he is the only Paraguayan to score four in a single game for the Albirroja.

That said the game is in Goiânia where Paraguay’s only game was a 0-6 reverse to a Tele Santana’s rampant Brazil side in a 1980 friendly, they were blown away by Zico and Socrates that day. It will be their first game in Brasilia, while Rio de Janeiro has hosted the Albirroja on 32 occasions having won seven times and twice versus Uruguay.

We know Paraguay enjoy a draw, having tied three of their last four games and famously reaching the 2011 Copa América final with five consecutive drawn contests, but it isn’t a new phenomenon – their 44 draws is more than any other side in the history of the tournament!

Against the other group rivals the recent record is rather concerning, in their last 18 games against the trio of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay they’ve only won once, that was the 3-0 victory over Chile in the first leg of the 1979 Final which was also the last time the Guaraní won the title. At this point I’m obliged to remind you all that Paraguay have NEVER beaten the Albiceleste in this competition, 25 games and counting.

We’ll have more stats and facts on Twitter and Guaraní Vision, and of course in match previews right here on this blog!

*Assuming you include the random two qualifiers in 1966!