Paraguay 0-2 Colombia
DRV Pink Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, USA
Paraguay ended the 2022 with a defeat, their 6th of the year as Guillermo Barros Schelotto left South Florida empty handed. It was the 48th meeting between the sides and the Guaraní have picked up just one victory in their last ten games against this rival. The DRV Pink Stadium was a sea of yellow as the vast majority went home pleased following a Juanfer Quintero masterclass and they roared with the “Tigre” Falcao who scored late on.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto made nine changes from the team that lost 1-0 at the death to Peru on Wednesday, some forced and some tactical. Blas Riveros and Julio Enciso were denied visas to enter the US, something that Barros Schelotto was prepared for based on his fairly relaxed answer in pre-game press conference. Miguel Almirón was unavailable through injury which the coach confirmed he was carrying from a knock with Newcastle and Fabián Balbuena was suspended following his red card in Lima.
Paraguay set up in a 4-4-2 formation which was something of a surprise given the selection, Mathias Villasanti playing on the right hand side, while Andres Cubas the most defensive midfielder but tasked with pressing close to Juanfer Quintero. The large Colombian contingent were subdued early on as the Albirroja stayed sharp in the press and occupied the ball in the final third. Prior to the game I had asked Barros Schelotto if he was concerned about the set pieces, he straight batted arguing that improvements were needed all over the pitch. Somewhat predictably it was then a dead ball which saw the deadlock broken early on. Davinson Sánchez headed home a Juanfer Quintero freekick as he out muscled Bruno Váldez at the back post on 13 minutes. It had resulted from the Cafeteros first real threat of the game, a break down the left hand side and the LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta won a dangerous freekick, tricking Ojeda into the foul.
As the half wore on Colombia began to take control as the Albirroja found it 25 mins, Colombia were taking control as Paraguay failed to break the press. The only real joy a speculative effort from Ojeda that forced a corner and just before halftime a Mati Rojas freekick that went over the bar. Much of the difficulty was in how to control Quintero, the River Plate man realized he needed to drop deep to elude Cubas and that created problems as nobody could pick him up and he began to orchestrate from deep.
There were no changes to start the second half from Paraguay but Colombia switched it up with Fabra and Carrascal replacing Mojica and Atuesta. The match continued in a similar vein with Néstor Lorenzo’s side almost scoring again from a set piece that Paraguay couldn’t deal with properly. Borré almost scored too, turning over a cross from the right.
Sebastián Ferreira was in a constant battle with Tottenham’s Davinson Sánchez and the pair were booked on the hour mark 60th minute as they kept clashing, minutes earlier Ferreira had almost scored (hitting the post from distance) but only after he had been left limping from a physical challenge. Overall the Colombian side had shown a different rhythm, athleticism and overpowered the Albirroja.
The only tactical shift in the game came around 62 minutes when Lorenzo Melgarejo replaced Sebastían Ferreira and Jesús Medina went on the wing instead of Rojas. That way the team set up as more of a 4-3-3 and at the same time James Rodríguez got the crowd on their feet. Borré had another good chance, hitting the post after being put clean through following a mistake by Mateo Gamarra who was otherwise consistent at left back. The contest ended soon after when Radamel Falaco came on in the 75th minute and the sea of yellow erupted as he headed home his 36th goal for the National Team with his first touch of the game.
A disappointing defeat for Paraguay who were outclassed by Colombia who will surely be a direct rival in the next World Cup qualifiers. With the competition fierce, Guillermo Barros Schelotto has yet to show much of a plan as their vulnerability from set pieces was exposed again and the experiment of playing Villasanti on the right doesn’t seem to be working. The reliance on Richard Ortiz in midfield, without him the midfield lacked some bite, is another part of the process the former Boca coach will need to work out.