It has been a long time since Paraguay last conquered South American football, and they start their 2021 Copa America campaign looking to arrest a slump against Bolivia.

Paraguay are two-time winners of the Copa America, though not since 1979 have La Albirroja hoisted the trophy aloft.

Since then, their best performance has been reaching the 2011 final, which they lost against Uruguay. Paraguay did make it to the 2019 quarter-final, where they were eliminated by eventual champions Brazil on penalties.

There are familiar faces in the squad – captain Gustavo Gomez, Newcastle United's Miguel Almiron and Angel Romero.

Juan Carlos Osorio oversaw Paraguay's run to the last eight two years ago, but former Celta Vigo, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao boss Eduardo Berizzo is now at the helm as the country dreams big.

But Berizzo finds himself under pressure amid a four-game winless streak following their 2-0 defeat to Brazil in World Cup qualifying prior to the Copa America – the nation's first loss at home to the Selecao since 1985.

"The Copa America will serve to consolidate the concept and the idea," Paraguayan Football Association (APF) vice-president Javier Diaz de Vivar told Radio Monumental 1080 AM following the Brazil loss. "We see a growing Paraguay, we need to be more forceful and perhaps be a little more vertical, but we are doing well, working, we chat every day with Eduardo Berizzo."

Bolivia will be hoping the delayed Copa will help the team – the 1963 champions have not progressed from the group stage since 2015.

An additional advantage could be that most of Bolivia's squad play in the domestic league, which has been suspended due to the COVID-19 situation.

With more time to prepare together, Marcelo Martins and Bolivia – who took part in the 2015 quarter-finals, their first knockout-round appearance since finishing runners-up in 1997 – are looking beyond the group phase.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Paraguay – Julio Enciso

The youngest player at the Copa America, Enciso has already played 24 top-flight matches for Libertad and was briefly the youngest player to score in the Copa Libertadores this century with his goal against Jorge Wilstermann last year when still 16. A good dribbler and not shy to take a shot, Enciso has been used almost everywhere across the front for Libertad and could be an interesting wildcard option for Paraguay.

Bolivia – Marcelo Martins

The heart and soul of a nation? Look no further than Martins. The iconic forward stands alone as Bolivia's record holder for goals (25 in 83 appearances). Of those, 18 have come in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, also making Martins Bolivia's top scorer in that competition. Playing his football for Cruzeiro in Brazil, Martins scored three goals in the two qualifiers immediately prior to the Copa America, helping his side to earn four points. Martins scored in the previous meeting between Paraguay and Bolivia – a 2-2 World Cup qualifying draw in November.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Paraguay are winless in their last 11 games in Copa America (D6 L5), their longest winless run in the competition.

- Bolivia scored in each of their last two games in Copa America: Marcelo Martins and Leonel Justiniano found the net in their defeats against Peru and Venezuela respectively in 2019.

- This is the sixth consecutive Copa America with Paraguay managed by a Argentinian boss, with Gerardo Martino (2007 and 2011), Ramon Díaz (2015 and 2016) and Eduardo Berizzo (2019 and 2021) each taking charge for multiple tournaments.

- Bolivia boss Cesar Farías will manage his second Copa America. In his previous edition, he oversaw an historic fourth-place finish for Venezuela in 2011.

Before every major tournament, eyes are trained on the next generation of stars set to take the football world by storm.

This year's rescheduled Copa America is no different with the likes of Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo, Brazil right-back Emerson Royal and Colombia forward Jaminton Campaz on the scene.

But there is still no changing of the guard as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, among others, continue to dominate on the international stage.

Stats Perform looks at six players above the age of 30 and their eye-catching numbers heading into the 47th edition of the Copa America.

 

Lionel Messi, 33, Argentina

Messi enters the showpiece South American tournament on the back of another impressive club campaign. With 30 league goals in 2020-21, Barcelona superstar Messi has now recorded 25-plus goals in each his past 12 league seasons. Craving senior international silverware with La Albiceleste following runners-up appearances at the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the World Cup in 2014, Messi scored 11 LaLiga goals direct following a ball carry last season – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues. Following a third-placed finish in 2019, Messi – the country's all-time leading scorer with 72 goals, while only Javier Mascherano (147) has earned more caps than the six-time Ballon d'Or winner (144) – will be hoping this year's tournament delivers that much-coveted international prize. Argentina are in Group A alongside matchday one opponents Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Luis Suarez, 34, Uruguay

Suarez upstaged close friend Messi in 2020-21 after swapping Barca for Atletico Madrid. Having been forced out of Camp Nou amid concerns his best years were behind him, veteran forward Suarez found vindication and the ultimate revenge by leading to Atletico Madrid to LaLiga glory. His 21 goals were worth 21 points last season – the most of any player in the competition. Since 2011-12, only Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top-five leagues than Suarez (325 – 233 goals and 92 assists). Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorer (63), Suarez is far from a spent force as Oscar Tabarez's side – who are scheduled to open their campaign against Argentina – fight to win a first Copa America crown since 2011. Suarez has been directly involved in nine goals in 10 games at the Copa America (six goals and three assists).

Edinson Cavani, 34, Uruguay

Cavani and Suarez are the face of a generation that delivered the 2011 title, finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals at Russia 2018. Cavani joined Manchester United on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of 2020-21 and made an immediate impact at Old Trafford, finishing the season with 10 Premier League goals and 17 across all competitions – his minutes per goal ratio both in the Premier League and in all competitions the best among his team-mates (137 and 128). In the Europa League final loss to Villarreal, Cavani became just the third player aged 34 or above to score in a major European decider for an English club, after Gary McAllister (36) for Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final against Deportivo Alaves in 2000-01 and Didier Drogba (34) for Chelsea in the Champions League final versus Bayern Munich in 2011-12. Only Suarez has scored more goals for Uruguay than Cavani (51 in 118 appearances), who earned a new deal in Manchester.

Alexis Sanchez, 32, Chile

Sanchez's club career had been on a steep decline since he left Arsenal for Premier League rivals United in 2018. But the Chile star has enjoyed success at Inter. Although a squad player under former Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte, Sanchez – who joined Inter permanently last year – scored seven goals and supplied five assists in just 12 starts last term. An option in place of regular starting duo Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Sanchez ranked better in shooting accuracy excluding blocks (69.6 per cent), passing accuracy (80.0), passing accuracy ending in the final third (73.5) and dribbled success rate (60.0) than both men. His big chance conversion rate (50.0) was only second to Lukaku, likewise his shot conversion rate (24.1). At international level, there is no disputing his role for Chile after leading La Roja to Copa America success in 2015 and 2016. Chile's most capped player (138) and leading goalscorer (46), Sanchez will once again carry the weight of his country this month.

Marcelo Martins, 33, Bolivia

The heart and soul of a nation? Look no further than Martins. The iconic forward stands alone as Bolivia's record holder for goals (25 in 83 appearances). Of those, 18 have come in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, also making Martins Bolivia's top scorer in that competition. Currently playing his football for Cruzeiro in Brazil, Martins scored three goals in the two qualifiers immediately prior to the Copa America, helping his side to earn four points. With their talisman leading the line, Bolivia – who won their only Copa America title on home soil in 1963 and lost the final when they hosted again in 1997 – are seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time since 2015. They start against Paraguay.

Paolo Guerrero, 37, Peru

Like Martins in Bolivia, Guerrero epitomises Peruvian football. The success of Peru has long been linked to the striker, who is in the history books for the most goals (38) for La Blanquirroja. Having debuted in 2004, this will be the captain's sixth Copa America appearance, having guided two-time winners Peru to third place in the 2011 and 2015 editions before securing a runners-up medal in 2019 – finishing as top scorer in all three of those tournaments. Guerrero is now the leading Copa America scorer in among active players (14) and only three shy of the all-time record (Norberto Mendez and Zizinho, both 17). While in the twilight of his career, Ricardo Gareca and Peru – who will come up against Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela – will be leaning on his experience across the border in Brazil.

Thiago Silva, 36, Brazil

There were some doubts about Silva's suitability to the Premier League when he saw out his PSG contract and opted to test himself with Chelsea. But the star centre-back did not look out of place in England, despite his advancing years, ending the campaign as a Champions League winner for the first time in his career. In all competitions in 2020-21, Silva led Chelsea in passing accuracy (93.0 per cent). He became Chelsea's oldest player (36 years and 249 days) to appear in a major European final, overtaking Claude Makelele against United in the 2008 Champions League decider (35 years and 93 days) as the Blues trumped Manchester City in Porto. The Selecao captain now turns his attention to Brazil's bid to claim back-to-back Copa America trophies. They have won five of the past nine.

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