Lionel Messi's Argentina were frustrated in a goalless draw away to Paraguay in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Argentina had their chances against Paraguay in Asuncion, but the Copa America champions could not find the breakthrough on Thursday.

Lionel Scaloni's Argentina, though, remain unbeaten in second position after nine matchdays on the road to Qatar 2022 and undefeated across 23 games across all competitions.

Messi was entering the contest on the back of his record-breaking exploits during the last international break after surpassing Brazil great Pele (77) as the all-time leading scorer for a South American nation with his hat-trick against Bolivia.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar looked lively away to Paraguay, creating a great opportunity for Argentina to break the deadlock in the 11th minute.

Messi, who had received 437 passes in CONMEBOL qualifying – the most by any player in the campaign – weaved his way past defenders and slid a ball through to Lautaro Martinez, whose goal-bound effort was somehow cleared off the line by a scrambling Omar Alderete ahead of Angel Di Maria.

Argentina were largely in control in the opening half, though Paraguay had some moments in the attacking third.

Another chance went begging for Argentina within five minutes of the second half getting underway, Rodrigo de Paul's ball across the six-yard box somehow evading his team-mates.

Paraguay almost took a surprise lead four minutes later after Miguel Almiron's turn of pace created an opening, but Emiliano Martinez was up to the task to deny the Newcastle United star.

Di Maria picked out Joaquin Correa at the back post on the hour mark, however, some desperate defending blocked the Argentina forward's goal-bound header.

Martinez was kept rather busy in the second half, but the in-form goalkeeper continued to thwart Paraguay, who were searching for their first home World Cup qualifying win against Argentina since 2009.

Antony Silva produced a fabulous sequence to deny Argentina during the closing stages, first dealing with Guido Rodriguez's header before pushing Papu Gomez's long-range effort onto the crossbar seven minutes from the end, while Carlos Gonzalez almost snatched victory for Paraguay in the 88th minute.

 

What does it mean? Unbeaten run continues

While Argentina were unable to secure maximum points, the South American champions have not tasted defeat since 2019.

Goalkeepers flex muscles

It was a showdown between two goalkeepers at the top of their game. Martinez came up big for Argentina in the second half, while Paraguay counterpart Silva was not to be overshadowed in a strong display.

Paraguay struggling for home form

While Paraguay would have probably taken a point before the match, their home woes continue. Paraguay have only won one of their past eight World Cup qualifiers on home soil, dating back to March 2017.

What's next?

Argentina are back in action for the visit of Uruguay on Monday, while Paraguay are away to Chile on the same day.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni said superstar captain Lionel Messi is clear to face Paraguay in La Albiceleste's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier.

Messi missed two matches due to a knee injury before returning for Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League win over Manchester City and last week's shock Ligue 1 loss at Rennes.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner is away on international duty with Argentina, who will visit Paraguay on Thursday, and Messi has been given the all-clear to play.

"Messi trained with us yesterday [Tuesday] without any problems and this morning too, so he's fine to play," Scaloni told reporters on Wednesday.

"Which is the most important thing and he's like the rest of the group, wanting to get together and do the best for the national team. Regarding his injury, it is evident that he has played two games before coming here and this is fine."

During the last international break, Messi surpassed Brazil great Pele as the all-time leading goalscorer for a South American nation.

Messi scored a hat-trick for Copa America champions Argentina in their 3-0 qualifying win over Bolivia last month, the 34-year-old taking his tally to 79 international goals.

Argentina – second behind Brazil in the standings – remain unbeaten on the road to Qatar 2022 with five wins from their eight fixtures, while they extended their undefeated streak to 22 matches across all competitions.

"The challenge that we have, or that I have in this case as a coach, is that the team competes in all the games and, that the things that I know that are done well, do it again or strengthen them and that they can be improved and tried in training even if they are few, and try to put a lot of emphasis on that," Scaloni said.

"We believe that in a collective level the national team has a fairly regular performance and I think that at an individual level it is evident that we have players who decide matches, but in a collective level I think that we have improved a lot in that and that one of the things in which the team does is give the feeling that that is always why, because we work as a team and because whoever enters or leaves knows very well what they have to do and I think that is the most important thing.

"Then there are things to improve on like all teams and even more so that we have very few days together. But our feeling is that as a team we are doing well."

Central and South American players who were barred from travelling to World Cup qualifiers by their Premier League teams will be available this weekend after their countries backed down from a request to ban them under FIFA rules. 

Players from Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Paraguay are cleared to play as their national federations agreed late Friday to waive a measure that would have compelled the players to sit out after their clubs refused to release them for international duty. 

Premier League teams last month decided to prevent players from nations on the United Kingdom's COVID-19 "red list" to participate in Qatar 2022 qualifiers, citing the UK's requirement that people who have travelled to those countries quarantine for 10 days upon their return. 

There had been some indications earlier Friday that the players might be available, but official word did not come down until shortly before midnight London time. 

Brazilians now available to their clubs Saturday include Ederson and Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City, Chelsea's Thiago Silva and Manchester United's Fred. 

Among players from other nations involved, Wolves can use Mexico's Raul Jimenez on Saturday, while Newcastle will have Paraguay's Miguel Almiron available, and Watford can play Chile's Francisco Sierralta 

Liverpool will be most relieved, with Alisson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino cleared to face Raphina and Leeds on Sunday. 

Earlier Friday, Jurgen Klopp said at a news conference that he hoped a solution could be reached for the benefit of all parties involved. 

"It is a really difficult situation and really tricky for all the clubs, and the players especially," Klopp said. "We should not forget at this moment that the players wanted to play these games, the clubs wanted to let the players go but it was not possible."

Peru became the first side to book their place in the Copa America semi-finals after beating Paraguay on penalties in a dramatic tie that finished 3-3 following normal time and saw both teams receive red cards.

Ricardo Gareca's Peru recovered from a goal down thanks to Gianluca Lapadula's first-half double at Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico, where Gustavo Gomez had given Paraguay an early lead on Friday.

Paraguay lost captain Gomez to a controversial second bookable offence just before half-time yet hit back through Junior Alonso's strike early in the second half.

Yoshimar Yotun appeared to have won the game for 2019 runners-up Peru with a deflected goal 10 minutes from time, but Andre Carrillo was also dismissed and substitute Gabriel Avalos levelled up in the final seconds to send the contest to penalties.

Following the script of the previous 90 minutes, the shoot-out was equally as eventful as four players failed to convert from 12 yards, but the drama was ended when Miguel Trauco tucked away the decisive spot-kick to set up a semi-final with defending champions Brazil or two-time winners Chile.

Paraguay will need to end a torrid run of form against Peru if they are to book a place in the semi-finals of the Copa America. 

Eduardo Berizzo's side have failed to win any of their last seven games against Peru, with their last victory coming in a friendly in November 2014. 

A 1-0 defeat to Uruguay in their final Group A game meant Paraguay finished third with six points from four games. 

They suffered a blow in that clash when influential midfielder Miguel Almiron limped off.

A late decision will be made on the Newcastle United man's fitness ahead of the match at Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico in Goiania, with Oscar Romero and Andres Cubas among the options to come into the starting XI.

Peru, meanwhile, wrapped up their Group B campaign with a slender 1-0 victory over Venezuela. 

Although anything but progress to the knockout stages would have been considered disappointing, Ricardo Gareca's team perhaps did better than they expected in beating Colombia to second place in the group.

Peru claimed two wins and a draw from their four games, with their only defeat coming against Brazil, who may well be their semi-final opponents should they progress.

Speaking at a media conference on Thursday, Gareca said: "We are improving day by day, game by game. Now it is the elimination stage so we need to be more attentive during the game. 

"The more we can develop what we believe and understand what our strengths are there will be possibilities for us."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Peru – Christian Cueva

If Peru are to secure progression to the last four then the creative burden will likely fall on the shoulders of Cueva. Three key passes, one shot, five tackles and eight possession regains summed up an all-action performance from the 29-year-old against Venezuela last time out.

Paraguay – Junior Alonso

There was little to get excited about in the defeat to Uruguay, but captain Alonso can be pleased with his performance. The Atletico Mineiro defender made more interceptions (four) than any other player on the pitch, while no player made more than his five clearances.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Peru have only lost one of their last four games against Paraguay in the Copa America (W1 D2), after being defeated in the previous four.
- Paraguay conceded less than one goal per game on average in their last seven Copa America games.
- In fact, Paraguay have not conceded more than two goals in the competition since June 2015 (1-6 v Argentina).
- No other team has scored more left-footed goals in this Copa America than Paraguay. Four of their five goals have come this way.
- Alonso is the player with the most successful passes so far in this Copa America (256).

Edinson Cavani's 21st-minute penalty lifted Uruguay into second spot in Group A and booked a quarter-final date with Colombia after a 1-0 win over Paraguay at the Copa America on Monday.

In the final group game, Manchester United forward Cavani's goal moved Uruguay up from fourth to second position, avoiding a last-16 meeting with hosts and defending champions Brazil.

Paraguay came into the contest hoping to claim their first Copa win against Uruguay since 1947, with an outside chance of topping Group A, but instead slipped to third and will next face Peru.

To make matters worse for La Albirroja, influential Paraguay midfielder Miguel Almiron limped off, placing his quarter-final availability in doubt.

Uruguay needed to avoid defeat to ensure they would not face Group B winners Brazil in the quarters and started with intent as Cavani headed wide in the third minute, while team-mate Giorgian De Arrascaeta grazed the post moments later.

La Celeste won a penalty following a clumsy challenge from Angel Romero as Cavani emphatically hammered the spot-kick past Paraguay goalkeeper Antony Silva.

Uruguay continued to dominate as Nicolas De La Cruz went on a superb run, beating two opponents, before laying off for Cavani, whose dangerous cutback across goal was cleared by Omar Alderete.

Almiron went off injured on the half-hour mark, before Uruguay thought they had a second via Matias Vecino, although it was disallowed with Cavani offside in the build-up.

Paraguay had a goal disallowed early in the second half too, when an offside Oscar Romero nodded home.

Luis Suarez replaced Cavani in the 68th minute and should have made it 2-0 when he broke clear alongside Rodrigo Bentancur but the pair got their wires crossed.

Paraguay have not defeated Uruguay at the Copa America since 1947, but La Albirroja have momentum entering Monday's final group-stage game in Rio. 

While Uruguay have laboured to find their form in the tournament, Paraguay have taken six points from the first three Group A matches. 

They defeated Chile 2-0 on Thursday to confirm their place in the quarter-finals, three days after Uruguay needed an own goal by Arturo Vidal to salvage a 1-1 draw with La Roja. 

Coupled with a tournament-opening defeat of Bolivia, Paraguay will be feeling confident about their chances to earn a long-awaited victory.

Head coach Eduardo Berizzo said he expects the game to unfold along similar lines as the sides' scoreless draw in World Cup qualifying in Montevideo earlier this month. 

"Uruguay is tough, difficult, we faced each other recently in the qualifying rounds, it was very physical and tactical and surely the same awaits us," he said. "We will go out to win as we always do." 

La Celeste broke a five-game winless streak with a 2-0 defeat of Bolivia in their previous match, with Edinson Cavani breaking through for his first international goal since Uruguay's most recent victory against Colombia in November. 

With qualification for the knockout phase ensured, Uruguay will hope to gain their footing against a side they have dominated for decades. 

Uruguay are unbeaten in 15 Copa America games (W9 D6) against Paraguay dating to that long-forgotten La Albirroja triumph 74 years ago. 

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Uruguay – Luis Suarez

Suarez is responsible for five of Uruguay's 12 shots on target in the tournament, a sign that he may be close to breaking his five-game international scoring drought. 

Beyond that stretch, the Atletico striker has not scored in the run of play for his country since a November 2019 friendly draw with Argentina. His four goals in World Cup qualifying last fall each came from the spot. 

Paraguay –​ Miguel Almiron

The Newcastle man had a hand in both goals against Chile, assisting on Braian Samudio's 33rd-minute opener and scoring from the spot in the second half. 

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- After their last win against Bolivia, Uruguay broke a run of three winless games in Copa America (D2 L1). They also scored two goals after scoring just once in each of the previous four (W1 D2 L1).
- After 11 winless games in Copa America (D6 L5), Paraguay won two of their last three games losing just against Argentina (1-0).
- Paraguay are the team with the higher shooting average in the current Copa America (17). The Albirroja also have the highest tally in a single game in the competition: 34 shots against Bolivia. 

Paraguay booked their spot in the Copa America quarter-finals after comfortably accounting for a lacklustre Chile 2-0 on Thursday.

Goals from Braian Samudio and Miguel Almiron saw Paraguay upstage two-time champions Chile in their penultimate Group A fixture in Brasilia en route to the knockout round.

Samudio's maiden international goal gave Paraguay a 33rd-minute lead at Estadio Nacional de Brasilia, before Almiron converted a penalty 13 minutes into the second half.

Chile were aiming to maintain their unbeaten start under head coach Martin Lasarte having won three and drawn three of the six matches since his appointment, while trying to put some pressure on Group A leaders Argentina.

But Chile struggled from the outset, recording just one tame shot on target throughout against Paraguay, with Eduardo Vargas and Ben Brereton bystanders in a forgettable outing.

Paraguay looked the more likely to score and forward Samudio broke the deadlock just past the half-hour mark – the 25-year-old rising highest to beat two defenders as his thumping header from Almiron's corner beat Claudio Bravo.

Carlos Gonzalez went close to doubling Paraguay's lead four minutes before half-time, however, his header in an unmarked situation went wide of the post in a big let-off for Bravo and Chile.

Paraguay did not have to wait long for their second goal after Chile veteran Gary Medel was penalised for a foul on Gonzalez in the 55th minute, with Newcastle United's Almiron stepping up to score the spot-kick.

Arturo Vidal led passionate appeals for a Chile penalty amid calls for a handball against Paraguay with 14 minutes remaining, but their protests fell on deaf ears, even after a VAR review.

That was the closest Chile came to scoring, with La Roja offering next to nothing in attack on a frustrating evening.

The gloss was taken off Paraguay's victory after substitute Antonio Bareiro left the field crying uncontrollably on a stretcher following what appeared to be a serious knee injury.

Chile will aim to maintain their unbeaten start under head coach Martin Lasarte and put some pressure on Copa America Group A leaders Argentina when they face Paraguay on Thursday.

La Roja have won three and drawn three of their six matches since experienced coach Lasarte replaced Reinaldo Rueda in February.

That includes 1-1 draws against Argentina and Uruguay, either side of a 1-0 win against Bolivia, to leave them second in their Copa America group with one game to go.

Chile are assured of a place in the knockout stages, but Lasarte is eager to avoid going through in fourth place, which would mean a quarter-final tie with favourites Brazil.

"We do not want to qualify in last place. Avoiding Brazil is key as they are the most powerful side in the tournament," he said.

"The draw against Uruguay, who have a lot of great players, was not bad. I'd have liked a win, but to draw was good."

Paraguay still have work to do if they are to progress out of the group, having followed up a 3-1 win over Bolivia in their first game with a 1-0 loss to Argentina last time out.

Papu Gomez scored the only goal of the game after 10 minutes for Argentina and Paraguay could not find a leveller, despite having more of the ball.

Los Guaranies will now be looking to overcome Chile in order to stay in the hunt for a top-four spot that would see them advance.

Head coach Eduardo Berizzo said: "We played a solid game defensively against Argentina and we have to continue with that.

"The attitude has been very good from the team and the players have given everything. We weren't rewarded for our efforts in the last game but we will try again."


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chile – Claudio Bravo

The Real Betis goalkeeper is the oldest player taking part in the Copa America at 38 years, but he is showing that age is just a number.

He has made the most saves among keepers to have played at least two games with 11 in total across three appearances (3.7 per game on average).


Paraguay – Alejandro Romero Gamarra

Gamarra has only played twice so far in this year's Copa America, yet he has created more chances than any other player in the competition (12) prior to Wednesday's games.

The prolific Al-Taawoun attacker was also on target in his side's victory over Bolivia to make it four goals in eight senior caps for Paraguay.


KEY OPTA FACTS

– Paraguay are unbeaten in their last four games against Chile on neutral soil (W2  D2).

– Chile have not conceded more than one goal in any of their six games under head coach Lasarte.

– Paraguay have the highest possession in this year's Copa America (66.8 per cent) and have created 16.5 chances per game, more than any other side.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni voiced concerns about the physical condition of his players while highlighting the importance of Lionel Messi after La Albiceleste booked their spot in the Copa America quarter-finals.

Papu Gomez was the hero for Argentina, with his 10th-minute goal sealing a 1-0 win over Paraguay on Monday and a spot in the last eight of the showpiece CONMEBOL tournament.

There was no rest for superstar captain Messi, who equalled Javier Mascherano's record for most Argentina appearances with his 147th cap, despite Scaloni's men backing up from Friday's success against Uruguay.

Messi has not missed a minute of Argentina's three Group A games so far, amassing 74 touches against Paraguay while winning 75 per cent of a team-high 16 duels.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner had the most shots (three) and shots on target (two) among his team-mates as Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 16 matches, dating back to 2019.

"The reality is that Messi has been playing every game and it is very difficult not to count on him, even though he is tired he continues to make the difference," said Scaloni, who introduced the likes of Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero into the starting XI.

"Today we made several changes and despite that we were able to take all three points."

Without a major title since the 1993 Copa America, Argentina snapped a four-game winless drought against Paraguay in Brasilia.

Argentina ended the contest with a total of eight shots (five from outside the box) – their second lowest figure during the Scaloni era, tied with the match against Ecuador in October 2020 and one more than they registered against Paraguay at the 2019 Copa America.

Paraguay controlled possession across the 90 minutes – 56.9 to 43.1 per cent, the first time in the last nine meetings with Argentina they had more ball possession.

"What worries me is the physical condition of the players because we came from playing three days ago and today the conditions were not the best, so we had to rotate players," Scaloni told reporters.

"The first half we played very well and in the second, due to the merit of Paraguay and their good physical condition, as a result of many days off, they had more control of the game. The team showed a good image in the first half, but there are always things to keep improving."

"The beauty of all this is the process," Lionel Scaloni said post-game.

Sixteen games unbeaten and through to the Copa America quarter-finals for the 14th consecutive CONMEBOL tournament.

Papu Gomez's delightful 10th-minute effort over onrushing Antony Silva extended Argentina's undefeated streak, while snapping a four-match winless drought against Paraguay on Monday.

Add seven clean sheets during an unbeaten run, dating back to the 2019 Copa America semi-finals, and it sounds wonderful for La Albiceleste in pursuit of a first major title since 1993.

This is not your usual Argentina, despite boasting a record six-time Ballon d'Or winner – Lionel Messi, who equalled Javier Mascherano's appearance record with his 147th cap – hellbent on claiming an elusive international trophy.

Aside from Gomez's delicate finish, there was not much to write home about. After a promising opening half, Argentina faded. A growing theme under head coach Scaloni.

Argentina ended the Group A contest with a total of eight shots (five from outside the box) – their second lowest figure during the Scaloni era, tied with the match against Ecuador in October 2020 and one more than they registered against Paraguay at the 2019 Copa America.

Paraguay controlled possession across the 90 minutes – 56.9 to 43.1 per cent, the first time in the last nine meetings with Argentina they had more ball possession. Fortunately for Scaloni's side, La Albirroja did not manage a shot on target.

At a time when Argentina was reeling following another early and unsuccessful World Cup campaign, ousted in the round of 16 at Russia 2018, Scaloni stepped into a hot seat so few were willing to take on.

The seven-time Argentina international provided stability when superstar captain Messi initially retired. Scaloni oversaw a run to the 2019 Copa America semi-finals – La Albiceleste settled for third.

Fast forward to this year and even amid a lengthy undefeated streak, there are growing questions over Scaloni, the style of football and Argentina's ability to put an end to 28 years of anguish.

While the football might not be so easy on the eye, it's the results that matter at the moment as Argentina build towards dethroning South American rivals Brazil on their own turf.

Argentina qualified for the Copa America quarter-finals after ending their drought against Paraguay with a 1-0 victory.

Not since the 2015 Copa had Argentina tasted a win over Paraguay – a run of four consecutive matches – but La Albiceleste snapped that winless streak thanks to Papu Gomez on Monday.

Gomez scored the winner in the 10th minute, scooping an effort over onrushing Paraguay goalkeeper Antony Silva, for his second goal from just his sixth international appearance.

As Lionel Messi equalled the record for most Argentina appearances, Lionel Scaloni's men extended their winning streak to 16 games in Brasilia.

Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero were named in the starting XI for the first time during this year's Copa, and the veteran Argentina pair were heavily involved early.

Aguero had a great chance to put Argentina ahead in the seventh minute after some woeful defending saw the ball fall to his feet inside the six-yard box, however, the Barcelona recruit's reactive effort went just over the crossbar.

Argentina did break the deadlock three minutes later via Gomez, who beat the offside trap and finished delicately over Silva after Di Maria cut a ball perfectly to the Sevilla star.

Paraguay ended the half with more possession – 55.2 per cent to 44.8 per cent – as Argentina dropped off after scoring the opening goal.

Argentina did find the back of the net for a second time on the stroke of half-time, wheeling away in celebration after Gomez's cross was inadvertently put into his own net by Paraguay defender Junior Alonso but it was ruled offside.

There was a promising spell of sustained pressure from Paraguay, who had not lost to Argentina in six years, to start the second half.

Paraguay continued to dictate proceedings without creating anything meaningful as Argentina booked their spot in the knockout phase in pursuit of a first major title since winning the 1993 Copa America.

 

What does it mean? Argentina roll on

Argentina are a tough team to beat at the moment. Not since the 2019 Copa America have La Albiceleste tasted defeat – a run of 16 consecutive matches without a loss. They have kept seven clean sheets during that run.

Messi milestone

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner celebrated another milestone on Monday, equalling Javier Mascherano for the most senior Argentina appearances – 147. Messi is already the country's all-time leading scorer (73).

Toothless Paraguay

Paraguay enjoyed more possession and a better passing accuracy, but it did not translate to anything meaningful up front. Eduardo Berizzo's side ended the contest without a shot on target.

What's next?

Argentina will conclude their Group A campaign against winless Bolivia in Cuiaba on Monday, while Paraguay meet Uruguay on the same day.

Argentina know they will advance to the knockout stage of the Copa America if they end a four-game winless run in their rivalry with Paraguay on Monday.

La Albiceleste have not beaten Paraguay in six years, although three of the four games in the meantime have ended all square.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has been frustrated by the frequency with which his side have been held.

The team are unbeaten in 15 games going back to the 2019 Copa America, but they have won only eight of those matches alongside seven draws – including a home World Cup qualifier against Paraguay.

A sequence of three stalemates in a row was broken last time out, though, when Argentina defeated Uruguay 1-0 to move level with Chile at the top of Group A.

"I think that the previous games Argentina also deserved to win," Scaloni said following the Uruguay match.

"For small reasons, we were left with three draws that we did not deserve."

Paraguay could leapfrog Argentina and move into position for a potentially easier quarter-final draw with a repeat of their World Cup qualifying win, although Lionel Messi was absent on that occasion in 2016 and should be present for this game.

Eduardo Berizzo's men won their Copa America opener 3-1 against basement side Bolivia.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Lautaro Martinez

Martinez scored with 13.6 per cent of his shots for Inter in 2020-21, but he has so far yet to hit the target let alone the net from four chances worth a combined 0.8 expected goals at the Copa America. There were a couple of particularly disappointing misses against Chile, as Martinez was substituted when Argentina needed a goal, while he lasted just 52 minutes against Uruguay. He needs to take his chance.

 

Paraguay – Miguel Almiron

A Premier League regular, Almiron is the biggest name in the Paraguay squad. However, just as his end product has been criticised for Newcastle United, he has too often failed to make the difference at international level. The midfielder has as many red cards for his country as goals (two) and has never netted for the Albirroja in a competitive match. Almiron did assist Paraguay's opener in a draw with Argentina at the 2019 Copa America, however.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Argentina and Paraguay have met 25 times at the Copa America. Argentina have never lost to Paraguay in the competition (W19 D6).
– Paraguay are unbeaten in four against Argentina in all competitions (W1 D3). The last Argentina win against Monday's opponents was in the 2015 Copa America (6-1).
– The record between both teams in their latest six meetings in all competitions is tied, with one win each and four draws. The past two matches finished as 1-1 draws.
– Paraguay's Kaku leads the 2021 Copa America in terms of chances created. He has created 10 chances, tied with Neymar, but Paraguay have played only one game.
– Argentina are the team with the most fouls won at this Copa America (37).

Angel Romero scored twice as Paraguay produced a second-half comeback to claim a 3-1 win over a depleted 10-man Bolivia in their opening game at the Copa America.

La Albirroja were favoured to see off Bolivia, who were without three players – including captain and talisman Marcelo Martins after testing positive for coronavirus.

Bolivia, who have only progressed beyond the Copa America group stage once since finishing runners-up in 1997, took a shock early lead from Erwin Saavedra's 10th-minute penalty on Monday.

Paraguay piled on the pressure for no reward in the first half, before Bolivia were reduced to 10 men on the stroke of half-time following Jaume Cuellar's second booking in Goiania, Goias.

The weight of pressure told in the second half as Alejandro Romero levelled before Paraguay team-mate Angel Romero scored a brace to seal the win.

Paraguay flew out of the blocks as Santiago Arzamendia forced an acrobatic save from Bolivia goalkeeper Ruben Cordano inside the first minute, with Angel Romero flashing wide from the ensuing corner.

But Bolivia took the lead, albeit after a lengthy delay as referee Diego Haro consulted VAR, when Diego Bejarano's goal-bound volley hit Arzamendia's outstretched arm, with Saavedra converting from the spot.

Paraguay thought they had the chance to draw level when Haro pointed to the spot again after Cordano hacked down Gabriel Avalos inside the box, but again, La Albirroja were denied by the VAR after another long delay as Romero was offside in the build-up.

Alejandro Romero inexplicably pushed wide from close range in the 43rd minute, before Bolivia teenager Cuellar saw red for a second bookable offence.

Paraguay kept up the pressure after the break, with Alejandro Romero hitting the woodwork, though he equalised via an excellent 62nd-minute volley from outside the box.

Minutes later Paraguay were ahead, with Cordano unable to hold substitute Carlos Gonzalez's header and Angel Romero swooping to force home the loose ball.

Paraguay keeper Antony Silva had to be alert to a 78th-minute Roberto Fernandez strike, before Angel Romero netted his second, slotting home from Avalos' pass.

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.

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