Paraguay’s goalkeeper Justo Villar was the hero
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Paraguay have qualified for their first Copa America final since 1999 after defeating Venezuela in a penalty shootout following their scoreless draw in Mendoza.
The two teams played out a thrilling 3-3 draw in the group stage, but the semi-final was to be a much more conservative affair with neither side able to make the breakthrough during the 120 minutes of play. A save from the impressive Justo Villar from Franklin Lucena’s spot-kick was enough to see Paraguay through to Sunday’s decider, where they will take on Uruguay.
Paraguay were on top initially, with Dario Veron heading powerfully toward goal in the opening minutes only to be denied by a fine diving save from Renny Vega.
However, Venezuela, competing in their first Copa America semi-final, were not content to spend the game on the back foot, stepping up the pressure as the first-half wore on. The goal-scoring hero against Chile, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, had a goal ruled out on 35 minutes as two of his team-mates stood in an offside position while the defender headed home.
Moments later and Alejandro Moreno slammed his header against the woodwork, while the rebound fell invitingly for his strike partner Salomon Rondon, but inspirational Paraguay skipper Villar made a superb reflex save down to his right.
The second-half provided much of the same, as Moreno and Rondon probed for an opening while Paraguay struggled to get into a rhythm.
Looking to find a late winner, La Albirroja brought on Roque Santa Cruz, Osvaldo Martinez and Marcelo Estigarribia but neither side could hit the back of the net in the 90 minutes, sending the game into extra-time.
Rondon and substitute Miku had opportunities to open the scoring in the additional 30 minutes, but both Venezuelans scuffed their strikes straight at Villar.
Meanwhile, Paraguay appeared to be falling apart, having Jonathan Santana dismissed after being shown his second yellow card for a foul on Rondon, while head coach Gerardo Martino and his assistant were both sent from the touchline.
Villar, who has been impressive all tournament, then made himself the hero in the shootout by holding onto Lucena’s tentative strike, while Paraguay converted all five of their penalty attempts.
Sunday’s final in Buenos Aires between Paraguay and Uruguay will be preceded on Saturday by Venezuela taking on Peru in the play-off for third spot.