Uruguay, Paraguay set for surprise Copa final
Buenos Aires: After two successive finals involving Brazil and Argentina, most South American football fans expected a battle of the giants in the final of the Copa America.
Instead, they can look forward to a duel between two nations whose populations barely reach the ten million of Bolivia between them, never mind the 190 million of Brazil alone.
Uruguay will be overwhelming favourites to see off Paraguay and clinch a record 15th continental crown, their first since 1995, to break their tie with Argentina.
But Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez is keen to play down the favourites` mantle.
"We have a lot of potential but Uruguay need not think it would be a disaster to come second. However, of course we believe we can win it - we have faith in ourselves and we are well prepared," said the coach.
Argentina had expected to land a 15th Copa for themselves but instead the hosts fell to Uruguay in a quarter-final shootout to leave coach Sergio Batista fighting for his job.
Brazil likewise made a quarter-final exit to Paraguay after failing to convert any of their kicks and Paraguay were at it again in defeating Venezuela to reach their first final since their second triumph in 1979.
Paraguay, who will likely pin their hopes on Lucas Barrios and Nelson Haedo Valdez in attack with Roque Santa Cruz still not fully fit, also won the event in 1953 and were runners-up on five occasions.
Yet here, the talk is of how they have reached Sunday`s showdown at River Plate`s Estadio Monumental by drawing all their matches.
But it is Uruguay, despite having only a 3.5 million population to draw on, who have shaped the history of the world`s oldest international football tournament with their 14 wins and six final losses in 42 previous editions.
They will be looking to Diego Forlan, the top scorer at the 2010 World Cup, to find the target for the first time at the tournament.
Paraguayan midfielder Edgar Barreto insists his team do not deserve to have a negative label pinned on them.
"Everyone says how we have not won any of our games, but we didn`t lose any either," said Barreto in looking back at the shootout successes over first Brazil and then Venezuela.
Three of their games ended goalless though they were entertaining enough in a 2-2 group draw with the Brazilians and a 3-3 draw with Venezuela thereafter, when they let slip a 3-1 lead in the dying minutes.
On Uruguay, Barreto said: "They are a balanced side with a lot of quality and we have to pick away at their weak points to hurt them."
Defender Ivan Piris says reaching the final is not enough now they are there.
"We want more now. We want to be the champions for the first time in 32 years and make history."
Uruguay`s Lazio midfielder Alvaro Gonzalez expects a tight contest.
"Paraguay play the way they play - we know how this team works. They play it very tight and it`s very difficult to get into their box. They deserve to be in the final. They played Brazil, one of the big favourites, twice and didn`t lose."
Young defender Sebastian Coates adds: "Paraguay will be tough opponents, given their history and tradition," while skipper Diego Lugano forecasts that "it will be a great battle."
The winner of Sunday`s game will go forward to represent South America`s CONMEBOL association in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup hosted by Brazil.