By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil were knocked out of the 2011 Copa América on Sunday by Paraguay after a penalty shoot-out. The game saw Brazil dominate possession, only to miss all four penalties on a dreadful playing surface. Elano, Thiago Silva, Andre Santos and Fred were the offenders as the Seleção failed to find the net.
With Argentina also eliminated on penalties on Saturday, the Copa’s path has now been paved for one of the continent’s smaller nations to lift the crown.
After a bullish performance to eliminate hosts Argentina, Uruguay have taken on the mantle of favorites. They will meet Peru in the semi-finals, who surprisingly overturned Colombia 2-0 in the quarters. And to make it four shocks out of four, Venezeuela beat Chile 2-1 to set up a semi-final meeting with Paraguay.
Brazil were pre-tournament favorites, having won the last two editions of the competition. Their early exit is not likely to spell the immediate end for former Corinthians coach Mano Menezes. Despite almost a year at the helm has never settled on a formation or line-up. In his ten games in charge prior to the tournament, Menezes never once picked the same XI and even when the competitive matches began could not decide the way he wanted the side to play.
After a lackluster 0-0 draw in their opening game against Venezuela two weeks ago, Brazil failed to click in their second group game against Paraguay six days later. A last minute Fred goal dragged them from the gaping jaws of defeat as they managed to salvage a 2-2 draw.
Going into their final group game, the impossible all of a sudden seemed possible – Brazil could be eliminated before the knock-out stages. But a 4-2 victory over Ecuador last Wednesday, with a brace each from Pato and Neymar, meant Brazil topped Group B and would once again play Paraguay.
But their indifferent form clung to them like glue. Rarely elevating their level above second gear in attack, Neymar and Pato especially wasted golden opportunities to put the match beyond doubt.
Brazil had been warned last week when their slack defending was punished with precision finishing from Paraguayan counters. On this occasion, the champions were far more resolute at the back – Paraguay did not manage a single shot on target in the 120 minutes of football, content to play out the match and chance their arm on penalties.
Brazilian cohesion did not move up the field with the team despite creating a plethora of chances. Pato missed the game’s greatest chance eight minutes before the end, first shooting straight at Villar before heading the rebound wide.
In the first half, Neymar volleyed wide when unmarked and after the break he had a shot blocked before the rebound fell to Maicon. His effort was also blocked.
Paraguayan keeper Villar was in inspired form and deserved the man-of-the-match plaudits that came his way. He made an athletic diving save to keep Ganso out and saved pointblank efforts from Lucio and Pato with the goal at their mercy.
With no winner after extra time the tie went to a spot kicks, sealing Brazil’s fate on the 17th anniversary of their 1994 World Cup victory. After such an unconvincing showing in Argentina, not many will bank on Menezes leading the charge in 2014.