By DAVID MOSSE
Uruguay is now in the somewhat unenviable position of being regarded as the favorite to win the 2011 Copa America following a remarkable quarterfinal round that saw both Argentina and Brazil crash out on penalties. The Celeste must guard against any kind of letdown after knocking out the hosts on Saturday in a pulsating encounter that will probably go down as the match of the tournament.
The quarterfinal exit represents an incredible failure for Argentina, which remains without a senior trophy since 1993, while Uruguay continues its resurgence as a major power that began with the fourth-place finish in last summer's World Cup in South Africa. Next up is a clash with an unexpected opponent.
In a tournament full of surprises, the emergence of Peru is perhaps the biggest shock of all after the country finished dead last in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. Peru was also rocked by injuries heading into the competition with strikers Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfan both ruled out, along with midfielder Luis Ramirez and defender Jesus Rabanal, a strong candidate to man the left-back position.
Paolo Guerrero and Juan Vargas have assumed most of the responsibility offensively, while manager Sergio Markarian deserves credit for the defensive solidity, as Peru has conceded just five goals in 14 games since he took charge.
Another surprise semifinal participant, Venezuela once again confirmed its astonishing progress by beating a Chilean side that had played some of the best soccer of the group stage. Former New York Red Bull Gabriel Cichero produced the winner 10 minutes from time after Humberto Suazo had canceled out Oswaldo Vizcarrondo's opener. Los Vinotintos did suffer a bad break with the sending off of Tomas Rincon, who represents a significant absence for the semifinal.
A familiar foe awaits in Paraguay, which squandered a two-goal lead to Venezuela in the dying moments of a remarkable group game just a few days ago. Luck was on Paraguay's side on Sunday, however, as Gerardo Martino’s men failed to create even a half-chance in 120 minutes against Brazil, but held on for a scoreless draw thanks in large part to a sensational performance from goalkeeper Justo Villar.
Here is a closer look at the two semifinal matchups:
Peru vs. Uruguay, Tuesday, 8:45 p.m., Univision
It remains to be seen whether Edinson Cavani will be available after missing the past two games with a knee injury, but Oscar Tabarez may have some doubts about inserting Cavani back into the starting lineup. Uruguay has played some of its best soccer without the Napoli hitman, who finished as the top scorer in Serie A this past season, as his absence pushes Diego Forlan into a slightly more advanced role.
Forlan and Luis Suarez caused all sorts of problems for Argentina, and look for more of the same on Tuesday. Diego Perez is suspended, but Uruguay still holds the edge in the center of the park, while Diego Lugano anchors a back-line that looked wobbly at times against Argentina. Lugano will be well aware of the danger posed by Peruvian attackers Guerrero and Vargas.
Paraguay vs. Venezuela, Wednesday, 8:45 p.m., Univision
The absence of Roque Santa Cruz robbed Paraguay of any kind of presence up front against Brazil, as Lucas Barrios found himself completely swallowed up by Lucio and Thiago Silva. Marcelo Estigarribia also didn't enjoy nearly the same success against Maicon as he had opposite Dani Alves in the first meeting between the two teams, but Paraguay persevered anyway thanks to Villar.
The hope is that Villar can duplicate his performance on Wednesday, while the attack shows signs of life. Paraguay scored three times against Venezuela in the group stage, but it wasn’t enough to claim victory, as Los Vinotintos rallied with goals from Nicolas Fedor and Grenddy Perozo to salvage a draw.
Who do you see winning the Copa America semifinal matches and advancing to the final?
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