Match Preview: Messi and Mascherano chasing place in the Copa América final

Match Preview: Messi and Mascherano chasing place in the Copa América final

Argentina look to continue their quest to end a 22 year trophy drought by beating Paraguay in the semi-final to set up a showdown with Claudio Bravo's Chile in the final

Seven tournaments have passed since Argentina last made it to the final of the Copa América. Indeed the last time the ‘albiceleste’ claimed an international trophy was in the South American tournament some 22 years ago, when they defeated Mexico in the 1993 final played in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

With Barça’s Leo Messi and Javier Mascherano amongst their squad, the team coached by ‘Tata’ Martino first have to overcome Tuesday’s semi-final in the Ester Roa Stadium in Concepción at 8.30pm local time/1.30am Wednesday morning CET. The prize is a place in Saturday’s final against Claudio Bravo’s Chile team and the chance to claim their 15th Copa América title, which would draw them level with all time leaders Uruguay.

However, standing in their away are a Paraguay side, coached by Argentinian Ramón Díaz, who have hopes of repeating their performance of 2011 when they reached the final only to lose 3-0 to Uruguay.

Previous meetings bode well

Argentina can take comfort in their record in recent previous meetings with the Paraguayan national side. The ‘albiceleste’ are unbeaten in their last 23 games against their semi-final opponents in the Copa América, recording 18 wins and five draws in that time. The last meeting between the two sides came in the group stage of this season’s tournament. Argentina were by far the better side in the first half of that game and took a deserved 2-0 at the break. Nevertheless, after the break Paraguay came storming back into the game and secured a 2-2 draw with an injury time equaliser.

Paraguay coach Díaz is well aware of his team’s record against their opponents and admitted that Argentina “are a great team with the best player in the world, Leo Messi.” He also revealed that he would not change the game plan for his team that brought them success in the quarter-finals, eliminating Brazil on penalties after a 1-1 draw in normal time.

Messi and Mascherano a yellow away from suspension

For Argentina to get to the final they will have to defeat Paraguay and also be careful that Messi, Mascherano and ‘Kun’ Agüero are not shown a yellow card. All three players are just a booking away from suspension after all three were cautioned in the quarter-final win against Colombia. If the same thing were to happen in the semi-final then should Argentina reach the final, they would have to cope with losing at least one of their most important players.

Old friends

Former Barça coach ‘Tata’ Martino has his own reasons for the semi-final being of particular importance. The man from Rosario was in charge of the Paraguayan national team at the South Africa World Cup in 2010 and in their successful 2011 Copa América campaign when they were beaten finalists. “The players helped me grow as a coach and it’s clear that the job with Paraguay has had a big impact on my career. I would have preferred to face somebody else,” confessed Martino.

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