Copa America’s Winless Finalists – Paraguay’s 2011 Dream


This article was first published on June 11th 2015

It’s quite easy to make it to a major international tournament and win no games at it. Usually, you go crashing out at the group stage. But, how do you go a major international tournament, win no games, but end up in the final? Just ask the Paraguay 2011 Copa America team!

Led by Gerardo Martino, the then-future Barcelona boach and now current Argentina boss, Paraguay boasted a team that included Antolin Alcaraz (of Wigan and Everton fame), Lucas Barrios (who was Dortmund’s Lewandowski before the Pole came along), Cristian Riveros (who lined out for Sunderland a few times), and of course legendary striker Roque Santa Cruz, then in his Blackburn Rovers prime.

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Paraguay were drawn with the mighty Brazil in the group stage, to go along with Ecuador and Venezuela – no pushovers by any stretch of the imagination. An 89th minute Fred equaliser snatched victory from Paraguay in the second group match, while a 92nd minute Venezuela equaliser in the third game meant the Paraguayans drew all three group games despite coming minutes away from winning two. Nevertheless, they were through to the quarter-finals, where they would again meet Brazil just eight days after their last meeting.

120 goalless minutes preceded the worst penalty shootout in Brazil’s history, managing to net 0 times from 12 yards out. Elano (who used to play for Manchester City, remember him?!), Thiago Silva, André Santos, and Fred all missed their spot kicks, and Paraguay, still winless, were into the semis. You can watch that terrible penalty shootout above.

Seven days after so narrowly missing out on beating them in the group stage, Martino’s men faced up against Venezuela yet again, but this time with a place in the final on the line. Another drab goalless draw – and once again no wins for Paraguay – saw Santa Cruz’s side into another penalty shootout. Paraguay were flawless this time, going through to face Luis Suarez’s Uruguay after beating Venezuela 5-3 from the spot.

The unimaginable had come true – Paraguay, with three draws in the group stage, a draw in the quarter final, and a draw in the semi final, were now 90 minutes away from the title! Every neutral on earth was hoping for them to win on penalties, and take the championship without having won a match.

Unfortunately for us, Luis Suarez, Diego Forlán and co. were far too good and blew Martino’s men out of the water with a stellar 3-0 display.

The quirkiest of rides was over, with Paraguay’s Copa America 2011 record standing at: 0W, 5D, 1L, and a runners up medal. Heroes!

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