Brazil beats Paraguay in shootout in Copa América quarters

Paraguay's Gustavo Gomez has his penalty saved during a penalty shootout by Brazil's Alisson in their quarterfinal match at the Copa America Brazil 2019 on June 27, 2019. (REUTERS/Diego Vara)
Updated 28 June 2019

Brazil beats Paraguay in shootout in Copa América quarters

  • Brazil will face either Venezuela or Argentina, which play on Friday in Rio de Janeiro
  • Brazil had been eliminated by Paraguay the last two times the teams met in the Copa América quarterfinals, in 2011 and 2015

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil: Facing early elimination in the Copa América at home, Brazil finally found a way to get past Paraguay in a penalty shootout.
After two consecutive eliminations against its southern neighbor, Brazil came out on top on penalties on Thursday to avoid an embarrassing elimination in the quarterfinals of the South American tournament.
Goalkeeper Alisson made a save and Gabriel Jesus scored the decisive penalty as Brazil defeated Paraguay 4-3 in the shootout to return to the semifinals for the first time since 2007.
Alisson dived to his left to stop the initial penalty by defender Gustavo Gómez, and Gabriel Jesus sealed the victory to keep Brazil on track for its first Copa América title since 2007.
Brazil will next face either Venezuela or Argentina, which play on Friday in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil had lost to Paraguay the last two times the teams met in the Copa América quarterfinals, in 2011 and 2015, both times in penalty shootouts.
Derlis González also missed from the spot for Paraguay, while Roberto Firmino failed to score for Brazil. Both players sent their shots wide.
González, who also missed a penalty in Paraguay’s 1-1 draw against Argentina in the group stage, had scored the decisive goal in the 2015 shootout. He was one of the five players back from that team that eliminated Brazil.
Willian, Marquinhos and Philippe Coutinho converted their penalties for Brazil, while Miguel Almirón, Bruno Valdez and Rodrigo Rojas netted for Paraguay.
“My teammates did their part, they took on the responsibility and succeeded. That was crucial,” Alisson said. “This was an important step toward our goal of winning the South American title.”
Gabriel Jesus had missed a late penalty in Brazil’s 5-0 rout of Peru in its last group game, but calmly found the net with his shot from the spot as Paraguay goalkeeper Roberto “Gatito” Fernández went the other way, igniting the Brazilian crowd of more than 48,000 at the Arena Grêmio.
“I was confident, I knew that if I took the penalty the way I’m used to taking it, I would have more chances of scoring,” Gabriel Jesus said. “I was upset after the other match because I didn’t take the shot my own way. This time I waited for the goalkeeper to move and just sent the ball the other way.”
Gatito had been key in regulation as the visitors held on to a 0-0 draw despite having a defender sent off in the 58th minute. In the Copa America quarterfinals, extra time is not played and the match proceeded straight to penalties.
Paraguay played with 10 men after Fabián Balbuena was sent off for a foul that was initially called a penalty kick but was reversed after video review determined the foul happened outside the area.
“We have to be proud of the character shown by this team,” said Paraguay coach Eduardo Berizzo, an Argentine. “We could have been rewarded with a wonderful and heroic triumph in the penalty shootout, but that doesn’t take anything away from my players’ great performance.”
Brazil controlled possession but struggled to create scoring opportunities against Paraguay’s solid defensive system.
The visitors had one of the best chances of the first half when González’s close-range shot was saved by Alisson.
Brazil pressed nearly full-time after Balbuena was sent off, but couldn’t capitalize on its many opportunities. Gabriel Jesus, Coutinho, Everton and Firmino all missed great chances in front of the goal.
Fernández made a great reflex save on a close-range header by Alex Sandro near the end of the match, and in the 90th Fernández could only watch as a low shot by Willian struck the post.
Brazil coach Tite said the poor field conditions didn’t help Brazil’s attack.
“It’s absurd to have to play on a field where it’s difficult to exchange passes,” Tite said.
Despite reaching the semifinals in 2015 and finishing runner-up in 2011, Paraguay has won only one of its last 21 matches in the Copa América, taking advantage of penalty shootouts to advance.
Paraguay reached the last eight this year with only two points, finishing as one of the two best third-place teams from the three groups.
Paraguay and Brazil failed to make it out of the group stage in the 2016 Copa América.
An eight-time South American champion, Brazil has won the tournament all four previous times it hosted the event, the last time in 1989.
Brazil’s Neymar, dropped from the squad because of an ankle injury sustained just before the tournament, watched from the tribunes at the Arena Grêmio.


Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

Updated 25 August 2019

Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

  • When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain

NEW YORK: During a break in practice two days before opening his US Open title defense, Novak Djokovic pulled off his blue shoe and white sock so a trainer could look at his right foot.

Did it again a little while later.

And then, toward the end of Saturday’s training session in Louis Armstrong Stadium with 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori, Djokovic stopped a sprint and pulled up short of a ball, raised his right leg off the ground entirely and hopped repeatedly on his left, wincing. Nothing to worry about, Djokovic said later at his pre-tournament news conference: Just blisters.

“A minor thing,” Djokovic called it. “Like anybody has ... Nothing major that is causing a concern for the event.”

When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena, a 26-year-old from Spain whose career-best ranking was 72nd.

Carballes Baena has an overall career record of 43-50. That includes 2-7 at major tournaments, 1-1 at Flushing Meadows, where he made his debut a year ago and lost in the second round.

Djokovic, meanwhile, has won 33 of his past 34 Grand Slam matches en route to collecting four of the past five major titles. That allowed the 32-year-old Serb to raise his career haul to 16 trophies, putting him just two away from second-place Rafael Nadal’s total of 18, and Roger Federer’s 20, which is the record for men.

He’s not shy about trying to catch those guys.

“More or less everything is about Grand Slams, in terms of how I see tennis and how I approach it, because they matter the most,” Djokovic said. “So I will definitely try to play my best tennis — and aim to play my best tennis — at these events.”

And while many would attribute Djokovic's success to his ability to return serves, say, or his mental strength and propensity for coming up big in the biggest moments — such as saving two match points along the way to edging Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the Wimbledon final last month — there's something else the man himself would point to as his most vital quality.

That's the way Djokovic can cover a court, which is why the state of that right foot is actually a rather big deal.

His movement, Djokovic said Saturday, is "the base of everything" and "the most important thing."

"It just allows you to be more in balance. And at the end of the day, that is what you're looking for as a tennis player," he explained. "How can you hit the ball, being in the right balance, so you can penetrate the ball with the right speed, accuracy and precision?"

Watch Djokovic during a match, and you'll see him change direction in a heartbeat, twist and turn, contort his limbs, slide — on clay, on grass, even on hard courts — always getting to the right spot at the right time.

He attributes his strength in that area to the flexibility of his ankles and is grateful he used to participate in another sport while growing up back home in Serbia.

"I credit my childhood spent on the skis. I used to spend a lot of time skiing," Djokovic said. "That had an effect as well, with kind of coordination and changing movement from one side to another. Even though they're different sports, in essence, you're using some major muscle groups and joints and stuff like this in most of the sports."

It is Djokovic's right elbow that gave him the most trouble a couple of seasons ago.

He missed the last half of 2017, including that year's US Open because that arm was bothering him, then wound up having surgery in February 2018. It took some time for Djokovic to get going after that. All's good these days, though.

"Novak had a couple years where he didn't seem like the same guy," ESPN's John McEnroe said. "Now he's back with a vengeance."

Only 1½ months have passed since Djokovic edged Federer in that classic title match at the All England Club.

Not a lot of time to savor the victory. Not a lot of time to rest a weary body.

"This sport can be a little bit 'cruel,'" Djokovic said, using fingers to indicate air quotes, "when it comes to, I guess, marveling or celebrating your own success. You don't have that much luxury of time to really reflect on everything because the season keeps going."