Paraguay v Qatar: Berizzo's men start Copa America bid against Asian champions
Paraguay will hope last week's friendly win over Guatemala is the catalyst for a successful Copa America after what has been a challenging two years. Eduardo Berizzo's side had failed to win in seven games before Sunday's routine victory – a run that stretched back to October 2017.
They face Asian Cup champions Qatar in their opening fixture and given that Argentina and Colombia are the other sides in Group B, Berizzo knows anything other than three points will make their chances of progression to the knock-out stages extremely difficult. Along with Japan, Qatar have been invited to the tournament by CONMEBOL to bring the number of teams to 12.
Felix Sanchez's side surprised many when they went all the way in the Asian Cup at the start of the year, ultimately defeating Japan in the final to lift the trophy for the first time in their history. Sanchez sees the Copa America as the perfect opportunity for his players to test themselves against quality opposition as they prepare to host the World Cup in 2022.
"Clearly the goal is to have a good national team in the World Cup," he explained. "The important thing is that the players will gain experience at the Copa America. "They are accustomed to being strong and competitive. They are successful too, but our plan is to give the players the maximum opportunities to prepare for the World Cup in 2022."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Paraguay – Miguel Almiron
The Newcastle United man made his first appearance in more than seven weeks against Guatemala after recovering from a hamstring injury. If he can stay fit, he will be expected to be the supply line for the likes of Oscar Cardozo and Derlis Gonzalez in attack.
Qatar – Almoez Ali
The 22-year-old enjoyed a spectacular Asian Cup, with his nine goals more than twice as many as any other player scored in the tournament. Another successful campaign in Brazil could see some big clubs show an interest in the Al-Duhail forward.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Paraguay and Qatar have met three times in all competitions, with one win for each side and one draw.
- Paraguay have won only one of their last eight meetings with Asian countries (drawn three, lost four), losing each of the last three.
- Copa America 2019 will mark Paraguay's 21st consecutive appearance in this tournament (37th in total), the longest ongoing run of all sides. They last failed to appear in 1957, when they withdrew.
- Qatar will be competing in the Copa America for the very first time, becoming the 19th different participant in the competition’s history – ninth outside of CONMEBOL and second outside of the Americas (Mexico, Costa Rica, USA, Honduras, Panama, Japan, Jamaica, Haiti and the 10 CONMEBOL nations complete the list of participants).
- Paraguay made it at least to the semi-finals in two of the last three Copa America editions (runners-up 2011, semi-finals 2015), despite winning only one of the 15 games played in those three campaigns (1-0 v Jamaica, in 2015).