Starting on the first of July in La Plata, the tournament has circled Argentina, reaching the foot of the Andes and the tip of the northern salt plains. Yet, the tournament will conclude only 60 kilometres from it’s origin, Buenos Aires.
While the path of the tournament was smoothly paved for a Brazil v Argentina showdown, it lacked a script.
Upsets, underachievement and strong defensive football had many of the big guns packing their bags early, leaving Uruguay and Paraguay to fight over the continent's biggest prize.
While similar in name, the two national teams are chalk and cheese.
With only 3.5 million people, Uruguay is the smallest country in the competition. Remarkably, it is only one game away from creating history and securing a record breaking 15th Copa America title.Meanwhile, Paraguay, a country nearly double the size of Uruguay, is competing in its first final since 1979, in hope of claiming only it’s third continental trophy.
The main point of discussion arising from the Celeste camp is whether coach Oscar Tabarez will risk fielding Edinson Cavani.
The talismanic Napoli striker hasn’t played for Uruguay since limping off with a knee injury in the Group C clash against Chile. ‘El Matador’ has walked an injury tight rope this week and has supposedly been given the green light by team doctors.
However, Tabarez has been given a potential death threat by Napoli boss Antonio De Laurentis – "I'll kill them if they've broken my Edinson.”
While the war of words may be entertaining the wider football community, it’s a mere mute point for many Celeste fans as Luis Suarez has found his best form as the tournament reaches its climax.
The nimble Liverpool striker is currently leading the Copa America scoring charts alongside Argentina’s Sergio Aguero. Should he find the net in the final, he will become the first Uruguayan to clinch the golden boot since Carlos Aguilera in 1983.
Uruguay will walk out onto the pitch of the Monumental as a strong favourite. However, this tag has not been so warmly received by the players, who are more than wary of the risk Paraguay poses, particular from the spot.
As the tournament has progressed, Uruguay’s attack has become increasingly more streamlined and fluent. Diego Forlan may yet have entered the scoring chart but he has become increasingly more comfortable playing in a deeper role as a provider for Suarez.
Playing against the tenacious and combative Paraguayans, Uruguay's fluency is in danger of being derailed.
Amazingly, the Guarani reached the Copa America final without clinching a single victory in five previous outings - needing penalties to progress through the knockout games after three group match draws.
Their defensive style and lack of attacking provision failed to win over many fans here in Argentina, however Gerardo Martino's men are winning hearts and minds in Asuncion.
Paraguay's Copa America winless streak is leading headlines around the globe, yet the team has put a positive spin on the statistic – it is yet to be beaten, including two outings against Brazil.
By their own admittance, the Paraguayan’s started the tournament in fourth gear and are now in neutral. Having found the net on five occasions in the group stage, since then, they are yet to score a single goal in 240 minutes of football.
That means no goal conceded too, largely in part to Estudiantes’ newest addition, goalkeeper Justo Villar.
The 34-year-old has emerged as one of the tournament’s drawcards. He must maintain the form of his career if he is to hold out the likes of Forlan and Suarez in his 91st appearance for his country.
While Paraguay’s statistics don’t make for impressive viewing, they pitch La Albirroja as menacing opponents.Paraguay's tactics have been dubbed by the local media as ‘anti-football’, extracting the life out of opponent’s game plans without putting them to the sword. Lacking sufficient creative outlets, Martino's side relies on tenacious midfielders, such as Nestor Ortigoza and Edgar Barreto, to stifle and frustrate.
As criticism mounts on Paraguay, Martino defiantly announced his team is prepared to ‘win at all costs’ and is more than willing to take the game to a third successive penalty shoot-out.
While the Copa America final at the iconic Estadio Monumental is officially being played at a neutral venue, Paraguay won’t find many friendly faces amongst the 58,000 strong crowd.
The PR job has been left to model Larissa Riquelme, who has promised a streak through the capital city of Asuncion should Paraguay clinch continental glory.
Probable starting line-ups:
Uruguay: Muslera; M. Pereira, Lugano, Coates, Caceres; Gonzalez, Perez, Rios, A. Pereira; Forlan, Suarez.
Paraguay: Villar; Veron, Da Silva, Alcaraz, Piris; Barreto, Ortigoza, Riveros, Estigarribia; Valdez, Barrios.
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