Match Preview: Paraguay begins Copa America against Costa Rica

Once the dust is settled from the United States’ Group A opener against Colombia, all eyes from those two teams will turn to this match-up of remaining teams in the group.

Costa Rica and Paraguay are presumably the two underdogs in Group A, making three points for either side vital as they prepare for tougher tests ahead against the USA and Colombia.

Both teams have had success in recent World Cups in large part thanks to their defensive prowess, with Paraguay reaching the quarterfinals in 2010 and Costa Rica matching that run four years later. Look for the backlines to play a similarly important role for the winning team on Saturday and throughout the tournament.

No Navas

Costa Rica were dealt a tremendous blow heading into the tournament with the news that goalkeeper Keylor Navas will miss out to do a left Achilles injury. Navas has established himself as one of the top goalkeepers in the game today, taking over the mantle of the legendary Iker Casillas’ to become Real Madrid’s unquestioned No. 1 goalkeeper.

A decision on who will replace Navas as the starter – either Alajuelense’s Patrick Pemberton or Herediano’s Leonel Moreira – may come down to game day, though Costa Rica’s La Nación says Pemberton is the likely candidate, despite an outstanding tournament from Moreira in the Costa Rican top flight. Both are capable, as anyone who has seen them in CONCACAF play can attest, but neither have the ability of Navas, who has been such a key figure in the Ticos’ recent run of success.

MLS flavor

This game will feature MLS stars on both sides – the league has provided no fewer than five players for the Ticos’ roster, while Seattle Sounders forward Nelson Valdez has long been a mainstay and will likely start for Paraguay.

Alvaro Saborio (D.C. United) and Christian Bolanos (Vancouver Whitecaps) have long been mainstays for their country, though the former could be relegated to a bench role given the emergence of young talent such as Arsenal’s Joel Campbell. Among the younger Ticos, winger Johan Venegas (Montreal Impact) has firmly established himself as an impact player for Costa Rica, though Kendall Waston (Vancouver) and Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC) are the team’s two least experienced defenders and may have to wait their turns to see the field in this tournament.

Can Paraguay produce?

Paraguay have put out some strong teams in recent tournaments, going toe-to-toe with eventual champs Spain in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup and following that up with a run to the final of the 2011 Copa América. But they have never been known as prolific goalscorers, and their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign is no exception, with Los Guaraníes having scored seven goals in six games.

Their goalscoring problems will be exacerbated by the absence of all-time leading scorer Roque Santa Cruz from the roster, meaning Valdez (13 goals in 75 games) is the only double-digit international goalscorer on the squad.

They will, however, get a huge attacking boost with the presence of precocious winger Juan Iturbe, the 22-year-old Roma man who was recently cap-tied in March after representing both Paraguay and Argentina at the youth levels. If we are to see a moment of Paraguayan magic in this game, you can bet the house it will come from him.



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