Sao Paulo: The group stage of the Copa America ended with Brazil and Uruguay still the favourites and Argentina still unable to meet expectations.
Colombia also impressed early on, finishing with a perfect record and without conceding any goals, while two-time defending champions Chile stuttered after a good start.
The quarter-finals of the South American competition begin on Thursday with host Brazil taking on old foes Paraguay in Porto Alegre, and a day later in Rio de Janeiro it will be Argentina facing a Venezuela team that have struggled against recently.
Also on Friday, Colombia play Chile in Sao Paulo, and on Saturday Uruguay’s attacking duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani will face Peru in Salvador.
Here’s a closer look at the Copa America quarter-finals this week:
Brazil v Paraguay
Brazil got off to a slow start, being booed by the local crowd in their first two matches, but the 5-0 rout of Peru eased the pressure on coach Tite and boosted the team’s confidence entering the knockout stage.
Paraguay barely survived the first round, advancing with only two points as one of the best third-place finishers from the three groups. But they played better than the results showed, letting victory escape against Argentina only because of a missed penalty kick in the second half.
Brazil easily beat Paraguay the last time the teams met — in a World Cup qualifier two years ago. But it was Paraguay that eliminated Brazil the last two times the “Selecao” made it to the Copa America quarter-finals, in 2011 and 2015. Paraguay came out on top in penalty shoot-outs both times.
“It will be a difficult match, we will need to be very focused,” Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho said. “But the team is full of confidence, things are going well for us right now.”
Venezuela v Argentina
Argentina would normally be favoured against Venezuela, but this time there is reason for concern for Lionel Messi and his teammates.
While Argentina continue to struggle and just escaped elimination in the group stage, Venezuela enter the quarter-finals carrying good momentum.
“We will have to play better against Venezuela,” Messi said. “It’s a team with very clear ideas in attack, with very quick players.”
Venezuela, who held Brazil to a 0-0 draw in the group stage, defeated Argentina 3-1 in a friendly in Madrid in March. They drew their previous two matches with the Argentines, both in qualifying for the last World Cup.
After losing the last two Copa America finals, Argentina remain on a quest to end a 26-year title drought with the senior squad.
Colombia v Chile
Chile’s title defence will go through a red-hot Colombia, the only team to win all of their matches and not concede any goals.
James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao will be taking on Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas, two of Chile’s leaders in the title-winning campaigns of 2015 and 2016.
The Chileans couldn’t avoid the Colombians because they lost to Uruguay 1-0 in the final group game, when midfielder Arturo Vidal was among those rested by coach Reinaldo Rueda, a Colombian.
Colombia are led by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, and are seeking their first South American title since 2001.
Uruguay v Peru
With Suarez and Cavani thriving, Uruguay will be favoured against a Peruvian squad coming off a demoralising loss to Brazil that prompted a wave of criticism against Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca.
Peru’s defence is the worst among the teams in the quarter-finals, with six goals conceded in three matches. Uruguay have the second-best attack with eight goals, one less than Brazil.
Cavani and Suarez have already scored two goals each for Uruguay, while Peru striker Paolo Guerrero has only one.
Uruguay are the Copa America’s most successful team with 15 titles, one more than Argentina. Uruguay’s last continental title was in 2011.
All times UAE
Brazil v Paraguay, 4.30am
Venezuela v Argentina, 11pm
Colombia v Chile, 3am
Uruguay v Peru, 11pm