Penalty drama sees Martino's 10-men, who scored all their spot-kicks, set up a final showdown with Uruguay as the Venezuelans were left heartbroken after a gallant fight
Paraguay edged into the final of the 2011 Copa America on Wednesday following a dramatic 5-3 penalty shootout victory over Venezuela in Mendoza after both sides fought out a 0-0 stalemate.
Emotions were high at a colourful Malvinas Stadium as the sides battled for a place in the showpiece of South American football, one week after their thrilling 3-3 Group B encounter.
Gerardo Martino’s men were looking to reach their first final since 1989 while the Venezuelans were already treading new territory in reaching the semi-final stage.
Both coaches were forced into change as suspension and injury proved minor selection headaches, with Paraguay fielding four new faces from the side that dispatched Brazil and Venezuela changing three from the win over Chile.
There was little sign of the cautious football that had dogged the tournament as both sides started brightly, Paraguay almost taking the lead after seven minutes when Darío Veron forced Renny Vega into a smart save with a well directed header.
The two-time Copa winners continued to look lively as they opened up their opponents with some classy football, the impressive Edgar Barreto pulling the strings in the middle.
Despite this possession, it was Venezuela who had the ball in the net on the half hour mark, only to see it chalked off when Rondon was judged offside.
Moments later, Alejandro Moreno rattled the Paraguayan woodwork with a thunderous header as Cesar Farias’ men grew in confidence before the break.
Nelson Valdez spurned a good opportunity to give his side the lead five minutes into the second half, only to see Vega deny him as he broke into the Venezuelan penalty area.
Paraguay continued to dominate possession but were frustrated by their opponents, who defended well and looked to break dangerously on the counterattack.
The game soon began to drift as both coaches looked for a spark to create the decisive moment and Martino brought Roque Santa Cruz into the fray with 15 minutes to go.
The Manchester City hitman lasted just seven minutes before he limped off clutching his right hamstring.
The final 10 minutes of the game proved a tense affair as both sides seemed unwilling to push too far forward in search of the elusive goal, and normal-time ended with the teams still at stalemate.
The post came to the rescue of Paraguay minutes after the start of extra-time, when Miku deflected a speculative long range effort from Giancarlo Maldanado past Justo Villar.
Moments later the Paraguayan keeper had the upright to thank once again as he horribly misjudged a Juan Arango free kick from 40 yards out.
Venezuela were handed the man advantage when Jonathan Santana received his second caution just before the turn-around, and Farias' troops sensed victory.
Paraguay defended desperately as they faced a relentless barrage of attacks but managed to stand firm to face the second penalty shootout in two knockout games.
The spot-kicks saw heartbreak for Venezuela as Franklin Luceno had his penalty saved to give Martino’s men a dramatic victory, as Paraguay converted all five of their attempts through Ortigoza, Barrios, Riveros, Martinez and Veron.
A fight broke out moments after the final whistle between both sets of players and coaching staff, with police needing to escort them from the pitch.
Paraguay, who could face disciplinary action for their part in the fight after the match, now travel to the Monumental for Sunday’s final against Uruguay as Venezuela are left to battle for third place with Peru.