Paraguay edged into the final of the 2011 Copa America on Wednesday following a dramatic 5-3 penalty shootout victory over Venezuela in Mendoza.
Emotions were high at a colorful 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 semifinal stage.
Both coaches were forced into change as suspension and injury proved minor selection headaches. Paraguay had four new faces from the side that dispatched Brazil and la vinotino changed 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 took the lead after seven minutes when Darío Verón 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 that had the ball in the net on the half hour mark, only to see it chalked off when Rondón 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 la abirroja 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 was frustrated by its opponents, who defended well and looked to break dangerously on the counter-attack.
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 four minutes before limping off the pitch, 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 restart, 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 was handed the man advantage when Jonathan Santana received his second caution just before the turn-around, and la vinotinto sensed victory.
Paraguay defended desperately as it faced a relentless barrage of attacks but managed to stand firm to face the second penalty shootout in two games.
The shootout saw heartbreak for Venezuela as Franklin Luceno saw his penalty saved to give Martino’s men a dramatic victory.
Paraguay now travels to el Monumental for Sunday’s final against Uruguay, Venezuela is left to battle for third place with Peru.