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Great escape! Toothless Brazil shake off history to survive Copa quarter-final scare

7:02 AM GMT+4 28/06/2019
Dani Alves Everton Philippe Coutinho Brazil Copa America 2019
The Selecao avoided another humbling exit at the hands of ever-awkward Paraguay, but they will be concerned at another sub-par attacking performance

The Brazil bandwagon rolls on, but only just. Alisson came to the rescue with a decisive penalty shoot-out save to send the Copa America hosts into the semi-final, but their clash against Paraguay - a huge relief after going down to the same rivals in the same fashion in 2011 and 2015 - should have been decided far earlier as their weaknesses going forward were exposed for all of South America to see.

Robbed of the dangerous Richarlison after the Everton forward came down with a bout of the mumps in the build-up to Thursday's clash, and with Fernandinho and Casemiro also missing, Brazil nevertheless came out to win in Porto Alegre with an adventurous line-up that paired for the first time from the start Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus up front.

Despite a bright opening few minutes, though, old problems surfaced again for the home team. Having dispatched Peru with such verve and class, they once more struggled to impose themselves on a solid, resolute defence, with Paraguay giving up absolutely nothing around their packed penalty area.

Indeed, Eduardo Berizzo's men – who managed just two points in Group B – came out with the rustic but effective game-plan of kicking practically anything that moved in a yellow shirt.

Everton was among those targeted most ferociously in a tense first 45 minutes, while Gabriel and Arthur also felt the Guarani wrath with a series of heavy challenges. Three Paraguay players picked up bookings before the break, although they also created the only real chance of the half; Derlis Gonzalez forcing a strong save out of Alisson at the near post after being played in neatly by Hernan Perez.

Paraguay's task of holding on for dear life was made even harder 10 minutes into the second half when Fabian Balbuena saw red for cutting down Roberto Firmino in full flight on the edge of the box – although they may have been more relieved to see VAR rule for a free-kick rather than a penalty.

In any case their stern resistance continued with 10, frustrating Brazil throughout and giving up extremely little.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where it went wrong for the Selecao. Tite's charges dominated the game from start to finish, restricting Paraguay to a miserly four shots while remaining on the offensive constantly.

But in a story that has repeated itself on numerous occasions in recent years, the cutting edge was just not there. Guarani keeper Roberto Fernandez made a string of saves, but all were comfortable and posed little danger on the Cerro Porteno man's net, his fantastic reaction stop from Alex Sandro's header the exception right at the end.

Approaching the Paraguay area Brazil looked one team; once they hit the wall, another. A couple of interventions from Philippe Coutinho and the electrifying Everton aside, it was all too predictable, all too easy for the underdogs to repel as they inched towards their goal of a penalty shoot-out.

When a team peppers 25 shots on goal but barely three or four of those efforts threaten to open the scoring, something is clearly wrong. Even with numerical advantage Brazil were left chancing on the lottery of penalties, which thanks to Alisson – perhaps just glad to be included in the action for once – finished in their favour.

Even then a horrific miss from Firmino, perhaps the symbol of his nation's attacking woes during a nervous, off-key display inside 90 minutes, left the Guarani with a narrow window to fight back. But Gonzalez obliged with a similarly horrendous effort seconds later, leaving Jesus free to finally kill off the brave visitors.

A last-four clash against either Argentina or Venezuela now awaits, with the Selecao still hot favourites to take the Copa on home soil. But Paraguay showed, just like Bolivia and the Vinotinto, that if the net is closed off Tite's men lack the tools to break through, despite their riches of attacking talent; something that must be worked on and fast.