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Paraguay Gets to Copa America Final Without Winning a Game

Paraguay beat Venezuela 5-3 in a penalty shootout to reach its first Copa America soccer final in 32 years without having won a single game at the tournament.

Dario Veron scored the winning kick in Mendoza, Argentina, after Venezuela’s Franklin Lucena earlier had his penalty saved by Paraguay goalkeeper Justo Villar. The teams finished 0-0 after extra time in a match that went past midnight local time.

First-time semifinalist Venezuela had a goal disallowed for offside and hit the goal frame three times, while Paraguay had Jonathan Santana red carded in extra time and held on to secure a place in the July 24 title game against Uruguay.

“It’s not that we have been practicing penalties, we’ve been rather lucky,” Villar said in a televised interview.

Two-time champion Paraguay qualified for the final of South America’s continental championship having drawn its three group games and needing penalty kicks to get past Brazil and Venezuela in the quarterfinals and semifinals following scoreless ties.

Venezuela, which had never made it to the final four in 14 previous attempts, was closest to breaking the deadlock in regulation in Mendoza.

Oswaldo Vizcarrondo had a 35th-minute header disallowed for offside and Alejandro Moreno headed against the crossbar in the 43rd minute. Villar saved Salomon Rondon’s follow up.

The Venezuelans twice struck Villar’s right-hand post in the opening five minutes of extra time, first by Nicolas Fedor and then by Juan Arango.

Man Down

Paraguay went down to 10 men when Santana received his second caution three minutes before the extra-time break. Although Venezuela used its numerical advantage to push forward in the final period, it couldn’t produce a goal.

After five successful spot kicks, Villar dived low to his right to keep out Lucena’s penalty and give Veron, who had never scored a goal in open play for his country, the chance to send Paraguay to its first final since 1979.

Uruguay, which shares the record of 14 championships with Argentina, beat Peru 2-0 two days ago. Of the region’s top four teams in FIFA’s world rankings, only No. 18 Uruguay made the semifinals of the 12-nation tournament, following up its fourth-place finish at last year’s World Cup in South Africa.

The final will be played at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires. The match to decide the third and fourth place teams, a meeting of Peru and Venezuela, takes place in La Plata on July 23.

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