Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz are set to play Paraguay in two international friendlies next month as they continue preparations for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Peru are one game away from back-to-back World Cup finals appearances following Tuesday's 2-0 win over Paraguay and head coach Ricardo Gareca lauded his side who seemed set to miss out six months ago.

La Blanquirroja clinched fifth spot in World Cup qualifying in CONMEBOL with the victory over Paraguay, finishing ahead of Colombia and Chile who were eliminated.

Peru's win means they will play the fifth-ranked team from the Asian Football Confederation, either Australia or UAE, who will meet in a one-off playoff in Doha in June. The inter-confederation playoff will also be played as a one-off in Doha on June 13 or 14.

Gareca's side seemed a long shot to claim fifth after back-to-back 1-0 losses to Bolivia and Argentina which left them second last in the standings in October but rallied by claiming 13 points from a possible 18 in their final six qualifiers.

“We didn't start the qualifiers well, but we rebounded well," Gareca told reporters. "It gave us the possibility to get to the playoff spot.

"I have to congratulate the boys and thank the people for the support. It was incredible. When I renewed my contract, this is what I wanted."

Gareca has been widely praised within Peru for his efforts, having taken over as national team boss in March 2015 and leading the side to its first World Cup in 36 years in 2018 along with the 2019 Copa America final.

The sentiment has been different for Colombia head coach Reinaldo Rueda, who achieved a rare feat of guiding two sides in qualifying who both failed to reach the World Cup. Rueda had led Chile early in qualifying before being dismissed, taking over Colombia in January.

"I think that not achieving the goal is a shame for Colombian football," Rueda told reporters after Colombia's 1-0 win in Venezuela which was not enough. "It is a very strong frustration. It was added, but the great result was not given."

"I think it is very clear that my contract was subject to qualifying for the World Cup, so it is an evaluation that the board will have to do, of the work we have done."

Chile's failure means they have missed the past two World Cups, meaning the international careers of several of their golden generation, including Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz, Claudio Bravo, Mauricio Isla, Gary Medel and Eduardo Vargas, may come to an end.

Chile head coach Martin Lasarte told reporters after their 2-0 home loss to Uruguay: "I think some players from the 'golden generation' still have something to give."

Ecuador qualified for the 2022 World Cup on Thursday despite a 3-1 defeat to Paraguay, benefiting from a victory for Uruguay that also sent the two-time champions to Qatar.

La Tri, who failed to make Russia 2018, knew they needed only a point to be sure of a top-four finish with a game to spare.

However, already-eliminated Paraguay were clinical in Ciudad del Este, three up before the hour mark through Robert Morales, a Piero Hincapie own goal and Miguel Almiron.

Ecuador threatened a dramatic fightback as Jordy Caicedo scored a late penalty and Blas Riveros was sent off, but ultimately their fate was decided in Montevideo.

The third-placed side joined Uruguay in advancing with both teams on 25 points, four ahead of fifth-placed Peru, who went down 1-0 to Giorgian De Arrascaeta's goal late in the first half.

Peru are still in control of their play-off fate, although both Colombia and Chile can catch them as Paraguay attempt to again play the role of spoilers in Tuesday's final match in Lima.

Philippe Coutinho was delighted to have finally ended the long wait between goals for Brazil after netting in the 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Paraguay in Belo Horizonte.

The 29-year-old playmaker, who joined Aston Villa on loan from Barcelona in January, netted a sublime long-range strike to make it 2-0 in the 62nd minute on Tuesday.

That goal marked Coutinho's first for his country since October 2020 when Brazil beat Bolivia 5-0 in their opening World Cup qualifier in this campaign.

It was also Coutinho's sixth goal from outside of the area for Brazil during Tite's tenure, with no player having scored more such goals in that time.

Coutinho, who has 65 caps to his name along with 19 goals, was back in the Brazil set-up for a second successive international break after missing much of 2021 with a knee injury, but had not featured for the Selecao since 2020 prior to starting against Ecuador last week.

"I was absent for a long time and I came out of a very complicated injury," Coutinho told reporters.

"I was called up for the previous two games for the Brazilian team but I hardly had a chance to play. I received a new opportunity now and I am happy to have delivered.

“I am very happy to have scored again for the Brazilian national team and to have scored again in this stadium with the Brazilian fans present."

Coutinho started and played 73 minutes in an offensive Brazilian formation, sitting behind a front three of Vinicius Junior, Matheus Cunha and Raphinha, with Neymar absent.

Lucas Paqueta and Coutinho offered plenty of attacking threat from midfield too but Brazil head coach Tite cooled excitement about the formation being a permanent fixture despite piling on four goals, with Raphinha and substitutes Antony and Rodrygo – the youngest player to score for the Selecao in this qualification campaign – also on target.

"I don’t believe much that the team is more offensive by having three strikers," Tite told reporters. "I see football as a balance.

"Those offensive players can only create if they have a creative midfield behind.

"A balanced team takes possession of the ball more times. I do not conceive of football where the pieces do not have harmony."

Brazil turned on the style and piled on the goals as they continued their perfect home World Cup qualifying record with a comfortable 4-0 win over Paraguay in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.

Leeds United forward Raphinha had a goal disallowed by the VAR early before netting the opener in the 28th minute, with new Aston Villa signing Coutinho adding a second on 62 minutes for his first international goal since 2020.

Brazil added two more in the dying minutes as Ajax forward Antony curled in the third, before Newcastle United addition Bruno Guimaraes laid off for Rodrygo to tap home.

The victory means Selecao, who have already clinched their spot at Qatar 2022, are unbeaten in 15 qualifiers and remain four points clear of rivals Argentina at the top of the CONCACAF standings.

Brazil have also won seven out of seven qualifiers on home soil, netting 18 goals and conceding only once, while Paraguay officially cannot qualify for Qatar 2022 due to the defeat.

Lionel Messi's Argentina were frustrated in a goalless draw away to Paraguay in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Argentina had their chances against Paraguay in Asuncion, but the Copa America champions could not find the breakthrough on Thursday.

Lionel Scaloni's Argentina, though, remain unbeaten in second position after nine matchdays on the road to Qatar 2022 and undefeated across 23 games across all competitions.

Messi was entering the contest on the back of his record-breaking exploits during the last international break after surpassing Brazil great Pele (77) as the all-time leading scorer for a South American nation with his hat-trick against Bolivia.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar looked lively away to Paraguay, creating a great opportunity for Argentina to break the deadlock in the 11th minute.

Messi, who had received 437 passes in CONMEBOL qualifying – the most by any player in the campaign – weaved his way past defenders and slid a ball through to Lautaro Martinez, whose goal-bound effort was somehow cleared off the line by a scrambling Omar Alderete ahead of Angel Di Maria.

Argentina were largely in control in the opening half, though Paraguay had some moments in the attacking third.

Another chance went begging for Argentina within five minutes of the second half getting underway, Rodrigo de Paul's ball across the six-yard box somehow evading his team-mates.

Paraguay almost took a surprise lead four minutes later after Miguel Almiron's turn of pace created an opening, but Emiliano Martinez was up to the task to deny the Newcastle United star.

Di Maria picked out Joaquin Correa at the back post on the hour mark, however, some desperate defending blocked the Argentina forward's goal-bound header.

Martinez was kept rather busy in the second half, but the in-form goalkeeper continued to thwart Paraguay, who were searching for their first home World Cup qualifying win against Argentina since 2009.

Antony Silva produced a fabulous sequence to deny Argentina during the closing stages, first dealing with Guido Rodriguez's header before pushing Papu Gomez's long-range effort onto the crossbar seven minutes from the end, while Carlos Gonzalez almost snatched victory for Paraguay in the 88th minute.

 

What does it mean? Unbeaten run continues

While Argentina were unable to secure maximum points, the South American champions have not tasted defeat since 2019.

Goalkeepers flex muscles

It was a showdown between two goalkeepers at the top of their game. Martinez came up big for Argentina in the second half, while Paraguay counterpart Silva was not to be overshadowed in a strong display.

Paraguay struggling for home form

While Paraguay would have probably taken a point before the match, their home woes continue. Paraguay have only won one of their past eight World Cup qualifiers on home soil, dating back to March 2017.

What's next?

Argentina are back in action for the visit of Uruguay on Monday, while Paraguay are away to Chile on the same day.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni said superstar captain Lionel Messi is clear to face Paraguay in La Albiceleste's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier.

Messi missed two matches due to a knee injury before returning for Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League win over Manchester City and last week's shock Ligue 1 loss at Rennes.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner is away on international duty with Argentina, who will visit Paraguay on Thursday, and Messi has been given the all-clear to play.

"Messi trained with us yesterday [Tuesday] without any problems and this morning too, so he's fine to play," Scaloni told reporters on Wednesday.

"Which is the most important thing and he's like the rest of the group, wanting to get together and do the best for the national team. Regarding his injury, it is evident that he has played two games before coming here and this is fine."

During the last international break, Messi surpassed Brazil great Pele as the all-time leading goalscorer for a South American nation.

Messi scored a hat-trick for Copa America champions Argentina in their 3-0 qualifying win over Bolivia last month, the 34-year-old taking his tally to 79 international goals.

Argentina – second behind Brazil in the standings – remain unbeaten on the road to Qatar 2022 with five wins from their eight fixtures, while they extended their undefeated streak to 22 matches across all competitions.

"The challenge that we have, or that I have in this case as a coach, is that the team competes in all the games and, that the things that I know that are done well, do it again or strengthen them and that they can be improved and tried in training even if they are few, and try to put a lot of emphasis on that," Scaloni said.

"We believe that in a collective level the national team has a fairly regular performance and I think that at an individual level it is evident that we have players who decide matches, but in a collective level I think that we have improved a lot in that and that one of the things in which the team does is give the feeling that that is always why, because we work as a team and because whoever enters or leaves knows very well what they have to do and I think that is the most important thing.

"Then there are things to improve on like all teams and even more so that we have very few days together. But our feeling is that as a team we are doing well."

Central and South American players who were barred from travelling to World Cup qualifiers by their Premier League teams will be available this weekend after their countries backed down from a request to ban them under FIFA rules. 

Players from Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Paraguay are cleared to play as their national federations agreed late Friday to waive a measure that would have compelled the players to sit out after their clubs refused to release them for international duty. 

Premier League teams last month decided to prevent players from nations on the United Kingdom's COVID-19 "red list" to participate in Qatar 2022 qualifiers, citing the UK's requirement that people who have travelled to those countries quarantine for 10 days upon their return. 

There had been some indications earlier Friday that the players might be available, but official word did not come down until shortly before midnight London time. 

Brazilians now available to their clubs Saturday include Ederson and Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City, Chelsea's Thiago Silva and Manchester United's Fred. 

Among players from other nations involved, Wolves can use Mexico's Raul Jimenez on Saturday, while Newcastle will have Paraguay's Miguel Almiron available, and Watford can play Chile's Francisco Sierralta 

Liverpool will be most relieved, with Alisson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino cleared to face Raphina and Leeds on Sunday. 

Earlier Friday, Jurgen Klopp said at a news conference that he hoped a solution could be reached for the benefit of all parties involved. 

"It is a really difficult situation and really tricky for all the clubs, and the players especially," Klopp said. "We should not forget at this moment that the players wanted to play these games, the clubs wanted to let the players go but it was not possible."

Peru became the first side to book their place in the Copa America semi-finals after beating Paraguay on penalties in a dramatic tie that finished 3-3 following normal time and saw both teams receive red cards.

Ricardo Gareca's Peru recovered from a goal down thanks to Gianluca Lapadula's first-half double at Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico, where Gustavo Gomez had given Paraguay an early lead on Friday.

Paraguay lost captain Gomez to a controversial second bookable offence just before half-time yet hit back through Junior Alonso's strike early in the second half.

Yoshimar Yotun appeared to have won the game for 2019 runners-up Peru with a deflected goal 10 minutes from time, but Andre Carrillo was also dismissed and substitute Gabriel Avalos levelled up in the final seconds to send the contest to penalties.

Following the script of the previous 90 minutes, the shoot-out was equally as eventful as four players failed to convert from 12 yards, but the drama was ended when Miguel Trauco tucked away the decisive spot-kick to set up a semi-final with defending champions Brazil or two-time winners Chile.

Paraguay will need to end a torrid run of form against Peru if they are to book a place in the semi-finals of the Copa America. 

Eduardo Berizzo's side have failed to win any of their last seven games against Peru, with their last victory coming in a friendly in November 2014. 

A 1-0 defeat to Uruguay in their final Group A game meant Paraguay finished third with six points from four games. 

They suffered a blow in that clash when influential midfielder Miguel Almiron limped off.

A late decision will be made on the Newcastle United man's fitness ahead of the match at Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico in Goiania, with Oscar Romero and Andres Cubas among the options to come into the starting XI.

Peru, meanwhile, wrapped up their Group B campaign with a slender 1-0 victory over Venezuela. 

Although anything but progress to the knockout stages would have been considered disappointing, Ricardo Gareca's team perhaps did better than they expected in beating Colombia to second place in the group.

Peru claimed two wins and a draw from their four games, with their only defeat coming against Brazil, who may well be their semi-final opponents should they progress.

Speaking at a media conference on Thursday, Gareca said: "We are improving day by day, game by game. Now it is the elimination stage so we need to be more attentive during the game. 

"The more we can develop what we believe and understand what our strengths are there will be possibilities for us."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Peru – Christian Cueva

If Peru are to secure progression to the last four then the creative burden will likely fall on the shoulders of Cueva. Three key passes, one shot, five tackles and eight possession regains summed up an all-action performance from the 29-year-old against Venezuela last time out.

Paraguay – Junior Alonso

There was little to get excited about in the defeat to Uruguay, but captain Alonso can be pleased with his performance. The Atletico Mineiro defender made more interceptions (four) than any other player on the pitch, while no player made more than his five clearances.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Peru have only lost one of their last four games against Paraguay in the Copa America (W1 D2), after being defeated in the previous four.
- Paraguay conceded less than one goal per game on average in their last seven Copa America games.
- In fact, Paraguay have not conceded more than two goals in the competition since June 2015 (1-6 v Argentina).
- No other team has scored more left-footed goals in this Copa America than Paraguay. Four of their five goals have come this way.
- Alonso is the player with the most successful passes so far in this Copa America (256).

Edinson Cavani's 21st-minute penalty lifted Uruguay into second spot in Group A and booked a quarter-final date with Colombia after a 1-0 win over Paraguay at the Copa America on Monday.

In the final group game, Manchester United forward Cavani's goal moved Uruguay up from fourth to second position, avoiding a last-16 meeting with hosts and defending champions Brazil.

Paraguay came into the contest hoping to claim their first Copa win against Uruguay since 1947, with an outside chance of topping Group A, but instead slipped to third and will next face Peru.

To make matters worse for La Albirroja, influential Paraguay midfielder Miguel Almiron limped off, placing his quarter-final availability in doubt.

Uruguay needed to avoid defeat to ensure they would not face Group B winners Brazil in the quarters and started with intent as Cavani headed wide in the third minute, while team-mate Giorgian De Arrascaeta grazed the post moments later.

La Celeste won a penalty following a clumsy challenge from Angel Romero as Cavani emphatically hammered the spot-kick past Paraguay goalkeeper Antony Silva.

Uruguay continued to dominate as Nicolas De La Cruz went on a superb run, beating two opponents, before laying off for Cavani, whose dangerous cutback across goal was cleared by Omar Alderete.

Almiron went off injured on the half-hour mark, before Uruguay thought they had a second via Matias Vecino, although it was disallowed with Cavani offside in the build-up.

Paraguay had a goal disallowed early in the second half too, when an offside Oscar Romero nodded home.

Luis Suarez replaced Cavani in the 68th minute and should have made it 2-0 when he broke clear alongside Rodrigo Bentancur but the pair got their wires crossed.

Paraguay have not defeated Uruguay at the Copa America since 1947, but La Albirroja have momentum entering Monday's final group-stage game in Rio. 

While Uruguay have laboured to find their form in the tournament, Paraguay have taken six points from the first three Group A matches. 

They defeated Chile 2-0 on Thursday to confirm their place in the quarter-finals, three days after Uruguay needed an own goal by Arturo Vidal to salvage a 1-1 draw with La Roja. 

Coupled with a tournament-opening defeat of Bolivia, Paraguay will be feeling confident about their chances to earn a long-awaited victory.

Head coach Eduardo Berizzo said he expects the game to unfold along similar lines as the sides' scoreless draw in World Cup qualifying in Montevideo earlier this month. 

"Uruguay is tough, difficult, we faced each other recently in the qualifying rounds, it was very physical and tactical and surely the same awaits us," he said. "We will go out to win as we always do." 

La Celeste broke a five-game winless streak with a 2-0 defeat of Bolivia in their previous match, with Edinson Cavani breaking through for his first international goal since Uruguay's most recent victory against Colombia in November. 

With qualification for the knockout phase ensured, Uruguay will hope to gain their footing against a side they have dominated for decades. 

Uruguay are unbeaten in 15 Copa America games (W9 D6) against Paraguay dating to that long-forgotten La Albirroja triumph 74 years ago. 

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Uruguay – Luis Suarez

Suarez is responsible for five of Uruguay's 12 shots on target in the tournament, a sign that he may be close to breaking his five-game international scoring drought. 

Beyond that stretch, the Atletico striker has not scored in the run of play for his country since a November 2019 friendly draw with Argentina. His four goals in World Cup qualifying last fall each came from the spot. 

Paraguay –​ Miguel Almiron

The Newcastle man had a hand in both goals against Chile, assisting on Braian Samudio's 33rd-minute opener and scoring from the spot in the second half. 

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- After their last win against Bolivia, Uruguay broke a run of three winless games in Copa America (D2 L1). They also scored two goals after scoring just once in each of the previous four (W1 D2 L1).
- After 11 winless games in Copa America (D6 L5), Paraguay won two of their last three games losing just against Argentina (1-0).
- Paraguay are the team with the higher shooting average in the current Copa America (17). The Albirroja also have the highest tally in a single game in the competition: 34 shots against Bolivia. 

Paraguay booked their spot in the Copa America quarter-finals after comfortably accounting for a lacklustre Chile 2-0 on Thursday.

Goals from Braian Samudio and Miguel Almiron saw Paraguay upstage two-time champions Chile in their penultimate Group A fixture in Brasilia en route to the knockout round.

Samudio's maiden international goal gave Paraguay a 33rd-minute lead at Estadio Nacional de Brasilia, before Almiron converted a penalty 13 minutes into the second half.

Chile were aiming to maintain their unbeaten start under head coach Martin Lasarte having won three and drawn three of the six matches since his appointment, while trying to put some pressure on Group A leaders Argentina.

But Chile struggled from the outset, recording just one tame shot on target throughout against Paraguay, with Eduardo Vargas and Ben Brereton bystanders in a forgettable outing.

Paraguay looked the more likely to score and forward Samudio broke the deadlock just past the half-hour mark – the 25-year-old rising highest to beat two defenders as his thumping header from Almiron's corner beat Claudio Bravo.

Carlos Gonzalez went close to doubling Paraguay's lead four minutes before half-time, however, his header in an unmarked situation went wide of the post in a big let-off for Bravo and Chile.

Paraguay did not have to wait long for their second goal after Chile veteran Gary Medel was penalised for a foul on Gonzalez in the 55th minute, with Newcastle United's Almiron stepping up to score the spot-kick.

Arturo Vidal led passionate appeals for a Chile penalty amid calls for a handball against Paraguay with 14 minutes remaining, but their protests fell on deaf ears, even after a VAR review.

That was the closest Chile came to scoring, with La Roja offering next to nothing in attack on a frustrating evening.

The gloss was taken off Paraguay's victory after substitute Antonio Bareiro left the field crying uncontrollably on a stretcher following what appeared to be a serious knee injury.

Chile will aim to maintain their unbeaten start under head coach Martin Lasarte and put some pressure on Copa America Group A leaders Argentina when they face Paraguay on Thursday.

La Roja have won three and drawn three of their six matches since experienced coach Lasarte replaced Reinaldo Rueda in February.

That includes 1-1 draws against Argentina and Uruguay, either side of a 1-0 win against Bolivia, to leave them second in their Copa America group with one game to go.

Chile are assured of a place in the knockout stages, but Lasarte is eager to avoid going through in fourth place, which would mean a quarter-final tie with favourites Brazil.

"We do not want to qualify in last place. Avoiding Brazil is key as they are the most powerful side in the tournament," he said.

"The draw against Uruguay, who have a lot of great players, was not bad. I'd have liked a win, but to draw was good."

Paraguay still have work to do if they are to progress out of the group, having followed up a 3-1 win over Bolivia in their first game with a 1-0 loss to Argentina last time out.

Papu Gomez scored the only goal of the game after 10 minutes for Argentina and Paraguay could not find a leveller, despite having more of the ball.

Los Guaranies will now be looking to overcome Chile in order to stay in the hunt for a top-four spot that would see them advance.

Head coach Eduardo Berizzo said: "We played a solid game defensively against Argentina and we have to continue with that.

"The attitude has been very good from the team and the players have given everything. We weren't rewarded for our efforts in the last game but we will try again."


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chile – Claudio Bravo

The Real Betis goalkeeper is the oldest player taking part in the Copa America at 38 years, but he is showing that age is just a number.

He has made the most saves among keepers to have played at least two games with 11 in total across three appearances (3.7 per game on average).


Paraguay – Alejandro Romero Gamarra

Gamarra has only played twice so far in this year's Copa America, yet he has created more chances than any other player in the competition (12) prior to Wednesday's games.

The prolific Al-Taawoun attacker was also on target in his side's victory over Bolivia to make it four goals in eight senior caps for Paraguay.


KEY OPTA FACTS

– Paraguay are unbeaten in their last four games against Chile on neutral soil (W2  D2).

– Chile have not conceded more than one goal in any of their six games under head coach Lasarte.

– Paraguay have the highest possession in this year's Copa America (66.8 per cent) and have created 16.5 chances per game, more than any other side.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni voiced concerns about the physical condition of his players while highlighting the importance of Lionel Messi after La Albiceleste booked their spot in the Copa America quarter-finals.

Papu Gomez was the hero for Argentina, with his 10th-minute goal sealing a 1-0 win over Paraguay on Monday and a spot in the last eight of the showpiece CONMEBOL tournament.

There was no rest for superstar captain Messi, who equalled Javier Mascherano's record for most Argentina appearances with his 147th cap, despite Scaloni's men backing up from Friday's success against Uruguay.

Messi has not missed a minute of Argentina's three Group A games so far, amassing 74 touches against Paraguay while winning 75 per cent of a team-high 16 duels.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner had the most shots (three) and shots on target (two) among his team-mates as Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 16 matches, dating back to 2019.

"The reality is that Messi has been playing every game and it is very difficult not to count on him, even though he is tired he continues to make the difference," said Scaloni, who introduced the likes of Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero into the starting XI.

"Today we made several changes and despite that we were able to take all three points."

Without a major title since the 1993 Copa America, Argentina snapped a four-game winless drought against Paraguay in Brasilia.

Argentina ended the contest with a total of eight shots (five from outside the box) – their second lowest figure during the Scaloni era, tied with the match against Ecuador in October 2020 and one more than they registered against Paraguay at the 2019 Copa America.

Paraguay controlled possession across the 90 minutes – 56.9 to 43.1 per cent, the first time in the last nine meetings with Argentina they had more ball possession.

"What worries me is the physical condition of the players because we came from playing three days ago and today the conditions were not the best, so we had to rotate players," Scaloni told reporters.

"The first half we played very well and in the second, due to the merit of Paraguay and their good physical condition, as a result of many days off, they had more control of the game. The team showed a good image in the first half, but there are always things to keep improving."

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