Angel Romero scored twice as Paraguay produced a second-half comeback to claim a 3-1 win over a depleted 10-man Bolivia in their opening game at the Copa America.
La Albirroja were favoured to see off Bolivia, who were without three players – including captain and talisman Marcelo Martins after testing positive for coronavirus.
Bolivia, who have only progressed beyond the Copa America group stage once since finishing runners-up in 1997, took a shock early lead from Erwin Saavedra’s 10th-minute penalty on Monday.
Paraguay piled on the pressure for no reward in the first half, before Bolivia were reduced to 10 men on the stroke of half-time following Jaume Cuellar’s second booking in Goiania, Goias.
The weight of pressure told in the second half as Alejandro Romero levelled before Paraguay team-mate Angel Romero scored a brace to seal the win.
Paraguay flew out of the blocks as Santiago Arzamendia forced an acrobatic save from Bolivia goalkeeper Ruben Cordano inside the first minute, with Angel Romero flashing wide from the ensuing corner.
But Bolivia took the lead, albeit after a lengthy delay as referee Diego Haro consulted VAR, when Diego Bejarano’s goal-bound volley hit Arzamendia’s outstretched arm, with Saavedra converting from the spot.
Paraguay thought they had the chance to draw level when Haro pointed to the spot again after Cordano hacked down Gabriel Avalos inside the box, but again, La Albirroja were denied by the VAR after another long delay as Romero was offside in the build-up.
Alejandro Romero inexplicably pushed wide from close range in the 43rd minute, before Bolivia teenager Cuellar saw red for a second bookable offence.
Paraguay kept up the pressure after the break, with Alejandro Romero hitting the woodwork, though he equalised via an excellent 62nd-minute volley from outside the box.
Minutes later Paraguay were ahead, with Cordano unable to hold substitute Carlos Gonzalez’s header and Angel Romero swooping to force home the loose ball.
Paraguay keeper Antony Silva had to be alert to a 78th-minute Roberto Fernandez strike, before Angel Romero netted his second, slotting home from Avalos’ pass.
What does it mean? Strong Paraguay start
With four sides to progress from the five-team groups, Paraguay have put themselves in a strong position to make the knockout stage, especially given Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Chile in the other Group A game. Bolivia, with their list of absentees, are behind the eight ball early.
Eduardo Berizzo’s Paraguay had come into the tournament after a run of four games without a win, having had a poor start to the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign and he would have been sweating in the first half. The win is a welcome boost for Berizzo, who led the side to the 2019 Copa quarters before they lost to hosts Brazil on penalties.
Mountain to climb for La Verde
Bolivia, ranked 81dt in the world, were always seen as Copa outsiders but their preparations were thrown into chaos after three players and a coaching staff member tested positive for COVID-19 in the lead-up. That situation combined with this defeat, leaves head coach Cesar Farias needing to work wonders for them to progress.
Bolivia face Chile in Cuiaba on Friday, while Paraguay have some time off before their next group game against Lionel Messi’s Argentina in Brasilia on Monday.
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