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Saturday, July 23, 2011
Previewing the Copa America final


The 42nd installment of the Copa America culminates Sunday with the final in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Both semifinal favorites, Uruguay and Paraguay, have advanced, and will face each other for the first time in the final of the South American competition, with Uruguay favored as it plays for what would be its record 15th title. Still winless in the tournament after drawing all three of its group-stage matches and advancing to the semifinals with a stunning shootout defeat of two-time defending champion Brazil, Paraguay has once again advanced through its penalty spot prowess, knocking out Venezuela in a shootout to make its first appearance in the tournament final in 32 years.

• ESPN's Soccer Power Index gives Uruguay a 60.1 percent chance of winning the title outright and a 42.3 percent of winning in regulation. With the number of regulation draws (five) and matches decided by penalty shootouts (three) between these two teams at this year's tournament, the 30.4 percent chance SPI gives this game of being a draw after 90 minutes is not out of the question. Uruguay and Paraguay were also the only two teams to win penalty shootouts at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

• The all-time series between these teams is close, with Uruguay claiming a 28-25-15 record against Paraguay across all competitions. Uruguay also leads the teams' Copa America series with a 14-6-4 record and has outscored La Albirroja 50-32 in the history of the competition.

• Uruguay's previous appearance in the Copa America final was its loss to Brazil in 1999, four years after it beat the Brazilians on home soil to claim its most recent title. Paraguay has not reached the final since winning the title in 1979, and has hoisted the cup twice in seven Copa America finals appearances.

• Uruguay and Liverpool striker Luis Suarez -- who is currently tied with Sergio Aguero of Argentina with three goals -- would claim the Golden Boot award as the tournament's top scorer with a goal in the final. Teammate Álvaro Pereira has scored two for La Celeste, while five different players on Paraguay each have one goal apiece in the tournament.

• Paraguay will likely face a Uruguayan defense that is ranked seventh in the world (according to SPI) without its all-time leading goal scorer, Roque Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz, who has been bothered by a muscle injury in his leg, came on as a sub in the 74th minute of Paraguay's semifinal match, but was forced to leave the pitch just seven minutes later. While SPI rates Paraguay's defense second in the world, its offense is only 66th. La Albirroja will also be without Gerardo Martino, who has been coach of the national team since 2006, due to his two-match touchline ban for his part in a postmatch brawl after his side's Copa America semifinal win over Venezuela.