Focused Paraguay say US midfield "will give us a lot of space to work with"

PHILADELPHIA – Following a poor performance in the first half of their match with Colombia, Paraguay managed to put the No. 3 team in the world against the ropes on Tuesday.

A 70th-minute stunner by midfielder Víctor Ayala from outside the area, and several other clear chances – including a save on the line by Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina – showed Paraguay's potential coming into Saturday’s decisive Group A match vs. the United States (7 pm ET; FS1, Univision, UDN).

A win or a draw for the US will put them through to the quarterfinals. But a loss for the home side, and it’s Paraguay who advances.

“We need to play the same way we did in that second half [against Colombia],” said Ayala on Thursday afternoon at a press conference from the team hotel in downtown Philadelphia. “We were a man down for a while, we had chances to tie the game and we know it depends on us only to qualify for the quarterfinals.”

Paraguay were a completely different team in both halves. During the first 45 minutes against Colombia, La Albirroja didn’t manage to take a shot against Ospina’s goal, but registered eight attempts in the second half, including Ayala’s goal.

“We’re also just missing a little bit of luck. Against Colombia we hit the post, Ospina and [Jeison] Murillo denied us several times,” Ayala said. “We know the game [against the US] will be the most complicated one because they go through with a draw, and we must win.

“We need to keep our cool, try to find the spaces and score the first chance we have. After that they’ll go after the goal and it will give us more space.”

Ayala, who scored his first international goal in 18 games on Tuesday, understands Paraguay have the obligation to look for the result as soon as the game against the US kicks off on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. Composure is key for a team that has made it to the semifinals in the past two editions of Copa America, including one final.

“I think we’re going to face a team that’s going to try to unnerve us, but we’re focused on going through to the next round, because getting eliminated would be a failure for us,” added Ayala.

If Paraguay don’t win on Saturday, they will fail to advance from the group stage for the first time since the 2001 Copa America, and the numbers are currently not in their favor.

Out of their last 16 Copa America matches, Paraguay have only won once, including their surprising run to the 2011 final, where they tied every single game. Also, Paraguay has only scored 15 times, while allowing 30 goals in those last 16 matches.

On the other hand, the US had a confidence boost by beating Costa Rica 4-0 after a disappointing performance against Colombia in their first game of the tournament.

“For us forwards, we haven’t been able to score yet, but we had a couple of chances against Costa Rica, a few more against Colombia. We’re working on it every day, and sooner than later goals will come,” acknowledged forward Antonio Sanabria. “The most important thing is that we’re creating chances, even though we haven’t been able to score. I’m convinced that against the US we’re going to have that bit of luck which is going to allow us to celebrate.”

Saturday’s game will be the US and Paraguay’s second meeting in Copa America competition, after a 3-1 victory for La Albirroja in Barinas, Venezuela back in 2007; precisely, their last win before the above mentioned 16-game streak.

Ayala wasn’t part of that 2007 Copa team, and Tuesday’s game against Colombia was his first in almost three years with the national team. After his spectacular goal – the only one from Paraguay in this Copa America – he’s set to be a starter for Ramón Diaz’s squad.

“We know the United States will not be the same as Colombia. They don’t pressure that much in the midfield and that will give us a lot of space to work with,” said Ayala. “It’s going to be tough because we’re playing against the hosts. We’re committed to win and advance to the next round.”