"Long road ahead" for Paraguay after early exit from Copa America

Update (Sunday, June 12 | 8:48 a.m. ET)

Around 4 a.m. ET on Sunday, the Paraguayan Football Association announced that Ramon Diaz had presented his resignation as head coach of the national team, following Paraguay's loss to the United States, which eliminated them from Copa América Centenario.

Original Text

PHILADELPHIA—Paraguay fell short of qualifying through to the Copa América quarterfinal stage for the first time since 2001, after their 1-0 loss to the United States on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

One draw, two lost matches and only one goal scored leave La Albirroja as one of the tournament's biggest disappointments, given they had reached the semifinals in the last two editions. The game against the US also meant Ramón Díaz’s tenure as head coach is under scrutiny after just three wins in 20 games, across all competitions.

But Díaz’s post-game press conference was everything but apologetic. The Argentine coach defended his team’s performance and expressed tranquility with his process as head of the Paraguay national team.

“Call it whatever you want. Whatever you want, I'm just the coach,” said Díaz, when questioned if the early exit was constituted a failure. “I understand why people could be upset, but we had at least six different players from the ones that have been playing in qualifiers, and if we don't give the young guys this experience then, when are they going to grow?”

Statistically, Paraguay had more possession and 19 shots – twelve more than the US – six of them on target. The South American team had at least three clear chances to score, but defender John Brooks and goalkeeper Brad Guzan denied their efforts.

“After all the chances we had our biggest worry is not scoring, and when that happens it's something we need to evaluate and work on,” Díaz said. “We had certain situations we could have resolved better, and early in the game we had the clearest chance – three players against one – and it didn't work. It could have changed the game.”

It certainly could have been a completely different scenario, since all the teams that have won a game in this Copa América were the ones who scored first. Clint Dempsey’s goal in the 27th minute was decisive for the US, who ended up topping the group after Colombia’s 3-2 loss to Costa Rica, but Díaz’s expectations for the hosts are not high.

“The US? Well, now they're going to have to face the best teams,” said Diaz, with an incredulous grin on his face. “We’ll see how far they can go, because they might have to play against Brazil – one of the best teams in the tournament – or Ecuador that's leading the World Cup qualifiers.”

Despite the Paraguay coach’s lack of faith in the USMNT heading into their upcoming matches, Diaz credited his rival defensive system for closing down the gaps for his players.

“When they went a man down, they grouped themselves better and they have very good players in the air,” Diaz said. “We crossed the ball about 15 or 20 times, and their center backs cleared them almost all the time. We had about two or three clear chances and if you don't score them, then you lose.”

Paraguay’s next challenge will be Chile, at home, and Uruguay for the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers, where they currently sit in the seventh position. Given only the top four teams receive an automatic berth for Russia 2018, and the fifth will have to face a playoff against the top country from Oceania, Paraguay’s next two matches will be crucial.

Diaz remains confident about coaching Paraguay for those two games.

“Us coaches depend exclusively on the team's results, but we're not worried and I’m very serene with the job we're doing,” Diaz said. "Paraguay always tried and never gave up. I have to congratulate my players because of all their effort, despite the results we had in this Copa.

“There's a long road ahead and this experience will be very valuable and important for the younger players. This will make them grow a lot.”