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Paraguay ready to defy rankings at Copa America

Orlando (AFP) – Paraguay’s veteran goalkeeper Justo Villar says FIFA’s rankings undervalue his team and believes they can defy expectations and once again make a real impact in the Copa America Centenario tournament.

Paraguay have the lowest FIFA ranking of the four teams in Group A, sitting behind third-ranked Colombia, Costa Rica and the United States.

But Villar, about to play in his seventh Copa America tournament, believes that the rankings don’t give an accurate reflection of his team’s ability.

“If we are the worst ranked … well, we have to show that the rankings are wrong,” said the Paraguay keeper, who made his debut for his country in 1999.

“In the Copa, the favourites are always Brazil and Argentina but we have shown we can get in there as well. It is a short tournament, resting and good planning, can help us to get through to the next phase – we have really good players,” he added.

In the 2015 Copa America, Paraguay beat Brazil on penalties in the quarter-final before being crushed 6-1 by Argentina in the semi-final.

Four years earlier La Albirroja finished runners-up after losing to Uruguay in the final.

Paraguay’s Argentine coach Ramon Diaz has brought a squad with plenty of young players and  a smattering of experienced campaigners and he also reads little into the rankings.

“Argentina and Brazil are seen as the best teams with the best players, but from our side we see ourselves as a good team who are growing. The last Copa we weren’t considered as a factor but we get to the semis and were super-competitive,” he said.

“Colombia is a great team, USA has grown a great deal, Mexico look good too, its a pretty open tournament. It’s all about getting off to a good start,” he said.

Paraguay won the tournament in 1953 and 1979 and while that looks a remote prospect this time, Diaz is happy to have the chance of working with his young squad in a tournament setting.

“We hope the team keeps growing, developing our ideas and mindset. This gives me a chance to work with a team that is growing, I love the players we have and how they are working,” he said.

But the intense schedule, including long distances between venues, offers a particular challenge says the 56-year-old Diaz. 

After the game Paraguay will fly to the West Coast to prepare for Tuesday’s game with Colombia in Pasadena, California. 

Four days later they are back in action against the USA in Philadelphia.

“It’s a very difficult tournament – the trips are really long, we play three games in a week and it will be difficult for trainers and players. The plan is in place, but it will tiring and there will be wear and tear,” he said.

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