Brazil, Uruguay strong in Copa America, Argentina stutters

Argentina's Lionel Messi strokes his beard prior a Copa America Group B soccer match against Qatar at Arena do Gremio, Porto Alegre, Brazil, Sunday, June 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

The group stage of the Copa America ended with Brazil and Uruguay still the favorites and Argentina still unable to meet expectations

SÃO PAULO — The group stage of the Copa America ended with Brazil and Uruguay still the favorites and Argentina still unable to meet expectations.

Colombia also impressed early on, finishing with a perfect record and without conceding any goals, while two-time defending champion Chile stuttered after a good start.

The quarterfinals of the South American competition begin Thursday with host Brazil taking on old foe Paraguay in Porto Alegre, and a day later in Salvador it will be Argentina facing a Venezuela team it has struggled against recently.

Also Friday, Colombia plays Chile in São Paulo, and on Saturday Uruguay's attacking duo of Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani will face against Peru in Recife.

Here's a closer look at the Copa America quarterfinals this week:

BRAZIL-PARAGUAY

Brazil got off to a slow start, being booed by the local crowd in its first two matches, but the 5-0 rout of Peru eased the pressure on coach Tite and boosted the team's confidence entering the knockout stage.

Paraguay barely survived the first round, advancing with only two points as one of the best third-place finishers from the three groups. But it played better than the results showed, letting victory escape against Argentina only because of a missed penalty kick in the second half.

Brazil easily beat Paraguay the last time the teams met — in a World Cup qualifier two years ago. But it was Paraguay that eliminated Brazil the last two times the "Seleção" made it to the Copa America quarterfinals, in 2011 and 2015. Paraguay came out on top in penalty shootouts both times.

VENEZUELA-ARGENTINA

Argentina would normally be favored against Venezuela, but this time there is reason for concern for Lionel Messi and his teammates.

While Argentina continues to struggle and just escaped elimination in the group stage, Venezuela enters the quarterfinals carrying good momentum.

"We will have to play better against Venezuela," Messi said. "It's a team with very clear ideas in attack, with very quick players."

Venezuela, which held Brazil to a 0-0 draw in the group stage, defeated Argentina 3-1 in a friendly in Madrid in March. It drew its previous two matches with the Argentines, both in qualifying for the last World Cup.

After losing the last two Copa America finals, Argentina remains on a quest to end a 26-year title drought with the senior squad.

COLOMBIA-CHILE

Chile's title defense will go through a red-hot Colombia, the only team to win all of its matches and not concede any goals.

James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao will be taking on Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas, two of Chile's leaders in the title-winning campaigns of 2015 and 2016.

The Chileans couldn't avoid the Colombians because it lost to Uruguay 1-0 in the final group game, when midfielder Arturo Vidal was among those rested by coach Reinaldo Rueda, a Colombian.

Colombia is led by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, and is seeking its first South American title since 2001.

URUGUAY-PERU

With Suárez and Cavani thriving, Uruguay will be favored against a Peruvian squad coming off a demoralizing loss to Brazil that prompted a wave of criticism against Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca.

Peru's defense is the worst among the teams in the quarterfinals, with six goals conceded in three matches. Uruguay has the second-best attack with eight goals, one less than Brazil.

Cavani and Suárez have already scored two goals each for Uruguay, while Peru striker Paolo Guerrero has only one.

Uruguay is the Copa America's most successful team with 15 titles, one more than Argentina. Uruguay's last continental title was in 2011.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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