Last gasp Paraguay grab quarter final slot with Martinez hattrick in 3-2 win over El Salvador

February 28 – A Jessica Martinez hattrick saw Paraguay through into the quarter finals of the W Gold Cup, coming from behind to beat El Salvador 3-2 in added time in the Shell Energy Stadium in Houston.

Paraguay went into the final game in Group C needing a point to qualify for the next round but with eight minutes left looked to be going home.

El Salvador had taken a 2-1 lead and Paraguay went from being a point ahead of Costa Rica to being behind them on goal difference.

Martinez had been a driving force for Paraguay all night, never afraid of confrontation and providing an edge to Paraguay’s commitment. In the end she was the difference between the two teams in a match that saved the best to last.

El Salvador had qualified for the group stage via the preliminary play-in rounds 12 days ago. They were still in with an outside chance of second spot in the group but they would have needed to beat Paraguay by six goals to go through.

The opening salvos were even. El Salvador started with a Samaria Gomez shot that went over the bar. In the 5th minute Paraguay responded with Jessica Martinez heading over.

El Salvador came close six minutes later when Amber Marinero, squared across the Paraguay box from the left, but Paraguay keeper Alicia Bobadilla gathered before a sliding Gomez could get a foot to the ball.

It was Paraguay who scored first in the 17th minute.

VAR brought play back for a handball review in the El Salvador penalty area. Referee Karen Hernandez went to the pitchside monitor and eventually pointed to the spot. It was a decision that could have gone either way. Martinez hit the ball past Idalia Serrano’s left hand for 1-0 to Paraguay.

Encouraged, Paraguay took more control winning three corners in succession but not pressing their advantage.

El Salvador were down but not out, working themselves back into the game with more passages of possession. On 37’ they came close to equalising. A ball over the top to Brenda Seren saw her square to Gomez whose first time shot went high.

El Salvador finished the half stronger with Seren increasingly causing problems running at Paraguay’s left flank. In added time Marinero had a long shot drop over the bar.

Martinez did have the ball in the net from a breakaway just before the half ended, but she was a long way offside. Paraguay went in at the break one up, but having been outshot 6-4

El Salvador started the second half the way they had finished the first with Seren tirelessly testing Paraguay’s back four.

In the 65th minute El Salvador won a penalty. Seren chipped a free kick into the box to Gomez who was pulled down by Daisy Bareiro. Hernandez pointed straight to the penalty spot. Bobadilla saved the spot kick from Samantha Fisher but couldn’t stop her second shot from the rebound – 1-1.

Paraguay were now under pressure but a breakaway almost put them in front, Serrano just doing enough to put Romana Martinez off.

In the 82nd minute El Salvador were ahead and Paraguay were going home. Seren, again, fed Danielle Fuentes angling in from the left wing who took one touch before firing in from the edge of the box past Bobadilla’s right hand.

It took just three hectic minutes for Paraguay to draw level. Serrano brought Rebeca Fernandez down in the box and Hernandez for the third time pointed to the penalty spot. Jessica Martinez, a combative force for Paraguay throughout the game, scored her second and Paraguay were staying after all.

The game wasn’t quite over. A minute into added time Paraguay made sure of their spot in the next round. Lice Chamorro turned her defender and powered to the byline, firing a cross to Jessica Martinez who headed home for her hat-trick.

Paraguay now head to Los Angeles for a date with Mexico.

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