Mexico take the hard route to Brazil semi-final with 3-2 win over Paraguay

March 3 – In an entertaining quarter final at the BMO Stadium in Los Angeles, Mexico dominated and then only just managed to scrape past a brave Paraguayan challenge 3-2 that in the second half pushed the Mexicans to the brink of disaster.

Two goals from Jacqueline Ovalle secured the win that in the end was far from straightforward as Paraguay, as they had done in qualifying for the quarter finals, saved their best for last.

The imposing Jessica Martinez had a penalty saved by Estephany Barreras. Goalkeepers don’t win matches but they do save them. Barreras did that today with a series of saves as she commanded her six-yard box.

Mexico came into the quarter final on the high of beating world ranked number two USA to top their group, only their second win over the US in 40 attempts and a result that sent a shockwave through the women’s game in the Concacaf region, not just in terms of the result but in the way they outplayed and out thought the US. The question for Mexico was whether they could follow up on that extraordinary night.

Paraguay came into the semi-final having qualified in second place in their group with an added time victory over El Salvador. Few expected them to mount a major challenge to the Mexicans, let alone push them to the wire.

Paraguay opened brightly taking the attack to Mexico with El Salvador hattrick hero Jessica Martinez and Lice Chamorro unafraid to make their presence felt.

Mexico quicky found their compsure and countered with Cristina Ferral overlapping on the right and crossing to Mayra Pelayo who failed to control her shot.

Paraguay banked up with a line of four and five in front of Mexico’s flowing passing movement that saw

In the 10th minute Ferral again found space wide on the right, this time Karla Nieto hit the cross over the bar.

On 19’  Dulce Quintana pulled a rare Paraguayan chance wide.

Mexico responded with Rebeca Bernal driving towards Paraguay’s goal and chipping over the defence to Kiana Palacios who blasted her shot over Alicia Bobadilla. It was the best opportunity of the half at that point and the first time the Paraguayans had been unpicked through the middle.

With the stadium filling up with Mexican fans their trademark wave started to ripple but not quite catch fire. The Mexican forwards were having a similar problem. For all their neat build up, the final ball in the box wasn’t quite igniting their forwards.

On 27’ Pelayo, now operating on the right, hit a left footed shot over the right hand corner of Bobadilla’s goal.

With cries of Ole starting to ring out around the ground Mexico found their breakthrough. Pressing the Paraguayans hard Mexico forced a mistake, sending Pelayo free on the right. Her cross was not dealt with by Paraguay’s defence, falling to Ovalle who took a touch before hammering the ball back across the goal and past Paraguayan keeper Alicia Bobadilla’s dive to her left. VAR checked and agreed with the now warmed up crowd – goal given.

Mexico were now bombarding the Paraguay box. A minute before half time the ball fell to Palacios on 6m in front of goal who smashed her shot over the bar – it seemed harder to miss than score.

Mexico went into the break 1-0 up having had 11 shots on the Paraguayan goal and an awful lot more blocked.

Mexico should have been two up at the start of the second half. Ovalle overlapping on the left found Pelayo free in the box but unable to compose herself for the shot. A minute later another Pelayo shot was deflected for a corner and Mexico followed up with their second goal.

Ovalle’s corner was cleared to Karen Luna on the edge of the box who fired in from 12m.

It looked like game over but Paraguay’s response was immediate.

Mexico’s Nicolette Hernandez brought Martinez down in the box and the referee pointed straight to the spot.

In front of a baying Mexican behind their goal Martinez hit the penalty low to her left but into a diving Barreras. The crowd and Mexico’s players went wild. Paraguay kept up their momentum forcing a diving header on the line from Mexico.

On the hour Paraguay won a free kick on right hand edge of the box. It was now Mexico’s turn to defend deep. Barerras punched away.

In the 63rd minute Paraguay pulled a goal back. A corner from the right found the head of Camila Barbosa, on as a sub, who headed down and deflected through Barreras’ legs.

The Mexicans had lost focus as an emboldened Paraguay took the match to them.

On 68’ the Mexicans had a third. A rare mistake by Veronica Rivas saw Stephany Mayor break through with a free run at goal. Bodabilla stopped the shot with her legs only for Ovalle to collect the rebound and score her second and Mexico’s third – 3-1.

With the Mexicans barely having stopped celebrating, Paraguay came straight back at them. reducing the deficit to one again. A ball from deep came to Rebeca Fernandez who calmly slotted home – 3-2.

The game had opened up. Bobadilla was forced to push a shot round her top left upright, while Barreras made another save diving to her right. On 80’ Ovalle had a shot blocked while Aleyia Delgado pulled her follow up wide.

On 82’  the impressive Bernal, who was matching the physicality of Martinez and Chamorro, drove into the heart of the Paraguayan defence but dragged her shot wide. Mexico had regained their composure.

In the 87th minute Bobadilla had to push a shot from Karla Nieto over the bar. With the clock ticking down into five minutes of added time Bernal headed just wide.

Mexico now meet Brazil in the Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego on Wednesday.

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