PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Jun 28 – Fuming Brazil coach Tite raged at the state of the Gremio Arena pitch after the Copa America hosts squeezed past dogged Paraguay on penalties to reach the semi-finals.
Brazil played more than 40 minutes with a numerical advantage following the sending off of Fabian Balbuena but couldn’t find a route past Paraguay’s defensive fortress, needing penalties to progress after a 0-0 draw.
And Tite blamed the pitch for the lack of flowing football from his struggling side.
“There is room for improvement,” he said. “But that’s also possible when you play passes on a good ground.
“All the players asked me to complain about it. It’s absurd at such a high level match to have a ground that is so hard to pass the ball on.
“We needed three touches to pass the ball forward. It’s absurd to have such bad quality. It’s inconceivable anywhere in the world to have such a bad ground.”
The pitch in Porto Alegre had already come in for harsh criticism from some of the tournament’s leading lights, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez of Uruguay.
It will also host the second semi-final, although Brazil won’t be involved in that.
“Scouts honor, I shouldn’t make excuses: if we don’t finish chances then we don’t. But I’m telling you that we had to take three touches to pass the ball and you need to think fast,” continued Tite, whose side were jeered by the home fans at half-time — the third time in four matches they’d been booed by a demanding public.
– ‘Gives confidence’ –
Barcelona midfielder Arthur, who struggled to impose himself on the match, said this result would boost Brazil in the long run.
“This qualification gives us the confidence we need. There will be tough games ahead, sometimes the ball won’t go in, but we’re centered, our heads are in the right place,” he said.
“Now we need to relax and concentrate on the next opponents.”
Following the goalless 90 minutes, the quarter-final tie went straight to a penalty shoot-out — extra-time will only be used if needed in the final.
Goalkeeper Alisson saved the very first spot kick by Gustavo Gomez.
And while Paraguay were back on level terms when Roberto Firmino fired wide, Derlis Gonzalez did so too immediately afterwards, allowing Gabriel Jesus to thump home the winning kick.
“We have to keep working hard. This team deserved today’s result,” said Alisson.
“It was a draw but we were a team that didn’t just want to play on the counter-attack,” he added in a clear reference to Paraguay’s tactics.
The underdogs, who only scraped into the quarter-finals on goal difference having failed to win a single group game, could do little else, particularly after Balbuena’s dismissal.
“We created a lot of chances, we hit the post the (Paraguay) goalkeeper (Roberto Fernandez) pulled off miracles but the fans got behind us and didn’t stop to the end,” said Arthur.
Paraguay coach Eduardo Berizzo praised his players for having come so close to pulling off another famous victory in such difficult circumstances.
They also produced dogged defensive efforts in 2011 and 2015 before beating much fancied Brazil on penalties in the Copa America quarter-finals.
But it wasn’t to be this time.
“I’m very proud of our performance this evening. We could have been granted a heroic, wonderful victory on penalties but that doesn’t diminish how pleased I am with my players,” said Berizzo.
“There’s a competitiveness that stands out in this team. It’s up to us, it doesn’t matter who the opponents are, they will only challenge what you’re capable of.
“My players convinced me tonight that they can beat anyone.”