Paraguay reached the 2011 Copa America final without winning a single game

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The Copa America has reached the business end of the competition with the knockout stages getting underway this week.

With the grind of the group stage behind them, any of the eight remaining nations will fancy their chances of going all the way in Brazil.

But whoever ends up lifting the trophy at the Maracana on 7 July, they’ll learn that winning a knockout tournament is a completely different achievement to ending a season at the top of the league table.

A team can rarely coast through their three group matches without firing on all cylinders, such is the fierce competitiveness within any tournament where qualification is earned.

The Copa America typifies this notion in the sense that Brazil and Argentina’s continental neighbours always pose a genuine threat.

In fact, neither of the two historical giants have triumphed in any of the past three editions.

Uruguay snatched the crown from Brazil eight years ago, and now Chile are pursuing their third consecutive title.

The Copa America seems to bring the best out of its participants, albeit not always.

In 2011, Paraguay surely established themselves as the most mediocre finalists of any international tournament on record.

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Led by Gerardo Martino, Los Guaranies kicked off their campaign with a 0-0 draw against Ecuador.

Not the worst result, but certainly one which left room for improvement.

They did pick up in their second outing versus Brazil, though and even looked set for a 2-1 victory until Fred restored parity in the 89th minute.

Desperate to take three points from their final game against Venezuela, Paraguay had the job all but sewn up with the score 3-1 in their favour just five minutes before full-time.

However, somehow Martino’s men blew it and allowed both Miku and Grenddy Perozo to find the net in the space of three minutes.

Without a single win on the board, Paraguay could’ve been forgiven for considering their tournament over at this point.

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But by virtue of the controversial best third-placed teams principle, Paraguay snuck into the last eight alongside Peru, leaving Costa Rica - who actually won a match - to pack their bags.

Martino’s side met Brazil at the first hurdle, repeating their 0-0 draw from a fortnight earlier before securing passage to the semi-finals via a penalty shootout (2-0).

There, they once again faced Venezuela, only this time playing out a goalless 120 minutes that could only be settled by spot kicks (5-3).

So, rather miraculously, Paraguay joined Uruguay in the final.

At the expense of what would’ve been a ludicrous result, Paraguay’s shortcomings were exposed by Oscar Tabarez’s talented and well-drilled unit in a comprehensive 3-0 defeat.

Even though they finished second, Paraguay’s exploits at the 2011 Copa America won’t soon be forgotten.

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