BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Uruguay eclipsed Brazil and Argentina at the 2010 World Cup, and a year later it's the same story with the team again in the semifinals - this time, part of the topsy-turvy final four of the Copa America.
In a surprising South American championship, with Brazil and Argentina ousted in the quarterfinals, Uruguay's performance isn't exactly a shock. The country of 3.5 million has won the Copa America 14 times, including the first in 1916 against Argentina, and is a two-time World Cup winner.
''Fighting hard in matches, that seems to be part of us,'' Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said. ''I don't mean as Uruguayans, I mean as a team. It was like that in the World Cup.''
Uruguay is fielding nearly the same side it did in South Africa, led in attack by Atletico Madrid's Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez of Liverpool. The anchor has been goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, who made a dozen key saves in the quarterfinal victory over Argentina with Uruguay a man down for 48 minutes.
Muslera stopped Carlos Tevez's spot kick in the shootout, giving Uruguay a 5-4 win on penalties following a 1-1 draw in regulation and extra time.
Uruguay has been stingy in defense and, though it's scored only four goals in four games, it has been opportunistic.
''We didn't have more possession in any game, but we generated more chances,'' said Tabarez, who is usually addressed as ''Profesor'' or ''Maestro'' in a sign of respect used frequently for coaches in Latin America.
Peru is clearly the underdog, one of the weakest teams in Latin America in the last 30 years. Peru has not played in the World Cup since 1982 in Spain, and the team finished last in South American qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
Coach Sergio Markarian - who was born in Uruguay - took over a year ago and has produced results. Peru has advanced despite playing without top strikers Jefferson Farfan and Claudio Pizarro, who didn't make it because of injury.
''In this team we bet on efficiency and strength. Being stylish is left aside,'' said Markarian, who has guided Peru to its first Copa semifinal in 14 years.
Led by top scorer Paolo Guerrero, Peru drew 1-1 with Uruguay in the group stage.
The other finalist will come from Wednesday's match between Venezuela and Paraguay.
Venezuela, which defeated Chile 2-1 on Sunday, is the biggest surprise of all. This is the only country in the 10-team South American confederation that has never reached the World Cup. Baseball has always been more popular, but that may be changing.
Venezuela has six goals in the tournament from six different players: Gabriel Cichero, Miku Fedor, Cesar Gonzalez, Grenddy Perozo, Jose Salomon Rondon and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo.
Coach Cesar Farias has lectured reporters repeatedly, asking them to give his team respect.
''We've beaten adversity and the forecasts,'' Farias said after defeating Chile. ''We played when we had to play, and suffered when we had to suffer. And we had luck when we needed to have luck.''
Paraguay, which reached the second round in South Africa, probably has the edge. Goalkeeper Justo Villar held Brazil scoreless for 120 minutes in Sunday's quarterfinal, and in the shootout Brazil beat itself. Three of its four penalties were off target, and Villar stopped the fourth with Paraguay winning 2-0 on penalties.
Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino was frank after the match.
''Brazil should have won in 90 minutes,'' Martino said. ''We were lucky.''
It's been that kind of Copa America.