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Aug 2, 2011

Kings of the draw and the ex-factor

Norman Hubbard is ESPNsoccernet's resident anorak. If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to asknorman@hotmail.com and he'll try to answer as many as possible.

Paraguay made it to the final of the Copa America without winning a single match in standard time. They drew all three group matches and won their quarter and semi-final matches on penalties. Do you know if this has ever happened in any major competition before? Alan Goldhammer asked

Much to the disappointment of statisticians, if not Uruguayans, Paraguay couldn't quite manage to become the first team to win a major international tournament without actually winning a game. However, Gerardo Martinez's draw specialists - who held Ecuador 0-0, Brazil 2-2, Venezuela 3-3, Brazil (again) 0-0 and then Venezuela (for a second time) 0-0 - are indeed unique in one respect: they got to the Copa America final when five successive games finished level after 90 - and, in two cases, 120 - minutes. That surpassed the record of Argentina, who reached the 1993 Copa America final after four draws in a row, though they had won their first group game.

Technically, however, Paraguay have company, though in each case the circumstances are very different. Eventual winners Italy got to the final of Euro 1968 without winning a game - they beat the Soviet Union on a coin toss after a 0-0 draw. However, whereas 16 nations are in the modern European Championships, then the tournament itself only included four teams and Italy won five games in qualifying, plus one leg of their quarter-final, before reaching the competition proper.

For many years, meanwhile, the Copa America did not have a final as such. It was played in a league format and Brazil triumphed in 1922 despite not winning until their last group game. They did emerge victorious twice, however, against Argentina and then in the subsequent play-off with Paraguay.

Perhaps strangest of all, Ethiopia actually reached the final of the first African Nations Cup in 1957 without winning. They also got there without drawing or losing: only four teams were invited and one of them, South Africa, were disqualified due to apartheid. They were due to be Ethiopia's semi-final opponents, so the Ethiopians got a bye to the final where they duly lost 4-0 to Egypt. That means, among other things, that they were also runners-up in the tournament without scoring a single goal.

However, in the history of the World Cup, Confederations Cup, European Championships, Copa America, African Nations Cup, Gold Cup and Asian Cup, in no tournament with eight or more teams had a side got to the final without winning until Paraguay this year.

Was this the first time that neither Brazil nor Argentina qualified for a Copa America semi-final? If it's happened before, how many times in the past has that happened? Hamza Olaitan asked

Perhaps surprisingly, it's not the first time. Indeed, it is only ten years since the last Copa America semi-finals didn't include either of the South American superpowers. Brazil were beaten 2-0 by Honduras in the quarter-finals while Argentina didn't take part after their players received death threats from terrorist groups. The four teams who did reach the semi-finals, by the way, were Colombia (the eventual winners), Honduras, Uruguay and Mexico, the runners-up.

Before then, however, you have to go back to 1939 for a South American Championships - as the Copa America was then known - for a last four that did not include either Brazil or Argentina and for a very simple reason: neither participated. There weren't semi-finals as the five teams met home and away in a league format, with Peru (winners), Uruguay (second), Paraguay and Chile finishing as the top four. That is the only other time neither Brazil nor Argentina have been in the last four, so the 2011 tournament is the first to contain both Brazil and Argentina without either reaching the semi-finals, or ending up among the top four.

Of all the teams in the Premier League last season, which team had the highest number of ex-players playing for other teams in the division. I wouldn't be surprised if it is Newcastle with the likes of Shay Given, Andy Carroll, Damien Duff, Michael Owen and many more, Philip Owen asked

Newcastle do have a sizeable continent of former players, also including Habib Beye, Obafemi Martins, James Milner, Stephen Carr, Lee Bowyer, Kieron Dyer, Scott Parker, Andy O'Brien, Aaron Hughes, Abdoulaye Faye, Titus Bramble, Jermaine Jenas, Jonathan Woodgate and Charles N'Zogbia. Which, by my reckoning, makes 18, and makes you correct.

I came across 15 former Tottenham players and 14 Manchester United old boys (mainly graduates of their youth system), but the high turnover at St James' Park means that Newcastle do, indeed, have the ex-factor.

Just to clarify, I am excluding players loaned out, so Danny Welbeck does not count as a former Manchester United player, and only counting players with at least one senior appearance for their former club and their top-flight employer last season.

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