Venezuela go top of Copa group


A thumping shot on the hour from Cesar Gonzalez put Venezuela in charge of Copa America Group B on Saturday in securing a 1-0 win over Ecuador. Gonzalez struck a sweet effort on 62 minutes to send the ‘Vinotinto’, fortified by an earlier draw with holders Brazil, to the brink of the quarter-finals.
Ecuador will, meanwhile, be on their way home unless they can cause a sensation against the five-time world champions in their final group outing. With Paraguay holding the Brazilians to a 2-2 in Cordoba, the stage was set for Venezuela, traditionally far more passionate about baseball than football, to show their battling showing against the auriverde was no fluke.
Once again they showed their mettle and deserved the points at the Padre Ernesto Martearena stadium in the northern Argentinian city of Salta. Venezuela did reach the last eight four years ago, but that was on home territory and if they can make it this time that will be a first.
Ecuador, ranked one place higher than the Venezuelans at 68th in the world, showed a disappointing lack of attacking ambition as Felipe Caicedo was left to forage on his own up front and the Andeans are now bottom of the group having previously drawn 0-0 with Paraguay.
If Brazil finish their group programme with a win over Ecuador and Paraguay defeat Venezuela, the Venezuelans would still likely snatch a last-eight berth as four points should see them finish as one of the best two third-placed sides at the event.
Copa favourites fail to fire again: Brazil failed once again to live up their favourites label at the Copa America on Saturday, securing a 2-2 draw with Paraguay after they stood 90 seconds from defeat. Substitute striker Fred rescued a point, but unless the auriverde can beat Ecuador in their final Group B match, the holders will have to sweat on whether they have done enough to reach the quarter-finals. On current form, they barely deserve to advance.
Then again, in a tournament which is proving a punishing experience for Latin America’s big teams, neither do their traditional rivals Argentina or Uruguay. The trio have won 36 out of 42 past editions of the tournament between them but this year they are not having their own way.
Six matches played and zero wins is the story so far for the auriverde, the albiceleste and the celeste. While the big guns struggle to impress, new names are emerging, not least Venezuela, who stand proudly atop Brazil’s group after first holding the samba stars to a goalless draw in La Plata, then Saturday edging aside Ecuador with a superlative strike from Cesar Gonzalez at Salta. With Peru, whose last title came in 1975, and Chile, who have never won the event, setting the pace in their group ahead of World Cup semi-finalists the Uruguayans and Colombia keeping Argentina in their place, the established order is rocking if not yet crumbling.
Had Fred not appeared when he did for the Brazilians the holders would now be bottom of their group rather than looking forward to taking out their mounting frustrations on Ecuador. Brazil coach Mano Menezes put a brave face on the Paraguay outcome, insisting that “they didn’t do enough to beat us and it would have been cruel if they had done so.”
But he admitted: “There was a lot of pressure on to win — we made some mistakes and almost did lose. Now we go into our third match (which will be) better than our second – which was better than our first.” Dropping Robinho seemed a smart move when new face Jadson scored a fine opener, but he failed to appear after the break when Elano was given a chance and the Brazilians do not appear to have settled on a system on the basis of their opening two matches. Paraguay’s veteran opening scorer Roque Santa Cruz — Nelson Haedo Valdez bundled home their second — was furious after Fred’s late intervention denied the ‘guarani’ a famous win.
“We made mistakes which a great team simply must not do. We dropped key points,” the Blackburn man said after netting his 25th goal for his country to go level with Saturnino Cardozo. Paraguayan coach Gerardo Martino agreed the win should have been closed out. “From a footballing point of view I am satisfied, but it hurts (to concede the late goal.) We should really have won both our games,” he insisted.
With the Venezuelans to come the Paraguayans know they will have their work cut out to gain the win they need to ensure further progress. Venezuelan defender Oswaldo Viscarrondo, outstanding in both games to date, insisted the team have no intention of throwing it all away now. “We prepared well and that can be seen from the performances we have turned in.
“This Copa is very finely balanced. I just hope we continue in this vein as we want to reach the quarters,” he said. “Paraguay are a side we respect but we have been gaining respect too these past few years” – to say nothing of over the past week.

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