South American correspondent Tom Webber brings you all the action from the Copa America.
Venezuela sit top of Group B after two games thanks to a draw with Brazil in their opening game and a win by a single goal last night against Ecuador. The country in the north of the continent are now in prime position to qualify for the quarter finals, with the possibility of qualifying even if they lose to Paraguay. Yesterdays match provided the nation with only their third ever Copa America win.
The country’s preference for Baseball as the number one sport meant that there was little investment in football in previous years due to its lesser popularity. The record of the international team produced few moments of pride and did not often provide much joy. Venezuela have never qualified for a World Cup and remain the only CONMEBOL member not to do so.
The rise of the popularity in football in the early 2000s saw greater interest and investment in the sport, both publicly and privately. The national team began attracting ever more fans and the development of the game was rewarded with the honour of hosting the Copa America of 2007. This helped continue the development of the game that they had begun to embark upon. It gave the opportunity to invest in the infrastructure of the game, improving stadia and continuing to grow the support for the national team. They managed to reach the quarter final stage in their own country where they were ousted by Uruguay.
Venezeula have been drawn in possibly the toughest group in the competition alongside Brazil, Paraguay and Ecuador. All are teams with far better international records, though Ecuador seem to be a team in transition due to the loss of key players such as Ivan Hurtado and Ulises de la Cruz. However, Venezuela have responded terrifically to the daunting prospect of Group B. They have shown great strength and character after suffering the most humiliating defeat in the country’s history to Argentina 11-0 in 1975.
They have attained their pleasing results due to their ability to play to their strengths. They have a solid defence, with Vizcarrondo as the rock at the back. His heroics in the game against Brazil kept the game level as he blocked the ball on the line with his shoulder. They then counter-attack using their experienced captain Juan Arango as their main outlet. He has the experience and the ability to help build attacks and provided decent quality service to Solomon Rondon and Miku in attack.
The combination of Arango and Miku contributed to the build up but it was Cesar Gonazalez who scored the winning goal last night and not one of the front men. His goal came just after the hour mark in a relatively uneventful game. An attack down the left hand side by Arango eventually reached Miku near the edge of the box. He rolled the ball across the centre of the park and Gonzalez, steaming forward, stopped Arango reaching the ball before him. He struck the ball sweetly with his right foot and it darted in to the bottom corner staying low to the floor.
Felipe Caicedo spurned a chance late on in the game. He used great skill, power and patience to fashion himself a chance inside the area. However his shot was tame and went straight into the arms of the diving keeper. Venezuela’s third win ever in the Copa America has put them in a commanding position in Group B and will help raise the profile of the sport in the country further. Venezuelan club teams are no longer walk overs in the Copa Libertadores and the progression of Venezuelan football has led to some tipping them for qualification to their first ever World Cup in 2014. Their results this year will do wonders for the game as they look to continue their good competitive results ahead of the qualification for the next World Cup.