Copa América Centenario Quarter-Final
Saturday 18 June 2016 – Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA
Argentina 4-1 Venezuela
Video Highlights of Argentina 4-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario Quarter-Final, 18 June 2016 (YouTube).
La Vinotinto Outshone in the USA but Exit with Spirit of Renewal
Venezuela’s head-turning run in Copa América 2016 was brought to a shuddering halt, as Rafael Dudamel’s men were outclassed in Foxborough.
Tata Martino’s men set out with intent and took the lead with less than eight minutes played. 40 yards out, Lionel Messi picked up the ball on the right and, with his left boot, rapidly arced a sublime ball over Oswaldo Vizcarrondo’s head which Gonzalo Higuaín exquisitely converted home with a stretched half-volley.
Although La Vinotinto did not sit back following the goal, they nevertheless continued to be largely on the back-foot against their more illustrious counterparts. Amongst several scares, they somehow avoided conceding a penalty in the 19th minute when, upon receiving a pass in the area, Messi looked to be clumsily fouled by Arquímedes Figuera. However, the Mexican referee thought otherwise.
Not that La Albiceleste were to be deterred in the slightest. Nine minutes later, Figuera was to succeed in gifting his opponents a goal as his suicidal back-pass went straight to Higuaín, who rounded goalkeeper Dani Hernández before slotting home for his own and his country’s second.
To his credit, Figuera went some way towards redeeming himself in the 33rd minute, as he robbed Javier Mascherano some 30-odd yards from goal. Salomón Rondón picked up the ball and, benefitting from Josef Martínez’s run that left a defender in two minds, was able to drive into space before striking hard from the edge of the area. Unfortunately for the West Bom marksman, Sergio Romero was alert and his right glove was to thwart as the ball came straight back out, before it was hastily cleared. Six minutes later, Rondón was to come much closer as he used his impressive neck muscles to direct Alejandro Guerra’s corner goalwards past the static Man United goalkeeper, only to be denied by the far post.
Venezuela were to continue their impressive attacking spell. Just two minutes later, a loose ball fell to roaming left-back, Rolf Feltscher who tried his luck from just outside the area, seeing his shot deflect off a defender and nearly loop above and beyond the goalkeeper. However, Romero did well to backtrack and tip over for a corner.
Finally, in the 42nd minute, Venezuela’s pressure paid off as Rondón creeped in a low cross from the right to find his strike-partner Martínez. Romero seemingly undid some of his good work by rashly racing towards the ball and bringing down the Torino forward for a clear penalty.
Yet, Brazil-based Luis Manuel Seijas stepped up and instantly made himself a figure of ridicule on social media the world over. His dinked, Panenka-style penalty went straight down the middle and into the grateful gloves of Romero. The Venezuelan will indeed not be allowed to forget this in a hurry, with one commenter on The Guardian‘s website suggesting that in the future when such audacious efforts go awry, they should be universally known as a ‘Seijas’.
Having spurned this opportunity to get back into the game just before the break, optimism in the Vinotinto ranks must have been on the wane. The match was nearly settled within a minute of the restart following a dangerous low ball that caused many jitters in the box.
It definitely was all done and dusted on the hour-mark. In another instance of poor Venezuelan concentration, Vizcarrondo passed the ball straight to Nicolas Gaitán some 40 yards out. He rapidly passed it forward to Higuaín, who then laid it off to Messi, with the Barcelona superstar quickly finding Gaitán who had rushed towards the inside-left edge of the area. It was all clinically and stylistically executed, with the Benfica attacker returning the pass to Messi, who poked home with consummate grace.
Dudamel’s men were not go out entirely with a whimper, however. Indeed, in the 70th minute, Guerra cut onto his right on the left and curled in a perfect inswinging cross which Rondón – benefitting from some defenders dreaming of the next round – leaped up high to meet and head home.
The few seriously contemplating whether this meant ‘game on’ were soon stopped mid-thought as Argentina went up the other end to get their fourth. This time, following some more rapid interplay, Messi fed substitute Erik Lamela who hooked a shot goalward that appeared to catch Hernández off-guard as he struggled to stop what should have been a relatively comfortable save. Instead, he added to his country’s goalkeeping woes as the ball trickled past him and Argentina marched into the semi-finals.
Thus ended Venezuela’s otherwise promising 2016 Copa América, a tournament in which they had nevertheless defied all expectations. They came to the USA bottom of their World Cup qualification group and with a new manager who had not won in his opening four matches; in these friendlies, they did not appear to have had enough time to work out the best system and personnel. However, their defensively solid opening day win against Jamaica gave rise to considerable optimism and when they beat Uruguay with a similar approach to virtually seal qualification with a game to spare, a sizeable amount of pride had returned amongst Venezuelan football fans. Subsequently, though they had to settle for a draw, when they led against pre-tournament dark horses Mexico, it was hard not to get a little carried away.
Alas, if some realism did not enter the minds of all Venezuelans after the end of that match, then it certainly has now. This could well turn out to be little more than a brief summer fling with euphoria to be crushed by the slog of the World Cup qualifying campaign – a battle that some feel was lost a long time. However, there was plenty on display in the USA to suggest that Venezuela can go some way to getting back on track and, though making it to Russia seems a tall order, at least rebuilding and nabbing a few more scalps over the next year or so seem entirely plausible aims.
Argentina (4-3-3): S. Romero; G. Mercado, N. Otamendi, R. Funes Mori, M. Rojo; A. Fernández, J. Mascherano, É. Banega (L. Biglia, ’80); L. Messi, G. Higuaín (S. Agüero , ’74), N. Gaitán (E. Lamela, ’67).
Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; A. González, W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra, T. Rincón (S. Velázquez, ’85), A. Figuera, L. Seijas (Juanpi, ’55); S. Rondón, J. Martínez (Y. Del Valle, ’80).