2015 Copa América Group C
Sunday 14 June 2015 – Estadio El Teniente, Rancagua, Chile
Colombia 0-1 Venezuela
Highlights of Colombia 0-1 Venezuela, 2015 Copa América Group C, 14 June 2015, (Video courtesy of YouTube user Lukas Buretzek).
Colombia (4-2-2-2): Ospina; Zúñiga, Zapata, Murillo, Armero (Martínez, 82′); Sánchez (Cardona, 63′), Valencia; Cuadrado, Rodríguez; Falcao, Bacca (Gutiérrez, 72′).
Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Túñez, Amorebieta; Rincón, Seijas (Lucena, 74′); R. Vargas (C. González, 78′), Arango (Cichero, 85′), Guerra; S. Rondón.
Rondón Rocks Colombia to Give Resilient Venezuela Remarkable Opening Day Win
With his first goal for his country since September 2013, Salomón Rondón headed La Vinotinto to a euphoric opening day victory, immediately allowing Venezuelan hopes escalate from the modest to the stratospheric in the space of ninety minutes.
Click Here to Listen to Venezuelan Commentary of Salomón Rondón’s Match-winning Goal
Given the noted difficulties manager Noel Sanvicente has had to contend with since taking over in July 2014 as well as Los Cafeteros’ recent form and much-acclaimed history-making performances at the last World Cup, Venezuela were justifiably made rank 7/1 outsiders for this game by most bookmakers. Indeed, irrespective of Venezuela’s remarkable run four years ago, as they have conceded 18 goals (19 officially) in Sanvicente’s eight preceding games in charge while only netting 12 (10 officially) – with none of the scorers starting this game – make no mistake, this was a turn-up.
Before their representatives kicked off Group C, both sets of fans overran the city of Rancagua, some 54 miles south of Santiago, adorning the streets outside Estadio El Teniente with the yellow, blue and red common to both nations’ flags. However, once the anthems had been proudly belted out, it was apparent that the majority of the 14,000-capacity ground were backing the favourites of this pair of northerly neighbours. Played amidst a picturesque backdrop of snow-capped peaks at the home of Chilean top-flight side O’Higgins – named after the independence leader of Irish-Spanish heritage – there was to be little let-up in the frenetic atmosphere, with the sunny clear blue sky somewhat belying the fact that it was reportedly 12-13 degrees celsius on this winter day.
Colombian and Venezuelan fans in and outside Rancagua’s Estadio El Teniente (Three images courtesy of @munirancagua; the third one – of famous Colombian supporter El Cole – comes via @luismi1090)
Indeed, despite the actual temperature, within this first ten minutes of this encounter, sweat was seen dripping off the foreheads of many of the players, particularly those in the burgundy shirts. Venezuela, very much applying one of Sanvicente’s favourite words, ‘trabajo‘ (work), were labouring away, sitting deep while regularly doubling up on attackers, allowing them little space in the final third. The only moment of minor concern in the early stages came when James Rodríguez received a short pass centrally but he had little time or space to squeeze a shot through and his effort deflected harmlessly wide.
Instead, the first real opening was to fall to La Vinotinto as Cristián Zapata’s lazy pass was cut out, allowing Rondón to suddenly stride forward. He laid it to his left to the overlapping Alejandro Guerra who, inside the area, could not quite guide his dinked ball, but at least won a corner. Six minutes later, AEK’s new signing Ronald Vargas beat his man on the right, sliding in a low ball that Guerra lunged for but could not quite reach, with instead goalkeeper David Ospina collecting. Such moments offered optimism that Sanvicente was not looking solely to contain, with instead his side gradually asserting themselves, both on and off the ball. Indeed, interspersed with some rather robust challenges, two Venezuelans were to go in the book, firstly Luis Manuel Seijas on 18 minutes and then left-back Fernando Amorebieta seven minutes later. With the former playing a key role next to Tomás Rincón providing additional cover to the back four and the latter – who had been regularly exposed in this role at club level all season – having to contend with the fleet-footed Juan Cuadrado, there were genuine fears that Venezuela would not finish with as many that they started with.
It was soon after Amorebieta’s booking that ex-Mexican President Felipe Calderón (2006-12) piped up on Twitter to condemn Venezuela’s alleged rough play, attempting to score some political points by suggesting they must have been trained by the nation’s polarising President, Nicolás Maduro. His comments were widely shared on social media, as were those in response.
Back to the pitch, though politics are never far away when Venezuela play, just two minutes later they were to continue their occasional forward forays, generating what turned out to be the clearest chance of the half. Rincón, momentarily on the left, nudged the ball to Guerra on the flank who came inside to pass to Juan Arango on the edge of the area. With instinctive awareness, the iconic veteran held up the ball before releasing Vargas to the left of the goal with an exquisite reverse pass that the winger, under a bit of pressure, poked with his outside-right to draw a decent one-handed save from the Arsenal goalkeeper. To an extent, this move typified the attacking midfield three throughout the game, combining the industrious Guerra, with the casual elegance of Arango and the energy of Vargas, who often drifted infield from his right-sided starting spot.
For the rest of the half, while the Colombians saw more of the ball, they struggled to find a way through the opposition’s well-organised and close-knitted defensive lines. When, for example, Guerra carelessly got dispossessed in the middle third, while Sevilla hotshot Carlos Bacca temporarily had some space in which to charge, he was quick to get closed down by several players, thus deflating the majority of the crowd. Furthermore, the many free-kicks and corners that José Pékerman’s men won were routinely headed away by the likes of centre-backs Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Andrés Túñez, as well as even Rondón on occasion. Conversely, Venezuela, though often on the back foot, comfortably had the best chances before the interval, adding another on 42 minutes. This time, from the right, Rincón passed a short diagonal ball that Vargas dummied just inside the area, leading Guerra to tee himself up for an acrobatic vollley. While it may have been lurching slightly wide, Ospina nevertheless made the parry for a corner.
When the Uruguayan official whistled for the break, much Venezuelan apprehension regarding their nation’s chances in this tournament had already dissipated. The team was displaying admirable commitment, defensive solidity and, dare one utter it, a slightly greater probability of opening the scoring. Given the fitness levels required to track their opponents so assiduously the main question on the mind of many was, could they keep it up?
The opening exchanges of the second half were not entirely encouraging in this regard. Indeed, while to call it dominance would be a stretch, the Colombians nevertheless largely had the ball in the opposition territory for the first ten minutes. However, again, confronted with a largely packed final third, the best they could muster from their crosses and corners was, from a loose ball, an instinctive shot from Aston Villa’s Carlos Sánchez on the edge of the area that pinged a few yards over.
After this pressure subsided, the tide gradually turned. Capitalising again on some hesitant Colombian defensive play, Rondón nabbed the ball and played it out on the left to Guerra. These two were to combine well several times in the game and here, the Zenit St. Petersburg striker ran into the area and met his colleague’s cross, looping a header onto the crossbar. However, before it made contact with the woodwork, the referee blew to penalise the striker for a foul of dubious justification. Nevertheless, not long after Vizcarrondo’s penalty area stretch denied Valencia (who was, in any case, offside) a chance from a dangerous Falcao knock-down following a Rodríguez cross, Rondón would not be denied a second time.
Just before the hour-mark on the right, the tenacious Málaga right-back Roberto Rosales quickly took a throw that Arango, with majestic nonchalance, hooked into the area where it bounced before the left-sided Guerra who, sensing an opportunity, sprung a diving header towards Rondón. Demonstrating admirable neck muscles, he instinctively contorted back to power the ball towards the far corner, where it bounced in what felt like slow motion, before crossing the line. Puncturing the atmosphere in the majority of the ground, some fans at home must have had a delayed response to this, with the distant Venezuelan cheers granting the green light for euphoria. Soon after reeling away, the achievement and the occasion suddenly overwhelmed the man they call Salo, as he stopped in his tracks and fell to the ground. Having netted his first international goal for 21 months and put himself back on course to one day be his country’s all-time top goalscorer, elated team-mates were quick to bundle him.
In the aftermath, while Colombia certainly already knew that they had a task on their hands, as with the preceding sixty minutes, they were to struggle to find any way to surmount it, continuing to put in crosses and attempt direct attacks that were blocked. The arrival of River Plate’s pacy livewire, Teófilo Gutiérrez, in place of the ineffectual Bacca on 72 minutes, appeared to be an acknowledgement by Pékerman that his side could do with some speed and it almost had an immediate impact. Indeed, Rodríguez picked up a loose ball in a central area and played a smart pass to Gutiérrez, yet while he appeared to have a sight on goal, by the time that he adjusted himself for the shot, centre-back Túñez came over to act as an effective shield.
A minute afterwards, the first of three defence-minded Venezuelan changes occurred, all of which involved experienced players who had been regulars at the history-making 2011 tournament. 34-year-old Franklin Lucena replaced Seijas to renew his erstwhile first-choice partnership with Rincón, though before he could do so he contrived to get himself booked before even crossing the touchline, having knocked the ball away from an opponent looking to take a throw. Four minutes later, Vargas was taken off for the more reserved, yet nevertheless creative, right-sided midfielder César González, 32. Lastly, with five minutes remaining, left-back Gabriel Cichero, 31, who had played in all but one of Sanvicente’s warm-up games, came on for Arango, with the back four becoming what appeared to be a back five.
Despite these moves, Venezuela were still managing to get forward during and after this period, with Arango gracefully turning and spraying balls out wide and Rondón chasing and hustling defenders, often giving his own rearguard some respite with his hold-up play.
Nevertheless, Colombia still needed a goal and their collective frustration appeared evident in an effort from Rodríguez with little more than ten minutes remaining. With his side having barely had a chance inside the area, the Real Madrid man opted to lash a left-footed strike from around 20 yards that goalkeeper Alain Baroja did well to parry out strongly before also quickly getting up to put a hand to substitute Edwin Cardona’s rebound. Following this, much praise was lavished upon the Caracas FC goalkeeper which, given he would have likely been criticised had he conceded, perhaps is testimony to both how little trouble he had hitherto faced as well as the significance of the occasion for him and his country. Indeed, playing in his first ever competitive international since making his debut against Honduras in February, he has had a remarkable domestic season and his prominence in this tournament is likely to facilitate a move abroad in the near future.
Subsequently, from a corner that came after the previous one was knocked back out, Colombia arguably had a better chance to score. This time, Rodríguez headed on the cross towards Zapata who was in space at the back post, but the AC Milan defender could not quite wrap his leg around it and the ball instead bobbled out.
From a Colombian perspective, the remainder of the game proceeded with no discernible difference. They continued to be thwarted by the little room they were afforded, winning the occasional, ultimately unsuccessful set-piece and having a half-chance, this time when Cardona’s nice work on the right led to a cross for fellow substitute Jackson Martínez to head down, albeit slightly behind Cuadrado, who directed his close-range effort well wide.
Such meagre sightings of Baroja’s goal were to subsequently decrease in number and, upon the goalkeeper’s clearance upfield after five-and-a-half minutes of stoppage-time, the final whistle blew. It was all over. Despite all the pre-tournament doubts about the team’s seeming lack of preparation and the international form of its leading players, Venezuela had accomplished something truly historic that will have sent confidence levels skyrocketing. Remarkably, this was the first ever win for the nation in their opening Copa América game and now they can genuinely dream of reaching the knock-out stages to once again defy some more expectations. It was to prove all too much for goal-hero Rondón to take in, with his response to the final whistle no doubt summing up most of his compatriots’ feelings.
Despite the well-documented problems that exist in the country – some of which were visibly displayed by fans in Rancagua – jubilation was allowed to temporarily reign in the homes, bars and public spaces across Venezuela. Although the country may be renowned for traditionally being more partial to baseball, huge numbers will tune in to watch La Vinotinto. So many in fact that President Maduro and some of his inner circle have utilised the team as a symbol of national unity by often being seen in public wearing the same striking yellow, blue and red tracksuit that is more commonly sighted on Sanvicente and his staff. This follows on from the late Hugo Chávez’s enthusiastic social media support of the team in 2011 which, endearingly or otherwise depending on your political persuasion, fans on Twitter mined during the Colombia game. Indeed, many of his four-year-old tweets were retweeted at choice moments on sunday, including this one that originally appeared towards the end of the epic 3-3 group stage draw with Paraguay:
Looking ahead, if the nation and the team manage to come back down to earth, they will need to be prepared for what could well be an altogether different challenge and set of tactics on Thursday in the form of Peru. In the meantime, keep an eye out on this site for an article that looks back at this game, expanding on some points raised above, as well as taking into consideration the different task that is anticipated to be posed by Los Incas.
Left: Fans watching the game in a public area in Caracas (Source: @UNoticias). Right: Jubilant Venezuelan fans outside the ground in Rancagua, celebrating inside a goal-cum-bus-stop (Source: @munirancagua).