The arc of footballing morality bends decisively towards justice as the clinical clarity of technology helps to even up the score. Here, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’s memorable Copa América 2019 clash against Brazil.
Copa América 2019 – Group A
Tuesday 18 June 2019 – Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
Brazil 0-0 Venezuela
Video Highlights of Brazil 0-0 Venezuela, Copa América Group A, 18 June 2019 (YouTube)
“¡Qué Viva el VAR! ¡Bienvenido el VAR!”
Those were the post-match words of Rafael Dudamel after the new technology played a significant role in frustrating the hosts and complementing what was a remarkably resilient Vinotinto display.
In all, three Brazilian goals were ruled out – one by the referee and two with the assistance of VAR. This brings the total of goals denied to Venezuela’s opponents to five in just two games and gives Venezuela two more points than their tireless defensive endeavours would have been rewarded with in previous years.
Over the course of what were in excess of 100 minutes on the pitch, the hosts saw the majority of the ball and, particularly in the early exchanges, seemed determined to compensate for their laboured performance in the opening-day win over Bolivia.
Indeed, they enjoyed over 80 per cent of possession in the first 20 minutes as they ran the Venezuelan defence ragged with quick passes and movement. David Neres and Richarlison – the two standout players from their 2017 Under-20 crop – came closest to scoring, with the former’s 15th-minute strike being sliced wide from a promising position and the latter’s 17th-minute cross-goal shot being parried wide by Wuilker Faríñez.
Despite this, Venezuela were not far off breaking the deadlock themselves when, in the 19th minute a Yangel Herrera cross was glanced agonisingly wide by Salomón Rondón. Although this moment sparked a five-minute spell of Venezuelan pressure which unsettled the home crowd, ultimately it proved to be his side’s only real opportunity of the entire game.
Seleção uneasiness appeared to have been alleviated in the 38th minute when they appeared to take the lead. Here, Dani Alves crossed in low from the right, with Roberto Firmino controlling and striking home. However, the referee was alert to the Liverpool forward pulling down centre-back Mikel Villanueva before taking aim and thus called back the play.
For the remainder of the half, although Brazil maintained overall control, Venezuela did just about leave ajar the potential for an historic upset, most notably when a 43rd-minute counter-attack saw Rondón and Murillo passing the ball between each other but, ultimately, the latter’s crucial low cross was too close to goalkeeper Alisson.
Boos were heard from the stands at half-time as well as at various points in the second half, even though in this latter period the attacking impetus always resided with Tite’s men, as Venezuela barely made it into opposition territory. Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesús came on after the restart and soon made an impact, first curling an effort wide in 57th minute and, three minutes later, seemingly giving his team the lead. This time, his strike deflected off Villanueva into the path of Firmino, who quickly found the alert Jesús approaching the six-yard-box, who finished off. However, following a VAR review, the position of the Champions League winner Firmino was adjudged to be offside.
Home fan disgruntlement understandably increased, as did the feeling that this was not going to be their night. Not only was the technology coldly and clinically putting the game to rights, but Venezuela’s defensive performance – most notably that of centre-back Yordan Osorio – was proving resolutely defiant. The toll their tracking was taking must have been significant and was possibly a factor in the surprise 66th-minute removal of Yangel Herrera in favour of the speedy attacker Yeferson Soteldo and consequent tactical shift to a 4-4-2. Incidentally, as if to illustrate that a bright future is on the horizon, the arrival of the latter player made him the fourth 2017 Under-20 World Cup runner-up to see action.
Still, Brazil had not completely given in to fate and in the 76th minute they manufactured a scare when Fernandinho’s low cross seemed destined to be tapped in by Jesús, but Osorio’s presence instead helped divert the ball safely to Faríñez.
If the home fans were unhappy with the Portugal-based defender’s physical challenge then, just over ten minutes later, they were absolutely fuming. On the left in the 87th minute, speedy substitute Everton played a one-two before dinking a ball into the centre that Philippe Coutinho prodded home. This time, it appeared that the dam had at last been broken. However, during the VAR review, it was spotted that, before bustling into the back of the net, the Barcelona player’s strike hit the knee of his former club team-mate Firmino – who was standing in an offside position. Thus, VAR, the death of football for some was to yet again offer life to Venezuela.
Given all the stoppages – including two Venezuela players going down injured – the referee allocated nearly ten minutes of added time, during which Brazil managed to create two more chances. First, a 93rd minute low drive across goal by Filipe Luís that only narrowly evaded two sliding forwards and, with the clock approaching 100 minutes, a Fernandinho header that went less than a yard wide of the back post.
Ultimately, however, the match ended 0-0. The feelings of home frustration and disillusionment were matched by the elation and glee of Venezuelans scattered all over the globe. Indeed, even though the defensive organisation deserves enormous credit and the three goal decisions were correct, only a robot could fail to feel a giddy sense of slight fortune about the result. Brazil, whilst not brilliant, dominated proceedings, yet were thwarted by their opponents along with this new panel of arbitration that does not kowtow to home fan and player pressure.
With their two consecutive clean sheets – as well as their final four defensively sound performances in World Cup qualifying – Venezuela know that they certainly have it within themselves to collectively keep the best in their continent at bay. However, with no goals to their name yet a win against Bolivia on Saturday now being almost essential to ensuring their progress to the knock-out stages, a change of tack is surely required. Although a continuation of the same tactics could yield a counter-attacking victory, Dudamel’s men are not going to receive a better opportunity in this tournament to try out their offensive moves than against the side with zero points who also need a win. Of course, a more open game certainly leaves Venezuela somewhat vulnerable at the back but, having so far struggled to link up effectively in the final third, they need to make the most of this match. They must take the game to their opponents, get the win and make everyone genuinely believe that, rather than just being a nuisance merely postponing an inevitable pounding, their stay in Brazil could well instead be extended until the first weekend of July.
Well, after what was experienced in Salvador, anyone could be forgiven for dreaming.
To keep up-to-date with Venezuela’s Copa América campaign, please return to this website as well as follow @DarrenSpherical.
Brazil (4-2-3-1): Alisson; D. Alves, T. Silva, Marquinhos, F. Luís; Casemiro (Fernandinho, 58′), Arthur; Richarlison (G. Jesús, 46′), P. Coutinho, D. Neres (Everton, 72′); R. Firmino.
Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, Y. Herrera (Y. Soteldo, 66′), T. Rincón; J. Murillo, D. Machís (A. Figuera, 76′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 86′).