Brazil made a tame entrance into the Copa America on Sunday, missing a host of chances in a goalless draw with ultra-minnows Venezuela at the Estadio Unico in La Plata, outside Buenos Aires.
The five-time world champions had chances — AC Milan’s Pato notably hitting the woodwork early on — but the longed-for samba soccer never arrived and it was soon apparent there would be no repeat of the Auriverde’s 7-0 thumping of the Vinotinto in a 1999 group opener when Ronaldo and co ran riot.
Before Sunday, Brazil had won all five previous meetings between the two nations in the competition, scoring 25 goals against just one conceded, but baseball-loving Venezuela have come on since then by leaps and bounds, and the only South American country never to make it to the World Cup finals even managed a goalless draw in Brazil during the World Cup qualifiers last year.
Selecao coach Mano Menezes admitted the outcome was disappointing.
“In the the first half we had chances, but in the second it was different. We were generally a bit lacking and Venezuela worked like Trojans,” he said.
Brazil now go on to face Paraguay on Saturday in Cordoba and Menezes said that “that will be another game.”
Counterpart Cesar Farias was delighted with a battling showing.
“It’s historic in terms of the Copa America. Brazil played well, but we deserve praise for holding them,” Farias said. “When we had the chance to play a bit, we did, and when we had to defend like gladiators, we did that too.”
Menezes sent out an attack-minded line-up, led by Santos’ precocious talents Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso, who arrived at the event fresh from winning the Copa Libertadores, with Robinho and Pato also in the mix, but they did not follow through and Venezuela supporters and a contingent of Argentina fans in the crowd chanted “Ole” enthusiastically whenever a burgundy-shirted Venezuela player passed the ball.
“The big teams aren’t going to get an easy ride — they’ll have to scrap for everything in every game,” Venezuela goalkeeper Renny Vega said.
Bolivia, ranked 102 in the world, had shown the way by holding Argentina in their opener and 68th-ranked Venezuela took their cue in providing another shock result.
Pato ought to have made the difference, but he missed with several attempts, including one that hit the bar in the first period.
However, Venezuela were not to be outdone and the impressive Tomas Rincon was held up in his tracks when set for a clean run on goal as Bolivian referee Raul Orozco elected to stop play for a foul by Thiago Silva 10 minutes before the break.
Brazil were then unlucky when Neymar fed Robinho, but Oswaldo Vizcarrondo made a last ditch block almost on the line. Ganso then found Neymar, but he missed the target.
Brazil have their eye firmly on the 2014 World Cup which they will host — yet they are also after their ninth Copa and a fifth in the past six editions.
Argentina and Uruguay hold the record with 14 each.
The favorites continued to press after the break, but they had a scare on 59 minutes when Salmon Rondon went down after tangling with Silva in the box. Orozco booked Rondon for simulation.
Menezes rolled the dice on the hour, withdrawing Robinho and sending on Fluminense’s Fred, yet it was Venezuela who came close when Juan Arango dragged an effort wide.
Elano and Lucas Silva came on for the tiring Pato and Ramires with 15 minutes remaining, but the resolute Venezuela defense, in which Roberto Rosales and Vizcarrondo were outstanding, held firm.
PARAGUAY 0, ECUADOR 0
AFP, SANTA FE, ARGENTINA
Ecuador were more or less satisfied, but Paraguay felt irked after the pair fought out a goalless stalemate in Group B of the Copa America on Sunday.
With group favorites and holders Brazil dropping two points against Venezuela the chance was there for either side to take early ownership of the group with a win in the late game.
Instead, a tight match saw neither side able to make a breakthrough in Santa Fe.
Gerardo Martino’s Paraguay were favored after having shown some impressive form in the qualifiers for last year’s World Cup, but their forward line of German-based Lucas Barrios and Blackburn Rovers player Roque Santa Cruz was unable to make their greater experience of the big occasion count.
“The first 20 to 25 minutes were good from Paraguay — we could have made the difference there,” Martino said glumly. “Then toward the end [of the first period] we lost our way, gave away possession too much and stopped pressing. In the second half, we did have some chances and were in control.”
However, still the goals would not come, meaning that Brazil can recover from their own poor finishing if they can edge out Martino’s men on Saturday to get back on track.
Paraguay are now sweating on the fitness for that game of winger Edgar Barreto, who went off injured before halftime.
Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda, in contrast, said his side had played “very well” in general.
“We came right back into the game [after Paraguay’s stronger start] and we are getting our confidence together. We had some purple patches and we are improving all the time,” Rueda said.
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