Venezuela lead heavyweight duo
© AFP

THE DAY REPLAYED –

The Copa America 2011 continues to supply a far-from-easy ride to the pre-tournament favourites, as underlined by the results of the second round of matches in Group B. After sharing the spoils in a 2-2 draw in Cordoba yesterday, Brazil and Paraguay, just like Argentina in Group A and Uruguay in Group C, are still yet to win a game.

A Seleção and La Albirroja, despite producing the competition’s highest-scoring encounter thus far, now find themselves in an extremely awkward position ahead of 13 July’s final Group B matchday. Venezuela, in contrast, stormed to the top of the section on four points after sinking Ecuador 1-0 in Salta.

Results
Group B
Brazil 2-2 Paraguay
Venezuela 1-0 Ecuador

Memorable moments
Coaches earn their corn
The exciting draw between Brazil and Paraguay, both of whom reached the last eight at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, was to feature an intriguing tactical tussle between the respective coaches, Mano Menezes and Gerardo Martino. Menezes left Robinho on the bench in favour of Jadson and was rewarded by the latter’s first strike in the Canarinha jersey, while he will also have been delighted to witness the opportunistic late equaliser from substitute Fred – only introduced in place of Neymar on 81 minutes. Martino was also able to savour a similar flash of inspiration, with Los Guaraníes’ second goal struck by forward Nelson Haedo Valdez, who had replaced Lucas Barrios ten minutes earlier.

Quirk of fate
It was just after the hour mark in Salta when the substitution board indicated Venezuela’s No11 Cesar Gonzalez was to be substituted in favour of No19 Jesus Meza. Determined to make the most of every second before exiting the fray, El Maestrico Gonzalez did just that when thumping a first-time shot from distance into the bottom corner of Ecuador keeper Marcelo Elizaga’s net for La Vinotinto’s 61st-minute winner. Smiling wryly to himself, coach Cesar Farias stuck to his guns and brought on Meza three minutes later for attacking midfielder Gonzalez, who headed off the pitch to an ovation.

The player
Roque Santa Cruz (Paraguay)
The rangy Manchester City striker, who spent the second half of 2010/11 on loan at former club Blackburn Rovers, had a game to remember against Brazil. Skilful and intelligent, the Paraguayan front-runner constantly created spaces for his team-mates to exploit and showed admirable composure when making it 1-1 with a cool finish past the outrushing Julio Cesar. Playing in his third Copa America, Santa Cruz thus took his senior international tally to 25 goals, level with Jose Saturnino Cardozo as La Albirroja’s all-time top scorer.

Goal of the day
Brazil-Paraguay, Fred 89’
With Paraguayan fans preparing to celebrate their eighth win over Brazil in Copa history, substitute Fred stepped in to salvage a point for the five-time world champions. The 27-year-old Fluminense front-runner slipped between Los Guaraníes’ centre-backs to get on the end of an inch-perfect pass by Paulo Henrique Ganso, before firing past Justo Villar with his right foot to make it 2-2. “We’d been hoping for more than a draw,” said Brazil’s hero of the hour afterwards. “We’ll have to improve in certain areas if we want to beat Ecuador.”

The stat
1 –
Venezuela’s victory yesteday was their first over Ecuador at a Copa America. In the teams’ two previous meetings, La Tricolor had won 6-1 in 1993 and 4-0 in 2001.

What they said
“Are we surprised to be top of a group also containing Brazil and Paraguay? Not at all, we’re taking it in our stride. This is what we’re training for, and let’s hope it doesn’t stop here. We want to do better than we did in 2007, when we reached the quarter-finals, and keep making history. We can finish first in this group,” Venezuela defender Oswaldo Vizcarrondo.

Next up
Group A will come to a close after two eagerly anticipated encounters, starting with Sunday 10 July’s meeting in Santa Fe between section leaders Colombia (4 points) and bottom side Bolivia (1). The following day in Cordoba, third-placed Argentina (2 points) will be gunning for their first victory and a place in the quarter-finals when they take on Costa Rica (3). All four sides still have mathematical possibilities of reaching the next phase.