Two emotion-packed draws brought the curtain down on Group C last night in the 2004 Copa América in Trujillo. Colombia and Peru fought out a thrilling score draw that sent both teams through to the last eight. A Bolivian-Venezuelan stalemate in the earlier game left the Vinotinto catching an early flight home and Ramiro Blacut's side depending on a series of other results if they are to avoid the same fate.
As Group A winners, Colombia await one of the best third-place teams in the quarter-finals, while Peru face the runners-up in Group B, where Uruguay, Mexico, Argentina and Ecuador are all in contention. The Albicelestes are guaranteed a berth in the last eight if they win or draw against Uruguay tonight, or if Ecuador lose to Mexico.
No fairytale ending for Venezuela as Bolivia pray for a miracle
Before their decisive Group A game last night, the talk in the Bolivian and Venezuelan camps was all about the attacking football that was going to light up the competition. Ironically, the draw that later ensued - the worst possible result for both sides - meant Venezuela were the first team to be eliminated from this year's competition and left Bolivia's faint hopes of making the next round hanging by a thread. Blacut's men have to pray for a draw between Chile and Costa Rica, or a win by the Ticos by at least three goals, to avoid an early exit.
"We're still not out of it, though it is out of our hands now," rued the Bolivian coach at the press conference afterwards. "We lacked that bit of stamina late in our games, which would have helped us take all three points. That caught us out in the end," he added.
The 1-1 draw was still an entertaining affair with the real drama coming midway through the first half. Venezuela's Ruberth Morán broke the deadlock after pouncing on a rebound from goalkeeper Leo Fernández (1-0, 27'). Unfortunately, the celebrations were short lived for Richard Páez's men, as Gonzalo Galindo caught the Venezuelan keeper Gilberto Angelucci off guard with a wicked volley just five minutes later (1-1, 32').
It was Venezuela that came closest to snatching the three points late on, as they had done in the teams' corresponding fixture in this year's South American qualifier for Germany 2006. A combination of wayward finishing by the Vinotinto forwards and inspired goalkeeping by Fernández contrived to keep the score at 1-1. By the time half the floodlighting failed late on in the Manische Stadium, the sun was already setting on both teams' chances.
"We're leaving this year's Copa without having achieved our goal of making it past the group stages. Nonetheless, we're going home having grown as a group. Venezuela is still on the rise," a defiant Páez said afterwards.
Colombia confirm top-spot against spirited Peru
Colombia and Peru matched the excitement of the night's opening encounter with a pulsating game of their own that ebbed and flowed almost until the last minute. The 2-2 draw was enough for the reigning champions to win Group A and for the hosts to secure their progress as group runners-up.
With one eye on the quarter-finals, Reinaldo Rueda rested some of his key players for the fixture, but still seemed to be cruising to victory after goals from Edwin Congo (34') and Abel Aguilar (53') gave his side a 2-0 lead. Peru though, dug deep, and in a magical spell just before the hour, managed to turn the game around. Colombia, who had gone eight games and 804 minutes without conceding a goal in Copa América ties, then conceded two in three minutes. First, Nolberto Solano cut the deficit with an inch-perfect free kick (57'), and then Flavio Maestri netted with a diving header to level the tie (61'), and ensure a share of the spoils for both sides.
"We had a good first forty-five but the second-half performance by Peru was commendable. My team has done very well and now we're anxious to know who we'll be playing in the quarter-finals so we can start our preparations in earnest," a jubilant Rueda said after the game.
Venezuela 1 - 1 Bolivia
Peru 2 - 2 Colombia
Group A Final Positions
Colombia (7 pts.)
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