Hosts Argentina fight hard to avoid defeat in their opening match against Bolivia in the Copa America.
| Brazil’s Robinho and Dani Alves get in a tangle during an uninspiring display against Venezuela [EPA]
Venezuelan players issued a get well soon message to ailing president Hugo Chavez after their surprise goalless draw on Sunday with holders Brazil at the Copa America.
Grendy Perozzo and Franklin Lucena sent messages on behalf of the squad to Chavez, who is convalescing in Cuba after undergoing surgery for a cancerous tumour.
“I want to send you all the help possible to a human being who is passing through a difficult moment,” said Perozzo, who said the players had earlier taken heart from a Twitter message sent by the president to wish the team luck.
The Venezuelan team certainly didn’t disappoint their president with an impressive display against a Brazil team fancied my many to win the tournament.
“I want to send you all the help possible to a human being who is passing through a difficult moment”
Message from Venezuelan players to president Hugo Chavez
Brazil were supposed to turn on the style on Sunday and ease past rank outsiders Venezuela in kick-starting a bid for a hoped-for third consecutive Copa America triumph.
Instead, the Venezuelans, straining every sinew for every ball, put the hex on the auriverde at the Estadio Unico in La Plata and secured a second goalless draw with their much-lauded rivals in a row.
Just over a decade ago the five-times world champions slaughtered their counterparts from the Caribbean nation, where baseball remains sport numero uno, 7-0 to get a triumphant Copa campaign under way.
But where Ronaldo, Ronaldino and Rivaldo found rich pickings on that occasion, Brazil this time were left to contemplate only sour grapes as they found this year’s ‘Vinotinto’ made of sterner stuff.
Brazil coach Mario Menezes, in charge for his first tournament after replacing unlamented pragmatist Dunga, had hoped for better things in choosing an attacking line-up.
Hot young talents Neymar and Ganso from Santos, plus comparatively elder statesmen and Milan stars Pato and Robinho were supposed to form the magic quartet to create the kind of sumptuous fare served up for France two decades ago by Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Luis Fernandez and Jean Tigana.
Back to square one
Those four midfield musketeers were dubbed the “carré magique” or “magic square” and they lit up the 1984 European championship in particular – even if at World Cup level they never quite managed to land the big prize.
But on Sunday’s evidence it’s more back to square one than magic square for the Brazilians.
Brazil fans found little to cheer their chilled bones in close to zero temperatures.
Many could have been forgiven, in their frozen state, for wishing they were instead cheering on the auriverde’s women’s team at the ongoing World Cup in Germany, where Marta produced the kind of finishing earlier in the day against Norway which was sadly not in evidence from the men.
|Ecuadorian keeper Marcelo Elizaga was kept busy against an attacking Paraguay side [EPA]|
“We played well in the first half and were just missing a goal,” Robinho insisted.
“We created a lot of chances and so that stands us in good stead, even if it is always better to win,” he said.
Robinho did admit, however, that an improvement is clearly needed – and quickly.
“We must correct the things which we did poorly when we meet Paraguay” next Saturday, he said.
More of the same against the tough Paraguayans and thereafter against a hard to break down Ecuador and the holders would be struggling to convince their fans that they still possess, deep down, the magic touch.
Paraguay were impressive during their 0-0 draw against Ecuador on Sunday.
“We played the best 15 minutes so far in this Copa America and it would be unjust not to recognise that,” Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino told reporters after the match in Santa Fe.
“If (Marcelo) Elizaga was chosen as man of the match, there’s a reason,” he said of Ecuador’s goalkeeper, who made a string of fine saves as Paraguay laid siege to his goal in the opening quarter of an hour.
The tournament, played in extremely cold weather, has produced just three goals in four matches after hosts Argentina were held 1-1 by Bolivia and Colombia beat Costa Rica 1-0 in Group A.
World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay open Group C on Monday in San Juan followed by Chile’s meeting with Peru in a double-header at the new Bicentenario stadium.