By Staff Writer
Houston, Texas – After literally pulling out everything but the kitchen sink, it took a brilliant solo effort from substitute Jesus “Tacotito” Corona for Mexico to earn a draw against Venezuela and top Group C in the Copa America Centenario.
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio made nine changes to the team that beat Jamaica on Thursday. Although his side found itself 1-0 down after Venezuela was awarded a free kick in the 10th minute when Adalberto Penaranda won a foul in the attacking half.
The free kick was launched into the box from midfield where Christian Santos head it across goal for Jose Manuel Velazquez whose right-footed scissor volley found the back of the net from close range.
The 1-1 draw was enough for Mexico to top the group and avoid a run-in with the winner of Group D, most likely Argentina. Instead, El Tri will face the group’s runner up, which is likely to be Chile or possibly Panama.
But for most of the 90 minutes at the NRG Stadium in Houston on Monday, it didn’t look like it would work out that way for Mexico; who’d started with Javier Hernandez on the bench and Andres Guardado restored to the lineup after serving his suspension.
Corona who was introduced inside the first 20 minutes when Javier Aquino was withdrawn due to injury, nearly drew Mexico level in the 35th minute, heading a cross from Jorge Torres Nilo on target, only to have it saved by Hernandez in the Venezuela goal.
Moments before halftime, Mexico made a claim for a penalty when Hector Moreno’s header seemed to strike Venezuela’s Wilker Angel in the arm.
As Osorio’s team continued to press for an equalizer in the second half, tensions between the two sides, which had been flaring throughout, began to escalate. At one point, Chicharito Hernandez, who was introduced for Jesus Molina in the 68th minute, was seen wrestling Venezuela midfielder Tomas Rincon to the ground in an effort to win a penalty.
However, when Mexico’s equalizer came; no such gamesmanship was required for Corona who collected a pass from Miguel Layun and tore off on a mazy run through five Venezuelan players before blasting a right-footed shot to the bottom left corner.
Venezuela nearly regained its lead just four minutes later when Josef Martinez attempted a bicycle kick from inside the box that was saved by Mexico keeper Jose Corona.
In the end it finished 1-1 with both sides through to the next round and Mexico topping the group. Venezuela, for its part, demonstrated that its two previous results in the Copa – wins against Jamaica and Uruguay – were anything but flukes and that it has the capability of presenting a serious speed bump for any team remaining in the tournament.
Mexico meanwhile, demonstrated the kind of fight and resilience that will be necessary to go the distance, if indeed it is to live up to its billing as the only CONCACAF team with a realistic shot of winning the Copa.
Photos by ISI and Wilf Thorne.