Colombia got off to a disappointing start in the Copa America on Sunday, losing 1-0 to Venezuela in the first game for each team in the South American championship.
Striker Salomon Rondon, Venezuela’s biggest threat in the match, headed the winner past ‘keeper David Ospina and into the far corner in the 60th minute.
It was Venezuela’s first victory over Colombia in the Copa America and the biggest upset of the tournament so far providing a major step for a country that is better known for producing baseball players than footballers.
“We knew we were facing one of the favorites, and that we had to be disciplined and not let them think,” Venezuela coach Noel Sanvicente said. “This game should put a smile on every Venezuelan.”
Colombia, a quarter finalist in last year’s World Cup and one of the tournament’s most exciting teams, was poor throughout the Group C match, despite fielding the likes of Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez, and its top goal scorer and captain Radamel Falcao.
“We couldn’t play the way we usually play,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said. “We had difficulty finding the correct passes and Venezuela defended well.”
Venezuela frustrated Colombia’s attacks before they could get going, put up a strong, physical defense, and was always threatening on the counterattack.
Venezuela’s Ronald Vargas had the best early chance, with a point-blank shot in the 27th minute that was stopped by Arsenal ‘keeper, Ospina. Alejandro Guerra also came close in the 42nd with a shot that sailed just wide.
By contrast, Colombia offered little in the first half. Pekerman’s team attacked early in the second half and, just as it was building momentum, Rondon broke the deadlock with the goal — 10 minutes after he had hit the crossbar with another header.
Venezuela keeper Alain Baroja came up with his two key saves of the match in the 79th minute, when he denied James and Edwin Cardona as Colombia pressed for an equalizer.
“Venezuela closed the spaces really well and we couldn’t link our players,” Ospina said. “We lost the game but we still have two more to turn this around.”
Group C action continues when Brazil plays Colombia on Wednesday and Peru faces Venezuela on Thursday.