Following Uruguay's collapse to both Venezuela and Mexico, these two teams faced off in a much anticipated match for the first place with a sole thought in their minds: avoiding Argentina. Taking in account how things are going in Group D, Venezuela and Mexico both knew that the winner of this game would be virtually spared from facing Argentina (probable clincher of Group D's first place) in the next round.
Venezuela strikes first
It was not an easy feat for Mexico, in fact, Venezuela looked as though they were going to carry out the task until Corona's late heroics crumbled the Vinotinto's hopes. Venezuela struck very early in the game with an unusual but extremely well executed half-volley beauty by José Manuel Velázquez. Sloppy defending from Moreno in a free kick allowed the ball to be headed back to the heart of the box and then smashed into the roof of the net by the Venezuelan defender. The early lead made the South Americans feel comfortable in the pitch and put the pressure on the Mexican side.
Mexico had a very slow start to the game. Juan Carlos Osorio rested key men Chicharito Hernández, Miguel Layún, and Rafael Márquez against the Vinotinto and he soon paid the price with a squad that did not seem to be sharp at the pitch, probably a victim to the heavy player rotation that has been widely criticized by the media. The silver lining for Osorio was the return of veteran midfielder Andrés Guardado after he was sent off in the tournament's opener in Glendale.
On the other side, Venezuela delivered a nifty first half showing sturdy defensive work and an indifference for ball possession that was rewarded with dangerous counter-attacks. A two-pronged striker partnership between Del Valle and Santos was a headache for Reyes and Moreno (this time playing as a centre-back). Rafael Dudamel´s pupils closed spaces to Peralta and Aquino, only struggling to deal with the threat of Hirving Lozano from the right flank.
The game was a rough one. It was not a cagey affair, with huge gaps on the field and lots of hard challenges and contact from the players. The first casualty was Javier Aquino when he walked off the field with an apparent hamstring injury, thus introducing Jesús “Tecatito” Corona to the fray. The Cuban referee did not live up to expectations with a very shaky match control and avoiding the use of bookings.
Venezuela frustrated Mexico during the first half, but the story after halftime changed. Osorio subbed Torres Nilo for Layún and commanded his side to an all-out offensive tactic to siege Venezuela in their own half. The South Americans relinquished the few possessions they had and resigned to defend with their ten men on the field. In despite of that, Venezuela had a couple of chances to finish Mexico but their strikers were not clinical enough to deliver.
Chicharito Hernández was the final sub for Mexico as they looked to equalise the game. Dani Hernández denied the Mexicans deep into the game with a stunning double save from a Diego Reyes´ header and a close range shot from Chicharito. It looked as though the Venezuelans would not budge until the magic of “Tecatito” Corona appeared.
Goal of the Tournament
The man from Oporto received the ball along the left side of the pitch 30 yards away from the goalkeeper. He then proceeded to cut inside the defender in a vertical slalom towards the goal. Tecatito sprinted past four defenders and then buried his shot to the bottom corner of the goal in a fantasy play that brought relief to the Mexican team.
With the equaliser, the roles inverted because Mexico was now topping the group on goal difference. The roles were inverted and Venezuela had to go for another goal that catapulted them to first place. And they were very close to getting another half-volley magical strike but this time the effort was well saved by goalkeeper Jesús Corona.
The referee blew the whistle and Mexico outlasted Venezuela in Houston. It was a well-fought match by the South Americans and a rocky draw for the Mexicans, but nonetheless they got the result they cherished. Both teams are through to the next round and they will now have to wait and see which team they will face. If everything follows the script, Mexico will end up against Chile and Venezuela against favorites Argentina.