Copa America 2019

A var-y good job for coach Dudamel

Venezuela coach hails technology for striking out 2 goals; Brazil rue missed chances in draw

SALVADOR • Unlike most South American nations where football is considered to be a religious experience, the sport plays second fiddle to baseball among Venezuelans.

Part of that reason has to do with the woeful history of the national team, long considered to be the whipping boys of the continent.

But football has enjoyed something of a renaissance in Venezuela in recent years - the national team finished fourth, their best position, at the Copa America in 2011 and they also eliminated Uruguay, one of the tournament's perennial favourites, in 2016.

The emergence of a proven forward in the form of West Brom's Salomon Rondon, who spent last season on loan at Newcastle, has certainly helped La Vinotinto punch above their weight.

And Venezuela again showed why they are considered to be a potential banana skin at this year's Copa after holding hosts and tournament favourites Brazil to a 0-0 draw on Tuesday.

Except that while Rafael Dudamel's men shut out the Selecao with a dogged display led by goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez, they were also indebted to an unlikely source of help - the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

Just like in their Group A opener, when the technology chalked off two goals for Peru as Venezuela ground out a goal-less draw, the VAR again rode to their rescue, overruling two strikes by the Selecao.

Brazil, who had another goal disallowed by the referee, were left to rue a series of missed chances in another sub-par performance that had the 39,000-strong crowd at the Fonte Nova Arena booing at the final whistle.

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino thought he had nabbed the opener only for it to be ruled out for a foul.

Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City then found the net after the break only for a VAR review to deem Firmino offside in the buildup.

Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho looked to have found the winner from close range late on, but VAR intervened again, this time for a handball by Firmino.

Afterwards, Dudamel trumpeted the qualities of the technology, hailing "Viva el VAR (long live VAR)".

He added: "We played an almost perfect game against a team of brilliant individuals.

"Brazil put us to the test, but the team understood what needed to be done and remembered what tactics we needed to deploy. This is a historic result for us."

But while Brazil defender Thiago Silva slammed the negative tactics employed by Venezuela, who "practically never got out their own area", his coach Tite admitted the five-time world champions deserved flak for failing to seize the many chances that fell their way.

Tite, who is aiming to win his country's ninth Copa title, said: "We have to understand the supporters, they want to see goals and if I had been in the crowd, I also would have wanted to boo."

His team meet Peru in their final group game on Saturday, with both sides needing only a draw to seal their place in the quarter-finals.

The top two in each group are guaranteed a place in the last eight, along with the two best third-placed teams.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2019, with the headline 'A var-y good job for coach Dudamel'. Print Edition | Subscribe