Brazil was held to a 0-0 draw by Venezuela in the Copa America on Sunday, making a similar lackluster start as host nation and fellow co-favorite Argentina two days earlier.
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Venezuela, usually regarded as the weakest team in the South American confederation, packed the midfield in the Group B match to snuff out Brazil’s attack. The five-time World Cup winners seldom played like an organized team, relying on the individual talents of stars Neymar, Robinho and Alexandre Pato.
”We were unable to finish and lost many good opportunities,” Neymar said. ”Now we’ll have to work to improve and win.”
Brazil coach Mano Menezes put it more clearly: ”It was a bad result. Surprises no longer exist in football … our attack was lacking, particularly in the second half.”
Players on both teams wore gloves, trying to fight off the near-freezing temperatures of the Argentine winter.
Argentina drew 1-1 with Bolivia on Friday in the tournament opener. Brazil has defeated Argentina in the last two finals and the two teams are widely expected to meet again in the July 24 final.
Just like Argentina, Brazil seldom looked like a real team. Venezuela worked harder than its opponent, keeping Brazil’s chances to a minimum and relying on an impressive goalkeeping performance from Renny Vega.
”It’s an important achievement,” Venezuela midfielder Franklin Lucena said. ”We played good football and we are convinced we can do important things.”
With Venezuela seemingly content to play for the draw, Brazil had several chances early in the match.
Brazil’s best opportunity came when a sprawling Vega dived to stop a shot from the wing by Pato in the 32nd minute.
Referee Raul Orozco waved away shouts for a penalty in the 39th when Venezuela defender Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, sliding just in front of the goal mouth, blocked a shot from Robinho with his shoulder.
Brazil’s 19-year-old star, Neymar, seldom looked dangerous although he did have a blistering attempt in the 13th minute that was stopped by Vega. He then shot just wide of the far post in the 44th.
”If we had scored in the first half, the results would have been very different,” Thiago Silva said. ”We will certainly play better the next time.”
The second half followed a similar pattern with Brazil mounting a few attacks, always looking for a stunning individual effort to win the match.
Brazil plays its second group match on Saturday against Paraguay. Venezuela plays Ecuador the same day.
Eight of the 12 teams qualify for the second round, which means the early draws are unlikely to keep Brazil and Argentina out of the knockout stage.
Brazil: Julio Cesar, Dani Alves, Lucio, Thiago Silva, Andre Santos, Lucas Leiva, Ramires (Elano, 75), Ganso, Robinho (Fred, 64), Alexandre Pato (Lucas, 75), Neymar.
Venezuela: Renny Vega, Roberto Rosales, Oswaldo Vizcarriondo, Grenddy Perozo, Gabriel Cichero, Tomas Rincon, Franklin Lucena, Cesar Gonzalez (Giacomo Di Giorgi, 86), Juan Arango, Nicolas Miku Fedor (Giancarlo Maldonado, 78), Jose Salomon Rondon (Alejandro Moreno, 63).