The city of Philadelphia loves itself an underdog team. The Flyers were underdogs when they went 3-0 down in the 2010 NHL Playoffs against the Boston Bruins. They came back and won the series. The 2008 Phillies. Even the 2016 Philadelphia Union team in Major League Soccer. The underdog story is why there is a Rocky statue out in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum. The city cannot get enough of underdogs, and Thursday night they got another one.
Copa America Shocker: Underdog Venezuela Upsets Uruguay
Coming into the game, ESPN‘s SPI gave Venezuela a ten percent chance of beating Uruguay. Venezuela has never qualified for a FIFA World Cup and is currently ranked 77th in the FIFA rankings. Uruguay, however, is ranked ninth in the world and has won the Copa America tournament a record 15 times. Two polar opposites of the soccer spectrum met at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Venezuela brought their A game Thursday night. Alejandro Guerra lobbed the ball from the middle of the attacking half with Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera parrying the ball onto the crossbar. Saloman Rondon, who plays his club soccer for EPL side West Bromwich Albion, cleaned up the mess and scored the game’s lone goal in the 36th minute.
Though the stadium was about 90% Uruguay fans, the Venezuelan contingent made the stadium rock. The Vinotinto came out strong out the gate for the first ten minutes. They would pressure on the ball whenever an Uruguay player even got near the ball. What resulted from that though was a plethora of fouls with both teams combining for 33.
Venezuela played solidly on both sides of the ball. Conceding 59% of possession, their counter attack style of play led to plenty of big chances. The defense, led by Rolf Feltscher and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, was essentially an immovable wall. Though Uruguay could’ve scored a couple of times, they held La Celeste scoreless. That’s a tremendously hard thing to do against the ninth best team in the world.
Speaking of chances, Uruguay’s striker Edinson Cavani had a nightmare of a game. Around the 15 minute mark, a ball was swung to him near the six-yard box. There, he promptly whiffed on the kick and the ball was immediately cleared out. From then onto the 90th minute, he was virtually invisible and non-existent.
The lack of Luis Suarez on the field looked like it hurt Cavani. Suarez brings creativity to the team up top. That would allow Cavani to drop back a little more and have Suarez make things happen in the final third. Suarez, not knowing coach Oscar Tabarez didn’t make him available, was seen punching the bench itself and the glass separating the players and the coaches when he realized he couldn’t play.
At the 90th minute, a ball fell to Cavani. He took a touch and got around his man with only ten yards and goalkeeper Dani Hernandez to beat. Everyone in the stadium got on their feet waiting for this sure thing of a goal. Nine times out of ten Cavani scores, but this happened to be the one time out of ten. He missed a sitter that would’ve seen Uruguay escape with a point, keeping their knockout round hopes alive.
But as a result of the defeat, they are officially eliminated thanks to Mexico beating Jamaica 2-0. A team projected by many to win the tournament fell flat on their faces and need to regroup ahead of upcoming World Cup qualifiers where they sit in first place.
Venezuela on the other hand has guaranteed themselves a place in the knockout stages. A team that came in with little expectations gave the tournament its biggest surprise yet. The hero of the game in Rondon said this about the last couple of weeks:
“This week and last week were very, very difficult. But now we have to look ahead to playing Mexico.”
Whether people believe it or not, Venezuela is here to play and they are not going down without a fight.