Copa America off to cold start in Argentina
Buenos Aires: The Copa America is off to a cold start, matching Argentina`s winter weather.
Tournament co-favorites Brazil and Argentina made stuttering starts against probably the two weakest teams in the South American confederation.
Brazil, which has won four of the last five Copa Americas -- and the last two in the final against Argentina – managed a lackluster 0-0 draw on Sunday against Venezuela, a country better known for its great baseball talent.
Players on both sides wore gloves in the match in La Plata, and fans wore scarves and earmuffs with temperatures near freezing.
Sunday`s other Group B match in Santa Fe was just as chilling: Ecuador 0, Paraguay 0.
"It was not what we expected," Brazil`s forward Alexandre Pato said.
Brazil coach Mano Menezes put it more clearly: "It was a bad result. Surprises no longer exist in football. ... Our offense was lacking, particularly in the second half."
Host nation Argentina, desperate to win its first major international title in 18 years, struggled in its opener on Friday, with a 76th-minute goal from Sergio Aguero salvaging a 1-1 draw with Bolivia.
Only three goals have been scored in the first four Copa America matches -- one goal every two hours. Brazil -- like Argentina in Group A -- only showed flashes despite vastly superior talent.
The team`s 19-year-old star Neymar lashed a few shots across the goalmouth. Striker Robinho, a veteran brought in to lead the young squad, hit the crossbar, and midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso tried but failed to organize enough attack.
Brazil tried to rely on star power and seldom looked like a real team. Venezuela worked harder, kept Brazil`s chances to a minimum and was helped by some impressive goalkeeping 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."
Venezuela defeated Brazil 2-0 three years ago in an international friendly in Boston.
"We are making a habit of controlling Brazil," Venezuela coach Cesar Farias said.
With Venezuela content to play for the draw, Brazil had several chances early.
Brazil`s best opportunity came when Vega sprawled 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.
"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."
Paraguay forward Nelson Haedo Valdez suggested parity is arriving in South America with players from many of the smaller countries increasingly getting experience in Europe.
"It is difficult to begin this championship, and nowadays in South America no team is less than any other," Valdez said.
He said everyone is ready to stand toe-to-toe with South America`s two giants.
"Today and yesterday we saw Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela at the same level, and this will be very important."
The slow start probably won`t matter much.
Eight of the 12-team field will reach the second round, which is where the real action begins on July 16-17. The draws give giant boosts to Venezuela and Bolivia, which will be fighting to make the quarterfinals with the likes of Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru.
Argentine coach Sergio Batista said Sunday he expected few changes for his team`s next match against Colombia on Wednesday.
That could mean starting with the same three attackers -- Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Ezequiel Lavezzi -- who failed to produce much against Bolivia.