Peru vs Venezuela | Friday 19 June | Estadio Elías Figueroa, Valparaiso | 01:30
To Win (90mins)
Peru were hoping to get a point out of their opening match against Brazil after the game headed into injury time with the score locked at 1-1, but Neymar had other ideas and skinned their defence to set up teammate Douglas Costa for the winner. Attacking midfielder Christian Cueva was on hand to capitalise on a defensive error from Brazil, intercepting a pass before taking a touch and firing in from close range. Since 1997, Peru have impressed at the Copa America on a consistent basis, with four quarter-finals and two semi-finals being achieved in their last six tournaments. That’s an impressive statistic for a country considered to be in the bottom three out of the nine South American footballing nations. Ricardo Gareca has a wealth of experience in three of Peru’s attacking stars; Paolo Guerrero (Flamenco), Jefferson Farfan (Schalke) and Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich). The trio have 199 caps and 58 goals between them. Attacking midfielder Farfan has only just returned from injury, playing the last two months of the season with Schalke after watching on for most of the campaign, but he will be hugely important to Peru’s hopes of progression. A talented all-round attacker who, when fit and firing, is a threat with his pace and dribbling at opposition defences. Peru really need him to have a positive impact on the attack as a whole, especially with Pizarro not really having had much game time at Bayern this season. Guerrero was Peru’s stand out player against Brazil, providing a constant threat to their defence. The former Bayern Munich hitman, who now plies his trade in the Brazilian Serie A, was the topscorer at the 2011 Copa America and will be looking to annihilate Venezuela as he did four years ago, pummelling a hat-trick.
Zenit St. Petersburg striker Salomon Rondon scored as Venezuela upset star-studded Colombia 1-0 on Sunday. Colombia, bristling with Europe-based stars including James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, are regarded as dark horses for the title but Venezuela dealt with them superbly. La Vinotinto’s (the Burgundys) goal came after a quick throw caught Colombia's defence off guard. Juan Arango improvised a first-time cross across the box to Alejandro Guerra, who headed back into the path of Rondon. The Russian-based striker, reportedly a summer transfer target for English clubs Tottenham and Liverpool, guided a superb header over Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina. Colombia rallied furiously in search of an equaliser but could find no way past Venezuelan goalkeeper Alain Baroja. Baroja produced two fine saves in a matter of minutes, parrying away a vicious long-range shot from James before turning a follow-up effort from Edwin Cardona around the post. Historically, Venezuela has not had the same football fanatic culture that Peru has. That said, ever since they hosted the Copa America in 2007, where they made it to the quarter-finals for the first time ever, they have consistently been considered a worthy opponent. They went on to make history again in the 2011 showpiece by advancing to the semi-finals. This year they will be hoping to go all the way. Rondon will be Venezuela’s big hope to once again get his side on the scoresheet against Peru. The Zenit striker has just helped his side win the league title in Russia by contributing thirteen goals in 26 games. He is a pacy and powerful presence in the final third. He’s direct, not really one to spend too much time outside the box if he doesn’t need to, and will help hold the ball up as well as his team launch counter-attacks. Any hopes Venezuela have of reaching the last four again will hinge on him firing.
VERDICT: Peru 16/10
Since Peru’s 4-1 thrashing of Venezuela in the 2011 Copa America, the sides have met twice during the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers with the home side winning their respective ties by one goal in both games. While Venezuela were the team who got maximum points in their opening game, Peru did very well against a formidable Brazil and with a similar performance should claim points against Venezuela, who came up against a Colombian team who were not at their best. Peru are a hard-nosed outfit with nothing but fight in them. They've earned some impressive wins over the past few years and I expect them to rise to the occasion here.