Sluggish Brazil held by Venezuela

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La Plata (Argentina), Jul 4: Brazil made a tame entrance into the Copa America, missing a host of chances in a goalless draw with ultra-minnows Venezuela at the Estadio Unico in La Plata.

The five-times world champions had chances - Milan's Pato notably hitting the woodwork early on yesterday. But the longed-for samba football never arrived and it was soon apparent there would be no repeat of the auriverde's 7-0 thumping of the vinotinto in a 1999 group opener.

Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho accounted for four of the goals that day and the Brazilians had before Sunday also won all five previous meetings between the two nations in the competition, scoring 25 goals for just one conceded.

But the baseball-loving Venezuelans have come on since then by leaps and bounds and the only South American country never to make it to the World Cup finals even managed a goalless draw in Brazil during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

"This is historic," commented Venezuela coach Cesar Farias.

Selecao coach Mano Menezes sent out an attack-minded line-up, led by Santos' precocious talents Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso, who arrived at the event fresh from winning the Copa Libertadores. With Robinho and Pato also to call in up front, Brazil made an early statement of intent.

But they did not follow through. Ganso only played in Menezes' first match in charge - a 2-0 friendly win last August over the United States but is being talked of as a future mainstay in the side.

However, he and his teammates repeatedly ran into cul de sacs against a resolute Venezuelan defence determined not to be cast as pushovers. 

Pato made an early foray but failed to bring the ball under control, then had a header easily claimed by Venezuela keeper Renny Vega before the latter held a shot from the AC Milan forward at the second attempt.

Pato then hit the bar as Brazil continued to be frustrated. Venezuela were not to be outdone and the impressive Tomas Rincon was held up in his tracks when he was set for a clean run on goal as Bolivian referee Raul Orozco elected to stop play for a foul by Thiago Silva ten minutes before the break.

Brazil then were unlucky as Neymar fed Robinho but Oswaldo Vizcarrondo made a last ditch block almost on the line. Then Ganso founde Neymar but he missed the target

The Brazilians have their eye firmly on the 2014 World Cup which they will host - yet they are also after their ninth Copa and fifth in the past six editions.

They first won the regional championship in 1919, adding further triumphs in 1922, 1949, 1989, 1997, 1999, 2004 and 2007. Argentina and Uruguay hold the record with 14 each.

The favourites continued to press after the break - but had a scare on 59 minutes when Salmon Rondon went down after tangling with Silva in the box. But Orozco booked Rondon for simulation.

Menezes rolled the dice on the hour, withdrawing Robinho and sending on Fluminense's Fred. Yet it was Venezuela who came close next as Juan Arango dragged an effort wide

Elano and Lucas Silva came on for the tiring Pato and Ramires with 15 minutes remaining but the resolute Venezuelan defence, in which Roberto Rosales and Vizcarrondo were outstanding, held firm.

PTI

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