PHILADELPHIA: Uruguay were sent crashing out of the Copa America Centenario on Thursday as Venezuela and Mexico marched into the quarterfinals.
Uruguay, the record 15-time Copa America champions, were eliminated in the group phase for the first time since 1997 after slumping to a shock 1-0 loss to Venezuela in Philadelphia.
That result combined with Mexico’s 2-0 Group C win over Jamaica in Pasadena left the 2011 champions struggling to digest a humiliating early exit.
“We never found the game we wanted and that cost us,” Uruguay’s revered coach Oscar Tabarez said, adding that the ill-fated campaign should serve as a warning to his team as they now look ahead to the resumption of 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
“It’s been a very different Copa America. I’ve never experienced something like this before.
“We knew it was going to be difficult but this should be a wake-up call before the World Cup qualifiers,” Tabarez added.
Uruguay’s defeat also capped a miserable tournament for Barcelona superstar Luis Suarez.
Suarez, nursing a hamstring injury when he joined up with the squad, has so far not played a single minute.
Suarez appeared in the dugout and looked visibly frustrated at his failure to get on the pitch, at one point appearing to punch the dugout wall.
Tabarez defended his decision not to name Suarez in the matchday squad.
“The player is not fit to play. It’s a matter of numbers. I will not select a player who is not 100 percent. Was he angry? I am not aware. To me he told me nothing,” Tabarez said.
Venezuela’s winner came on 36 minutes, when midfielder Alejandro Guerra cleverly spotted Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera off his line.
Guerra unleashed a long-range effort from near the halfway line which the back-pedalling Muslera could only parry onto the bar before Salomon Rondon bundled in the rebound.
Venezuela’s advance to the last eight is the biggest shock of the tournament so far.
The Venezuelans are currently bottom of South America’s 10-team round robin qualifying competition for the 2018 World Cup; Uruguay is on top of the standings.
Beating ‘the maestro’
“To beat the ‘Maestro’ Tabarez is a privilege,” Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel said. “For me it means a lot. He’s one of the best coaches in the world, in history. This win will motivate us to keep winning and growing as a team,” he added.
Venezuela will now face Mexico in their final first round game to determine who finishes top of Group C.
Mexico, who had beaten Uruguay 3-1 in their opening game, meanwhile proved too powerful for Caribbean minnows Jamaica in front of an 83,263 crowd at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.
With California’s large population of Mexican-Americans making it a virtual home game for ‘El Tri’, Mexico took the lead on 18 minutes when former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker Javier Hernandez nodded in his 45th international goal.
Jamaica were denied what looked like a clear-cut penalty in the second half after striker Clayton Donaldson appeared to have been fouled in the area.
The drama came in the 60th minute when Donaldson rounded his marker before being cut down by Yasser Corona. Replays showed the defender didn’t get a touch on the ball.
Jamaica’s misery was sealed when Mexico’s Hirving Lozano picked out Hector Herrera in the area and the midfielder nudged the ball on for substitute Oribe Peralta to stroke the ball first time inside the right hand upright on the 81st minute.
“It’s a tough loss of a game I believe we dominated at times but we failed to take our chances,” Jamaica’s assistant coach Miguel Coley said, refusing to be drawn on whether he felt the overwhelming Mexican support had influenced the penalty decision.
“I don’t want to go there—the referee’s decision is final.”