HOUSTON: Porto midfielder Jesus Manuel “Tecatito” Corona scored a superb individual goal as Mexico snatched a 1-1 draw with Venezuela to qualify for the Copa America Centenario quarterfinals as group winners here on Monday (Tuesday in Manila).
Mexico appeared to be heading for an embarrassing defeat against the Venezuelans, who led through a 10th minute overhead kick by defender Jose Manuel Velazquez at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
A risky gamble by Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio looked to have backfired disastrously after he decided to bench most of his first-choice side for a game his team only needed to draw to top Group C.
However with time running out substitute Corona picked up the ball from around 40 yards from goal and embarked on a mazy dribble that took him past five Venezuela players before he blasted his shot past goalkeeper Dani Hernandez.
The goal gave Mexico a draw which was enough to see them take top spot in Group C on goal difference from Venezuela, who were already assured of a place in the last eight after a shock win over Uruguay in their second match.
More importantly, Mexico’s first place finish means they will likely avoid tournament favorites Argentina, who are expected to clinch top spot in Group D when they play Bolivia on Tuesday.
Osorio later defended his decision to pick an untested starting line-up.
“Rotation is part of life when you have a squad of players,” Osorio said.
“We give opportunities to all players because we believe that they are all important. We selected a good group to compete against Venezuela,” he said.
For long periods, however, it looked as if Mexico were heading for a quarter-final date with the Argentines as a well organized Venezuela side frustrated ‘El Tri’.
Mexico could have few complaints after a fired-up Venezuela took the lead early on through a well-worked goal.
Alejandro Guerra swung a curling free-kick into the box and Christian Santos rose at the far post to head back across the face of goal.
Velazquez was falling away but twisted his body acrobatically to hook in a wonderful volley that flew into the roof of the net past Mexico goalkeeper Jesus Corona.
Mexico dominated for the remainder of the half, but were unable to find a breakthrough as their makeshift starting line-up struggled to generate any fluidity in attack.
Venezuela were lucky to avoid a penalty decision late in the first half when Wilker Angel looked to have handled in the area after Hector Moreno’s header.
Mexico made a spirited start to the second half, with Corona shooting well wide of the post early on.
Jesus Molina screwed a shot wide on 65 minutes for Mexico and a minute later Venezuela squandered a golden chance to go 2-0 up when substitute Josef Martinez went clean through only to shoot tamely at Corona.
Venezuela looked to have fate on their side after an incredible double save from Dani Hernandez in the 74th minute.
But six minutes later “Tecatito” produced his sublime run to save Mexico’s blushes.
In Monday’s dead rubber in Group C, Uruguay beat Jamaica 3-0 in Santa Clara in a match between two sides who had already been eliminated.
Uruguay secured their first win of the tournament with goals from Abel Hernandez and Mathias Corujo, either side of an own goal from Jamaican defender Je-Vaughn Watson.