South America has not produced a World Cup-winning side for two decades because so many of their players are spread across the globe, Colombia coach Reinaldo Rueda has suggested.

Brazil were the last nation from the continent to win the biggest prize in football, triumphing at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

Since then, Italy, Spain, Germany and France have all won the title, with only Argentina coming close from the CONMEBOL confederation when they finished second at Brazil 2014.

Brazil and Argentina will be among the favourites at Qatar 2022 later this year following superb qualification campaigns, alongside a host of familiar European rivals chasing success.

Asked ahead of Colombia's final qualifying clash with Venezuela this week – in which they must at least draw and rely on results elsewhere, too, to make an inter-confederation play-off – Rueda offered an explanation for why CONMEBOL sides have come up short over the past four editions.

"Without doubt, [players playing in Europe] has always been our biggest worry, the problem that we have in South America," Rueda stated. "I have said so many times.

"South America, with the potential and talent that it has, we are approaching now 20 years without a World Cup winner because of that situation.

"Because our biggest talents go to Europe and for some of them, it is difficult, depending on the percentage of those players that are in the national teams, to respond in the same way.

"Then players coming from Europe must attend two or three tournaments. South America has been a victim of this problem in the last 20 years

"That has been a factor that explains why strong national teams haven't been able to consolidate good performances and to win a world title that hasn't happened since 2002."

Angel Di Maria said "thank you, thank you and a thousand times thank you" to the Argentina fans after playing what he expects to be his final international match on home soil.

Di Maria scored one and created another in a 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela at La Bombonera on Friday – La Albiceleste's 30th consecutive match without defeat.

Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Lionel Messi was the beneficiary of Di Maria's assist and, with Argentina already sure of their place in Qatar, suggested after the match he would consider his international future following the World Cup.

Di Maria was slightly more definitive in his own post-match comments, as the 34-year-old reflected on "a wonderful night".

"I'm just going to say thank you for the enormous love I have received," he wrote on his Instagram page.

"I always dreamed of everything I lived on this beautiful night. It was probably my last match with this shirt in Argentina, and being able to say that it was a wonderful night is an understatement.

"Thank you, thank you and a thousand times thank you.

"Now to congratulate the whole team for the great match that was played, a perfect match by all. We continue growing and dreaming together. Let's go Argentina!!!"

Di Maria has earned 121 caps and scored 24 goals since his Argentina debut against Paraguay in 2008.

The former Real Madrid and Manchester United winger is in line to go to his fourth World Cup, although he has scored only twice and failed to provide an assist across 13 appearances in the previous three.

In his final major tournament, Di Maria will hope to repeat his Copa America heroics, having scored in July's final against Brazil to secure Argentina their first silverware with Messi in the side.

Friday's assist for Messi was Di Maria's first in qualifying for Qatar – from 13 chances created – yet only the captain and Lautaro Martinez (both seven) can top his three goals in this campaign.

Lionel Messi will reassess his playing future with the national team after the World Cup in Qatar later this year, with retirement not ruled out.

Messi was among the scorers on Friday as already-qualified Argentina eased past Venezuela in World Cup qualifying at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires.

The 34-year-old guided Argentina to a breakthrough Copa America triumph last year, the nation's first since 1993. Argentina have not the World Cup since Diego Maradona led them to glory in 1986, with Messi getting closest in 2014 when they reached the final in Brazil.

Messi, who joined Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona last August, admitted that his international playing future beyond Qatar was on his mind.

"I don’t know what I will do after the World Cup. I am thinking about what is coming," Messi told reporters after the Venezuela win. "After Qatar I will have to reassess many things."

He added: "I don’t know [about playing on], the truth is I don’t know. I think about what's coming next, only think about facing Ecuador [on Tuesday]. The preparation matches in June and September.

"Let’s hope these go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Messi added that lifting his first major trophy with Argentina last year at the Copa would not have a bearing on his decision.

"It has been a while that I am happy here, since before winning the Copa," he said. "I am thankful for all this they make me feel every time I come to Argentina."

The PSG star's goal against Venezuela extended Argentina's impressive record of never losing in the past 12 years when Messi has scored.

Messi has represented Argentina 159 times, having debuted in 2005, scoring 81 goals.

Argentina remain undefeated in CONMEBOL World Cup qualification, after they defeated Venezuela 3-0 on Friday.

In the Albiceleste's first game at La Bombonera since the passing of Diego Maradona, it was a particularly emotional atmosphere and the already-qualified home side made it 11 wins from 16 qualifiers.

The raucous home support belied the largely lacklustre performance on the pitch, however, with Nicolas Gonzalez's goal giving them breathing room. Angel Di Maria and Lionel Messi netted in the final quarter of an hour to seal the win.

The match's complexion was dominated by Argentine possession which did not exactly translate to many chances of substance.

In the opening 30 minutes, the Albiceleste managed three shots for a cumulative xG of 0.07 despite 71 per cent possession.

Yet the game soon opened up in transition, and Argentina could finally attack space that otherwise wasn't presented. From the ensuing chaos, Alexis Mac Allister quickly won back possession and played in Rodrigo De Paul, who then provided the assist across goal for Gonzalez.

Venezuela had an opportunity to equalise in the 39th minute through Josef Martinez with Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani scrambling, but he put his close-range shot off target from Salomon Rondon's ball.

Martinez again had an opportunity to equalise in the 54th minute, with a free header from close range but missed.

Argentina were able to effectively kill the game off late in the second half through substitute Angel Di Maria, chipping Wuilker Farinez after De Paul's ball over the top.

Messi then added a third three minutes later in the 82nd minute with a relative mis-hit from Di Maria's assist.

Elaine Thompson-Herah, the fastest woman alive and a triple Olympic gold medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been named among 10 women contending for World Athletics’ Female Athlete of the Year.

The 29-year-old Jamaica, who became the first woman to successfully win 100 and 200m titles at consecutive Olympic Games, stunned the world this past summer in Tokyo when she ran an Olympic record of 10.61 to win gold in the 100m and then followed up with a 21.53-second run to take a second gold medal in the 200m. The 21.53 was also a Jamaican national record and, is the second-fastest time ever by a woman in the 200m.

She added a third gold medal when she ran the second leg of Jamaica’s victorious 4x100m relay team that ran a national record of 41.02, the third-fastest in history

Following the Olympics, Thompson-Herah ran times of 10.54, 10.64 and 10.65 to win the 100m Diamond League title and which made her the first woman in history to run faster than 10.70 on four separate occasions.

 However, notwithstanding her record-breaking performances, Thompson-Herah will not have things her own way because the nine other candidates also had incredible seasons.

Valarie Allman, USA of the USA is the Olympic discus champion and Diamond League champion and set a North American discus record of 71.16m.

Puerto Rico’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn ran unbeaten during the season winning the Olympic title with a new Olympic and National record of 12.26, equaling fourth on the world all-time list.

Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands won Olympic titles in the 5000m and 10,000m champion and was the silver medalist in the 1500m. She also broke the 10,000m world record during the season.

Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon is the Olympic and Diamond League 1500m champion and set the Kenyan 1500m record of 3:51.07 in Monaco.

Mariya Lasitskene won the Olympic high jump and the Diamond League and set a world-leading 2.05m.

Sydney McLaughlin of the USA set two world records in the 400m hurdles on her to win her first Olympic title in Tokyo where she also won gold as a member of the USA’s 4x400m relay team.

Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas won her second Olympic title in an area and national record 48.36. She joined Marie Jose Perec as the only woman to win 400m gold medals at consecutive Olympic Games.

She also set a North American Indoor 400m record of 50.21 in April.

Athing Mu of the USA won gold medals in the 800m and 4x400m relay in Tokyo. She also set a World U20 indoor 800m record and North American U20 records at 400m and 800m.

Yulimar Rojas set a new World and Olympic record of 15.67m while winning the gold medal in the triple jump in Tokyo. She was also the Diamond League champion.

A three-way voting process will determine the finalists.

The World Athletics Council and the World Athletics Family will cast their votes by email, while fans can vote online via the World Athletics social media platforms. Individual graphics for each nominee will be posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram this week; a 'like' on Facebook and Instagram or a retweet on Twitter will count as one vote.

 The World Athletics Council’s vote will count for 50 per cent of the result, while the World Athletics Family’s votes and the public votes will each count for 25 per cent of the final result.

 Voting for the World Athletes of the Year closes at midnight on Saturday 6 November. At the conclusion of the voting process, five women and five men finalists will be announced by World Athletics.

 The female and male World Athletes of the Year will be announced live at the World Athletics Awards 2021 in December.

Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa scored an 85th-minute penalty as Brazil came from behind to preserve their perfect CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying record with a late 3-1 win at Venezuela.

The Selecao had never lost in 17 previous World Cup qualifiers against Venezuela (W16 D1) – the most Brazil had faced an opponent without defeat – but the South American giants found themselves sensationally trailing at half-time on Thursday.

Eric Ramirez's first international goal had bottom outfit Venezuela dreaming of the unlikeliest of wins in the 11th minute, but Marquinhos equalised in the 71st minute in Caracas.

Gabigol was fouled with five minutes remaining and converted his own spot-kick to guide CONMEBOL leaders Brazil to their ninth win in nine qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022, with Antony adding a third goal in the 96th minute.

Brazil made a bright start away to lowly Venezuela, as Gabigol saw effort flash just wide of the post in the seventh minute.

Against the run of play four minutes later, Venezuela claimed a surprise lead thanks to Ramirez.

Yeferson Soteldo charged down the wing and delivered an inch-perfect cross to Ramirez, who made no mistake as he guided his header past Alisson and into the bottom corner of the net.

Ramirez's goal ended Brazil's sequence of six consecutive clean sheets in World Cup qualifying – the longest of any team in the history of the CONMEBOL tournament.

Brazil continued to control proceedings but had nothing to show for it after Everton Ribeiro's shot deflected onto the crossbar in the 22nd minute, evading his team-mates for a tap-in.

Venezuela made it to half-time without conceding but Brazil put the ball in the back of the net 11 minutes into second half.

Fortunately for Venezuela, Thiago Silva's headed goal for Brazil was disallowed due to offside, much to the disappointment of the Selecao.

Venezuela continued to take the game to Brazil as the contest opened up, with the visitors chasing an equaliser, and they did restore parity via Marquinhos' towering header 19 minutes from the end.

Brazil broke Venezuela's hearts during the closing stages after Gabigol – who was tackled from behind as he tried to pounce on Vinicius Junior's rebound – coolly scored from the spot before Antony made it 3-1 with the last kick of the game.

 

What does it mean? No stopping Brazil after scare

Brazil were facing the very real prospect of their first ever qualifying loss to Venezuela before Marquinhos and Gabigol. With it, Brazil extended their unbeaten run in World Cup qualifiers to 26 matches, dating back to 2015.

Gabigol steps up late

Time after time, Gabigol has showed his quality for Brazilian giants Flamengo. Now, the former Inter forward is performing on the international stage. Gabigol scored his third international goal and first since the 2016 Copa America.

So close but yet so far

Venezuela threatened a boilover on home soil, but the minnows instead were left licking their wounds following a fifth consecutive defeat. Venezuela are winless in 10 matches across all competitions and are bottom of the CONMEBOL standings.

What's next?

Brazil will make the trip to Colombia on Sunday as Venezuela host Ecuador on the same day.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni urged his team not to "rest on our laurels" after the in-form Copa America champions set up a mouth-watering top-of-the-table World Cup qualifying showdown with rivals Brazil.

Lautaro Martinez, Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa were on target as Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 21 matches by downing 10-man Venezuela 3-1 in CONMEBOL qualifying on Thursday.

After first-half substitute Luis Martinez was sent off for a horrifying challenge on Lionel Messi in the 32nd minute, Argentina – playing for the first time since July's drought-ending Copa triumph over Brazil, their first title in 28 years – took control of proceedings.

Argentina are second and unbeaten through seven qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022, six points behind Brazil, while they have not tasted defeat since November 2019.

As Argentina turn their attention to Sunday's blockbuster in Sao Paulo, where Brazil will put their perfect record on the line, Scaloni told reporters post-game: "It's special for the players to have the patch of champions on their chest, they fought so hard to win the Copa America.

"The important thing is to not rest on our laurels."

The complexion of the match changed when Luis Martinez – who replaced Jose Velazquez earlier in the half – saw red.

Messi went to ground after receiving a high foot to the shin and the challenge, initially a yellow card, was upgraded to red after the referee consulted the pitch-side monitor following a VAR review.

Lautaro Martinez then opened the scoring in the second minute of first-half stoppage time, the Inter star scoring his third goal in qualifying after being played through by Giovani Lo Celso.

Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa struck within three minutes – the 71st and 74th minute – to put the result beyond doubt, though Yeferson Soteldo's last-gasp spot-kick gave the home crowd something to celebrate.

Looking ahead to the Copa America final rematch with Brazil, Scaloni added: "We will have time to analyse how the players are. It will be a different game and everyone is available.

"We have things to improve, surely, but I'm not going to say them. We always have to improve, when you win or lose. We will try to do our best."

Lautaro Martinez added: "The three points are very important. Venezuela is a very complicated opponent. In South America, they're all difficult but we had a great first half.

"We created chances and after the goal we were able to work with more peace of mind. We brought home three important points. I think we had a great first half today, beyond the fact that they were down a man.

"For a striker, it's important to score but the most important thing is that the Argentina national team win. You always have to think about the group."

Argentina maintained their unbeaten start to CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying with a 3-1 victory over 10-man Venezuela.

Lionel Messi and Argentina were playing for the first time since their drought-ending Copa America triumph on July 10 – La Albiceleste upstaged rivals Brazil for their first title since 1993.

Lautaro Martinez, Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa were on target for Argentina on Thursday, guiding Lionel Scaloni's side to their fourth win in seven qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022.

Venezuela played with 10 men from the 32nd minute after substitute Luis Martinez was sent off for a horror challenge on Messi and Argentina made the most of their numerical advantage – Lautaro Martinez breaking the deadlock in the second minute of first-half stoppage time before Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa completed the scoring in second period.

Yeferson Soteldo converted a 94th-minute penalty but it was a mere consolation for hosts Venezuela.

Argentina are second in the South American standings, provisionally three points off the pace, with Brazil in action against Chile, after extending their unbeaten streak to 21 matches.

Messi's miscued shot found the feet of Angel Di Maria in the 14th minute, but he was unable to clear his feet in time as his scooped effort was dealt with by Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez, while Rodrigo De Paul hit the crossbar.

Di Maria found himself in space seven minutes later after Jose Velazquez slipped and had to be withdrawn due to injury, however the Argentina winger wasted the opportunity, his outside-of-the-boot pass overhit and out of Lautaro Martinez's reach at the back post.

The complexion of the match changed approaching the half-hour mark when Luis Martinez – who replaced Velazquez seven minutes earlier – was sent off.

Messi went to ground after receiving a high foot to the shin and the challenge, initially a yellow card, was upgraded to red after the referee consulted the pitch-side monitor following a VAR review.

Argentina – who enjoyed 82 per cent possession after Luis Martinez's dismissal – opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time with Lautaro Martinez tucking the ball past Farinez, having been played through by Giovani Lo Celso.

Venezuela pushed numbers forward and started to trouble Argentina's defence, Soteldo's deflected effort leaving Emiliano Martinez scrambling in the 68th minute as the shot flashed just wide of the post.

But Venezuela's hopes of a point were dashed when substitutes Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa struck within three minutes – the 71st and 74th minute – to put the result beyond doubt, though Soteldo's last-gasp spot-kick gave the home crowd something to celebrate.

 

What does it mean? 

After their memorable Copa success, Argentina continued where they left off on Thursday. Scaloni's men have not lost since July 2019 as they continue to build towards next year's World Cup.

Lautaro's away delights

Argentina forward Lautaro Martinez scored his third goal of the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. All of his goals have come away from home, with the South American giants winning all three of those games.

Venezuela's drought goes on

It was always going to be tough playing with a man less against Argentina. Now, Venezuela have gone seven matches without a win. Not since November 2020 have Venezuela celebrated a victory.

What's next?

Next up for Argentina is a mouth-watering Copa America final rematch against Brazil in a top-of-the-table clash in Sao Paulo on Sunday, while Venezuela travel to Peru on the same day.

Venezuela crashed out of the Copa America after they were beaten 1-0 by Peru in a forgettable final group game in Brasilia.

Starting the evening placed fifth out of five teams in Group B, Venezuela needed to better Ecuador's result against defending champions Brazil as they took on opponents whose place in the knockout stages already looked safe.

However, Jose Peseiro's Venezuela were beaten by Andre Carrillo's second-half strike while their rivals for qualification held the tournament hosts to a draw to progress instead.

And that meant an early end to a disappointing campaign for Venezuela that returned just two points from four group-stages fixtures.

An understandably tense start to proceedings featured few chances, with two Jefferson Savarino efforts from distance providing the closest glimpse of goal for either side.

The second of those in fact created a gilt-edged opportunity for Sergio Cordova, but the Venezuela forward somehow conspired to head wide when presented with an open goal after a Pedro Gallese save.

Peru grew into the game from there, with Gianluca Lapadula and Sergio Pena bringing saves out of Wuilker Farinez before the break.

And La Blanquirroja picked up where they left off after the restart, with Carrillo reacting quickest when the ball dropped from a corner to smash the ball into the roof of the net.

That goal meant Venezuela were heading for the exit, and even worse news from Goiania followed, with Ecuador equalising against Brazil to strengthen their own chances of progressing.

With Venezuela's situation looking desperate, Peseiro looked to his bench for inspiration, but his side struggled to create chances of note as they were held at arm's length for the remainder by deserving winners Peru.

 

What does it mean? Peru good value

Although anything but progress to the knockout stages would have been considered disappointing, Peru have perhaps done better than they expected in beating Colombia to second place in the group.

Ricardo Gareca's side claimed two wins and a draw from their four games, with their only defeat coming against the hosts Brazil. They will hope to keep that form strong for going deep into the knockout stages.

Cueva leads the way

Three key passes, one shot, five tackles and eight possession regains sum up an all-action performance from Peru midfielder Christian Cueva.

Cordova misses out

How different things could have been for Venezuela had Cordova not made a hash of that simple header early on – one of just two shots he managed across 78 minutes on the field.

What's next?

Peru's win secured them second place in Group B behind Brazil, setting up a meeting with the side that finishes third in Group A after the final round of fixtures are completed on Monday.

Peru need only to avoid defeat to make sure of progression to the Copa America quarter-finals when they face Venezuela on Sunday.

Under Ricardo Gareca, Peru have done an excellent job of not losing games in the Copa America, aside when they have faced Brazil.

They lost 4-0 to Brazil in their second Group B encounter but Peru are unbeaten in their last 10 Copa games against all other opponents, a run that stretches back to 2015.

Gareca's men made it all the way to the final in 2019, losing 3-1 to Brazil, but before they can think about a similar run this year Peru must ensure they do not suffer a slip-up against the tournament minnows.

Venezuela are bottom of the group but draws against Colombia and Ecuador have kept them in the hunt for progression.

Those draws came despite Venezuela having only 35 per cent of possession in the Colombia game and 31.2 per cent of the ball versus Ecuador.

But a point will not be enough for Venezuela to reach the knockouts, only a win will do if they are to reach the last eight for the third successive tournament.

To claim victory, Venezuela will need to maintain the clinical form they displayed in the second half against Ecuador, in which they scored from their only two shots on target of the period.

A win for Peru will see them finish second in the group, though that could mean a quarter-final meeting with the only other team to beat them in the Copa under Gareca, Chile, who were 2-1 winners in the 2015 semi-finals.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Peru - Christian Cueva

If Peru are to secure progression in style then the creative burden will likely fall on the shoulders of Cueva, who created two chances in their 2-2 draw with Ecuador last time out. He has six chances created in the tournament, though only one assist.

Venezuela - Edson Castillo

Midfielder Castillo was instrumental in Venezuela's draw with Ecuador. He had three shots, with two on target, scored their first equaliser and then teed up substitute Ronald Hernandez for a 91st-minute leveller.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- The last three meetings between Venezuela and Peru have ended level, two have finished 2-2 and they played out a goalless draw at the Copa America in 2019.

- Venezuela have just lost once in their last five Copa America games against sides not hosting the tournament, their only defeat came against Argentina in the 2019 quarter-finals.

- Venezuela are the team with the lowest average possession in the 2021 Copa America (35.1%). Three of the five games with the lowest possession were for Venezuela: v Ecuador (31.2%), v Colombia (35%) and v Brazil (38.3%).

- Peru have conceded the most goals in the group stage (7), with eliminated Bolivia second (6).

An injury-time goal from substitute Ronald Hernandez earned Venezuela a 2-2 draw with Ecuador in a dramatic finish to the Copa America clash on Sunday.

Jose Peseiro's men looked to be heading for a second defeat in three games after Gonzalo Plata joined Ayrton Preciado on the scoresheet for Ecuador, those goals coming either side of Edson Castillo netting for Venezuela.

However, Hernandez headed in at the death in Rio de Janeiro to boost his side's hopes of progressing to the knockout stages of the tournament.

That allowed Venezuela to add to the point they earned when holding Colombia to a 0-0 draw.

Ecuador made a strong start, hitting the woodwork after just four minutes when Leonardo Campana met a Pervis Estupinan cross with a low shot that clipped the post.

Although clearly prioritising defensively solidity in the early stages, Venezuela showed their threat on the break when Cristian Casseres blasted over the bar.

The same man then went close with a lob that Pedro Ortiz did just enough to keep out and which would have been awarded by VAR, had it dropped in, despite an on-pitch offside call.

That early flurry of chances was not in keeping with a poor first half, but Ecuador livened things up before the break as Preciado bundled home in the 39th minute after a free-kick.

And the excitement continued early in the second period as Castillo marked his first start for his country by levelling with a powerful header from Jose Martinez's right-wing cross in the 51st minute.

Venezuela almost moved into the lead with 20 minutes remaining as a Casseres corner somehow squeezed through to hit the base of the post before being desperately cleared.

But it was a counter from the subsequent corner that saw Ecuador go back in front in the 71st minute, Plata poking the ball home having first been denied at the end of a brilliant breakaway down the right.

Enner Valencia should have wrapped things up shortly after when he was played in behind, but his effort trickled wide of the far post with the goalkeeper stranded.

And that miss was punished as the game headed into time added on, Hernandez meeting a superb pass in behind from Castillo to head the ball home and claim a point.

What does it mean? Ecuador under threat

Given the state of play at kick-off, this fixture represented a huge opportunity for both teams to pull away from Peru in the race to avoid bottom spot in Group B.

And it seemed like Ecuador had taken their chance until Hernandez's equaliser, which makes their upcoming meeting with Peru all the more vital to their hopes of progressing.

Castillo impresses

Having only made his debut for his country at this tournament, Castillo not only marked his first start with a first goal but also provided the brilliant raking assist for Hernandez.

Valencia misfires

Ecuador would have been out of sight had Valencia found the target with either of his two shots, both of which came from presentable opportunities.

What's next?

Ecuador are back in action on Wednesday when they take on Peru in Goiania. Venezuela, meanwhile, must wait until Sunday to wrap up their group-stage campaign against the Peruvians in Brasilia.

Without a win and out of form, pressure is building on Ecuador but there is a togetherness within the squad at the Copa America.

Ecuador slumped to a 1-0 loss to Colombia in their Copa opener last week, condemning La Tri to a third consecutive defeat.

Gustavo Alfaro's side will have the chance to arrest their slump against Venezuela in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, but Copa history is against them.

Ecuador have not beaten a CONMEBOL opponent at the showpiece South American tournament since 2001, their 4-0 defeat of Venezuela followed by a 14-game winless run in such matches.

The team's only victories in the intervening period have come against CONCACAF pair Mexico and Haiti.

Despite the cause for concern, Sebas Mendez insists Ecuador remain united heading into their second Group B fixture.

"We have a great responsibility, which is to represent the country, people are following us," Mendez said as Ecuador – who have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals and exited in the 2019 group stage – look to kick-start their campaign in Brazil.

"The group is united. We know the goal we want so we are working in every way to be able to do it."  

Ecuador will come up against a Venezuela team buoyed by their gritty performance in Thursday's goalless draw with Colombia.

While Venezuela only have one point from their opening two matches, the minnows have shown great resilience in the absence of Tomas Rincon and Romulo Otero due to COVID-19.

Venezuela, despite their coronavirus issues, will be chasing a long-overdue win over Ecuador, having not tasted victory against them since the 2011 Copa America.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Venezuela – Wuilker Farinez

Farinez almost single-handedly kept Colombia at bay to earn a point for Venezuela last time out. There was no way past the 23-year-old Lens goalkeeper, who made eight saves to keep a clean sheet. It was double the number of saves he made in the three games he played with Lens during the 2020-21 Ligue 1 season. His eight saves are the joint-most by a goalkeeper that kept a clean sheet at the Copa America since 2007, following Paraguay's Gatito Fernandez in 2019.

Ecuador – Pervis Estupinan

A Europa League winner with Villarreal in 2020-21, the 23-year-old left-back has made a strong start to the Copa America. While Ecuador missed out on three points against Colombia, Estupinan was a handful, particularly in attack. He forced a strong save from David Ospina, finishing the clash with a team-high two key passes and one of Ecuador's two shots on target.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This meeting is one of the less common matches in the history of the tournament – it will be only the fourth match between Venezuela and Ecuador at the Copa America.
- The record currently favours Ecuador, who have won twice and lost just once, with the other game drawn. However, Venezuela won the last Copa America meeting between the teams, triumphing 1-0 in 2011.
- Venezuela will seek to score a goal in the Copa America after failing to achieve it in the last three matches in the competition.
- Ecuador are undefeated for six consecutive games against Venezuela in all competitions.
- Ecuador is the second-highest team in terms of possession in the current Copa America. Their average so far is 58.59 per cent, only behind Paraguay, who average 77.85 per cent.

Colombia's winning start to the Copa America ground to a halt as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Venezuela, whose goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez kept La Tricolor's illustrious forwards at bay.

Reinaldo Rueda's side dominated the contest at Olimpico Pedro Ludovico in Goiania but failed to find a way past Venezuela's hardworking keeper.

Rueda restored Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel to his starting line-up but the duo were frustrated as Colombia attempted 12 first-half shots without success.

The introduction of Porto winger Luis Diaz did little to improve their prospects, and he was shown a straight red card in stoppage time as Venezuela battled to a valuable point.

Yerry Mina should have opened the scoring when he stretched to meet Daniel Munoz's cross after 13 minutes but could not poke the ball into the gaping net.

Colombia continued to press and Edwin Cardona drew a good save from Farinez with a low drive from the edge of the box, and Zapata was denied in a one-on-one moments later.

Zapata burst through a line of Venezuela defenders 10 minutes before the interval but his fierce angled shot was parried away well by Farinez.

Farinez's determined display continued in the second half, when he made a fingertip save to push Mateus Uribe's spectacular overhead kick over the crossbar. The goalkeeper made eight saves in total.

The game became fractious as both sides tired, and Diaz was shown a straight red card after a clash with Francisco La Mantia, compounding Colombia's frustration.

What does it mean? Brazil poised to go top

A point for Brazil against Peru on Friday would be enough to send them top of the group, as Colombia rue their missed opportunities to claim what would have been a second win in as many Group B matches.

Cuadrado not to blame

Colombia rely on Juan Cuadrado to provide their strikers with opportunities, and the Juventus wide man did not disappoint, contributing seven key passes.

No repeat of Cardona magic

Cardona scored just before half-time to help Colombia win their Group B opener against Ecuador, but here he laboured and was substituted after 62 minutes with one shot on target to his name.

What's next?

Venezuela face Ecuador in their third Zona Norte match on Sunday, while Colombia take on Peru.

Colombia striker Luis Muriel expects Venezuela to be a fierce opponent as Reinaldo Rueda's side look to build on their opening victory in the Copa America.

Edwin Cardona scored the only goal of the game as Colombia kicked off their Group B campaign with a 1-0 win over Ecuador.

Los Cafeteros will be expected to win by a more handsome margin when they meet Venezuela in Goiania.

Colombia have not lost to Venezuela since the 2015 Copa America and face a side still missing key players after their squad was hit by a coronavirus outbreak prior to a 3-0 opening loss to Brazil.

But Muriel was impressed by what he saw from Venezuela even in defeat, and does not anticipate Colombia having it all their own way.

"The game against Ecuador was very difficult, the pitch helped little," Muriel told a media conference. 

"It helped them a lot in the pressure they exert. Venezuela lets you play a little more. 

"Venezuela showed despite all the casualties a great game against Brazil and against us it will be a fierce and hard game. 

"I strive every day to improve, we want to continue building a great team. We are going to seek the victory that will put us in the next phase."

Though Tomas Rincon and Romulo Otero are sidelined having contracted COVID-19, midfielder Yangel Herrera appears poised to return to the fold for Venezuela.

On loan from Manchester City, Herrera should help Venezuela break up play in midfield, having won possession 145 times for Granada last season, more than any other player for the LaLiga side.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Colombia - Miguel Borja

Borja supplied the assist for Cardona's winner and, if he keeps his place up front, should gain significant attention from the Venezuela defence given his goalscoring record in the Copa Libertadores this season.

He has scored six goals in eight games in this season's competition and, though his goals could not help Junior progress from the group stage, he has the firepower to help take Colombia deep into the knockout stages.

Venezuela - Cristian Casseres Jr

Arguably Venezuela's standout player in their defeat to Brazil, Casseres created two chances in the 3-0 loss and was also credited with two good crosses. The New York Red Bulls midfielder could be Venezuela's best creative outlet.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Colombia and Venezuela will meet again in a Copa America after two editions without facing each other (2016 and 2019). The record favours the Cafeteros (4W, 1L, 1D), but the Vinotinto won the last clash (1-0, in Chile 2015).

- Colombia are undefeated in six games without conceding goals in the Copa America (5W 1D). It is their third-longest unbeaten streak in the competition and the second-longest without conceding (eight, between 2001 and 2004).

- Venezuela will play their 10th Copa America match under the leadership of a European coach and will seek its first victory (2D, 7L). Jose Peseiro, Portuguese coach of the Vinotinto, is the third coach from Europe to lead Venezuela in the competition: the other two are Rafael Santana, from Spain, and Ratomir Dujkovic, from the former Yugoslavia.

- Venezuela had the fewest shots on target in the first matchday of the Copa America: in the loss against Brazil they shot at goal just once, through Luis del Pino.

Brazil head coach Tite lauded Neymar after the superstar inspired the Copa America champions to a 3-0 win against Venezuela in Sunday's curtain-raiser.

Neymar scored and was involved in the two other goals as Brazil kicked off their title defence in victorious fashion behind closed doors in Brasilia.

Marquinhos opened the scoring following Neymar's corner in the 23rd minute before the latter converted a penalty after the hour mark.

It was Neymar's 67th international goal – just 10 shy of Pele's all-time record. Since making his Brazil debut in August 2010, the Paris Saint-Germain forward has scored 48 more goals than any of his Selecao team-mates.

Neymar then provided the cross for substitute Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa to complete the scoring in the final minute of regulation as Tite refused to make comparisons with Brazil greats Ronaldo and Romario.

"When Neymar is well physically and well in his head, good things happen," Tite told reporters after the 29-year-old created seven chances against Venezuela – the most by any Brazil player in the Copa America since his international bow.

"When you have a player with the technical quality that he has, you gain in assist ability, with the left foot or with the right foot, and he becomes an unpredictable player.

"When you stop him in a more advanced position on the field of play it is better for him, because the opponents are afraid of making him an infraction in a dangerous place on the field, so we structure the team so that he receives fewer balls, but to do it in a more efficient way for the creation of the game.

"It would be an injustice to compare players from different eras, because the players of my generation were extraordinary, Neymar is also extraordinary, and a while ago Ronaldo and Romario were also extraordinary.

"There are different stages and moments, so you have to be very careful not to compare them."

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