HOUSTON (AP) — Mexico and Venezuela have both advanced to the quarterfinals of the Copa America Centenario.
There is still plenty on the line when the teams meet Monday night in their final game of group play.
A win or draw by Mexico will give the team first place in Group C, while a loss will give Venezuela the top spot in the group. The added importance of this game is that the runner-up in this group will likely draw Lionel Messi and tournament favorite Argentina in the quarterfinals. The winner should get an easier matchup, which will likely be with Chile in the knockout round.
But Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio insists avoiding Argentina isn’t a major motivator.
“We are prepared to play with Venezuela as we would be to play against Argentina,” he said. “We all agree that perhaps the most rewarding part of soccer is preparing for a long time, for many years to compete with the best, and it would be an honor for all of us to do so.”
Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel echoed the same sentiment.
“We do not play thinking of avoiding one or another team,” he said. “We simply recognize the quality of each of our opponents.”
The Mexicans have not been beaten in 21 straight international matches and are 9-0-0 since Osorio took over for interim coach Ricardo Ferretti last fall.
Mexico defeated Uruguay 3-1 before downing Jamaica 2-0 to earn a berth in the quarterfinals. El Tri enters Monday’s game in Houston, where it is sure to be the fans’ favorite, as the odds-on choice to win, too.
“I think we have the quality and ability to play against any opponent that we get. I don’t like to get … labeled and I do not like to think we are favorites,” said Mexico defender Miguel Layun. “I like to dream that we can achieve the collective goal we have, which is to win the tournament.”
Mexico has advanced from the group stage in nine of 10 Copa America tournaments, and has finished in the top three five times and been the runner-up twice. On Monday, El Tri will face a Venezuela team which has been the surprise of the tournament. Los Vinotintos got a goal from Josef Martinez to beat Jamaica 1-0 and captured a second 1-0 victory with a goal from Salomon Rondon in a major upset of Uruguay.
Venezuela has thrived in this tournament under Dudamel, a new coach and a former goalkeeper for the team, who was hired in April after Venezuela suffered several losses in 2018 World Cup qualifying.
“We think this is a very good team that competes very well, especially under the new coach, and for sure it will be a difficult game,” Osorio said. “We believe we can compete against them and we will do our best to win.”
AP freelancer Laura Gomez contributed to this report.
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