Venezuela and Colombia had markedly different fates in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying on Friday. The latter absolutely demolished Bolivia, winning 5-0 in Barranquilla, while Venezuela had to travel to Argintina and were on the wrong end of a Gonzalo Higuian-powered 3-0 cruise. But their roles reversed on Tuesday, with Colombia putting in a miserable display, leaving Venezuela to snatch a 1-0 victory in a sloppy but entertaining match.
Misfortune seemed to have struck the hosts early when defender Gabriel Cichero went down with a knee injury while challenging a corner, bet despite briefly going down to ten men it was Venezuela who took the lead. Rubin Kazan dangerman Salomón Rondón received the ball on the right and proceeded to blow past a flat-footed Luis Perea before unleashing an unstoppable drive that beat poor David Ospina at the near post.
The early goal was a shock, but even more surprising is that Venezuela nearly expected their lead almost immediately -- only a misstep from Fernando Aristeguieta, who tried to square to Rondón and ended up whiffing on the kick -- kept the Colombians from looking at being down 2-0 a quarter of an hour in.
The visitors responded by unleashing their attacking power. Radamel Falcao had already hit the side netting in the opening exchanges, and Perea nearly made up for his mistake with a booming header that flew just wide. Joining the near-miss party was Porto's James Rodriguez, whose long-range effort beat Daniel Hernandez but smashed off the advertising hoardings behind the goal. Falcao also claimed a penalty when he fell over chasing a loose ball in the box, but the referee wisely opted to let play continue.
It was a fun match, but it wasn't a particularly even-tempered one. Cichero, he of the early knee injury, was brought down again in the 29th minute, this time via a flying elbow, and from the resulting drop ball Rondón opted to make his displeasure clear to everyone by kicking Juan Zuñiga in the leg off the ball. A yellow card was the unsurprising outcome.
Venezuela had good reason to indulge in some chippiness -- by this point the visitors were well on top and pushing hard for an equaliser. But for all of their industry and neat passing around the area, Colombia weren't actually looking very close to providing a real goalscoring threat. The attacks were thoroughly disjointed, with the wide play and crossing especially poor. The most damning statistic was the halftime shots chart: After 45 minutes los Cafeteros had no shots on goal.
José Pekerman had to change things around in the second half, but his halftime team talk apparently didn't get the effect he wanted. It was Venezuela who had the game's next big chance, and it took a miraculous block for the visitors to keep the deficit at one. Tomas Rincon was given time and space to shoot from 25 yards, and the midfielder's drive was so powerful that the only way Ospina could keep the ball out was to parry it straight into Aristeguieta's path. Presented with an open goal, it looked trivial to for the Nantes strike score, but he was thwarted by a sliding Perea on the goalline.
The officiating once again became a story, with Falcao (correctly) called offside as he sprang clear of the defence and Pablo Armero (correctly) denied a penalty after clashing with Álex Guanche in the box. Colombia weren't going to get any help from the referee in this one; they'd have to earn their goals themselves. Pekerman opted to make a change at the hour mark, withdrawing Juan Guillermo Cuadrado for Teófilo Gutiérrez.
But again, it was Venezuela who offered more cutting edge and were unfortunate not to go further ahead. With Colombia's midfield apparently on some sort of mission to avoid the ball at all costs and Armero missing entirely, Juan Arango burst through the centre and set up Miku in space. His shot, however, was a complete disaster, skidding well wide of Ospina's right-hand post.
With Colombia still waiting for their first real chance, Ospina's goal had to survive an Venezuelan onslaught. Miku rose for a header and sent the ball just wide before a quickly-worked free kick routine found Oswaldo Vizcarrondo unmarked in front of net only for the centre back to hit his effort straight at the goalkeeper. Miku then got free again thanks to superb play from Rondon -- this time he managed to shoot on target but he couldn't guide his effort past Ospina.
Oh, and Cicharo got injured again, because he likes doing that.
With Venezuela ranking up the chances and failing to take advantage of the muddled wreck that was the visitors' back line, one had the feeling that they might be made to regret it. And Falcao must have thought he'd given them cause for regret in the 79th minute when he rushed onto a cross from Carlos Quintero and, totally unmarked, saw his snapshot fizz past Hernandez only to ricochet back off the crossbar. Colombia still didn't have a legitimate shot on goal.
The last few minutes featured the visitors throwing everything forward, and they did finally manage a shot on target (Carlos Bacca, who should have done better, was stopped by Hernandez at the near post), but the equaliser refused to come. It was actually Venezuela who came closest in stoppage time, with Arango missing a free header after being played in by Miku. He won't have minded that miss too much, because the final whistle came shortly thereafter.
The result sees Venezuela jump ahead of Uruguay into a playoff spot, and it also means that Colombia have wasted the chance provided by CONMEBOL leaders Argentina slipping up at Bolivia earlier today, los Cafeteros dropping into third place behind Ecuador.