This was one of the most fun matches of the night, with Mexico and Venezuela going toe to toe and blow for blow, playing a wild and unpredictable night. Venezuela struck first, but Mexico fought back late to earn a 1-1 draw and win their Copa America Centenario group thanks to a wonderful run and goal from Jesús Corona.
Mexico started off the match slowly and shakily, and Venezuela were eager to take advantage, coming out of the gates much faster and utilizing an aggressive high press and their speed to unsettle Mexico further and open up chances for themselves in the early minutes of the match.
One of those chances paid dividends when, working off a free kick, Christian Santos flicked the ball across the line and Jose Velázquez flipped over to volley it home. José Corona had tracked the ball over toward Velázquez but appeared to lose sight of the ball as he struck it, and with no Mexico player close enough to Velázquez to spoil the shot, it wound up an easy and gorgeous goal for the Venezuelan defender.
Venezuela had to fight hard to defend that lead, withstanding some pretty heavy and desperate attacks from Mexico -- though it wasn't without controversy. Late in the first half, it appeared that a Venezuela defender handled the ball in the penalty area when a header was hit into his raised arm. By the letter of the law, that's a handball since the defender's arm was in a very unnatural position, but the referee either didn't see the incident or felt that it didn't warrant calling a foul and awarding the penalty it seemed to deserve.
With that bit of fortune on their side, Venezuela were able to maintain their lead for the rest of the first half and withstood a serious storm from Mexico early in the second half, including near-miss chances for Oribe Peralta and Jesús Corona. There were times that Mexico were almost getting in their own way, with multiple players going for the same ball and just looking unable to work together to break Venezuela down.
That led Mexico to play a card they were hoping not to need, bringing Javier Hernández off the bench late in the match to try to spark a comeback. It almost worked, too, with Mexico forcing Venezuela goalkeeper Daniel Hernández into a jaw-dropping double-save on point blank range shots just minutes later.
Tempers flared after that, with Chicharito going to ground looking for a penalty on the ensuing corner and pulling a Venezuelan defender down and screaming in frustration when the referee didn't award a penalty. At the same time, Hector Moreno went up to challenge Daniel Hernández for the ball in the air, colliding heavily with Venezuela's goalkeeper and making him land awkwardly. He needed several moments to gather himself while the referee dealt with the chaos of Chicharito's actions.
Chicharito finally paid dividends, though, just a few short minutes later. He drew significant attention from the Venezuela defense while Jesús Corona went on a mazy run through midfield and into the penalty area, Venezuela seeming to expect the tricky playmaker to feed Hernández the ball. Instead, Tecatito took the shot himself and hammered it home for a highlight-reel goal after beating six different defenders to get to his spot.
That wouldn't be the last chance of the night -- Chicharito had a rocket of a shot blocked, and José Corona had to tip a dangerous Venezuela shot over the bar -- but it would be the final goal. The draw means that Mexico win Group C in the Copa America Centenario, almost certainly avoiding Argentina in the quarterfinals and positioning themselves well to push for a berth in the final.
Venezuela have to be proud of their efforts, though -- they came into this match knowing that they had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and despite not getting the win they wanted, they left everything out on the pitch in a wonderful and impressive display. They've proven that they're not a team you can count out, and that's worth a lot on the international scene.
Mexico: José Corona; Paul Aguilar, Diego Reyes, Hector Moreno, Jorge Torres (Hector Layún 46'); Hector Herrera, Jesus Molina (Javier Hernández 68'), Andres Guardado; Hirving Lozano, Oribe Peralta, Javier Aquino (Jesús Corona 18')
Goal: Jesús Corona (80')
Venezuela: Daniel Hernández; Alexander González, Wilker Ángel, Jose Velázquez, Rolf Feltscher; Alejandro Guerra (Romulo Otero 83'), Tomas Rincón, Luis Seijas, Adalberto Peñaranda; Christian Santos (Salomon Rondón 78'), Yonatan Del Valle (Josef Martinez 65')
Goal: Jose Velázquez (10')
Three things we learned
Over-rotation is brutal to team cohesion
Mexico made a whopping nine changes to their side from their last match, with only Hector Herrera and Hector Moreno remaining from the Jamaica match -- and Moreno was playing a different position. You could see right away that this team was shaky as a result, with little cohesion or familiarity in the side, the players struggling to anticipate one another and work as a unit.
Venezuela, meanwhile, made six changes themselves -- but two of the players brought in played significant minutes in their first group stage match, and only at striker did they make complete changes compared to their last outing. The midfield and defense still had players who worked together plenty in the last match and the match before, and in the early stages of the match Venezuela were much better for it.
Yes, Mexico wanted to rest as many major players as they could, and that's important in a tournament setting, especially with advancement to the quarterfinals already secured. But perhaps they put too much emphasis on that, because they were clearly much worse off in this game due to the degree of rotation we saw.
Venezuela's tactics are still working
Come out flying, score as early as you can and then grind down the opposing attack once you do. It's not the prettiest style of play around and it's certainly one that's risky against sufficiently superior teams, but it's hard to argue with Venezuela's results playing with that style so far. It earned them wins over Jamaica and Uruguay, and it served them well against Mexico despite their failure to win a third straight match.
Will this get them much further in the tournament? Probably not. Argentina are very used to facing this kind of style and are well-suited to stop it, but in a single elimination match, anything can happen. It's gotten them this far, and that's impressive itself considering how things looked for Venezuela before the tournament began.
This game can swing on a matter of inches
Mexico had five huge chances to score in the second half before their equalizer but came up empty on all of them. One was stopped by Daniel Hernández pulling out an amazing double save, but their other four chances all missed by thin margins -- margins so thin that the combined distance they missed scoring by was probably less than two feet.
Then look at Jesús Corona's equalizer -- he beat six defenders on his run, each of whom put in at least one challenge to try to knock the ball off his feet. Thanks to the tiniest of motions by Tecatito to play keep-away, each challenge missed by inches, probably a combined margin smaller than Mexico's earlier misses. This game saw so many moments of "close, but ..." -- and the result changed completely because of one of them.