It took a huge fight back from Argentina to salvage their match against Venezuela, scraping to earn a 2-2 draw in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying. The star of the night was 22-year-old Venezuelan sensation Juanpi, who scored the opening goal in stellar fashion and had one of the best matches of his young career. But all of his efforts to keep pushing his team forward came to naught thanks to Nicolas Otamendi’s 83rd-minute equalizer.
It was clear early on in the match that Argentina missed Lionel Messi, their biggest star, who was absent with a groin injury. Without him, the Albiceleste lacked a focal point for their attack with none of Lucas Pratto, Ever Banega, Erik Lamela or Angel Di Maria stepping up to fill that void. Venezuela had no such problem with Juanpi putting in a rampant performance from the right wing to the delight of the home fans -- and scoring an absolutely outstanding goal late in the first half to give his country the lead.
It was an incredible goal, well earned by beating two men on the ball and then unleashing a pinpoint shot to the far corner. Juanpi is a fantastic young talent, and one still just coming into his own as a member of the Venezuelan national team with only a handful of caps to his name. It’s safe to say, after this match, that we’ll be hearing so much more from him in the years to come.
For all of Juanpi’s quality on the night, raging up and down the right flank to lead his team’s performance, an upset win wasn’t in the cards for Venezuela. Despite taking a two-goal lead through Josef Martinez early in the second half, Venezuela couldn’t hold Argentina back forever, giving up a soft goal to Pratto and then seeing Otamendi equalize off a corner in the 83rd minute of the match. Juanpi and Salomon Rondon tried everything they could to get a third goal for Venezuela, but it just wouldn’t come and they had to settle for the draw.
It’s still a good result for Venezuela, though not enough to take them out of the bottom spot in World Cup qualifying for CONMEBOL, earning just their second point of the group. They do, however, get a measure of revenge against Argentina after the 4-1 pasting they took in the Copa America Centenario this past summer. Argentina, meanwhile, lose their chance to take the top spot from Uruguay, but sit just one point back. We’re not even halfway through qualifying in South America, and already things are starting to heat up with drama on the rise. Things are about to get very interesting in CONMEBOL.