Outright claim to Copa America Centenario’s Group C and the privilege to avoid Argentina in the quarterfinals is on the line as Mexico and Venezuela duel Monday night in Houston.
Each team remains perfect through two matches (six points apiece) with El Tri sitting in first place and La Vinotinto in second based on goal differential, but that could change if either side wins a third straight match as both would much rather face Group D’s runner-up (Chile or Panama) than group victor La Albiceleste in the quarters.
With Uruguay and Jamaica winless and currently pointless in the group, both Mexico and Venezuela are assured a place in the quarterfinals.
But any showdown with Argentina significantly hinders either side’s chances of advancing any further in the knockout stages. Mexico hasn’t defeated La Albiceleste since 2004, and it has only three victories in the last three decades. And La Vinotinto has one victory over Argentina, back in 2011, in 21 all-time meetings.
Considering what’s at stake, the likely move for Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio would be to stick with the lineups that got El Tri this far. But the 55-year-old Colombian will still tinker with his starting IX against the Venezuelans.
"In the day to day, we take the most advantage possible of the small time we have with the guys and we work through potential interactions," Osorio told reporters Sunday. "There’s a lot to see in the aspect of the rotation, for example how Rafael [Marquez] works in the midfield, with Miguel Layun on the left, at left back or right back or on the inside. Or how Rafael could complement Paul Aguilar and Jorge Torres Nilo, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
"We’re working deeply and arduously on diagnosing the best interactions possible. So, I think it’s a very good opportunity for all and for others to compete and support Mexican soccer."
Osorio’s tactics did work overall in last week’s 2-0 win over Jamaica, even though Mexico surrendered too many opportunities and could have just as easily lost. And manager Rafael Dudamel’s side will present the favored Mexicans a significant challenge.
La Vinotinto have two 1-0 victories over Jamaica and Uruguay under their belt, as the squad hopes to be a bright spot for a country facing difficult political and economic times, and in each match the underdogs have proven resilient. To start the tournament, Venezuela owned one victory in its previous 15 matches but overpowered Jamaica behind Josef Martinez’s goal in the 15th minute and earned a bit of luck after Rodolph Austin was sent off for a poor foul early in the second half.
That momentum carried into the upset over Uruguay, a side that hadn’t surrendered defeat to Venezuela in 10 years. La Vinotinto broke through with Salomon Rondon’s stunner in the 36th minute, and hung on to deny the typically explosive Uruguayan attack to a singular shot on goal.
"We are going to play toe-to-toe with anyone. We came here to leave the name of Venezuela up high,” Martinez said.
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1 USA, Univision, Univision Deportes