Copa América - Venezuela in pole position after win
Venezuela secured only their third victory in the history of the Copa America and unexpectedly took charge of Group B by defeating Ecuador 1-0 in Salta.
Cesar Gonzalez struck a brilliant winner after 61 minutes to put Venezuela in pole position to qualify with four points from two games. Brazil and Paraguay have two points after their draw earlier on Saturday, while Ecuador now sit bottom with one.
Having held Brazil to a 0-0 draw in their opening match, the victory in Salta represented the continuation of an excellent Copa America campaign for Venezuela in Argentina, with Paraguay awaiting in their final group encounter.
A first half that flitted between excitement and monotony started in promising fashion when Venezuela's Gabriel Cichero unleashed a ferocious left-footed shot from 25 yards that had Ecuador keeper Marcelo Elizaga scrambling to his left to claw the ball away. Miku was unable to convert from the rebound.
Venezuela were emboldened by the early chance and Giancarlo Maldonado whipped another effort wide of the post after linking up well with Miku.
Ecuador were lacking fluidity and their front two of Felipe Caicedo and Cristian Benitez only impressed in flashes. When they did combine to great effect in an excellent move after 19 minutes, Benitez snatched at his shot on the edge of the box and sent the ball wide.
They were clearly lacking the influence of the injured Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia and so it was Venezuela who edged the first half, with Oswaldo Vizcarrondo wasting an excellent chance when heading over unmarked from eight yards out.
Ecuador were unable to change the course of the game after the break and almost went behind to a clever backheel from Miku after the striker had been teed up in acrobatic style by Maldonado.
Venezuela's capacity for flair demonstrated they are a team confident in their own ability, despite their lack of pedigree in the tournament, and that was never more evident than for the opening goal after 61 minutes.
The ball rolled into the path of Gonzalez some 25 yards from goal and the midfielder unleashed a ferocious effort with the outside of his boot that swerved into the bottom corner with real venom.
Venezuela continued to impress and almost scored the goal of the tournament after 68 minutes when Juan Arango collected a clever lofted pass, negotiated his way past a number of opponents and was only halted when colliding with team-mate Miku just as he was about to shoot.
Just as Venezuela looked to be in firm control, though, Ecuador should have drawn level. Caicedo produced a sharp turn in the box and then glided away from another opponent to leave him one-on-one with Vega. Instead of opting for power, the striker only succeeded in placing his shot straight at the keeper. It was a horrible miss.
Team-mate Benitez drew Vega into a sharp stop at his near post with a low effort but Ecuador, who face Brazil next, were left to contemplate a damaging defeat, while Venezuela enjoyed a rare moment of triumph at the Copa America.