Ecuador have it all to do against Brazil in their final match of the group as Venezuela sit on the summit of Group B with four pointsA wonder strike from Cesar Gonzalez sealed a memorable win for Venezuela as they sneaked a 1-0 victory past Ecuador to leave themselves on the brink of qualifying for the 2011 Copa America quarter-finals.
The tentative fashion in which the match began was soon broken by Venezuela left back Gabriel Cichero. His blistering effort from 25 yards was only just about parried by Ecuador’s goalkeeper Marcelo Elizaga but Miku could not successfully convert the rebound with the goal at his mercy.
Ecuador’s shaky start was soon forgotten thanks to some dazzling interchanges by Reinaldo Rueda’s men. A series of flicks and snappy passes set up Christian Benitez in a central position but he managed to shoot off target.
As the tempo of the game dropped to a near pedestrian pace, Venezuela centre back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo should have headed in the opener but despite Elizaga being nowhere near the effort, it still sailed harmlessly above the crossbar.
A spell of concerted pressure towards the end of the first half failed to threaten Ecuador’s goal significantly enough for it to be breached. As both sides trudged in at the half-time interval, they knew they could up their effort as a place at the top of Group B above Brazil and Paraguay beckoned for the victors.
After the break, the teams played with more urgency and just on the hour mark, Venezuela’s Miku saw his cheeky back heel effort saved. However they only had to wait another two minutes to be rewarded through Cesar Gonzalez. The midfielder unleashed a fiercely struck effort that swerved into the bottom corner to give his side a 1-0 lead after 62 minutes of play.
Shortly afterwards Juan Arango’s slaloming run looked like it would culminate in a fine solo goal but Miku inexplicably blocked his man as he shaped to have a shot and double Venezuela's lead.
Felipe Caicedo conjured up a wonderful opportunity to equalise for Ecuador but with the goal at his mercy, he placed the ball straight at a relieved Vega in the Venezuelan goal.
With just 10 minutes remaining, Ecuador huffed and puffed but Cesar Farias' relentless defence refused to wilt as disjointed attacks from Caicedo and Benitez proved to go on being fruitless.
Venezuela held out resolutely for the victory and now sit on top of Group B with four points, with only their next opponents Paraguay standing in their way to book a place in the quarter-final of the competition.
Meanwhile Ecuador are left with a mountain to climb as they take on Brazil next and only a win will resurrect any chance they have to progress to the next stage of the tournament.