Venezuela v Peru: 2016 quarter-finalists meet in Group A opener
Peru and Venezuela will bid to repeat their success at the previous Copa America when they get their Group A campaigns up and running. Both sides reached the quarter-finals at the special Centenario edition in 2016, but being in a pool alongside hosts Brazil means they are likely battling for second place this time around.
Venezuela's record goalscorer Salomon Rondon is likely to lead the line, keeping Josef Martinez out of the team, while Peru will rely on Paolo Guerrero for their goals. The veteran forward has hit 11 goals in his 19 career appearances at the Copa America, with Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez wary of his threat.
"This game will be key for us," said Farinez. "Peru are a strong and forceful team. All their players are important, but Guerrero is their main reference. "Peru are a tough opponent, with a very direct game. Paolo and Christian [Cueva] are their key men."
Venezuela can call upon a player who hit 11 Premier League goals in a loan spell at Newcastle United last season. And West Brom striker Rondon showed he remains in good form when he became his country's all-time leading marksman by hitting a brace in a pre-tournament friendly against the United States.
"Surely there will be goals," he told EFE. "It will be a very complicated game and very physical, we must try to take advantage of the mistakes of the opponent."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Venezuela – Salomon Rondon
Likely to be in demand with Premier League clubs ahead of the 2019-20 season, Rondon has a chance to put himself in the shop window. With four goals in his past five appearances for club and country, he will line up for Saturday's game in Porto Alegre full of confidence.
Peru – Paolo Guerrero
Former Bayern Munich striker Guerrero remains Peru's leading light at the age of 35 and, although there is another Copa America next year, this could be his final international tournament. He only scored once in four appearances at the 2016 edition but was prolific the year before, netting four times in Chile.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Peru have won five of their seven Copa America meetings with Venezuela (D1 L1), with their only defeat coming on Venezuelan soil in 2007 (0-2).
- Venezuela have been eliminated from the group stage in 13 of their last 16 Copa America tournaments, although they have progressed from these stages in three of the last four, with their best finish coming in 2011 (fourth place).
- Peru are unbeaten under Ricardo Gareca in competitive games against Venezuela, winning one (1-0, in the 2015 Copa America) and drawing two (both 2-2, in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers).
- Venezuela have won two Copa America games under Rafael Dudamel (both in 2016); no Venezuela coach has managed to win three games in the competition.
- Peru haven’t failed to progress from the Copa America group stage since 1995, although they have been eliminated at the quarter-final stage in five of the last seven tournaments.