A wonderful run and finish from Jesús Corona in the 80th minute earned Mexico a 1-1 draw with Venezuela and gave them the Group C title on Monday night in Houston, Texas. While both El Tri and La Vinotinto finished group-stage play with seven points, Mexico held a superior goal differential compared to their South American counterparts and claimed the top spot in the group as a result.
Manager Juan Carlos Osorio made wholesale changes to the Mexican team that defeated Jamaica 2-0 to clinch their spot in the quarterfinals, changing nine of the 11 starters. The moves included bringing goalkeeper José Corona off the bench for a start while resting star striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.
Venezuela meanwhile took precaution with their main forward, resting West Bromwich Albion’s Salomón Rondón ahead of their quarterfinal fixture.
A win or draw in the match would have given Mexico the Group C title, while Venezuela needed an outright victory to top the group.
The many changes made by Mexico appeared to come back to haunt them in the game’s 10th minute, when José Velázquez scored a highlight reel goal from a free kick to send Venezuela into the lead. The finish from Velázquez was absolutely sublime, as the defender completed a vicious sideways scorpion kick that blasted past Corona and into the net.
The goal would not have been possible though if not for a tremendous cross by Christian Santos, who was able to control and deliver a quality ball in the box after the initial delivery from Alejandro Guerra.
Mexico pressed for an equalizer before halftime, but Hirving Lozano saw his header easily saved by Tenerife goalkeeper Dani Hernández as Venezuela took their 1-0 lead into halftime.
Miguel Layún and Hernandez came on as second half substitutes for Mexico as they sought an equalizer to put them back atop the Group C standings. The Mexicans thought they had achieved parity in the 74th minute, but a fantastic double-save by Hernández denied both Diego Reyes and Hector Moreno from close range.
Mexico would get their equalizer though six minutes later through the Porto winger Corona, who dribbled past five Venezuelans in a slaloming run before smashing past Hernández to tie the match. The fine individual effort from Corona meant that Mexico would win the group if the result held.
Despite late pressure from Venezuela, including an ambitious overhead-kick attempt Joseph Martinez, Mexico held firm and preserved the 1-1 draw.
Venezuela advance as the second place side in Group C and will face the winner of Group D in the quarterfinals, while Mexico get the runner-up in Group D for their next match.