Venezuela maintained their unbeaten record with a goalless draw against Uruguay to check into the Copa America quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
|Peru's Claudio Pizarro (R) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal|
The stalemate also helped Peru's cause, as they snatched second place following a dramatic draw with Bolivia, a result that leaves the Celeste, confirmed as one of the top two third-placed sides, waiting to see who their rivals in the last eight will be.
Peru's Conquistador stoops to conquer
One thing fans and pundits are all agreed on is that the 2007 Copa America is throwing up plenty of exciting football and no shortage of great goals. The clash between Peru and Bolivia proved no exception, with the duo serving up a feast of goalmouth action to keep the 42,000 fans shoehorned into the Estadio Metropolitano in Merida enthralled from start to finish.
It was a game tailor-made for Claudio El Conquistador Pizarro. The latest addition to the Chelsea front line showed up right on cue to rescue Peru in their hour of need and dash Bolivian hopes once and for all.
With one point to their name after two games, Bolivia produced a brave performance and looked poised to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since they hosted the event in 1997. Veteran DC United striker Jaime Moreno gave the Altiplánicos the lead on 24 minutes when he arrowed the ball past Leao Butron from the edge of the area. Pizarro levelled things up ten minutes later with a firm header, only for Jhasmany Campos to restore the Bolivians' advantage in first-half injury time.
Erwin Sanchez's men looked good value for their lead as they dominated for long periods in the second half. And their hopes of qualifying at their opponents' expense received a huge boost with 15 minutes to go when Peru full-back Joel Herrera picked up his second yellow card of the evening.
With a born goalgetter like Pizarro in their ranks however, Peru were never out of the reckoning, and the former Bayern Munich man showed his new employers just what they are getting for their money when he headed home five minutes from time. Having looked certainties to go out, Julio Cesar Uribe's side suddenly found themselves in the last eight, while the unlucky Bolivians were left to rue their inability to end a dreadful run of form that has now seen them go 13 games without a win.
Venezuela celebrates, Uruguay waits
The waiting is over. The Vinotinto have finally secured a place in the quarter-finals of the continental championships for the first time ever. Faced with the pressure of putting on a good show as hosts, Richard Paez's men have proved equal to the task, casting aside their reputation as the weakest side in the region to join the South American elite. And they did so in style, producing some fluent football to record a win and two draws en route to top spot in Group A.
Deliverance finally came with a goalless draw against the Celeste, a result that sparked celebrations across the nation. The country's new heroes will now be hoping the wave of euphoria can carry them to success in Saturday's quarter-final against the other third-placed side in San Cristobal.
After profiting from Venezuela's draw to sneak into the runners-up spot, Peru will face the winners of Group C, with Argentina and Paraguay going head to head for that honour in Barquisimeto on Thursday.
Uruguay, meanwhile, will have to wait for Wednesday's Group B clashes between Chile and Mexico, and Brazil and Ecuador to see whether they qualify as the first of the two third-placed teams. Should they do so, Oscar Tabarez's charges will take on the runners-up in that pool, although another duel with the Venezuelans beckons if Brazil, Mexico or Chile finish third with a better record.
The Estadio Jose Anzoategui in Puerto La Cruz provides the venue for the crucial denouement in Group B, with El Tri looking to maintain their perfect start to the competition and defending champions Brazil hoping to confirm their place in the next round.