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Pressure is on host Venezuela in Copa America opener
by Paul Kennedy, June 26th, 2007 7AM

TAGS:  copa america, mexico


Venezuela's record in the Copa America isn't just bad. It's horrible -- only one win in 12 appearances dating back to 1967. Still, the pressure will be on the hosts on Tuesday when they open the 12-team South American championship against Bolivia.

President Hugo Chavez has spent $1 billion on the construction and renovation of the tournament' nine stadiums and infrastructure aimed at putting his government in a positive light abroad.

The national team has come a long way since Coach Richard Paez was a player. He played for Venezuela when it lost to Argentina, 11-0, at the 1975 Copa America. Since Paez took over as national team coach in 2001, Venezuela has made significant strides, particularly in World Cup qualifying.

"They no longer go onto the field wondering how many goals they are going to lose by," Paez said of his players.

Venezuela, which is staging the 12-team event for the first time, is led by left-footed midfielder Juan Arango, the first Venezuelan to play in Spain's La Liga and top scorer for Real Mallorca in the 2005-06 season with 16 goals.

Bolivia, Venezuela's opening opponent in Merida, hasn't won a game at the Copa America since finishing second in 1997. Stars on that team were Erwin Sanchez and Jaime Moreno. Sanchez is now the coach of Bolivia, and he convinced Moreno to come out of international retirement last month after a four-year absence. Moreno is the lone MLS player to represent a South American team at the 2007 Copa America.

In Tuesday's other game, Uruguay faces Peru in San Cristobal.

Uruguay, winner of 10 Copa America titles, has shown signs of life under veteran coach Washington Tabarez. The Celeste is 8-2-2 since the 60-year-old Tabarez returned for his second stint as coach.

Like Tabarez, Peru's Julio Cesar Uribe is in his second stint as national team coach, though all hasn't gone well. He was almost fired in April when a Peruvian tabloid caught him at a Japanese disco after a 2-0 loss to Japan in a friendly game. Poor relations between the national team and the Peruvian press, considered the most hostile in South America, have made life difficult for Uribe and his players.

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