Josef Martinez proved the difference as Venezuela’s Copa America Centenario got off to the best possible start with a 1-0 win over 10-man Jamaica at Soldier Field in Chicago.
A first-half red card for Jamaican midfielder Rodolph Austin made life hard for the Jamaicans after going 1-0 down to Martinez’s 15th minute strike.
However, despite a brave effort in the second period, Jamaica were unable to avoid defeat in the first Group C fixture on Sunday.
Jamaica had to make do without captain and new Premier League champion Wesley Morgan, calling on Crystal Palace’s Adrian Mariappa and Portland Timbers centre-back Jerome Taylor in defence.
Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel had most of his European stars on hand as Salomon Rondon started up front, with Torino’s Martinez in behind, Genoa’s Tomas Rincon manning midfield and Malaga’s Robert Rosales in defence.
The contest exploded into life from the first whistle, as an entertaining end-to-end battle broke out.
The Venezuelans were the first to go close when a promising attack was ended by a tame attempt in the area, which made for light work for goalkeeper Andre Blake.
Blake launched an instant counter as Jamaica employed a direct approach, looking for the strength and pace of Birmingham City’s Clayton Donaldson, and he looked to have won a penalty only for play to be called back for a tight offside call.
Donaldson went close shortly after as he forced a spectacular save from Daniel Hernandez, before Je-Vaughn Watson hit the crossbar with a towering header from the resulting corner, but that would only spark Venezuela into life.
After some lovely one-touch passing, Alejandro Guerra eventually crafted an opportunity for Martinez who finished his one-on-one chance with a classy strike, slotting the ball through Blake’s legs after 15 minutes.
Things went from bad to worse for Jamaica as they were reduced to 10 men just eight minutes later when Austin was shown a straight red card.
The midfielder clearly won the ball ahead of Rincon, but his follow through saw his studs land firmly in the Genoa player’s ankle, which prompted the referees somewhat controversial call.
The Jamaicans showed some fight despite being a man down, as Donaldson led an increasingly rare charge forward, but the undermanned side struggle to get the required numbers in the box as Hernandez pounced on a loose ball in the box.
Leicester City star Morgan entered the fray after 40 minutes as Kemar Lawrence was forced off through injury.
There were no changes from either side at half-time, but one notable absentee when the teams returned from the break was Jamaica coach Willy Schafer, who had been sent to the stands following a robust conversation with the referee.
It was his side who started the brighter of the two, with the majority of the first 10 minutes of the second period played in Venezuela’s half, before Martinez had a chance to double his tally and his team’s lead at the other end, but he was denied by Blake following a delightful pass from Rondon.
Joel McAnuff went close when he flashed a chance wide for Jamaica, before Wilker Angel’s superb diving header for Venezuela was denied by an incredible save from Blake just minutes later.
Morgan’s presence at set-pieces continued to wreak havoc – even from throw-ins – as he helped to craft a superb chance for Watson but he could only put his half-volley well over, meaning the brave Jamaicans left Soldier Field empty-handed.
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