Argentina defender Javier Mascherano has been left impressed by Venezuela’s improvement under new coach Rafael Dudamel ahead of their quarter-final meeting at the Copa America Centenario.
A 3-0 win over Bolivia on Tuesday confirmed Argentina as Group D winners, meaning they will face Group C runners-up Venezuela in the last eight of the tournament on Saturday.
But Venezuela have been no easybeats at the special-edition centenary tournament, defeating 15-time champions Uruguay and Jamaica on their way to the quarters, while also playing out an admirable 1-1 draw with Mexico.
Their improvement has been substantial under Dudamel, who took over in April after Venezuela lost five of their opening six 2018 World Cup qualifiers to be rooted to the bottom of the group with one point.
The 43-year-old has overseen six games since his appointment, with a 2-1 loss against Costa Rica in a friendly his only defeat to date.
And Mascherano is wary of the threat Dudamel and Co. pose as the two sides vie for a spot in the semi-finals.
“We have seen a change, not only in a footballing sense but in regards to the atmosphere within the squad as well,” the Barcelona defender said of Venezuela.
“Dudamel has given confidence to these players, and the results have reflected that. Any team that has a positive dynamic like that can cause problems.”
Argentina are hoping to end a 23-year wait for a major trophy after losing consecutive finals against Chile and Germany in the 2015 Copa and 2014 World Cup respectively.
“We have the illusion [of breaking that drought] and we want to achieve it, but we don’t carry any extra pressure,” Mascherano added.
“If you obsess over little things then of course it’s going to go badly.”
The winner of the quarter-final clash between Argentina and Venezuela will meet the United States in the semis.