A stoppage-time goal from substitute Ronald Hernandez earned Venezuela a 2-2 draw with Ecuador in a dramatic finish to the Copa America clash on Sunday.
Jose Peseiro’s men looked to be heading for a second defeat in three games after Gonzalo Plata joined Ayrton Preciado on the scoresheet for Ecuador, those goals coming either side of Edson Castillo netting for Venezuela.
However, Hernandez headed in at the death in Rio de Janeiro to boost his side’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages of the tournament.
That allowed Venezuela to add to the point they earned when holding Colombia to a 0-0 draw.
Ecuador made a strong start, hitting the woodwork after just four minutes when Leonardo Campana met a Pervis Estupinan cross with a low shot that clipped the post.
Although clearly prioritising defensively solidity in the early stages, Venezuela showed their threat on the break when Cristian Casseres blasted over the bar.
The same man then went close with a lob that Pedro Ortiz did just enough to keep out and which would have been awarded by VAR, had it dropped in, despite an on-pitch offside call.
That early flurry of chances was not in keeping with a poor first half, but Ecuador livened things up before the break as Preciado bundled home in the 39th minute after a free-kick.
And the excitement continued early in the second period as Castillo marked his first start for his country by levelling with a powerful header from Jose Martinez’s right-wing cross in the 51st minute.
Venezuela almost moved into the lead with 20 minutes remaining as a Casseres corner somehow squeezed through to hit the base of the post before being desperately cleared.
But it was a counter from the subsequent corner that saw Ecuador go back in front in the 71st minute, Plata poking the ball home having first been denied at the end of a brilliant breakaway down the right.
Enner Valencia should have wrapped things up shortly after when he was played in behind, but his effort trickled wide of the far post with the goalkeeper stranded.
And that miss was punished as the game headed into time added on, Hernandez meeting a superb pass in behind from Castillo to head the ball home and claim a point.
What does it mean? Ecuador under threat
Given the state of play at kick-off, this fixture represented a huge opportunity for both teams to pull away from Peru in the race to avoid bottom spot in Group B.
And it seemed like Ecuador had taken their chance until Hernandez’s equaliser, which makes their upcoming meeting with Peru all the more vital to their hopes of progressing.
Having only made his debut for his country at this tournament, Castillo not only marked his first start with a first goal but also provided the brilliant raking assist for Hernandez.
Ecuador would have been out of sight had Valencia found the target with either of his two shots, both of which came from presentable opportunities.
Ecuador are back in action on Wednesday when they take on Peru in Goiania. Venezuela, meanwhile, must wait until Sunday to wrap up their group-stage campaign against the Peruvians in Brasilia.
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