Argentina’s Armani wary of pacey outsiders Venezuela

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani warned his teammates on Wednesday not to be caught out by minnows Venezuela when the sides meet in the Copa America quarter-finals.

Argentina scraped into the knock-out rounds courtesy of a 2-0 win over invitees Qatar in their final pool match having gone into it bottom of Group B.

And now they’re wary of avoiding a banana skin against the tournament minnows, one of only two of South America’s 10 national sides – the other being Ecuador – never to win the Copa.

“We need to score goals, to be very careful… to avoid a surprise,” said the River Plate goalkeeper ahead of tomorrow’s clash (3am Brunei time) at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium.

Armani said Venezuela would “look to win back the ball quickly and attack” from the flanks, where “they have quick players”.

And in Newcastle United forward Salomon Rondon, they have “a centre-forward who holds up the ball well and has good movement”.

File photo shows Argentina’s goalkeeper Franco Armani shouts to his teammates during the Copa America football tournament group match against Qatar at the Gremio Arena in Porto Alegre, Brazil. – AFP

While 14-time former winners Argentina may have been a disappointment for many onlookers, Armani feels they are finding their form as they progress deeper into the competition.

They began with a 2-0 defeat to Colombia before benefitting from a couple of contentious decisions in a 1-1 draw with Paraguay, only securing qualification to the latter stages with victory over Qatar.

There has been little so far to suggest they might end a 26-year trophy drought, though.

“We’ve gone from worse to better in this Copa. Match by match we’ve gained confidence, we’ve gained the functionality the team needs, and we arrive in good shape for this quarter-final,” he said.

But Argentina haven’t beaten Venezuela in their last three meetings, and lost 3-1 when the sides met in Madrid in a friendly in March, when five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi made his long-awaited return to the national team after an eight-month absence.

For Venezuela captain Tomas Rincon, Argentina have lost the fear factor they once had thanks to a multitude of star players.

“It’s been a while since they won, with their history and their (star) names,” said Rincon.

“What’s important now is the teamwork, how you play as a team. We respect everyone, but we fear no-one.”