Uruguay, the record 15-time Copa America champions, were eliminated in the group phase for the first time since 1997 after slumping to a shock 1-0 loss to Venezuela in Philadelphia on Thursday.
That result combined with Mexico’s 2-0 Group C win over Jamaica in Pasadena left the 2011 champions struggling to digest a humiliating early exit.
“We never found the game we wanted and that cost us,” Uruguay’s revered coach Oscar Tabarez said, adding that the ill-fated campaign should serve as a warning to his team as they now look ahead to the resumption of 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
“It’s been a very different Copa America. I’ve never experienced something like this before. We knew it was going to be difficult but this should be a wake-up call before the World Cup qualifiers,” Tabarez added.
Uruguay’s defeat also capped a miserable tournament for Barcelona superstar Luis Suarez. Nursing a hamstring injury when he joined up with the squad, he has so far not played a single minute.
Venezuela’s winner came on 36 minutes, when midfielder Alejandro Guerra cleverly spotted Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera off his line.
Guerra unleashed a long-range effort from near the halfway line which the back-pedalling Muslera could only parry onto the bar before Salomon Rondon bundled in the rebound from close range.
Venezuela’s advance to the last eight is the biggest shock of the tournament so far. The Venezuelans are currently bottom of South America’s 10-team round robin qualifying competition for the 2018 World Cup; Uruguay are on top of the standings.
“To beat the ‘Maestro’ Tabarez is a privilege,” Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel said. “For me it means a lot. He’s one of the best coaches in the world, in history. This win will motivate us to keep winning and growing as a team,” he added.
Venezuela will face Mexico in their final first round game to determine who finishes top of Group C.