Uruguay was sent crashing out of the Copa America Centenario on Thursday night as Venezuela and Mexico marched into the quarter-finals.
The La Celeste, who with their fifteen wins are record 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.
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 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.
Suarez, nursing a hamstring injury when he joined up with the squad, has so far not played a single minute. Suarez appeared in the dugout and looked visibly frustrated at his failure to get on the pitch, at one point appearing to punch the dugout wall.
Tabarez defended his decision not to name Suarez in the squad.
“The player is not fit to play. It’s a matter of numbers. I will not select a player who is not 100 percent. Was he angry? I am not aware. To me he told me nothing,” Tabarez said.
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 lie on top of the standings.