Canada wins penalty shootout against Venezuela, gets revenge against Argentina in Copa America semifinal

An American goes to the semi-finals of the Copa America, but he doesn’t play for the U.S. men’s national team. He coaches Canada.

In what was one of the matches of the tournament so far, Canada and Venezuela battled it out over 90 minutes and penalties for the privilege of advancing to the Copa America, with Jesse Marsch’s Canadian team ultimately emerging victorious.

Canada scored first in the first half with a goal from ‘Maritime Messi’ Jacob Shaffelburg, but veteran Venezuelan captain Salomón Rondón capitalized on a long-range shot when goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau was outside the penalty area to equalize in the 64th minute.

The two sides traded shots throughout the match, leading to a penalty shootout with Canada emerging victorious thanks to a last-ditch effort from Ismaël Kone. The prize? A trip to New Jersey on Tuesday for a semi-final rematch against reigning champions Argentina, who failed to win after a penalty shootout.

Josh Kloke, Melanie Anzidei and Jeff Rueter tell you how it all happened.

How did Canada win?

An early goal from Canada. A long-range shot for Venezuela to equalize. A battle where everything was left on the pitch for 90 minutes. A laser. And a calm, cool, collected finish.

The Canadian national team showed something familiar in North America on Friday: grit. It’s an elusive trait historically associated with the U.S. men’s national team. But with the Americans eliminated from the tournament in the group stage, it was Canada that stepped up to fill the void.

Canada beats Venezuela in penalty shootout to reach Copa America semi-finals (Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

When found in nature, there are few things as dazzling as perfect symmetry. Unfortunately, there are few things in football that are less natural than a penalty shootout. A match that is often decided by moments of transition becomes instead a series of isolated events.

Despite this, Venezuela and Canada treated us to an oddly symmetrical shootout. The first kicker from each team took a shot. Their second teammates both missed the target. The third kicker was on target again, before the fourth was unfortunate to have his efforts saved by the keeper in the frame. When the fifth kickers found the top corner, it was a balance that even Wes Anderson would admire.

Of course, all bets are off once players outside of a team’s first five choices are forced to step up. Both teams opted for a late-game substitution to take their sixth option — a rare chance for either coach to directly impact a game at the halfway point. While Wilker Angel saw his shot saved by a freed Crépeau, Ismaël Koné slotted home his to send Canada into a Copa América semifinal.

Just a few months ago, Canada seemed at risk of losing all the momentum it had built up over that magical 2022 World Cup cycle. The team was without a head coach and players were frustrated by stagnation. Now, Marsch has summoned not only the dogged determination that defined the John Herdman era, but also more consistent chance creation and a more defined team shape that could eventually produce a more reliable threat to contend with.

Jeff Rueter

Who stood out for Canada?

As expected, the man for Canada’s big moment was patrolling their left flank. Only it wasn’t Alphonso Davies.

Marsch has opted to deploy the 23-year-old face of the program at left back, the same role he’s held for years since moving to Bayern Munich. Not only does this relieve some of the pressure on Davies — it brings more of the program’s best players (i.e., the wide forwards) into the lineup to provide a more proactive approach.

Shaffelburg hasn’t had it easy in his career. The man affectionately known as the “Maritime Messi” came up through Nova Scotia and later the academy of Toronto FC. While most clubs would appreciate having an attacking option of their own and want them to stick around, Toronto’s dedication to spending big in attacking roles made Shaffelburg redundant — traded within the Eastern Conference of MLS to Nashville SC.

Strong form for an otherwise struggling Nashville side helped him earn a spot on the roster for this tournament, as did a crucial goal in Copa América qualifying against Trinidad & Tobago, suggesting a player known for his hard work had a bit of big-game finishing in him. That came in handy again Friday, as Shaffelburg was the only Canadian player to convert a plethora of chances in the first half.

Shaffelburg is operating in a sweet spot for Marsch’s fledgling system. Right-sided defenders will still fear Davies’ involvement more than Shaffelburg’s, while back-line anchors will remain central to neutralise Jonathan David and Cyle Larin rather than shifting focus to the fat mullet cutting into the half-space. A cool first-touch finish was a just reward for one of North America’s most industrious players.

Jeff Rueter

How did Venezuela equalize?

Venezuela came out of the blocks in the second half knowing that they had to attack more aggressively if they wanted to have a chance of beating a strong Canadian team known for its defensive line. Yeferson Soteldo and Jose Martinez dominated the wings for Venezuela, constantly penetrating Canada’s defensive end and increasing the pressure.

But it was Venezuelan captain Rondón who gave his team some much-needed relief in the 64th minute. With Crépeau off his line, Rondón made the most of a long forward drive, whipping a ball over the keeper’s head from long range before it bounced into the back of an open net, bringing the predominantly Venezuelan crowd to its feet. The stadium roared. La Vinotinto were back in this match, and their historic run continued.


Rondón equalizes for Venezuela (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Venezuela kept up the pace and dominated their attacking third, but like the rest of the game, this was a largely even contest between two teams with everything to prove. As the game clock ticked down, a hysterical Fernando Batista directed his players as Canada slowly regained their composure.

La Vinotinto’s fairytale run has come to an end as their dreams of winning their country’s first ever Copa America title come to an abrupt halt. Their run in the tournament has been nothing short of historic, bringing joy to a nation that has suffered so much in recent years.

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What happened to Tajon Buchanan and how did Canada honour him?

During a training session on Tuesday, Canada suffered a blow that would derail many teams: Star forward Tajon Buchanan, Canada’s best player at the 2022 World Cup and a new signing for Inter Milan, broke a tibia. Canada canceled the session after the incident, while Buchanan went to the hospital.

When the severity of the injury became known and it became clear that Buchanan would not only miss the rest of the tournament, but four to six months, the mood for Canada changed. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Canadian team clearly rallied behind their teammate.

Jacob Shaffelburg celebrates scoring his team’s first goal, in honor of Tajon Buchanan (Charly Triballeau/Getty Images)

They visited him in the hospital after his surgery. They gathered outside the team hotel to welcome him with applause. And when Shaffelburg scored in Canada’s opening game, the soccer world discovered how much he resonated with the team. Shaffelburg ran to the Canadian bench and held up a Buchanan jersey to the 51,080 people in attendance.

There were questions about how Canada would fare without one of their better attacking players in Buchanan, but the intangible emotions his loss has stirred up seem to be driving them forward.

Josh Kloke

What does this outcome mean for Canada?

For years, this Canadian team showed promise. Their players were young but ridiculously talented. They played in Europe and seemed capable of greatness outside the region. World Cup qualifying victories over Mexico and the United States gave hope, but in seemingly every crucial tournament match, knockout round or group stage, Canada faltered. They never learned how to manage the moment.

But despite the fact that the crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Venezuela and the team won their own group, Canada now recorded an important victory.

Winning a knockout round match in a major tournament shows that this core is capable of considering itself as one of the next echelons of teams. They controlled emotions, closed the game defensively and showed their quality when needed. Even if Venezuela did not make the most of their chances, Canada did not beat themselves either.

With this victory, Canada has simply become the team they have long aspired to be.

Josh Kloke

What is the future for Canada?

Argentina vs Canada, MetLife Stadium, New Jersey. Tuesday, July 9, 8:00 p.m. ET.

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(Top photo: Getty Images)

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