Copa America: Chavez to be at opening tie

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales are expected to share a grandstand Tuesday when their national teams face off.

updated: June 27, 2007 17:02 IST
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Maracaibo, Venezuela:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales are expected to share a grandstand on Tuesday when their national teams face off in the inaugural match of the Copa America.

Speaking to journalists in La Paz on Monday, Morales said he was traveling the western city of San Cristobal at fellow leftist Chavez's invitation to attend the opening ceremony of the South American nations championships, being staged in Venezuela for the first time in its 91-year history.

Directly preceding the Venezuela-Bolivia matchup, Uruguay embarks on its quest for a tournament-best 15th title when it faces Peru in Merida in the other Group A matchup.

Uruguay and its neighbor Argentina have won 14 titles each followed by defending champion Brazil, with seven.

Venezuela has never advanced out of the first round of the Copa America and Bolivia has won the tournament just once, as host in 1963.

Hours before the start of the tournament, several key players already were being sidelined by injury.

With the presence of Chavez, the matchup between relatively weak rivals Venezuela and Bolivia promises to be celebrated by the host organizers, who are counting on a successful Copa to reverse the negative fallout from weeks of student-led protests against the government.

The match, which will be preceded by an opening ceremony involving a laser light show and 800 dancers and singers, is being played in the revamped "Nuevo Pueblo" stadium, one of nine facilities specially built or remodeled for the tournament at a cost of almost $1 billion.

The United States, fresh off triumph Sunday over Mexico, is bringing a mostly second-choice side to the tournament.