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Venezuela 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago – International Friendly (14 October 2019)

Another routine victory for Venezuela. Below, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’s welcome dalliance with consistency…

International Friendly

Monday 14 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago

Video Highlights of Venezuela 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago, International Friendly, 14 October 2019 (YouTube)

Two Triumphs in a Row for Early-Rising Vinotinto

Following on from their 4-1 win over Bolivia in the same stadium, Venezuela ran out comfortable victors in their second consecutive game on caraqueño soil.

Prior to the opening whistle, Tomás Rincón was honoured on the pitch ahead of what was to be his 100th game for the national team. Subsequently, entirely in keeping with the chief characteristics of their captain, the burgundy boys put in a committed and disciplined performance, effectively putting the game out of sight before the quarter-hour mark.

Indeed, from the off, Venezuela took the game to their Caribbean opponents. Salomón Rondón could well have put the hosts ahead after just six minutes when he anticipated and controlled Rolf Feltscher’s cross, but his blasted strike was too close to goalkeeper Adrian Foncette. However, it would only be another five minutes before the country’s all-time record goalscorer could right this wrong: following on from a low right-sided cross by Darwin Machís, the ball found the striker’s feet and he converted from inside the six-yard-box to make it 1-0. Then, barely two minutes later, Granada attacker Machís also continued his recent spell of good form by doubling the lead after cutting inside from the left and, from just outside the area, striking with his right boot. In all honesty, Foncette should have easily stopped this admittedly-wicked, low drive, but this thought certainly did not trouble the La Liga man as he celebrated his third goal in as many games for club and country.

Subsequently, Rafael Dudamel’s team continued to probe, but their actual attempts on goal amounted to little more than a low Rómulo Otero strike that was parried and a Machís cross-shot that narrowly eluded his team-mates in the area.

During this period, Trinidad & Tobago did sometimes manage to alleviate the pressure on their defence and get forward, though without really troubling Wuilker Fariñez’s goal. That is, until the end of the half when they had two chances in quick succession: first, in the 43rd minute when, after a low cross evaded the sliding studs of Levi Garcia by a matter of centimetres, Marcus Joseph struck a left-footed effort from inside the area; this may have grazed the gloves of Fariñez but it was nevertheless always arcing wide of the target. Then, in stoppage-time, Garcia launched a free-kick from distance that deflected off a Venezuelan head, forcing the Millonarios stopper to force the ball over the bar.

Minus the goals, the second half was not too dissimilar in terms of the overall play but, owing to the home side’s clear superiority and two-goal advantage, lacked dramatic tension.

Venezuela had the majority chances, starting with Otero’s low strike in the 51st minute, which was followed two minutes later by a great ball from the right that Rondón – had he got his footwork sorted out – could have finished off. The visitors’ main chance arrived just before the hour mark when Ataullah Guerra dragged a strike wide of substitute Rafael Romo’s goal.

At times, Venezuela tried to combine centrally and nearly had success in the 62nd minute when, capitalising on a stray pass, a rapid move ended with Rondón laying the ball off to Otero, but the latter’s close-range strike was parried. Eight minutes later, a corner nearly led to that elusive third goal as substitute Juanpi’s cross was headed by Yordan Osorio towards the back post; his centre-back partner Mikel Villanueva lunged for it but, alas, could not connect as the ball instead went out for a goal kick. Finally, another substitute, Yeferson Soteldo, engineered Venezuela’s last chance of the game in the 83rd minute when he went on a characteristic run into the left side of the area. Ultimately, however, his low effort was blocked by the legs of the angle-narrowing Foncette.

Overall, even though this game is unlikely to live long in the memories of most, no doubt Capitán Centenario Rincón will not forget it in a hurry and neither will Gabriel Benitez. Indeed, the wing-back from Zulia made his international debut at the beginning of the second half, having only been called up to the squad a mere few days beforehand.

For coach Dudamel, it was a good work-out and an essential win and he can now bask in the incredibly rare feeling of emerging victorious in two consecutive games. For the time being at least, perhaps he has calmed down some of the speculation that the players were not entirely on-board with his plans and methods. That said, less than 24 hours after the final whistle, a barbed, dismissive comment from the self-exiled Josef Martínez directed towards Rincón and Rondón suggests that those particular flames show little sign of being entirely extinguished.

If there are any responses to his words, it’s most probable that they won’t arrive until the next time La Vinotinto re-assembles: next month for an Asia-based double-header against Paraguay and Japan.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Faríñez (R. Romo, 46′); R. Hernández (G. Benítez, 46′), Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; J. Moreno, T. Rincón;  J. Murillo (J. Savarino, 74′), R. Otero (J. Añor, 66′), D. Machís (Y. Soteldo, 46′); S. Rondón (A. Ponce, 78′).

Trinidad & Tobago (4-4-2): A. Foncette, A. Jones, S. Bateau, A. David, K. Julien; A. Andrews (R. Russell, 79′), N. Hackshaw, K. George, L. Garcia (A. Garcia, 65′); M. Joseph (A. Fortune, 74′), A. Guerra (D. Carr, 82′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 4-1 Bolivia – International Friendly (10 October 2019)

Okay, it was Bolivia not Brazil, but belt up, buddy: a beating’s a beating. Below, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto‘s thumping home victory.

International Friendly

Thursday 10 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela 4-1 Bolivia

Video Highlights of Venezuela 4-1 Bolivia, International Friendly, 10 October 2019 (YouTube)

Triumphant Homecoming for La Vinotinto

Against a backdrop of media speculation following Josef Martínez’s refusal to participate in a Dudamel-led national team, Venezuela delivered a confident, winning performance in their first game in the capital for eight years.

A pre-match appearance from celebrated athlete Yulimar Rojas was part of the extensive build-up for this encounter with an entirely domestic league-based Bolivia led by ex-Vinotinto boss César Farías.

Having already dispatched a stronger version of La Verde less than four months ago at Copa América, Rafael Dudamel must not have hesitated in opting for a more attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation.

From the off, the game was more open than is customary with Venezuela largely the beneficiaries of the midfield gaps which enabled the likes of Darwin Machís and hometown hero Rómulo Otero to run menacingly at the Bolivian back-line. That said, for the opening third of the game, the goal attempts were ultimately rather tame, with the best of an underwhelming bunch being a low Machís shot that was easily stopped and a couple of much-anticipated Otero free-kicks which the wall took the sting out. However, in the 38th minute there was considerably more success when el Escorpión instead crossed in a dead ball which goalkeeper Jorge Araúz badly misread, making it easy for Yangel Herrera to head home for 1-0. Three minutes later, the lead was doubled after Tomás Rincón dinked a ball towards the right edge of the area where, with two effective touches, Ronald Hernández knocked it into the centre where the roaming Rincón nudged it on to the back post area where Machís could not miss the tap-in.

Thus, the players went in at the break with the majority of the UCV crowd in a buoyant, boisterous mood. When they returned for the second half, it took just five minutes to further augment the atmosphere. Once again, an Otero free-kick from the edge of the area hit the tip of the wall, yet this time when it eventually dipped back down from orbit it was met by Jhon Chancellor, whose nod-on was acrobatically struck home via an overhead-kick from Salomón Rondón.

Although the result now seemed in little doubt, five minutes later Bolivia did get one back, with a well-crafted goal that took advantage of some slack Venezuelan tracking. Juan Arce chipped a ball towards the right edge of the area where Gilbert Álvarez picked it up and slotted it through the legs of Wuilker Fariñez. Aside from this blot, the Millonarios goalkeeper had a rather quiet night and will no doubt be disappointed to not have added to his clean sheet tally.

Subsequently, as is frequently the case, the inevitable glut of personnel changes sucked a lot of momentum from this game, with chances of note rarer to come by. Nevertheless, late on following a Rincón pass in the 87th minute, two substitutions did manage to have an impact, as Yeferson Soteldo nudged the ball on to Jhon Murillo in the area, who was fouled. The penalty was duly converted by all-time record goalscorer Rondón, who gained his second of the night to make the final scoreline even more emphatic.

Dudamel conspicuously celebrated this spot-kick, which earned him some social media derision from his critics who accused him of playing up to the cameras. Yet, after all the doubts that have been raised about the internal harmony in the squad and the players’ relationship to their boss, maybe he was just pleased and relieved to cap off a deserved victory on an emotional night.

Surely he will have been impressed by the performances of Otero and Hernández, perhaps the two players to have most boosted their chances of gaining regular starts. However, two others players he will not be able to count for Monday’s clash with Trinidad and Tobago are Roberto Rosales and Bernardo Añor. The former had a prior agreement to return to his club whereas the latter picked up a knock which denied him the opportunity of playing with his brother Juanpi in his hometown at the stadium of his club side. In his place, Zulia’s Gabriel Benítez has been called up, ensuring that there is still at least one domestic league player in the squad.

If – as is anticipated – Venezuela defeat their Caribbean opponents at the UCV, it will be only the second time during Dudamel’s reign that his side have won two consecutive games. Perhaps to some there doesn’t seem to be much to gain from defeating the team ranked 100th by FIFA, but the coach will certainly be aware that if he doesn’t, esteem-wise, there is plenty to lose. He, like most of the fans, will surely be hoping for another assertive, attacking display.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Faríñez; R. Hernández, W. Ángel, J. Chancellor, R. Rosales (R. Feltscher, 77′); T. Rincón, Y. Herrera (J. Moreno, 87′); J. Savarino (J. Murillo, 78′), R. Otero (J. Añor, 68′), D. Machís (Y. Soteldo, 56′); S. Rondón (F. Aristeguieta, 88′).

Bolivia (4-2-3-1): J. Araúz; O. Ribera, A. Jusino, G. Justiniano, J. Sagredo; E. Sánchez (C. Melgar, 59′) (C. Áñez, 74′), C. Arano (C. Algarañaz, 77′); L. Justiniano, J. Arce (V. Castellón, 59′), E. Saavedra (L. Vaca, 70′); G. Álvarez (C. Saucedo, 68′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – October 2019 Preview

Following on from last month’s dreary draw with neighbours Colombia, Venezuela are back in action with two rare home friendlies. What’s more, they find themselves in the jarring position of being the favourites to emerge victorious from both. Ahead of these, @DarrenSpherical provides a glimpse into the Vinotinto orbit.

International Friendlies

Thursday 10 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela vs Bolivia

Monday 14 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela vs Trinidad and Tobago

caracasstadium

Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Back in the Capital with Farías but without Martínez

The Venezuelan national team’s first game in the capital city for eight years will also see the return of a prominent compatriot who was then at the helm of La Vinotinto: current manager of Bolivia, César Farías.

It was he who led his homeland from 2007 to 2013, with his achievements including reaching the semi-finals of the 2011 Copa América, as well as taking the Under-20s to their first-ever World Cup (2009). Thus, on 10 October his adopted nation of entirely domestic league players will be duking it out with the country of his birth, now bossed by the man who led the same age category to their second-ever World Cup appearance two years ago.

However, although Rafael Dudamel has paid tribute to Farías in the build-up, there has been far more media interest in the resignation from national-team duty of striker Josef Martínez. Indeed, two weeks ago, the Atlanta United netbuster wrote an open letter in which, after casting doubt upon the motives and behaviour of others and airing personal grievances regarding mistreatment, he announced that he would no longer be available for La Vinotinto for as long as the current incumbent remains in situ. In response, Dudamel has defended himself against the charges of mishandling the relationship, suggesting instead that the player’s annoyance may really stem from not being the guaranteed regular that he is at club level, whilst stating that the door nevertheless remains open to him. In turn, any fear of a collective revolt has seemingly already subsided as at least six players including the returning senior trio of Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) and Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain) have all commented that they disagree with Martínez’s decision.

As he has largely been relegated to cameo appearances from the bench and – for reasons of dubious legitimacy – excluded himself from some games in the past year, the 26-year-old MLS striker’s withdrawal may, to some, seem manageable in the short-term. However, as Venezuela frequently look toothless in attack, when things inevitably go awry, there will doubtlessly be no shortage of calls from the many champions of the MLS goal-machine for a change to this unhelpful state of affairs and, perhaps, to the Vinotinto status quo itself.

Nevertheless, as the boss evidently prefers just one man up top, there is no doubt that for this role he instead prefers 30-year-old China-dweller Rondón. Competition within the current crop comes from Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico) as well as Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), although both men have got a lot of convincing to do, as neither could confidently call themselves the first-choice understudy. For some fans, more long-term hope is invested in the boots of 19-year-old Boca Juniors striker Jan Hurtado. However, this time he did not make the cut from the 30-man preliminary squad and has instead joined up with the U23s who are hoping to play at next year’s Olympic Games.

Otherwise, although Dudamel may be a tad unnerved by Martínez’s decision as well  as his task of keeping the collective mentality healthy, he nevertheless has a strong squad to pick from. Indeed, along with Rondón, Rincón and Rosales, he also has central defender Yordan Osorio (Zenit Saint Petersburg, Russia, on loan from Porto, Portugal) back for selection, fresh from impressing in the UEFA Champions League. Also having impressed at club level in the past month are the Barcelona-slaying duo at Granada, Yangel Herrera and Darwin Machís, as well as Brazil-based pair Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro) and Yeferson Soteldo (Santos). The latter was named his club’s player of the month and, after scoring against Fluminense, imitated Martínez’s goal celebration, stoking speculation that he was set to also depart the international scene – a claim that he has recently refuted.

Although Dudamel spoke at length at his customary press conference on the eve of the first match, he did not provide many hints regarding to his line-up plans. That said, most regular Vinotinto observers would surely agree that the attacking-midfield spots behind Rondón as well as the defence in general are where most of the healthy competition for places currently resides. Regarding the latter, Dudamel himself spoke of the wealth of options at centre-back, but one wonders if over at left-back, given the omission of Luis Mago, a start could be given to the man who replaced him before the hour-mark against Colombia: Bernardo Añor. Brother of Juanpi (Málaga, Spain) and son of an ex-international, he is the squad’s only representative from the domestic league, who not only plays for Caracas FC but was also born in the capital.

For the player, it would be an unforgettable way to mark the team’s return to the city. On the other hand, for the boss, whether he wishes for sentiment to enter into his thoughts or not, he knows that the best way to quash any more rumblings of player discontent will be for a double sweep over Farías’ Bolivia and Monday’s Caribbean opponents. On paper and according to the FIFA rankings, this is what is anticipated, yet during his tenure, Dudamel has only achieved consecutive victories once: a pair of 1-0 wins against Jamaica and then Uruguay at 2016’s Copa América Centenario.

Who did he field up front for both games? Yup, Salomón Rondón.

Oh, and Josef Martínez.

Both notched a goal each.

Indeed, there was once a time when this partnership was utilised to effect. Yet three-and-a-bit years later, the chances of it ever being witnessed again currently seem about as likely as Venezuela going more than a month without some internal drama.

To keep track of how things pan out, please continue to check this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad

VinotintoOctober2019Squad

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (Silkeborg IF, Denmark).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Yordan Osorio (Zenit Saint Petersburg, Russia, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico), Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) & Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Colombia 0-0 Venezuela – International Friendly (10 September 2019)

Little to see or learn in Tampa. Nevertheless, @DarrenSpherical is here to dutifully recount La Vinotinto’s friendly encounter with Colombia.

International Friendly

Tuesday 10 September 2019 – Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida, USA

Colombia 0-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Colombia 0-0 Venezuela, International Friendly, 10 September 2019 (YouTube)

Uncompetitive Venezuela Struggle to Dreary Draw With Vecinos

On a patchy NFL-marked pitch, Rafael Dudamel’s somewhat experimental side was anything but buccaneering as they failed to thrill against Carlos Queiroz’s much-changed Colombia.

Viewed context-free on paper, the draw could be perceived as representing progress on the 2-1 defeat this time last year, though witnesses to this bore-chore will beg to differ. After all, not only were there nine changes to the line-up of Los Cafeteros but, as Dudamel insinuated post-match, the majority of the Venezuelans given opportunities – due to the absences of Rondón, Rincón, Rosales and others – failed to take them.

Indeed, aside from the closing stages when some more eager substitutes had entered the fray, the burgundy boys rarely threatened Álvaro Montero’s goal. Instead it was Colombia who had the lion’s share of the ball, particularly in the first half in which they regularly caused concerns in and around the Venezuelan area.

The first of these came in the ninth minute when a corner was knocked away by goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez, but only to Bournemouth’s Jefferson Lerma, whose first-time effort went a little too close to the crossbar for comfort. Five minutes later the net perhaps should have been bulging after Yairo Moreno dinked a ball to Rafael Santos Borré at the back post, but the River Plate striker mis-timed the bounce and skied his attempted placement well over the bar. Soon afterwards in the 16th minute, a corner led to a scramble which Óscar Murillo redirected goalwards, but his low effort was thwarted by the legs of Faríñez.

Venezuela’s defensive lines were regularly finding themselves bypassed and given the runaround. In the 27th minute, Juventus’ Juan Cuadrado gained space from Juanpi to come in from the left and strike a right-footed effort that went narrowly wide into the side-netting. Ten minutes later, it was Cristian Borja who was granted too much room on the left of the area as he struck a venomous effort that mercifully missed the target. Off the back of this on the other side, Luis Díaz was able to strike from an acute angle, though Faríñez comfortably diverted the ball wide. Rounding off this series of goal-threats, two minutes before half-time the Colombia-based goalkeeper of Millonarios was a little more concerned as a low free-kick from León midfielder Moreno whistled just wide of the post.

Shortly before the interval, Venezuela finally made their attacking presence known. On the left, Yeferson Soteldo’s free-kick that swung into the area was headed on by captain-for-the-night Wilker Ángel, forcing Montero to tip the ball over.

Understandably, Venezuela made a couple of changes at the break and though the second-half play was to prove to be less one-sided, Colombia were nevertheless quick to generate a great chance to open the scoring. This time, in the 51st minute, Cuadrado menaced the Venezuelan backline before sliding the ball to Santos Borré in space in the area. Yet, the 23-year-old striker, though he managed to dink an effort over the outrushing Faríñez, perhaps should have done better as the ball – which glanced off the goalkeeper’s glove – was probably going wayward before safety-first Ángel headed it out.

Colombia’s next chance of note came in the 62nd minute when Díaz raced into space on the inside-left. A goal seemed inevitable yet the Porto youngster appeared to overrun it as he strode too close to Faríñez before finally attempting to square it to a team-mate; instead, his pass was easily cleared and he himself ended up clattering into the goalkeeper.

These two opportunities were as good as the half got for Queiroz’s men, with the subsequent 20 minutes very low on opportunities. When, however, some threats did re-emerge, they instead came from Dudamel’s men as some substitutes helped the team show some belated impetus late on. First of all in the 82nd minute, Darwin Machís took it upon himself to impressively burst past two players on the left before knocking in a testing low cross from the byline which Montero had to parry out to be sure. Later on, Rómulo Otero, returning to the side having been left out of the Copa América squad, made himself hard to ignore from set-pieces. Indeed, although his much-anticipated attempt in the last minute of regulation time went into the wall, he nearly won the match with another effort in the fourth minute of stoppage time. This came from thirty yards out on the left, delivered with his right and with trademark deadly dip, forcing Montero into a desperate and eye-catching parry before it could creep in at the near post.

Alas, there was no late steal here, with the game ending goalless. Overall, not disastrous, just tedious; an unadventurous, uninmaginative draw. Perhaps only the returning Otero and Ángel will feel in any way emboldened by their performances.

Ultimately, fans looking for drama should have just skipped the game and waited for the post-match comments. Indeed, although Rafael Dudamel attended to his media duties, the players did not, provoking anger from several broadcasters on Twitter. Stirring the pot, the Venezuela’s football federation (FVF) responded to this by releasing a statement distancing themselves, claiming that such decisions were taken by those directly in charge of the team (the manager and his coaching staff). To this, the national team’s Twitter account got involved, instead proportioning blame to the match organisers. They stated – amongst other things – that La Vinotinto‘s changing room was just 20 metres from their team bus, whereas the media mixed zone was off-route, some 200 metres away on the other side of the ground, nearer to the Colombian changing room. Needless to say, the soundbite-chasers who had travelled thousands of miles were not moved by these protestations.

This is just the latest chapter of an ongoing internal saga. Things are clearly not healthy in the Vinotinto camp and this is unlikely to be the last time that divisions bubble up to the surface, causing fans to roll their erstwhile optimistic eyes.

Team Selections

Colombia (4-3-2-1): A. Montero; L. Orejuela, D. Sánchez (J. Lucumí, 56′), Ó. Murillo, C. Borja; J. Lerma, J. Cuadrado (J. Campuzano, 57′), Y. Moreno (M. Uribe, 74′); O. Berrío (L. Muriel, 71′), L. Díaz (R. Martínez, 71′); R. Santos Borré (D. Zapata, 71′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Feltscher (R. Hernández, 46′), W. Ángel, M. Villanueva, L. Mago (B. Añor, 56′); Y. Herrera, J. Añor (D. Machís, 46′), J. Moreno (B. Manzano, 85′); J. Murillo (J. Savarino, 73′), Y. Soteldo (R. Otero, 77′); J. Hurtado.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly International – September 2019 Preview

For the first time since their quarter-final exit at Copa América, La Vinotinto has been reassembled. Just like this time last year, a kickabout with their neighbours to the west awaits. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides a look at those looking to see action.

International Friendly

Tuesday 10 September 2019 – Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida, USA

Colombia vs Venezuela

romuloterosept2019

Back in the Fray: Rómulo Otero (GettyImages)

Youthful Venezuela Bring Average Age Even Further Down

Reportedly owing to visa issues relating to his new club adventure in China, Salomón Rondón has been compelled to withdraw from Venezuela’s sole international friendly this month.

Thus, with MLS hotshot Josef Martínez also not part of the squad, a considerable opportunity has presented itself up front, with either Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) or Jan Carlos Hurtado (Boca Juniors) best placed to profit. Both men were absent from June’s Copa América cohort, but Ponce’s output has in the past suggested that he might have a future at this level, most notably last October when he bagged two goals in the Vinotinto shirt. On the other hand, although Hurtado has struggled to find the net during his senior career at club and international level, the 19-year-old inspires many a fan’s daydreams, even more so these days as he has recently been signed by Boca Juniors and donned their much-fetishised shirt in the Superclásico.

Rondón’s absence also throws up a rare situation for the national side: not one of the three R’s will be trotting onto the field in Vinotinto colours. Indeed, the other two components of the much-capped trio, captain Tomás Rincón and Leganés new-boy Roberto Rosales, have not been summoned. Neither for that matter has Yordan Osorio, who put in a memorable display against hosts Brazil in June and has recently earned a loan move to Zenit St. Petersburg. In an interview with Conexión Goleadora, one player currently in the USA has lamented the absences as well as the somewhat underwhelming prospect of only a solitary game having been scheduled, but as is often the case in matters concerning the FVF, the precise truth is difficult to discern.

Nevertheless, trials and experiments are thus guaranteed to be taking place in all the outfield positions. Firstly, with no Rosales, who has been fielded on both flanks at the back, a number of players will be hoping to get the nod on the left. These include the versatile pair Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile) and Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), both of whom were part of the Copa squad, with the latter the only one of the seven defenders to not see any action in the tournament. Alternatively, manager Rafael Dudamel could well give a run-out to the only home-based player in the squad, the recalled Bernardo Añor of Caracas FC, a 31-year-old who only made his international debut last year. Less promising – though rather curious – are the prospects of club-less 21-year-old left-back Alejandro Mitrano, hitherto a virtual unknown who was last recorded playing in Slovakia and who was called up to train with the squad after the initial 23-man announcement. Who knows what he may bring to the table, but such intrepid talent-scouring reinforces Dudamel’s previous comments about the long-standing issues the national side has with this particular position.

At centre-back, with no Osorio, Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) will be seeking to reclaim a place in the line-up after injury forced him to miss Brazil 2019. However, there is now much competition for these two positions, with erstwhile partner Jhon Chancellor – who has earned a big move to Brescia in Serie A  – and Mikel Villanueva – who, however awkwardly, has been accommodated back into the Málaga side – both also in the running. As, for that matter, is the recalled Under-20 2017 World Cup runner-up Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal), still only 20 years of age.

Moving on, Rincón’s absence opens up an opportunity in the line of three that typically helps to reinforce the back four as well as kickstart attacks. If regulars Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England) and Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) get the nod, then joining them could well be either Renzo Zambrano, who plays under ex-Vinotinto and Swansea City striker Giovanni Savarese at Portland Timbers or Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara), who last season made headlines for being the first player in a Copa Libertadores match to bag a goal, grab an assist, net an own goal and get sent off.

Alternatively, the outspoken and more attack-minded Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor – who, like Villanueva, has also been grudgingly granted minutes by cash-strapped Málaga  – could well reprise a role similar to that in which he shone in June against Bolivia. There is also a chance that Dudamel could instead utilise the La Liga man in the customary attacking pairing that will support either Ponce or Hurtado, although here, perhaps more than anywhere, there is no shortage of talented competition. Indeed, the four players who duked it out for these roles in Brazil are all in the current squad: Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal),  Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA) and Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil). However, accompanying them this time will be Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), unquestionably the biggest surprise omission from the Copa squad. Perhaps his individualistic streaks played a part in this decision, but as more than one fan commented during the tournament, the team really could have done with some of his gravity-defying set-piece spectaculars. Surely at the Raymond James Stadium he will be given an opportunity to win back the trust of Dudamel.

Overall then, plenty of players will be seeking to shake up the boss’s thinking. Even if the preparations for the game have not been ideal, the side are arguably in a better state than twelve months ago when, after a ten-month hiatus, they kickstarted their current cycle with a 2-1 loss against Colombia in a match also played in Florida – it was Miami Gardens back then and it is Tampa now. The Cafeteros are coming into it off the back of a creditable 2-2 draw with Brazil, whereas Venezuela enter poised in the highest position that they have ever attained in the official FIFA rankings: 26th. Ultimately, Dudamel may well be looking more for performances than a result, but any opportunity to get one over their historically more-illustrious neighbours will always be greatly received back home.

To keep track of how things pan out, please continue to check this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintosept2019

Notes: Owing to visa-related issues at club level, Salomón Rondón has withdrawn from the convocatoria. Also, Alejandro Mitrano has been called up to train with the squad.

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (Silkeborg IF, Denmark).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Alejandro Mitrano (No club) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Jan Carlos Hurtado (Boca Juniors) & Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Argentina 2-0 Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Quarter-Final (28 June 2019)

History repeats itself in Rio. Here, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’Copa América 2019 exit to Argentina.

Copa América 2019 – Quarter-Final

Friday 28 June 2019 – Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro.

Argentina 2-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Argentina 2-0 Venezuela, Copa América Quarter-Final, 28 June 2019 (YouTube)

There’s Always Next Year

Venezuela’s unbeaten streak came abruptly to an end at the Maracanã, as for the second successive tournament, La Vinotinto were eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Argentina.

Coming into the game, Rafael Dudamel’s men were fancied by more than a few to cause an upset, yet on the day this never once came close to fruition. Indeed, Argentina were first out of the blocks and that is where they remained. In the third minute, Sergio Agüero’s shot from an angle was saved by the feet of goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez and then four minutes later, a knock-on from a corner found defender Germán Pezzella. However, it must have taken him by surprise as, despite being in a very advantageous position, his control let him down and Faríñez instead gratefully received the ball.

Nevertheless, it was only a matter of a time. Thus, a 10th-minute Lionel Messi corner founds its way to Agüero whose low effort back into the mixer was skilfully backheeled into the back of the net by Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martínez to make it 1-0.

Subsequently, Venezuela did occasionally make it forward – Darwin Machís, in particular, often driving at Juan Foyth – but in the first half they never managed to test the gloves of Franco Armani. Gradually, goalmouth action at either end died down, with instead the card count rising: five yellows by the break, with a red seeming inevitable.

Overall, Venezuela’s best first-half chance – a 40th-minute Jhon Chancellor header from a Júnior Moreno corner, which went comfortably over – was barely worthy of the description. Instead, Argentina, without being dominant or particularly eye-catching, were the more creative side and were close to doubling their lead in stoppage-time when Marcos Acuña’s low cross to the back post was only narrowly knocked away from the looming Martínez by Roberto Rosales.

Soon after the restart in the 48th minute, Martínez had a better chance to net for a second time when he was played through by Leandro Paredes yet, despite his promising his position, his strike hit the outside of the post and went out.

However, this did not lead to an Albiceleste avalanche, as instead things became a little more even. Finally, in the 71st minute, Venezuela were able to fashion a substantial opportunity when captain Tomás Rincón chipped the ball into the area where it was met by right-back Ronald Hernández whose shot from close range had to be parried by Armani.

Yet, just three minutes later, any hope of taking the game to penalties was virtually extinguished. Rather, Argentina doubled their lead after Giovani Lo Celso tapped in the ball after Faríñez badly spilled a relatively tame shot from Agüero. It has to be said that it has not been a successful showcase for the Millonarios goalkeeper who, despite making an important stop against Peru, was also fortunate to get away with two mistakes in that game as well as with another against Bolivia. Ultimately, his luck, along with that of his team, ran out in Rio de Janeiro, but at just 21, age is still most definitely on his side.

Before the 90 minutes were up, Venezuela had one more opportunity – a Salomón Rondón header from a Moreno corner which Armani had to instinctively parry – but alas, it was Argentina who progressed to the semi-final date with Brazil.

Taking everything into account, it is somewhat difficult to judge Venezuela’s Copa América campaign. On the one hand, they went unbeaten in their group and even drew with the hosts, yet on the other, they once again frequently looked bereft of ideas when going forward and fell at the same hurdle as in 2016, despite having recently beaten Argentina in a friendly. Inevitably, many fans have voiced their impatience with, and disapproval of, Dudamel’s caution-first approach and he will know as well as anyone the limitations of seeking to frustrate the more illustrious sides whilst hoping a goal can be snatched at the other end.

Still, although it may not feel this way now, by most people’s standards, Venezuela have, at the very least, equalled pre-tournament expectations, if not slightly surpassed them. Their team is relatively settled and they can take what they have gained into the end-of-year friendlies, ahead of next year’s qualifiers for Qatar 2022: the ultimate objective.

Team Selections

Argentina (4-3-3): F. Armani; J. Foyth, G. Pezzella, N. Otamendi, N. Tagliafico; R. De Paul, L. Paredes (G. Lo Celso, 68′), M. Acuña; L. Messi, L. Martínez (Á. Di María, 64′) & S. Agüero (P. Dybala, 85′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, L. Mago (Y. Soteldo, 55′), R. Rosales (L. Seijas, 84′); J. Moreno, Y. Herrera, T. Rincón; J. Murillo, D. Machís (J. Martínez, 71′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Bolivia 1-3 Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Group A (22 June 2019)

Opposition territory was belatedly discovered and fully explored as Venezuela progressed to the quarter-finals. Here, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’Copa América 2019 victory over Bolivia.

Copa América 2019 – Group A

Saturday 22 June 2019 – Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte

Bolivia 1-3 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Bolivia 1-3 Venezuela, Copa América Group A, 22 June 2019 (YouTube)

Next Stop: the Maracanã!

Having previously played two goalless games, Venezuela at last went on the attack, clinching their place in the knock-out stage with a 3-1 win over Bolivia.

Manager Rafael Dudamel made a few changes (two enforced) from the side that battled to a draw with Brazil. One of these, midfielder Juanpi, frequently found himself on the ball with his customary balletic poise and he had a role in the opening goal which came after less than 75 seconds. Here, he, followed by Jefferson Savarino, helped the ball out wide to right-back Ronald Hernández, who curled in a cross which Darwin Machís rose high to, bursting the back of the net with a powerful header. It’s very rare and pleasantly discombobulating to witness anyone other than a centre-back or a certain centre-forward to score with their temple for Venezuela and this sensational start calmed a few jitters early on.

Perhaps a bit too much as, although proceedings were to be relatively even and open, Bolivia did manage to hit the woodwork twice in the first half. The first time occurred in the seventh minute when Cristian Arano’s strike was touched onto the post by Wuilker Faríñez. Then, later on in the 39th minute, Raúl Castro made some space for himself 25 yards out and arrowed an effort that left everyone rooted to the spot as it curled towards the corner of the goal, hitting the inside of the post but bouncing back out.

That’s not to say Venezuela went quiet after the goal. They still got forward with Machís sometimes causing problems on the left flank, particularly in the 29th minute when he received a pass from Juanpi and then crossed it in the middle where it was met by Savarino. Alas, the Real Salt Lake attacker was unable to take proper command of the ball and he instead waywardly missed the target. Nevertheless, the MLS man was to do better with his side’s other major chance within this half, which came just before the referee blew for the break. In this instance, Salomón Rondón charged forward on a counter-attack and slid the ball over to the left to Savarino. At the corner of the area, the latter cut onto his right foot and struck a low testing effort that goalkeeper Carlos Lampe was compelled to parry wide.

In the second half, Bolivia started brightly, with Arano trying another effort from range, but this time Faríñez was able to get down low to collect the powerful strike. A few minutes afterwards, Venezuela belatedly began to reassert themselves with some low crosses that were cut out at the crucial moment. Even so, it nevertheless felt a bit out of the blue when, in the 55th minute, Machís on the left cut over to his right and struck a pearl  into the back of the net. Upon scoring his second goal of the game, he held up the shirt of the injured Arquímedes Figuera, who has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament. A fine goal with which to pay tribute, even if replays did show that it actually took a big deflection off a defender, but details, details…

Despite the two-goal deficit, the Bolivians were not completely out of it. Indeed, in the 64th minute, Faríñez continued his mixed tournament when he needlessly spilled Marcelo Moreno’s shot, which led to Arano’s strike on the rebound needing to be cleared from the goal-line by Luis Mago.

Even so, Venezuela could have put the game to bed shortly afterwards with either of two big chances that they created. First, a minute later when Hernández’s perfect cross was volleyed wide by Rondón, when he should have really hit the target. Then, barely another minute later when another fine Hernández ball was acrobatically scissor-kicked just wide by Machís.

La Vinotinto were still going for that third goal in the 74th minute when Soteldo’s low cross ricocheted into the path of Júnior Moreno, whose shot was blocked by a defender. However, the loose ball was then immediately struck with venom by Savarino, forcing a fine parry from Lampe. Seven minutes later, they came even closer when Hernández put in yet another great cross, which centre-back Jhon Chancellor headed down, bouncing up to hit the underside of the bar, before being gratefully gathered by Lampe.

However, despite all this Venezuelan door-knocking, barely a minute later it was Bolivia who netted the third of the game. They were granted a generous amount of space to centrally find an opening via some short passes before Leonel Justiniano struck low from the edge of the area into the bottom corner of Faríñez’s net.

Momentarily, there was a concern that Venezuela may end up getting shunted into third place in Group A and thus be at the mercy of events elsewhere. This fear lasted barely four minutes. Indeed, Venezuela secured their qualification as the second-placed team in Group A when Soteldo jinked on the left before dinking in a cross that fellow substitute Josef Martínez headed home.

3-1, job done. Although the action wasn’t completely over as, with the clock striking 90′, the Atlanta United striker could well have had another goal when he met Soteldo’s chipped free-kick in considerable space. Alas, from a possibly offside position, he could only head comfortably over.

Still, he and Soteldo will have been delighted to have given Dudamel some selection headaches ahead of the knock-out round. Venezuela had gone into the game having struggled to create chances yet needing to win to ensure qualification. With a slight change of approach and personnel, they have achieved it while demonstrating that they are capable of threatening and finding the goal via several different avenues.

Although the quarter-final will no doubt be considerably tougher, not one of the other teams remaining in the tournament will be taking the unbeaten Vinotinto for granted.

The following day, Argentina finished second in Group B and will be Venezuela’s opponents in a mouth-watering clash to be held on Friday 28 June at the Maracanã. To keep up-to-date with Venezuela’s Copa América campaign, please return to this website as well as follow @DarrenSpherical.

Team Selections

Bolivia (4-2-3-1): C. Lampe; D. Bejarano (R. Fernández, 72′), L. Haquin, A. Jusino, M. Bejarano; C. Arano, L. Justiniano; R. Vaca, F. Saucedo, L. Vaca (R. Castro, 33;); M. Moreno (G. Álvarez, 78′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, L. Mago, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, J. Añor (Y. Soteldo, 58′), T. Rincón; J. Savarino, D. Machís (J. Martínez, 72′); S. Rondón (J. Murillo, 72′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical