It has been quite an eventful and successful week for Venezuelans, particularly in European competition. With increasingly more leagues and cups being contested, this column will be compelled to become focused on competitive football and selective about which players are featured, though if there are any questions about players who have not been covered, please post a message in the Comments section below and you can be sure that you will receive a prompt response. If you follow this site’s Twitter page (Hispanospherical) or have understandably been keeping an eye out for this week’s matches, then you will be familiar with much of what is about to follow, though hopefully you find it helpful to have it all collated into an article and with a few extra details. Here goes:
The second legs of the penultimate qualifying stages of the two leading continental club competitions were played this midweek. In the Third Qualifying Round of the UEFA Champions League Salomón Rondón, building on a strong start to the Russian Premier League at the weekend, received the nod over Aleksandr Kerzhakov and scored the opening goal in Zenit St. Petersburg’s 3-0 victory over AEL Limassol of Cyprus to overturn the 1-0 reversal from last week. The Witsel-less Zenit were aided in their mission by the early bath for the Brazilian Danielzinho, who received two yellow cards in a matter of seconds after just 26 minutes, which led to an even greater attacking impetus for the home side, with Kerzhakov coming on as a half-time substitute for the defensive Igor Smolnikov. Rondón’s goal came after 55 minutes from a header from Igor Shatov’s cross from the left and he nearly became the tie-winner on more than one occasion, most notably with just two minutes to go when his header from an identical position was saved by an outstretched hand, but fell to the feet of Danny who tucked it away. Not long after, Kerzhakov converted a penalty to ensure Zenit St Petersburg’s name would be in the following day’s draw, in which they received Standard Liège of Belgium, who they will play on 20 and 26 August for a place in the group stage.
Jonathan España was an unused substitute for the opposition against Zenit and he and his compatriot Jaime Moreno may be comforted that AEL Limassol have been given a consolation prize of sorts as they were in the draw for the final Qualifying Round of the UEFA Europa League and will play Tottenham Hotspur for a place in the group stage of that tournament. Backtracking a little, the Third Qualifying Round of the Europa League was played this week, with two Venezuelans in action. Josef Martínez came off the bench after just over an hour to score a powerful header from Molinaro’s cross at the death for his first competitive goal for Torino in their 4-0 (7-0 on aggregate) home thrashing of Brommapojkarna. A great moment for Martínez, though considering the standard of the opposition was lower than much of what he faced in the Swiss Super League last season as well as the attacking options Torino have at their disposal, judgement regarding his applicability at this level will have to be withheld until Serie A gets underway. Standing in the way of a place in the group stage for Torino will be Croatia’s RNK Split. The other Venezuelan who played in the competition this week was Rio Ave’s Yonathan Del Valle, who looked threatening as he bustled his way through and had several shots in his side’s 0-0 home draw with Gothenburg, which allowed them to progress 1-0 on aggregate. Del Valle can consider this match a warm-up for this sunday’s Super Cup clash against Benfica, his team having qualified for this match due to Benfica achieving the domestic double last year and defeating Rio Ave in the Taça de Portugal (Portuguese Cup). Regarding the draw, in the final Qualifying Round, Rio Ave will again face Swedish opposition in the form of Elfsborg and all of these Venezuelans will be joined at this stage by Mario Rondón of C.D. Nacional, whose side will enter the competition and have been drawn against Dinamo Minsk of Belarus. All of these ties should be played on the Thursdays over the same two weeks as the Champions League Qualifiers, 21 and 28 August.
Moving on to domestic action, while none that concerns us was played this midweek, there will certainly be some at the weekend as, joining those that are already underway will be France’s Ligue 1. Nantes will be starting their campaign at home to Lens and while Oswaldo Vizcarrondo will surely be in the squad, there are doubts over Fernando Aristeguieta as he has been missing from pre-season action over recent weeks with an injury. Juan Falcón, new to the league following two successful seasons at Zamora FC, will be hoping to line-up for promoted FC Metz as they face a stern trip to Lille, home to World Cup players such as Divock Origi, Salomon Kalou and, the man he will be hoping to put one or two past, Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama. Another league that will kick-off is England’s second-tier, The Championship, where it will be curious to see whether Fernando Amorebieta plays for Fulham away to Ipswich Town after much summer speculation over his future.
There will be other Venezuelans in competitive action in Europe this weekend and there have been several that have played in friendlies during this midweek, if you would like to hear more about these, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom.
The latest round of the group stage of the Colombian Cup was contested in midweek, with Alejandro Guerra playing the full 90 minutes of Atlético Nacional’s dramatic 3-2 away win against Deportivo Rionegro. Luis Manuel Seijas was not part of Santa Fe’s squad as they lost their 100% record away to Llaneros in a 3-1 defeat, though with such a record they are still comfortably top of their group and Seijas’s exclusion should be considered a rest rather than a reflection of his performances, which have been receiving some acclaim.
Cup football was also played in Chile as San Marcos lost 4-1 away to Cobreloa but Emilio Rentería can not be held accountable for this as he was not part of the squad. San Marcos are still top of their group with 10 points but with Cobreloa on 9 points (albeit having played an extra game) and Antofagasta on 7, they will perhaps not be feeling as assured as Santa Fe.
Over in Mexico, Juan Arango has been in action twice this week. Firstly in Cup action as he appeared as a substitute with just under 20 minutes left as Xolos were defeated 2-1 by Zacatepec (having beaten then 3-1 last week, aided by Arango’s assists) and also last night in the league. Indeed, Arango was clearly being rested in midweek as he played the full 90 minutes of a 0-0 draw away to Morelia, which gives César Farías’s side just two points from four games. Giancarlo Maldonado also played in two games this week and will be feeling the better of the two all-time joint top-scorers for La Vinotinto. In the cup in midweek, he started and may have been disappointed that his side, the second-tier Atlante, lost 3-2 at home to the mighty Pumas, having held them to a 1-1 away draw last week. However, he returned to scoring form in the league last night, curling in an 8th-minute free-kick as Atlante waited until a last-minute Paul Uscanga goal to defeat Irapuato 2-1. That victory leaves Atlante 3rd in the table with 7 points.
Briefly turning north to the USA, Bernardo Añor is rumoured to be suffering from a hamstring injury and is a doubt for Columbus Crew’s weekend MLS game against Toronto FC.
Finally, having been featured prominently in the previous column of Venezuelans Abroad, Andrés Túñez, the masked Gladiador, though no doubt stopped in the street repeatedly by his growing band of fans, has otherwise had a quiet week. However, his team, the Thai Premier League leaders Buriram United, will return to competitive action on Sunday and will be expecting a relatively comfortable victory as they host 9th-placed Singhtaura. Regarding the other player making a living within this continent, Miku, rest assured that this column has not forgotten about him, but there has not even been dribs or drabs of news regarding the Al-Gharafa striker, though this state of affairs will thankfully change when the Qatar Stars League kicks off in just under two weeks from now.
That concludes the round-up of the last few days of action but if you have any further questions about events discussed or any players that have been neglected, please leave a comment below and you can be sure to get a relatively swift response!