Review of Venezuela’s 2015 Torneo Clausura Title Race

The second part of Venezuela’s Liga Movistar recently came to a close as the 2015 Torneo Clausura was won in the most dramatic of circumstances by Deportivo Táchira. What follows is a look back at their campaign as well as that of their rivals Caracas and what is still left to play for…

Video Highlights of Caracas FC 2-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Venezuelan Torneo Clausura, 3 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Deportivo Táchira Break Caracas Hearts at the Death

In a refreshing instance of a highly-anticipated match living up to its billing, the Clausura-deciding clásico del fútbol venezolano ended with Táchira snatching a sensational title win on the final day away to Caracas in the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time.

Puncturing the atmosphere and permanently scarring the home fans in the capital, Wilker Ángel’s header at the death gave the game its final twist, making it 2-2 and denying Caracas the win they needed to lift the Clausura trophy. It was all too much for the hosts to accept. They had been elated to take the lead for the first time as the game was entering its closing stages in the 80th minute, reversing the scoreline at long last, having initially gone behind with less than 15 minutes on the clock. Understandably, stunned silence mixed with sadness was the only way for their fans to respond an outcome that will be difficult to stomach for some time yet. To read more detail about this unforgettable match, click here.

As with the Apertura, the relatively short duration of the 17-game Clausura tournament often allows for much jostling for the top spot and this year was no different, as at times at least a handful of teams appeared to be in the running to claim the crown. However, though the likes of Zamora and Deportivo Anzoátegui certainly put in strong performances (with the former only ruled out of the title picture on the penultimate weekend), the race ultimately came down to the two most decorated teams in Venezuelan football history. Thus, what follows in this article is a look back at the impressive title-winning campaign of Táchira, followed by an overview of the respectable showing of Los Rojos del Ávila and then ending with a succinct round-up of what else is left to play for until the season is officially brought to a close.

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Deportivo Táchira
2015 Torneo Clausura Winners

Although there was more than a hint of good fortune to Táchira’s last-gasp triumph, there can be no doubting that overall, they earned this Clausura victory. Indeed, being alone amongst the three Venezuelan Copa Libertadores teams in having to go through a two-legged play-off tie to earn their group stage spot, they were actually to play more competitive games than any other top-flight side since the turn of the year – eight more than most, including Caracas. Their participation in the continent’s premier competition also led to the inconvenient rearrangement of many domestic fixtures, with games often being played in rapid succession to help accommodate Libertadores matches as well as the team’s preparation for them. For example, from the end of January to the beginning of March, they went five weeks without a league fixture. For the majority of the Clausura, such alterations caused Los Aurinegros to regularly find themselves two to three games behind the other pace-makers and thus, barring a fleeting early spell in January at the top, it was not until they went into the decisive last-day clásico that they were to occupy pole position. The manner in which Táchira were to stay within touching distance of their rivals and ultimately take advantage of their games in hand is worthy of significant praise and speaks volumes of the character and quality that exists within their ranks. The team manager, the youthful Daniel Farías, deserves much credit for his role at the helm and a rather bright future for him on the touchline may well be on the cards. Yet, back in early January, things seemed altogether more bleak for the 33 year old.

Indeed, Táchira, the side with the all-time second-highest number of championships (seven to Caracas’ eleven), have high ambitions every season and midway through this one, Farías had been falling well short of such expectations. Much discontent was being voiced in San Cristóbal following an Apertura in which, having been top of the table, they were to fail to win in their final eight games, picking up just three additional points and finishing a woeful 11th. When they opened up the Clausura by throwing away a lead and ultimately losing to a stoppage-time goal against lowly Atlético Venezuela – one of several capital-based sides living very much in the shadow of Caracas FC – Farías’ days appeared to be numbered.

The subsequent game at home to Aragua, a decent side who finished just five points off top in the Apertura, certainly would not have been particularly appealing to a manager under pressure. However, perhaps benefiting from a lack of official crowd to spread tensions around Pueblo Nuevo (owing to trouble in the stands towards the end of the preceding campaign), Táchira impressively recorded their first win for over three months in a 3-1 victory. This sudden reversal of fortunes appeared to galvanise them as they were to follow this up with a 4-1 thumping at home against Llaneros de Guanare and a 3-1 victory away to Portuguesa; that they also briefly went top during this late-January period certainly did Farías little harm either. In these matches, experienced international César González impressed, as did new recruits such as Alan Liebeskind (who saved two penalties and was to save more in the following months) and the veteran Jorge Rojas (scorer of three consecutive penalties). One man in particular fans were delighted to see return to form was striker Gelmin Rivas who, after a goal-drought towards the end of the Apertura, rediscovered his shooting boots. Nevertheless, as two (Llaneros de Guanare and Portuguesa) of the three teams that these players excelled against in this period were to finish in the bottom two positions in the Aggregate Table, many maintained their scepticism regarding talk of a Táchira turnaround. However, following the club’s next two encounters, temporarily at least, critics were to be compelled to drop their reservations.

Indeed, following a 2-1 home victory and a 2-2 away draw against Paraguayans Cerro Porteño, Táchira became the first Venezuelan side in the current format (est. 2005) of the Copa Libertadores, to successfully negotiate the qualifying stage and progress to the group stage. With these games coinciding with the first two victories of the national team under new coach Noel Sanvicente since he took over in July 2014, much optimism was expressed regarding the footballing future of Venezuela.

This was not to last long. On the first day of the group stage, they were emphatically thrashed 5-0 at home by Argentine champions Racing. Subsequently, though they stole a 1-1 draw in their second game away to Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal, they followed this up by being on the receiving end of another thumping, this time 5-2 in Asunción against Guaraní. Things got little better during their campaign, as Farías as well as, on occasion, the team became targets of the boo-boys, with Táchira ultimately finishing with a dismal record of three defeats, three draws and no victories.

However, though on the continental stage they were floundering, domestically they were flourishing, albeit while playing catch-up to their rivals. Indeed, one particular highlight during this period was a mid-March 5-2 thrashing over fellow Libertadores qualifiers Mineros de Guayana in which Rivas found the net four times – remarkably, this came just a few days after their own 5-2 defeat in Paraguay. When their group stage commitments ended on 14 April following an unfortunate 3-2 reversal against Racing in Buenos Aires (during which they were leading 2-0 at one point), they could at least then focus on salvaging something significant from the season.

At this point, while they were just four points behind Caracas with two games in hand, Farías’ history of falling away at the end of the previous campaign, combined with the number of games to be played in a relatively short period as well as the quality of these upcoming opponents, counted against Táchira somewhat. Indeed, the remaining five matches they were to play over the final 16 days of the Clausura could scarcely have been tougher, rendering their ultimate accomplishment altogether more impressive. Displaying considerable stamina and character, they won the first four of these, starting with a 2-1 away victory against Deportivo La Guaira (who finished 7th, but were narrow runners-up in the Apertura, as well as winners of the Copa Venezuela in early December). They followed this up with three consecutive home wins watched by significantly more people than were showing up earlier in the campaign. Indeed, a mere 2,699 had attended the 5-2 Mineros mauling, yet with the title in their sights, 12,223 saw them defeat Deportivo Anzoátegui (who finished 4th) 2-1 on 22 April. Then, on the penultimate weekend of the Clausura, the overall champions of the last two seasons, Zamora, were finally knocked out of the race (and were to finish 3rd), courtesy of a 17-second Jorge Rojas goal in front of a season-high 22,367 attendance. Subsequently, just over 20,000 believers turned up for the 3-0 midweek victory against Deportivo Lara (finished 5th), the game which finally put them ahead of Caracas and thus in the driving seat for the Clausura-deciding clásico.

They travelled to the capital’s Estadio Olímpico de la UCV – which, exempting the conspicuous security arrangements that left at least one section empty, was virtually full to the brim – needing just a draw in what was easily one of the most eagerly anticipated regular season games in Venezuelan football history. As related earlier, while their early lead was ruled out and then, with ten minutes remaining, reversed, they were to snatch an equalising goal and the title with what was the last meaningful touch of the match. As stunning as this was to witness, statistics show that the last 15 minutes of matches are when Táchira are most deadly in front of goal and they had already won two games with stoppage-time goals – though even if Caracas were fully aware of this, it would not have made much difference.

Consequently, they attained the point they needed and pulled off a remarkable feat, winning the Torneo Clausura by finishing with 41 points, having won 13, drawn 2 and lost 2. While their defence certainly contributed to their achievement (conceding 17, the 5th lowest amount in the league), it was their attack that deserved the most plaudits, scoring 40 goals, placing them comfortably first in this department. Gelmin Rivas was the main man here, netting 13 times (adding to the 7 he scored in the Apertura), possibly having been buoyed by the attention he reportedly received from two top-tier Belgian sides just before the campaign got underway. Now 26 years of age, if he is keen on a move abroad, now would appear to be the most opportune time. As a natural marksman, finishing from close range either with his feet or, rather frequently, his head, he was often reliant on the crosses and through-balls of his team-mates, especially César González. The 32-year-old’s set-pieces were regular sources of goals and he even managed to chip in with an impressive haul of seven himself – form which earned him a recall to the international set-up in late March. Another prolific purveyor of opportunities was 24-year-old winger Yohandry Orozco, who also impressed sporadically in a few Libertadores matches. Although another move to a team of the calibre of Wolfsburg – where he spent a rather subdued spell between 2011-2013 – is certainly not on the cards, a move to a bigger side on the same continent does not seem out of question. José Miguel Reyes, a similar player who likes to roam down the wings as well as cut infield, also had a decent season, scoring five goals along the way. Lastly, 37-year-old Jorge Rojas certainly had a campaign to remember as, following his inter-season move from lowly Metropolitanos, he was to score seven league goals. His phenomenal strike in the first leg of the Libertadores play-off against Cerro Porteño will surely be recalled with affection for some time yet.

Of the remainder of the squad, while there were certainly some impressive performances, the player with the most chance of a move abroad in the upcoming future is surely the hero of the final day, Wilker Ángel. The 22-year-old made his international debut in November (and scored with the faintest of touches) and has been allegedly attracting interest from elsewhere in South America as well as Europe within the past year. However, as his primary function is to keep out goals rather than score them, one wonders whether his side’s porous showing in the Libertadores (15 conceded) has adversely affected his chances of a foreign move.

On a somewhat related note, one can not help but fear that the fine form Táchira showed in the Clausura will again fail to translate on the continental stage when they compete in next year’s Copa Libertadores. As well as holding on to their top players and the essential retention of manager Farías, some reinforcements will surely be needed by the time next February rolls around.

For the time being however, their focus will be on claiming the Venezuelan Liga Movistar championship outright. Having lost a few key players, their opponents in the Gran Final, Trujillanos, are a shadow of the side that won the Apertura in December, finishing 11th in the Clausura and so will be the underdogs going into this two-legged affair. The first game of this decisive tie will be the away fixture for Táchira in Valera on 10 May, with the reverse fixture on 17 May. Those unable to tune into these matches can expect reports on this website.

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Caracas FC
2015 Torneo Clausura Runners-up

So unfortunate were Los Rojos del Ávila to not be crowned Clausura champions, having sat in pole position for the majority of the second half of the campaign. Having put in a decent showing in the Apertura (finishing 3rd with 31 points) and topping the Aggregate Table with 70 points to Táchira’s 64, it is hard to envisage there being any severe repercussions for manager Eduard Saragó and his charges.

Indeed, Caracas began the Clausura well, taking 11 points from a possible opening 15. However, in the last of these games, a 0-0 draw away to Aragua on 8 February, their star playmaker and literal as well as figurative ‘number 10’, 22-year-old Rómulo Otero, had to be withdrawn due to injury. He did return briefly in the following month, making two substitute appearances before starting against Deportivo Anzoátegui on 18 March, though he lasted no more than 54 minutes before going off hurt, never to return. The absence of Otero, arguably the brightest Venezuelan prospect plying his trade in his homeland, certainly diminished their attacking options in the remainder of the Clausura, having a noticeable effect on how they appraoched the opposition goal as well as the amount of times they scored.

Indeed, from being the highest scorers in the Apertura with 33 goals, they were to finish in the Clausura with two other teams as joint-sixth in this department, netting just 23 times. In Otero’s absence, new recruits Diomar Díaz (a Venezuelan turfed out of New York Cosmos following Raúl’s arrival) and Argentine Fabián Bordagaray (who arrived from Greece, having had spells with San Lorenzo and River Plate, amongst others) can not be said to have risen to the plate, with only the latter managing to find the net (and just the once). Thus, with so few goals in the side, 10 of their 12 victories were to be achieved by a mere one-goal margin (with the other two being by two), with the majority of their attacks emanating from the flanks for someone in the centre – usually Edder Farías, who got 11 goals – to finish off.

To maintain such a high position with such forward-line deficiencies, they required a well-organised defence as well as a top goalkeeper, both of which they certainly possessed. Indeed, they conceded the lowest number of goals in the Clausura – 11 – and shot-stopper Alain Baroja, who during this campaign firmly established himself as the national team’s second choice, repeatedly saved them with a string of spectacular highlight-friendly saves.

Despite many doubts being expressed regarding their ability to mount a significant title challenge following Otero’s injury, Caracas’ unglamorous approach was largely effective. After they took over Zamora at the top of the table just after the midway point, they were to become the favourites for many as uncertainties remained regarding Táchira’s ability to make up the ground that had been lost due to their Libertadores encounters.

As we now know, such doubts were proven to be unfounded. The ‘fine margins’ managers and pundits alike often cite certainly came to the fore in the dying seconds at the Estadio Olímpico de la UCV on 3 May. Indeed, had a hoofed clearance not been hooked instinctively for Wilker Ángel to nod in, it is rather likely that many of the post-game headlines and plaudits would have instead been given to Baroja, who had pulled off a few crucial saves that appeared to have won it for Caracas.

Nevertheless, the country’s most successful club (11 championships) will have to regroup. Given their success over the course of both the Apertura and Clausura, it is unlikely that manager Saragó will want to make too many changes, though he may have his hand forced in this area. Indeed, Caracas have a reputation for developing and then selling their top young players and there are at least four in this squad who could be leaving for foreign shores either in the next few months or within the next year or two. Baroja would certainly be one, having earned so many plaudits this season – his third as Caracas’ number one choice – and being a good age for a player of his position – 25 – to make a move. Otero is definitely another player Saragó will do well to keep ahold of, having been linked with teams in Brazil, USA, Portugal, Switzerland and France in the past two years – in this regard, the length and nature of his foot injury will be important. According to his agent at least, also attracting interest from abroad is Jhonder Cádiz, a 19-year-old attacker who scored six times in 32 games in his first full season with the side, having been brought in from fellow capital side Deportivo Petare in early 2013. Lastly of this youthful crop, though there have been no stories suggesting interest from overseas, 20-year-old roaming right-back Jefre Vargas had a very encouraging season, contributing the most assists (7) in his 21 appearances and representing his country at the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament in January.

Although they had an impressive Clausura, due largely to their ages, the rest of the Caracas defence are less likely to be snapped up by foreign suitors looking for long-term investments. Nevertheless, 27-year-old centre-back Andrés Sánchez must be given credit for his form, which was even noted by national boss Sanvicente, who gave him two starts against Honduras in a domestic-players-only set of friendlies in February. Another member of the backline to impress was left-back Rubert Quijada, 26, though to the dismay of some, despite being called up for Sanvicente’s first squad in September, he has since repeatedly been overlooked by the national team.

Elsewhere in the side, 34-year-old defence-minded midfielder and captain Miguel Mea Vitali is unlikely to be leaving the capital – indeed, he has recently signed a new contract – but with 6 goals and 6 assists over the course of the entire season, he has had a year to be proud of. Last but by no means least, 27-year-old striker Edder Farías had the best goalscoring year of his career, netting 17 times altogether, with 11 coming in the Clausura and thus essential to the title push. As he has failed to get into double figures in the league in his previous two years with Caracas, it is unlikely that any foreign suitor will take a chance on him – something that his current fans will be delighted about.

Overall, Caracas definitely had a good season but will obviously be devastated for some time yet to have missed out on the Clausura title. As the best-placed side in the Aggregate Table. they will be hoping early next year that they can still show the continent what they are capable of when they play in a two-legged playoff in order to qualify for the group stage of the 2016 Copa Libertadores.

Tables

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2015 Venezuela Liga Movistar Torneo Clausura Table (courtesy of Soccerway)

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2014/15 Venezuela Liga Movistar Aggregate Table (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Still to be Determined: Copa Sudamericana Places

Caracas may have to go through the play-off round, but Trujillanos and Deportivo Táchira have both already qualified for the 2016 Copa Libertadores group stage by virtue of winning, respectively, the Apertura and Clausura. They will now duke it out to see who will be the overall Venezuelan champions of 2014/15. However, this is not the only matter yet to be decided as on the day of their first leg, the mini post-season tournament – known as the Serie Pre-Sudamericana – to determine who gains the two remaining spots for this year’s Copa Sudamericana also begins.

Indeed, in all, four spots were available for this competition (the continent’s very loose equivalent to Europe’s Europa League), but two have already been taken. The first was won by Deportivo La Guaira after they won the Copa Venezuela back in December and the second has been earned by Deportivo Anzoátegui who, after finishing fourth in the Aggregate Table, are the highest ranked team available to claim the spot. Thus, in the upcoming competition the two remaining places will be contested by eight teams, these being the highest-ranked in the Aggregate Table who have not already qualified for a continental competition (in other words, 5th to 13th, excluding 6th-placed Apertura champions Trujillanos).

The first four knock-out games will be played over two legs on 10 & 13 May with the subsequent two matches contested on 17 & 20 May – the winners of these games will claim the last two 2015 Copa Sudamericana spots. Here are the first legs of the opening knock-out round to be played on 10 May:

Tucanes de Amazonas vs Mineros de Guayana

Estudiantes de Mérida vs Zamora

(The two winners of these two games will face each other for a Sudamericana spot on 17 & 20 May)

Carabobo vs Aragua

Atlético Venezuela vs Deportivo Lara

(The two winners of these two games will face each other for a Sudamericana spot on 17 & 20 May)

Lastly, just to serve as a final reminder and to sign off on the highest possible note, here are the fixtures and dates for the decisive two-legged Gran Final to determine the 2014/15 Liga Movistar winners:

Trujillanos vs Deportivo Táchira (10 May, Valera, Trujillo State)

Deportivo Táchira vs Trujillanos (17 May, San Cristóbal, Táchira)

For any updates on these matches, you can either follow @DarrenSpherical and/or return to this website where there will be reports and round-ups of all the action.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

2 thoughts on “Review of Venezuela’s 2015 Torneo Clausura Title Race

  1. Pingback: Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira – 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg (10 May 2015) | The Ball is Hispanospherical

  2. Pingback: Deportivo Táchira Defeat Trujillanos to be Crowned the 2014/15 Champions of Venezuela | The Ball is Hispanospherical

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