Non-FIFA International Friendly
Friday 20 May 2016 – Estadio Municipal de Riazor, A Coruña, Galicia, Spain
Galicia vs Venezuela
Tuesday 24 May 2016 – Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama
Panama vs Venezuela
Friday 27 May 2016 – Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, La Sabana Metropolitan Park, San José, Costa Rica
Costa Rica vs Venezuela
Wednesday 1 June 2016 – Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA.
Guatemala vs Venezuela
Venezuela’s upcoming itinerary (Source: Líder en Deportes)
Unknown Territory For All!
Do not adjust your screens. Instead, applaud your 20/20 vision and/or optician’s impeccable professionalism, for you did indeed read the above correctly: FOUR OF THE BASTARDS.
And that’s just the starter…
A new era for La Vinotinto is set to commence with a quartet of friendly internationals crammed into a globetrotting 13 days, to be immediately followed by at least three (‘Pessimist’? Moi?) Copa América encounters. In all, even if the once-beleagured-but-now-bolstered burgundy boys crash out at the group stage of June’s USA-held Centenario competition, they will have played seven games in 24 days. Or, if you are the type who likes to embellish anecdotes with misleading comparisons that nobody has the inclination to scutinise in order to further whatever dastardly agenda you are pursuing, then instead immediately inform your chums of the following:
In just three-and-a-half weeks, we shall witness over one-third of the number of games that were played in Noel Sanvicente’s 20-and-half-month reign (20).
Incredible? Well, perhaps that’s a stretch. Understandable? To some nations maybe, but again though, not really, as four warm-up games (in four different countries, no less!) would seem excessive for most international teams, not least for one whose authorities regularly decry their lack of finances. Indeed, given that, owing to money and organisational problems, a grand total of zero actual matches were played in the weeks leading up to last year’s tournament, this game-glut is set to provide a rare and exhausting experience for players and fans alike.
Oh and for the manager, of course. Literary pretences aside, there’s no forgetting him, is there? Seven weeks ago, Rafael Dudamel stepped into the dugout Sanvicente vacated tasked with the objective of revitalising a very talented, if demoralised and disorganised, generation of players. For the past four years he has been involved with the national set-up at youth level and will retain his role as Under-20 manager while also leading the seniors (no word yet on whether separate pay rates and overtime are included in the package). Thus, the anticipated mixture of youth and experience that he is expected to deploy no doubt helped his cause, even if the Federación Venezolana de Fútbol (FVF) President Laureano González did let slip that had the federation possessed enough Bolívares (or US dollars), a foreign coach probably would have been signed up instead.
Nevertheless, owing to his playing days, Dudamel is a familiar face to followers of the domestic game in both Venezuela as well as neighbouring Colombia (particularly to fans of Deportivo Cali). However, outside of these nations he is virtually unknown and thus, for the time being at least, will have to contend with being caricatured to broader audiences as an hitherto undiscovered example of one of Latin American football’s most curious and appealing phenomena: the goalscoring goalkeeper. Indeed, not only did he find the net at club level over 20 times but also once for La Vinotinto with a spectacular free-kick against Argentina in a World Cup Qualifier in 1996. So until further notice, expect him to be name-checked in sentences that include the likes of Chilavert, Campos and Ceni as he tries to establish himself in, what is on paper at least, a less colourful role.
Since taking over, Dudamel has held some training sessions with domestic players (both senior and youth) as well as named a 40-man preliminary squad. This has since been whittled down to the 31 who have travelled to Galicia for the unofficial international against the representatives of Spain’s north-westerly autonomous community. As, upon the final whistle, this will be further reduced to the final 23 for Copa América it may be somewhat futile laying before the reader a thorough analysis of who may or may not survive the cull. After all, at this late stage one suspects little that occurs in this solitary game will shift too many minds amongst the coaching ranks.
Nevertheless, there are a few things of note to be said. First and of particular interest to many, is the inclusion of attacker Yonathan Del Valle. He currently plays in Turkey for Kasımpaşa having previously been in the Portuguese top-flight with Rio Ave, where he scored some impressive goals in both the Primeira Liga and the Europa League. Despite this, he was repeatedly ignored under Sanvicente and this got his goat so much that this time last year, at the world-weary age of 25, he announced his resignation from the national team. While a final squad place can not be guaranteed, an international resurrection of sorts with future call-ups seems on the cards.
To a lesser extent, two other individuals brought back from the wilderness are left-back Rolf Feltscher and goalkeeper Dani Hernández. The former was also overlooked during the Sanvicente era but has since rebuilt his club career at Duisburg, with whom he won promotion from the German third-tier and is currently battling to save from dropping out of the second. With Gabriel Cichero’s age, exclusion at club level and previous international performances conspiring to count him out of recognition, a space has opened up at left-back. Although young Mikel Villanueva of Málaga reserves appears to have suddenly made himself the front-runner over the past few months, as that occurred under Sanvicente and competition has long been needed in this position, Feltscher may also receive future call-ups.
By contrast, Hernández of Tenerife was the first-choice goalkeeper throughout most of the first year of Chita‘s reign, then ruthlessly lost his status on the eve of last June’s Copa América and made no subsequent appearances. His replacement Alain Baroja had come into that tournament having had an impressive season with Caracas and was to receive some compliments in the opening win against Colombia, before signing a deal with AEK Athens. How fortunes change. Despite a respectable start in Greece, he has had his place called into question, whereas for La Vinotinto over the past year, he has regularly appeared shaky and been blamed for the concession of various goals. All the same, eyebrows were rightfully raised at the sight of a man who has played 24 times in the league for one of the best teams in Greece being excluded from a 31-man squad that contains no less than four goalkeepers. With this string of friendlies to come before the Copa kick-off, one can not be confident who will be number one in the competitive fixtures but do not be surprised if it comes down to a choice between Hernández and José Contreras (who played Sanvicente’s final encounter against Chile, after Baroja was finally dropped).
Surprising though Baroja’s complete omission may be, it is less so than that of his AEK team-mate Ronald Vargas, who has been one of his club’s best performers this past year. Though competition in the line behind the striker(s) has long been strong (relatively speaking), the inner conspiracist can not help but search for other justifications for his absence. As he was also left out of Sanvicente’s final squad, could there be some concerns over the fitness levels of this injury-prone 29-year-old? With several more sprightly candidates available, perhaps Dudamel is looking to put faith in youth and does not wish to see his plans regularly derailed by seemingly inevitable injury setbacks.
Otherwise, one expects the final 23 to feature plenty of names common to the last months of the Sanvicente era. This is understandable as though his predecessor failed to get the desired results, it was more a lack of cohesion and functioning strategy, rather than talent, that was deemed to be at fault. There is also the elephant in the dressing room regarding the players’ relationship with their own federation that needs some kind of resolution, though a discussion on that would prove to be significantly more speculative than the one-way cull convo. Another day, eh?
Nevertheless, Dudamel has recently said that building a team is more important than getting immediate results. What an admirably sensible and reassuringly bland thing for him to say. However, though most fans instinctively agree with this, they may feel somewhat different in two to three weeks from now.
It is certainly a baptism of fire for him and the travelling is surely going to take its toll on players and coaches alike – as may the number of games on the fans. Having endured a sustained period of decline following over a decade of progress, patience can only last so long.
Full 31-man Venezuela Squad