Jornadas 11 and 12 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are on the horizon and, whisper it, Venezuela may just win a game. Honestly, @DarrenSpherical isn’t making this up…
CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018
Thursday 10 November 2016 – Estadio Monumental de Maturín, Maturín, Monagas State
Venezuela vs Bolivia
Tuesday 15 November 2016 – Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa, Quito, Pichincha Province
Ecuador vs Venezuela
Well, We Know He’ll Be Starting: Captain Tomás Rincón (Via: Zimbio.com)
Unsettled Venezuela Confronted with Best Hope of a Victory
Barely halfway completed, Venezuela’s campaign for Russia 2018 has long seemed over, but they have the chance to belatedly boost morale with this upcoming set of encounters.
Indeed, bottom of CONMEBOL qualifying with just two points, they will surely not have a better chance to gain their first victory than against their next opponents. A home match against Bolivia is the closest thing the region offers in the way of a ‘banker win’, even if a similar meeting with Venezuela currently competes for that unwanted billing. Bolivia’s woes on the road go back a lot further, however, with their last qualification win outside of their homeland occurring over 23 years ago in July 1993, a 7-1 thrashing against – who else? – Venezuela. The following summer, La Verde went to the USA to play in the World Cup, a now unthinkable prospect as they sit just two points ahead of La Vinotinto, second-bottom. Thus, as their only victory came against Venezuela (4-2 almost a year ago today in high-altitude La Paz), a win for the hosts in this battle of the basement boys is essential for manager Rafael Dudamel. He presides over a generation of players widely believed to be underperforming and urgently needs to restore belief in the future with what remains of this campaign.
However, though it may prove to be a blessing in disguise, his task has been complicated by the absence of a few key players, all of whom have picked up injuries in the past week: Málaga midfielder Juanpi (a rare player to come out of recent internationals with any credit), Copa Libertadores winner Alejandro Guerra and star striker Salomón Rondón. Their replacements are two players from the domestic league, Yeferson Soteldo and Luis ‘Cariaco’ González, as well as Christian Santos, who just this weekend scored his first ever goal in La Liga – a late winner for Alaves away to Osasuna.
These fresh setbacks will cause two additional changes to the line-up that will face Bolivia (though all three were in contention), but personnel switches were in any case inevitable after last month’s defeats against Uruguay and Brazil. As the national side struggles to settle, aside from captain Tomás Rincón, no other player in the current squad can be feeling confident about consistently starting games for the foreseeable future. Indeed, though Roberto Rosales is one of the most reliable performers at club level with Málaga and is poised to start this week, he has nevertheless been engaged in a surprise battle at right-back with Spanish second-tier player, Alexander González. Perhaps in more danger of losing his first-team spot is veteran centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Indeed, though his competitors in recent months, Sema Velázquez and Wilker Ángel, have struggled to convince, Dudamel has spoken of his desire to try Mikel Villanueva in this spot. Venezuela’s third Málaguista – who made his La Liga debut in the past month – may be more accustomed to the left flank, but the boss has said this position will be contested by Rolf Feltscher and Rubert Quijada. The latter, a 27-year-old from Caracas FC, is not short of champions who feel he ought to be given a chance though, for the Bolivia game at least, the former is likelier to receive the nod.
Further up the field, though predicting starters has made a fool of many in recent times, more than a few are anticipating an opportunity for Rómulo Otero. Given the absences of Juanpi and Guerra, the Atlético Mineiro playmaker would be a welcome addition on set-pieces and provide some necessary creativity from deep. To see he and 19-year-old Adalberto Peñaranda running the flanks could certainly garner some enthusiasm for the future of La Vinotinto. Another young gun, Jhon Murillo, is a possible alternative for either of these positions.
Up front, no Rondón and defensively porous opponents (26 goals conceded in 10 games – the same as Venezuela) means a 4-4-2 is on the cards. Torino’s Josef Martínez has put in some decent showings when granted opportunities (usually in tandem with Rondón), though, bafflingly to some, there always appears to be a question mark hanging over his head. A starting spot is not assured and he will face competition from the likes of Jacobo Kouffaty, Edder Farías and Manuel Arteaga. All three men are strangers to the starting positions and, with regard to the latter two for over the past year, the squad as a whole. Farías has been in impressive goalscoring form for Caracas since returning from an underwhelming spell in Portugal. However, the fact that all three men were included before Santos (again, only here due to a late Rondón injury) is symptomatic of a recurring issue that is of questionable benefit to the national team. Namely, players who regularly play at club level tend to be chosen ahead of those who are not, regardless of the calibre of league they ply their trade in. Indeed, in this case, Santos has struggled for starting spots at Alaves this season but he only moved to Spain a few months ago after a very successful goalscoring season in the Dutch Eredivisie. Yet, he appears to be far from the front of a queue that includes a player who made little mark in his brief European spell, as well as two who have not exactly taken their respective leagues in Ecuador and Bolivia by storm. Perhaps Dudamel feels they possess characteristics that are more beneficial to the system he is trying to implement. Although with around half the line-up for the Bolivia game likely to be different from those who took to the field last month, one is not expecting much coherent and confident team play.
Nevertheless, with no victories yet to their name in qualifying, many Venezuelans will take the first one any way they can. Right now, next week’s away match against Ecuador (who gave La Vinotinto the runaround in a 3-1 win last November) seems almost irrelevant in comparison with getting these first three points. Gain them, however, and who knows what effect the consequent seretotin boost will have on the side’s expectations and performance.
To read about how Venezuela get on against both Bolivia and Ecuador, please check back here and/or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.
José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC, Venezuela) & Dani Hernández (Tenerife, Spain).
Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Rolf Feltscher (Getafe, Spain), Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC, Venezuela), Roberto Rosales (Málaga, Spain), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal), Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes, France).
Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Arles Flores (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Luis ‘Cariaco’ González (Monagas SC, Venezuela), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Jacobo Kouffaty (Deportivo Cuenca, Ecuador), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Udinese, Italy, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy), Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora, Venezuela) & Renzo Zambrano (Real Valladolid, Spain).
Manuel Arteaga (The Strongest, Bolivia, on loan from Palermo, Italy), Edder Farías (Caracas FC), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy) & Christian Santos (Alaves, Spain).