The eighteenth and final jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s post-Under-20 World Cup rebirth capped off with a memorable, disciplined victory. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…
CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018
Tuesday 10 October 2017 – Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asunción
Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela
Video Highlights of Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 10 October 2017 (YouTube)
Herrera Heralds New Era at the Death
Rafael Dudamel’s youthful Venezuela concluded their late surge of good form by gaining their first away victory in their otherwise long-dead campaign, destroying Paraguayan hopes of progression in the process.
As revealed in post-match comments, La Vinotinto resisted some late-night intimidation and temptation – the latter arriving in the form of some rather talented young ladies sent to the team hotel – in order to methodically inflict some late, heartbreaking sabotage, courtesy of an 84th-minute Yangel Herrera winner.
The game was somewhat reminiscent of recent Venezuela encounters – particularly the away draw against Argentina – as the onus was on the opponents – for whom a win would, ultimately, have kept their qualification hopes very much alive – to break them down.
Thus, roared on by the ascension-seeking Asunción faithful, they took the game to Dudamel’s men, looking to gain advantages down the flanks in order to whip in balls as well as occasionally try their luck from dead-ball scenarios. Many of these crosses were dangerous and elicited gasps from both sets of fans but, truth be told, the vast majority were also very well dealt with by those in the centre, notably Wilker Ángel. Indeed, throughout most of the encounter, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez, whilst having to remain alert and viligant, was perhaps only ever once forced into an acrobatic save – and that did not occur until just before the end of regulation time.
The most troubling shot in the first half that he stopped was a mild worm-murderer from Rodrigo Rojas; it demanded merely a routine low save, though as with some other cross-area balls, goalkeeper did have to contend with the fear that a foot or other body part could so easily redirect it. Shortly afterwards in the 26th minute though, he did have to face his side’s biggest fright of the half as Cecilio Domínguez bypassed debutant right-back Ronald Hernández, broke into space inside the area on the left and cut back into the goalmouth. It looked as if someone in the centre was inevitably going to knock it home, yet somehow, after at least one attacker, defender and Faríñez all made tentative touches, the ball was cleared. The relieved rearguard thus breathed a collective sigh of relief – that is, until an Óscar Romero cross caused more concern, though ultimately this whistled by the cluster of bodies in the box and out to the other side.
Romero often put in testing balls, such as in the 38th minute when a lofted free-kick met Antonio Sanabria just inside the area, but the Real Betis forward’s header went a couple of yards over the bar. Four minutes later, Romero crossed in again – this time at the second attempt from the left – and Gustavo Gómez beat Ángel to the header, yet though he was in a promising goalmouth position, his effort comfortably evaded the target.
Throughout all of this, Venezuela’s forward forays were limited, though did gradually increase without seriously threatening the Paraguayan goal. Indeed, the only real attempt was Salomón Rondón’s soft 19th-minute header from a floated Tomás Rincón free-kick, which goalkeeper Antony Silva easily caught. However, Dudamel’s men were biding their time, hoping they could repeatedly thwart their hosts to the point where morale would slip and they would be on hand to grow in confidence and punish.
If home belief was dipping it did not tell immediately after the restart when, 30 seconds into the second half, a Paraguayan roamed down the right and played in a near-perfect cross. This found Domínguez in the centre with just one defender near him, yet his touch was off and the ball missed the target. Less than a minute later, the Paraguayans came storming forward again and their momentum was only halted by Yangel Herrera taking one for the team, strategically fouling and picking up a yellow card.
Venezuela composed themselves for a bit, though in the 50th minute had to deal with another series of scares. This involved Romero winning space again inside the area and crosses going across and back, but alas, without a killer connection.
Paraguay continued to see more of the ball, though with each passing minute, Venezuela became more bold. Suddenly, in the 61st minute, Jhon Murillo fashioned what was hitherto the best actual shot of the match, as from just outside the area on the centre-right, he blasted an effort that stung Silva’s palms and went out for a corner. Four minutes later, Murillo came even closer when substitute Yeferson Soteldo did well to hold off opponents and play him through on the inside-left. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, he had to quickly get a shot away, but the result was too close to Silva, who blocked low.
The game was more open and, with just one unanswered goal likely to suffice, Paraguay had certainly not given up hope. In the 68th minute, they caused further frights as a cross in from the right was headed goalwards; another player attempted to divert the ball with a high foot but Fariñez was there to dive-and-punch away. Three minutes later, after the ball was again played in and around the area, Óscar Romero had evidently had enough of the final-third frustrations and struck a low left-footed effort from almost 25 yards. Though it missed the target by at least a yard, it was hit with intent and was the closest Paraguayan effort of the half thus far. In so many ways, this said a lot.
Indeed, subsequently, Venezuelan forays became very commonplace and in the 77th minute, they came agonisingly close to the opening goal. Here, ultra-fresh substitute Rómulo Otero hit a slightly unexpected low drive from just outside the angle of the area on the right. Goalkeeper Silva could only parry this into the path of Rondón, yet with the goal gaping, his instinctive lunge instead somehow diverted the ball over the bar. Whether or not his footing and/or anticipation was at fault, it did look much easier to score.
A momentary let-off for the hosts. Five minutes later, they survived another one, as jinking Yeferson Soteldo showed what he can do at senior level, cutting into the area onto his right foot and hitting a strike that appeared to be net-bound, but instead clipped the top of the crossbar.
However, with their own forays yielding repetitive, underwhelming results, Paraguay’s fortune at their own end could not last and barely a minute after Soteldo’s effort, Venezuela finally made the heartbreaking breakthrough. After a home attack was snuffed out, the impressive Otero brilliantly bypassed an opponent on the right flank and then gained space from another inside the area, before pulling the ball back from the byline. It rolled for what felt like a potential golden age towards the middle of the area, some 16 yards out, where the steely-eyed 19-year-old Herrera met it in space and struck home. He immediately reeled away to celebrate with his fellow Under-20 graduate Soteldo as La Vinotinto‘s future gleefully hammered virtually the final nail into La Albirroja‘s 2018 qualification dreams.
Though most inside the stadium were deflated, their representatives did nevertheless attempt some hurried late attacks. One of the more notable attempts involved Fariñez parrying a strike and then, from the resulting cross, seemingly tipping Gómez’s powerful header onto the crossbar.
A sensational moment and some further heat exploded into the late proceedings as in the 89th minute Wilker Ángel and Gustavo Gómez let tensions get the better of each other and their mutual pushes resulted in double red cards.
Finally, in the last of what somehow turned out to be eight hair-pulling minutes of stoppage-time, Fariñez was called upon again to see the win out. At this point, an unexpected ball hoisted forward caught out the Venezuelan back-line and Rojas charged past them all, yet when confronted by the 5 feet 9 inch frame of Fariñez, his attempted chip was weak and the Caracas FC goalkeeper gratefully gathered the ball with barely a stretch.
When the final whistle blew, Paraguayan dejection, following a game which must have felt eminently winnable, was contrasted with elation from a Venezuela supposedly playing for nothing. However, this, their first away win in the entire campaign – only their second victory in the 18-game marathon and which extends their competitive unbeaten run to four matches – featured five players from the squad of Under-20 World Cup finalists. A rebuilding project is very much under way and at this moment, one can not rule out at least a dozen of the players whose exploits thrilled a nation several months ago receiving call-ups at some point during the Qatar 2022 qualification cycle.
Dudamel – who has just this week signed an extension deal to take him to 2022 – no doubt knows that he will certainly have difficulty in maintaining any kind of momentum from now until the next competitive games are played at June 2019’s faraway Copa América. Indeed, in preparation, he has requested “at least five friendly games” for next year, a relatively meagre number but one which was no doubt informed by the FVF’s cash-strapped situation as well as a mere handful having also been played in the previous World Cup year of 2014.
Still, against a backdrop of domestic turmoil, with such a promising pool of young talent already reaping dividends in tamden with a frequently shifting cast of – also relatively young – elders, really, what’s to stop this group from seriously competing for a spot at Qatar 2022? After all, upon final cold-light-of-day reading of the Russia 2018 CONMEBOL qualification table – their worst performance since the road to France ’98 – everyone will be determined to ensure that things can only get better.
Final Standings for the CONMEBOL Qualification Campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup (Wikipedia)
Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, W. Ángel, R. Quijada; S. Córdova (Y. Soteldo, 57′), Y. Herrera, T. Rincón, J. Murillo (J. Moreno, 81′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Otero, 77′).
Paraguay (4-4-2): A. Silva; J. Moreira, G. Gómez, P. Da Silva (M. Samudio, 62′), J. Alonso; Ó. Romero, R. Rojas, R. Piris, C. Domínguez (A. Bareiro, 56′); A. Sanabria (O. Cardozo, 56′) & Á. Romero.