On a refined stage in the Spanish capital, La Vinotinto superbly displayed the potential that all followers knew was lurking somewhere. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides a match report of this breakthrough result…
Friday 22 March 2019 – Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain
Argentina 1-3 Venezuela
Video Highlights of Argentina 1-3 Venezuela, International Friendly, 22 March 2019 (YouTube)
Dynamic Venezuela Dazzle and Destroy
A fired-up Venezuela put in an exhilarating performance to deservedly defeat their more illustrious opponents for only the second time in their history.
To most neutrals, the game held at the home of Atlético Madrid was perceived as “Lionel Messi’s somewhat-anticipated Albiceleste comeback”, but not long after kick-off, a different, more captivating, story began to emerge.
Barely five minutes into the game, mask-wearing Roberto Rosales – situated on the left of defence, with U20 World-Cup runner-up Ronald Hernández over on his more customary right side – took the Argentine back-line by surprise with a sublime diagonal ball from the half-way line. It was received by Salomón Rondón who, with an aesthetically-pleasing blend of panache and aplomb, evaded his marker Gabriel Mercado, athletically controlling the incoming pin-point pass and striking the ball home with the outside of his right boot to give Venezuela the lead.
Behind, Lionel Scaloni’s side were spurred into action, with their no. 10 often attempting to orchestrate attacks by spraying balls to the flanks and weaving inside. However, it was never one-way traffic and for the following twenty minutes, the Argentines struggled to direct any meaningful attempts on target, with the opposition rearguard instead compact and regularly on cue to thwart. Despite this absence of genuine goalmouth action, it was nevertheless a keenly contested encounter that often required the referee to intervene: by the end of the night Venezuela would also go on to win the yellow cards battle, 6-2.
When Argentina did finally make the opposition goalkeeper work, it was worth the wait. This occurred at the half-hour mark when Messi jinked his way past three opponents before crossing a left-sided ball into the area that Lautaro Martínez powerfully headed. Many assumed that it was a certain goal but the Inter striker’s erstwhile Under-20 foe Wuilker Faríñez spectacularly managed to get a hand to it and divert the ball over.
This electrified the crowd and ushered in a chance-laden final 15 minutes of the first half. In the 35th minute, Venezuela could easily have made it two after Jhon Murillo played a ball through the middle to Darwin Machís who, virtually one-on-one with a defender scrambling over towards him, had his low effort saved by the feet of goalkeeper Franco Armani.
It was a let-off for Argentina, who two minutes later had a somewhat speculative Messi effort tipped over, but soon afterwards, their own goal was once again under threat. This time, Machís tenaciously evaded some challenges to nudge the ball to Hernández, who crossed the ball to the back post where Rondón’s header went past his marker Juan Foyth, goalkeeper Armani and, agonisingly, the back post. In the centre, Murillo voiced his displeasure at the lack of a knock-back.
However, the Tondela winger was to soon forget about that. Indeed, on the left side of the pitch just before half time, the alert Rosales quickly passed a free-kick to Murillo who, on the edge of the area, cut past Foyth and onto his right to curl an absolute pearl into the far corner. A fantastic way to cap off an eye-grabbing 45 minutes from La Vinotinto.
Following the interval, Argentina understandably resumed the game with three different players on the pitch. However, for the first 13 minutes of the second half, although Scaloni’s men won the possession stats battle, they did not give Faríñez much to do. This changed suddenly in the 59th minute when a rapid counter-attack saw Messi spray the ball to Giovani Lo Celso who, in turn, split the Venezuelan defence with a pass to Martínez, who swept the ball home.
With the deficit reduced, there was much anticipation that Argentina would at least get back on level terms. Yet, although they caused a fright soon after the goal with a knock-back across an uncertain area and there was also audible expectation whenever Messi was on the ball, they did not seriously test the goalkeeper’s gloves in the remaining thirty minutes.
Not that much more could be said for Dudamel’s men, but then, they were not the ones chasing the game. They stayed strong and defiant, never looking too flustered; they also made a couple of substitutions. It was to be these two reinforcements who were to play the leading roles in striking the knockout blow. Indeed, in the 74th minute, Yeferson Soteldo slid a ball into the area for Josef Martínez who – some may feel the forward engineered the contact – was adjudged to have been obstructed by the hapless Foyth. Subsequently, in his patented, gravity-defying manner, as seen multiple times before in the MLS, the Atlanta United hotshot stepped up to confidently dispatch.
With the game very much heading their way, in the 80th minute the thousands of Vinotinto fans present began to “olé” every pass. It was that kind of a night. Aside from two Messi free-kicks over the crossbar, there was little else for them to be concerned by. Just before the 90 minutes elapsed on this unforgettable night for Venezuelan football, another historic moment took place as recent U20 starlet Jan Carlos Hurtado made his senior debut and even found time to squeeze in one of his bustling, rampaging runs.
When the final whistle blew, although Argentina had huffed and puffed, nobody could dispute that this was a well-deserved victory for their northerly counterparts. Perhaps it was not a triumph from completely out of the blue, but given Venezuela’s mixed run late last year after ten months without any games, it was certainly not wholly anticipated either.
Many things can and will change before June, but may this wonderful night of composed, confident and deadly effective football serve as a launchpad and clarion call for a more prosperous future. The countdown to the Copa América begins here.
Unfortunately, it must be briefly noted that the result has been somewhat marred by politics. Prior to kick-off a photograph was published online of Dudamel and his side being officially received by Antonio Ecarri, the ambassador to Spain for the partially-recognised – that is, by millions of citizens as well as dozens of leading nations – President Juan Guaidó. The manager has since stated that, although it has been “politicised”, for him there was nothing partisan about this meeting, highlighting the fact that in the past he has also met with ambassadors of the current Miraflores Palace-occupant, President Nicolás Maduro. Evidently frustrated at the awkward tightrope he is currently navigating, he has thus offered his resignation to the country’s football federation (FVF). He is still set to take charge of Monday’s game with Catalonia – for which, Xavi will now sadly not be available – but what happens afterwards is currently anyone’s guess.
Argentina (3-4-2-1): F. Armani; J. Foyth, G. Mercado (W. Kannemann, 46′), L. Martínez (D. Blanco, 46′); G. Montiel, G. Lo Celso (R. Pereyra, 78′), L. Paredes, N. Tagliafico; L. Messi, G. Martínez (M. Suárez, 46′); L. Martínez (D. Benedetto, 70′).
Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Faríñez; R. Hernández, Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, T. Rincón, Y. Herrera (Y. Soteldo, 64′); D. Machís (J. Añor, 79′), J. Murillo (J. Hurtado, 89′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 72′).