Author Archives: hispanospherical

About hispanospherical

Football observer and occasional writer with a dedicated interest towards Venezuela, Spain, as well as, more generally, Latin America and anywhere else that gives me a tenuous excuse to improve my familiarity with the Spanish language. See here: https://hispanospherical.com/ Also a big fan of punk and its related genres. See here for a lengthy account of the 2016 Rebellion Festival as well as plenty of London-based gigs since: https://darrenspherical.wordpress.com/

Japan 1-4 Venezuela – International Friendly (19 November 2019)

With La Vinotinto, winning is now the order of the day. Below, @DarrenSpherical recounts the national team’s demolition of World Cup regulars Japan.

International Friendly

Tuesday 19 November 2019 – Panasonic Stadium Suita, Osaka, Japan

Japan 1-4 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Japan 1-4 Venezuela, International Friendly, 19 November 2019 (YouTube)

Venezuela Smash the Samurai Blue

A first-half goal-blitz spearheaded by a hat-trick-bagging Salomón Rondón gave Venezuela their third consecutive victory for the first time since 2007.

Posterity will surely gloss over the experimental composition of their hosts’ line-up and instead highlight this promising run of form from Rafael Dudamel’s men ahead of the commencement of their World Cup qualifying campaign in March.

The manager reverted to an ostensibly more cautious 4-3-2-1 formation, with Bernaldo Manzano stepping in for Júnior Moreno, yet from the off his side took the game to their opponents. Asia-based Rondón got the scoring underway in the eighth minute after he headed in a cross exquisitely supplied by jinking Yeferson Soteldo, who really made the most of his rare start.

In the 22nd minute, Wuilker Fariñez parried a close-range header to maintain the advantage and eight minutes later Rondón doubled it. This time, with a dinked pass he played through Darwin Machís and then received the ball back in the centre to finish to make it 2-0. Barely three minutes later, two became three as Yangel Herrera headed a deep cross into the path of his nation’s all-time top-scorer, who finished off a breath-taking hat-trick – his first-ever for La Vinotinto.

If Japan thought this may cause the Southern hemispherians to calm down, they were sorely mistaken: in the 37th-minute, Soteldo made it four after driving forward, playing a one-two with Machís and prodding home. Shortly afterwards, it was nearly five as Herrera cracked the post with a fine strike.

As is often the way after a side takes a commanding lead into the break, the second half bore little resemblance to the first. In this, Venezuela barely managed another shot of note, with Japan instead making most of the running. Fariñez occasionally saw his goal under threat, although he was equal to the efforts struck at him, with the solitary exception being Hotaru Yamaguchi’s 69th-minute shot from outside the area which took a huge deflection off Roberto Rosales and wrong-footed the goalkeeper to make it 1-4.

Subsequently, the hosts pressed to add more respectability to the scoreline but their efforts ultimately went unrewarded. Thus, Venezuela emerged with an impressive victory to add to their recent collection. A lot can change in four months but right now, in stark contrast to the Russia 2018 campaign, Rafael Dudamel’s men look like they will be more of a match for their South American rivals when the long road to Qatar 2022 begins in March.

Team Selections

Japan (4-4-2): E. Kawashima; S. Muroya, N. Ueda (G. Miura, 46′), S. Hatanaka, S. Sasaki; G. Haraguchi (Y. Ideguchi, 82′), G. Shibasaki, K. Hashimoto (H. Yamaguchi, 65′), S. Nakajima; M. Suzuki (K. Furuhashi, 46′) & T. Asano (K. Nagai, 65′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Rosales; Y. Herrera (J. Añor, 90+2′), B. Manzano (R. Zambrano, 82′), T. Rincón;  D. Machís (R. Otero, 61′), Y. Soteldo (J. Murillo, 77′); S. Rondón (F. Aristeguieta, 90′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly International – November 2019 Preview

Venezuela are set to close out their year with a solitary friendly on Asian soil. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides a preview of this little-anticipated encounter.

International Friendly

Tuesday 19 November 2019 – Panasonic Stadium Suita, Osaka, Japan

Japan vs Venezuela

japanstadiumnov2019

Tuesday’s Venue (FIFAUTeam)

To the Far East for Three in a Row

2019 ends for La Vinotinto with an opportunity to win three games on the trot for the first time since 2007.

They face relatively familiar foes in Japan, a team with whom they normally share the friendly spoils and this will be the burgundy boys’ only game in this international break, after arrangements for a scheduled game in Bangladesh against Paraguay collapsed.

Curiously, the build-up to this match has so far been rather muted, with barely a word said by the players to the media and the official comments of manager Rafael Dudamel comprising of little more than a few lines of platitudes. If this is all symptomatic of another breakdown in the squad-media relationship, then the hacks have been uncharacteristically quiet on the matter. Perhaps more likely a cause is the game’s kick-off: 6:25am Venezuelan time.

Thus, although the contest is being televised, no-one will be anticipating record viewing figures. Nevertheless, as the team’s next scheduled encounters will be a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March, the players know that even if not many of their compatriots back home observe them, their manager certainly will.

He seems to have an increasingly clear idea of his preferred personnel as the 24-man squad for this game offers no surprise omissions, with the absences of Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) and Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy) explicable owing to visa-related matters and injury, respectively. They have been replaced in the selección by Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara) and Williams Velásquez (JEF United, Japan, on loan from Watford, England). Zulia’s Gabriel Benítez is also present, increasing his standing following his last-minute call-up and subsequent debut against Trinidad & Tobago last month.

At the other end of the pitch, as Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) has excommunicated himself from Dudamel’s regime, once again Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico) and Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) are competing to grapple with the unenviable task of trying to knock Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China) off his perch. Also, as was the case last month, Boca Juniors’ striker Jan Hurtado has instead been sent to the Under-23 squad who, this weekend just gone, have prepared for January’s 2020 Olympics qualifying tournament with two defeats against Paraguay (3-1 and 3-0).

Otherwise, following on from some impressive recent performances, Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil) will be hoping to cement his place in the line-up. The chances of this occurring will be greatly increased if his manager continues with the more attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation that was utilised to effect against Bolivia and Trinidad & Tobago last month. Away against World Cup-qualifying Japan, however, he may well revert to his more cautious and customary 4-3-2-1.

Ultimately, either way, if a rare trio of consecutive wins can be achieved, the smattering of dedicated early-risers won’t mind too much about the means by which it is attained.

To keep track of how things pan out, please continue to check this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad

VinotintoNov2019

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (Silkeborg IF, Denmark).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Gabriel Benítez (Zulia), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal, Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Yordan Osorio (Zenit Saint Petersburg, Russia, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain), Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain) & Williams Velásquez (JEF United, Japan, on loan from Watford, England).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara),  Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico), Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) & Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago – International Friendly (14 October 2019)

Another routine victory for Venezuela. Below, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’s welcome dalliance with consistency…

International Friendly

Monday 14 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago

Video Highlights of Venezuela 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago, International Friendly, 14 October 2019 (YouTube)

Two Triumphs in a Row for Early-Rising Vinotinto

Following on from their 4-1 win over Bolivia in the same stadium, Venezuela ran out comfortable victors in their second consecutive game on caraqueño soil.

Prior to the opening whistle, Tomás Rincón was honoured on the pitch ahead of what was to be his 100th game for the national team. Subsequently, entirely in keeping with the chief characteristics of their captain, the burgundy boys put in a committed and disciplined performance, effectively putting the game out of sight before the quarter-hour mark.

Indeed, from the off, Venezuela took the game to their Caribbean opponents. Salomón Rondón could well have put the hosts ahead after just six minutes when he anticipated and controlled Rolf Feltscher’s cross, but his blasted strike was too close to goalkeeper Adrian Foncette. However, it would only be another five minutes before the country’s all-time record goalscorer could right this wrong: following on from a low right-sided cross by Darwin Machís, the ball found the striker’s feet and he converted from inside the six-yard-box to make it 1-0. Then, barely two minutes later, Granada attacker Machís also continued his recent spell of good form by doubling the lead after cutting inside from the left and, from just outside the area, striking with his right boot. In all honesty, Foncette should have easily stopped this admittedly-wicked, low drive, but this thought certainly did not trouble the La Liga man as he celebrated his third goal in as many games for club and country.

Subsequently, Rafael Dudamel’s team continued to probe, but their actual attempts on goal amounted to little more than a low Rómulo Otero strike that was parried and a Machís cross-shot that narrowly eluded his team-mates in the area.

During this period, Trinidad & Tobago did sometimes manage to alleviate the pressure on their defence and get forward, though without really troubling Wuilker Fariñez’s goal. That is, until the end of the half when they had two chances in quick succession: first, in the 43rd minute when, after a low cross evaded the sliding studs of Levi Garcia by a matter of centimetres, Marcus Joseph struck a left-footed effort from inside the area; this may have grazed the gloves of Fariñez but it was nevertheless always arcing wide of the target. Then, in stoppage-time, Garcia launched a free-kick from distance that deflected off a Venezuelan head, forcing the Millonarios stopper to force the ball over the bar.

Minus the goals, the second half was not too dissimilar in terms of the overall play but, owing to the home side’s clear superiority and two-goal advantage, lacked dramatic tension.

Venezuela had the majority chances, starting with Otero’s low strike in the 51st minute, which was followed two minutes later by a great ball from the right that Rondón – had he got his footwork sorted out – could have finished off. The visitors’ main chance arrived just before the hour mark when Ataullah Guerra dragged a strike wide of substitute Rafael Romo’s goal.

At times, Venezuela tried to combine centrally and nearly had success in the 62nd minute when, capitalising on a stray pass, a rapid move ended with Rondón laying the ball off to Otero, but the latter’s close-range strike was parried. Eight minutes later, a corner nearly led to that elusive third goal as substitute Juanpi’s cross was headed by Yordan Osorio towards the back post; his centre-back partner Mikel Villanueva lunged for it but, alas, could not connect as the ball instead went out for a goal kick. Finally, another substitute, Yeferson Soteldo, engineered Venezuela’s last chance of the game in the 83rd minute when he went on a characteristic run into the left side of the area. Ultimately, however, his low effort was blocked by the legs of the angle-narrowing Foncette.

Overall, even though this game is unlikely to live long in the memories of most, no doubt Capitán Centenario Rincón will not forget it in a hurry and neither will Gabriel Benitez. Indeed, the wing-back from Zulia made his international debut at the beginning of the second half, having only been called up to the squad a mere few days beforehand.

For coach Dudamel, it was a good work-out and an essential win and he can now bask in the incredibly rare feeling of emerging victorious in two consecutive games. For the time being at least, perhaps he has calmed down some of the speculation that the players were not entirely on-board with his plans and methods. That said, less than 24 hours after the final whistle, a barbed, dismissive comment from the self-exiled Josef Martínez directed towards Rincón and Rondón suggests that those particular flames show little sign of being entirely extinguished.

If there are any responses to his words, it’s most probable that they won’t arrive until the next time La Vinotinto re-assembles: next month for an Asia-based double-header against Paraguay and Japan.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Faríñez (R. Romo, 46′); R. Hernández (G. Benítez, 46′), Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; J. Moreno, T. Rincón;  J. Murillo (J. Savarino, 74′), R. Otero (J. Añor, 66′), D. Machís (Y. Soteldo, 46′); S. Rondón (A. Ponce, 78′).

Trinidad & Tobago (4-4-2): A. Foncette, A. Jones, S. Bateau, A. David, K. Julien; A. Andrews (R. Russell, 79′), N. Hackshaw, K. George, L. Garcia (A. Garcia, 65′); M. Joseph (A. Fortune, 74′), A. Guerra (D. Carr, 82′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 4-1 Bolivia – International Friendly (10 October 2019)

Okay, it was Bolivia not Brazil, but belt up, buddy: a beating’s a beating. Below, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto‘s thumping home victory.

International Friendly

Thursday 10 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela 4-1 Bolivia

Video Highlights of Venezuela 4-1 Bolivia, International Friendly, 10 October 2019 (YouTube)

Triumphant Homecoming for La Vinotinto

Against a backdrop of media speculation following Josef Martínez’s refusal to participate in a Dudamel-led national team, Venezuela delivered a confident, winning performance in their first game in the capital for eight years.

A pre-match appearance from celebrated athlete Yulimar Rojas was part of the extensive build-up for this encounter with an entirely domestic league-based Bolivia led by ex-Vinotinto boss César Farías.

Having already dispatched a stronger version of La Verde less than four months ago at Copa América, Rafael Dudamel must not have hesitated in opting for a more attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation.

From the off, the game was more open than is customary with Venezuela largely the beneficiaries of the midfield gaps which enabled the likes of Darwin Machís and hometown hero Rómulo Otero to run menacingly at the Bolivian back-line. That said, for the opening third of the game, the goal attempts were ultimately rather tame, with the best of an underwhelming bunch being a low Machís shot that was easily stopped and a couple of much-anticipated Otero free-kicks which the wall took the sting out. However, in the 38th minute there was considerably more success when el Escorpión instead crossed in a dead ball which goalkeeper Jorge Araúz badly misread, making it easy for Yangel Herrera to head home for 1-0. Three minutes later, the lead was doubled after Tomás Rincón dinked a ball towards the right edge of the area where, with two effective touches, Ronald Hernández knocked it into the centre where the roaming Rincón nudged it on to the back post area where Machís could not miss the tap-in.

Thus, the players went in at the break with the majority of the UCV crowd in a buoyant, boisterous mood. When they returned for the second half, it took just five minutes to further augment the atmosphere. Once again, an Otero free-kick from the edge of the area hit the tip of the wall, yet this time when it eventually dipped back down from orbit it was met by Jhon Chancellor, whose nod-on was acrobatically struck home via an overhead-kick from Salomón Rondón.

Although the result now seemed in little doubt, five minutes later Bolivia did get one back, with a well-crafted goal that took advantage of some slack Venezuelan tracking. Juan Arce chipped a ball towards the right edge of the area where Gilbert Álvarez picked it up and slotted it through the legs of Wuilker Fariñez. Aside from this blot, the Millonarios goalkeeper had a rather quiet night and will no doubt be disappointed to not have added to his clean sheet tally.

Subsequently, as is frequently the case, the inevitable glut of personnel changes sucked a lot of momentum from this game, with chances of note rarer to come by. Nevertheless, late on following a Rincón pass in the 87th minute, two substitutions did manage to have an impact, as Yeferson Soteldo nudged the ball on to Jhon Murillo in the area, who was fouled. The penalty was duly converted by all-time record goalscorer Rondón, who gained his second of the night to make the final scoreline even more emphatic.

Dudamel conspicuously celebrated this spot-kick, which earned him some social media derision from his critics who accused him of playing up to the cameras. Yet, after all the doubts that have been raised about the internal harmony in the squad and the players’ relationship to their boss, maybe he was just pleased and relieved to cap off a deserved victory on an emotional night.

Surely he will have been impressed by the performances of Otero and Hernández, perhaps the two players to have most boosted their chances of gaining regular starts. However, two others players he will not be able to count for Monday’s clash with Trinidad and Tobago are Roberto Rosales and Bernardo Añor. The former had a prior agreement to return to his club whereas the latter picked up a knock which denied him the opportunity of playing with his brother Juanpi in his hometown at the stadium of his club side. In his place, Zulia’s Gabriel Benítez has been called up, ensuring that there is still at least one domestic league player in the squad.

If – as is anticipated – Venezuela defeat their Caribbean opponents at the UCV, it will be only the second time during Dudamel’s reign that his side have won two consecutive games. Perhaps to some there doesn’t seem to be much to gain from defeating the team ranked 100th by FIFA, but the coach will certainly be aware that if he doesn’t, esteem-wise, there is plenty to lose. He, like most of the fans, will surely be hoping for another assertive, attacking display.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Faríñez; R. Hernández, W. Ángel, J. Chancellor, R. Rosales (R. Feltscher, 77′); T. Rincón, Y. Herrera (J. Moreno, 87′); J. Savarino (J. Murillo, 78′), R. Otero (J. Añor, 68′), D. Machís (Y. Soteldo, 56′); S. Rondón (F. Aristeguieta, 88′).

Bolivia (4-2-3-1): J. Araúz; O. Ribera, A. Jusino, G. Justiniano, J. Sagredo; E. Sánchez (C. Melgar, 59′) (C. Áñez, 74′), C. Arano (C. Algarañaz, 77′); L. Justiniano, J. Arce (V. Castellón, 59′), E. Saavedra (L. Vaca, 70′); G. Álvarez (C. Saucedo, 68′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – October 2019 Preview

Following on from last month’s dreary draw with neighbours Colombia, Venezuela are back in action with two rare home friendlies. What’s more, they find themselves in the jarring position of being the favourites to emerge victorious from both. Ahead of these, @DarrenSpherical provides a glimpse into the Vinotinto orbit.

International Friendlies

Thursday 10 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela vs Bolivia

Monday 14 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela vs Trinidad and Tobago

caracasstadium

Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Back in the Capital with Farías but without Martínez

The Venezuelan national team’s first game in the capital city for eight years will also see the return of a prominent compatriot who was then at the helm of La Vinotinto: current manager of Bolivia, César Farías.

It was he who led his homeland from 2007 to 2013, with his achievements including reaching the semi-finals of the 2011 Copa América, as well as taking the Under-20s to their first-ever World Cup (2009). Thus, on 10 October his adopted nation of entirely domestic league players will be duking it out with the country of his birth, now bossed by the man who led the same age category to their second-ever World Cup appearance two years ago.

However, although Rafael Dudamel has paid tribute to Farías in the build-up, there has been far more media interest in the resignation from national-team duty of striker Josef Martínez. Indeed, two weeks ago, the Atlanta United netbuster wrote an open letter in which, after casting doubt upon the motives and behaviour of others and airing personal grievances regarding mistreatment, he announced that he would no longer be available for La Vinotinto for as long as the current incumbent remains in situ. In response, Dudamel has defended himself against the charges of mishandling the relationship, suggesting instead that the player’s annoyance may really stem from not being the guaranteed regular that he is at club level, whilst stating that the door nevertheless remains open to him. In turn, any fear of a collective revolt has seemingly already subsided as at least six players including the returning senior trio of Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) and Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain) have all commented that they disagree with Martínez’s decision.

As he has largely been relegated to cameo appearances from the bench and – for reasons of dubious legitimacy – excluded himself from some games in the past year, the 26-year-old MLS striker’s withdrawal may, to some, seem manageable in the short-term. However, as Venezuela frequently look toothless in attack, when things inevitably go awry, there will doubtlessly be no shortage of calls from the many champions of the MLS goal-machine for a change to this unhelpful state of affairs and, perhaps, to the Vinotinto status quo itself.

Nevertheless, as the boss evidently prefers just one man up top, there is no doubt that for this role he instead prefers 30-year-old China-dweller Rondón. Competition within the current crop comes from Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico) as well as Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), although both men have got a lot of convincing to do, as neither could confidently call themselves the first-choice understudy. For some fans, more long-term hope is invested in the boots of 19-year-old Boca Juniors striker Jan Hurtado. However, this time he did not make the cut from the 30-man preliminary squad and has instead joined up with the U23s who are hoping to play at next year’s Olympic Games.

Otherwise, although Dudamel may be a tad unnerved by Martínez’s decision as well  as his task of keeping the collective mentality healthy, he nevertheless has a strong squad to pick from. Indeed, along with Rondón, Rincón and Rosales, he also has central defender Yordan Osorio (Zenit Saint Petersburg, Russia, on loan from Porto, Portugal) back for selection, fresh from impressing in the UEFA Champions League. Also having impressed at club level in the past month are the Barcelona-slaying duo at Granada, Yangel Herrera and Darwin Machís, as well as Brazil-based pair Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro) and Yeferson Soteldo (Santos). The latter was named his club’s player of the month and, after scoring against Fluminense, imitated Martínez’s goal celebration, stoking speculation that he was set to also depart the international scene – a claim that he has recently refuted.

Although Dudamel spoke at length at his customary press conference on the eve of the first match, he did not provide many hints regarding to his line-up plans. That said, most regular Vinotinto observers would surely agree that the attacking-midfield spots behind Rondón as well as the defence in general are where most of the healthy competition for places currently resides. Regarding the latter, Dudamel himself spoke of the wealth of options at centre-back, but one wonders if over at left-back, given the omission of Luis Mago, a start could be given to the man who replaced him before the hour-mark against Colombia: Bernardo Añor. Brother of Juanpi (Málaga, Spain) and son of an ex-international, he is the squad’s only representative from the domestic league, who not only plays for Caracas FC but was also born in the capital.

For the player, it would be an unforgettable way to mark the team’s return to the city. On the other hand, for the boss, whether he wishes for sentiment to enter into his thoughts or not, he knows that the best way to quash any more rumblings of player discontent will be for a double sweep over Farías’ Bolivia and Monday’s Caribbean opponents. On paper and according to the FIFA rankings, this is what is anticipated, yet during his tenure, Dudamel has only achieved consecutive victories once: a pair of 1-0 wins against Jamaica and then Uruguay at 2016’s Copa América Centenario.

Who did he field up front for both games? Yup, Salomón Rondón.

Oh, and Josef Martínez.

Both notched a goal each.

Indeed, there was once a time when this partnership was utilised to effect. Yet three-and-a-bit years later, the chances of it ever being witnessed again currently seem about as likely as Venezuela going more than a month without some internal drama.

To keep track of how things pan out, please continue to check this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad

VinotintoOctober2019Squad

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (Silkeborg IF, Denmark).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Yordan Osorio (Zenit Saint Petersburg, Russia, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico), Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) & Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Colombia 0-0 Venezuela – International Friendly (10 September 2019)

Little to see or learn in Tampa. Nevertheless, @DarrenSpherical is here to dutifully recount La Vinotinto’s friendly encounter with Colombia.

International Friendly

Tuesday 10 September 2019 – Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida, USA

Colombia 0-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Colombia 0-0 Venezuela, International Friendly, 10 September 2019 (YouTube)

Uncompetitive Venezuela Struggle to Dreary Draw With Vecinos

On a patchy NFL-marked pitch, Rafael Dudamel’s somewhat experimental side was anything but buccaneering as they failed to thrill against Carlos Queiroz’s much-changed Colombia.

Viewed context-free on paper, the draw could be perceived as representing progress on the 2-1 defeat this time last year, though witnesses to this bore-chore will beg to differ. After all, not only were there nine changes to the line-up of Los Cafeteros but, as Dudamel insinuated post-match, the majority of the Venezuelans given opportunities – due to the absences of Rondón, Rincón, Rosales and others – failed to take them.

Indeed, aside from the closing stages when some more eager substitutes had entered the fray, the burgundy boys rarely threatened Álvaro Montero’s goal. Instead it was Colombia who had the lion’s share of the ball, particularly in the first half in which they regularly caused concerns in and around the Venezuelan area.

The first of these came in the ninth minute when a corner was knocked away by goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez, but only to Bournemouth’s Jefferson Lerma, whose first-time effort went a little too close to the crossbar for comfort. Five minutes later the net perhaps should have been bulging after Yairo Moreno dinked a ball to Rafael Santos Borré at the back post, but the River Plate striker mis-timed the bounce and skied his attempted placement well over the bar. Soon afterwards in the 16th minute, a corner led to a scramble which Óscar Murillo redirected goalwards, but his low effort was thwarted by the legs of Faríñez.

Venezuela’s defensive lines were regularly finding themselves bypassed and given the runaround. In the 27th minute, Juventus’ Juan Cuadrado gained space from Juanpi to come in from the left and strike a right-footed effort that went narrowly wide into the side-netting. Ten minutes later, it was Cristian Borja who was granted too much room on the left of the area as he struck a venomous effort that mercifully missed the target. Off the back of this on the other side, Luis Díaz was able to strike from an acute angle, though Faríñez comfortably diverted the ball wide. Rounding off this series of goal-threats, two minutes before half-time the Colombia-based goalkeeper of Millonarios was a little more concerned as a low free-kick from León midfielder Moreno whistled just wide of the post.

Shortly before the interval, Venezuela finally made their attacking presence known. On the left, Yeferson Soteldo’s free-kick that swung into the area was headed on by captain-for-the-night Wilker Ángel, forcing Montero to tip the ball over.

Understandably, Venezuela made a couple of changes at the break and though the second-half play was to prove to be less one-sided, Colombia were nevertheless quick to generate a great chance to open the scoring. This time, in the 51st minute, Cuadrado menaced the Venezuelan backline before sliding the ball to Santos Borré in space in the area. Yet, the 23-year-old striker, though he managed to dink an effort over the outrushing Faríñez, perhaps should have done better as the ball – which glanced off the goalkeeper’s glove – was probably going wayward before safety-first Ángel headed it out.

Colombia’s next chance of note came in the 62nd minute when Díaz raced into space on the inside-left. A goal seemed inevitable yet the Porto youngster appeared to overrun it as he strode too close to Faríñez before finally attempting to square it to a team-mate; instead, his pass was easily cleared and he himself ended up clattering into the goalkeeper.

These two opportunities were as good as the half got for Queiroz’s men, with the subsequent 20 minutes very low on opportunities. When, however, some threats did re-emerge, they instead came from Dudamel’s men as some substitutes helped the team show some belated impetus late on. First of all in the 82nd minute, Darwin Machís took it upon himself to impressively burst past two players on the left before knocking in a testing low cross from the byline which Montero had to parry out to be sure. Later on, Rómulo Otero, returning to the side having been left out of the Copa América squad, made himself hard to ignore from set-pieces. Indeed, although his much-anticipated attempt in the last minute of regulation time went into the wall, he nearly won the match with another effort in the fourth minute of stoppage time. This came from thirty yards out on the left, delivered with his right and with trademark deadly dip, forcing Montero into a desperate and eye-catching parry before it could creep in at the near post.

Alas, there was no late steal here, with the game ending goalless. Overall, not disastrous, just tedious; an unadventurous, uninmaginative draw. Perhaps only the returning Otero and Ángel will feel in any way emboldened by their performances.

Ultimately, fans looking for drama should have just skipped the game and waited for the post-match comments. Indeed, although Rafael Dudamel attended to his media duties, the players did not, provoking anger from several broadcasters on Twitter. Stirring the pot, the Venezuela’s football federation (FVF) responded to this by releasing a statement distancing themselves, claiming that such decisions were taken by those directly in charge of the team (the manager and his coaching staff). To this, the national team’s Twitter account got involved, instead proportioning blame to the match organisers. They stated – amongst other things – that La Vinotinto‘s changing room was just 20 metres from their team bus, whereas the media mixed zone was off-route, some 200 metres away on the other side of the ground, nearer to the Colombian changing room. Needless to say, the soundbite-chasers who had travelled thousands of miles were not moved by these protestations.

This is just the latest chapter of an ongoing internal saga. Things are clearly not healthy in the Vinotinto camp and this is unlikely to be the last time that divisions bubble up to the surface, causing fans to roll their erstwhile optimistic eyes.

Team Selections

Colombia (4-3-2-1): A. Montero; L. Orejuela, D. Sánchez (J. Lucumí, 56′), Ó. Murillo, C. Borja; J. Lerma, J. Cuadrado (J. Campuzano, 57′), Y. Moreno (M. Uribe, 74′); O. Berrío (L. Muriel, 71′), L. Díaz (R. Martínez, 71′); R. Santos Borré (D. Zapata, 71′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Feltscher (R. Hernández, 46′), W. Ángel, M. Villanueva, L. Mago (B. Añor, 56′); Y. Herrera, J. Añor (D. Machís, 46′), J. Moreno (B. Manzano, 85′); J. Murillo (J. Savarino, 73′), Y. Soteldo (R. Otero, 77′); J. Hurtado.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly International – September 2019 Preview

For the first time since their quarter-final exit at Copa América, La Vinotinto has been reassembled. Just like this time last year, a kickabout with their neighbours to the west awaits. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides a look at those looking to see action.

International Friendly

Tuesday 10 September 2019 – Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida, USA

Colombia vs Venezuela

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Back in the Fray: Rómulo Otero (GettyImages)

Youthful Venezuela Bring Average Age Even Further Down

Reportedly owing to visa issues relating to his new club adventure in China, Salomón Rondón has been compelled to withdraw from Venezuela’s sole international friendly this month.

Thus, with MLS hotshot Josef Martínez also not part of the squad, a considerable opportunity has presented itself up front, with either Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) or Jan Carlos Hurtado (Boca Juniors) best placed to profit. Both men were absent from June’s Copa América cohort, but Ponce’s output has in the past suggested that he might have a future at this level, most notably last October when he bagged two goals in the Vinotinto shirt. On the other hand, although Hurtado has struggled to find the net during his senior career at club and international level, the 19-year-old inspires many a fan’s daydreams, even more so these days as he has recently been signed by Boca Juniors and donned their much-fetishised shirt in the Superclásico.

Rondón’s absence also throws up a rare situation for the national side: not one of the three R’s will be trotting onto the field in Vinotinto colours. Indeed, the other two components of the much-capped trio, captain Tomás Rincón and Leganés new-boy Roberto Rosales, have not been summoned. Neither for that matter has Yordan Osorio, who put in a memorable display against hosts Brazil in June and has recently earned a loan move to Zenit St. Petersburg. In an interview with Conexión Goleadora, one player currently in the USA has lamented the absences as well as the somewhat underwhelming prospect of only a solitary game having been scheduled, but as is often the case in matters concerning the FVF, the precise truth is difficult to discern.

Nevertheless, trials and experiments are thus guaranteed to be taking place in all the outfield positions. Firstly, with no Rosales, who has been fielded on both flanks at the back, a number of players will be hoping to get the nod on the left. These include the versatile pair Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile) and Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), both of whom were part of the Copa squad, with the latter the only one of the seven defenders to not see any action in the tournament. Alternatively, manager Rafael Dudamel could well give a run-out to the only home-based player in the squad, the recalled Bernardo Añor of Caracas FC, a 31-year-old who only made his international debut last year. Less promising – though rather curious – are the prospects of club-less 21-year-old left-back Alejandro Mitrano, hitherto a virtual unknown who was last recorded playing in Slovakia and who was called up to train with the squad after the initial 23-man announcement. Who knows what he may bring to the table, but such intrepid talent-scouring reinforces Dudamel’s previous comments about the long-standing issues the national side has with this particular position.

At centre-back, with no Osorio, Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) will be seeking to reclaim a place in the line-up after injury forced him to miss Brazil 2019. However, there is now much competition for these two positions, with erstwhile partner Jhon Chancellor – who has earned a big move to Brescia in Serie A  – and Mikel Villanueva – who, however awkwardly, has been accommodated back into the Málaga side – both also in the running. As, for that matter, is the recalled Under-20 2017 World Cup runner-up Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal), still only 20 years of age.

Moving on, Rincón’s absence opens up an opportunity in the line of three that typically helps to reinforce the back four as well as kickstart attacks. If regulars Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England) and Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) get the nod, then joining them could well be either Renzo Zambrano, who plays under ex-Vinotinto and Swansea City striker Giovanni Savarese at Portland Timbers or Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara), who last season made headlines for being the first player in a Copa Libertadores match to bag a goal, grab an assist, net an own goal and get sent off.

Alternatively, the outspoken and more attack-minded Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor – who, like Villanueva, has also been grudgingly granted minutes by cash-strapped Málaga  – could well reprise a role similar to that in which he shone in June against Bolivia. There is also a chance that Dudamel could instead utilise the La Liga man in the customary attacking pairing that will support either Ponce or Hurtado, although here, perhaps more than anywhere, there is no shortage of talented competition. Indeed, the four players who duked it out for these roles in Brazil are all in the current squad: Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal),  Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA) and Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil). However, accompanying them this time will be Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), unquestionably the biggest surprise omission from the Copa squad. Perhaps his individualistic streaks played a part in this decision, but as more than one fan commented during the tournament, the team really could have done with some of his gravity-defying set-piece spectaculars. Surely at the Raymond James Stadium he will be given an opportunity to win back the trust of Dudamel.

Overall then, plenty of players will be seeking to shake up the boss’s thinking. Even if the preparations for the game have not been ideal, the side are arguably in a better state than twelve months ago when, after a ten-month hiatus, they kickstarted their current cycle with a 2-1 loss against Colombia in a match also played in Florida – it was Miami Gardens back then and it is Tampa now. The Cafeteros are coming into it off the back of a creditable 2-2 draw with Brazil, whereas Venezuela enter poised in the highest position that they have ever attained in the official FIFA rankings: 26th. Ultimately, Dudamel may well be looking more for performances than a result, but any opportunity to get one over their historically more-illustrious neighbours will always be greatly received back home.

To keep track of how things pan out, please continue to check this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad

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Notes: Owing to visa-related issues at club level, Salomón Rondón has withdrawn from the convocatoria. Also, Alejandro Mitrano has been called up to train with the squad.

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (Silkeborg IF, Denmark).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Alejandro Mitrano (No club) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Jan Carlos Hurtado (Boca Juniors) & Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical