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/

Venezuela 0-0 Colombia – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (31 August 2017)

The fifteenth jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s revitalised side earn a respectable point. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 31 August 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira

Venezuela 0-0 Colombia

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-0 Colombia, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 31 August 2017 (YouTube)

Dudamel’s Darlings Give Heart

Upon their long overdue return to Pueblo Nuevo, a new-look Vinotinto gained a credible point against their qualification-chasing neighbours.

Though at times it could be a bitty affair with the referee’s whistle frequently heard, Rafael Dudamel’s youthful side displayed admirable intent and tenacity to deny Colombia the two additional points they desired. In turn, José Pékerman’s 2nd-placed men often lacked attacking fluency, something which has been a consistent problem in their campaign as in their 15 games they have scored only 18 goals – just one more than bottom-placed Venezuela.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, much of the first half played in the politically contentious border state of Táchira – anti-government chants were heard and fan signs were assessed upon entry – was an ugly affair, with 26 fouls committed (the highest so far in this CONMEBOL qualifying cycle). Very few attempts on goal were made in the opening half, though given Venezuela’s porous defence (34 conceded) and the number of personnel alterations made, this could only be seen as encouraging for the Qatar 2022-dreaming hosts.

Soon after the half-hour mark, however, this changed, with one of the prospective leading lights of the next qualifying campaign called into action. 19-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez – a star throughout the U20 side’s remarkable run to the World Cup final in June – pulled off the first few of what were to be several noteworthy stops. The first was the best of the lot, with Radamel Falcao’s powerful nine-yard header in space from a left-sided cross superbly blocked with an equally strong glove. Subsequently, virtually on the goal-line, centre-back Mikel Villanueva did well to hook the rebound away from an opponent.

As much as jolt the Venezuelan back-line, this shook the game into life. Shortly afterwards in the 35th minute at the other end, seemingly out of nothing, Josef Martínez received a long ball on the centre-left, came inside and rattled the crossbar with a spectacular right-footed 25-yard shot.

In an immediate response, the action returned to Fariñez’s domain, with a corner being struck on the low volley by Carlos Sánchez and going only narrowly wide – though the Caracas FC goalkeeper appeared to have it covered. A minute later, 26-year-old Yimmi Chará – playing his first-ever competitive international – latched onto a ball on the right edge of the area, firing a low, well-struck effort which Fariñez was alert to, blocking and then collecting.

At this point, it did seem that if the hosts were to score, a goal was most likely to arrive following something sensational á la Martínez’s effort and/or a set-piece. Hitherto, captain Tomás Rincón, not typically the first-choice free-kick taker, had little joy with his dead-balls but as the half drew to a close, he floated in a fine, direct chip from some 45 yards. This found towering centre-back Jhon Chancellor in space, who rose well and quite possibly should have opened the scoring. Alas, instead his header went just inches wide of the far post and the two sides went into the interval level.

After the restart, Colombia had a similar opportunity in the 52nd minute when Edwin Cardona’s free-kick was headed by the central Falcao, albeit straight into the grateful arms of Fariñez. Five minutes later, Venezuela were gifted a chance when a long ball from the left was meekly passed back towards his own goalkeeper by Colombian Cristian Zapata. Criminally, it was too short and Salomón Rondón pounced, though from an acute angle inside the area, the striker could only manage a low attempt which David Ospina saved for a corner.

With the game opening up, Fariñez had to be increasingly attentive to play, something that he proved to be more than capable of. Indeed, just 24 seconds after the restart he did well to block a low Juan Cuadrado strike at his near post and, throughout the half, was quick to race off his line to intercept long balls and dangerous crosses. More than one of these came from the tricky left-sided wide man Chará, who in the 64th minute looked as if he was going to blitz the back of the Venezuelan net. Here on his flank, he picked up an exquisite, pinpoint ball, swiftly raced past his man into the area, before cutting over to his right boot. Yet, with home fans inhaling their breath and fearing the worst, he blazed his strike well over the bar, squandering one of the best opportunities of the match.

Up the other end, for the first 20-25 minutes of the second half, Venezuela’s chances were largely long-range efforts, such as a 69th minute attempt from U20 World Cup captain Yangel Herrera and a similar, earlier strike from his senior counterpart, Rincón. Neither of these caused too much trouble for Ospina, less so a 68th-minute effort from substitute Jhon Murillo, which went far over the bar from the left edge of the area. However unremarkable this particular attempt may have been, plenty were on the edges of their seats to appreciate the build-up play of Venezuela’s U20 World Cup top scorer Sergio Córdova, who held off three players as he roamed infield from the right before making the pass. This was one of a few eye-catching, positive attacking moments from the Augsburg man, in what was his senior international debut.

Murillo may not have covered himself with glory in the aforementioned move, but the Turkey-based attacker soon atoned, being the driving force behind two heart-racing moments, the first of which perhaps should have resulted in a goal. This came in the 71st minute when, almost back-to-goal some 30 yards out, he immediately bypassed one opponent with a deft touch, before gaining space from another. Rampaging into the area, he cut across a golden low ball towards Rondón in the centre. However, though a goal looked a near-certainty, whether owing to Zapata’s positioning and/or the West Brom man being out-muscled, the ball was nudged – by either striker, defender or a combination of the two – softly at Ospina, who blocked instinctively with an outstretched leg. This felt like Venezuela’s moment to once again do over their neighbours, who still haven’t won a qualifier in this country since 1996. Two minutes later, Murillo’s second effective contribution occurred when he evaded a challenge to shuffle inside from the left; his ball found fellow substitute Rómulo Otero and somewhat fortuitously ricocheted into space for him to screw a low left-footed effort. It was hit well, but a little too close to Ospina, who will have been relieved to embrace the ball with both arms on the bobbly turf of Deportivo Táchira.

Aside from one or two testing balls into the Colombian area, Venezuela were unable to make any more inroads of note, with instead the visitors creating the better attempts before the final whistle. Indeed, in the 77th minute, China-based substitute Giovanni Moreno blasted a blistering 25-yard left-footed strike, which Fariñez did well to parry out to the side. Five minutes later, the goalkeeper spooned a deflected Falcao shot wide and, though he also later awkwardly punched out a cross, when the final whistle blew to proclaim a stalemate, overall this was another impressive performance by the diminutive shot-stopper.

He will go down as the man of the match for many and, more generally, Dudamel will be pleased with how well his men frustrated their more fancied opponents, picking up only their second clean sheet of their 15 qualifying games. Although the coach’s future appears precarious owing to a lack of FVF funds, if he can stay in his post for the long haul, this gutsy showing featuring three Under-20 graduates certainly offers him a rather positive platform on which to build.

However, in the short-term, he will be a little concerned that skipper Rincón picked up a yellow card in stoppage-time, thus ruling him out of Tuesday’s away match with Argentina. Consequently, when Venezuela go out onto the hallowed turf of El Monumental, they will need all the composure and organisation they can collectively muster. That said, another thwarting of a high-profile qualification-seeker is certainly not out of the question, particularly as Jorge Sampaoli’s 5th-placed men have only scored 15 goals in as many games – two fewer than Dudamel’s darlings.

The 16th matchday could scarcely be less decisive for Venezuela, but nevertheless, a considerable test awaits.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; V. García, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; S. Córdova (A. Figuera, 84′), T. Rincón, Y. Herrera, D. Machís (J. Murillo, 60′); S. Rondón, J. Martínez (R. Otero, 55′).

Colombia (4-2-3-1): D. Ospina; S. Arias, C. Zapata, O. Murillo, F. Fabra; C. Sánchez (A. Aguilar, 75′), W. Barrios; J. Cuadrado, E. Cardona (G. Moreno, 63′), Y. Chará (L. Muriel, 80′); R. Falcao.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – August/September 2017 Preview

Jornadas 15 and 16 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are upon us and, amidst a very bleak domestic backdrop, a new era for La Vinotinto is being sought. Here, @DarrenSpherical previews the state of play in the Venezuelan ranks ahead of the matches with Colombia and Argentina…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 31 August 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira.

Venezuela vs Colombia

Tuesday 5 September 2017 – Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires.

Argentina vs Venezuela

Aerial video of Pueblo Nuevo, venue for Venezuela’s encounter with Colombia (@SeleVinotinto)

The Search for a New Identity Stumbles on

Given the dire economic situation and galling political machinations in a country which has recently witnessed countless deaths and which is also experiencing ever-rising poverty levels, for many Venezuelans, these international fixtures feel even more meaningless than they already effectively are.

If his comments with Four Four Two earlier this month are anything to go by, forward Josef Martínez would certainly prefer not to board the flight back home: “We can’t play…it’s a celebration when the national team plays, and my country is not in the mood to celebrate right now. Venezuela is suffering a lot. People are dying.”

Particularly in the last several months, many other leading players – including captain Tomás Rincón and star striker Salomón Rondón – have expressed outrage on social media over perceived abuses – often fatal – perpetrated by government-controlled forces and/or sympathising militias. Of course, partisans on the other side of the considerable political divide would be quick to tell another story, though no such folk appear to exist within the current Venezuelan squad. If they do, then they certainly kept their views to themselves during the ceaseless and often bloody protests that were at their peak in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the highly controversial National Constituent Assembly elections on 30 July 2017.

Civil unrest and everyday instability abounds, with supporters of the broad coalition of opposition parties (MUD) horrified at what they see as the shameless, undemocratic overriding of institutions by President Nicolás Maduro and his PSUV party. Perceived as economically inept authoritarians by many both inside and outside the country, the government instead have repeatedly claimed that they are victims of international – primarily U.S.-backed – interference and economic sabotage. Either way, without wishing to delve too far into this intractable dispute here, the tragic reality for Venezuelans sees them having to contend with the related unholy cocktail of frightening levels of crime, hyperinflation and chronic shortages of basic food and goods.

So dire are the straits that increasingly citizens try their luck in neighbouring Colombia, whether this be to search for cheaper goods, perhaps make some money selling petrol (still heavily subsidised) or even to seek refuge and start new lives. Smugglers sensing opportunities often journey in the opposite direction and thus such is the human traffic that tight border controls are often enforced, as they will be for the first of La Vinotinto‘s two upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Indeed, the 31 August encounter with Los Cafeteros in the border state of Táchira could scarcely come at a worse time. Nevertheless, Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel, who has himself spoken out about his nation’s turmoil and who even had to cancel a training module last month owing to disruptive protests, has voiced his determination. With his charges long since out of the running for Russia 2018, he has stated that qualification for Qatar 2022 has become his “obsession“. He is also especially delighted for the peripatetic national team to be playing for the first time in this cycle at San Cristóbal’s Pueblo Nuevo, a stadium which he has referred to as the “sacred temple of Venezuelan football“. This is the home of one of his ex-clubs Deportivo Táchira and, more pertinently, the site of some famous international scalps. He hopes it will become a fortress for his men, starting with the visit of the high-flying representatives of the country in which he spent much of his playing days. Though this Thursday’s encounter, which pits 10th against 2nd, may come at an inopportune time to inaugurate a revitalised fresh dawn, Dudamel must find some solace in the fact that Venezuela have not lost on home soil to Colombia in qualifying since 1996.

Though the coach’s 17-month tenure of La Vinotinto has been as similarly underwhelming as that of his predecessor Noel Sanvicente, the exploits of his Under-20 World Cup finalists have given him good reason to feel optimistic about the future. Indeed, it was he who steered this well-organised side to nationwide – and, in some knowing quarters, global – acclaim in June and he has included seven from their ranks in this rather experimental – when isn’t it? – and youthful 30-man squad.

These are goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC), who appears to be the new first-choice, with former occupant between the sticks Dani Hernández not even in this group; left-back José Hernández (Caracas FC), surprisingly the only defender called up from what was a very effective defensive unit; right-sided attacking midfielder Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Venezuela’s top scorer at the World Cup and who is already off the mark in the Bundesliga; versatile midfielder Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), surely the most impressive U20 outfield player and who is already making waves in MLS; 17-year-old midfield starlet Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira), scorer of memorable free-kicks, both at the World Cup and recently in domestic action; jinking dribbler Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile), who has turned some heads at his new club – not least for his dubious alleged resemblance to Barney Rubble – scoring twice in all competitions; lastly, forward Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC) who, frankly, could probably have done better at the World Cup, though has been afforded an opportunity here to provide Dudamel with something different in attack.

(Incidentally, the absence of winger Adalberto Peñaranda – arguably the U20s’ leading attacker – is owing to an injury he sustained in the World Cup final against England which he has yet to recover from.)

With almost all of the starting positions seemingly up for grabs, one would expect to see at least a few of these youngsters feature over the upcoming pair of games. A new-look Venezuela shall gradually emerge in the next 2-3 years, though with experimentalism the order of the day, one is not anticipating many players to sew up starting berths any time soon. One man who definitely won’t be a part of the Qatar 2022 campaign is 32-year-old Alejandro Guerra, who announced his international retirement earlier this month. Also, regarding two of the most notable absentees, one wonders what roles, if any, Málaga’s Roberto Rosales and Juanpi will play in the future; for many observers, this pair are amongst their nation’s leading exports and their omissions from such a large squad only bemuse and baffle.

Once a stalwart, right-back Rosales appears to be out of favour with Dudamel despite still being a La Liga mainstay, whereas the younger Juanpi, a versatile midfielder, struggled with injuries earlier this year and has not featured for his country since last October. Dudamel seems to prefer players he has consistently worked with, so as well as the U20 contingent, some of the following may well feel optimistic about their immediate international careers: centre-back Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), right-back Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), midfielder Junior Moreno (Zulia FC – the standout player in June’s USA-based friendlies) as well as attacking midfielders Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC) and Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil).

Of the current crop, two attackers who seem particularly well-placed to spearhead the assault on Qatar 2022 are the pair of 24-year-olds, Otero (scorer of almost exclusively sensational golazos in Brazil) and Martínez (scorer of 9 goals in 11 MLS games). Still, few things feel certain with the Venezuela national team – even the talisman Rondón has been misfiring this year, so his target-man status can not be taken entirely for granted – and other players will no doubt emerge and compete for places all over the park.

Stability and consistency, largely absent in recent years from La Vinotinto, are what is needed, though with Dudamel concerned with long-term objectives one can’t help but be apprehensive of his side’s chances against two sides (2nd and 5th respectively) very much focused on the here-and-now. Given the domestic situation, this can all seem rather trivial but ultimately, at this stage with just four games left of the long-since-dead campaign, it is more performances than actual results which matter for Dudamel. Indeed, it may not currently feel like it and at either of the final whistles it may still seem imperceptible to most, but in so many ways, a new generation must surely feel they have everything – professional ambitions and, perhaps, a new life – to play for.

Venezuela Squad

venaugust2017

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) & Carlos Olses (Deportivo La Guaira).

Defenders

Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Free agent), Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), José Hernández (Caracas FC), Edwin Peraza (Deportivo La Guaira), Rubert Quijada (Al Gharafa, Qatar, on loan from Caracas FC), José Manuel “Sema” Velázquez (Veracruz, Mexico) & Mikel Villanueva (Cádiz, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Junior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, on loan from Juventus, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC), Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira) & Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile).

Forwards

Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC), Edder Farías (Once Caldas, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Alavés, Spain).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela – Summary of Top Talents at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup

Following a tournament overview of Venezuela’s sensational performance at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of most of the squad members. Those seeking further information on the majority of these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification.

 Venezuela celebrating reaching the U-20 World Cup Final (@VinotintoSub20)

venezuelaflag

Venezuela

Tournament Overview

Coming into the tournament off the back of an impressive qualifying campaign, Rafael Dudamel’s trailblazers instantly put paid to fears that they would be too lightweight on the global stage, rapidly transforming from dark horses to genuine contenders before ultimately succumbing at the final hurdle.

They kicked of the competition’s opening game with an emphatic statement, overcoming a shaky first half to defeat – an admittedly sub-par – Germany 2-0. They followed this up with an emphatic 7-0 win against Pacific Islanders Vanuatu, who were billed by some as “no mugs”, on the basis of their narrow 3-2 defeat against Mexico, a scoreline that was later replicated against Germany. La Mini-Vinotinto, however, certainly made them look it, in the process booking their place in the next round. Subsequently, following a 1-0 win over Mexico, they confirmed themselves as winners of Group B, achieving in only their second Under-20 World Cup what regional heavyweights Brazil never have: a “perfect” record of three straight wins with no goals conceded. They could even boast the tournament’s topscorer at this stage, with the hitherto unstoppable Sergio Córdova having bagged four goals.

As one would expect, they were tested more in the knock-out stage, with Round of 16 opponents Japan rattling Venezuela’s crossbar from a free-kick as well as putting them on the back foot more than any of their previous opponents managed. However, the South Americans later re-asserted themselves and, though it took an additional 30 minutes to do so, eventually emerged victorious thanks to a towering Yangel Herrera header.

Next up in the Quarter-finals were the USA. However, though they agonisingly missed a golden opportunity in stoppage-time, the CONCACAF representatives largely turned in a less than imperial performance. That said, despite Venezuela greatly dominating the play and opportunities, it looked as if their profligacy in front of goal could cost them. Thus, extra-time was again needed and, to their relief and elation, Adalberto Peñaranda broke the deadlock in the 97th minute, with Nahuel Ferraresi adding a second. The States caused a late scare by pulling one back to become the first side to score in the tournament against Venezuela, but Dudamel’s darlings hung on.

They progressed to an all-South American Semi-final with Uruguay who, following a disputed penalty decision at the beginning of the second half, became the first side to take the lead against Venezuela. Subsequently, things did not look too promising for the burgundy boys. However, in the first minute of stoppage-time, 17-year-old Samuel Sosa came to the rescue, surprising almost everyone with a sensational free-kick into the top corner that will live long in the memory. Ultimately, his side were to edge Fabián Coito’s men out of the tournament, with two fine Wuilker Faríñez saves in the penalty shootout advancing them through to ascend to the most astounding, sublime, vertigo-inducing heights yet. Such was the fervour and focus on the nation that, post-game, coach Dudamel felt emboldened to take the opportunity to call upon the under-fire President Nicolás Maduro to “put down the weapons” and end the seemingly neverending armed conflicts that are ravaging the homeland.

Back to the football, having taken at least 120 minutes to achieve the admirable feat of seeing off the regional champions from the AFC, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, Venezuela reached the Final to meet a European side who also had to pinch themselves upon arrival. In the opening thirty minutes of their opening Group A game against Argentina, England looked as if they were going to receive a comprehensive going-over, yet emerged 3-0 winners. They were to grow in confidence throughout the tournament, delivering some impressive results on their journey to become the first English side at any level to reach a Final since…well, honestly, who can recall the precise year? Against Venezuela on Sunday 11 June 2017, they often looked formidable and deservedly took a first-half lead, courtesy of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. However, Dudamel’s charges saw more of the ball after the break and won a penalty in the 74th minute, yet, in a moment that defied the trajectory of Venezuela’s entire campaign, Peñaranda saw his spot-kick saved. Thus, when the final whistle later blew, his nation had to settle for runners-up medals.

Though it is a struggle not to contemplate “What could have been?” – and that many will is, of course, partly a testament to how readily they were accepted as viable contenders – it should go without saying what a phenomenal achievement this second-place finish represents. Plaudits of course go to Rafael Dudamel and particularly the way in which he organised his well-drilled side who rarely looked overrun, conceding just three goals in their seven games – even tighter than the record of seven goals let in during nine qualification matches. Further upfield, though the goals were more infrequent during the knock-out phase where set-pieces came to the fore, they did nevertheless finish the tournament as topscorers with 14. Certainly, the Vanuatu game greatly bolstered this tally but, as they were not really reliant upon a conventional striker, they demonstrated that there is a considerable amount of attacking talent to be located throughout their ranks.

With such a promising batch of players, expectations for La Vinotinto‘s seniors in the upcoming decade have suddenly escalated. Given that they currently sit bottom and are already out of the running of CONMEBOL qualifying with just six points from a possible 42, when they embark on the road to Qatar 2022, up really is the only way they can go. That Dudamel is also their coach, with his 14-month reign yielding results little better than those of his predecessor Noel Sanvicente, should cause a mixture of both caution as well as optimism amongst the level-headed. Indeed, caution because there are already plenty of talented individuals in the senior set-up, yet whether due to the volatile situation in the country, internal politics within the squad as well as the footballing authorities and/or some questionable tactical/selection choices, they have been underperforming. However, no doubt currently overriding these misgivings are the visions of imminent prosperity which Dudamel seems best-placed to oversee. Indeed, for all the individual talents within this Under-20 squad, their collective qualities were paramount and the boss, an ex-international goalkeeper, will want to integrate as many players from this crop as he can in order to perpetuate and fine-tune his footballing creed. Who knows, perhaps the disparity in results at the two levels can partly be understood as a case of these wide-eyed and eager youngsters simply being more receptive to his ideas.

Who knows, indeed. Who knows just how many of these heroes will go on to enjoy careers that at least equal those of their peers at club level, let alone at international? If lucky, history suggests maybe 3-5. Thus, as plenty is still very much up in the air regarding their fates, what follows is a summary of the majority of the squad members who made it onto the pitch during this record-breaking, inspirational South Korean campaign.

venezuelaresults

venezuelaresults2

(Group B table and knock-out stage results courtesy of Wikipedia; to read about and view highlights of each game, click here and scroll down)

Talents

Yangel Herrera (Midfielder, No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City)

Captain Fantastic, this athletic, assured midfielder continued where he left off at the qualifiers, providing leadership, one solid half of the two-man protective shield in front of the back four as well as some significant contributions to attacks. Indeed, the ex-Atlético Venezuela man played every single minute of the tournament and rarely looked flustered, instead regularly displaying morale-lifting composure and intent that helped both define and enhance his team’s play. Occasionally looking to cut open defences from deep, he demonstrated his impressive range of passes as well as often sought to get his head on the end of set-pieces – most unforgettably doing so in extra-time against Japan, when he nodded home the winning goal. Thus, though this man who has already turned some heads in his brief MLS career is primarily fielded for his defensive play, he is rather nimble on the ball and enjoys a forward foray or two. As with three other members of this squad, he has already been capped at senior level and, right now, his long-term international prospects are quite possibly the brightest. A consistent starting place as Tomás Rincón’s more attack-minded side-kick seemingly beckons for the man awarded the Bronze Ball by FIFA, as he was adjudged to be the tournament’s third best player. For this site, he was Venezuela’s top player.

Adalberto Peñaranda (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford)

The only regular starter who was not part of the qualifying campaign, this creative attacker nevertheless slotted in rather well, ultimately proving to be his side’s main threat from open play. Indeed, the most high-profile Venezuelan in the squad, this dangerous dribbler often set up team-mates, gaining three assists: a drive infield followed by a short pass to Sergio Córdova for the second against Germany, a cross for Velásquez to head home in the vanquishing of Vanuatu and, in the marginal win over Mexico, a well-weighted dinked central ball for Córdova’s winner. He also scored twice: a clinical low strike against Vanuatu and a slid finish to finally break the deadlock in the Quarter-final against the USA. Such returns should silence the naysayers who claim he has “no end product” – likes a spot of showboating, you see, does ol’ Penny – though, admittedly, he did frustrate at times, particularly in the latter stages. It should not go unremarked that this senior international also won the penalty in the Final, yet some English bandwagon-jumpers may only take away from the tournament his subsequent saved spot-kick. This may burden him for a fair while, though as he is set to return to parent club Watford, if – and, judging by the loan rumours and some work permit issues, it is a big “if” – Hertfordshire’s finest field him one day, perhaps he will be able to alter some perceptions first-hand.

Ronaldo Lucena (Midfielder, No. 16, Zamora FC)

Herrera’s ever-present partner-in-crime also responsible for some crucial tackles and reinforcing the back four. Like the captain, the – much – younger brother of 36-year-old ex-international Franklin also participated in many attacking moves, possessing an even greater range of passes, especially from deep positions. This, he most notably demonstrated against Vanuatu with an exquisite chipped ball that Córdova brilliantly controlled and finished off for his second of the game. However, undoubtedly his – and, arguably, Venezuela’s – greatest weapon was his pinpoint set-pieces, with one corner of his setting up Herrera’s goal against Japan and another providing Nahuel Ferraresi with a header to double the lead against the USA. Had some of his team-mates shown more composure, he could well have outshone Peñaranda with the quantity of goals marked by his involvement. Though he himself did not score, owing to his integral play – not to mention an outrageous 45-yard free-kick that hit the post against England – his performances gained much attention and acclaim, with his value to the team having greatly increased since his impressive, if more low-key, qualifying outings.

Wuilker Fariñez (Goalkeeper, No. 1, Caracas FC)

It is becoming harder to doubt the career potential of this supremely likeable 5-feet-9-inch shot-stopper, as though here he faced some more physically imposing opponents, his performances and statistics only improved: three goals conceded in seven games, which can be favourably compared to the seven goals in nine games that saw him heralded as the best goalkeeper in qualifying. What he lacks in height, he appears to compensate for with bottomless reserves of spring and alertness. True, he was not greatly troubled in the Group Stage – so uneventful was it at times, that he even followed in that hallowed tradition of goalscoring Latin American ‘keepers by netting a spot-kick against Vanuatu – but this certainly changed in the knock-out phase. Indeed, here the 19-year-old – who was the No. 1 for La Vinotinto‘s last two World Cup qualifiers – had more shots to contend with, particularly against Uruguay, where he ultimately enhanced his reputation for astutely saving penalties, heroically thwarting two in the shootout. He can add these to his list of scalps which includes Alexis Sánchez from the March senior preliminary with Chile. With a considerable run as the nation’s first-choice seemingly on the cards, it will be intriguing to see how far in the club game he can go. Dani Hernández, the man who he appears to have usurped, is currently chasing promotion in Spain’s second tier and also already has a short stint in the top-flight under his belt. Can Fariñez defy some more odds and surpass these credentials?

The Defence

Great as the little big man was, he did not really have to face an onslaught of the kind he may become accustomed to at senior level. For this, he has Herrera and Lucena to thank, as well as, of course, the defence. Apologies to the Alan Hansens and Gary Nevilles of this world for lumping them all together in the same section, but it has felt as if this year’s consistently impressive defensive record is more of a collective achievement.

That said, certain individuals were more notable than others, in particular right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC), who played all 16 games of qualifying and the World Cup, hardly ever – if at all – putting a defensive foot wrong. Furthermore, though he did not contribute to any goals, he can certainly roam up the flank. With Roberto Rosales’ senior career surprisingly in limbo at the moment, Hernández could well be in with a chance of at least earning a senior call-up in the not-too-distant future.

The other leading member of the back four has been centre-back Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) who, were it not for an accumulation of yellows that ruled him out of the Semi-final, would have also been an ever-present. As in qualifying, he was prominent at the back, repelling almost everything that came his way in what was a very tight defensive unit; against Vanuatu, he even opened the scoring with a header at the back post.

Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira), Dudamel’s choice of partner for Velásquez throughout this tournament, initially came as a surprise, as Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC) had been more than capable during qualifying. However, though the 18-year-old Ferraresi did look a little shaky in both the Semi-final as well as the Final – in which many blamed him for allowing Calvert-Lewin to manoeuvre and score – he largely acquitted himself well. He too got on the scoresheet, doubling the lead with a header against the USA. Mejías, on the other hand, only really played the Uruguay game with Ferraresi; in this encounter, there did appear to be some shakiness at the back, though given Mejías’s impressive qualifying form, it may be a little harsh to dwell on this.

Overall, though none of these centre-backs possess an imposing stature comparable to, say, Uruguay’s Agustín Rogel or the admirable ball-playing qualities of his partner Santiago Bueno, it nevertheless seems that Dudamel is blessed with some very committed and alert individuals able to carry out his instructions to the letter.

Otherwise, José Hernández (No. 5, Caracas FC), the main occupant of the left-back role, was also effective in repelling danger, if somewhat less conspicuous than his colleague over on the other flank. Hernández managed to win the position during the tournament from erstwhile regular Eduin Quero (No. 3, Deportivo Táchira), who may have had an assist to his name following a low cross finished off by Samuel Sosa against Vanuatu, but was perhaps considered a potential liability owing to his two red cards in a mere six qualifying games.

Sergio Córdova (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 19, Caracas FC)

The team’s topscorer with four, all of which he netted during the Group Stage. At this point, the right-sided attacking midfielder who sometimes drifts infield appeared to be the side’s most improved player since the qualifiers (during which he put in some decent, energetic performances but only netted once in nine games). However, as the tournament wore on, though it was not for the want of trying, he could not add to his tally, with a potential hat-trick squandered during the USA clash – not to mention a presentable one-on-one against England. It is no exaggeration to say that he could have at least doubled his haul. However, as he often found himself in good positions, beat opponents with his pace and drive, if he can just develop greater composure in front of goal, he could become something rather formidable indeed. He demonstrated as much in the first three games with the quality and variety of his four goals: the first, against Germany, was a clinical low drive; in the subsequent victory over Vanuatu he was alert to head home and then, later, superbly control and poke home Lucena’s fine ball; lastly, against Mexico, he brilliantly took on Peñaranda’s chipped central ball, before holding off a defender, bypassing the goalkeeper and bamboozling another opponent on the line with his calculated finish. This goal was put forward by FIFA as one of the best of tournament.

Yeferson Soteldo (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, Huachipato, Chile)

The fourth and final starlet of this crop to have already been capped at senior level, perhaps owing to the inclusion of Peñaranda, Venezuela’s leading attacking threat in qualifying was surprisingly less of a presence here. Indeed, of his six appearances, only three were starts and just the one of these – the Round of 16 clash with Japan – occurred in the knock-out phase. Similar to Fariñez, one of the key questions going into the tournament was whether the five-feet-three-incher destined to be forever dubbed the “diminutive dribbler” could hack it against potentially more physical opponents (at least within his own age range). As he did not feature so much, the jury is still out, though he did make some notable contributions that suggest in time he could prove to be just fine. Indeed, against Germany, he played a role in disconcerting a defender, which ultimately paved the way for the opener and against Vanuatu, he came off the bench and jinked his way along the byline before pulling back for Jan Hurtado to score the sixth. His cameos did not always reap dividends – he will still be counting his lucky stars that his Semi-final shootout penalty off the bar did not prove fatal – but sometimes they garnered him new admirers, not least in the Final. Here, his often glue-like relationship with the ball elicited excitement in the stands and in homes across the world, particularly when he shrugged off an opponent, turned and played in Córdova, who unfortunately had his close-range shot blocked.

Ronaldo Peña (Forward, No. 9, Las Palmas Atlético)

“One goal in 16 games? That’s a full-back, not a forward.” So once boomed current Scotland manager Gordon Strachan – albeit with slightly different statistics – during a spell of television punditry, bemoaning the shifting definitions and roles of those fielded up top. However, though Peña has received some justifiable criticism for failing to convert chances laid on a plate for him – particularly in qualifying, though there were also instances of this in the World Cup – he nevertheless again made some vital supplementary contributions. Indeed, he is clearly stronger than his attacking colleagues and was often utilised well shielding the ball and holding off opponents, thus creating space and making life much easier for his chums. He was also regularly the target of balls pumped upfield and, with flick-ons and passes, was sometimes able to put team-mates in advanced positions, such as when he recorded an assist with the outside of his boot for Peñaranda’s goal against Vanuatu. Also, though the floodgates did not subsequently open, he did at least get Venezuela off and running with their first goal of the tournament, a very well-taken effort against Germany, in which he bypassed both a defender and the goalkeeper before knocking home.

Best of the Rest

There were several other players granted minutes, with 17-year-old Samuel Sosa (Midfielder, No. 15, Deportivo Táchira) undoubtedly the most significant. He was not involved with either the Under-20 or the Under-17 qualifying stages earlier this year, but has already notched up a respectable number of domestic league appearances (22). Here, he came off the bench five times to rack up a mere two hours of action, yet given his age and his contributions-per-minute ratio, he is surely one to keep an eye on. Indeed, he scored from a low Quero cross in the Vanuatu rout, then later against the USA helped Peñaranda finally break the deadlock in extra-time with a fine low ball in from left. However, the moment he will long be fondly recalled for came in the first minute of stoppage-time of the Semi-final against Uruguay. Here, he struck a spectacular left-footed free-kick into the top corner, rescuing his nation from near defeat and taking the game into an additional thirty minutes.

Following some trickery at the very end of this additional period, he also set up fellow 17-year-old Jan Hurtado (Striker, No. 13, Deportivo Táchira), who was thwarted by the post. Like his club team-mate Sosa, Hurtado has also impressed in the domestic league, netting five times already in his brief career. Unlike the midfielder, however, he did play at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-17 qualifying tournament, netting three times in nine games. Here, he gave a glimpse of what he can do, tapping home Soteldo’s cross to score against Vanuatu.

Lastly, as he failed to score in any of his six appearances (four as a starter) and found himself on the end of moves far less frequently than Córdova, Ronaldo Chacón (Forward, No. 11, Caracas FC) will surely wish he had made more of a mark. Nevertheless, given that two years ago he scored three times in four Under-17 qualification games and, earlier this year at the Under-20 preliminary tournament, netted twice in seven matches (five starts), one feels he may have more to offer in another set of circumstances.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Uruguay – Summary of Top Talents at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup

Following a brief tournament overview of Uruguay’s campaign at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of several players worth keeping an eye on. Those seeking further information on the majority of these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification.

Santiago Bueno with Federico Valverde (and his Silver Ball trophy) (@SantiBueno98)

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Uruguay

Tournament Overview

Such were the expectations of the CONMEBOL champions that their eventual fourth-place finish will have caused disappointment throughout their ranks as well as their nation of perennial overachievers. Perhaps things could have been different had Facundo Waller not got injured in the first game and if potential star man Rodrigo Amaral had been fully fit, but nevertheless, Fabián Coito’s men have much to feel positive about in what any neutral analysis would brand a successful campaign.

They kicked it off with an impressive 1-0 win against Italy, with Amaral coming off the bench to strike a phenomenal free-kick into the opposite top corner. Subsequently, they eventually saw off a talented Japan side 2-0, before drawing 0-0 with South Africa, a game in which they were surprisingly often on the back foot. Nevertheless, they had already qualified and were to do as Group D winners, keeping three straight clean sheets along the way.

In the Round of 16, they chalked up a fourth, as captain Nicolás De La Cruz’s penalty was just about enough to squeeze past Saudi Arabia. However, their defensive miserliness swiftly came to an end in the Quarter-final, as Portugal took a first-minute lead; Uruguay recovered, though soon after they levelled up the score for the second time in the 50th minute to make it 2-2, both teams seemed fairly content to settle for a penalty shootout. This was the first of three that the South Americans would face in the tournament, though the only one from which they would emerge victorious.

They thus went into a Semi-final clash with regional rivals Venezuela, the only side to defeat them in qualifying. Uruguay almost avenged this courtesy of Nicolás De La Cruz’s second converted penalty of the competition, yet owing to a sensational Samuel Sosa stoppage-time free-kick were forced into extra-time, after which penalties followed. Alas, De La Cruz was to be one of two in the sky blue shirts to have their spot-kicks saved as, once again, La Mini Vinotinto got the better of them. Subsequently, they strolled into the Third Place match with group foes Italy, yet though they had a decent second half, the 90 minutes finished as a 0-0 stalemate. The shootout, held immediately afterwards, was won relatively comfortably by the Europeans.

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(Group D table and tournament results courtesy of Wikipedia; to read about and view highlights of each game, click here and scroll down)

Top Talents

Federico Valverde (Midfielder, No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla)

Starting all seven games, the solitary regular to have not also played a part in the qualifying process was adjudged to be the second best player of the tournament, winning the Silver Ball. Back in 2015, the ex-Peñarol man scored a remarkable seven goals in eight Under-17 qualifying games, but here he was fielded in a deeper midfield role, caressing the ball with great poise as he often sought to kick-start and galvanise attacks. He was regularly on set-piece duties and had a role in the first goal against Portugal when his corner was volleyed by Nicolás Schiappacasse onto the bar, before Santiago Bueno headed home the rebound. Later on, he made it 2-2 with his only goal of the tournament, which came from the penalty spot. Impressively, he also converted a further three penalties, albeit during shootouts. Given that Uruguay only netted seven goals in seven games, with four coming from dead ball situations, one could easily dispute FIFA’s high ranking of the playmaker Valverde, though it must be said that his side was often let down by a lack of options and finishing in the final third. Indeed, the Real Madrid youngster seemed to feel a little of these frustrations against Venezuela when he took matters into his own hands. He thus nearly scored directly from a corner, almost caught out the goalkeeper with a fine, curling free-kick as well as attempted a – rather less accurate – strike from near the halfway line.

The Defence

Though the front line provided relatively little to write home about, those fielded at the back certainly came away with well-earned plaudits. Indeed, having entered the tournament with a decent qualifying record of eight let in over nine games, they thus conceded just three goals in their seven World Cup games: one a free-kick, another a long range golazo and the other – the opener against Portugal – the result of Valverde, of all people, getting dispossessed within the first minute and the Europeans quickly capitalising.

For this goal, the ball was slid by Xadas to Xandre Silva, who finished off. Bypassed and split open along the way were centre-backs Santiago Bueno (No. 2, Barcelona Juvenil A) and Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional). Given the circumstances, it is debatable how much blame can be apportioned to the pair, but they both otherwise had very impressive tournaments and can justifiably be considered amongst their country’s most promising prospects. Indeed, Bueno was more prominent than he was in qualifying, starting all the games except the Third Place decider, scoring with a close-range header against Portugal and often impressing with his ball-playing skills and passing – most notably when he hoisted a well-directed upfield ball which ultimately turned into a goal for Nicolás Schiappacasse against Japan. Rogel, on the other hand, was perhaps a little overshadowed at times due to the blossoming of the more nimble Barcelona youngster, but he nevertheless solidified his reputation as a persistent, intimidating brick wall, who will relentlessly harass and harry opponents. Though he did not score, he was still a nuisance at set-pieces, with his muscular frame and intent unsettling defenders.

The wing-backs also impressed, with right-back José Luis Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio) winning much praise, not only for his defensive work but also his occasional forays up his flank. Indeed, this ever-present was particularly prominent in the Third Place game, cutting inside and nearly scoring at the end; his most telling contribution, however, was his pass to Schiappacasse for the striker’s goal against Japan. Left-back and fellow regular Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas) had a similarly impressive tournament and, just as he did in qualifying, got on the scoresheet. Indeed, with one of several overlapping runs he embarked on, he received a pass from midfielder Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio) – who was not used so much in the competition, but had his moments – and from inside the area squeezed a shot home, to seal the 2-0 win against Japan. Owing to the manoeuvrings of his agent Daniel Fonseca earlier this year which led to him being bought out of his Nacional contract and then registered with a second division side he has never played for, he is very much in the shop window.

Lastly, recognition is certainly in order for goalkeeper Santiago Mele (No. 1, Fénix), who made some fine stops, keeping a tournament-best five clean sheets, as well as remarkably saving three spot-kicks in a row against Portugal. Off the back of that particular feat, he will have been disappointed not to have saved any of the subsequent nine penalties he faced in his following two shootouts – Yeferson Soteldo’s hit the bar – but his credentials have nevertheless been bolstered. Indeed, though Venezuela’s Wuilker Faríñez was widely considered to be the best shot-stopper in qualifying, the favourite of the dissenters was Mele and here he also had admirers eager to put him forward for this tournament’s accolade.

Nicolás De La Cruz (Attacking-midfielder, No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay)

In terms of consistency, certainly the best player in qualifying, yet while in South Korea the captain had his moments, he was less of a driving force and will surely come away feeling disappointed. Indeed, he was often an attacking presence and showed glimpses of what he can do, but his tournament got off on the wrong foot and never really consistently recovered to a plateau that this determined battler would be able to accept. In the opening game with Italy, just as did occur on the first day of qualifying, he had a penalty saved and then, in the following match with Japan, missed a golden one-on-one opportunity. In the knock-out phase, he went some way towards restoring internal equilibrium by scoring from the spot twice: first against Saudi Arabia (a penalty which he also won after forcing a handball) and then in the Semi-final with Venezuela. However, though there is certainly a lot of potential to be nurtured here, he was to leave the competition in a very dejected state, with his decisive shootout spot-kick being saved by Faríñez, which thus denied Uruguay a place in the Final.

Rodrigo Amaral (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Nacional)

Still, though De La Cruz did not exactly fire on all cylinders, he nevertheless had more to say for himself than Rodrigo Amaral. The scorer of five, largely breathtaking, qualifying goals and arguably his nation’s most natural talent, back in February his agent Daniel Fonseca spirited him away from Nacional in order to physically prepare for this tournament in isolation. Having been unable to complete 90 minutes at any point earlier this year due to being deemed unfit, this was supposed to be the platform on which he could showcase to the world his abilities and thus have countless salivating elite sides eagerly offering up their daughters and much more in order to sign him up. However, though in the first game against Italy, he came off the bench to score an absolutely sensational bullet of a free-kick to win the match, we saw very little of him in the remainder of the tournament. Indeed, he only made one further substitute appearance as well as – somewhat curiously – played for the entirety of the Third Place encounter. He did reportedly pick up a knock in the first game, but one suspects that his lack of subsequent game-time was more due to ongoing fitness issues which manager Coito has made clear that he is not impressed by (struggles with his weight, does Amaral). One wonders how different Uruguay’s campaign would have been had he arrived in peak condition with left-sided midfielder Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) – who picked up an injury after thirty minutes of the opener and never featured again – also able to line up alongside him. Having also missed two shootout penalties – on top of the one the prodigy missed two years ago at the same tournament against Brazil which knocked his country out – this is not a competition that he will wish to recall in a hurry. Nevertheless, though Amaral has stated that he will not return to Nacional, he is still contracted there until December – will there be an unlikely reconciliation or will a bigger side be willing to take the risk?

Rodrigo Bentancur (Defensive-midfielder, No. 20, Boca Juniors, transferring to Juventus in July)

Possibly under-the-radar, possibly just a little under-par, the Boca Juniors regular who has already been snapped up for €9.5 million by Juventus had a decent, if unspectacular, tournament. Indeed, though not renowned for his goalscoring, he is nevertheless capable of kick-starting attacks and making inroads upfield, though in this competition he was a little more subdued in that department. Instead, he mainly deserves commendation for his work in tandem with the likes of Carlos Benavídez (Defensive-midfielder, No. 8, Defensor Sporting), Valverde and others in shielding the back four and often ensuring opponents had few options available to them in the final third. One minor concern for his new employers may be his tendency to collect cards as, having already been sent off in a qualifying game, here he received a one-match suspension owing to an accumulation of yellows. Still, he turns 20 later this month and given the money – and thus, confidence – invested in him, one expects to see him make his Serie A bow next season.

Nicolás Schiappacasse (Striker, No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s)

As noted, Uruguay sometimes struggled to create clear chances, yet when they did, they were often not taken by those up top. Perhaps more than anyone else, Schiappacasse was guilty of some notable misses, one in particular occurring in the opener against Italy; later in the final Group D game against South Africa, his squandering drew him a fair bit of unwanted attention. He could be wasteful and sometimes appeared disinterested, yet at the same time he also regularly found himself in good positions and was involved in many good moves. He could certainly be inconsistent, but he did at least show a sample of how clinical he can be when he struck home against Japan; he also had some indirect involvement in Bueno’s goal against Portugal when he volleyed a corner against the bar, which the defender then headed home.

Otherwise, Joaquín Ardaiz (Forward, No. 7, Danubio) had a less remarkable tournament, whereas Agustín Canobbio (Attacking-midfielder, No. 19, Fénix) often found himself in promising positions but was not able to get on the scoresheet – he did, however, win two penalties (against Portugal and Venezuela).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-1 England (Final, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 11 June 2017)

Venezuela’s thrilling, inspirational and rather otherworldly 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup came to an end, with La Mini-Vinotinto falling short at the very last hurdle and an impressive England side instead taking the glory. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

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(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results and fixtures)

Venezuela 0-1 England

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Final, 11 June 2017 (YouTube)

So close, yet so far, Rafael Dudamel’s heroic men finally came unstuck against an often formidable England side in what was, particularly in the latter stages, a gripping tournament finale.

In the first half, Venezuela threatened twice from free-kicks, most notably one from Ronaldo Lucena, whose astonishing 45-yard effort crashed off the post. However, Paul Simpson’s chaps largely had the better of this period, testing goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez several times and, at the second attempt, making the breakthrough in the 35th minute courtesy of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Immediately after the break, however, the South Americans made their presence more keenly felt as, within the first ten minutes of the second half they managed at least a few attempts on goal. The most notable of these was spearheaded by substitute Yeferson Soteldo in the 53rd minute as he brilliantly swivelled in midfield before playing in Sergio Córdova, though the latter’s one-on-one attempt was rapidly blocked. However, despite this promising shift in proceedings, just a couple of minutes later, England came extremely close to doubling their lead when Joshua Onomah’s ferocious long-range strike hit the crossbar before bouncing down on the goal-line.

Subsequently, though it was a well-contested affair, actual chances were in short supply. That is, until Adalberto Peñaranda won a penalty, yet in a moment that may haunt him for some time, his 74th-minute spot-kick was well-saved by the trailing glove of goalkeeper Freddie Woodman.

For the remainder of the game – including some six minutes of stoppage-time – though Venezuela attempted to seek an equaliser – with even goalkeeper Fariñez attempting to get a shot in – they ultimately struggled to create any real chances of note.

Thus, when the final whistle blew, a dream was dashed and it is instead England who have been crowned champions, winning their first World Cup at any level since that rarely-recalled senior victory in 1966.

Talent Tracking

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Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) missed out on the tournament’s Golden Glove trophy to his English counterpart, yet put in another impressive showing – quite possibly his best. Indeed, he can’t really be faulted for the goal he conceded – just his third in seven games – as this came as a consequence of centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira) getting out-jumped and out-fought by Calvert-Lewin, who then had his first shot well-saved by Fariñez, before nabbing the rebound. Overall, the five-feet-nine-inch goalkeeper’s most eye-catching moments included the following: a 10th-minute close-range save after Dominic Solanke was played through in a very inviting position in the area; a 22nd-minute parry wide from a very well-struck, swerving Ademola Lookman effort; and, a 40th-minute alert rush off his line to beat an attacker in what was a rather close race to a forward ball. On occasion, Fariñez also demonstrated his sprightliness as well as joined in at the other end for a couple of last-ditch attacks.

These were set-pieces from Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC), who was his side’s most likely provider of a goal. Indeed, in the 24th minute, he surprised everyone by striking a phenomenal 45-yard central free-kick from just outside the semi-circle, which dipped over everyone and smacked the left-sided post. His most frequent method of causing scares amongst the opposition, however, came from his set-piece deliveries intended for team-mates inside the area. Perhaps his two most notable crosses were those that targeted Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) just after the restart, both of which went through to the goalkeeper, neither admittedly causing a great deal of trouble. Lucena also did well with his defensive duties – putting in a notable last-gasp tackle at the death – as did Herrera, though the latter was unable to exert as much attacking influence as he has in previous games. Nevertheless, the captain’s had a very impressive World Cup and was rewarded after the game with the Bronze Ball, for being adjudged to be the tournament’s third best player.

Even more so than any of his team-mates, Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford) won’t be forgetting this game in a hurry. His nation’s leading attacking threat for much of the tournament, though he did cause some problems here, he was also a little wasteful, single-minded and, of course, squandered a golden opportunity from the spot to take the final into extra-time. Still, even if this as well as some of his cul-de-sac runs and selfishness may be more firmly ingrained in the spectators’ minds, he surely deserves some credit for winning the penalty as well as a first-half free-kick which curled ever-so-marginally wide of the near post.

Nevertheless, he was to be somewhat overshadowed by substitute Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile), who came on in the 51st minute and was soon gaining admiring praise from the stands as well as from commentators and observers the world over. His presence and vitality seemed to immediately help spur his team-mates on and, after less than two minutes on the pitch, with panache he turned some heads as much as he did an opponent, before playing a fine through-ball to Sergio Córdova (No. 19, Caracas FC). However, Venezuela’s four-goal topscorer was unable to get level with the tournament’s Golden Boot winner – Italy’s Riccardo Orsolini (5 goals) – as his first touch enabled Woodman enough time to peg it out and block the shot from very close range.

Still, though ultimately it ended in heartbreak and a genuine sense of “What could have been?”, Venezuelans as well as the entire world who tuned in during this tournament will know that the footballing future appears to be beaming very bright indeed for this troubled, yet endearing, nation. Hopefully, Rafael Dudamel can integrate the cream of this exceptional crop with their many disparate, more experienced senior talents and then seriously challenge for a place at Qatar 2022.

Please stay tuned over the upcoming days for a summary of the performances of Venezuela’s leading talents. Otherwise, to keep up-to-date on the latest in Venezuelan football, please consider following @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Uruguay 0-0 Italy (1-4 on penalties) (Third-Place Playoff, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 11 June 2017)

In their final match at the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Uruguay were unable to claim third place, succumbing to defeat on penalties by an Italian side that they had beaten long ago on their opening day of the group stage. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

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(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results and fixtures)

Uruguay 0-0 Italy (1-4 on penalties)

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Third-Place Playoff, 11 June 2017 (YouTube)

Italy nabbed third place from Uruguay as Fabián Coito’s men were defeated for the second consecutive game on penalties.

Giving some opportunities to at least a few other squad members, Coito nevertheless fielded a strong side. However, the first half was largely devoid of clear opportunities for either team, though Italy perhaps should have made the breakthrough in the 17th minute when a Giuseppe Panico effort from a cross was instinctively saved with the knee of Uruguay goalkeeper Santiago Mele.

Things perked up in the second half, with both sides enjoying far more attempts and, though the Italians had a goal ruled out for offside, Uruguay often seemed the likelier to score. Indeed, after an almost absent first half, Rodrigo Amaral in particular gradually made his presence known, having several attempts along the way.

Nevertheless, when the final whistle blew, there was still a stalemate and thus a shootout commenced. Italy managed to convert all four of theirs but Uruguay had the latter two of their three efforts saved and thus the bronze medals were awarded to the Europeans.

Talent Tracking

uruguayflag Uruguay

Well, though yours truly may be in a minority of appreciating – in principle, at least – third-place playoffs, given the changes in personnel as well the tedium of the majority of the first half, one will try not to give undue weight to the occurrences within this game.

Some changes were made to the Uruguay line-up, most notably Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional) being named from the start for the first time in the tournament. Remarkably he would go on to fulfil what was his first 90 minutes this year, having never once managed this feat in qualifying or at club level, where he has not played since last Septmber. Here, he started the match very lethargically, with observers around the world commenting that he could not possibly be fully fit. His two moments of note in the first half came towards the end when he aimed for goal from seemingly improbable positions – a corner as well as a free-kick near the corner flag – and saw both strikes blocked.

However, like his side, he seemed to wake up in the second half. He had his best chance of the game in the  54th minute when, from a central position just outside of the area, he played a one-two with Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio) before striking a left-footed effort which went just wide of the far post. Two minutes later he headed a corner not too far over the bar and then, another two minutes after this, he teed himself up from some 25 yards out, but smacked his effort well over. Generally, he looked a little more lively though certainly not at his best, yet his match was to end on a real downer when, once again, he could not convert during the penalty shootout, just as he also failed to do so against Portugal as well as two years ago in the Round of 16 match with Brazil.

Elsewhere, right-back José Luis Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio) gave one last quality exhibition of his attacking abilities. In the 55th minute, he created one of his side’s better chances when, from his flank, he played a fine low ball which reached the sliding Ardaiz at the back post, whose connection forced the goalkeeper into a scrambling parry on the goal-line. Later in the 76th minute, a Rodríguez cross from the right was punched away – perhaps needlessly – by the Italian with the gloves. Eight minutes after this, he had the first of two chances of his own when he bypassed some opponents before cutting inside to shoot well wide from just outside the area. In stoppage-time, he fashioned a better opportunity for himself when, again cutting in from the right onto his left boot, he forced an eye-catching parry from the goalkeeper – had it gone just a few inches higher, it could well have bulged the top corner of the net.

Federico Valverde (No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla) – who was later awarded the Silver Ball award for being adjudged to be the second best player of the tournament – was involved in a few opportunities. In the first half, he only really had one shot – which went comfortably over – but, barely a minute into the second, he was set up by Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas) from a low cross into the centre. However, despite being in a very inviting position, Valverde poorly scuffed well wide what could have been a side-footed finish. Nevertheless, some ten minutes later, it was he who swung in the corner that Amaral headed not too far over the bar. Then, in the 81st minute, Valverde had his best shot when he took the ball off a team-mate and struck first-time from some 25 or so yards out, with his effort swinging just wide of the far post.

Otherwise, there were a few other attacking moments worth mentioning. In just the third minute, Agustín Canobbio (No. 19, Fénix) was played into a slightly acute position on the right inside the area by Santiago Viera (No. 13, Liverpool, Uruguay), though his shot was poor, only troubling the side-netting. In the 40th minute, Viera himself had a chance from 25 yards out when he struck what was hitherto Uruguay’s closest opportunity; his shot had pace though was a little too near the goalkeeper, who nevertheless made a meal out of it. Later on, Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) – who was initially rested for the first time this tournament – came off the bench and was involved in a couple of attempts. The first of these came in the 77th minute when, from an inside-right position outside of the area, he took the inattentive goalkeeper by surprise by hitting an effort which went just wide of the target. Then, in the 87th minute, he did some good work, coming in central where he gave the ball to fellow substitute Juan Manuel Boselli (No. 14, Defensor Sporting) to have a shot which went high at the goalkeeper, who had no choice but to parry over.

Lastly, goalkeeper Santiago Mele (No. 1, Fénix) was tested several times in this game and was to bolster his reputation with some decent stops. He will have been frustrated not to have saved any of the penalties but perhaps the fact that he and his defence kept their fifth clean sheet in seven games will provide some solace.

Please stay tuned over the upcoming days for a summary of the performances of Uruguay’s leading talents. Otherwise, to keep up-to-date on the latest in South American football, please consider following @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (8 June 2017)

Again somewhat overshadowed by events in South Korea, Venezuela’s makeshift senior national side have nevertheless just concluded their two-stop American tour…

International Friendly

Thursday 8 June 2017 – FAU Stadium, Boca Ratón, Florida, USA

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 8 June 2017 (YouTube)

Moreno’s Magic Ends Things All-Square In Florida

Venezuela’s brief American tour ended with Júnior Moreno’s first-half goal earning them a second consecutive draw in a game which began fairly lively though petered out in the last half-hour.

Both sides had their moments in the early exchanges, with Venezuelan right-back Alexander González striking the top of the crossbar with a phenomenal 12th-minute strike from over 30 yards out on the inside-right.

However, the pacy and powerful Ecuadorians combined with more success during this period and were to enjoy the better of the opportunities. Indeed, in the 5th minute, Cristian Ramírez dinked in a cross from the left which Marcos Caicedo headed with great intent but too close to goalkeeper José Contreras who nevertheless did well to pull off a crucial close-range block. In the 20th minute, there were two moments of note: first, Caicedo ran forward before passing to Enner Valencia in a promising position on the left, yet his low ball into the rather spacious box was knocked away. Soon afterwards, a team-mate struck an effort from outside the area which Contreras comfortably got down to.

Then, three minutes later Ecuador had the ball in the back of the net after some fine flank-work from Caicedo on the left, following which he drilled in a low ball that Valencia stabbed home – only to be flagged offside. However, La Tricolor were not to be denied for long as, in the 28th minute, another low cross in from Caicedo ended up in the back of the net – that is, after being unfortunately converted by Venezuelan centre-back Mikel Villanueva for an own goal. 1-0.

Following this opener, Ecuador had a couple more half-chances, though Venezuela gradually got upfield more frequently, though most of their forays involved crosses, particularly from Rómulo Otero, which evading those in the middle by a whisker. Nevertheless, they managed to return affairs to level terms in the 42nd minute after another cross without contact went over to the right, where Arquímedes Figuera then passed to Júnior Moreno. From an inside-right position just outside of the area, the Zulia man impressed for his second successive Vinotinto game, by striking a fantastic right-footed effort that went in off the far post to make it 1-1.

Following the interval, most of the – rather limited – action was confined to the opening fifteen minutes or so. From the Venezuelan side of things, Salomón Rondón fluffed his lines a few times, thus continuing his rather underwhelming form in 2017 – just the one goal at international level plus another for West Brom so far. First in the 50th minute, after a fine run by Jhon Murillo down the right into the area which saw the Tondela loanee bypass a couple of opponents along the way, the ball was played back for Rondón in an inviting central position, but his shot was badly screwed wide. Similarly, five minutes later, the striker was found via a fine deep pass from González, yet somehow was unable to make a connection with the ball. Later on in the 61st minute, Rondón was again played through and had a partial sight of goal within the area. However, once more, he misdirected his effort wide.

In between as well as after this trio of chances, Venezuela goalkeeper Alain Baroja – who was substituted on at half-time, thus heralding his international return following an exile of over 14 months – made some decent contributions. First, in the 53rd minute, Valencia did well to nutmeg Villanueva on the left before coming into the area, one-on-one, yet his shot was blocked by the trailing arm/right-side of Baroja; Venezuela thus narrowly dealt with the resulting corner. Then, some seven minutes later, the goalkeeper did well to race out and beat an attacker who was threatening to reach the forward ball.

Otherwise, in the remaining 30 minutes, little of note occurred aside from the minor matter of Venezuela’s Andrés Ponce being slid through on the inside-right in the 72nd minute and taking a surprise shot that whistled a yard or so wide of the target.

Overall, whilst neither this nor the previous game with the USA will live long in the mind of any fan, perhaps acting manager Marcos Mathías and Under-20 World Cup finalist Rafael Dudamel, will have learned a thing or two. Indeed, with eyes very much on the future consideration of qualification for Qatar 2022, the international credentials of 23-year-old Júnior Moreno, in particular, have surely been bolstered.

Team Selections

Ecuador (4-2-3-1): E. Dreer; P. Velasco, D. Aimar, G. Achilier, C. Ramírez; P. Quiñónez, M. Oyola (F. Gaibor, 46′); Á. Mena (A. Preciado, 72′), J. Cazares (G. Cortéz, 79′), M. Caicedo; E. Valencia (J. Cifuentes, 88′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): J. Contreras (A. Baroja, 46′); A. González, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva (Y. Osorio, 68′), R. Feltscher (R. Quijada, 84′); J. Murillo, J. Moreno (F. Flores, 63′), A. Figuera, J. Kouffaty (A. Ponce, 55′); S. Rondón & R. Otero (D. Machís, 77′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical