Category Archives: Copa Libertadores

Venezuela’s Participation in the 2015 Copa Libertadores – Review

With the three Venezuelan teams, Zamora, Deportivo Táchira and Mineros de Guayana, having recently completed their Copa Libertadores campaigns, Hispanospherical.com inhales deeply and looks in detail at what was a largely dispiriting experience for all concerned.

zamoraflores

Bright Start: Following a sensational goal in their opening game, Zamora’s Arles Flores leads a well-choreographed celebration that received attention far outside of South America. Sadly, such Venezuelan joy was rarely to be seen in the remainder of the group stage (Imagery courtesy of the Metro and the Daily Mirror from this video).

Copa Libertadores 2015: Review of the Venezuelan Participants

18 games, 13 defeats, 4 draws and, following the very last match whose outcome will have thwarted the pre-planned narratives of obituary writers everywhere, 1 win. That was the record in this year’s Copa Libertadores group stage of the three Venezuelans sides, Zamora, Mineros de Guayana and Deportivo Táchira. A derisory performance even for the representatives of this nation of perennial outsiders and one that certainly stakes a claim to be their worst in the current format of the competition. Indeed, while the average number of points gained per match this year (0.3888) was marginally superior to 2012 (0.3333) and 2010 (0.25), the scale of their collective failure is unrivalled in recent history. This was, after all, the first time in eleven attempts that the team in the qualifying round (in this case, Táchira) successfully negotiated their way into the group stage, thus bringing the Venezuelan contingent to a dizzying three. Yet, having another six games to endure only appeared to prolong the misery as not only was it clear before the halfway point that none of the teams were likely to progress but that, between them, they ended up conceding a jarring 46 goals.

It was all a far cry from, say, 2007 when Caracas FC won at home and away against River Plate or, more significantly, 2009 when they and long-standing rivals Táchira gained 19 points between them, with the capital’s finest ultimately unfortunate to go out to Grêmio in the quarter-finals on away goals. Back then, while Venezuela’s footballing reputation was in the ascendancy, a far greater number of its talents remained at domestic clubs with some foreign suitors still maintaining their scepticism regarding their adaptability – something that has been decreasingly the case in recent years. Indeed, as with most successful sides in South America, their key personnel is always in the shop window, a factor that particularly disadvantaged the 2013/14 champions Zamora this time around. Given the well-documented problems of improving the competitiveness and quality of a league outside of the European elite, one can not help but fear that this year’s poor results – not entirely dissimilar to those in 2012 and 2010, albeit with an additional team – are part of a trend that is set to continue.

Nevertheless, what follows are summaries of the campaigns and most noteworthy performers of the three Venezuelans clubs who competed in this year’s Copa Libertadores, starting with the side most affected by the aforementioned issues. (Please note: to read match reports and view video highlights of every single game, click here or on the relevant links in the text below)

zamoralibertadoregraphic2

El Blanquinegro, from Hugo Chávez’s home state of Barinas, came into the tournament as reigning two-time champions and were also leading the Torneo Clausura which, with just over a week to go, they still have a slight chance of winning (*Update: they did following their Libertadores exit but that is no longer the case – see footnote at the bottom for an update on the domestic situation). However, their second successive championship win in May 2014 was to swiftly be met with the departures of key individuals which were to have a significant impact on their showing in the Libertadores. Indeed, playmaker Pedro Ramírez – nicknamed by some as the ‘Venezuelan Messi’ largely for a mazy dribbled goal – joined Switzerland’s FC Sion, leading goalscorer Juan Falcón signed for Ligue 1’s FC Metz and defender Jonathan España opted to try his luck with Cyprus’ AEL Limassol. Other players, particularly those crucial to the rearguard, were to leave (more on them later) but the most keenly felt loss of all was undoubtedly that of manager Noel Sanvicente to the national side.

‘Chita’, to give him his affectionate moniker, not only won both titles with this club, but also brought home five championships between 2002 and 2010 for Caracas FC, where he also led their impressive Libertadores campaigns. His successor Juvencio Betancourt was to last just six league games and things were to get worse before they could get better under his replacement Julio Quintero, who was to take his charges to the foot of the Torneo Apertura in October before turning things around for a 12th-placed finish. Yet, while he has done well domestically in this year’s Clausura, with his side having been rarely out of the top three, he has achieved this largely with the remnants of last year’s squad along with one or two new faces who are simply not of the calibre of their predecessors.

Thus, to match last year’s respectable showing of seven Libertadores points was always going to be a tall order though, having been drawn into a group with Boca Juniors, Montevideo Wanderers and Palestino, the possibility of sneaking second spot behind the Argentines did not seem out of question. However, Zamora were to be all but ruled out of contention after just two games.

Indeed, they kicked things off with an opening-day visit to the Uruguayan capital in a game that was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the group stage, yielding five goals, five red cards and a memorable bowling-themed celebration that featured on news outlets based all over the globe. Things began promisingly with 19-year-old starlet Jhon Murillo firing the then ten-man visitors 1-0 up on the counter and even with 15 minutes left on the clock, they were leading 2-1 on what at that point had become a level playing field. However, the dream start was not to be as Panamanian international Luis Ovalle received his marching orders after conceding a penalty that was duly converted which, in turn, was swiftly followed up with what proved to be the winner.

Losing was a bitter enough pill to swallow but Murillo’s injury-time dismissal (two-game suspension) as well as those of two defenders (one-game suspension each) gave lollipop-licking Quintero future selection issues that he struggled to negotiate. The largely full Estadio Agustín Tovar crowd nevertheless carried into the Palestino game some optimism which was to be dashed as 17-year-old Yeferson Soteldo was to both impress and frustrate by missing a hat-trick’s worth of chances (hitting the woodwork twice) in a 1-0 loss. Even at this early stage, the Venezuelan champions looked to be heading out as not only did they have no points but their next two games were against the unanimous group favourites, Boca Juniors.

Expectations were matched, as both encounters were unmitigated disasters. The trip to La Bombonera ended 5-0, a scoreline that could have been easily doubled had the Argentines took all of their chances, with Dani Osvaldo, a man in thrall to the concept of flamboyance, particularly wasteful. That the Southampton-loanee was afforded such space to repeatedly attempt to score the kind of goal that would be permanently etched into the retinas of every bostero spoke volumes about Zamora’s defensive performance. This was to be little better in the reverse fixture despite having been ostensibly aided by the Argentines’ decision to leave several top stars, including Osvaldo, in Buenos Aires. Indeed, though the returning Murillo was to give the Venezuelans a surprise first-half lead, the Xeneizes swiftly shifted out of first gear after the interval and were to leave 5-1 winners and with their 100 per cent record in tact. Zamora captain Luis Vargas added to his side’s woes by being their fourth player to be red-carded in the competition, which was compounded by Montevideo Wanderers earning a draw in Chile, thus bringing their tally to seven points and eliminating the Venezuelans.

Their two remaining group games were played with a weary sense of obligation, as they were thrashed 4-0 at the hands of a driven Palestino, before being dispatched 3-0 at home by Wanderers in a lacklustre encounter that saw the Uruguayans snatch a knock-out spot. Judging by the paltry crowd at this final match – believed to be well under 1000 – there was little desire amongst the fans of La Furia Llanera to see their side restore some pride in either of these reverse fixtures by demonstrating that their two opening losses were not entirely fair reflections on the overall play.

When all was said and done, Zamora had lost every one of their six games – the worst record of any Venezuelan side to have participated in the current format of the competition. Particularly galling was their goal difference of -18, having shipped 21 goals that were only offset by a mere 3 strikes at the other end. This was in stark contrast to last year’s more even statistics, when 6 goals were both scored and conceded, from what was a markedly more difficult group, comprising of then-holders Atlético Mineiro of Brazil, Colombia’s Santa Fe and Nacional of the Paraguayan variety. A brief comparison of the positive results they achieved in this group serves to highlight the deficiences that were witnessed this year. Indeed, not only were they led by serial winner Sanvicente but the departed Juan Falcón also scored all four of his goals in these games, netting the decisive goal in the 2-1 home win over Santa Fe, as well as both in the 2-2 draw in Colombia and the opener in the 2-0 victory in Barinas over Nacional. This year, Zamora did not possess an adequate replacement for their erstwhile marksman, with the only striker brought in being January-recruit Santiago Bello from the Uruguayan second-tier, who was to feature in four games in this edition – three times from the bench – without finding the net.

Last year, Pedro Ramírez also chipped in with a goal and some creativity, something that was also noticeably lacking this time around. However, arguably the most significant change from the previous campaign was to be found at the back, as the majority of those who featured regularly in 2014 left at the end of the season. Indeed, goalkeeper Yáñez Angulo as well as the defenders Hugo Soto, Javier López, Layneker Safra and Jonathan España have all since moved on, with most, if not all, of those filling their boots this year evidently not up to scratch. Having two defenders sent off in the first game – including Ovalle, who actually played five times in last year’s group stage – and the subsequent suspensions certainly did not help either.

Ultimately, if anything positive can be extracted from this season’s experience it will soon again be taken away from them. Jhon Murillo, the temperamental, dribbling winger who often drifts into more central positions, scored twice in his four appearances and has long been linked with a move abroad, with Torino and Celta Vigo the most recently touted destinations. Yeferson Soteldo, at just 17, could well follow suit in the not-too-distant future as though he may not have taken the chances that came his way, he was a lively presence and has become a regular starter in the league. That he has done so may instead prove in the long run to be further evidence of his club’s lack of depth at this particular time and given their rather humble means, fans must be wondering whether the good times enjoyed under Sanvicente will even be able to return anytime soon.

tachiralibertadoresgraphic

Much enthusiasm from both domestic scribes as well as casual observers from afar greeted Táchira’s history-making 4-3 aggregate win against Paraguay’s six-time semi-finalists Cerro Porteño. For the first time since the current format was introduced in 2005, there were to be three, not two, Venezuelan sides to follow in the Copa Libertadores group stage. Drawn into a group containing another Paraguayan side, Guaraní, as well as Peruvians Sporting Cristal, a Round of 16 berth appeared eminently attainable. Seemingly bolstering their chances was the retention of the vast majority of the side that finished third in the 2014 aggregate table coupled with some useful additions, such as goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind and veteran international Jorge Rojas – the latter of whom scored a bona fide golazo in the first leg against Cerro.

The first game soon punctured this optimism, as a full-capacity Pueblo Nuevo was to witness a comprehensive 5-0 thrashing led by the superb partnership of Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou for Argentine champions Racing, the undisputed top dogs in the group. Immediately following this rude awakening, doubts that before the Cerro games had been regularly expressed resurfaced and at a higher volume. Indeed, in the Torneo Apertura, Táchira had contrived to throw away a commanding mid-point lead, not winning in their final eight games and finishing 11th, rendering manager Daniel Farías virtually a dead man walking. Furthermore, even the most partisan follower of Los Aurinegros would have to confess that their side rode their luck in the second leg against Cerro. Thus, in light of the car-crash performance against Racing, their response would be crucial.

For their second game, they travelled to Lima to face Sporting Cristal. Few lessons appeared to have been learned as the Peruvian champions took a first-half lead and were to comfortably dominate the play. However, with under five minutes remaining, they were made to pay for their profligacy as César González stepped up to curl a 25-yard free-kick into the back of the net. Grippingly for the neutral, there was to be further drama, though not a twist, as Renzo Sheput stepped up deep into stoppage-time to take a penalty but was to be spectacularly denied by Liebeskind as the Venezuelans held on.

Perhaps not the most deserved of points, but Táchira at least exhibited some backbone, essential ahead of their journey back to Asunción where this time they faced then-Apertura leaders Guaraní. Initially, despite conceding an early goal things appeared promising as ‘Maestrico’ González scored again to level up the score at 1-1 after just 17 minutes. However, they were to be blitzed by three goals in six first-half minutes and were to ultimately walk away smarting from a 5-2 defeat. Subsequently, the following week Zamora were to receive their second five-goal bashing from Boca and these games, along with Táchira’s comparable experiences here in Paraguay and against Racing, were to do sizeable damage to the reputation of Venezuelan domestic football on the continent.

Pessimism thus returned to the side representing the Colombia-bordering state of the same name. Progression began to feel like a fantasy from another age and next up was more potential embarrassment in the home fixture against Guaraní. However, to the relief of many, Farías’ men were to put in a far more respectable showing and could well have won it. A 21st-minute penalty was converted by experienced international González, thus providing him with his third goal in four matches. Lady Fortune appeared to be on their side when, after 32 minutes, Federico Santander’s spot-kick was saved by Liebskind which, at that point, was remarkably his fourth penalty stop since joining the club from Portuguesa just two months prior. However, nine minutes later, he was unable to improve on this statistic as Julián Benítez took command of a similar situation and buried the ball from the 12-yard spot. Despite being pegged back, Táchira were to have the better of the second half, though with just over 15 minutes to go Farías was to unintentionally abdicate any chance of winning the game by replacing his side’s most consistent threat, winger Yohandry Orozco. Consequently, ‘Fuera  Farías’ and ‘Farías hijo de puta’ were just two of the chants that were to be voiced by the home support and clearly captured for home-viewing around the continent up until the final whistle confirmed a 1-1 draw. As if to vindicate the angry hordes, the awarding of the Man of the Match prize indeed went to Orozco, a diminutive individual who just a few years ago was considered the next big thing of Venezuelan football.

At this point, Táchira were all-but-out and a 0-0 home draw against Cristal removed the miniscule and unvoiced doubt. Though overall it was as enthralling an encounter as it sounds and played in front of a ground well under half full, the hosts did have chances to pick up their first win. Indeed, firstly at the beginning of the second half, Orozco curled a fine free-kick against the post that was converted on the rebound by Uruguayan forward Pablo Olivera from an offside position (where he was to lurk wth frustrating frequency). Not long afterwards, Olivera was to receive a gilt-edged opportunity from a low cross by Orozco, yet from little more than six yards out he was to somehow direct it wide.

With their final game being away to Racing, the opportunity to give their fans at least something to smile about appeared to have been missed. Yet, remarkably, with 50 minutes on the clock, José Alí Meza, a regular impact substitute who was starting only his second Libertadores game this year, was to put Táchira into a shock 2-0 lead. Irrespective of the caveats involved, this was shaping up to be one of the most impressive results in the history of Venezuelan participation in this competition. Alas, it was not to be as, with twenty minutes remaining, the Argentine champions were back on level terms. In response, Farías, having already withdrawn Meza on the hour-mark, was to further enhance his reputation for unambitious substitutions with the removal of González and Orozco in the closing stages. Yet, with the score still at 2-2 when regulation time was up,  this was still shaping up to be a credible point. However, seconds into stoppage-time, 20-year-old goalkeeper José Contreras (who had played in the previous match as well), committed a calamitous error that may just haunt him for the rest of his career, as he let a relatively tame effort from Brian Fernández slip under him and inch over the line.

A gutting loss, every bit as soul-destroying as the reverse fixture was humiliating. Although their overall record may not have told the full story, Táchira had nevertheless failed to win, picking up as many draws as defeats and conceding 15 goals along the way. Aside from having scored two more goals this time around, this record was otherwise identical to the last time they reached the group stage – 2012 – not to mention a marginal improvement on the two points gained the previous year. However, it was a far cry from the nine-point haul of 2009, not to mention the remarkable undefeated group stage performance and run to the quarter-finals in 2004, a year that had a slightly different format that granted Venezuela three automatic entries.

If the Libertadores is considered to be a platform to advertise a player’s talents, quite where such a disappointing campaign leaves Táchira’s leading lights is difficult to surmise. Wilker Ángel, a 22-year-old centre-back who last year made his international debut and was rumoured to be interesting teams in South America and Europe, will not have done himself any favours by being on the field in both five-goal reversals. Yohandry Orozco, 24, had his creative moments and unsettled at least some of the defenders he ran at, yet while a move to another side on the continent does not seem out of the question, one does not anticipate another European side of note to be clamouring for his signature after his forgettable two-year spell at Wolfsburg. Gelmin Rivas, the club’s top scorer whose two goals in Asunción ensured their advancement to the competition proper, had been attracting attention from Belgium but, though he has 20 league goals, he could not find the net once in his three group game starts. Two of the most impressive performers, César González and, with some qualifications given the number of goals conceded, Alan Liebeskind, are both in their thirties and unlikely to be top of the lists of those looking for long-term value.

Ultimately, although this campaign was no worse than the last two occasions they reached this phase, Táchira will surely still be rather disappointed at the two hidings that they endured as well as not getting more out of at least two of the three games that they drew. Nevertheless, they must now dust themselves off as, with the Clausura ending on 3 May, they retain a significant chance of winning the title and thus securing another opportunity to right some wrongs in next year’s Libertadores.*

  minerospage2

Comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league going into this competition, Mineros were to end their Libertadores campaign with the most respectable results, the most points and, at the very last opportunity, the only win. This, despite never reaching the group stage in the present format (two qualifying round losses in 2005 and 2008 were the closest that they had come), sacking a second manager of the season during the competition and ending their participation as still comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league. Indeed, though Richard Páez, former national team manager (2001-07) led them to finish top of the 2013 Torneo Apertura and the 2013/14 Aggregate Table as well as end up as the overall runners-up, he was out of the door by late September. His first six games of the season had been deemed unsatisfactory, but his replacement Marcos Mathías had little joy attempting to return his charges to their former level. Instead, they finished the Apertura in 6th and commenced their participation in the Libertadores while occupying a mediocre mid-table position in the Torneo Clausura.

It has been something of a quandary attempting to decipher what precisely is wrong in Puerto Ordaz as while they did lose a star from last season in the form of international midfielder Alejandro Guerra (more on him later), that alone can not account for their slump. Indeed, they had also brought in some quality players at the beginning of the Apertura, such as first-choice international left-back Gabriel Cichero. At the start of the Clausura, they also added two key members of Trujillanos’ Apertura title-winning team, defender Edixon Cuevas and striker James Cabezas.

Nevertheless, given their underwhelming form, they entered their first game away to Argentina’s Huracán as firm underdogs. Yet, though they were on the backfoot for at least two-thirds of the match, some of the considerable experience in their ranks came to the fore as they frustrated the Copa Argentina winners before ultimately coming within a minute of emerging victorious. Indeed, against the run of play, Colombian forward Zamir Valoyes gave them a 22nd-minute lead from a free-kick and though they were pegged back, come the final thirty minutes, their absorption of Argentine attacks had appeared to exhaust the hosts of ideas. Subsequently, they started to make a go for it and, remarkably, after some close scrapes, Valoyes netted again from a penalty (of admittedly dubious origin). Alas, not for the only time in this year’s competition, a Venezuelan side was to shoot themselves in the foot as a last-minute spot-kick was conceded and then converted as the honours ended even.

Even so, a point in Buenos Aires can never be sniffed at and so going into their home game against Club Universitario de Sucre – champions of Bolivia, whose teams are not renowned for travelling well – there were ample reasons to anticipate victory. Instead, what transpired was a largely dreary, horror show of tedium that was short on chances, enlivened only by an appalling fumble by Mineros goalkeeper Rafael Romo that gifted the visitors the only goal and the first Bolivian Libertadores win in Venezuela since 1994. Having also made a rather glaring error in the Huracán game, as well as some recent miscalculations in the league, the home supporters were in an unforgiving mood and proceeded to boo the international’s every touch until the end of the match. To make matters worse, several minutes later, the preceding week’s two-goal hero Valoyes was given a straight red card for an excruciating midfield challenge, ruling himself out of the next game. Capping off a tension-filled night, when the final whistle was blown there were plenty of calls for the head of manager Mathías. While the fans did not get their wish immediately, two weeks later following a mid-March 5-2 domestic thrashing by Táchira, they did, with assistant Tony Franco instead handed an opportunity until the end of the season.

His first task a couple of days after taking the reins could hardly have been greater. A home match against Brazilian champions Cruzeiro would be daunting for almost any side yet, though they were to ultimately lose 2-0, they actually acquitted themselves rather admirably and could come away with their dignity in tact. After Leandro Damião opened the scoring in the 12th minute, Mineros immediately fought back and created many opportunities throughout the game, looking like they may sneak a draw until Marquinhos sealed the win with seven minutes remaining. The reverse fixture in Belo Horizonte was to reflect not quite so favourably on the Venezuelans as two superb goals early on from Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Damião opened up the possibility of a trouncing of the magnitude Táchira and Zamora both twice endured. However, though Henrique got a third in the 73rd minute, Mineros can perhaps feel some contentment in their relative resilience – something their compatriots could perhaps learn from in preparation for future Libertadores clashes.

Despite these credible performances, they were nevertheless losses and their fifth game, away to Club Universitario in the high altitude of Sucre, is where their already faint hopes of making it out of the group evaporated. In a game somewhat more entertaining than the reverse fixture, a goal at the end of each half gave the Bolivians the victory and put them in with a strong chance of qualifying from the group. However, on the final matchday they were to face a trip to Brazil, whereas another of their rivals, Huracán, travelled to Venezuela, with the Bolivians knowing that if they lost and the Argentines won, they would be eliminated.

Yet, though they were to succumb to Cruzeiro 2-0, they were to owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mineros de Guayana who, in the very last group game contested by a Venezuelan side this year, surprised some by claiming the first – and only – victory for their nation. Indeed, as in Buenos Aires, while Huracán were to enjoy plenty of time on the ball, they were to struggle to create clear-cut chances with the Mineros defence largely blocking them off. Valoyes was to repeat his Argentine feats here by scoring another two goals – this time both before the half-time whistle – with international midfielder Rafael Acosta getting a third in the second half. Huracán’s players and coaching staff as well as many in the international media were visibly stunned at this 3-0 reversal, yet one can not help but feel their opponents were unjustly underestimated. While Mineros were playing without four or five first-team regulars and were already out of the competition, they did nevertheless achieve a 2-2 draw in February against the Argentines, who in turn, should perhaps be considered a second-tier Argentine side, given they sit 25th in the bloated 30-team domestic top-flight. Indeed, that all of Mineros’ five goals and four points came against Huracán should cause the men from Parque Patricios to pause to ponder in order to avoid heading back to the second division they were playing in last season.

Given the standard of this opposition, Mineros’ status as the best-performing Venezuelan side can easily be criticised. Indeed, even with their relatively respectable results against Cruzeiro, one has to bear in mind that the Brazilian giants have only scored more than three goals in any competitive game once since last August (and that occurred against Mineiro State Championship side Villa Nova who, nationally, compete in Série D). Nevertheless, it could be that the experience many players in this team possess of playing in the Libertadores as underdogs in the past for other Venezuelan sides facilitated their occasional strategic recognition of their shortcomings and defensive approaches. Indeed, at the back, the thirtysomethings Gabriel Cichero, Julio Machado and Edixon Cuevas as well as 41-year-old Luis Vallenilla all brought considerable know-how to this area of the pitch. Highly decorated Edgar Jiménez, who played for Caracas FC from 2003-2012, also certainly knew his way through such games while, in his case, sitting in front of the back four. Thus, while their goal difference was nothing to celebrate, their concession of a comparatively respectable ten goals was considerably better than the defences of Zamora and Táchira fared and may owe something to their experience and organisation of these players.

However, most of these individuals will not be anticipating life-changing foreign transfers as, like 29-year-old top scorer Valoyes, age is not really on their side. For the Colombian striker, a minor move at some point to his homeland to the west may not be entirely out of the question, but if any major scouts witnessed his side’s games, their attention may have instead been directed towards two of his younger team-mates. Indeed, Ángelo Peña, 25, whose jinking runs, diagonal balls and incisive passes often caught the eye, has already played in Brazil and Portugal and if he can be more consistent in his form then he may well depart for a third overseas adventure. In the long-term, 18-year-old left-sided midfielder Luis Guerra may well prove to have the brightest future, though it is difficult to tell at this early stage. Currently in his debut season, he only really came to prominence in the final game against Huracán – his first Libertadores start – but he put in a noteworthy performance, particularly with his role in the second goal which involved a run up the flank that bypassed three players.

Whether he turns out to be yet another winger of the week remains to be seen but as much as the fans will have gained some confidence from his side’s final game, this has been a season to forget for Mineros. Their fall from grace has been rather depressing to witness and despite having gained this rare opportunity to show the continent what they are capable of, their domestic position ensures that they will not be granted a second bite at the cherry next year. If there is a saving grace, however, it is that they possess a higher budget than most of their rivals. Indeed, despite their poor Apertura showing, they were still able to snap up Cabezas and Cuevas, two of the star men of the winners, Trujillanos. Though such purchases can not be said to have been a success thus far, the agitated Mineros fans will be hoping, if not demanding, that their resources are utilised with more acumen ahead of next season.

Down But Not Entirely Out: Venezuelans Abroad Flying the Flag 

Although all three Venezuelan teams have been eliminated, there still remains a Venezuelan interest in the tournament as attention will now solely be on their compatriots at two teams from their westerly neighbours, Colombia. Indeed, starting with the 2014 Finalización winners Santa Fe, left-sided international midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas currently plies his trade here and is often a first-team regular. Unfortunately, he has recently had problems with injuries and so could only make two brief appearances in his side’s group games – both of which were victories over Atlas of Mexico. However, though Santa Fe lost both of their games against Atlético Mineiro, they twice defeated Chilean champions Colo-Colo to end up winners of Group 1 with 12 points. Through to the Round of 16, they – and hopefully a fully fit Seijas – will now face Argentina’s Estudiantes de La Plata, with the first leg taking place in the Buenos Aires Province on 5 May and the reverse fixture in Bogotá on 12 May.

Also through to the knock-out stage is Alejandro Guerra, who may be able to pass his Vinotinto team-mate some notes as his side Atlético Nacional (2014 Apertura champions) finished top of Group 7, ahead of Estudiantes. In all, he featured in five games – only missing the 2-2 opening matchday draw away to Paraguay’s Libertad – and made his most notable contribution as an acrobatic goalscoring substitute in a 2-1 win away in Guayaquil against Barcelona. While he also started in an entertaining 3-2 home reversal inflicted upon them by the Ecuadorians, he had more positive experiences in a 1-0 away win and a 1-1 home draw against Estudiantes, as well as a 4-0 home thumping over Libertad, which sealed their progression. Furthermore, Jonathan Copete, a Colombian by birth but who has played at length in Venezuela and has been in talks to represent the nation, scored the last goal in this game. Both he and Guerra now look forward to a two-legged tie with Barcelona’s Clásico del Astillero rivals Emelec, returning to Guayaquil for the first leg on 7 May before taking the Ecuadorians back to Medellín on 14 May.

Drawn in eminently winnable match-ups, Venezuelans will be hoping that their leading representatives on the continent will be able to continue to fly the flag in this premier competition for some time yet.

*Torneo Clausura Update (17 May 2014): As this article was written when most domestic teams had 2-3 games remaining, hopefully readers will find an update on the league situation helpful. After a breathtakingly dramatic climax, Táchira claimed the title, with Caracas a very narrow 2nd and Zamora in 3rd. Subsequently, Táchira beat Trujillanos in the Gran Final to be crowned the overall 2014/15 champions of Venezuela. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (21 April 2015)

Tuesday 21 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán

Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz

Highlights of Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 21 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Victory, At Last: Huracán Dreams Shattered by Clinical Mineros

Mineros de Guayana may have already been eliminated from this year’s Copa Libertadores yet while few fans turned up to see them formally bow out, those that did were rewarded with the first (and only) victory by a Venezuelan team in this year’s competition.

This came at the 18th (6th, specifically for Mineros) and final attempt in a match that meant considerably more to their Argentine opponents who, had they won, would have joined Brazilian champions Cruzeiro in the next round. Alas, it was not to be, as they failed to take advantage of the hosts’ low morale and absence of several first-team regulars, all of whom are recent internationals: Gabriel Cichero, Edgar Jiménez, Richard Blanco and Rafael Romo (not to mention 41-year-old Luis Vallenilla, even if his last cap for La Vinotinto was over seven years ago). Instead, the Bolivian champions Club Universitario de Sucre progressed.

While Huracán initially took the game to the Venezuelans and were to perhaps edge possession in the first half, they went behind in the 10th minutes. The goal originated in a corner from Ángelo Peña, a talented individual with international experience and brief spells in Portugal and Brazil under his belt. He was to have a memorable game roaming all across the line behind the very tip of the Mineros attack, feeding in his team-mates on numerous occasions. His cross from the left was headed straight back to him but, undeterred, he swiftly left a defender for dead before inching into the area where he chipped a delightful ball over the goalkeeper to the back post where it was headed in by Colombian Zamir Valoyes.

For the visitors and many neutrals at least, this was not in the script. Six minutes later, the Argentines briefly thought they were level when Federico Vismara quickly took a free-kick that was knocked into the area for Ramón Ábila to tap in. However, the striker – nicknamed ‘Wanchope’ after the ex-Costa Rican international with what is apparently a disconcerting lack of irony – was offside and the goal was ruled out. Ábila was to frustrate fans, team-mates and coaching staff alike with his positioning throughout the game, repeatedly being ruled offside – a familiar story for those who have watched him regularly this season in the domestic Primera División.

For the following twenty minutes, the many Argentine forays into Venezuelan territory struggled to legally bypass the opposition’s back line or culminate with a testing shot on goal. Most crosses were blocked and/or headed out and while Ábila wormed a relatively harmless attempt wide, the majority of efforts stopped by goalkeeper Luis Romero were struck from a distance. By contrast, Mineros were to have clearer sights of goal, working two opportunities in quick succession from similar positions on the left inside the area. The first, after 34 minutes, fell to goalscorer Valoyes but, though he had a defender hot on his heels, he should have done better than blazing over the crossbar. Two minutes later, Edson Castillo was played through and did well to aim a left-footed shot across goal that provoked a rather theatrical parry from Marcos Díaz.

Throughout this half, though the Argentine domestic strugglers often attacked with intent, with the final key pass or cross eluding a forward, they were often conceding a great deal of space that was exploited by the likes of Peña and a few other team-mates who were to also put in good performances. Three of these were to combine impressively for the second goal on the 40th-minute mark. Indeed, Luis Guerra, an 18-year-old in his debut season, embarked on an eye-catching run that began in his own half and proceeded up the left-channel, evading three challenges along the way. Upon reaching the edge of the area, he played the ball towards the dee to Venezuela international Rafael Acosta, who swiftly arced it to Valoyes on the right, who in turn, confidently hit an exquisite shot with the outside of his foot to make it 2-0. The Colombian had scored his fourth goal in this year’s Copa Libertadores – all of which have come against the Argentines.

Two goals down and not even half-time, Huracán were heading out. The best they could muster in the five minutes before the interval was a header from Ábila that went marginally wide of the near post – albeit, once again from an offside position. Such transgressions by ‘El Wanchope’ and his team-mates as well as other decisions going against the visitors were to continue in the second half. Indeed, after another offside goal – this time netted in the 54th minute by Chilean  Edson Puch –  the coaching staff were visibly animated and, following each sounding of the whistle, continued to be as what was anticipated to be an historical day turned increasingly sour.

Their side persevered with their ever-fruitless attacks while affording the hosts more and more space to counter. Luis Guerra was always seeking ways to take advantage of this and he was to contribute further to his memorable performance in the 66th minute when he had a hand in the third and final goal. On the left, he cut into the area, turned back from the byline and, with his right foot, squeezed a ball through to Acosta whose first shot was blocked, only to come back to him to strike home into the net. 3-0, game over. The players on the away bench were utterly stunned and, in the aftermath, could do little but stare with their hands on their heads as the ramifications of this missed opportunity sunk in.

In the remainder of the game, each side had at least another notable long range effort but the one chance that perhaps summed up Huracán’s miserable day came with just over ten minutes left. Half-time substitute Cristian Espinoza – who impressed on the wing in Argentina’s victorious Sudamericano Sub-20 side earlier this year – chipped in a ball that Ábila, eight yards out and unmarked, contrived to head wide of the far post.

The final whistle marked a game to forget for the visitors. Many neutrals as well as Argentines were rather rash to proclaim this result to be a surprise, if not an embarrassment. Seemingly, they were forgetting the 2-2 draw in Buenos Aires back in February and somewhat overstating the reputation of Huracán, a newly promoted side who currently reside in 25th in a bloated 30-team division. This club was unable to stop Zamir Valoyes scoring twice in both Argentina and Venezuela which, along with Rafael Acosta’s strike, constituted the only times Mineros de Guayana managed to find the net in this year’s Copa Libertadores. As these five strikes also generated the only four points the Venezuelans gained in the tournament, the Argentines would do well to show a little more humility.

For Mineros, while the result can not be said to have been a complete surprise, given they were playing for nothing and 4-5 first-team regulars were missing, not many would have anticipated that they would have won by three goals. Given this game was the final one contested by Venezuelan teams and marked the solitary group stage win, following a winless run of 18, one must try not to read too much into it. Mineros are struggling domestically, they have sacked two managers this season and will not be competing in next year’s Libertadores; with only three league games left, it is unlikely this game will have much significance in the long run.

Nevertheless, they did well to salvage some pride and no doubt spoil the ’18 games, 0 wins’ narratives of planned obituaries for the three Venezuelan teams. One such review – albeit, marginally more level-headed – of the campaigns of Mineros de Guayana, Zamora and Deportivo Táchira will be appearing on this website in the upcoming days, so please keep returning to the site for that as well as much more.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Zamora FC 0-3 Montevideo Wanderers – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5 (16 April 2015)

Thursday 16 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5

Zamora FC 0-3 Montevideo Wanderers

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas

Goal Highlights of Zamora FC 0-3 Montevideo Wanderers, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 16 April 2015 (Courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Demoralised Zamora End Campaign on a Familiar Note

Fresh from a 5-0 league drubbing at the hands of lowly Llaneros de Guanare, the Venezuelan champions ended their dismal Libertadores campaign with their sixth consecutive loss – the worst record  of any of the three sides from this nation of perennial underdogs.

Although they were a tad unfortunate to not get anything out of the barnstorming opening-day game against their Uruguayan opponents, judging by the sparsely attended ground, there was little local enthusiasm to see if they could turn them over on their own patch. The match that transpired was to largely dovetail with the atmosphere in which it was played, being largely of little interest to the neutral. This could only benefit the visitors who were actually playing for second place and ultimately succeeded in doing so by taking most of the chances that they engineered, thus finishing above Chilean outfit Palestino.

Though few will have cared at the time, let alone now, Zamora were largely matching their opponents in the first half-hour, with Jhon Murillo running at the defenders and Luis Vargas, amongst others, taking shots from range. However, none of their opportunities were particularly threatening and when the Wanderers took the lead in the 34th minute, those of a fatalistic disposition could not help but feel that the inevitable had arrived. The goal itself was a tap-in by Matías Santos – scorer of the crucial winner in the home tie against Palestino – following a low cross into the goalmouth from Joaquín Vergés. As the half petered out, it was actually Vergés who could have doubled the visitors’ advantage when he was played through a minute before the interval but goalkeeper Edward Ibarbo did well to instinctively put out an arm to deflect the ball over at point-blank range.

The second half began similarly to the first, with Zamora having their fair share of the ball but, largely consigned to fruitless runs on the wings and long shots, rarely creating anything of note. If there was any desire for at least a point it was swiftly lost when the second goal went in after 64th minutes. Receiving a lofted pass from Santiago Martínez on the left flank, Nicolás Albarracín, centrally in the dee, controlled and then clinically struck a perfectly placed left-foot shot into the bottom right-hand corner. The goalscorer, who is still a mere 21 years of age, has been one of the Montevideo side’s best players in this group stage and though he has already experienced a brief spell abroad with Serie B’s Spezia, another foreign foray does not seem out of the question.

Albarracín was to further enhance his reputation by playing a key role in the third and final goal. With two minutes left, he robbed the ball off the dawdling Jordani Abreu some 35 yards from goal, immediately passed to Gastón Rodríguez before inching towards the edge of the area, where he again received the ball and then laid it off for Rodríguez to strike home emphatically. A great bit of teamwork between the two players, both of whom have scored twice in this year’s competition, with all four coming against their beleaguered Venezuelan opponents. Soon after the final whistle was blown, the relatively modest Montevideo club had more reason to celebrate as their place in the knock-out phase had been confirmed following Boca Juniors’ 2-0 victory over Palestino.

Zamora, on the other hand, can take away little from their participation in this year’s tournament. Ultimately, Palestino and Montevideo Wanderers proved themselves to be far from pushovers but, when the draw was made, more than a few Venezuelans felt that the bicampeones would make a decent fist of the fight for second place. Indeed, in last year’s competition they finished just a point off this spot, having recorded wins against more established opposition in the form of Colombia’s Santa Fe and Paraguay’s Nacional. Sadly and yet unsurprisingly, losing key individuals – manager Noel Sanvicente to the national side, midfielder Pedro Ramírez to Sion and top-scorer Juan Falcón to Metz – following their second championship win in May 2014 cost them dearly. To go from pushing hard for a knock-out place to losing every game and having the worst defensive record in the competition (21 goals conceded) is jarring. Given the relatively humble means and stature of this club even within Venezuelan football (their two championship wins are the only two in their history), one can not be confident that they will be making any improvements in the immediate future.

To read more about the shortcomings of their Copa Libertadores campaigns as well as those of their fellow Venezuelan sides, Deportivo Táchira and Mineros de Guayana, make sure you return to this site after the group stage is concluded in its entirety, as there will be an article published. In the meantime, if there is any enthusiasm remaining out there, then look out for the final Libertadores clash involving a Venezuelan side, Mineros de Guayana vs Huracán on Tuesday 21 April, a report of which should also be up on this site soon afterwards.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (14 April 2015)

Tuesday 14 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira

 Estadio Presidente Juan Domingo Perón, Avellaneda, Buenos Aires

Goal Highlights of Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 14 April 2015 (courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Rare Venezuelan Optimism Cruelly Dashed Following Late Blunder

Despite already being out of this year’s Copa Libertadores, Venezuela’s Deportivo Táchira nearly pulled off a shock victory against the Argentine champions but were to ultimately be denied by a comeback painfully completed at the death.

Given the significance of seeding in the draw for the knock-out phase and the fact that the hosts had yet to confirm their position at the top of group, they certainly had good reason to go for victory here in their final group game. However, perhaps their 5-0 demolition of their opponents in San Cristóbal back in February was a little too fresh in their memories as while they enjoyed much of the ball in the first half, clear chances were in short supply. Indeed, although Iván Pillud on the right and, more centrally, the likes of Washington Camacho, Óscar Romero, Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou, played the ball around a lot in the final third, they tended to either lack the killer pass or were blocked off by a wall-cum-gauntlet of Táchira players. The closest they came in the first half-hour was when the competition’s top-scorer Bou was played through on 18 minutes but goalkeeper José Contreras raced out to block him off. He was, in any event, offside.

Despite the general flow favouring the group leaders, the humble visitors still managed to make their presence known in the early stages, gaining free-kicks in promising positions and enjoying attacks down the flanks led by Yohandry Orozco and José Alí Meza. It was to be the latter, who has started less than half of his side’s league games and is more often used as an impact substitute, who opened the scoring after 30 minutes. To everyone’s surprise, not least that of the player who had hitherto only managed to find the net in the Copa Venezuela, he profited from some slack marking around the halfway line. He gained some space, dribbled down the inside-right channel while holding off two defenders, before completing what amounted to a 360-degree turn and striking home from the edge of the area.

This most certainly was not in the script. Though it should have served as a wake-up call for the hosts, little changed in the immediate aftermath. Their first real chance to get back in the game occurred in the 37th minute when a cross from Romero on the right reached Milito on the stretch at the back post but he was in such an acute position that he could only head into the side-netting. Their next effort of note was their best of the half and occurred just before the break. Bou received a pass on the right within the area and slapped a fine shot low across goal that Contreras did well to tip onto the far post. The ball rebounded out, narrowly avoiding an attacker, with the Venezuelans just about escaping and heading into the break with their unanticipated lead in tact.

While half-time for both sides must have involved drastically contrasting team-talks, these no doubt required rapid re-thinks less than five minutes after the restart. Incredibly, following on from a pass by César González, Meza managed to find the net again, nimbly evading a challenge before striking home a low effort at Saja’s near post to make it 2-0. Even though Táchira were effectively playing for nothing and Racing’s position in the group made their attitude towards the game questionable, the Venezuelans were nevertheless in dreamland. Leading the full-strength Argentine champions by two goals on their own turf is certainly not to be sniffed at and even taking into account the caveats, this was shaping up to be one of the finest Venezuelan moments in the Copa Libertadores.

Alas, it was not to be. The fightback began in the 58th minute when the widely admired strike-force of Gustavo Bou and Diego Milito combined, with the former receiving a diagonal ball then hitting a cross into the goalmouth for the ex-Inter Milan marksman to tap in.

With their lead halved, manager Daniel Farías soon made changes, the first of which was the surprising replacement of Meza with the less mobile Uruguayan forward Pablo Olivera. Not only had Meza scored twice in what was arguably the game of his life, but by chasing long-range balls and dribbling at the opposition’s back line, he was often playing a leading role in relieving the strain on the defence. With his withdrawal went such moments.

Instead, Racing ramped up the pressure, pitching their tents in the Venezuelan half. In the 67th minute substitute Brian Fernández must have rattled some nerves as much as he shattered the crossbar with a ferocious strike from 25 yards that was hit with such velocity that it rebounded well over 30 yards away from the goal. Denied, but not for long as three minutes later Bou drew his team level. A combination of opposing players headed on a corner to the competition’s top scorer and following a low strike at the near post, he increased his tally to seven goals in six matches.

With twenty minutes still left on the clock and the momentum with the hosts, Táchira were to offer very little going forward, content instead to aim for the reduced glory of a draw. As time wore on, Farías enhanced his reputation for unadventurous and unpopular substitutions, firstly taking off César González, who played the crucial passes that led to both goals and replaced him with 37-year-old Jorge Rojas. Then, with a couple of minutes left, top scorer Gelmin Rivas came on for pacey Yohandry Orozco, who had been playing a role not entirely dissimilar to that of Meza and who was also taken off in an earlier Libertadores game with Club Guaraní to widespread dismay.

Nevertheless, when the 90-minute mark was reached, the game was still 2-2 and owing to a combination of the resilience of the visitors and the lack of urgency of the hosts, Racing had not done much to further threaten the opposition goal. However, just seconds later, disaster struck. On the edge of the area, Fernández dipped a shoulder and quickly got a shot away that should have been comfortable for Contreras. However, to what will be the goalkeeper’s eternal horror, he did not get enough of his body behind the ball and it went under him, trickling agonisingly over the line. Racing, in little over half an hour, had completed the turnaround whereas Táchira, having done so well to confound expectations, ultimately were to go away empty handed and, particularly in the case of Contreras, permanently scarred.

Thus ended the 2015 Copa Libertadores campaign of Deportivo Táchira. Despite impressively qualifying for the competition following an aggregate win over solid Paraguayan outfit Cerro Porteño, they were to underwhelm in the group stage, gaining just three draws and no victories from their six games. Quite where this leaves Daniel Farías remains to be seen as, despite being under pressure after a dreadful 11th-placed finish in the Torneo Apertura, they are currently second in the Torneo Clausura and, with a handful of games left, could well emerge victorious.

A more thorough look at Táchira’s shortcomings should appear on this website soon after all three Venezuelan sides have completed their group matches so be sure to either check back here and/or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter to find out about that and much more.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (14 April 2015)

Tuesday 14 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana

Estadio Olímpico Patria, Sucre

Goal Highlights of Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 14 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Mineros Depart as Universitario Continue to Impress

Though they put in a spirited performance in the altitude of Sucre, Mineros’ Copa Libertadores exit was confirmed by two goals, both of which came towards the end of each half.

The first half was fairly even, with the Bolivians marginally edging it overall though it was the visitors from Venezuela that had the first chance of note. In the fifth minute, international striker Richard Blanco managed to get a shot away within the area from an acute angle that Chilean goalkeeper Raúl Olivares parried out. A couple of minutes later up the other end, Miguel Suárez curled a left-footed shot from the right edge of the area a yard or two wide of the far post.

A quarter of an hour in, Colombian striker Leonardo Castro had the hosts’ next opportunity but, though he received a dinked ball in a promising position, he leant back and blazed over. Five minutes later the Bolivians were to have their best moment thus far, with a header forcing Mineros goalkeeper Rafael Romo to pull off a fine save. However, following some pressure from the visitors, including a couple of corners, there was to be a temporary halt to proceedings in the 26th minute when some of the floodlights abruptly went out.

Three minutes later they were back on and soon afterwards, Mineros were to have their brightest chance of the half. This came when Blanco roamed forward on the inside-right and squared the ball to Ebby Pérez but instead of going for a shot or taking the ball confidently in his stride, he instead went a little wayward. Indeed, he struggled to take command of the situation and his lack of control led to him having to knock the ball back unconvincingly from the touchline towards a team-mate who was unable to get a shot on target.

However, though the Venezuelans were to continue to attack, the Bolivians were to make the breakthrough just before the interval. From a deep position on the inside-right, Rubén Cuesta chipped a free-kick into the area where Castro headed low and hard into the net to ensure his side left the pitch with a spring in their step.

Given their respectable showing, one doubts there were any verbal fireworks inside the Mineros dressing room, though there were some actual ones outside in the Universitario stands as the hosts appeared to be celebrating their final home group game (and a fine showing from their side). The pyrotechnics continued in a similarly well-contested half, with the first chance coming from the hosts five minutes in as Castro hit a shot with pace from 25 yards that was at a good height for Romo, who parried wide.

Ten minutes into the second period, Mineros had a couple of opportunites that both derived from the crosses of  Pérez. The first was headed comfortably over by centre-back Julio Machado whereas the second was somewhat closer to the mark, being nodded 2-3 yards wide of the far post by half-time substitute Zamir Valoyes.

However, far nearer the target was Ezequiel Filippetto’s gilt-edged chance that he was presented with in the 63rd minute. A corner was swung in, then headed on to the back post where the Argentine defender stretched for the ball but could only limply knock it wide of the goal. An opportunity to double the lead was certainly missed, though the hosts ploughed on and were to have the next significant chance six minutes later but Romo was equal to the powerful shot that was driven at him from just outside the area.

The Bolivians were nearly made to pay for Filippetto’s miss with just 15 minutes remaining on the clock when Blanco made space for himself on the edge of the area and hit a well-struck effort that was tipped over by Olivares.

However, ultimately they were to leave victorious and made sure of their win with five minutes remaining when a long ball was pumped forward up the left channel. This was flicked on just outside the area where Mineros substitute Edson Castillo erroneously ran onto it, unthinkingly nodding into the path of Suárez who rounded Romo to wrap up the game with a 2-0 win.

Thus, with one more date of fixtures to be played in this group, Universitario surprisingly top the group with 9 points, though their final opponents Cruzeiro (8 points) may well depose them. There also still remains the chance that the Bolivians may fail to reach the knock-out stage as third-placed side Huracán (7 points) will certainly retain firm hopes of qualifying. However, their final game, an away match against Mineros (1 point), may not be as plain sailing as some casual observers may presume, given the Venezuelans nearly beat them in Buenos Aires in February.

Whether Tpny Franco (who took over from Marcos Mathías in mid-March) feels potentially thwarting the Argentines is worth the bother remains to be seen though with a mere one point from five games, a morale-boosting performance may be deemed necessary. Indeed, domestically, they languish in ninth and are well on course to finish mid-table in the aggregate league – a far cry from the form under Richard Páez that gained them their place in this year’s competition: winning the 2013 Apertura, finishing 2013/14 runners-up and topping the aggregate table.

As always, irrespective of what happens, be sure to continue following what is left of the campaigns of the three Venezuelan sides – Deportivo Táchira, Zamora FC and Mineros de Guayana – on this website as well as on the affiliated Twitter account @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Cruzeiro 3-0 Mineros de Guayana – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (8 April 2015)

Wednesday 8 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Cruzeiro 3-0 Mineros de Guayana

Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais

Goal Highlights of Cruzeiro 3-0 Mineros de Guayana, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 8 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Early Super Strikes Stun Mineros

Any hopes Mineros de Guayana had of frustrating the Brazilian champions were devastatingly dashed by two superb early goals in quick succession as Cruzeiro ultimately ran out three-goal victors.

Despite the wealth disparity between the two sides, the Venezuelans put in a respectable account of themselves in the opening ten minutes, not looking overawed or overran. Alas, a spectacular goal out of nothing soon changed that in the 13th minute. The promising Uruguayan international Giorgian De Arrascaeta, recently recruited from Defensor Sporting, was the scorer, latching onto a header from right-back Mayke and then improvising a sensational overhead-kick. Barely a minute later, Leandro Damião doubled the lead as a throw-in on the left by Chilean international Eugenio Mena fell into his path in the area and he took one touch before unleashing a superb right-footed strike past Rafael Romo.

Faced with this early double whammy, Mineros struggled to regain their focus in the aftermath and thus an embarrassing pasting of the magnitude that their compatriots at Zamora and Deportivo Táchira have eached suffered more than once in this year’s group stage seemed probable. Indeed, the two goalscorers were to regularly link up with Alisson, Willian and other team-mates to almost extend their side’s lead, with De Arrascaeta often playing a pivotal role, playing incisive through-balls from distance.

However, as the half wore on, the Venezuelans at least managed to interject with some forward forays of their own, with two attacks in particular almost leading to goals. The first of these came on 31 minutes when striker Richard Blanco chipped a ball to the edge of the area from the right that the incoming Angelo Peña – formerly of Brazilian outfit Náutico Capibaribe – headed agonisingly wide of the post. Then, not long before the whistle blew for the interval, Alberto Cabello was to have the visitors’ second chance of note which this time was a low strike, though this too was to go marginally wide of the woodwork.

After the break, while the visitors were not entirely subdued, the Brazilians were nonetheless rather comfortable, linking up well in attack and creating chances here and there. One such notable opportunity came ten minutes into the half when Henrique cut onto his right on the left and struck a low shot that Romo did well to save. Eight minutes later, the third-choice Venezuela goalkeeper also did well to block off a sneaky encroachment into the area along the left byline by Damião. Futhermore, the Cruzeiro forward was also to force the best save out of Romo in the 72nd minute when he received De Arrascaeta’s chipped ball on the right of the area and hit a rasping low shot that flicked off the goalkeeper’s glove and out. However, from the resulting corner, Romo and his team-mates were to be instantly deflated as Henrique, aided by a deflection, headed the ball into the back of the net, thus killing any doubts regarding the result, if indeed there were any.

In the 79th minute, Zamir Valoyes was to cut in from the right onto his left, hitting a fine shot that went just wide of the far post, but ultimately such efforts were too little too late for Mineros, with this game having effectively been decided within 15 minutes.

Nevertheless, despite the early setbacks, Mineros deserve some credit for not wilting in the Mineirão and maintaining some pride. With two games left, they remain the only Venezuelan side with a chance of qualifying to the knock-out stage, though as they trail the second-placed side, Club Universitario – their next opponents – by five points, they may share the fates of Zamora and Deportivo Táchira by the time next week is over. Nevertheless, irrespective of the outcome of this particular game, be sure to check back on this site and/or @DarrenSpherical for further updates on the progress of these three teams in the 2015 Copa Libertadores.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Deportivo Táchira 0-0 Sporting Cristal – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (8 April 2015)

Wednesday 8 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Deportivo Táchira 0-0 Sporting Cristal 

Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal

Highlights of Deportivo Táchira 0-0 Sporting Cristal, 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8, 8 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Táchira Bow Out as Cristal’s Fortunes Hang in the Balance

In their penultimate group game, Deportivo Táchira’s elimination from this year’s Copa Libertadores was confirmed following a relatively uneventful encounter with Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal. 

Without getting a real opportunity on target, it was the visitors who edged the first half, often looking to attack from the flanks, with left-back Alexis Cossío – who recently featured at the Under-20 South American Youth Championship – delivering the bulk of the crosses. The closest they came to a goal occurred in the 30th minute as a free-kick delivered by Argentina-born Horacio Calcaterra was headed by Irven Ávila at the backpost past goalkeeper José Contreras, necessitating a desperate hooked clearance on the line by Carlos Rivero.

By contrast, the hosts were more reliant on long balls, pumping them upfield to be chased by the likes of Pablo Olivera who, to the increasing irritation of the home fans, was to often find himself in offside positions. However, their best opportunity, which arrived in the 38th minute, came via a more direct route as Yohandry Orozco – who impressed so much last time out that boos greeted his removal from the field – dribbled up the inside-right towards the area. Yet, the lack of threat offered by Táchira in this period was exemplified by the outcome of this attack as Orozco’s left-footed shot was struck without venom and thus comfortably saved by erstwhile Burnley goalkeeper Diego Penny.

A small mercy was to be afforded to the spectactors inside the ground – which, in marked contrast to the full house for the first home game against Racing, was well under half its capacity – as the second half was to be marginally more entertaining. The majority would have been pleased to see the hosts enjoy the greater of the chances and, to some extent, change tact with more opportunities being derived from the runs of the likes of Orozco and, latterly, substitute José Alí Meza.

Their best chances were to come in quick succession with the half barely five minutes old. Firstly, having had another run abruptly halted by Cossio, Orozco won a free-kick on the edge of the area, which he himself curled over the wall only to see it rebound straight back off the post. Subsequently, the ball fell to Olivera who instinctively knocked it past Penny yet, once again, he was standing in an offside position and thus the goal was ruled out. Just a minute later, Orozco was to find himself over on the left, from where he ran past a defender and slid the ball low across the area to Olivera yet, from a hugely advantageous position, the Uruguayan striker was to squander what was a golden opportunity by tapping the ball wide.

Throughout the rest of this half, Orozco was to continue to spread uncertainty amongst the Cristal back line and Olivera was to find himself offside time and time again before being substituted, but the chances that occurred at the opening of the half were to remain the hosts’ best. The Peruvians, though less successful from the flanks in this period, were to gradually recover from the early threats and had their best overall chance in the 69th minute. This came following a cross from the right that was struck sweetly on the volley in the centre by substitute Renzo Sheput, from which Contreras, with little time to think, managed to pull off a superb one-handed save on the stretch.

In the remaining 20 minutes of regulation time, while both sides continued their forward forays, aside from the odd half-chance and, in the case of the visitors, a half-hearted penalty shout, neither was to seriously threaten the opposition goal. However, following a last-minute red card for Cristal substitute Edinson Chávez, one final opportunity to win the match was to be had, though despite the implorations in the crowd, this was not to fall to the hosts. Instead, Sheput, with what was virtually the last kick of the game, curled a swerving left-footed free-kick from 35 yards just inches wide of the post.

With the game ending in a goalless draw, nobody in the Pueblo Nuevo was particularly surprised to see the Venezuelans eliminated. However, while a point against the Peruvian champions is not to be sniffed at, they may feel an opportunity to claim the first victory in this year’s group stage for their country was missed. As their final opponents, leaders Racing (9 points), are not yet confirmed as the top dog in the group and so are unlikely to field a weakened side, nobody will be expecting Táchira to be the Venezuelan side to rectify this sorry state of affairs next week. By contrast, Sporting Cristal (6 points) will have significantly more to play for in their home tie against Guaraní (8 points), as both know only one can reach the knock-out stage.

Nevertheless, though it has been a rather forgettable year for Venezuelan teams in this year’s Copa Libertadores, for those who are still curious to see if any of them (Zamora and Mineros de Guayana, as well as Deportivo Táchira) can gain that as-yet-elusive win, be sure to continue checking back on this site and/or on @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical