Category Archives: Spain

Jeffrén: Venezuela’s Wildcard on the Wing

With Venezuela set to host Honduras and Panama in their last warm-up games before the qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup begins, Hispanospherical.com shines a light on a certain 27-year-old whose likely debut has divided opinion in the country of his birth…

Jeffrén: Venezuela’s Wildcard on the Wing

The Pinnacle

29 November 2010, just coming up to 10:45pm local time, Camp Nou. A feast was in full swing…

Metronomic maestro Xavi, who initiated proceedings just over an hour-and-a-half prior, walked towards the touchline to receive a rapturous reception from the stands, before being replaced by Malian international Seydou Kéita. Hot on his heels was the man who had continued the festivities shortly after the first blow to the eternal enemy had been struck: Number 17, the 23-year-old already simply known as Pedro, who had become a regular fixture on the Blaugrana flanks during the preceding victorious campaign. Taking his place was another product of the envy-inducing La Masia academy also affectionately known, as is common in Spanish-speaking football cultures, by just his forename. Bearing the number 11 shirt formerly worn in his first few seasons at the club by Brazilian magician Rivaldo, 22-year-old Jeffrén (Suárez) had at this point barely made a handful of official appearances for the first team. Venezuelan-born but raised in the Canary Islands since the age of one, he was nevertheless a familiar face to much of the faithful due in part to his feats at youth and reserve level and enthusiastically ran on to experience his brief share of this memorable triumph. Little did he know just how much he would soon be contributing to both local folklore as well as his own personal myth.

Just four minutes later the game had entered stoppage-time and the ball was suddenly nudged by Andrés Iniesta forward on the right to another home-grown star-in-waiting also more commonly known by his first name. Bojan ran into space towards the edge of the area and crossed in a low ball that narrowly evaded the stretch of the incoming 2010 World Cup final goalscorer. However, having already sensed a potential opportunity, dashing in from his designated left side of the field was Jeffrén, instantly reaching what Iniesta could not and beating Iker Casillas at his near post. If the person in charge of the electronic scoreboard was neglecting their duties in the immediate aftermath it would have been understandable, for when they came to their senses it was to read: Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid. Jeffrén rapidly reeled away and immediately darted over to Pep Guardiola and the Barcelona bench where he was mobbed by Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and all the other men absorbed in the methods that had made this the greatest team of the 21st century.

As Sid Lowe, an historian of El Clásico wrote: ‘Jeffrén Suárez’s late goal made little difference and yet it made all the difference: the fifth goal turned victory into something more historic, more emblematic: a manita, a goal for every finger.’

When Gerard Piqué detached himself from the throng, he raised five fingers to the crowd who needed no encouragement in obliging with similar gleeful celebrations of their own. When the final whistle was blown a couple of minutes later, it is unlikely that Sergio Ramos’ dismissal and subsequent petulant assaults on his La Roja team-mates Carles Puyol and Xavi immediately after the goal celebrations had fully registered with Jeffrén. He was on cloud nine and had every reason to believe that the good days would keep on coming.

The Substance

Indeed, in 2006, he had featured regularly in Spain’s victorious Under-19 European Championship side. He played in Poland alongside the likes of Juan Mata, Mario Suárez, Gerard Piqué, Javi García, Antonio Barragán, Gorka Elustondo and Esteban Granero, chipping in with the first goal that got the ball rolling in a 5-0 semi-final thrashing against Austria. He also came on as a substitute in the final in Poznań a few days later, helping to see out a 2-1 win over Scotland, courtesy of two goals by recent Porto signing Alberto Bueno.

Thus, while in 2010/11 there was congestion in the attacking berths from, most notably, Messi, Pedro, Bojan and David Villa,  Jeffrén nevertheless possessed the pedigree to strongly suggest that he was capable of remaining at a respectable top-flight level for some time yet. He was to play eight league games in total that season and went some way to further cement his credentials when he once again represented the country that had reared him at the 2011 Under-21 European Championships held in Denmark.

Born on 20 January 1988, had the then 23-year-old been born just 20 days earlier, he would not have have been eligible to participate, which is just as well for Spain as it could be argued that their eventual triumph never would have occurred without one of his contributions. Indeed, with Jeffrén having come on to replace Athletic Bilbao’s Iker Muniain with 20 minutes remaining, La Rojita were trailing Belarus 1-0 in the semi-final and this was still the score with little more than a single regulation minute left on the clock. However, following some characteristically patient and pinpoint passing play involving, amongst others, Mata, Bojan and Thiago Alcântara, Jeffrén received the ball on the right and, stretching, instantly played in a low cross that the alert Adrián reached first to knock into the back of the net. 1-1 and another much-fancied generation of Spaniards were suddenly back on track.

Extra-time therefore followed, during which the same striker (who would soon after transfer to Atlético Madrid and has since recently moved on loan to Villarreal from Porto), headed his side in front with his second of the game in the 105th minute. Just under ten minutes later, Jeffrén was once again on hand to provide the icing on the cake, cutting onto his left foot and rifling in a sensational left-footed golazo from over 20 yards. 3-1, game over. Three says later, the side also containing David de Gea, Ander Herrera, Javi Martínez and César Azpilicueta thus marched into the final in Aarhus, where they defeated Switzerland 2-0, with Jeffrén appearing as a late substitute.

spainu21

Jeffrén and his Spain team-mates winning the 2011 Under 21 European Championship (WAATP)

The Disillusion

So, maybe sometimes a bridesmaid rather than the bride, but a rather attractive one all the same. In search of regular first-team minutes, he was to depart from Catalonia just over a month later for Portuguese giants Sporting, though a testament to how highly Guardiola and his colleagues still thought of him was the buy-back clause they ensured was inserted into his contract as part of the deal.

However, despite evidently still being thought of as a potential high-level talent, his time in Lisbon was to be a huge disappointment to all, as he struggled with injuries, form and, ultimately, starting opportunities. He played in fewer than 25 league games in his two-and-a-half years there, before moving back to La Liga with Real Valladolid in February 2014. Here, the misery was to continue as a few months later the team was relegated. Subsequently, despite playing the closest he ever has to a full season, as only 19 of his 35 second-tier league appearances for 2014/15 were as a starter (of which he was substituted 12 times) and his combined number of goals and assists could be counted on one mano, this could hardly be considered a year of rejuvenation.

Thus, following their failure to regain their top-flight status after they were eliminated in the play-off semi-finals, Valladolid released Jeffrén. In the past month or so, while old rumours of a move to the English Premier League were no longer doing the rounds, there had been some speculation that he may return to the Canary Islands to join Tenerife, the side at which he had a brief association as a teenager. A far cry from where ex-colleagues Pedro and Bojan currently reside but perhaps the kind of morale boost he needs. Instead, in the past week, in what on the surface at least may appear to inaugurate the latest chapter of his downward spiral, he has signed a three-year contract with Belgian second-tier club KAS Eupen.

The Rebirth? JEFFRENidentitycard

Jeffrén posing in Venezuela colours with his new national identity card (GradaDigital)

Or is it? Eupen only narrowly missed out on promotion last season and, as of 4 September 2015, currently top their league. Moreover, a certain Christian Santos finished a two-year spell at the club a couple of seasons ago, during which he regularly found himself on the scoresheet and, excluding the injury-plagued year that followed, has since seen his career flourish. Last season, for someone often fielded on the flank he was banging in the goals at a heroic rate (23 in 34 league games), helping NEC Nijmegen steamroll their way into the Dutch top-flight. It is not yet known as to whether Jeffrén sought Santos’ advice, but given the parallels in the lives of these two men, it is certainly possible. Thus, the dual adventures that the ex-Barça man is about to embark on could well prove beneficial to providing the incentives to get him back on track.

Indeed, for as well as finding a new club, he has also found a new country. Like Santos, he was born in the Venezuelan state of Bolívar but grew up from a very young age in Europe (Germany, in the case of the NEC attacker). Within the past year, both men have acquired the necessary documentation and status in order to represent the country of their birth, with Santos having already made his international debut in March. Given Jeffrén’s impressive progress through the youth ranks of the Spanish national set-up and his La Liga appearances, playing in senior international games with Xavi, Iniesta and co. must have long seemed an attainable dream that could not be easily relinquished. Thus, in the past, he has either batted away or outright rejected calls to instead play for La Vinotinto, much to the chagrin of many from his birthland. Indeed, as a teenager he reportedly turned down calls from then-manager Richard Páez to play at the historic 2007 Venezuela-hosted Copa América. Then, three years later when César Farías was at the helm, with words that would come back to haunt and for which he has since apologised, he declared: ‘I don’t want to hear anything more about Venezuela.’

A trawl through social media sites and the Venezuelan press reveals that there are plenty currently unwilling to forgive him for these comments and the issue has certainly sparked some debate in the days leading up to his likely debut. It has, after all, only been in the last two years or so that he has publicly expressed more openness to switching allegiances. As this has coincided with his club career sliding downhill and his chances of representing La Roja evaporating, most Venezuelans do not kid themselves that they are anything but his international back-up option.

The Team-mates

However, albeit with less public rejection to apply selective amnesia to, the national side’s devotees have most certainly been in similar situations before. Most famously, it was only four years ago that defender Fernando Amorebieta – Venezuela-born but to Basque parents – gave up on his ambitions to represent Spain, having previously been part of the Under-19 European Championship-winning side of 2004 and, latterly, even receiving a call-up to Vicente Del Bosque’s senior squad for a 2008 friendly. He made his Vinotinto debut in 2011 and went a significant way to emerging victorious in the PR battle with the belligerents in October of that year by scoring the history-making winner against Argentina – Venezuela’s first-ever competitive win against their illustrious opponents.

One commentator on ForoVinotinto stated his belief that such goals aid the cause of convincing the hostile and the fence-sitters of a player’s commitment to the nation, referencing another one scored the following month as further proof. Indeed, in November 2011, Swiss-born Frank Feltscher, who spent some of his childhood in Venezuela and is a nationalised citizen, scored a late equaliser away to neighbours Colombia, gaining another vital point for what was an impressive start to the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. Curiously, while Feltscher may not be in the current squad, he is not completely out of the loop and if he receives one in the future at the same time as Jeffrén, the pair can reminisce about their experiences of the 2011 Under-21 European Championship final, when Feltscher had to endure Jeffrén and co. lifting the trophy from the Swiss bench.*

These are just two examples of many, as complex identities are nothing new for Venezuelans to have to contend with when cheering on their representatives. Indeed, in a country where baseball has traditionally held the greatest sway over the affections of sports fans, football has instead often received much innovation and development from those with what some may perceive as divided loyalities. Many of the domestic clubs were originally formed by immigrant communities, from whom plenty of the nation’s leading players have also been derived, most famously Juan Arango, the Venezuela-born son of a Colombian couple. Thus, though Jeffrén carries with him some additional self-inflicted baggage, he can take some heart from the experiences of many of his forebears. If, as seems likely, he makes it onto the field against Honduras and/or Panama for his debut, should there be any vocal hostility, he can cling to the belief that so long as he gives his all, his hard work should ultimately be appreciated. That said, a goal in a big game wouldn’t hurt either.

The Challenge

Alas, as this site’s detailed preview relates, his new international side is not short of pacy wide men, so one can not be confident of his future after these two games are over. Despite having a disproportionate number of potential providers to call upon to both assist and take some of the burden off lead man Salomón Rondón, the attackers have nevertheless struggled to combine and gel effectively. Collectively, since manager Noel Sanvicente’s arrival in July 2014, Venezuela have scored a mere 14 goals (12 officially) in 11 games. Work amongst those in the two front lines evidently needs to improve. Given that Sanvicente himself concedes that Jeffrén is not currently in the best of form, there is certainly some scepticism as to whether the player can come out of the blue to force his way into the coach’s burgundy plans.

Nevertheless, the Masia graduate’s international debut is something that many have been anticipating for years; so much so that, irrespective of the outcome of this experiment, it almost feels necessary for it to occur. Will it be the end to a protracted saga? Or perhaps the launchpad for a bright new phase in what could well be the peak years of his career? Only time will tell.

Expected to appear against at least one of the upcoming Central Americans opponents at the Estadio Cachamay in Puerto Ordaz, the boy whose family uprooted from nearby San Félix 26 years ago may feel less out-of-place than some anticipate. Indeed, in the build-up to his Vinotinto bow, he has spoken of his excitement at playing in the state where relatives of his still live. Aptly poetic or false sentimentality? With Venezuela’s latest bid to finally qualify for a World Cup starting next month, one suspects that for his detractors, his on-field actions will speak considerably louder than any of his words.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Article originally published on 4 September 2015.

*Author’s Indulgence: Over a decade ago at his English secondary school, your faithful Venezuelan football enthusiast regularly sat in German lessons next to a boy who is largely remembered for having once asked the teacher who had summoned him to the desk, if she was “‘avin’ a giraffe’. Somehow this Mockney qualified to represent Scotland and played in the final of the 2006 Under-19 European Championships, where he came up against none other than Venezuelan newboy Jeffrén – then, of course, wearing the colours of the victorious Spain. As noted in the article, the then-Barcelona man would later go on to help La Rojita lift 2011’s Under-21 European Championship trophy while his new compatriot Frank Feltscher – then donning the tracksuit of Switzerland – watched on with his defeated team-mates from the sidelines. Identities, eh…?

UPDATE: Jeffrén did not feature against Honduras (4 September 2015). As Venezuela slipped behind in the second half and ultimately lost 3-0, it was probably for the best that he was not introduced at any point on what was a fairly dismal evening. That said, the sparse crowd that did attend nevertheless maintained fairly good spirits until the final whistle so if, as is predicted, he makes it onto the pitch against Panama on Tuesday, it seems like he can expect a good reception in the state where he was born.

UPDATE 2: As Juan Arango made what he later announced to be his last ever Venezuela appearance, Jeffrén made his debut. One out, one in, some might say. He played the final 30 minutes in the rather dismal 1-1 draw against Panama. Click here to read about how he got on.

Venezuelans Abroad in Spain – Recap of Round 4 in the Primera División

Spain

Spain

Saturday 20 September 2014

Primera División

Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Granada

Match Summary

Athletic Bilbao suffered a Champions League hangover as their much-changed side slumped to their third defeat in four league games following an appalling defensive lapse that allowed the young Colombian Jhon Córdoba to score the winner after 39 minutes.

Córdoba’s first goal for Granada came after he seized upon Ander Iturraspe’s complacent nonchalance on the ball forty yards from the Bilbao goal to drive towards goal and nutmeg Gorka Iraizoz.

Córdoba’s first start of the campaign alongside the young Success Isaac in attack was Granada’s fourth different strike-partnership in as many games. One man who was sidelined by this latest experiment was Darwin Machís who, despite starting in the opening game of the season and being a half-time substitute last week, was demoted back to the B side to play in their 1-1 away draw against Cádiz. Granada’s reserve side compete in Segunda B’s Group 4 (of 4), so to call this the Spanish third-tier is debatable given the variance in quality from the top of each group to the bottom.

Nevertheless, as he did not play, one hopes to be forgiven for not giving a more comprehensive report of the first-team’s match, though should you to wish to read one, please click here.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Primera División

Espanyol 2-2 Málaga

Match Summary 

After his petulant opening-day dismissal, Portuguese veteran Duda redeemed himself by coming off the bench to score a wonderful equalising free-kick with the last kick of the game, providing Málaga with a slightly fortuitous point

Espanyol will feel hard done by as they would have fancied their chances against the last side they managed to beat in the league (albeit all the way back in March) and they did edge the number of chances, particularly within the first half.

Indeed, the less radical of Catalonia’s two top-flight sides looked sharper and in the early stages took advantage of what is becoming worryingly characteristic slack tracking and disorganisation from Málaga’s back line. After just six minutes, Espanyol captain Sergio García pressed at pace to take advantage of poor passing between Sergi Darder and Roberto Rosales – who started, with his compatriot Juan Pablo Añor not in the squad – in their own defensive third. Under duress, Rosales hesitantly nudged it short to Málaga captain Weligton on the edge of the area but his desperate recovery-slide merely fell to Víctor Sánchez who forced his way into the area before shooting low at Carlos Kameni.

Málaga did not heed warnings such as this and on 16 minutes were punished, with García again causing problems – this time being the architect of the opening goal. He ran infield with the ball from the right of the area, played a quick one-two with Madrid-loanee Lucas Vázquez and, from a central position just outside the area, found a gap to play through Ecuadorian Felipe Caicedo, playing against his former side, whose deft footwork grounded Kameni, leaving a vacant goal to tap into.

Right-back Rosales was one of a few defenders who did not seem entirely sure where he should be during that attack as he ran out to a central position, though credit must be given to García for such defence-bamboozling movement. Rosales, though to not to the same degree as he did against Levante, offered more going forward and ten minutes after the goal received a dinked ball from Darder on the right of the area which he fired across the goalmouth. This caused problems for goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, whose parry outwards fortunately did not fall to an attacker.

Despite this rare glimpse of hope for the away side, Espanyol nearly got a second after 36 minutes, following a corner from Vázquez. His cross swung to the back post with both Kameni and Rosales missing the ball and García, who anticipated it a mile off, headed it just wide – though had he stepped back a yard or so he may well have been in a better position to profit from this goalkeeping error. Kameni also received some criticism in certain quarters for supposedly going to ground too early for the goal so it will be interesting to see if he keeps his place in the line-up in upcoming weeks, as Guillermo Ochoa is always waiting in the wings.

In the opening stages of the second half, not a great deal had changed but irrespective of what level a team is playing at and who their opposition are, there is always hope from a set-piece. Indeed, out of nowhere, Los Boquerones got themselves back into the game in the 53rd minute when Luis Alberto’s corner was nodded into the back of the net by the unmarked Igancio Camacho.

Espanyol attempted to prove this was just a temporary blip in the natural order of things and just eight minutes later came close to regaining the lead following a corner won after Vázquez’s free shot on goal was parried out by Kameni. From the resulting cross, half-time substitute, the Uruguayan forward Christian Stuani, headed onto the bar. As the ball came back out, Salva Sevilla (who had been brought on two minutes prior) and García may have got in each other’s way as it fell further away from goal towards the inside-edge of the area. However, the drama was not over as Diego Colotto, back-to-goal, attempted to hook the ball over his head into the danger zone but it was blocked by the high arm of Rosales. The former FC Twente man knew exactly where the ball was, having his eyes on it as he leaped, thus bolstering any claims that it should have been a penalty, though apologists will surely claim that his turn away at the last moment proves his innocence and that it was accidental as he was possibly fearful of Colotto’s right boot connecting with him.

As the game wore on, things did become more tense for the visitors as they picked up five yellow cards in the final 30 minutes and watched Espanyol have more chances to regain the lead. Indeed, Stuani was played through by García in the 79th minute, though Kameni was out to block the forward’s nudged attempt with his legs and then, just a minute later, the Cameroonian goalkeeper was to save comfortably from a header from Salva Sevilla following a corner.

However, there was nothing Kameni could do about Stuani’s header with two minutes to go. The Uruguayan may have long played fourth or fifth fiddle on the international stage to his nation’s other impressive attacking options, but he must have been elated to score here what felt like the headline-grabbing goal, nodding in from a free-kick on the right, having lost his marker Sergio Sánchez. 

Ultimately though, it was not to be as Espanyol were to be denied their first league victory in six months as 67th-minute substitute Duda curled a textbook free-kick into the top right-hand corner in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time.

Venezuelans Abroad in Spain – Recap of Round 3 in the Primera División

Spain

Spain

Saturday 13 September 2014

Primera División

Málaga 0-0 Levante

Match Summary

Los Boquerones were left frustrated and aggrieved after they were denied a victory, despite racking up a hatful of chances and having a goal from Juanmi incorrectly disallowed for the second week in a row.

It seems somewhat futile to list all their chances in this one-sided encounter and readers would be much better advised to just watch the embedded highlights above, though if they are unable in your region, here follows a brief summary.

Portuguese left-back Antunes had an early left-footed cross-shot that nearly caught out Jesús Fernández at the near post, but was just about parried out for a corner. Luis Alberto picked up a ball in the final third and drove a low right-footed strike from 25 yards out that was palmed wide by Fernández’s outstretched gloves. Roberto Rosales was played into the area on the right by Ricardo Horta and gained some considerable space by turning a defender and then having a close-range shot from a narrow angle with his less-favoured left foot that Fernández did well to get a hand on.

This game was the best since arriving at Málaga for Rosales to demonstrate his attacking abilities, though his compatriot Juan Pablo Añor was left on the bench after making his debut last week.

Continuing with the attempts, Luis Alberto received a short pass from Roque Santa Cruz just inside the area in a central position and crashed the top of the crossbar with a thunderous strike. Soon after, Ricardo Horta turned on the right just outside the area and hit a low left-footed attempt that was again palmed wide. Luis Alberto had yet another attempt before the end of the first half, cutting inside on the other angle of the penalty area, and hitting a testing right-footed shot that Fernández again made a low outstretched dive to palm wide.

The second half saw more of the same, with Ignacio Camacho and later Roque Santa Cruz having good headed chances. The former was a free-header that went straight at the goalkeeper and the latter came from a knock-back 10 yards out that the Paraguayan will feel he should have at least got on target rather than heading a yard wide of the post.

Other chances were missed, but it was Juanmi’s second disallowed goal in two games that will certainly be the memory most fans come away with. He received a strongly hit low cross from Rosales just inside the area on the right and rapidly turned to fire home yet, despite replays showing he was being played on, this goal was ruled offside.

Sunday 14 September 2014

Primera División

Granada 0-0 Villarreal

Match Summary

It was not until the 58th minute that both teams managed to register an attempt on target and though this encounter came gradually more to life as the final half-hour ticked down, ultimately neither side was able to make the breakthrough.

Granada, missing Youssef El-Arabi up front, partnered last week’s promising debutant Success Isaac with summer-signing Alfredo Ortuño but, in the first half at least, were content to defend deep and soak up their opponents’ pressure – a common approach of sides managed by the experienced Joaquín Caparrós.

Despite El Submarino Amarillo having nearly two-thirds of first-half possession, it was the home side who had the best opportunity and, rare for them, the source of this was not a cross or set-piece from Fran Rico. Indeed, the former Real Madrid reserve was to swing in many testing balls but this particular chance was a cross from captain Piti after less than three minutes that the young Isaac should have made a firmer connection with, but he instead saw his header go meekly wide of the far post.

This miss may have contributed to Isaac’s slightly surprising half-time substitution, as he was replaced by Venezuela’s very own Darwin Machís who was to gradually come more into the game and contributed to some decent chances for his side.

The second half’s comparative chance-fest began on 53 minutes when Villarreal’s Brazilian defender Gabriel Paulista got his side’s first effort on target, heading powerfully from the penalty spot to cause a spectacular, if comfortable, tip over the bar from Roberto.

Granada evened up the chances column five minutes later after the French-born Cameroonian Allan Nyom – who was to grow more into the game, putting in a few notable crosses – curled a ball just inside the area that Ortuño sneaked a head onto, though his position made it difficult for it to be anything other than a comfortable save for Asenjo.

This seemed to galvanise Granada’s confidence when going forwards as a couple of minutes later, Machís ran up the left towards the area, though as Rubén Rochina’s poor movement failed to provide an option for him, the Venezuelan ran into trouble. Attempting to win the ball back, he committed a rash foul on Mateo Musaccio that could well have resulted in a red card on another day, though mercifully the colour of the card the referee brandished here was yellow. Just a minute later, Machís dusted himself off and nearly got onto the end of another dipping Nyom cross from the right. The former Mineros man attempted to strike this on the the volley from the edge of the area, but unfortunately was unable to make a genuine connection with the ball.

Despite Granada enjoying greater possession in the final third, they nearly gifted Villarreal a goal on 71 minutes when Jean-Sylvain Babin passed back to goalkeeper Roberto who made a complete hash of his clearance, scuffing it up into the air rendering him unaware of where it was heading as it spiralled back down. Substitute Denis Cheryshev nearly profited from this error, charging forwards to pounce though his stabbed challenge/shot narrowly missed the target and caused Roberto to attempted to cover his embarrassment by fuming at the Russian for the manner in which he attempted to gain an advantage.

Five minutes later, Machís had his best moment of the game, taking on Mario Gaspar on the left and running past him into the area where he put in a testing low cross that Asenjo could not get two hands on. Consequently, the ball bobbled in the goalmouth area and the 17 year-old debutant Adrián Marín just about managed to come over from his position on the left of defence to clear before any onrushing attackers could nudge the ball home.

In the last five minutes, though the Villarreal threat was still always there, the home side managed to get a few more decent chances on goal. Firstly, on 85 minutes, Colombian forward Jhon Córdoba – who had only just come on to make his debut and whose goal record and reputation does suggest there is something of the Emile Heskey about him – did well to gain some space from Paulista in the area to fire a hard shot from an angle that was parried for a corner. Soon after, Fran Rico – possibly tired of team-mates not getting on the end of his balls, possibly mishitting the cross – dipped a set-piece on the left 40 yards out with his right foot that curled high and nearly caught out Asenjo who had no choice but to tip it over. Subsequently, and finally, Rico then trotted over to the corner spot and crossed in an outswinger that Colombian defender Jeison Murillo, in space just eight yards out, headed powerfully but much too close to Asenjo, who gratefully caught it as the game ended goalless.

Venezuelans Abroad in Spain – Recap of Week 2 in the Primera División

Spain

Although this update is being published over a week after the games were played, there are still several days before the next round of matches are played in the Spanish top-flight so hopefully the two match reports below will be of interest to some. If there is anyone waiting for updates from the two rounds played in Liga Adelante since that league’s last mention on this site, rest assured that this has not been forgotten about.

Friday 29 August 2014

Primera División

Valencia 3-0 Málaga

Roberto Rosales and co. were eventually beaten comfortably by a Valencia side who may well be eyeing up a Champions League berth, yet had Sergi Darder not received a red card midway through the first half, it could have been a rather even contest at the Mestalla.

Los Boquerones had started brightly with Roque Santa Cruz brushing the side-netting with a header from an acute angle early on and Juanmi later having a low deflected shot from the edge of the area saved by the outstretched glove of Diego Alves. Sofiane Feghouli had Valencia’s best chance in the first quarter with a diving header that glanced just wide, but what could have been a tight match was effectively ended in the 27th minute when Darder became the third Málaga player in two games to receive his marching orders, after going in with studs showing from behind on Dani Parejo.

A few minutes later, the home side were ahead as Spain’s great new striking hope Paco Alcácer ran onto a cross from Rosales’s side to deftly finish with the outside of his right foot. Soon afterwards, Ricardo Horta swivelled to make himself some room on the left side of the Valencia area to and fizzled a right-footed effort that was swerving so unpredictably that Alves had to tip it over. However, while the sending off did not altogether curtail Málaga’s attacking instincts, it did render them more vulnerable on counter-attacks such as the one led by Feghouli at the end of the half. This culminated with the Algerian international running to the central edge of the area and nudging an attempted through-ball that hit the hand of the sliding captain Weligton which, however unintentional, the referee presumably judged to be denying a goalscoring opportunity and awarded a free-kick. Parejo stepped up take it and though Carlos Kameni – starting again ahead of Guillermo Ochoa – got a good hand to it, the Valencia captain was there to strike home the rebound on the stroke of half-time to give his side a two-goal advantage.

Just after five minutes into the second period, Málaga were incorrectly denied a route back into the game when Luis Alberto found Juanmi with a lovely chipped pass that the youth team graduate confidently put away, yet the officials disallowed the goal for a non-existent offside. Unsurprisingly, the club’s president was out fuming after the game over the perceived injustices inflicted upon his team this season, yet this was of little concern to the hosts as they extended their lead five minutes later with a sublime team goal. Feghouli again had a role as he passed a cross-field ball over to the left edge of the area that Alcácer, with two fine touches, controlled and then played a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Pablo Piatti who finished off the move flamboyantly with a well-executed strike with the outside of his left boot. Try though he did, Rosales was a rather helpless victim of this attack, as he could get nowhere near the fast-paced interplay and his frustrations manifested themselves 8 minutes later when he picked up a booking for an impetuous trip on Piatti.

After the third goal, the game was well and truly over as a contest and while there were further chances, the most notable occurrence from a Venezuelan perspective was the introduction of Juan ‘Juanpi’ Pablo Añor on 75 minutes for his senior debut, having been with the Andalusian side for four years. Some helpful soul has produced a video tracking his every touch, though it was his last one – which was also the final one of the match – that was the most eye-catching as, despite being a 20 year-old debutant, he was granted free-kick duties and bended a deflected effort no more than a yard past the woodwork in stoppage time. Hopefully in the near future we will be seeing a lot more of this youngster, preferably in a Málaga side that is capable of combining its evident attacking ability with some discipline.

Sunday 31 August 2014 

Primera División

Elche 1-1 Granada

Darwin Machís will have been disappointed to lose his starting spot to 18 year-old Nigerian forward, Success Isaac (yes, really), as a last-minute equaliser denied Granada the opportunity to be only the second team, along with Barcelona, with a 100 per cent record after a mere two games.

As Success was often involved in several dangerous attacks, Machís stayed on the bench throughout the match, from where he would have seen several close scrapes at either end in the first-half. Indeed, the home side’s best chance came from Cape Verde Islands international Garry Rodrigues who, having done the hard work of shrugging off several challenges in a powerful burst from his own half, was unable to slide the ball past Roberto, who stood tall. Granada’s near-goal came from Youssef El-Arabi who, having received a flick on from Success, saw his first shot saved by goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń, yet with the rebound falling fortuitously and goal gaping, his shot from the angle was dramatically blocked by the slide of Chilean fringe player, Enzo Roco.

In the second half, both Success and Granada’s opening-weekend match-winner Jean-Sylvain Babin had goals disallowed; the former for an offside decision and the latter for what appeared to be a push by a team-mate as he powered home a header from a corner. Undeterred, the Nazaríes continued their assault on the Elche back line and got the breakthrough in the 81st minute as Success cleverly played Fran Rico into some space with a short reverse-ball and he somehow managed to squeeze a low shot into the net from a very tight angle.

Ultimately however, any dreams of being joint-top of the league were dashed in the first minute of stoppage time when a free-kick from a deep position on the left was swung into the area where it flew over what most defenders must have thought was all the opposition players as no one detected the run of the incoming David Lombán, who volleyed home a low strike to earn a point.

Venezuelans Abroad – 26 Aug 2014 Weekend Round-up (Europe)

Much as this column is attempting to be dedicated to shorter and more timely updates there is not a great deal that can be done to avoid lengthy articles when a near-full programme of fixtures is played in numerous time zones over a weekend. As always, following Hispanospherical on Twitter will give you fresher news on our disparate band of Venezuelans (and much more, including coverage of the Spanish leagues that kicked-off this weekend) but for those who prefer a more extensive article to read, please allow 10-15 minutes to wade through the weekend action from Europe (a second Rest of the World article for the Venezuelans playing elsewhere will soon appear on this page):

Europe

Spain

The Primera and Segunda Divisiones were inaugurated this weekend, with the very first match in the top-flight to be played coming at La Rosaleda with an incident-filled victory for Málaga at home to Athletic Bilbao. While youth-team graduate Juan Pablo Añor will have to wait a little longer to feature in a match-day squad, right-back Roberto Rosales made his competitive debut for Los Boquerones following his summer move from FC Twente. Málaga won a penalty in the 35th minute following an error from the usually dependable Gurpegi, who misjudged the flight of a ball he should have headed away, allowing Roque Santa Cruz to run onto it and then draw a foul from the onrushing goalkeeper, Gorka Iraizoz. Liverpool-loanee Luis Alberto stepped up, shooting slightly left-of-centre which drew a comfortable parry from Iraizoz but only straight back to Alberto who tapped it home to give his side the lead. Both teams continued to attack amidst a lively atmosphere but it was in the last several minutes that the game really commanded the spectators’ attention with a succession of incidents. Firstly, Málaga’s resident hot-head, the veteran Duda, came off the bench in the 70th minute only to be sent off 18 minutes later for ludicrously attempting to blast the ball at Bilbao’s Iker Muniain (who had just been fouled) and then pushing him over in full-sight of the referee. Two minutes later, Vitorino Antunes, left-back and Portuguese compatriot of Duda, cynically hacked down an opposition player who looked to be making a breakthrough in midfield, thus reducing the home side to nine men. Six minutes of stoppage time were played and Málaga as well as every Spanish football fan appears to still be unsure as to how they managed to survive without conceding as Bilbao’s goalkeeper Iraizoz sensationally headed home a magnificent bullet-header from a free-kick and yet, for reasons unknown, saw it chalked off by the referee. Soon after at the death, the Basque side were further incensed when Málaga’s Cameroonian goalkeeper Carlos Kameni – receiving the nod over Mexico’s World Cup hero Guillermo Ochoa – appeared to haul down Aritz Aduriz amidst a frantic goalmouth scramble. Nevertheless, Málaga held on for what was a rather impressive victory, though how they will cope with two suspended players and less fortuitous refereeing decisions remains to be seen. Although Roberto Rosales should gain some satisfaction over the clean sheet his team somehow kept, he was not tested a great deal down his right-hand side, though did sometimes stand off players, thus allowing them to put crosses in. From this game and the friendly matches he has played in, it does seem that while he possesses pace and certainly likes to get forward, he can be rather impulsive and to his side’s detriment when doing so, as his instinctive rapid passes regularly get intercepted and leave his team-mates on the back foot. We will see over the course of the season if this is merely due to a lack of collective cohesiveness in the side as well as a personal combination of hesitancy and eagerness to impress brought about by the professional step-up that he needs to get accustomed to.

Staying in Andalusia but moving over to Los Cármenes, Darwin Machís will have been delighted to have played the full 90 minutes for Granada in their 2-1 win over the returning Deportivo La Coruna. Overall, the Nazaríes put in an impressive performance that will give them hope that the end to their season will not be as tense as it was last year, but due to a goalkeeping error it was they who conceded first. Indeed, Depor’s new signing from Benfica, Ivan Carvaleiro, bustled his way into space on the right side within the area and his shot was embarrassingly fumbled over the line by Stole Dimitrievski. Fans of trivia for trivia’s sake will be posting on message boards left, right and centre upon learning that the last competitive game that these two 20 year-olds played in also saw them on opposite sides as Macedonia faced Portugal in an Under-21 European Championships Qualifier back in May. It is unknown whether Granada’s players were aware that Dimitrievski lost that match 1-0, but in the unlikely case that there are some fatalistic doom-mongers in their ranks, there were not any tinfoil hats on show upon their re-emergence for the second half as they instead composed themselves to reverse the scoreline. The fightback began on 54 minutes when former Blackburn player Rubén Rochina drove through the middle and, aided by the space granted to him by Youssef El-Arabi blocking off a defender, lashed a low worm-murdering firecracker into the bottom left-hand corner. The winner followed just over 20 minutes later when, in a move that replicated an earlier attempt with more success, Fran Rico curled a 45-yard free-kick on the left into the area and, in considerable space back-to-goal, Martinique international Jean-Sylvain Babin flicked a memorable header on his debut over Germán Lux. Machís was a sporadic attacking threat throughout this victory and though he did not manage any clear shots on goal, he should nevertheless feel confident of keeping his place next weekend away to Elche.

Moving on swiftly to the second-tier, relegated Real Valladolid began their promotion push with a 2-1 victory at home to Mallorca, thanks in no small part to two corners by Jeffrén Suárez. The first of these after 24 minutes was back-flicked into his own net by Mallorca’s Pau Cendrós in a manner that most fancy Dans (and Gianfrancos)  would have been proud of. The second was an inswinger after 52 minutes that was headed/shouldered by Roger Marti on to the post and rebounded for Óscar to knock home. Just over ten minutes later, unintentional trickster Cendrós scored at the right end after making a late run in the box to volley home a cross; in response, Suárez was withdrawn to be replaced by defender Johan Mojica in what appeared to be a tactical switch that ultimately just about paid off as Valladolid held on to victory. International goalkeeper Dani Hernández was between the sticks for the home side, though this could well prove to be his last league appearance for the club as earlier this week marked the long-awaited arrival of Sevilla’s Javi Varas.

Elsewhere, Josmar Zambrano came on to play the last 15 minutes of Recreativo Huelva’s eventful 0-0 draw at home to Real Zaragoza which, due to injury setbacks and loan spells, was actually his first appearance for the team despite joining over 18 months ago. Julio Álvarez is still out injured and so missed Numancia struggling to hold on to a lead with ten men and ultimately conceding two late goals in the last seven minutes to lose 2-1 at home to Sporting Gijón.

France

Nantes played at home to last year’s big-spenders Monaco who, before the game, were rooted at the bottom of the table, undergoing a period of transition following the arrival of the Venezuela-born manager Leonardo Jardim and the loss of James Rodríguez as well as attempting to deal with the ongoing instability caused by the daily speculation over the future of the latter’s compatriot, Radamel Falcao. However, the Principality boys recorded their first win at the Stade de la Beaujoire, thanks to a header late in the first half from the Colombian hitman that was actually his side’s first attempt on target in what was, for the majority of the game, a rather drab encounter lacking in clear chances. Oswaldo Vizcarrondo played all of the game and can not be faulted for the space granted to Falcao for his header but his fellow Venezuelan Fernando Aristeguieta was left out, with opening-day sensation Yacine Bammou instead starting up front. Bammou is certainly staking a strong claim to regularly keep Aristeguieta warming the bench and it was he who earned a penalty for Nantes halfway into the first half after drawing a foul from Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subašić. However, Serge Gakpé could not convert as Subašić redeemed himself with a low save to his right that resulted in a bit of goalmouth ping-ball as the ball was rapidly fizzed back-and-forth between the six-yard box and the left byline several times before going out of play. That was Nantes’ first attempt of the game but they did have a few more from open play towards the latter stages of the second half, Bammou again having one of the more notable opportunities with a snatched shot that swerved just wide of the post in the 80th minute. Immediately afterwards he was substituted off for Aristeguieta who, as has been the case so far this season, found himself in the midst of promising attacks without really being on the end of anything, with Kian Hansen providing the closest Nantes chance – a close-range volley from a corner that rattled off the crossbar. Thus it ended 1-0 to the away side, leaving Nantes with a record of one win, one draw and one defeat this season and next up for them will be a home game against Montpellier; Aristeguieta and Vizcarrondo may well learn a thing or two about their opposition from a certain compatriot of theirs.

Indeed, Juan Falcón played all of Metz’s 2-0 away defeat at Montpellier this weekend. The outcome could have been different, however, if his side had managed in the first half to convert their second penalty in as many games. In contrast to the game against Nantes, Kevin Lejeune rather than Yeni N’Gbakoto took the spot-kick – despite both men having been on the field at the same time in both games – and his shot cannoned off the post, coming straight back for him to chest and then strike on the volley but this was well-saved by the goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren. Subsequently, Montpellier’s two goals came from a Siaka Tiéné free-kick at the end of the first half and fellow African Souleymane Camara made sure of the three points by heading home at the end of the second half. Falcón did have one notable half-chance in the second half as a corner was whipped into the box and flicked on just in front of his path; the Venezuelan thrust his body towards the ball but could only make rather tame contact with the top of his thigh and his effort was cleared off the line by Morgan Sanson. Falcón will be hoping to open his account this upcoming weekend against Lyon to help Metz move up the league and out of the relegation zone.

Down a notch in Ligue 2, Grenddy Perozo has many reasons to be walking about town with a spring in his step. Not only was he recently called up to the national side, but his club Ajaccio built on last Monday’s derby victory to record their second win in four days, this time with an impressive 1-0 victory against Tours, thanks to a 73rd-minute goal by former France international Benoit Pedretti. As an indication of how poor Ajaccio were last season when they were relegated from Ligue 1, this result marked the first time since February 2013 that they have won two consecutive games and – perhaps more pleasingly for Perozo – the first time since last August that they have kept two consecutive clean sheets. The Corsican club now sits 5th, level on points with cross-commune rivals Gazélec Ajaccio, who have a marginally superior goal difference. Both sides are 3 points behind Troyes, the side Perozo – or at least some of his team-mates, given that promotion is the team’s primary focus – will be facing today (26 August) in the Coupe de la Ligue.

Portugal

While the young defender Victor García was not in Porto’s squad for their 1-0 away victory against Paços de Ferreira, both of the more established Venezuelans in the Primeira Liga who lost in midweek Europa League action continued their disappointing starts to the season, albeit for rather contrasting reasons. By rights, Yonathan Del Valle should feel elated that his side Rio Ave top the league after two matches but as he has been subbed off in both before any of their seven goals have been scored, he may not entirely share some of his team-mates’ feelings. In fairness, he will be the first to point out that he was most likely substituted at half-time in last week’s 2-0 victory over Vitória Setúbal for tactical reasons to compensate for his side’s man disadvantage and this weekend it was hardly his fault that he picked up an injury after 33 minutes in the 5-1 thrashing away to Estoril. Here, the goals began to fly in five minutes afterwards with the Egyptian Ahmed Hassan Koka going on to equal his tally for the whole of last season by getting a hat-trick; the other two came from Pedro Moreira.

Del Valle’s compatriot Mario Rondón has been getting significantly more game time for Nacional, playing all 90 minutes of their last three competitive games. That these matches have all ended in defeat is more likely to cause unrest than introspection as Rondón has spoken in public more than a few times about his desire to move on from Nacional and join one of Europe’s bigger leagues. His latest outing involved a spell captaining the side as they were defeated 3-1 away to Belenenses (who had Englishman Matthew Jones in goal). As observed in the last column, Rondón looked a little frustrated in last week’s Europa League tie and he did not look much happier in this game, particularly after being adjudged to be offside after 30 minutes, thus ruling out a potential equaliser for his side and then having to watch Belenenses go up the other end two minutes later to make it 2-0. Nacional did pull one back through a Marco Matias penalty but the Angolan Freddy scored a cracking curler that went in on the underside of the crossbar to ensure victory and a 100 per cent record for the home side.

Russia 

Zenit St. Petersburg also maintained their 100 per cent league record with a 2-0 victory against Amkar Perm, with Shatov and Hulk getting the goals early in the first half as the ban on home fans in the Petrovsky Stadium was lifted for the first time this season. Salomón Rondón kept his place in this side, starting over Kerzhakov who replaced him for a mere 11 minutes at the end and it seems more than likely that André Villas-Boas will stick with Rondón for Zenit’s crucial second leg of their Champions League play-off against Standard Liège. Zenit have a 1-0 lead from the away leg and so are favourites to go through but Rondón will be especially keen to get on the scoresheet as he came in for some criticism after the first match for being perceived to be somewhat off the pace, with his first touch consistently letting him down.

Italy

The Coppa Italia Third Round was contested over the weekend, the stage at which sides from Serie A who have not qualified for European football enter. Tomas Rincón made his debut for Genoa as they defeated Serie B’s Virtus Lanciano 1-0 away from home via a goal from new signing, the Chilean World Cup nearly-man Mauricio Pinilla, in a game played at a good tempo that was not short of chances.  Franco Signorelli‘s Empoli comfortably defeated third-tier L’Aquila 3-0 at home, with all three goals coming from veteran striker Francesco Tavano, though the Venezuelan himself was left on the bench. However, Signorelli, like Rincón, will surely feature in his side’s opening match of the league season this weekend and, more pertinently, the pair will actually meet each other in the Fourth Round of the Coppa Italia, though that will not be played until 2 December.

Switzerland

Cup action as well north of the Alps, with Thun defeating plucky third-tier Breitenrain 3-2 away from home as Venezuela’s Alexander González got off the mark for the season with two goals (no jokes about him ‘finding his level’, please…). With the score 0-0 at half-time, Breitenrain really did put up a strong test, taking the lead on two occasions, with both goals being cancelled out by González (his first a cracking volley from a long diagonal ball), who also had a hand in the winner, which was knocked in by Nelson Ferreira. Elsewhere, Pedro Ramírez continued his lacklustre start to his European career as he was subbed off after 45 minutes as his side were trailing 1-0 to fifth tier La Chaux-de-Fonds, a game Sion would eventually turnaround to win 3-1. Finally, Frank Feltscher is still injured so missed Aarau’s 7-1 away thrashing against Taverne.

Germany

Rolf Feltscher made his debut for Duisburg as an 81st-minute substitute away to early high-flyers Chemnitzer in a 0-0 draw, leaving his side 11th in the league with 6 points.

Cyprus

AEL Limassol’s rather multicultural team won 2-0 in their first league game away to NEA Salamis, but both Jonathan España and Jaime Moreno were left on the bench.

England

Finally, Fernando Amorebieta again was not part of the Fulham match-day squad as they lost their fourth league game on the trot. His departure, most likely to Granada, seems imminent.

Mercifully for us all, that concludes the round-up of the weekend’s European action involving Venezuelans but if you have any further questions about events discussed or any players that have been neglected, please leave a comment below and you can be sure to get a relatively swift response!

Part 2: Rest of the World should be posted on this site soon – keep checking back!