Category Archives: Venezuelan Domestic Football

Deportivo Táchira Defeat Trujillanos to be Crowned the 2014/15 Champions of Venezuela

2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final Second Leg

Sunday 17 May 2015 – Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira State

Deportivo Táchira 1-0 Trujillanos (Deportivo Táchira win 1-0 on aggregate)

Video Highlights of Deportivo Táchira 1-0 Trujillanos, 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final Second Leg, 17 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Veteran Rojas Wins for Deportivo Táchira their Eighth Venezuelan League Championship 

In front of a domestic season-high attendance of 37,365, 37-year-old Jorge Rojas converted a penalty with 15 minutes left on the clock, thus claiming the 2014/15 Venezuelan championship for Deportivo Táchira – their eighth in their 41-year history.

Though they certainly rode their luck at times and may be considering deifying the woodwork that dramatically saved them at the death, they did edge proceedings here, at times dominating the play – no more so than in the first half.

Indeed, Trujillanos did not really seem in the game to begin with, as most of the running was made by Táchira, the highest-scoring team in the league who were welcoming back to their line-up Rojas and top-scorer Gelmin Rivas. Just three minutes in, centre-back Wilker Ángel found himself in acres of space just outside the area, where he received a cross-field pass from Yohandry Orozco but, perhaps a bit too casually, struck the ball a few yards over. While the hosts – and particularly Orozco – continued to threaten, with the winger later striking a shot that went just a couple of yards wide, it was Rivas who had the next real chance of significance. Indeed, after 26 minutes, he gained some space just inside the area and shot low, which goalkeeper Leandro Díaz did well to stop and, following a somewhat fortuitous ricochet, smother away from attackers looking to pounce.

However, despite being on the receiving end of this early pressure, it was actually Trujillanos who had the best opportunity to score in the half. Out of the blue, a cross came in from the right and Alfredo Padilla rose, unmarked and in space, but headed agonisingly wide of the far post. A gilt-edged chance, make no mistake, though by the time the final whistle was blown, it was not to be the only one that the visitors’ would regret not taking.

When the first period was brought to an end, though fans had endured 135 minutes of goalless action in this tie, there was no question that this game was significantly more enthralling than the first leg in Valera. Indeed, while the roars of the large crowd – almost three times as high as last week’s attendance – as well as the decisive nature of the game certainly helped, there were also far more attempts created.

The first of note in the second half came after 57 minutes, when Orozco’s corner was met in space by the incoming Javier López but, despite his advantageous position, he was to head a couple of yards wide. Although Orozco also attempted a decent half-volley a few minutes later, the home side were soon to wonder if they were going to be made to rue their misses as, somewhat surprisingly, Trujillanos grew into the game and rattled Táchira with their forward forays. Firstly, in the 64th minute on a counter-attack, Padilla found himself in plenty of space roaming infield from the right flank yet, though he had the option to play in a team-mate or have a shot at goal, he was evidently caught in two minds as he wasted the opportunity by weakly chipping the ball into the grateful hands of goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind. Just a couple of minutes later, Liebeskind was to be properly tested as Colombian Jarol Herrera suddenly struck a shot from over 25 yards that caused a spectacular, acrobatic save from the goalkeeper. However, drowning out the applause for this stop were the murmurs and cries of discontent from the home fans who were beginning to sense they may just lose the game that they were heavy favourites to win.

Although there was a response of sorts as, up the other end, promising youngster Carlos Cermeño hit a decent shot just a yard or two over from 25 yards, Trujillanos were to continue to threaten up until the final whistle. Indeed, in the 72nd minute, just before the match turned against them, another 20-plus-yard effort was parried out low by Liebeskind. Soon afterwards though, Táchira made their breakthrough as star playmaker César González was upended in the area and his side were awarded a penalty. Jorge Rojas, with over 80 international caps and with a high success rate from the spot since his January move from Metropolitanos, was never likely to crumble under the pressure and thus, having given Díaz the eyes, he rolled the ball into the back of the net.

To the surprise of no-one who has watched Táchira this season, manager Daniel Farías’ response to his side taking the lead was a cautious one, making a defensive substitution, removing arguably his leading attacking threat, Orozco. Subsequently, the vistors had the better of the closing stages and, with just two minutes remaining, came breathtakingly close to scoring. A blocked Trujillanos free-kick was to ricochet to a team-mate who shot low from just outside the area, evading Liebeskind’s dive, rebounding off the post to Luiryi Erazo whose close-range shot remarkably hit the opposite post, despite having virtually an open goal to aim at. Two times the woodwork saved the hosts, though the chaos in the area did not stop there as there was a scramble for the ball which saw two further shots blocked by the defence, before it was cleared.

After this miss, the home fans no doubt sensed it was destined to be their year and when the whistle blew, many ran onto the field, delaying the lifting of the trophy for some time afterwards. Ultimately, though this outcome was predicted even if it did not quite follow the anticipated script, Táchira are worthy champions, having put in a remarkable performance to snatch the Torneo Clausura at the death. Both they and Torneo Apertura winners Trujillanos will thus qualify directly for the 2016 Copa Libertadores group stage, with Caracas FC – who ranked highest in the Aggregate Table – having to go through the playoff route.

Serie Pre-Sudamericana

Results from the first legs of the final games on this mini post-season tournament (also played on 17 May):

Mineros de Guayana 2-3 Zamora

Carabobo 1-0 Deportivo Lara

The second legs will be played on 20 May and the winners will both gain entry to the 2015 Copa Sudamericana, which begins later in the year. Check back to this article for updates on these ties.

UPDATE

Results of the decisive second legs played on 20 May:

Zamora 3-2 Mineros de Guayana (Zamora won 6-4 on aggregate)

Deportivo Lara 1-0 Carabobo (1-1 on aggregate; Carabobo won 3-1 on penalties)

Consequently, Zamora and Carabobo will join Deportivo La Guaira and Deportivo Anzoátegui in the 2015 Copa Sudamericana, which will commence in August.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira – 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg (10 May 2015) (Plus Serie Pre-Sudamericana Updates & the Aquiles Ocanto incident)

2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg

Sunday 10 May 2015 – Estadio José Alberto Pérez, Valera, Trujillo State

Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira

Video Highlights of Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira, 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg, 10 May 2015 (courtesy of Youtube account Highlights Venezuela)

Bore Draw At Least Ensures a Competitive Venezuelan Finale 

Whether it was due to the 33 degrees heat, the attacking limitations of the hosts and/or the defensive approach of the visitors, Trujillanos and Táchira served up a forgettable encounter unbefitting of this showpiece occasion.

Pre-game, there were fears that the home side would expose themselves as being out of their depth, having endured a considerable fall from grace since winning the Torneo Apertura in December, losing some key players as they limped to a 11th-placed finish in the Clausura. However, though they failed to make a breakthrough in this game, they did dominate the majority of play, with the Clausura-winning visitors having largely been set up to contain and frustrate them. As Táchira possess the best attack in the league (64 goals in their 34 games this season), this was a somewhat unanticipated approach and one that could not be said to have been forced upon manager Daniel Farías. Indeed, his side may have had three first-team regulars out suspended following an accumulation of yellow cards – Gerzon Chacón, Wilker Ángel and Jorge Rojas – but only the latter of these plays in a forward position. Instead, the 33-year-old boss was very much the architect of his side’s reserved tactics, even benching 20-goal top-scorer Gelmin Rivas. Seemingly, this move was to help facilitate counter-attacks for the more mobile Yohandry Orozco and José Alí Meza to run onto and spearhead – something that never really occurred.

Thus, Trujillanos were to enjoy more of the ball in opposition territory though, to give Farías credit, the Táchira rearguard was largely successful in repeatedly blocking off key passes and not allowing their opponents many clear opportunities. Arguably the best chance Los Guerreros de la Montaña were to have was their first of note, which came after just seven minutes. Alfredo Padilla’s cross from the right was met by Sergio Álvarez, who flicked on a header at the near post that the visitors’ goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind did well to block at close range. This was a rare instance of one of Padilla’s many crosses in the game actually being connected with – had his side managed to keep ahold of strikers James Cabezas and Freddys Arrieta after the Apertura win, one wonders if Trujillanos would have had more joy from this mode of attack.

Up the other end, Táchira only really had two moments of note in this half yet as one was a low cross that evaded everyone and the other was a passing move that fell apart before a shot could even be struck, one would not wish to overstate the threat of these. Indeed, the only other chance of significance in the opening period came from Trujillanos in stoppage-time as Maurice Cova curled a fine free-kick from 25 yards that Liebeskind did well to tip over for a corner.

Regarding the second-half, while a lack of information provided on this period in a match report is often symptomatic of the writer having to make sacrifices in order to get an on-the-whistle article finished on time, readers can be assured that in this case it is simply because little of note occurred. Indeed, to succinctly summarise: Trujillanos dominated but continued to be thwarted in the final third, having even fewer opportunities than in the first half and Táchira barely mustered an attack worth mentioning, with Rivas’ introduction 20 minutes from time predictably changing nothing. Nevertheless, whether the away fans were pleased with their team’s tactical display, celebrating the Clausura title win or were simply amusing themselves, they were to see out the game by repeatedly jumping up and down while emitting something approaching euphoria

Hopefully, both sets of players will take some of this spirit with them into the decisive leg in San Cristóbal next weekend as, if there is anything positive to say about this match, it is that both teams will still feel that they have a strong chance of claiming the championship. Indeed, though Táchira will feel happier with this result and will go into the final game as strong favourites with a more attacking approach, the scoreline ensures that Trujillanos still retain some hope of causing what would be considered an upset.

To find out how the finale to the Venezuelan season pans out, keep checking back here and, if you are not already, please follow the Twitter account @DarrenSpherical.

Serie Pre-Sudamericana

Starting at the same time as the Gran Final, there is also a post-season tournament to determine the two remaining Venezuelan entrants into the 2015 Copa Sudamericana. Eight teams are participating and following the next round, all will have been decided. For more information on how the competition works, check out the bottom of this article, but in the meantime, here are the results of the first legs of the first round of games (also played on 10 May):

Tucanes de Amazonas 0-0 Mineros de Guayana

Estudiantes de Mérida 1-2 Zamora

Carabobo 1-0 Aragua

Atlético Venezuela 1-0 Deportivo Lara

UPDATE:

On Wednesday 13 May, the second legs of these games were played. Here are the results:

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Tucanes de Amazonas (Mineros de Guayana won 3-0 on aggregate)

Zamora 4-2 Estudiantes de Mérida (Zamora won 6-3 on aggregate)

Aragua 0-0 Carabobo (Carabobo won 1-0 on aggregate)

Deportivo Lara 2-0 Atlético Venezuela (Deportivo Lara won 2-1 on aggregate)

Consequently, the two Copa Sudamericana places will be decided in two separate games over two legs played on 17 and 20 May. Mineros de Guayana will face Zamora and Carabobo will play against Deportivo Lara.

Carabobo’s Aquiles Ocanto Savagely Attacked on Pitch By Rival Fan

Before signing off, one feels obliged to briefly mention a rather unsavoury incident that occurred after the game between Aragua and Carabobo – two rival teams from neighbouring states. Aquiles Ocanto, the visitors’ top scorer in the league and whose goal in the first leg ultimately decided this tie, was the victim of a vicious assault by a fan after the game. Indeed, Ocanto was being interviewed live by a TeleAragua presenter on the pitch when suddenly an intruder ran up behind him and jumped, knees first, into the player’s back, savagely knocking him to the ground.

Video of Pitch Invader’s Assault of Aquiles Ocanto after Aragua 0-0 Carabobo, Serie Pre-Sudamericana (Venezuela), 13 May 2015 (courtesy of TeleAragua).

The offender has since allegedly been identified online and Ocanto, who made his international debut against Honduras in February, is reportedly fine with no serious injuries. Unsurprisingly this incident has made the news far outside of Venezuela’s borders with, amongst others, the websites of The Guardian and The Metro – two British publications – picking up the story. While this was certainly newsworthy, it is a pity that leagues off the radar of the average European fan only tend to be of interest to editors and journalists when something disgraceful or bizarre that has little to do with football occurs. Such is the way of the world. Nevertheless, in a humble attempt to go some way towards rectifying this, it is politely recommended that any readers who came to this website off the back of this story check out how the final day of the Venezuelan Torneo Clausura ended – who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Review of Venezuela’s 2015 Torneo Clausura Title Race

The second part of Venezuela’s Liga Movistar recently came to a close as the 2015 Torneo Clausura was won in the most dramatic of circumstances by Deportivo Táchira. What follows is a look back at their campaign as well as that of their rivals Caracas and what is still left to play for…

Video Highlights of Caracas FC 2-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Venezuelan Torneo Clausura, 3 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Deportivo Táchira Break Caracas Hearts at the Death

In a refreshing instance of a highly-anticipated match living up to its billing, the Clausura-deciding clásico del fútbol venezolano ended with Táchira snatching a sensational title win on the final day away to Caracas in the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time.

Puncturing the atmosphere and permanently scarring the home fans in the capital, Wilker Ángel’s header at the death gave the game its final twist, making it 2-2 and denying Caracas the win they needed to lift the Clausura trophy. It was all too much for the hosts to accept. They had been elated to take the lead for the first time as the game was entering its closing stages in the 80th minute, reversing the scoreline at long last, having initially gone behind with less than 15 minutes on the clock. Understandably, stunned silence mixed with sadness was the only way for their fans to respond an outcome that will be difficult to stomach for some time yet. To read more detail about this unforgettable match, click here.

As with the Apertura, the relatively short duration of the 17-game Clausura tournament often allows for much jostling for the top spot and this year was no different, as at times at least a handful of teams appeared to be in the running to claim the crown. However, though the likes of Zamora and Deportivo Anzoátegui certainly put in strong performances (with the former only ruled out of the title picture on the penultimate weekend), the race ultimately came down to the two most decorated teams in Venezuelan football history. Thus, what follows in this article is a look back at the impressive title-winning campaign of Táchira, followed by an overview of the respectable showing of Los Rojos del Ávila and then ending with a succinct round-up of what else is left to play for until the season is officially brought to a close.

deportivotachira

Deportivo Táchira
2015 Torneo Clausura Winners

Although there was more than a hint of good fortune to Táchira’s last-gasp triumph, there can be no doubting that overall, they earned this Clausura victory. Indeed, being alone amongst the three Venezuelan Copa Libertadores teams in having to go through a two-legged play-off tie to earn their group stage spot, they were actually to play more competitive games than any other top-flight side since the turn of the year – eight more than most, including Caracas. Their participation in the continent’s premier competition also led to the inconvenient rearrangement of many domestic fixtures, with games often being played in rapid succession to help accommodate Libertadores matches as well as the team’s preparation for them. For example, from the end of January to the beginning of March, they went five weeks without a league fixture. For the majority of the Clausura, such alterations caused Los Aurinegros to regularly find themselves two to three games behind the other pace-makers and thus, barring a fleeting early spell in January at the top, it was not until they went into the decisive last-day clásico that they were to occupy pole position. The manner in which Táchira were to stay within touching distance of their rivals and ultimately take advantage of their games in hand is worthy of significant praise and speaks volumes of the character and quality that exists within their ranks. The team manager, the youthful Daniel Farías, deserves much credit for his role at the helm and a rather bright future for him on the touchline may well be on the cards. Yet, back in early January, things seemed altogether more bleak for the 33 year old.

Indeed, Táchira, the side with the all-time second-highest number of championships (seven to Caracas’ eleven), have high ambitions every season and midway through this one, Farías had been falling well short of such expectations. Much discontent was being voiced in San Cristóbal following an Apertura in which, having been top of the table, they were to fail to win in their final eight games, picking up just three additional points and finishing a woeful 11th. When they opened up the Clausura by throwing away a lead and ultimately losing to a stoppage-time goal against lowly Atlético Venezuela – one of several capital-based sides living very much in the shadow of Caracas FC – Farías’ days appeared to be numbered.

The subsequent game at home to Aragua, a decent side who finished just five points off top in the Apertura, certainly would not have been particularly appealing to a manager under pressure. However, perhaps benefiting from a lack of official crowd to spread tensions around Pueblo Nuevo (owing to trouble in the stands towards the end of the preceding campaign), Táchira impressively recorded their first win for over three months in a 3-1 victory. This sudden reversal of fortunes appeared to galvanise them as they were to follow this up with a 4-1 thumping at home against Llaneros de Guanare and a 3-1 victory away to Portuguesa; that they also briefly went top during this late-January period certainly did Farías little harm either. In these matches, experienced international César González impressed, as did new recruits such as Alan Liebeskind (who saved two penalties and was to save more in the following months) and the veteran Jorge Rojas (scorer of three consecutive penalties). One man in particular fans were delighted to see return to form was striker Gelmin Rivas who, after a goal-drought towards the end of the Apertura, rediscovered his shooting boots. Nevertheless, as two (Llaneros de Guanare and Portuguesa) of the three teams that these players excelled against in this period were to finish in the bottom two positions in the Aggregate Table, many maintained their scepticism regarding talk of a Táchira turnaround. However, following the club’s next two encounters, temporarily at least, critics were to be compelled to drop their reservations.

Indeed, following a 2-1 home victory and a 2-2 away draw against Paraguayans Cerro Porteño, Táchira became the first Venezuelan side in the current format (est. 2005) of the Copa Libertadores, to successfully negotiate the qualifying stage and progress to the group stage. With these games coinciding with the first two victories of the national team under new coach Noel Sanvicente since he took over in July 2014, much optimism was expressed regarding the footballing future of Venezuela.

This was not to last long. On the first day of the group stage, they were emphatically thrashed 5-0 at home by Argentine champions Racing. Subsequently, though they stole a 1-1 draw in their second game away to Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal, they followed this up by being on the receiving end of another thumping, this time 5-2 in Asunción against Guaraní. Things got little better during their campaign, as Farías as well as, on occasion, the team became targets of the boo-boys, with Táchira ultimately finishing with a dismal record of three defeats, three draws and no victories.

However, though on the continental stage they were floundering, domestically they were flourishing, albeit while playing catch-up to their rivals. Indeed, one particular highlight during this period was a mid-March 5-2 thrashing over fellow Libertadores qualifiers Mineros de Guayana in which Rivas found the net four times – remarkably, this came just a few days after their own 5-2 defeat in Paraguay. When their group stage commitments ended on 14 April following an unfortunate 3-2 reversal against Racing in Buenos Aires (during which they were leading 2-0 at one point), they could at least then focus on salvaging something significant from the season.

At this point, while they were just four points behind Caracas with two games in hand, Farías’ history of falling away at the end of the previous campaign, combined with the number of games to be played in a relatively short period as well as the quality of these upcoming opponents, counted against Táchira somewhat. Indeed, the remaining five matches they were to play over the final 16 days of the Clausura could scarcely have been tougher, rendering their ultimate accomplishment altogether more impressive. Displaying considerable stamina and character, they won the first four of these, starting with a 2-1 away victory against Deportivo La Guaira (who finished 7th, but were narrow runners-up in the Apertura, as well as winners of the Copa Venezuela in early December). They followed this up with three consecutive home wins watched by significantly more people than were showing up earlier in the campaign. Indeed, a mere 2,699 had attended the 5-2 Mineros mauling, yet with the title in their sights, 12,223 saw them defeat Deportivo Anzoátegui (who finished 4th) 2-1 on 22 April. Then, on the penultimate weekend of the Clausura, the overall champions of the last two seasons, Zamora, were finally knocked out of the race (and were to finish 3rd), courtesy of a 17-second Jorge Rojas goal in front of a season-high 22,367 attendance. Subsequently, just over 20,000 believers turned up for the 3-0 midweek victory against Deportivo Lara (finished 5th), the game which finally put them ahead of Caracas and thus in the driving seat for the Clausura-deciding clásico.

They travelled to the capital’s Estadio Olímpico de la UCV – which, exempting the conspicuous security arrangements that left at least one section empty, was virtually full to the brim – needing just a draw in what was easily one of the most eagerly anticipated regular season games in Venezuelan football history. As related earlier, while their early lead was ruled out and then, with ten minutes remaining, reversed, they were to snatch an equalising goal and the title with what was the last meaningful touch of the match. As stunning as this was to witness, statistics show that the last 15 minutes of matches are when Táchira are most deadly in front of goal and they had already won two games with stoppage-time goals – though even if Caracas were fully aware of this, it would not have made much difference.

Consequently, they attained the point they needed and pulled off a remarkable feat, winning the Torneo Clausura by finishing with 41 points, having won 13, drawn 2 and lost 2. While their defence certainly contributed to their achievement (conceding 17, the 5th lowest amount in the league), it was their attack that deserved the most plaudits, scoring 40 goals, placing them comfortably first in this department. Gelmin Rivas was the main man here, netting 13 times (adding to the 7 he scored in the Apertura), possibly having been buoyed by the attention he reportedly received from two top-tier Belgian sides just before the campaign got underway. Now 26 years of age, if he is keen on a move abroad, now would appear to be the most opportune time. As a natural marksman, finishing from close range either with his feet or, rather frequently, his head, he was often reliant on the crosses and through-balls of his team-mates, especially César González. The 32-year-old’s set-pieces were regular sources of goals and he even managed to chip in with an impressive haul of seven himself – form which earned him a recall to the international set-up in late March. Another prolific purveyor of opportunities was 24-year-old winger Yohandry Orozco, who also impressed sporadically in a few Libertadores matches. Although another move to a team of the calibre of Wolfsburg – where he spent a rather subdued spell between 2011-2013 – is certainly not on the cards, a move to a bigger side on the same continent does not seem out of question. José Miguel Reyes, a similar player who likes to roam down the wings as well as cut infield, also had a decent season, scoring five goals along the way. Lastly, 37-year-old Jorge Rojas certainly had a campaign to remember as, following his inter-season move from lowly Metropolitanos, he was to score seven league goals. His phenomenal strike in the first leg of the Libertadores play-off against Cerro Porteño will surely be recalled with affection for some time yet.

Of the remainder of the squad, while there were certainly some impressive performances, the player with the most chance of a move abroad in the upcoming future is surely the hero of the final day, Wilker Ángel. The 22-year-old made his international debut in November (and scored with the faintest of touches) and has been allegedly attracting interest from elsewhere in South America as well as Europe within the past year. However, as his primary function is to keep out goals rather than score them, one wonders whether his side’s porous showing in the Libertadores (15 conceded) has adversely affected his chances of a foreign move.

On a somewhat related note, one can not help but fear that the fine form Táchira showed in the Clausura will again fail to translate on the continental stage when they compete in next year’s Copa Libertadores. As well as holding on to their top players and the essential retention of manager Farías, some reinforcements will surely be needed by the time next February rolls around.

For the time being however, their focus will be on claiming the Venezuelan Liga Movistar championship outright. Having lost a few key players, their opponents in the Gran Final, Trujillanos, are a shadow of the side that won the Apertura in December, finishing 11th in the Clausura and so will be the underdogs going into this two-legged affair. The first game of this decisive tie will be the away fixture for Táchira in Valera on 10 May, with the reverse fixture on 17 May. Those unable to tune into these matches can expect reports on this website.

caracasfcfc
Caracas FC
2015 Torneo Clausura Runners-up

So unfortunate were Los Rojos del Ávila to not be crowned Clausura champions, having sat in pole position for the majority of the second half of the campaign. Having put in a decent showing in the Apertura (finishing 3rd with 31 points) and topping the Aggregate Table with 70 points to Táchira’s 64, it is hard to envisage there being any severe repercussions for manager Eduard Saragó and his charges.

Indeed, Caracas began the Clausura well, taking 11 points from a possible opening 15. However, in the last of these games, a 0-0 draw away to Aragua on 8 February, their star playmaker and literal as well as figurative ‘number 10’, 22-year-old Rómulo Otero, had to be withdrawn due to injury. He did return briefly in the following month, making two substitute appearances before starting against Deportivo Anzoátegui on 18 March, though he lasted no more than 54 minutes before going off hurt, never to return. The absence of Otero, arguably the brightest Venezuelan prospect plying his trade in his homeland, certainly diminished their attacking options in the remainder of the Clausura, having a noticeable effect on how they appraoched the opposition goal as well as the amount of times they scored.

Indeed, from being the highest scorers in the Apertura with 33 goals, they were to finish in the Clausura with two other teams as joint-sixth in this department, netting just 23 times. In Otero’s absence, new recruits Diomar Díaz (a Venezuelan turfed out of New York Cosmos following Raúl’s arrival) and Argentine Fabián Bordagaray (who arrived from Greece, having had spells with San Lorenzo and River Plate, amongst others) can not be said to have risen to the plate, with only the latter managing to find the net (and just the once). Thus, with so few goals in the side, 10 of their 12 victories were to be achieved by a mere one-goal margin (with the other two being by two), with the majority of their attacks emanating from the flanks for someone in the centre – usually Edder Farías, who got 11 goals – to finish off.

To maintain such a high position with such forward-line deficiencies, they required a well-organised defence as well as a top goalkeeper, both of which they certainly possessed. Indeed, they conceded the lowest number of goals in the Clausura – 11 – and shot-stopper Alain Baroja, who during this campaign firmly established himself as the national team’s second choice, repeatedly saved them with a string of spectacular highlight-friendly saves.

Despite many doubts being expressed regarding their ability to mount a significant title challenge following Otero’s injury, Caracas’ unglamorous approach was largely effective. After they took over Zamora at the top of the table just after the midway point, they were to become the favourites for many as uncertainties remained regarding Táchira’s ability to make up the ground that had been lost due to their Libertadores encounters.

As we now know, such doubts were proven to be unfounded. The ‘fine margins’ managers and pundits alike often cite certainly came to the fore in the dying seconds at the Estadio Olímpico de la UCV on 3 May. Indeed, had a hoofed clearance not been hooked instinctively for Wilker Ángel to nod in, it is rather likely that many of the post-game headlines and plaudits would have instead been given to Baroja, who had pulled off a few crucial saves that appeared to have won it for Caracas.

Nevertheless, the country’s most successful club (11 championships) will have to regroup. Given their success over the course of both the Apertura and Clausura, it is unlikely that manager Saragó will want to make too many changes, though he may have his hand forced in this area. Indeed, Caracas have a reputation for developing and then selling their top young players and there are at least four in this squad who could be leaving for foreign shores either in the next few months or within the next year or two. Baroja would certainly be one, having earned so many plaudits this season – his third as Caracas’ number one choice – and being a good age for a player of his position – 25 – to make a move. Otero is definitely another player Saragó will do well to keep ahold of, having been linked with teams in Brazil, USA, Portugal, Switzerland and France in the past two years – in this regard, the length and nature of his foot injury will be important. According to his agent at least, also attracting interest from abroad is Jhonder Cádiz, a 19-year-old attacker who scored six times in 32 games in his first full season with the side, having been brought in from fellow capital side Deportivo Petare in early 2013. Lastly of this youthful crop, though there have been no stories suggesting interest from overseas, 20-year-old roaming right-back Jefre Vargas had a very encouraging season, contributing the most assists (7) in his 21 appearances and representing his country at the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament in January.

Although they had an impressive Clausura, due largely to their ages, the rest of the Caracas defence are less likely to be snapped up by foreign suitors looking for long-term investments. Nevertheless, 27-year-old centre-back Andrés Sánchez must be given credit for his form, which was even noted by national boss Sanvicente, who gave him two starts against Honduras in a domestic-players-only set of friendlies in February. Another member of the backline to impress was left-back Rubert Quijada, 26, though to the dismay of some, despite being called up for Sanvicente’s first squad in September, he has since repeatedly been overlooked by the national team.

Elsewhere in the side, 34-year-old defence-minded midfielder and captain Miguel Mea Vitali is unlikely to be leaving the capital – indeed, he has recently signed a new contract – but with 6 goals and 6 assists over the course of the entire season, he has had a year to be proud of. Last but by no means least, 27-year-old striker Edder Farías had the best goalscoring year of his career, netting 17 times altogether, with 11 coming in the Clausura and thus essential to the title push. As he has failed to get into double figures in the league in his previous two years with Caracas, it is unlikely that any foreign suitor will take a chance on him – something that his current fans will be delighted about.

Overall, Caracas definitely had a good season but will obviously be devastated for some time yet to have missed out on the Clausura title. As the best-placed side in the Aggregate Table. they will be hoping early next year that they can still show the continent what they are capable of when they play in a two-legged playoff in order to qualify for the group stage of the 2016 Copa Libertadores.

Tables

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2015 Venezuela Liga Movistar Torneo Clausura Table (courtesy of Soccerway)

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2014/15 Venezuela Liga Movistar Aggregate Table (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Still to be Determined: Copa Sudamericana Places

Caracas may have to go through the play-off round, but Trujillanos and Deportivo Táchira have both already qualified for the 2016 Copa Libertadores group stage by virtue of winning, respectively, the Apertura and Clausura. They will now duke it out to see who will be the overall Venezuelan champions of 2014/15. However, this is not the only matter yet to be decided as on the day of their first leg, the mini post-season tournament – known as the Serie Pre-Sudamericana – to determine who gains the two remaining spots for this year’s Copa Sudamericana also begins.

Indeed, in all, four spots were available for this competition (the continent’s very loose equivalent to Europe’s Europa League), but two have already been taken. The first was won by Deportivo La Guaira after they won the Copa Venezuela back in December and the second has been earned by Deportivo Anzoátegui who, after finishing fourth in the Aggregate Table, are the highest ranked team available to claim the spot. Thus, in the upcoming competition the two remaining places will be contested by eight teams, these being the highest-ranked in the Aggregate Table who have not already qualified for a continental competition (in other words, 5th to 13th, excluding 6th-placed Apertura champions Trujillanos).

The first four knock-out games will be played over two legs on 10 & 13 May with the subsequent two matches contested on 17 & 20 May – the winners of these games will claim the last two 2015 Copa Sudamericana spots. Here are the first legs of the opening knock-out round to be played on 10 May:

Tucanes de Amazonas vs Mineros de Guayana

Estudiantes de Mérida vs Zamora

(The two winners of these two games will face each other for a Sudamericana spot on 17 & 20 May)

Carabobo vs Aragua

Atlético Venezuela vs Deportivo Lara

(The two winners of these two games will face each other for a Sudamericana spot on 17 & 20 May)

Lastly, just to serve as a final reminder and to sign off on the highest possible note, here are the fixtures and dates for the decisive two-legged Gran Final to determine the 2014/15 Liga Movistar winners:

Trujillanos vs Deportivo Táchira (10 May, Valera, Trujillo State)

Deportivo Táchira vs Trujillanos (17 May, San Cristóbal, Táchira)

For any updates on these matches, you can either follow @DarrenSpherical and/or return to this website where there will be reports and round-ups of all the action.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Wilker is Táchira’s Ángel as the Clausura-deciding Clásico Ends In Sensational Fashion

2015 Venezuelan Torneo Clausura (Final Day)

Sunday 3 May 2015 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas

 Caracas FC 2-2 Deportivo Táchira 

Video Highlights of Caracas FC 2-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Venezuelan Torneo Clausura, 3 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Ángel is the Clásico Saviour at the Death for Clausura Champions Táchira 

What began as one of the most highly anticipated matches in Venezuelan football history ended as one of the most memorable as with virtually the last touch Wilker Ángel silenced the raucous Caracas hordes to snatch a sensational Torneo Clausura title win for the hosts’ bitter clásico rivals, Deportivo Táchira. 

Click Here to Watch a Fan’s Eye View of Wilker Ángel’s Last-Gasp Goal.

The 22-year-old centre-back was far from the most predictable hero yet, having reportedly attracted interest from teams elsewhere in South America as well as Europe, whatever his future holds, he can be assured of a place in the folklore of Los Aurinegros. Only seconds before his last-gasp deed, the majority of the full-capacity Estadio Olímpico de la UCV had been booming out rhythmic chants of ‘Dale Ro’ (a contraction which in full would translate as ‘Come on, Reds’), anticipating Los Rojos del Ávila to be soon parading the Clausura trophy around the pitch following this final-day encounter. They had, after all, come into the game with 38 points to Táchira’s 40 and thus needed a win in order to lift the silverware – something they appeared to have achieved following top-scorer Edder Farías’ 80th-minute strike that put them in front for the first time in the game.

However, all of the euphoria that greeted this goal and then continued for the following 13 minutes was to be abruptly quashed in the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time. After one of several late, desperate Táchira attacks broke down, the ball was immediately hoisted from their half all the way back downfield. Bouncing into the Caracas area kindly for Yuber Mosquera, the Colombian remarkably hooked it over to his fellow defensive team-mate Ángel, who benefited from some lax tracking to head the ball in what seemed like slow motion past the frozen Alain Baroja. The home fans’ sudden loss of voice – with the exception of some stray horrified screams – was in stark contrast to the uncontainable roars of joy that could be heard in the distance at the opposite end of the ground. Like a magnetic force comprising of Táchira’s collective spirit, they were to attract Ángel, who dashed all the way back to his own half before falling onto his knees in front of them, raising out his arms Christ-like to embrace the acclaim befitting such a saviour. To no avail, one member of the Táchira backroom staff – who just seconds before was celebrating with arguably even fewer inhibitions – soon rushed onto the pitch to urge him back up and to ensure he maintained focus. Indeed, Ángel, smiling from ear to ear, was physically and mentally in dreamland. With the final whistle blowing almost as soon as the restart, his giddy lack of composure mattered not a jot as he and his team-mates were suddenly free to savour their breathtaking accomplishment on enemy territory.

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Wilker Ángel celebrating his Clausura-winning goal for Deportivo Táchira (Imagery courtesy of DirecTV)

Considered as a whole, it was a fair result but that made it no less crushing for Caracas and particularly their goalkeeper, Alain Baroja. Indeed, having recently solidified his place as the national team’s second choice, he has been making strong claims throughout the campaign to become the future number one. Here, though he had no chance with Yohandry Orozco’s close-range volley in the 70th minute that rattled off the bar, he did particularly well in the 83rd minute to keep his side’s title dream alive. Firstly, he made a spectacular save from Jorge Rojas’ curler from the edge of the area and then made a dramatic double-stop from the resulting corner, initially blocking a header and then smothering Javier López’s rebound. Alas, as soon as Ángel’s header agonisingly bypassed him into the vacant opposite corner he knew that the game was up and could do little more than cover his crestfallen face with his shirt. Though he missed out on being the designated hero of the day by the tightest of margins, Baroja can at least be assured that his reputation has been further bolstered following this outing.

With the propensity for top South American talent to be snapped up after the earliest signs of promise, quite what the future holds for the likes of Baroja and his talented team-mates remains to be seen. The capital’s finest, with 11 overall championships to their name and a strong record of producing quality exports, are the most successful side in Venezuelan history and, irrespective of the final outcome, had a season to be proud of. Indeed, while they finished 2nd in the Clausura and 3rd in the Apertura, they accumulated the highest amount of points overall (70, to Táchira’s 64).

Nevertheless, while some – particularly those accustomed to European league formats – may quibble with the domestic structures that mean Caracas will finish the season empty-handed (barring a Copa Libertadores Qualifying Round berth), there can be little doubt that Táchira earned this Clausura title. Indeed, unlike Caracas, they were fighting on two fronts throughout, having to first qualify for the Copa Libertadores over two legs against Paraguayans Cerro Porteño and then play six, often demoralising, group games. These eight additional matches caused significant disruptions to their schedule as up until the closing stages of the campaign, they were to regularly find themselves two to three games behind their domestic rivals. This made their run-in comparatively onerous as before the 18/19 April weekend of league fixtures, they were four points behind Caracas with two games in hand and yet the five remaining matches they were to play over the final 16 days of the Clausura could scarcely have been tougher. However, with considerable stamina and character, they won the first four of these, starting with a 2-1 away victory at Deportivo La Guaira (who finished 7th, but were narrow runners-up in the Apertura as well as Copa Venezuela winners), then 2-1 at home to Deportivo Anzoátegui (finished 4th), a narrow 1-0 at home to last year’s champions Zamora (finished 3rd) and then a relatively comfortable 3-0 home defeat of Deportivo Lara (finished 5th).

With this final win in this remarkable string of results, they finally overtook Caracas and led them by two points going into the final encounter. As has been relayed, despite the manner in which the draw was ultimately achieved, they were far from unworthy of the result and were to approach the game with few visible signs of exhaustion. Indeed, capitalising on a misdirected header from Jhonder Cádiz, César González blasted them into the lead with less than a quarter of an hour gone and was to have no qualms about celebrating against the club he represented from 2005-07. Following this, although Félix Cásseres was to strike the hosts level midway through the first half with a pearl of a shot and Edder Farías put them ahead late on, Táchira more than held their own in terms of chances created and, were it not for the crossbar and Baroja, could have wrapped up the title in far less dramatic circumstances. Thus, Ángel’s goal, as heartbreaking for Caracas and unexpected for everyone else as it may have been, ultimately topped off a thoroughly well-fought campaign.

When all was said and done, from a neutral’s standpoint, this clásico del fútbol venezolano certainly lived up to the billing and was a fine advertisement for domestic football in this often overlooked South American nation. Not just on the pitch, but also in the stands as, barring the empty section to help effectively segregate these rival fans, the ground was full of spectactors and noise from the first whistle to the last. Barring a bottle that connected with the head of José Miguel Reyes on his side’s victory lap, the behaviour was also significantly better than was feared (according to the latest reports, at least, although quite a few knives were allegedly seized by police). No doubt this was aided by the many individuals who were reportedly on hand to keep a vigilant look-out for trouble: 600 members of the Policía Nacional Bolivariana (and their canines), 270 private security personnel, 150 members of the Guardia Nacional, the fire brigade and countless more.

Given that this derby once infamously ended with the Caracas team bus being commandeered onto the pitch and then set alight in flames, many who want to see the nation’s domestic game flourish will be cautiously optimistic following how events transpired this time around. This was in marked contrast to how the finale of the Torneo Apertura ended in the same stadium, when fellow tenants Deportivo Petare had their game abandoned after 52 minutes against eventual title-winners Trujillanos due to a lack of security to deal with some youths who were throwing objects from outside the perimeter gates and issuing threats.

Whether Venezuelan domestic football has really moved on in this area may take years to determine but nevertheless, next on the agenda for Táchira will be the two-legged Gran Final against Trujillanos, the winner of which will be crowned the overall 2014/15 season champions. The first leg will be the away encounter for Táchira in Valera on Sunday 10 May with the return game being played on home soil in San Cristóbal on 17 May. As their more modest opposition have lost a few key players since their December triumph, Táchira will be hot favourites to add another estrella to their crest and claim their eighth league championship.

To find out how they get on as well as to read a more broad look back at the Torneo Clausura please keep checking back to this site in the near future and, if you are not already, consider following this site’s affiliated Twitter account, @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Review of the Title Race in the 2014 Venezuelan Torneo Apertura

With the Torneo Clausura, the second half of Venezuela’s domestic season, starting this weekend, Hispanospherical.com looks back at how the 2014 Torneo Apertura panned out, paying particular interest to the fortunes of six of the league’s leading clubs. First, however, the events that occurred at the site of the final-day victory must be relayed…

Trujillanos Win the 2014 Torneo Apertura After Their Final Match is Stopped Following Violent Scenes

Security Forces Struggle to Deal Effectively with Delinquents at the Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, 14 December 2014 (Líder en Deportes’ Youtube Channel).

In circumstances as unsavoury as they were absurd, Trujillanos lifted their first-ever domestic title despite playing little more than 50 minutes of what was supposed to be their triumphant final win of Venezuela’s Torneo Apertura. 

While two clubs based in the nation’s capital, Deportivo La Guaira and, to a lesser extent, Caracas FC, went into the final weekend with some residual hopes of prizing the trophy away from Los Guerreros de la Montaña, the leaders never looked like faltering at the final hurdle. They took an early lead against another side from Caracas, Deportivo Petare, courtesy of a low 30-yard strike from Johan Osorio that skidded into the bottom corner and then midway through the first half, the Colombian forward James Cabezas – the club’s top-scorer in the league – headed them into a two-goal lead. Just after the restart, their position seemed so assured that midfielder Argenis Gómez felt it was the time and the place to attempt a Panenka-style chipped penalty. However, while this rebounded back off the crossbar there was little chance of his minor act of insouciance rebounding back in his face as shortly afterwards, the game was abruptly halted.

Attention was instead compelled to turn to the actions of a group of 10-15 hooded male youths seemingly ranging in age from teenagers to those in their early twenties, whose presence outside the Estadio Olímpico de la UCV had been noted on social networks before the game. Spectators inside the dilapitated stadium and at home watched on as, from behind the rusty perimeter fencing at the end that separates the ground from the streets, this ostensibly unaffiliated mob began hurling abuse as well as throwing stones and bottles. As there was a large space – not to mention, in common with most other multi-purpose grounds in the league, an athletics track – between them and the fans, no-one is believed to have been hurt but their persistent threats of intimidation required the security forces to take action. Consequently, pellets were shot and tear gas was sprayed, the latter of which caused several of the patient players on the field to shield their faces by either covering them with their shirts or laying prostrate on the pitch. Scenes befitting of impending champions, these were not.

Forty minutes passed and every other team in the league had completed their season apart from the presumed heirs to the throne and their beleaguered hosts. Ultimately, the inability of the security forces to deal effectively with the situation was deemed to be due to Petare’s understaffing and lack of available provisions. Consequently, with the safety of those inside the ground not guaranteed, the match, as well as the season, was concluded. Officially, the game was awarded to Trujillanos as a 3-0 victory but the outpouring of any euphoria that events had not managed to drain from their players was further stalled, as on security grounds, they were hastily ushered back into changing room.

Allegedly, this was partly due to the delinquents voicing their opposition to the side from the north-west city of Valera openly expressing their elation in the capital’s premier football stadium, which is also shared by the team that they are believed to support, Caracas FC. Nevertheless, this did not stop the 100-150 fans of Los Guerreros running onto the pitch in jubilation and mercifully, they were eventually allowed to be joined by some of their players.

The exuberance with which the first-ever title win in the club’s 33-year history was celebrated belied any dissatisfaction with how the day’s events unfolded. However, though Trujillanos were not fortunate to be awarded the win and their fans were justifiably proud of their team’s achievement, surely even they would acknowledge that the the manner in which the season unfolded in their favour was as much due to their rivals’ incompetence as much as their own quality. Indeed, the serendipitous aspects of their victory may partly explain why little could tarnish this historic triumph.

Torneo Apertura 2014 Title Race Review:

An In-Depth Look at the Campaigns of Six Leading Teams

Perhaps it is an inevitable consequence of a 17-match campaign in which the whims of the fixture list plays a part in determining the final standings, but the title-race during this Torneo Apertura was a very topsy-turvy affair with several teams at times looking like potential champions. One took a commanding early lead only to suffer an appalling run of results, others were initially hindered by engagements outside of the nation’s borders but made gradual progress up the league, some sides hovered in the upper echelons without ever quite making the necessary upgrade and one club that was tipped for glory never even challenged.

What then follows below are some relatively accessible reviews of the performances of six leading clubs accompanied by some musings on their chances in the Torneo Clausura. The clubs were chosen as much for their statuses going into the campaign as much as their final positions. The first three of these sides, by virtue of their final positions in the 2013/14 campaign, will play in the 2015 edition of the continent’s leading club competition, the Copa Libertadores. The subsequent three teams all played in 2014’s Copa Sudamericana (the continent’s secondary club competition, which ran from August to December), yet interestingly all finished higher in the Apertura than the three Libertadores-qualifiers. There were, of course, some other teams, such as Aragua and Deportivo Anzoátegui, who finished in higher positions than three of the teams who have been included and who, at times, appeared to be potential dark horses for the title. Their exclusion here is largely down to a combination of not being tipped pre-season and being slightly off-the-pace of the front-runners but nevertheless, they certainly played their part in the Apertura and it would not be a surprise to see them seriously challenge for the Clausura.

Before getting onto the reviews, for the uninitiated, here is a brief summary of how the Venezuelan Primera División is structured: 18 teams play each other once in the Torneo Apertura (Opening Tournament) from August to December, then the fixtures are reversed and they do it all over again in the Torneo Clausura (Closing Tournament) from January to May. The team(s) that is/are victorious in each tournament is/are considered to have won a title. If one team wins both then they are crowned the champions outright. However, as is more likely, if the tournaments are won by different teams then these two title-winners face one another in a two-legged play-off in May. There is also a domestic cup competition, the Copa Venezuela, that is played from August to December. 

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Final Standings of the 2014 Venezuelan Torneo Apertura (Soccerway).

Three Copa Libertadores 2015 Qualifiers:

Two Never Challenged, One Faltered at the Halfway Stage 

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  Zamora FC

Despite having won the last two championships outright – the only such victories in their history – the recent glory of the side from the late Hugo Chávez’s home state of Barinas was never predicted to continue into the new season. Indeed, as is common in South American football, they were victims of their own success, as their May national victory was rewarded with the departures of some key individuals. On the playing side of things, these included Pedro Ramírez – a jinking midfielder who was dubbed the ‘Venezuelan Messi’ after a mazy, dribbling goal against Carabobo – to Swiss club FC Sion and top-scorer Juan Falcón to FC Metz, where he made a fruitful start, netting four times in his first eight Ligue 1 games. The most keenly felt loss, however, was undoubtedly that of manager Noel Sanvicente who, having won the national championship twice with Zamora and five times with Caracas FC, was deservedly named as the new manager of the Venezuelan national side.

‘El Chita’, as he is affectionately known, was present to be commemorated before his ex-club’s opening game against Deportivo Lara, a mid-table side with the most modern, purpose-built stadium in the league, even if it is regularly less than ten per cent full. However, this match was played at Zamora’s home, Estadio Agustín Tovar, where Sanvicente must have been squirming in his seat as he witnessed his former charges come within seconds of surrendering the then-30-game home undefeated record he had overseen. A dubious penalty in the last minute of stoppage-time won by the brightest remaining prospect Jhon Murillo – who had an unsuccessful trial with Basel in the close season – and converted by the Argentine Javier López ensured the champions saved face with a 1-1 draw.

Yet this result only offered momentary salvation as Zamora were to endure a disastrous run of form, not winning any of their first 11 games, seeing their unbeaten home record end after 33 games against – somewhat appropriately – Trujillanos and finding themselves at the very bottom of the table. Sanvicente’s replacement, Juvencio Betancourt, was an early casualty of this meek title defence, losing his job after six games and gaining only four points. The man who stepped into his shoes, Julio Quintero, initially had no greater joy trying to stem the club’s decline and it was actually on his watch that they lost their unbeaten home record. However, this was to be their last defeat of the season as, following a draw with Petare, they went on an impressive and statistically unlikely run of five consecutive 2-1 victories. Two significant scalps along the way came against the two most decorated clubs in the top-flight, Caracas FC and Deportivo Táchira.

On the final day of the season, had a red card to midfielder Jhoan Arenas with 15 minutes remaining not put them on the back-foot, they may well have avoided conceding a late equaliser against strugglers Zulia and recorded their sixth straight 2-1 victory. Nevertheless, this 2-2 draw meant they ended the Apertura undefeated in their last seven games, clawing back at least some dignity with a 12th-placed finish. Following the campaign’s climax, Quintero – the beneficiary of a new contract – was quick to make reinforcements and while it remains to be seen whether they can be anything other than fodder in their Libertadores group, they will surely fancy their chances of a top-half finish in the Clausura.

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Mineros de Guayana

Pre-season, the side furthest east of the nation’s north-western footballing heartlands was believed to be in pole position to win the Apertura. Indeed, Mineros de Guayana were unfortunate to have finished runners-up to Zamora in May’s Gran Final following a 4-3 aggregate loss, having won the 2013 Apertura and collected the most points in the aggregate table.

On paper, even with the retirement of former international midfielder Ricardo Páez and the loaning out to Colombian giants Atlético Nacional of current national team box-to-box battler, Alejandro Guerra, there appeared to be little disputing the quality of their squad. After all, they still contributed the most players to the national selección. However, in the internationals played concurrently with the Apertura, these individuals were to become the most consistently criticised performers, particularly experienced left-back Gabriel Cichero, who moved to Mineros pre-season on loan from Swiss side FC Sion after a spell at Nantes. He has played in all four defensively porous games of the Sanvicente era, including the 5-0 hiding served by Chile. In this game, his club team-mates Edgar Jiménez and Rafael Acosta played in front of him as the defensive-midfield pairing whose shortcomings were to be embarrassingly highlighted as they were repeatedly bypassed with ease.

Whether their form in the shirts of La Vinotinto was influenced by their club performances or vice versa is difficult to say, but their start to the season was nevertheless far from what was anticipated and ultimately, they were never to come close to challenging for the title. Alarm bells started ringing early on as an unconvincing opening day 1-0 win at home against newly-promoted Metropolitanos was followed up by a 1-1 home draw against another side fresh from the Segunda División, Portuguesa. Their opponents may have had five domestic titles to their name but these were all won back in the 1970s in more prosperous days when they even managed to attract Brazilian legend Jairzinho to the club for one memorable year in 1977. They even took the lead but a Richard Blanco strike 15 minutes from time restored parity for Mineros but disaster was only temporarily averted as, following away draws against first, Aragua and then, on a rain-sodden pitch in a farcical game against Zamora, they were to lose their 32-game home undefeated streak in the league.

Where the similarly lengthy run of last season’s champions was ended by this Apertura’s eventual winners, that of last year’s runners-up was halted by the side that were to finish second, Deportivo La Guaira. Another way in which Mineros de Guayana’s campaign was to echo that of Zamora’s occurred a few days after their next game, a 3-1 away defeat to Deportivo Lara.

Indeed, also six games into their campaign, Mineros parted ways with their manager yet whereas Juvencio Betancourt’s sacking elicited few mourners, that was certainly not the case for the departure of Richard Páez. Owing mainly to his role in overseeing the national team’s rise on the international stage from 2001-07, he is, without doubt, one of the leading figures in Venezuelan football over the past 10-15 years (if not of all time). Arriving at Mineros in advance of 2013’s Torneo Clausura following stints in Colombia and Peru, not only did he come agonisingly close to providing the club with their first championship in 2013/14 since their solitary triumph in 1988/89 but he left with a win-rate of over 63 per cent. Understandably, many fans were upset at the owners’ apparent impatience with this downturn in results and protested on the pitch at the next game at home to Estudiantes de Mérida. Of their many chants, some were aimed at César Farías, Páez’s successor on the international stage (2008-13) who had recently been sacked by Mexico’s Xolos de Tijuana and since been linked with the Mineros role.

Shortly after what turned out to be a 2-0 victory for Mineros, it was to actually be Marcos Mathías, assistant to Farías at Xolos and also the former coach of Venezuela’s Under-17 and Under-20 sides, who took over the reins for the final ten matches of the campaign. Though his points-per-game ratio for the Apertura (16 from 10) was to prove superior to that of Páez (6 from 6), this should not reflect too negatively on the ex-national coach who not only was not given a great deal of time, but also had a difficult job re-invigorating his troops after May’s disappointment. Nevertheless, Mathías ensured the side recovered from the lower-half of the table to finish sixth and though the lack of goals in four of his games must have been a concern, he has already attempted to rectify this ahead of their Clausura and Libertadores campaigns with the signing of James Cabezas. More on this later in the section on Trujillanos.

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Deportivo Táchira

With seven championships to their name, the second-most successful team in Venezuelan history were also predicted to have a strong campaign, with many fancying them as potential runners-up and some even suggesting they were joint-favourites to win the Apertura. However, the difference between Mineros and the club situated high in the northern Andes less than an hour’s drive from the Colombian border was that, for the first half of the season, the latter actually challenged for the title and looked the front-runners to win it.

Indeed, the club whose home games were to be witnessed by the highest average attendance in the Apertura got off to a fine start, beating another of the capital’s five top-flight sides, Atlético Venezuela, 3-0 at home on the opening day with striker Gelmin Rivas notching a hat-trick. In terms of goals, the 25-year-old forward was to enjoy the most prosperous calendar year of his career to date and he was to score 7 in his club’s opening 6 games of the Apertura, at which point Táchira led the way, having dropped just 2 points from a possible 18. This was to be the high point for Rivas as he failed to hit the target again, with Deportivo Anzoátegui’s Panamanian international striker Edwin Aguilar ultimately topping the scoring charts with 13 goals.

It was also to be Aguilar and co. who ended Táchira’s unbeaten start in the latter’s seventh game with another Panamanian, Rolando Escobar, netting a late winner. However, despite this blip, they were to remain at the helm of the league and followed this game up with a 1-1 home draw against Carabobo – the highest-attended match of the Apertura (15,378), which witnessed arguably the best goal – and then a 3-1 away win against Deportivo Petare.

Yet remarkably, despite Táchira’s bright start, this victory in the Estadio Olímpico de la UCV was to be their last one of the campaign. Their next two games were successive defeats away to Mineros de Guayana and then, in a considerable upset in their eleventh game, at home to Metropolitanos, at which point Los Aurinegros were usurped at the top for the first time in the Apertura by Deportivo La Guaira.

Having accrued 20 points from their first nine games, Táchira gained just 3 from their remaining eight, free-falling from 1st to a final position of 11th. If it helps to further highlight their declining form, when they were riding high at the top nine games in, Zamora were languishing in last with a mere four points, yet managed to salvage their campaign to finish just one point and one place behind Táchira with 22 points in 12th.

Somewhat curiously given the knee-jerk responses to adversity at Zamora and Mineros, Táchira’s manager Daniel Farías kept his job, though the relatively youthful 33-year-old doubtless has a considerable job reinvigorating his side ahead of the Torneo Clausura. He has much talent at his disposal, not least towering centre-back Wilker Ángel, an emerging prospect who scored in November against Bolivia on his international debut and has reportedly attracted attention from clubs in Europe and elsewhere in South America. Another key player in the squad is the attacking midfielder Yohandry Orozco, who moved from Zulia to Wolfsburg in January 2011, hot on the heels of scoring a sensational goal for the Under-20 national side that received acclaim from, amongst others, renowned South American football authority, Tim Vickery. He returned to his homeland to Táchira in mid-2013 having made little impact in Germany and though he enjoyed a strong first season back (12 goals in 34 games), a solitary goal in this Apertura was all he could muster as he struggled to regain the form that gained him a reputation as one of the country’s most exciting prospects.

It remains to be seen whether Farías can bring the best out of Orozco and his team-mates as well as hold onto Ángel. Unlike Zamora and Mineros, Táchira will have to qualify for the Libertadores Group Stage and with a tough play-off tie against Paraguay’s Cerro Porteño in which the likeliest outcome will involve Táchira having to focus on the league, this may well prove to be a blessing in disguise for Farías.

Three Copa Sudamericana 2014 Qualifiers:

All Three Were in the Hunt Until the Final Day

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Caracas FC

Historically, the country’s most successful side with 11 championship wins, Caracas FC will definitely have more time to focus on the Torneo Clausura. After their commitments in the Copa Sudamericana caused some fixture congestion and international call-ups deprived them of key players at crucial moments in the Torneo Apertura, Eduardo Saragó’s side will surely relish the opportunity to rectify what may be seen as a missed opportunity.

Indeed, due to reaching the second round of the Copa Sudamericana, Caracas FC were playing catch-up for two-thirds of their campaign being, at times, two or three games behind their rivals. Yet after blowing an opportunity abroad in late September to face Boca Juniors in the Round of 16, the number of rescheduled matches and inconsistent form of their domestic rivals meant that the league title always appeared to be within their grasp.

Their campaign got off to a false start as, with a mere 17 seconds on the clock, Estudiantes de Mérida’s Colombian attacker Over García struck home past Alain Baroja from 30 yards for what proved to be the only goal of the game. This loss was to be the only blemish on Caracas’ record at the Estadio Olímpico de la UCV all season, as they won all of their remaining eight games there, in the process racking up high-scoring victories against Aragua (5-0), Zulia (4-2), Tucanes de Amazonas (5-1) and Portuguesa (5-2). Thus, ultimately it was their away form that let them down: in these eight games, they were to attain only one victory – 2-0 against Deportivo Petare – and even this occurred at the Estadio Olímpico.

Nevertheless, with no other team really making a convincing claim for top spot for any sustained period of time, their own title hopes were always alive and never more so following their tenth match of the Apertura on 2 November at home to Carabobo. Within just 18 minutes, the side representing the state that was the site of the decisive 1821 battle that led to the nation’s independence from Spain, were 2-0 up. This was the twelfth game for the visitors and with some impressive results and no defeats to their name, they were beginning to look like viable outsiders for the title. Ricardo Andreutti got Caracas back into the game not long before the break but, well into the second half, Carabobo continued to attack and often looked the more likely to score. That is, until the home side won a penalty with just over 15 minutes remaining that was converted by the well-travelled and much-capped Miguel Mea Vitali who, in the 82nd minute, then knocked in a rebound to complete an exhilarating 3-2 comeback.

With this victory, their fans’ pining for glory increased in volume as, following their solitary away win against Petare, their side, with two games in hand, were now on 23 points, hot on the tails of Deportivo La Guaira (25) and Trujillanos (24) – the latter of whom were to be their next opponents.

This game at Estadio José Alberto Pérez was billed as potentially having a crucial influence on where the trophy ended up and, on that front, it certainly delivered. The visitors suffered an early setback when James Cabezas gave the hosts an early lead and things went from bad to worse later on in the half when forward Edder Farías got himself sent off for violent conduct. Yet an unlikely point appeared to have been salvaged when Mea Vitali, a defensive-midfielder by trade, was again on hand to level up the score in the 67th minute. However, with what was virtually the last touch of the game deep into stoppage-time, Johan Osorio directed a header into the net to give Trujillanos a vital win that put them in pole position.

Reeling from this late blow, Caracas followed this up a week later with another 2-1 loss, this time against a resurgent Zamora, who gained their second consecutive win (as a sidenote, the consolation goal was scored by 17-year-old Leomar Pinto who, earlier in the year, enjoyed a brief stint training with Arsenal). With these two defeats, Los Rojos del Ávila had squandered virtually all of the belief and optimism that had been stockpiled over the preceding two months as they were no longer really playing catch-up, being still in 3rd, but four points behind leaders Trujillanos and with just the one game in hand.

However, Caracas may feel a little aggrieved as both of these defeats came at a time in November when they were deprived of some key players due to international duty. The most notable loss was of one Rómulo Otero, a nifty attacking midfielder and free-kick maestro prone to the occasional dribble who has courted much attention abroad for at least the past couple of years or so. Along with full-back Francisco Carabalí, he was in the senior international squad that faced Chile and Bolivia, the latter of whom were on the receiving end of a rifled strike from former Caracas utility man Alexander González (now of Swiss side FC Thun), who was superbly assisted by his former club team-mate Otero.

The Trujillanos game was played when both men were with the national set-up and the Zamora match occurred just 24 hours after the Bolivia international – certainly not enough time to return and recover from the altitude of La Paz. By contrast, Trujillanos had no players on senior duty and Franklin Lucena, the sole representative of the other leading title-challengers Deportivo La Guaira, had a four-day wait before his club’s next game against Portuguesa. Thus, he was able to come on as a late substitute in a 1-0 win against what turned out to be the worst team of the Torneo Apertura.

It should be noted that Trujillanos and La Guaira did have some other absentees of their own around this time until late November/early December. The former were missing midfielder Carlos Sosa and the latter were without Adalberto Peñaranda, an exciting prospect who, back in February at the age of just 16, scored a phenomenal individual goal that involved running from the edge of his own area, dribbling past six players and firing home. They were both competing with Venezuela’s Under-20 side in Veracruz, Mexico, at the Central American & Caribbean Games, a tournament at which they eventually finished runners-up to the host nation. However, Caracas FC themselves had not one, but two players in this squad themselves: Beycker Velásquez (who, admittedly, as reserve goalkeeper to Alain Baroja, was unlikely to have played even had he not made the trip) and defender Jefre Vargas (who, by contrast, had been a regular starter up until this point).

Thus, while the other two title-challengers had some issues with international commitments, Caracas FC were the most adversely affected in this area. Whether things would have been different had they not been encumbered in this way is impossible to say but these two defeats all but ended their title bid, with only a notable slip-up each from their rivals (more on this soon) keeping alive their rather faint hopes until the final day.

Looking forward to the Torneo Clausura, Caracas FC may be glad that they are not playing in the Libertadores and are thus less likely to suffer from a domestic fixture pile-up. They should consider themselves amongst the favourites to lift the trophy but in the brief inter-season break have already parted with some players, most notably Argentine defender Roberto Tucker. Their potential challenge for silverware may also be hindered by the potential loss of Jhonder Cádiz, a 19-year-old attacker whose agent has not been shy about claiming is a wanted man abroad. Most importantly, they will need to keep ahold of sought-after golden boy Otero who, at 22 years of age and having already had interest from Grêmio rebuffed by his family, surely can not hold off taking the overseas test for much longer.

DLG

Deportivo La Guaira

Of all the sides who had a plausible chance of winning the Torneo Apertura, this well-funded, ambitious ‘new’ club was alone in occupying a position within the top two for virtually all of the campaign. They partially benefited from a lack of interference with their domestic schedule and once September had got under way, the team formerly known as Real Esppor soon became the likeliest challengers to early pace-makers, Deportivo Táchira, eventually usurping them in early October after their eleventh game. Yet despite defeating Trujillanos in the league as well as on penalties in the final of the domestic cup competition, they were ultimately to be denied a domestic double, surprisingly dropping points in the penultimate round in a game in which they were firm favourites.

Nevertheless, though this was a very dispiriting finale, the achievements of Leonardo González’s men in the second half of 2014 should provide them with considerable optimism going into 2015’s Clausura, for which they will be many people’s favourites. Indeed, not only did they beat the eventual Apertura winners 1-0 away from home and won their first ever trophy against them in the Copa Venezuela final, but also, with just two losses, they were the hardest side to defeat in the league (Trujillanos, Deportivo Lara and Carabobo all lost three).

Furthermore, they possessed the meanest defence, conceding 13 goals, whereas their nearest rivals, Trujillanos and Deportivo Anzoátegui, let in 15, a statistic that no doubt pleased goalkeeper, Renny Vega. Capped over 60 times for Venezuela and affectionately remembered for his last-minute assist for Grenddy Perozo’s equaliser against Paraguay at Copa América 2011, Vega announced during the Apertura that he will be retiring in 2015 and so has a strong chance of going out with some silverware.

Things could have perhaps been better at the other end as La Guaira possessed only the joint-fifth best scoring record in the league, netting 25 times in 17 games. Argentine forward Imanol Iriberri was their leading light in this area, finishing the campaign with 7 league goals to put him in joint-third position overall. With regards to league goals, he had no rivals on his own side, with his nearest competitors getting just two goals each, although it was a different case in the Copa Venezuela, where the scoring was spread around more and his compatriot Luciano Ursino was actually the club’s top-scorer. Coach González doubtless had some concerns in this area and so, ahead of the Clausura, has brought in not only Edgar Pérez Greco (6 goals for Deportivo Lara) but also Fredys Arrieta, who was in fact the top-scorer in the Copa Venezuela for rivals Trujillanos (more on this in the next section).

Thus, with these acquisitions, La Guaira appear to be in rather good health ahead of the upcoming campaign and, come May, will be hoping that they will not be looking back even more ruefully at the game played on the night of 6 December 2014. This was a home clash against Zulia, a side from the oil-rich state of the same name in the nation’s north-west (hence their nickname ‘Los Petroleros‘) who were to end the campaign second-bottom with just 11 points. This was the second-to-last match of the Apertura when La Guaira had recently returned to pole position following a minor blip and were understandably firm favourites to win this game and thus go into their final game in control of their own destiny. Alas, the hosts were to struggle to dominate play, let alone win the game. Zulia took the lead just before the hour-mark when Vega was embarrassingly caught in no-man’s-land, completely missing a cross only for the ball to sail over his flailing arms and be opportunistically nodded in by Johan Arrieche. With 12 minutes left, a very fortuitous penalty was awarded La Guaira’s way, which experienced international midfielder Franklin Lucena slotted home. However, despite the hosts’ increasingly desperate – and, at times, shameful – antics in the remaining minutes, they were unable to find a winner and thus, after Trujillanos gained three points at the death the following day, La Guaira knew that winning their final match would count for little so long as the rivals also did – as proved to be the case.

Ultimately, though they had a very disappointing end to the campaign, if La Guaira are able to regroup and deal with their shortcomings rationally, they can look forward to a Torneo Clausura that they will be very strong contenders to win and thus be able put some ghosts to bed against Trujillanos in the Gran Final.

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Trujillanos

So, to the side from Trujillo State – home to a colossal statue of the Virgin Madonna that is even larger than the Statue of Liberty – who supplanted La Guaira at the penultimate stage and sealed the Torneo Apertura on the final day in circumstances no schoolboy dreams about. Given that their meagre budget is believed to be around average in the league, the fact that they were far from runaway winners should not detract from their accomplishment of winning their first ever title. However, unfortunately for Los Guerreros, their lack of financial resources means that they have, in common with most triumphant South American sides, become a victim of their own success with key players having already departed for pastures new. Yet rather than join big sides elsewhere on the continent or in Europe, these individuals have instead signed deals at some of the domestic clubs that, given these losses, Trujillanos now may struggle to effectively challenge in the Clausura. Nevertheless, as could be witnessed in the scenes accompanying their final-day victory, this was a triumph that their fans shall savour irrespective of some the immediate consequences and stands as a testament to what hard work and good organisation can achieve.

The man who orchestrated this win is Argentine coach Horacio Matuszyczk who started his playing career as a team-mate of none other than Diego Maradona in one professional season at Boca Juniors in 1981/82. After moving on to Racing and then enjoying a stint in Chile, he saw out his playing career in Venezuela where he retired in the mid-90s and was to re-emerge as a manager over a decade later. He arrived at Trujillanos at the beginning of this Apertura, coming fresh from a respectable spell at Tucanes de Amazonas, a club on the Colombian border with similar resources to his current team, though curiously able to attract larger crowds.

However, unlike González’s La Guaira, Matuszyczk was unable to mount a consistent title challenge from day one as his side’s Copa Sudamericana campaign interfered with their scheduled fixtures. When they got around to playing their second game of the Apertura on 10 September, their opponents were La Guaira themselves, who were contesting their fourth match and won it 1-0 courtesy of a great 25-yard strike from hot prospect Peñaranda.

Yet Trujillanos’ early masterplan to seize the title – if indeed they had one; after all, this is a team that had finished no higher than fourth in the previous few years – was thwarted not only by the fixture list but also by their own form. Indeed, in their first six games they picked up a mere 8 points from a possible 18, along the way surrendering a three-goal lead in a home draw with a rather mediocre Atlético Venezuela and following that up with a very poor 4-1 away defeat to Metropolitanos.

However, with the advent of October came the real start of their title pursuit as, beginning with a 1-0 win against Mineros de Guayana in their seventh game, they were to go on a phenomenal run until the end of the campaign, gaining 28 points from a possible 33 as well as a place in the Copa Venezuela final. Although Trujillanos, in contrast to high-scoring Caracas FC, never really delivered any emphatic victories – scoring, as they did, no more than three goals in any one game – they did what they needed to and as the positive results continued to be registered, so their confidence increased.

It was in fact the 2-1 last-minute victory over Caracas FC during the November international break that put them top of the table for the first time all season, leading Deportivo La Guaira by two points. They had only four games left to play and the momentum appeared to be with them, a feeling they went some way towards cementing after defeating Tucanes 1-0. However, their next game was the home leg of the Copa Venezuela final against La Guaira, which ended 1-1. Whether or not failing to beat their rivals gave rise to internal doubts regarding their credentials as potential champions is impossible to say but they followed this draw up with a 2-0 defeat in the league away to Deportivo Anzoátegui – a loss that La Guaira capitalised on. Indeed, Trujillanos now trailed their rivals by a point with just two games to go and following La Guaira’s Copa triumph on penalties (following another 1-1 draw) in the next game, the writing appeared to be on the wall for Los Guerreros.

However, lowly Zulia clearly had not read the script as they managed to hold La Guaira to a 1-1 draw in the penultimate round of fixtures, allowing Trujillanos a reprieve the subsequent day in their home game against Carabobo. If they won this, then going into the final day, their fate would once again be in their own hands. Yet their opponents – draw specialists, with nine, which was the league’s joint-highest – were never going to roll over and so it proved as, entering the final stages, the two sides found themselves level at 1-1. With this score, much excitement was building on social media as it appeared to let not only La Guaira, but also – albeit, to a lesser extent – Caracas FC, back into the title race. However, fans of both of these sides from the capital were to be reeled in for the suckerpunch as Trujillanos, for the second time in a key match, were to grab a stoppage-time winner. This came courtesy of a header following a flick-on from late substitute Irwin Antón, a man who played no more than 45 minutes in this Apertura spread over three games, yet certainly picked his moment to play an integral role in the title victory.

Thus, on the last day of Apertura, as has already been relayed in considerable detail, Trujillanos travelled to the capital to seal the deal. They took a 2-0 lead against strugglers Deportivo Petare that they never looked like surrendering and, following some violence and intimidation from local youths which saw the game halted for over forty minutes, the match and, consequently, the title was awarded to Trujillanos.

To be sure, this was an exceptional achievement and one that will offer much hope to many other mid-ranking sides with rather average budgets, yet it was also one that Los Guerreros de la Montaña were paying for before the confetti even had time to settle. Within a couple of days there were strong rumours that various players were leaving and before long, deals were announced that tore apart their attacking triumvirate. Indeed, while Sergio Álvarez has so far stayed put, the Colombian duo of Johan Cabezas and Fredys Arrieta have been snapped up by two rival sides. The former, their top-scorer in the league, has become Mineros de Guayana’s chief reinforcement ahead of their Copa Libertadores campaign and the latter, their top-scorer in the Copa Venezuela, in a particularly galling move, has signed for Deportivo La Guaira.

Although Trujillanos have a strong recent history with recruiting quality forwards – amongst others, Borussia Dortmund’s Colombian international Adrián Ramos had a successful loan spell here back in 2005 – they may struggle to find adequate replacements for the Torneo Clausura. Their inability to match the wages that can be offered by their rivals clearly hampers them and unfortunately, having also lost experienced defender Édixon Cuevas to Mineros, there is a considerable chance that they may slip, Zamora-esque, down the table in the upcoming campaign.

As it seems unlikely that they will triumph again it remains to be seen what condition they will be in when, as is probable, they meet the victors in May’s two-legged play-off between the Apertura and Clausura winners to determine the outright champion.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuelan Primera División 2014-15 – Week 1 Highlights

The Venezuelan top-flight, the Primera División (or the Liga Movistar, if you prefer to please the sponsors), began last weekend (9-10 August). While this site can not promise to provide comprehensive coverage of the league, it does intend to post at least one weekly round-up of the action for an English-speaking audience, with a particular focus on the top teams, the most interesting stories and, of course, the top native players who are most likely to feature for La Vinotinto. If you would like to have a firm idea over who the best teams and players are, as well as how the league is structured, feel free to have a look at the Introduction to the Primera División posted on this site. More succinct guides and profiles should be provided as the season progresses, but with the preamble now out of the way, let’s get on to the highlights of the first week:

Results – Week 1 

9 August 2014

  Aragua 1-2 Trujillanos

10 August 2014

                         Zulia 0-1 Deportivo Petare

 Tucanes 1-1 Carabobo  

                Portuguesa 1-0 Llaneros de Guanare

                             Caracas 0-1 Estudiantes de Mérida

Deportivo La Guaira 3-2 Deportivo Anzoátegui

Mineros de Guayana 1-0 Metropolitanos

Deportivo Táchira 3-0 Atlético Venezuela

          Zamora 1-1 Deportivo Lara

Mineros de Guayana, many people’s favourite for the championship, had to wait until the last quarter of the game but eventually international midfielder Rafael Acosta was on hand to strike a loose ball with his left boot low into the back of the net to get former national manager Richard Páez’s men off the mark. Mineros are unsurprisingly blessed with home-grown talent of an international standard and thus alongside Acosta in the starting line-up were Edgar Jiménez, Ángelo Peña and Richard Blanco – all of whom have been called up to be evaluated by Noel Sanvicente and his team. Notable absentees included the goalkeeper Rafael Romo – recently returning on loan from Udinese – and injured defender Gabriel Cichero, who has also recently returned from a spell in Europe, in his case with Sion, Nantes and Lens. A word of praise must also briefly go to former international defender Luis Vallenilla (77 caps), who played the full 90 minutes at the age of 40 and, it could be said, won the battle of the veterans against Atlético’s 41 year-old defender, David McIntosh, a man who earned his 26 caps way back in 1996-1999 but had his international career curtailed just when Venezuela were starting to shake off their reputation as regional whipping-boys.

Nevertheless, Mineros and all of their stars were somewhat overshadowed this weekend by Deportivo Táchira and their prolific leading man, Gelmín Rivas, who scored a hat-trick in the 3-0 victory over Atlético Venezuela with all three goals bearing the hallmark of a deadly target man who will instinctively and instantly punish any slackness in the opposition’s backline. His first goal was a towering header from a cross by club legend Gerson Chacón (currently in his fourth spell at the side), the second an opportunistic finish that was lashed home after the ball fell kindly to him from a free-kick and the third also came from a free-kick, this one bouncing in the box to be powered home at the far post with the chest of Rivas. The striker has much competition in the national squad but at the age of 25 he may feel he is close to hitting peak form and, given Sanvicente’s experience and interest in the domestic league, could well receive more opportunities with the selección than he has in the past. His goals will also be crucial to the league and Libertadores campaigns mounted by Táchira, as will the form of José Contreras, Carlos Rivero, Wilker Ángel, Agnel Flores, César González and Yohandry Orozco – all of whom started at the weekend and have been called-up to at least one of the two groups of domestic players to be evaluated by Sanvicente and co. Doubtless that with Táchira being some people’s tip for the title, we will be getting to know these players much better in the upcoming months.

Elsewhere, champions for the past two seasons Zamora FC, struggled to come to terms with the loss of a few star players to European teams as well as manager Sanvicente to the national side as they needed a penalty deep into stoppage time to salvage a point in a 1-1 draw at home to Deportivo Lara. Before the game, Sanvicente received tributes on the pitch but it is difficult to gauge how he would have felt about seeing what is still largely his collection of players struggle 1-0 down for over an hour with the 30-game undefeated home run in the league that he initiated on the line. When the spot-kick was won, it came a few minutes after Zamora had been reduced to ten men and was awarded after what some feel was, at best, minimal contact on Jhon Murillo, last season’s Young Player of the Season and one of three Vinotinto preliminary squad members who started, alongside Arles Flores and Johan Moreno. Whilst the Argentine Javier López stepped up to convert the penalty and thus maintain the record,  new manager Juvencio Betancourt will certainly have a clearer idea of the scale of the task at hand as he attempts to fill seemingly impossibly large shoes.

Finally, last year’s Copa Venezuela winners Caracas FC went down to a surprise home lost against Estudiantes de Mérida, whose win came thanks to a 17-second optimistic strike from over 25 yards by Over García. This was a setback for a team hoping to push on from last season and gain qualification to the Libertadores, though it is possible that the upcoming two-legged Copa Sudamericana clash against Inti Gas Deportes of Peru was bearing on their minds. Indeed, it was due to this tie that no first-team players were called up for Sanvicente’s two squads of players for evaluation though Caracas are certainly not short of international experience and potential, with Rómulo Otero and Dany Cure amongst the names to keep an eye out for this season.

Midweek Game

14 August 2014

         Caracas 3-1 Metropolitanos

Caracas took the opportunity to redeem themselves after coming from a goal behind to give Metropolitanos their second defeat in as many games with Giacomo Di Giorgio, an experienced 33 year-old with a respectable amount of caps, amongst those on the scoresheet. This game was the only one to be played in midweek due to the fixture problems created by the Copa Sudamericana matches soon to be played by Caracas on Thursdays 21 and 28 August, leading to them avoiding league action on the weekend in between those two games (as will Metropolitanos).

That’s all for the first week but hopefully you have found this article in some way enlightening. Check back for the next update in the next few days and follow the Hispanospherical account on Twitter if you would like a partial drip-feed of some of the highlights that are likely to feature in that particular article.

Venezuelan Primera División 2014-15 – Introduction

As mentioned in this site’s introductory message, there will be some coverage of the Venezuelan Primera División published here, though due to some substantial commitments that are either already underway (i.e. tracking Venezuela’s star exports) or soon to get underway (i.e. the Spanish top-flight), this particular column makes no claim to be comprehensive. Instead, however, it aims to keep an eye out for the best stories, the finest goals and of course, the progress of the many domestic stars who have a chance of making it into the national team squad of La Vinotinto. In common with other South American leagues, while many of the best players of the Selección play overseas, there are a few in their prime who remain, alongside a fair few journeymen and talented veterans, as well as a large pool of young cracks, whose every goals are deemed to be golazos and who soon find they have the weight of the nation’s ever-growing football fanbase on their shoulders.

Players To Watch Out For

If you are wondering which players to look out for then feel free to take a glance at this concise season preview by the writers of Venezuelan publication, Líder En Deportes (in Spanish). If you would like a more comprehensive list then you could do far worse than take a look at the list of domestic players that were called up in the first week of August by new national team manager, Noel ‘Chita’ Sanvicente, to undergo a range of evaluations earlier this week (11-13 August). Sanvicente selected 13 established first-team players and 11 younger players from the Under-20 side (note: no senior players from Caracas FC were chosen to allow them to prepare for their upcoming Copa Sudamericana match in Peru):

First-Teamers

Goalkeepers

Rafael Romo (Mineros de Guayana)

Renny Vega (Deportivo La Guaira)

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira)

Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana)

José Manuel Velázquez (Mineros de Guayana)

Midfielders

César González (Deportivo Táchira)

Yohandry Orozco (Deportivo Táchira)

Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana)

Edgar Jiménez (Mineros de Guayana)

Ángel Chourio (Mineros de Guayana)

Ángelo Peña (Mineros de Guayana)

Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira)

Forwards

Gelmín Rivas (Deportivo Táchira)

Under-20 Players

Goalkeepers

Beycker Velásquez (Caracas)

Defenders

Jefre Vargas (Caracas)

Carlos Cermeño (Deportivo Táchira)

José Marrufo (Deportivo Lara)

Franko Díaz (Llaneros de Guanare)

Midfielders

Jhon Murillo (Zamora)

Carlos Sosa (Trujillanos)

Oscar Guillén (Estudiantes de Mérida)

Francisco La Mantia (Aragua)

Forwards

Ronaldo Peña (Caracas)

Andrés Ponce (Llaneros de Guanare)

As you can see, 7 of the 13 established players are from Mineros de Guayana who, unsurprisingly, are considered the favourites for this year’s championship and just so happen to be managed by former national team manager (2001-07), Richard Páez. The next best-represented team with 4 in the first pool of players are Deportivo Táchira, many people’s picks for the title and they are generally deemed to be either the joint-favourites or second-favourites.

When this list was published, some eyebrows were raised that Zamora FC, champions for the last two seasons under Sanvicente, have only one player in the squad – Jhon Murillo, youngster and recipient of the league’s Best Young Player Award for last season. This may in part be due to the summer departures to Europe of some of their stars, such as Juan Falcón, Pedro Ramírez and Jonathan España. However, two more Zamora players, Arles Flores and Johan Moreno, were called up to take part in the second round of evaluations, which will take place on 18-20 August.

Joining these two gentlemen will be several other players who did not feature in the first preliminary squad and who largely play for mid-table sides as well as several who did receive the initial call-up and who play for the top sides (who, incidentally, will play in the premier continental club competition, the Copa Libertadores next year: Mineros de Guayana, Deportivo Táchira and Zamora FC). The players who were part of the first squad but not the second are those who play for clubs that are starting their campaigns in the Copa Sudamericana (the contintent’s equivalent to the Europa League) during the same week; these clubs are: Caracas FC, Deportivo Anzoátegui, Trujillanos and Deportivo La Guaira. As an aside, this site aims to keep track of these clubs’ continental campaigns.

Here then, is the group of 16 players who have been called-up for the second round of evaluations on 18-20 August:

Goalkeepers

José David Contreras (Deportivo Táchira)

Rafael Romo (Mineros de Guayana)

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira)

Carlos Rivero (Deportivo Táchira)

Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana)

John Chancellor (Deportivo Lara)

Loren Walcott Ray (Aragua)

Midfielders

César González (Deportivo Táchira)

Yohandry Orozco (Deportivo Táchira)

Edgar Jiménez (Mineros de Guayana)

Ángelo Peña (Mineros de Guayana)

Arles Flores (Zamora)

Johan Moreno (Zamora)

Juan Collina (Deportivo Lara)

Forwards

Gelmin Rivas (Deportivo Táchira)

Jesús Lugo (Aragua)

A third group of players should be called up later in the month, ahead of the friendlies against South Korea and Japan in early September.

The League Structure

Returning finally to the league, hopefully some of the information above has provided you with some players and clubs to look out for and so this introduction to the league will end with a brief explanation of how the league is structured.

As with many other leagues in South America, the Venezuelan Primera División is split into two mini-seasons: the Apertura (Opening) and the Clausura (Closing), an arrangement that seems established enough to not cause the level of complaints over unfair fixture lists that it undoubtedly would in Europe. The Apertura is the first half of season that runs from August to December, during which the 18 clubs play each other once and then after these 17 games are played, a winner is crowned. After a break of roughly four weeks, the Clausura gets underway in January and proceeds with the reverse fixtures of those contested in the first half of the season until May when a winner will emerge. The two winners then play each other in a two-legged final, usually in mid-to-late May, to determine the outright champion. These two teams also qualify for the Second Stage of the Copa Libertadores, with the third Libertadores place given to the team with the best points total in the outright season table, excluding that of the two winners – it often goes to the 3rd-placed team, but not always. This team will start in the First Stage of the Libertadores and need to win to reach the group stage, which constitutes the Second Stage. 

Regarding the Copa Sudamericana, there are four places up for grabs and these are given to the following: the team with the next best total of points in the table, along with the winners of the Copa Venezuela (this tournament starts in August and its final is played in late November/early December which, given the Sudamericana begins in August of the following year, provides the team with ample time to lose any built-up momentum and star players). If however, the team with the best points total (excluding the Libertadores qualifiers) won the Copa Venezuela – as happened last season with Caracas FC, who finished 4th – then that particular qualification spot goes to the next best-placed team, which last year was the 5th-placed Deportivo Anzoátegui. The two remaining spots go to the two winners of a couple of two-legged play-offs (semi-final and final) held at the end of the season that are contested by the next eight best-placed sides in the league who have not already qualified for continental competition. Last year, these were the teams who finished 6th-13th.

Thus, with 18 teams in the league virtually all of these sides feel they have something to play for, whether that be the championship, a Libertadores place or, for the majority, a Sudamericana spot. The two lowest-placed teams in the overall table are relegated so, with the qualification places for the Sudamericana play-offs often stretching all the way down to 13th, there are often several teams regularly looking at the table with both optimism and dread.

That’s all for now – hopefully that was not too confusing to follow and you’re not too set in your ways that you refused to even attempt to comprehend it!

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