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Venezuela’s Participation in the 2015 Copa Libertadores – Review

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


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

Copa Libertadores 2015: Review of the Venezuelan Participants

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down But Not Entirely Out: Venezuelans Abroad Flying the Flag 

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical


Boca Juniors 5-0 Zamora FC – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5 (11 March 2015)

Wednesday 11 March 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5

Boca Juniors 5-0 Zamora FC 

La Bombonera, Buenos Aires

Video Highlights of Boca Juniors 5-0 Zamora, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 11 March 2015 (courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Exhibition Football as Boca Coast to Easy Victory

Zamora players were spotted before kick-off taking photographs of themselves in one of the most revered pilgrimage sites of world football and they were to follow this up by playing like starry-eyed tourists as their hosts eased to a scoreline that could well have reached double figures.

From the off, Boca were to run their Venezuelan opponents ragged as their passing and movement were both predictably quicker and it took no more than eight minutes for them to find the net. This came from a cross from the left that was weakly headed by Ángel Faría straight out to the edge of the area where Marcelo Meli struck a hard low half-volley past goalkeeper Álvaro Forero, who may have been partially unsighted by Faría.

Just after the quarter-hour mark, the game was dead as a contest. A move in which the hosts were granted far too much space to play a series of slick passes culminated with Federico Carrizo chipping a ball from the left to the back post where Meli knocked it back for Nicolás Lodeiro to strike home. It was the first goal for the Uruguayan international since joining the Xeneizes from Corinthians and he, along with the other two main participants in this goal, were to put in fine attacking performances throughout this match.

On the other side of affairs, Zamora’s primary mode of attack for most of the first half consisted of pumping long balls or crosses from deep positions towards forward Pierre Pluchino who, at 5 foot 10 inches, is far from the ideal target man. However, his side were more concerned with damage-limitation from an early stage and they nearly went three-down little more than midway through the first period.

Indeed, in what was to become a recurring feature of the game, Southampton-loanee Dani Osvaldo squandered a gilt-edged opportunity due to his own rather idiosyncratic brand of nonchalance. Here, as a ball drifted past Zamora’s porous defence, he found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Forero who he confidently rounded, yet such was his complete lack of urgency, the defender who was initially attempting to catch up with him, Edwin Peraza, had enough time to run all the way past Forero and clear the shot off the line. Clinical, this was not.

Video of Dani Osvaldo’s performance for Boca Juniors vs Zamora, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 11 March 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user belzamarbide).

Almost immediately afterwards, 17-year-old Yeferson Soteldo had the visitors’ best attempt of the half as he managed to gain some space just outside the area on the centre-left, before teeing up a strike that went a yard or two over. While the youngster can hardly be said to have been one of the star performances in this particular game, his energy, creativity and willingness to get on the ball do mark him out as one for La Vinotinto followers to keep an eye on.

Nevertheless, this was Boca’s banquet and next up on the menu was a fine individual effort in the 37th minute by Carrizo, who received a pass on the left edge of the area, cut onto his right, bypassed a defender and then struck a pacey shot past Forero. 3-0 and a couple of minutes before the break they thought they had a fourth as Argentina international Fernando Gago slipped through Osvaldo who dinked it past the goalkeeper but alas, he was adjudged to be a couple of yards offside.

In the early exchanges of the second half, the hosts lowered their intensity somewhat with the Venezuelans getting a few harmless efforts on target, but the Argentines remained firmly in control. Osvaldo was consistently the most likely player to score the next goal and yet, in a ten-minute spell, he was to squander three opportunities that another forward with a much more clinical edge would have either buried or converted into a chance for a team-mate. The first, after 55 minutes, occurred when he gained possession of the ball from a defender in the area, yet his attempted lob over Forero was to comfortably clear the crossbar. The second, nine minutes later, was another attempted chip, this time from the edge of the area when a low strike or some other continuation of the attack could well have instead done the trick. It was becoming evident that the naturalised Italian was viewing this game as providing a fine environment in which to score a memorable goal that catered to his rather particular sensibilities. This seemed especially apparent a minute later when he received a cross in the area and attempted an overhead-kick which, unfortunately for him, barely made any contact with the ball.

However, any of the frustrations felt by the ever-tuneful Bosteros in attendance were somewhat assuaged shortly afterwards when Osvaldo tapped in a knock-down by Juan Martínez, who himself had latched onto a chipped ball by man of the match candidate Carrizo. Upon scoring, Osvaldo and his team-mates all congregated at the side of the pitch for a group photograph that has since between retweeted on Twitter over 40,000 times, though not by manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena, who in post-match comments expressed his dislike for the celebration.

With just under ten minutes to go, Osvaldo further ingratiated himself with the home faithful when he won a penalty after drawing a foul from Forero. He then stepped up to convert the spot-kick into the bottom-corner himself – though, as one fan on social media commented, it was something of a surprise that he did not take this opportunity to attempt a 12-yard rabona.

Following this, there was still time for Osvaldo to almost find himself on the scoresheet on two more occasions – the first of which he was incorrectly ruled out from doing so. Indeed, a short pass was slid through to him on the edge of the area which he poked into the bottom corner for what should have been his hat-trick goal, yet the linesman flagged offside despite replays showing that the striker was definitely level with the last man. Despite being denied the match ball here, he was to have another big chance to claim it shortly afterwards when a through-ball reached him six yards out but he nudged it too close to Forero who blocked it wide.

It is no exaggeration to say that Osvaldo could have had at least five or six goals in this outing and the Venezuelans will be grateful that the referee mercifully limited his further opportunities to increase his tally by blowing the final whistle after calling for just one minute of stoppage-time. This, despite a three-minute halt to proceedings earlier in the half, not to mention the gaps following the two goals and the delay after the awarding of the penalty.

Many Bosteros will be hoping that their lead man can iron out some of the unnecessary flourishes to his game but will nevertheless have come away from La Bombonera delighted to have won and extended their lead at the top of Group 5. The Venezuelans, however, will only have their pre-match photographs to smile about as, having lost all three of their games and finding themselves six points behind second-placed Montevideo Wanderers (who beat Palestino 1-0 the previous night), their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stage are all-but-extinguished.

Nevertheless, Zamora must regroup ahead of next week’s reverse fixture at home to Boca and hope to put in a more respectable showing. Irrespective of what happens, feel free to check back here and/or at @DarrenSpherical for further updates on the Copa Libertadores campaign of not only Zamora FC but also those of Mineros de Guayana and Deportivo Táchira.

Darren Spherical


Montevideo Wanderers 3-2 Zamora FC – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5 (17 February 2015)

Tuesday 17 February 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5

Montevideo Wanderers 3-2 Zamora FC

Estadio Gran Parque Central, Montevideo

Highlights of Montevideo Wanderers 3-2 Zamora FC, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 17 February 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user: xpertowinner)

Eight-Man Zamora Implode Against Nine-Man Wanderers

Five red cards, five goals that included a glorious 30-yard strike, a bowling-themed celebration Fred Flintstone would have been proud of, a lollipop-sucking manager, frequent petulant fouls, violent conduct – this game certainly catered to popular stereotypes of South American football. 

In a match that could be praised as entertaining as much as it could be dismissed as farcical, Zamora contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of what was threatening to look like an impressive victory – an all-too-common occurrence at all levels of Venezuelan football.

Hosted at the home of Wanderers’ more illustrious cross-city rivals Nacional, the reigning Venezuelan champions made the more positive start, with a shot going close from 19-year-old winger Jhon Murillo, a definite talent who may find himself abroad by the end of the year.

Zamora edged the opening exchanges but, in the first of many setbacks, experienced defender Ángel Faría was given his marching orders after 21 minutes while receiving treatment for injuring himself after his dangerously high challenge on an opponent.

However, though Wanderers were initially buoyed by this turn of events, any hopes that Zamora would cautiously revert to defensive measures were soon quashed just five minutes later. A poor clearance was blocked by Murillo in midfield, which then fell kindly for the pacy attacker allowing him to break as he raced all the way into the area to slot home the opener. This goal occurred in a memorable week for the youngster, coming as it did six days after he scored after 37 seconds on his international debut.

Zamora were further emboldened soon after on the half-hour mark as opponent Adrián Colombino levelled up the numbers by receiving his second yellow for a mis-timed challenge. With Wanderers now having to re-organise, the Venezuelans continued to embark on attacks but as the half was drawing to its close, their hosts began to claw their way back into the game, eventually striking just before the intermission. Maximiliano Olivera, a left-back who featured at 2011’s U20 World Cup, crossed first-time from his desginated side of the pitch into the area where forward Gastón Rodriguez sidefooted a shot past Álvaro Forero, who will be disappointed not to have blocked it.

Soon after the second period commenced, Zamora narrowly survived a scare in the goalmouth as a header was cleared off the line. Then, in the 54th minute, defensive-midfielder Arles Flores roamed forward and, from around 30 yards out on the inside-right, restored the visitors’ lead by unleashing an unstoppable strike that darted into the top corner.

A moment to savour no doubt, but not one Flores was going to let drift away routinely without first commemorating accordingly. Indeed, immediately after scoring he ran to pick up the ball from the net and implored his team-mates to all stand in a line, six of whom duly obliged including a substitute. Defender Luis Ovalle also made a hasty jog to stand on the end of this ensemble but was deemed by Flores to be too late, causing him to hide his disappointment in a manner no more convincing than that of a man who has just ran to catch a bus only to watch on as it departs despite him being in full view of the driver’s rear-view mirror. Having not made the final cut, he missed out on twinkletoes Flores bowling the ball at his team-mates, who all duly fell to the floor in near-precise unison to complete a wonderfully choreographed celebration that has since received attention far outside of the South American continent.

Arles Flores’ stunning goal and team celebration for Zamora FC away to Montevideo Wanderers, Copa Libertadores, 17 February 2015 (Courtesy of YouTube user: FootballManiaChannel).

Manager Julio Quintero watched on admiringly throughout all of this, emitting something approaching a smile with his lollipop-congested chops. Almost immediately afterwards, his charges nearly extended their lead as Murillo hit a stunning shot from 25 yards that left goalkeeper Leonardo Burián rooted to his spot, sailing over his head only to rebound off the crossbar. Subsequently, for the next 20 minutes both sides duked it out in what became a rather open, end-to-end encounter, in which Zamora looked as likely to go 3-1 up as they were to be pegged back.

However, with an impressive win in sight, things began to unravel in a wearily familiar fashion for the Venezuelans. Attempting to deal with a long ball, Panama international Ovalle badly misjudged the whereabouts of the predatory substitute Leandro Reymundez and when the Uruguayan suddenly emerged in front of him in the area, the Zamora defender rashly opted to haul him down. Straight away Ovalle knew he was going to pick up his second yellow card and revert his side back to a man-disadvantage. Nicolás Albarracín, a forward who missed the decisive penalty in the shootout for the title against Danubio back in June, stepped up and this time held his nerve to put the side from the Uruguayan capital back on level terms.

The hosts suddenly scented victory and it did not take them long to go ahead for the first time in the game, as with eight minutes remaining Albarracín turned provider with a fine left-footed cross from the right that Reymundez deftly glanced home. As the clock ticked away, Zamora looked more likely to concede than score – no more so than when, with a minute of regulation time left, substitute Yuri Galli blasted a fine effort against the post for Wanderers.

Deep into stoppage-time, both sides saw their respective on-field personnels diminished further as the hosts’ Juan Mascia and the visitors’ star man Murillo received their marching orders, seemingly for an altercation as well as some choice words. Many Uruguayans may feel this was belated justice for Murillo as just under a month prior in their homeland he was undeservedly kept on the pitch in a South American Youth Championship match. Indeed, in farcical circumstances, Venezuela’s Under-20s managed to hold onto a 1-0 victory over Uruguay’s youngsters after Murillo played a leading role in getting an opposition equaliser ruled out after he subjected the timid referee to sustained intimidation.

When the whistle went in Parque Central, Venezuelan promise had once again been converted into a sour aftertaste as the Wanderers of Montevideo recorded a 3-2 victory to end what had been a 13-game undefeated streak for Zamora. The Uruguayans will now surely have a spring in their step ahead of next week’s daunting encounter away to Boca Juniors.

Chile’s Palestino – who Boca defeated 2-0 the following day – will be Zamora’s next opponents in what is already looking like a must-win game if either side is to have much confidence of reaching the knock-out stage. The Venezuelans will now have to contest this game at their Agustín Tovar stadium with three players out suspended. Given the quality of Murillo’s performance, one would presume his absence will be a debilitating blow, though hope may not be entirely lost as it is a curious fact that the majority of his side’s impressive domestic run occurred while he was away on Under-20 duty.

Irrespective of what happens, be sure to check back onto this site or follow @DarrenSpherical for more updates on the Copa Libertadores campaigns of Zamora and their fellow Venezuelan sides, Deportivo Táchira and Mineros de Guayana.

Darren Spherical