Tag Archives: Alexander González

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

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

International Friendly

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

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela

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

Moreno’s Magic Ends Things All-Square In Florida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Selections

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – June 2017 Preview

At the end of April, two friendlies were announced to aid La Vinotinto‘s preparations for a more prosperous future, though now in early June, most Venezuelan minds are focused elsewhere. Here, the beleaguered @DarrenSpherical takes a quick look at the squad preparing to face the USA and Ecuador…

International Friendlies

Saturday 3 June 2017 – Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

USA vs Venezuela

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

Ecuador vs Venezuela

marcosmathias

Venezuela assistant manager, Marcos Mathías (GettyImages)

Places Up For Grabs in the States

Since La Vinotinto‘s last pair of disappointing outings in March, the FVF have managed to cobble together two warm-up games before the team concludes their depressing World Cup Qualifying campaign later this year.

However, coach Rafael Dudamel will not be overseeing these two America-based encounters as he is currently in South Korea where he has led his remarkable Under-20 squad to the Quarter-finals of the World Cup. Indeed, the head-turning Sub-20 side have won all four of their games without conceding a goal and their do-or-die clash with USA’s youngsters shall commence barely two hours after the seniors of both nations have duked it out in Salt Lake City.

Thus, assistant manager Marcos Mathías will instead be leading this still-rather-youthful 27-man squad into battle in the States and will have to make do without the likes of Wuilker Faríñez, Yangel Herrera, Adalberto Peñaranda and Yeferson Soteldo. At least three, if not all, of these players – as well as some others currently in South Korea – have strong chances of being regulars in a future rebuilt Venezuela on the road to Qatar 2022 and there are several, more senior, players who have also not made the trip.

Most significantly, the captain Tomás Rincón will be somewhat preoccupied with the small matter of the Cardiff-hosted Champions League Final which his Juventus will contest against Real Madrid. One wonders how many Venezuelans will have the stamina to watch this game, plus the first senior friendly some five hours later and then the Under-20 knock-out tie.

There are again no places in the squad for the Málaga pair of Juanpi and Roberto Rosales. Regarding the former, who has recently been spotted in his home country participating in political demonstrations, he has had an injury-plagued 2017 though when he recuperates he will surely be welcomed back to the fold with open arms. However, this is something that is difficult to assert regarding Rosales – who has also made his anti-government sentiments known – as, though he is currently also carrying a knock, he was also surprisingly left out of March’s World Cup Qualifying double-header despite being fully fit.

Another absentee is forward Josef Martínez (Atalanta United), who was injured against Peru three months ago and has yet to resurface on a professional pitch – though he is apparently knocking on the door for a return at club level. Otherwise, as he was in March, goalkeeper Dani Hernández is again left out, though this is probably due to him still being involved in Tenerife’s vital promotion push. Also, possibly owing to some poor performances for the national team, there is no place for Terek Grozny’s Wilker Ángel.

One says “probably” and “possibly” because there has not been a great deal of press coverage for these two games, with Mathías/Dudamel’s plans shrouded in secrecy and/or a yawning cloud of indifference.

Still, what can be said is that there is a surprise return to the squad for Alain Baroja (Sud América, Uruguay, on loan from Cádiz CF, Spain) who, some two years ago had looked as if he could be Venezuela’s number one goalkeeper for the long haul yet, after some galling errors, was banished into international exile. This is his first-ever call-up in Dudamel’s 14-month reign.

There are also a fair few players in this squad who ply their trade in the domestic league, such as striker Edder Farías, who has scored 22 times in his last 37 league matches for Caracas FC. It would be greatly beneficial for Venezuela to have more options up top for when Martínez and/or West Brom’s Salomón Rondón – who has also been included – are unavailable. Farías could well provide one possible alternative though another possibility is 20-year-old Jefferson Savarino, a more versatile forward/attacking-midfielder, who was banging in the goals for Zulia until recently moving on loan to the MLS with Real Salt Lake. Who knows, for the USA game at the Rio Tinto Stadium, there may even be a few locals in the stands on hand to give him a wave, if not a cheer.

Otherwise, one can not help but feel these games are good opportunities for some of the more experienced-yet-still-relatively-young individuals to further entrench themselves in the coaching staff’s thinking following their appearances in March’s qualifiers. Perhaps chief amongst this crop are the likes of attacking-midfielders Darwin Machís (Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal) and Rómulo Otero** (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil on loan from Huachipato, Chile).

Ultimately, though one is not anticipating a vintage set of clashes on American soil, with almost every first-team place seemingly up for grabs – barring Rincón’s and Rondón’s – these are undoubtedly good chances for these players to make it hard for Dudamel, Mathías and co. to overlook them come August.

To keep up-to-date with these two friendly encounters, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match reports and highlights.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Sud América, Uruguay, on loan from Cádiz CF, Spain) & José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira).

Defenders

Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), José Luis Marrufo (Mineros de Guayana), Yordan Osorio (Tondela, Portugal), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC), Jefre Vargas (Arouca, Portugal, on loan from Caracas), José Manuel “Sema” Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) &  Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Jacobo Kouffati (Millonarios, Colombia), Francisco La Mantía (Deportivo La Guaira), Darwin Machís (Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Júnior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Aristóteles Romero (Mineros de Guayana) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia).

Forwards

Edder Farías (Caracas FC), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Deportivo Alavés, Spain).

**Please note that, according to renowned journalist Juan Sifontes, the following players will not be available for the clash vs USA: Alexander González, Jhon Chancellor, Rolf Feltscher, Arquímedes Figuera, Alejandro Guerra, Jacobo Kouffati and Rómulo Otero.

venezuelasquadjune2017

(Source: @SeleVinotinto)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Chile 3-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (28 March 2017)

For the first hour of the fourteenth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Rafael Dudamel’s men were on the receiving end of a very one-sided bombardment; ultimately, though they were able to massage the scoreline somewhat, the performance exposed many known, recurring weaknesses. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 28 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Macul, Santiago

Chile 3-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Chile 3-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 28 March 2017 (YouTube)

Rampant Roja Compelled to be Content with Early Blitz

With three goals in the opening 22 minutes, it looked as if La Roja were on course to break some records, though in the end they had to settle just for these strikes, as their profligacy gave La Vinotinto some unmerited late optimism in the final half-hour. 

The first goal came after less than five minutes when Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez brilliantly curled a central 25-yard free-kick in off the underside of the bar; he hit it with such pace and accuracy that goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez seemed to not have time to even attempt a dive for it. Barely two minutes later, Sánchez did great to skip around a static Venezuelan defence from the left flank over to the centre of the area, where he slid through Charles Aránguiz, who immediately squared it to Colo-Colo maestro Esteban Paredes to tap in. Then, in the 22nd minute, the third goal came, with Sánchez once again involved. This time, he played the ball out to the right to Mauricio Isla, then beat Alexander González to meet the Cagliari right-back’s cross at the back post; from here, he headed past the flapping Faríñez into the goalmouth, where Paredes managed to nudge it over the line.

The hosts were very much dominant and frequently looked like they were about to extend their lead. Conversely, in the quarter-of-an-hour after the third goal, aside from a couple of off-target shots, Venezuela’s best moments came when their opponents had over-committed, leading to rapid attempts at countering. Most notably, Jhon Murillo twice chased forward balls, the second of which saw him virtually one-on-one with Claudio Bravo, but he couldn’t get a proper swing on his shot and the ball instead rolled tamely to the Manchester City goalkeeper. Later on in the half in the 42nd minute, arguably the best chance for La Vinotinto score before the break fell to Wilker Ángel; yet, despite the  six-feet-five-inch centre-back – who, once again, had a game to forget at the back – gaining space from his marker, he was unable to make good contact with Rómulo Otero’s free-kick.

Before this, however, Chile were nearer to the mark with two opportunities of their own. Firstly, in the 38th minute, Aránguiz headed a lofted ball back to the edge of the area from where Eduardo Vargas struck a fine low left-footed effort which hit the outside of the post. Two minutes later, from the left of the area, Jean Beausejour laid the ball to Paredes who rolled a low effort just wide of the far post.

Whatever Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel said at half-time, it didn’t work. It shall be one of the great mysteries of the 2018 World Cup CONMEBOL qualifying campaign as to how Chile did not extend their lead. Firstly, Arturo Vidal had a couple of minor efforts early on, hitting a strike at the goalkeeper on the turn then, from the left edge of the area, knocking a surprise cross-goal shot wide of the far post. A few minutes later in the 52nd minute, however, he should definitely have scored. Here, Sánchez once again came in from the flank and left the Venezuelan back-line for dead, before this time passing to Vidal in the area; yet, the Bayern Munich man, barely eight yards out, controlled, then surprised everyone by placing his shot wide of the post. Then, just over a minute later, Vidal left the home faithful even more incredulous as, from a Paredes cut-back in the area with the defence and goalkeeper scrambling about out of sorts, he blazed over. Less than two minutes afterwards, another chance for La Roja was fashioned: Vargas came roaming forward, slid it to Vidal who was confronted by the onrushing goalkeeper, off whom the ball ricocheted; however, it then rolled to a very tight position, from which Paredes could only blast into the side-netting. Subsequently, it wasn’t long before the local league striker had a pair of better opportunities, the first arriving following a forward ball from Sánchez that the former struck at Fariñez, forcing a block; from the rebound, he hit a low shot wide.

Around this point just before the hour-mark, whilst the home fans were a little miffed not to be in a more commanding position, their team’s supremacy was such that Olés greeted every pass. Shortly afterwards, in a tacit acknowledgement that his judgement may have let him down, Dudamel withdrew right-back González, who had been given a torrid time; with Roberto Rosales having been surprisingly omitted from the squad, Víctor García instead took his place.

Then, in the 63rd minute completely against the run of play, Venezuela scored. Otero capped a fine international break in which he has been involved in some key way in all three of his country’s goals by crossing in a free-kick for Salomón Rondón to rise high to head home; this was the West Brom striker’s first goal for club or country since 14 December and will have gone some way to quietening the doubters for the time being.

Though Chile continued to have the majority of the play, this goal aroused something in Venezuela. Indeed, in the 67th minute, captain Tomás Rincón raced forward on the inside left before hitting a well-struck right-footed shot from the edge of the area, which Bravo had to parry over. Then, in the 75th minute, he was to be aggrieved to have not ended up on the scoresheet. Here, Rondón gained some space on the right edge of the area, passing towards the centre where substitute Adalberto Peñaranda deftly back-flicked it towards the Juventus man who then crashed a wonderful shot against the underside of the bar – replays show that it was marginally over the line, but with no goal-line technology, the score remained at 3-1.

Despite playing their part in allowing the visitors back into the game, Chile still pressed forward and had a golden opportunity to extend their lead in the 77th minute, after left-back Rolf Feltscher gave away a penalty. However, 19-year-old goalkeeper Fariñez – who had made some decent blocks, even if his positioning looked somewhat suspect on two of the goals – enhanced his growing reputation by making a brilliant low save to deny a well-struck Sánchez spot-kick.

Nevertheless, though they should have got considerably more and Vidal acknowledged afterwards that he was partially responsible for not killing off the game sooner, Chile eventually saw out the game 3-1. Following all the other results from Matchday 14, they now sit fourth in the hotly-contested upper echelons of CONMEBOL qualifying; conversely, following Bolivia’s 2-0 win over a Messi-less Argentina, Venezuela are now four points adrift at the bottom, with just six points to their name.

Thus, given that the next qualifiers are five months away, in response to the question posed at the bottom of this site’s round preview, “Is It Even Possible To Pick Up Momentum?“, whilst it is impossible to give a conclusive answer, one has to at least state that Venezuela have not done so. Indeed, over the two games, once again, the entire defence, particularly Ángel and González, have certainly not covered themselves in glory; how many of them survive the next call-up is anyone’s guess, though a recall for Rosales at right-back aside, it’s debatable whether there are any vastly superior replacements available. Thus, Venezuela’s porous defence is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, which will have a negative impact on the attackers, who won’t be flowing with confidence knowing that their work can easily be undone at any moment.

That said, if everyone’s fit, then come late August against Colombia it wouldn’t be a surprise to also see at least two, possibly three, changes in this similarly unsettled forward area. If anyone here has come away with their reputation enhanced, it is surely Otero, who scored against Peru, played a key role in the other goal in that match and directly set up Rondón’s goal against Chile. Things can easily change in the upcoming months, but right now there wouldn’t be many complaints to see him start in an attacking position alongside a fit-again Juanpi, as well as – if a 4-2-3-1 is selected – one of at least two or three other candidates.

The manager Dudamel will have no doubt learned a few things from these two encounters, but given that his results were very similar to the last two matches of Noel Sanvicente before his sacking this time last year (2-2 away draw with Peru and a 4-1 home loss against Chile), it is hard to feel as if any real progress has been made. New faces sometimes come along or old ones re-emerge and some of these may suggest different directions for the squad but overall the performances and results are underwhelmingly consistent.

Dudamel is now charged with getting a new generation – who many of his compatriots are excited about – prepared for the Under-20 World Cup in May. The likes of Faríñez, Yeferson Soteldo and Yangel Herrera should feature – as they also all did in this round of senior qualifiers – and the coach will know a good showing will aid his declining reputation. Given that he was seen as the budget local choice when he was offered the role a year ago, it’s hard to know precisely how much pressure he is under from upon high, particularly as the FVF have recently elected a new president. Unfortunately, right now, one finds it difficult to envisage performances dramatically improving in the four remaining qualifiers later this year. If this transpires to be the case then, regardless of the consequences for Dudamel, it will be a huge blow to the international careers of this pool of players, many of whom possess the capabilities to achieve so much more.

Team Selections

Chile (4-3-3): C. Bravo; M. Isla (P. Díaz, 89′), G. Medel, G. Jara, J. Beausejour; P. Hernández (C. Carmona, 88′), A. Vidal, C. Aránguiz; E. Vargas, E. Paredes, A. Sánchez.

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Fariñez; A. González (V. García, 61′), W. Ángel, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; R. Zambrano, T. Rincón (A. Figuera, 84′); J. Murillo, R. Otero, D. Machís (A. Peñaranda, 68′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-2 Peru – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (23 March 2017)

At half-time, the thirteenth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign appeared to herald a rebirth; by full-time, it was just another chapter in a weary story. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 23 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental de Maturín, Maturín, Monagas State

Venezuela 2-2 Peru

Video Highlights of Venezuela 2-2 Peru, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 23 March 2017 (YouTube)

First Half Fantastic, Second Half Familiar for Fresh-Faced Venezuela

For the third time during their Russia 2018 qualifying campaign, Venezuela were pegged back to a draw after leading 2-0, thus stalling Rafael Dudamel’s attempts to revitalise his new-look bottom-dwelling nation. 

On what was a dangerous, rain-soaked pitch in Maturín, Peru came closest in the first quarter when Aldo Corzo’s powerful header from a corner was well-parried out by 19-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez. However, soon afterwards in the 24th minute, Venezuela took the lead. Rómulo Otero’s free-kick from the left was whipped in and headed onto the bar by a Peruvian defender, with the ball then bouncing kindly to Mikel Villanueva, who nodded home for his second international goal – both of which have come against Peru.

The hosts, playing in a 4-4-2 formation, often showed much intent to get forward, with the two strikers in particular finding themselves in promising positions. In the 32nd-minute, Salomón Rondón drove towards the area but instead of squaring it to Josef Martínez, he continued his run and was hustled off the ball by a defender, yet despite the West Brom man’s protests, no penalty was awarded. Three minutes later, his partner Martínez managed to get away from an opponent inside the area, before sliding it back to Jhon Murillo. However, though this ball bypassed the goalkeeper, there were a few defenders crowding the goalmouth and one of them did well to chest wide the Tondela winger’s side-footed strike for a corner.

However, in the 40th minute, Venezuela sensationally doubled their lead. Adding to a couple of similarly spectacular strikes earlier this year for his Brazilian side, Atlético Mineiro, Rómulo Otero phenomenally struck a swerving 35-40-yard free-kick which fizzed off goalkeeper Pedro Gallese’s gloves and into the net; perhaps the Peru no. 1 should have done better but it was also a very impressive hit. Five minutes later when the teams went in for the break, it looked as if Dudamel’s tweaking of the personnel and the system had ushered in the belated start of a new, more competitive, phase.

Yet, within the first minute of the restart, things began to sour. Peru pulled a goal back after Rolf Feltscher was easily beaten by Édison Flores on the flank; he, in turn, fed Christian Cueva who had plenty of space to pass it between the centre-backs to Benfica’s André Carrillo, who slid the ball past Fariñez.

Despite this, Venezuela were to have two very good opportunities to regain their two-goal lead before the hour-mark. Firstly, in the 49th minute, Murillo crossed in a dangerous low ball from the right yet Rondón couldn’t quite reach it with his slide. Then, five minutes later, the Premier League striker played into space Martínez, who then roamed towards the edge of the area; however, despite only having the goalkeeper to beat, the MLS top-scorer badly sliced his golden opportunity wide. Shortly afterwards, some attacking impetus was lost as he was replaced by youngster and fellow America resident, Yangel Herrera; post-match, it was revealed that Martínez had picked up an injury and will be reportedly out of action for ten days, thus missing Tuesday’s Chile clash.

However, it was to be Peru who took advantage of this increasingly open game. Familiar foe Paolo Guerrero provided the goal in the 64th minute when he beat the out-of-sorts Wilker Ángel to climb highest and head home Yoshimar Yotún’s corner. Eight minutes later, Guerrero was not far off taking Los Incas in front when a low cross fell invitingly, but he couldn’t quite locate the trigger, with Fariñez instead gratefully gathering.

Not long afterwards, the impressive Otero was replaced by 24-year-old Leganés attacker Darwin Machís, who was making his first Vinotinto appearance in over five years. Within two minutes, he took the ball past a defender on the left edge of the area before striking a hard low shot at the goalkeeper who, given the conditions, did well to hold onto it. However, this was soon eclipsed by a greater chance that fell to Rondón, who benefited from a ricochet yet, despite having a clear sight of goal, he horribly miscued his left-footed effort comfortably wide. Gasps of disbelief reigned around the rainy Estadio Monumental de Maturín; this was to be Venezuela’s last chance of note.

With six minutes remaining, Murillo made way for diminutive dribbler Yeferson Soteldo. With Herrera and Fariñez already on the pitch, this meant Dudamel had managed to field all three of the stand-out performers from the Under-20 side’s impressive Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament earlier this year. The manager appears to have many promising youngsters at his disposal, either still in their teens or early twenties; however, today was not the day for them to collectively flourish and announce themselves to a wider public.

After all, they very nearly ended up on the losing side when, in the 91st minute, Miguel Trauco’s cross was headed low inside the area by Raúl Ruidiaz. Yet to the evident relief of Fariñez and the apparent disbelief of Peru boss Ricardo Gareca, this went narrowly wide.

Thus, after a 2-0 lead was squandered, it ended all-square, just as it had done a year ago. Even though Villanueva scored, Venezuela’s new-look defence looked out-of-sorts, with the players gifting space and struggling to keep up with their opponents. Further upfield, Murillo and, in particular, Otero, caught the eye and provided some creative moments. Regarding the two strikers Martínez and Rondón, however, though they did demonstrate some nice link-up play and creativity of their own, their finishing left something to be desired.

With no Martínez, Venezuela will really need Rondón to be on his game when leading their attack against Chile, holding up the ball and providing relief for the defence. Given La Roja beat La Vinotinto 4-1 on Venezuelan soil a year ago, the back four will also especially be required to improve, in their case by demonstrating more alertness and mutual understanding.

Waiting for them in Santiago will be a Chile side who, having just lost to Argentina, are now outside of the top five positions and so really need to win. Venezuela famously knocked Chile out of the 2011 Copa América quarter-final, yet since then have lost all four subsequent encounters, scoring just once and conceding 14. Thus, those anticipating a Dudamel Revolution may wish to keep these wishful thoughts private for the time being.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; A. González, W. Ángel, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; J. Murillo (Y. Soteldo, 84′), A. Guerra, T. Rincón, R. Otero (D. Machís, 73′); J. Martínez (Y. Herrera, 59′) & S. Rondón.

Peru (4-2-3-1): P. Gallese; A. Corzo, C. Ramos, A. Rodríguez, M. Trauco; Y. Yotún (S. Peña, 78′), R. Tapia (P. Aquino, 85′); A. Carrillo (R. Ruidíaz, 78′), C. Cueva, É. Flores; P. Guerrero.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – March 2017 Preview

Jornadas 13 and 14 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign have finally arrived and whilst Venezuela have long been out of the running, they’re now playing the long-term game. Here, @DarrenSpherical takes a look at the squad preparing to face Peru and Chile…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 23 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental de Maturín, Maturín, Monagas State

Venezuela vs Peru

Tuesday 28 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Macul, Santiago

Chile vs Venezuela

josefmartinez2

Josef Martínez Celebrating in the Snow in Atlanta United’s 6-1 win away to Minneapolis United, MLS, 12 March 2017 (Image: josefmartinez17)

Dudamel Bids To Rejuvenate Venezuela’s Long-term Ambitions

A Youthful Injection

Four months on from their last two fixtures, Venezuela return to competitive action as they enter the final third of their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. Despite being bottom of the ten-team group and long since out of serious contention, manager Rafael Dudamel has said in the build-up that his men shall approach the games with Peru and Chile as if they are wilfully ignorant of the CONMEBOL table.

Well, what else could he say, really? Coasting it for the next six games was never going to be an option when there is a future out there to be won. Thus, as was also anticipated, Dudamel is looking to try out and integrate new faces to give La Vinotinto the best chance of fulfilling their collective potential by the time qualification for Qatar 2022 rolls around. This was partly expected as changes in personnel and/or tactics were clearly needed, but also because of the widely-celebrated success earlier this year of the World Cup-qualifying Under-20 national team, who Dudamel also manages. All of the three stand-out performers, Yeferson Soteldo, Yangel Herrera and Wuilker Fariñez, have made it into this 28-man squad and, having already debuted for the senior team, must fancy their chances of call-ups for the foreseeable future.

Admittedly, 5 feet 3 inch-dribbler Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile) will have his work cut out to earn a regular starting place in the unsettled attacking line behind the striker(s). Here, the front-runners in recent times have included Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, Spain, on loan from Watford, England) and the injured Juanpi. However, given the fluidity and rotation of the players in this area, Soteldo could well gain some minutes over the next week; if not, waiting in the wings are the marginally older yet similarly inexperienced internationals, Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Jacobo Kouffaty (Millonarios, Ecuador) and Darwin Machís (CD Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain).

Under-20 captain Herrera, recently signed by Manchester City and shipped over to New York City FC, currently appears to have a much stronger chance of consistently seeing first-team action for the seniors. Indeed, Tomás Rincón (Juventus, Italy), captain of the big boys, could do with a consistent partner-in-crime in front of the back four. The likes of Renzo Zambrano (Real Valladolid, Spain) and Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru) have been tried but Herrera, a man not shy of a challenge (and a yellow card) who can also be a positive influence further upfield, may have more to his game. Momentum is on his side.

This can also certainly be said of Caracas FC’s Fariñez, even if is not yet clear if the universally acclaimed goalkeeper of the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament will get the nod over domestic rival José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira). He is the favourite but if he loses out, he does nevertheless seem a safe bet for a run as first-choice at some point; time will tell if the sprightly 5-feet-9-incher can – to repeat a recurring theme – become a mainstay of future line-ups.

This goalkeeping issue as well as the inclusion of one other member of the Under-20 squad – Joel Graterol, who never featured between the sticks in the tournament and has hardly ever done so for domestic side Carabobo FC – leads into a less anticipated matter.

Surprise Omissions

First of all, there’s no place for Dani Hernández. He had reclaimed the No. 1 jersey at last year’s Copa América Centenario and, though the side has since leaked goals, accusatory fingers have rarely been pointed his way. Perhaps more pertinently, since the national side last convened he has been a vital component of Tenerife’s promotion push to return to the Spanish top-flight, contributing to an impressive defensive record. His absence has caught many off-guard and while there has been idle – though plausible – speculation that his club side may have requested he stay to play in their crucial domestic fixtures, there has been no explanation from Dudamel.

Also left out is experienced centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, virtually an ever-present for La Vinotinto who has earned over 80 caps. 33 in May, though Dudamel has stressed that the Nantes man hasn’t been put out to pasture just yet, he has also stated that he wishes to open up opportunities for others. That will have been news to the ears of 25-year-old Jhon Chancellor, who has recently moved to Ecuadorian side Delfin and may receive a rare opportunity. Alternatively, Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia) and Sema Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) had once looked the likeliest contenders to form a consistent partnership with Vizcarrondo or each other, though their performances, particularly that of Ángel, have often left much to be desired. Though they haven’t played themselves out of contention just yet, Vizcarrondo’s partner for the previous two games was instead Mikel Villanueva. Dudamel has said how he prefers to consider the Málaga man for a position in the middle, rather than at left-back, where he can also play; thus instead on this flank, it is Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain) and Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC) who will be competing for the manager’s approval.

Over on the right side of defence, however, is where the most surprising omission is concerned. Despite being Mr. Consistent at club level, a mainstay of Málaga’s defence for nearly three years now (which has included three clean sheets in five games against Barcelona) and easily one of Venezuela’s most high-profile performers, there is no place for Roberto Rosales. Given that he’s 28 years old, it’s a bit premature for him to be making way for a new generation. In justification, Dudamel has asserted that Alexander González of Spanish second-tier side Huesca has impressed by taking advantage of his opportunities since they first came his way following an injury to Rosales at last June’s Copa América Centenario. Yet whilst González has looked assured in glimpses, he has also played in several comfortable losses, though even if one is in accord with Dudamel’s viewpoint, champions of Rosales find his outright exclusion with Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal) as back-up hard to swallow. At best, this decision may instil a determination in Rosales not to be complacent for his nation, though if not matching club performances at international level were consistently enforced grounds for exclusion, none of this mob would survive three consecutive call-ups.

High-Profile Concerns…and Some Joy

With no Rosales, there shall be no Three R’s, leaving Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) and Tomás Rincón as the only two players in the current squad who can be classed as dead certs to be repeatedly named as starters. Naturally then, there are nevertheless some concerns about this pair, which have been aired in the Venezuelan media: with Rondón, it’s his goal drought in the Premier League since his hat-trick against Swansea City on 14 December; with Rincón, it’s his lack of match-time since his big move from Genoa to Juventus back in the January transfer window.

Rincón is one of ten players in the present selección who have moved club since the national team was last convened. One of these, Adalberto Peñaranda, has also struggled to make it onto the field, both for Udinese at the start of the campaign and, since January, new club Málaga. Though the Andalusian outfit twice managed the remarkable feat of fielding four Venezuelans in January, these have also been Peñaranda’s only two appearances. His stock has fallen somewhat since this time last year, when he was being hyped by football hacks as a potential superstar off the back of little more than a handful of observed appearances. However, as he is still a mere 19 years of age, Dudamel has included him in part so that support can be provided and spirits hopefully raised.

As always, there shall be much competition for one of the inner-channel/flank positions behind the striker(s) that the jinking Peñaranda is tailor-made for. One potential rival, who could also be moved elsewhere along the line or up front with Rondón, is 23-year-old Josef Martínez – another man who has recently moved clubs. By contrast, however, three games and five goals into his MLS career with Atlanta United, he has already been proclaimed a rip-roaring success; so much so, in fact, that Tata Martino’s club have just this week been able to make the loan deal from Torino a permanent one. Though a starting spot is not always guaranteed for him, he does tend to link up well with Rondón, either from behind or in tandem. As Rondón was injured last November, Martínez was afforded the rare opportunity of leading the attack alone and managed to notch a hat-trick against Bolivia. If, any time soon, the unthinkable happens and Rondón actually loses his place when fit, then the Atlanta new-boy – also his country’s top-scorer in qualifying with five – is easily the front-runner to displace.

Is It Even Possible To Pick Up Momentum?

Overall then, as always there is much speculation and few concrete certainties except the predominance of uncertainties. Several players are likely to be given new and/or rare opportunities over the upcoming two games and almost all of those who start can not feel too comfortable about this consistently recurring for the remainder of the campaign, let alone for the next few years. However, as the subsequent two qualifiers are not for another five months, one can not help but query in advance the weight that may be placed on the upcoming two matches in informing August’s squad. As evidenced by the justification behind Rosales’ omission, Dudamel is willing to overlook long-standing club form in favour of what he sees in these comparatively short spells when the men on his radar don the burgundy shirts. If this is the case, then Herrera, Soteldo and Fariñez will have more opportunities than most to sway his mind, given that he will be leading them to the Under-20 World Cup in two months’s time.

Nevertheless, despite the omissions and the new-look rearguard, there’s plenty of attacking talent in their ranks. A home win against Peru – who they should have beaten away in March 2016 but let a 2-0 lead become a 2-2 draw – is precisely the result a Venezuelan side challenging for World Cup qualification should attain; to do so would provide a significant boost to the hitherto underwhelmed faithful and subsequently decrease fears of another tonking from Chile. The last one came after the draw in Lima and turned out to be Noel Sanvicente’s last ever game as Venezuela manager; a year on, two more positive results against the same opposition would mark a symbolic shift in the right direction for Rafael Dudamel.

To read about how Venezuela get on against both Peru and Chile, please check back here and/or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC, Venezuela) & Joel Graterol (Carabobo FC, Venezuela).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Delfin, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain), Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC, Venezuela), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana, Venezuela), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Jacobo Kouffaty (Millonarios, Ecuador), Darwin Machís (CD Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, Spain, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Juventus, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Mineros de Guayana, Venezuela), Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile) & Renzo Zambrano (Real Valladolid, Spain). 

Forwards

Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Alaves, Spain).

venezuelasquadmarch2017

(Image: @SeleVinotinto)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 5-0 Bolivia – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (10 November 2016)

The eleventh matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded, in more ways than one, an unprecedented result. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 10 November 2016 – Estadio Monumental de Maturín, Maturín, Monagas State

Venezuela 5-0 Bolivia

Video Highlights of Venezuela 5-0 Bolivia, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 10 November 2016 (YouTube)

Hat-trick Man Martínez Revels in His Role as New-Look Venezuela Earn Emphatic Win

Match Report

At the eleventh attempt, Venezuela finally earned their first qualifying victory, emphatically seeing off Bolivia in a history-making game in which there was only ever one winner.

Manager Rafael Dudamel went into this must-win game without some familiar faces: Salomón Rondón, Juanpi and Alejandro Guerra were all injured and he also took some further gambles by relegating Adalberto Peñaranda and Roberto Rosales to the bench. Yet, from the third minute onwards, his charges vindicated his decisions to a degree far greater than any Vinotinto fan could have hoped.

Indeed, Venezuela opened the scoring with perhaps the first real attack of the game. One of the men receiving a rare start, Jhon Murillo, beat goalkeeper Carlos Lampe – who was in no-man’s-land – to a ball on the right, lofting it into the goalmouth. A defender instinctively headed it away but only towards another fresh face, Jacobo Kouffaty, who was on hand to squeeze a header past a Bolivian body and in at the near post. He wheeled away to the delight of the Maturín crowd.

Seven minutes later, they had more reason to cheer as from a corner from Rómulo Otero (returning to the line-up due to the injuries), Josef Martínez was afforded plenty of space to comfortably head home a second for the hosts. With no Rondón, the Torino man was to take his opportunity to prove there was still much to be feared from the Venezuelan frontline.

As the home side found themselves in an unfamiliar yet pleasing situation, they sat back throughout much of the rest of the half, with Bolivia in turn creating little of actual threat. Though La Verde saw more of the ball, they could only really offer a long-range shot from Marvin Bejarano that was comfortably saved as well as a 30-yard free-kick that went straight into the wall.

Venezuela themselves saw out the half by demonstrating greater likelihood of getting the game’s next goal. In the 38th minute, Martínez was played through in the area and narrowly won the race to the ball but goalkeeper Lampe stood his ground and blocked the low poke with his legs. However, the action was not over as from a fortuitous ricochet on the edge of the Bolivian area, the ball fell kindly for Alexander González who hit a half-volley a couple of yards over the bar, albeit with little venom. The hosts came closer two minutes later when, from a similar position to his spectacular goal against Chile in March, Otero struck a low, dipping, snake-like free-kick with the outside of his right boot which swerved dynamically before being touched narrowly wide by Lampe.

Bolivia made a couple of changes at the break but they were to have little impact. Barely three minutes into the second half, Otero tried his luck with another free-kick, this one from over 35 yards and which dipped wickedly just over the bar. Then, three minutes later, Kouffaty made some space for himself, evading a tackle from Diego Wayar just inside the area on the left, before striking a powerful low show with his right that Lampe parried away.

After the hour mark, with on-field affairs calming down somewhat, it seemed Dudamel was content to see out this two-goal lead when, in the 64th minute, he replaced attacking midfielder Kouffaty with holding midfielder Arquímedes Figuera. However, defying expectations, his charges stepped up a gear and three minutes later put the outcome beyond reasonable doubt. This time, from another Otero corner, centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo powered a header that Lampe could only parry out to opposition feet. However, Mikel Villanueva – playing for the first time at centre-back, with Rolf Feltscher granted the left-back berth – was denied a tap-in by Martínez who instead nabbed the third. The visitors were evidently still reeling from this nail in the coffin two minutes later. From a central position over 30 yards out, they allowed international debutant Renzo Zambrano to dink a ball into the area which Martínez, back-to-goal, managed to get a head to, which dipped over the agonising palms of the out-of-sorts Lampe. Not only did this goal cap off what some hip young upstarts might call a ‘statement performance’ from the Torino forward but, rather staggeringly, it was also the first-ever Venezuelan hat-trick in a competitive fixture and the first one in any international encounter since 1962.

The goal-glut was rounded off in the 74th minute when Murillo sped away up the right flank into the area, trickling a ball from the touchline across the goalmouth which Otero tapped in at the back post for a deserved goal. The 45,850 fans that were reportedly in the stands could thus see out the remaining quarter-of-an-hour with wide-eyed grins. Whether they knew it or not, they had just witnessed history as this 5-0 scoreline was in fact the largest competitive victory in Venezuela’s history. They have now leapfrogged Bolivia and sit ninth in CONMEBOL qualifying, with five points.

Regardless of the opposition’s long-standing woes on the road, this record-breaking performance was certainly not bad for a side low on confidence playing on a dreadful surface with at least five high-profile players absent from the line-up. Expectations have now suddenly been raised and plenty of fans are pondering just how many of those afforded a start here will maintain their spots for the Ecuador game as well as for subsequent encounters. Long-term, if there is one thing that this team needs, it is stability.

 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): D. Hernández; A. González, O. Vizcarrondo, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; R. Zambrano, T. Rincón; J. Murillo, R. Otero (L. González, 77′), J. Kouffaty (A. Figuera, 64′); J. Martínez (C. Santos, 71′).

Bolivia (4-3-3): C. Lampe; E. Rodríguez, R. Raldes, E. Zenteno, M. Bejarano; D. Wayar, P. Azogue, W. Veizaga (M. Zoch, 46′); R. Ramallo (J. Campos, 78′), M. Martins, Y. Duk (R. Castro, 46′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-2 Argentina– CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (6 September 2016)

The eighth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded one point more than anticipated yet two less than many Venezuelans felt attainable at half-time. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report plus thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 6 September 2016 – El Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida State

Venezuela 2-2 Argentina

Video Highlights of Venezuela 2-2 Argentina, 6 September 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

Mixed Emotions for Both Sides as Juanpi Announces Himself on the International Stage

Match Report

‘Bottom versus top’ could have been mistaken for ‘seventh versus eighth’ as what began as a tepid affair ended as a slugfest with Venezuela being denied a famous victory.

La Vinotinto went into the game with just one point, having just been comfortably dispatched 2-0 by neighbours Colombia, yet really needing to raise the morale of their compatriots in the Andean city of Mérida. Pace-setters Argentina were thus hardly the ideal opponents. However, the hosts were far from overawed in the opening half and with each passing period of play, the pre-game predictions of a pounding proved increasingly preposterous.

Indeed, the first threat they had to contend with – the closest Edgardo Bauza’s men came all half – occurred in the 16th minute. Inter Milan new-boy Éver Banega received a pass centrally, quickly turned and from 25 yards out struck a low drive that went just wide of the far post. Banega often appeared to be one of his side’s likeliest catalysts for a goal as at times he enjoyed plenty of midfield space in which to roam before searching for a key, incisive pass – though this latter, crucial phase largely proved elusive.

Ángel Di María, with his tormenting runs down the wing and balls into the area, was a more noticeable threat in the first period. Just after the 20th minute, he crossed in a fine ball for Lucas Pratto, but the Atlético Mineiro striker – playing in part due to the absences of several more high-profile strikers – stretched but could not make a meaningful connection. He certainly did, however, in the 32nd minute, when he met Di María’s cross but his solid header was a little too close to goalkeeper Dani Hernández, who managed to get his body behind it.

The hosts’ early chances were hardly much more threatening. Rafael Dudamel’s men sometimes resorted to pumping long balls towards star striker Salomón Rondón, but this rarely proved propitious, even if it was a cunning way of bypassing Javier Mascherano. The West Bromwich Albion forward did nevertheless have his country’s first opportunity of note when, after 21 minutes, he received the ball just outside the area. However, although some space opened up for him, it was not enough to warrant the headlines that must have been swirling in his head; he may have shaped up with intent but his tame shot trickled goalwards for goalkeeper Sergio Romero to gratefully collect.

One Venezuelan causing more problems for the Argentine back-line was Rondón’s strike-partner, Josef Martínez. He regularly beat defenders for pace, causing uncertainty as well as winning throws and corners. In the 23rd minute, he was especially of concern when he received a pass in the area and soon hit the deck, but his penalty claim was waved away.

The other leading attacking threat for the hosts in this half was the man who was to break the deadlock. The profile of Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor has been rising since he made his Málaga debut two years ago, with last season’s exploits really helping him emerge to prominence in La Liga. Aiding his cause in particular during that campaign were three goals in consecutive weeks (including one against Barcelona) and he is already off the mark for 2016/17. With the experienced Alejandro Guerra and Luis Manuel Seijas not part of this particular squad, he has been provided with opportunities to bolster his claims for a first-team spot in midfield. Overall, he has taken them.

Yet though he is capable of pinpoint accuracy from dead-ball situations, thankfully his largely wayward set-pieces throughout this half are unlikely to be used as arguments against future starts. Indeed, it is more the events in the 35th minute that shall be uppermost in most people’s minds when the line-up for the trip to Uruguay in October is being mulled over.

As befitting a largely listless half, it came almost out of nowhere. Rondón’s low cross in from the right was cut out before being immediately knocked back to the edge of the area, where it fell to the feet of Juanpi. Two players quickly tried to close him down yet somehow he bundled his way through them, before making some space for himself on the right corner of the area. Judging by the reaction of at least one Argentine defender, they did not consider him a serious threat from this position. Big mistake. Before anyone could get near enough to him, he unleashed a phenomenal strike that scorched past Romero and nearly burst the top corner of the net. The crowd erupted and the 22-year-old diminutive Málaga maestro was mobbed by his team-mates, both starters and subs alike. His first international goal, his formal arrival on this stage; aficionados of this balletic young man’s career will have been aware that it bore more than a slight resemblance to his first ever club goal against Levante in January 2015. Now, all Venezuelans know that no matter how bleak their nation’s prospects often seem, there will always be reason to keep an eye on them so long as the likes of Juanpi are in embryo.

Just four minutes later, Dudamel’s men nearly enhanced the euphoria in the ground to unprecedented levels. Rondón helped the ball on to Alexander González on the right inside the area. The Huesca right-back quickly slid the ball into the goalmouth where Josef Martínez was waiting and the goal was a-gaping, yet the Torino striker was narrowly beaten to the ball by Pablo Zabaleta, who managed to clear.

Thus, when the half-time whistle blew, the hosts had to resign themselves to being just 1-0 up against the No. 1 ranked side in the world. In the ever-bewildering and screen-throttling social media world, more than a few were quick to denigrate Venezuela’s lead by pointing out that Lionel Messi was missing and that this was a ‘depleted’ Argentine team. Risible claims, as aside from two attacking players, this was virtually a first-choice Albiceleste XI and, as no Venezuelan was staggered to observe, the hosts had problems of their own. Indeed, they made four changes from the Colombia loss, all of which were forced upon Dudamel: three of the four defenders were out (two due to suspensions, one due to injury) and one of the defensive-midfielders (suspended) was also unavailable. Such absences made their lead and hitherto ability to repel trouble all the more impressive.

Yet when the second half kicked off, the visitors returned with more intent to extricate themselves from the mire that they had slipped in. Much anticipation greeted Banega’s free-kick in the 50th minute, but when he finally took it, the ball sailed comfortably over. The hosts were nevertheless able to withstand such pressure and not long afterwards they broke free up the other end where Rondón nearly fed in Martínez, but the latter had his run abruptly blocked off.

However, shortly afterwards in the 53rd minute, the same combination sent the stands into raptures. The nation’s talisman robbed a hapless defender flailing in the Mérida rain and strode into the area, where he slipped a short pass to his Serie A-based partner who, with the visitors on the back foot, was afforded acres of space. Had he desired to, Martínez would have had time to whip out the day’s paper and read his horoscopes before pulling the trigger; regardless of what it would have said, the Torino man certainly would have felt it was his lucky day when his well-placed shot hit the back of the net. 2-0.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, the hosts celebrated their dizzying lead by going immediately on the defensive as Argentina raised their game and/or Venezuela pondered the ‘2-0 is the most dangerous lead in football’ cliché for a bit too long. Given such a change in approach, it came as little surprise when the visitors halved the deficit in the 58th minute. Here, Erik Lamela was gifted plenty of space to slide the ball through to Pratto in the area. Despite having left-back Mikel Villanueva and centre-back Sema Velázquez seemingly on his case, it seemed a little too easy for him. He nudged the ball forward and it ricocheted off Villanueva back to him in slightly more space and he simply toe-poked it goalwards past the possibly blindsided Hernández. 2-1. Game well and truly on.

Bauza’s men thus went on the hunt for an equaliser. Some more shaky goalkeeping from Hernández from a corner was to follow not long afterwards and the visitors were not too far from catching him out in the 66th minute. Here, Banega, on the inside-left just outside the area, went for a cross-shot which rebounded kindly off a defender, thus necessitating the Tenerife goalkeeper to scramble over to ensure his near post was covered. He got there just in time to block out the resultant shot that Di María fired from an acute angle from inside the area on the left.

One rare reprieve from the pressure came after 74 minutes when the much-touted 19-year-old Adalberto Peñaranda burst forward and gave a rare glimpse of why he made so many headlines at Granada last season. In a characteristically direct run, he passed through a few Argentine shirts before being cynically fouled not far from the area. This bought his nation some time, though the free-kick was duly squandered.

With the clock not ticking fast enough, Dudamel made some changes yet his second, replacing Martínez with Ecuador-based Jacobo Kouffaty, unfortunately did not reap the desired dividends. Indeed, officially he lasted no more than three minutes before succumbing to an injury and being replaced by Yonathan Del Valle in the 81st minute.

Compounding Kouffaty’s misery, as he was walking dejectedly along the sidelines, Di María whipped in a low corner which was clinically struck into the back of the net to level things up. Manchester City’s Nicolás Otamendi beat his centre-back counterpart Velázquez to the ball and restored some pride for his nation. Now, they were favourites to snatch all three points.

Ultimately, although they certainly put the jitters up their hosts, it was in fact Venezuela who came closest to emerging victorious in a five-goal thriller. First, with five minutes remaining, Juanpi curled in a free-kick from the right with his left boot which Romero went to catch but was easily beaten in the air by Rondón – unfortunately for the latter, his header also comfortably cleared the crossbar when it seemed as if with a bit more direction, he could well have won the game.

It was a let-off for the Manchester United goalkeeper and yet with a minute of regulation time left, he somehow had time to emerge relatively unscathed from an even greater howler. This time, Juanpi’s central free-kick from range bounced harmlessly through to the out-of-favour stopper, yet perhaps his rustiness affected him, as he was slow in anticipating the ball’s trajectory. Instead of catching it, the ball caught him by surprise and bounced off his chest and straight to Villanueva. The 23-year-old Atlético Malagueño left-back instinctively struck at the ball in textbook centre-forward fashion; he had Romero well beat but unfortunately his effort cannoned straight back off the near post.

Alas, the final whistle soon blew and it was greeted by both sides with a mixture of emotions. The visitors’ comeback could not mask the fact that they had once again struggled to contend with the absence of Messi and had been displaced from their perch, now finding themselves 3rd in the CONMEBOL standings. For the hosts, while it is a credible point, they will surely feel that they could have added a little more dignity to their campaign by gaining their first victory.

With Peru having beaten Ecuador 1-0, Venezuela now find themselves five points adrift at the bottom on a paltry two points. Although ten games still remain, as Dudamel’s men are 11 points away from the play-off spot (5th), sights are undoubtedly now set on Qatar 2022 and not Russia 2018. Building a new team with the likes of Juanpi at its core will be uppermost in the manager’s thoughts. After all, next month will involve a trip to Uruguay (1st) and a home clash against Brazil (2nd); Rome was indeed not built in a day.

To keep up-to-date with the Venezuelan football world, feel free to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; A. González (V. García, 71′), O. Vizcarrondo, S. Velázquez, M. Villanueva; Juanpi, T. Rincón,  A. Flores, A. Peñaranda; S. Rondón & J. Martínez (J. Kouffaty, 78′) (Y. Del Valle, 81′).

Argentina (4-2-3-1): S. Romero; P. Zabaleta, N. Otamendi, R. Funes Mori, M. Rojo (N. Gaitán, 83′); J. Mascherano, L. Biglia (L. Alario, 71′); E. Lamela (Á. Correa, 67′), É. Banega, Á. Di María; L. Pratto.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical