Tag Archives: Andrés Ponce

Venezuela’s Friendly International – November 2019 Preview

Venezuela are set to close out their year with a solitary friendly on Asian soil. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides a preview of this little-anticipated encounter.

International Friendly

Tuesday 19 November 2019 – Panasonic Stadium Suita, Osaka, Japan

Japan vs Venezuela

japanstadiumnov2019

Tuesday’s Venue (FIFAUTeam)

To the Far East for Three in a Row

2019 ends for La Vinotinto with an opportunity to win three games on the trot for the first time since 2007.

They face relatively familiar foes in Japan, a team with whom they normally share the friendly spoils and this will be the burgundy boys’ only game in this international break, after arrangements for a scheduled game in Bangladesh against Paraguay collapsed.

Curiously, the build-up to this match has so far been rather muted, with barely a word said by the players to the media and the official comments of manager Rafael Dudamel comprising of little more than a few lines of platitudes. If this is all symptomatic of another breakdown in the squad-media relationship, then the hacks have been uncharacteristically quiet on the matter. Perhaps more likely a cause is the game’s kick-off: 6:25am Venezuelan time.

Thus, although the contest is being televised, no-one will be anticipating record viewing figures. Nevertheless, as the team’s next scheduled encounters will be a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March, the players know that even if not many of their compatriots back home observe them, their manager certainly will.

He seems to have an increasingly clear idea of his preferred personnel as the 24-man squad for this game offers no surprise omissions, with the absences of Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) and Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy) explicable owing to visa-related matters and injury, respectively. They have been replaced in the selección by Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara) and Williams Velásquez (JEF United, Japan, on loan from Watford, England). Zulia’s Gabriel Benítez is also present, increasing his standing following his last-minute call-up and subsequent debut against Trinidad & Tobago last month.

At the other end of the pitch, as Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) has excommunicated himself from Dudamel’s regime, once again Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico) and Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) are competing to grapple with the unenviable task of trying to knock Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China) off his perch. Also, as was the case last month, Boca Juniors’ striker Jan Hurtado has instead been sent to the Under-23 squad who, this weekend just gone, have prepared for January’s 2020 Olympics qualifying tournament with two defeats against Paraguay (3-1 and 3-0).

Otherwise, following on from some impressive recent performances, Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil) will be hoping to cement his place in the line-up. The chances of this occurring will be greatly increased if his manager continues with the more attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation that was utilised to effect against Bolivia and Trinidad & Tobago last month. Away against World Cup-qualifying Japan, however, he may well revert to his more cautious and customary 4-3-2-1.

Ultimately, either way, if a rare trio of consecutive wins can be achieved, the smattering of dedicated early-risers won’t mind too much about the means by which it is attained.

To keep track of how things pan out, please continue to check this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad

VinotintoNov2019

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (Silkeborg IF, Denmark).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Gabriel Benítez (Zulia), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal, Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Yordan Osorio (Zenit Saint Petersburg, Russia, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain), Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain) & Williams Velásquez (JEF United, Japan, on loan from Watford, England).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara),  Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico), Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) & Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago – International Friendly (14 October 2019)

Another routine victory for Venezuela. Below, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’s welcome dalliance with consistency…

International Friendly

Monday 14 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago

Video Highlights of Venezuela 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago, International Friendly, 14 October 2019 (YouTube)

Two Triumphs in a Row for Early-Rising Vinotinto

Following on from their 4-1 win over Bolivia in the same stadium, Venezuela ran out comfortable victors in their second consecutive game on caraqueño soil.

Prior to the opening whistle, Tomás Rincón was honoured on the pitch ahead of what was to be his 100th game for the national team. Subsequently, entirely in keeping with the chief characteristics of their captain, the burgundy boys put in a committed and disciplined performance, effectively putting the game out of sight before the quarter-hour mark.

Indeed, from the off, Venezuela took the game to their Caribbean opponents. Salomón Rondón could well have put the hosts ahead after just six minutes when he anticipated and controlled Rolf Feltscher’s cross, but his blasted strike was too close to goalkeeper Adrian Foncette. However, it would only be another five minutes before the country’s all-time record goalscorer could right this wrong: following on from a low right-sided cross by Darwin Machís, the ball found the striker’s feet and he converted from inside the six-yard-box to make it 1-0. Then, barely two minutes later, Granada attacker Machís also continued his recent spell of good form by doubling the lead after cutting inside from the left and, from just outside the area, striking with his right boot. In all honesty, Foncette should have easily stopped this admittedly-wicked, low drive, but this thought certainly did not trouble the La Liga man as he celebrated his third goal in as many games for club and country.

Subsequently, Rafael Dudamel’s team continued to probe, but their actual attempts on goal amounted to little more than a low Rómulo Otero strike that was parried and a Machís cross-shot that narrowly eluded his team-mates in the area.

During this period, Trinidad & Tobago did sometimes manage to alleviate the pressure on their defence and get forward, though without really troubling Wuilker Fariñez’s goal. That is, until the end of the half when they had two chances in quick succession: first, in the 43rd minute when, after a low cross evaded the sliding studs of Levi Garcia by a matter of centimetres, Marcus Joseph struck a left-footed effort from inside the area; this may have grazed the gloves of Fariñez but it was nevertheless always arcing wide of the target. Then, in stoppage-time, Garcia launched a free-kick from distance that deflected off a Venezuelan head, forcing the Millonarios stopper to force the ball over the bar.

Minus the goals, the second half was not too dissimilar in terms of the overall play but, owing to the home side’s clear superiority and two-goal advantage, lacked dramatic tension.

Venezuela had the majority chances, starting with Otero’s low strike in the 51st minute, which was followed two minutes later by a great ball from the right that Rondón – had he got his footwork sorted out – could have finished off. The visitors’ main chance arrived just before the hour mark when Ataullah Guerra dragged a strike wide of substitute Rafael Romo’s goal.

At times, Venezuela tried to combine centrally and nearly had success in the 62nd minute when, capitalising on a stray pass, a rapid move ended with Rondón laying the ball off to Otero, but the latter’s close-range strike was parried. Eight minutes later, a corner nearly led to that elusive third goal as substitute Juanpi’s cross was headed by Yordan Osorio towards the back post; his centre-back partner Mikel Villanueva lunged for it but, alas, could not connect as the ball instead went out for a goal kick. Finally, another substitute, Yeferson Soteldo, engineered Venezuela’s last chance of the game in the 83rd minute when he went on a characteristic run into the left side of the area. Ultimately, however, his low effort was blocked by the legs of the angle-narrowing Foncette.

Overall, even though this game is unlikely to live long in the memories of most, no doubt Capitán Centenario Rincón will not forget it in a hurry and neither will Gabriel Benitez. Indeed, the wing-back from Zulia made his international debut at the beginning of the second half, having only been called up to the squad a mere few days beforehand.

For coach Dudamel, it was a good work-out and an essential win and he can now bask in the incredibly rare feeling of emerging victorious in two consecutive games. For the time being at least, perhaps he has calmed down some of the speculation that the players were not entirely on-board with his plans and methods. That said, less than 24 hours after the final whistle, a barbed, dismissive comment from the self-exiled Josef Martínez directed towards Rincón and Rondón suggests that those particular flames show little sign of being entirely extinguished.

If there are any responses to his words, it’s most probable that they won’t arrive until the next time La Vinotinto re-assembles: next month for an Asia-based double-header against Paraguay and Japan.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Faríñez (R. Romo, 46′); R. Hernández (G. Benítez, 46′), Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; J. Moreno, T. Rincón;  J. Murillo (J. Savarino, 74′), R. Otero (J. Añor, 66′), D. Machís (Y. Soteldo, 46′); S. Rondón (A. Ponce, 78′).

Trinidad & Tobago (4-4-2): A. Foncette, A. Jones, S. Bateau, A. David, K. Julien; A. Andrews (R. Russell, 79′), N. Hackshaw, K. George, L. Garcia (A. Garcia, 65′); M. Joseph (A. Fortune, 74′), A. Guerra (D. Carr, 82′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – October 2019 Preview

Following on from last month’s dreary draw with neighbours Colombia, Venezuela are back in action with two rare home friendlies. What’s more, they find themselves in the jarring position of being the favourites to emerge victorious from both. Ahead of these, @DarrenSpherical provides a glimpse into the Vinotinto orbit.

International Friendlies

Thursday 10 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela vs Bolivia

Monday 14 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela vs Trinidad and Tobago

caracasstadium

Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Back in the Capital with Farías but without Martínez

The Venezuelan national team’s first game in the capital city for eight years will also see the return of a prominent compatriot who was then at the helm of La Vinotinto: current manager of Bolivia, César Farías.

It was he who led his homeland from 2007 to 2013, with his achievements including reaching the semi-finals of the 2011 Copa América, as well as taking the Under-20s to their first-ever World Cup (2009). Thus, on 10 October his adopted nation of entirely domestic league players will be duking it out with the country of his birth, now bossed by the man who led the same age category to their second-ever World Cup appearance two years ago.

However, although Rafael Dudamel has paid tribute to Farías in the build-up, there has been far more media interest in the resignation from national-team duty of striker Josef Martínez. Indeed, two weeks ago, the Atlanta United netbuster wrote an open letter in which, after casting doubt upon the motives and behaviour of others and airing personal grievances regarding mistreatment, he announced that he would no longer be available for La Vinotinto for as long as the current incumbent remains in situ. In response, Dudamel has defended himself against the charges of mishandling the relationship, suggesting instead that the player’s annoyance may really stem from not being the guaranteed regular that he is at club level, whilst stating that the door nevertheless remains open to him. In turn, any fear of a collective revolt has seemingly already subsided as at least six players including the returning senior trio of Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) and Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain) have all commented that they disagree with Martínez’s decision.

As he has largely been relegated to cameo appearances from the bench and – for reasons of dubious legitimacy – excluded himself from some games in the past year, the 26-year-old MLS striker’s withdrawal may, to some, seem manageable in the short-term. However, as Venezuela frequently look toothless in attack, when things inevitably go awry, there will doubtlessly be no shortage of calls from the many champions of the MLS goal-machine for a change to this unhelpful state of affairs and, perhaps, to the Vinotinto status quo itself.

Nevertheless, as the boss evidently prefers just one man up top, there is no doubt that for this role he instead prefers 30-year-old China-dweller Rondón. Competition within the current crop comes from Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico) as well as Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), although both men have got a lot of convincing to do, as neither could confidently call themselves the first-choice understudy. For some fans, more long-term hope is invested in the boots of 19-year-old Boca Juniors striker Jan Hurtado. However, this time he did not make the cut from the 30-man preliminary squad and has instead joined up with the U23s who are hoping to play at next year’s Olympic Games.

Otherwise, although Dudamel may be a tad unnerved by Martínez’s decision as well  as his task of keeping the collective mentality healthy, he nevertheless has a strong squad to pick from. Indeed, along with Rondón, Rincón and Rosales, he also has central defender Yordan Osorio (Zenit Saint Petersburg, Russia, on loan from Porto, Portugal) back for selection, fresh from impressing in the UEFA Champions League. Also having impressed at club level in the past month are the Barcelona-slaying duo at Granada, Yangel Herrera and Darwin Machís, as well as Brazil-based pair Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro) and Yeferson Soteldo (Santos). The latter was named his club’s player of the month and, after scoring against Fluminense, imitated Martínez’s goal celebration, stoking speculation that he was set to also depart the international scene – a claim that he has recently refuted.

Although Dudamel spoke at length at his customary press conference on the eve of the first match, he did not provide many hints regarding to his line-up plans. That said, most regular Vinotinto observers would surely agree that the attacking-midfield spots behind Rondón as well as the defence in general are where most of the healthy competition for places currently resides. Regarding the latter, Dudamel himself spoke of the wealth of options at centre-back, but one wonders if over at left-back, given the omission of Luis Mago, a start could be given to the man who replaced him before the hour-mark against Colombia: Bernardo Añor. Brother of Juanpi (Málaga, Spain) and son of an ex-international, he is the squad’s only representative from the domestic league, who not only plays for Caracas FC but was also born in the capital.

For the player, it would be an unforgettable way to mark the team’s return to the city. On the other hand, for the boss, whether he wishes for sentiment to enter into his thoughts or not, he knows that the best way to quash any more rumblings of player discontent will be for a double sweep over Farías’ Bolivia and Monday’s Caribbean opponents. On paper and according to the FIFA rankings, this is what is anticipated, yet during his tenure, Dudamel has only achieved consecutive victories once: a pair of 1-0 wins against Jamaica and then Uruguay at 2016’s Copa América Centenario.

Who did he field up front for both games? Yup, Salomón Rondón.

Oh, and Josef Martínez.

Both notched a goal each.

Indeed, there was once a time when this partnership was utilised to effect. Yet three-and-a-bit years later, the chances of it ever being witnessed again currently seem about as likely as Venezuela going more than a month without some internal drama.

To keep track of how things pan out, please continue to check this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad

VinotintoOctober2019Squad

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (Silkeborg IF, Denmark).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Yordan Osorio (Zenit Saint Petersburg, Russia, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico), Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) & Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly International – September 2019 Preview

For the first time since their quarter-final exit at Copa América, La Vinotinto has been reassembled. Just like this time last year, a kickabout with their neighbours to the west awaits. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides a look at those looking to see action.

International Friendly

Tuesday 10 September 2019 – Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida, USA

Colombia vs Venezuela

romuloterosept2019

Back in the Fray: Rómulo Otero (GettyImages)

Youthful Venezuela Bring Average Age Even Further Down

Reportedly owing to visa issues relating to his new club adventure in China, Salomón Rondón has been compelled to withdraw from Venezuela’s sole international friendly this month.

Thus, with MLS hotshot Josef Martínez also not part of the squad, a considerable opportunity has presented itself up front, with either Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) or Jan Carlos Hurtado (Boca Juniors) best placed to profit. Both men were absent from June’s Copa América cohort, but Ponce’s output has in the past suggested that he might have a future at this level, most notably last October when he bagged two goals in the Vinotinto shirt. On the other hand, although Hurtado has struggled to find the net during his senior career at club and international level, the 19-year-old inspires many a fan’s daydreams, even more so these days as he has recently been signed by Boca Juniors and donned their much-fetishised shirt in the Superclásico.

Rondón’s absence also throws up a rare situation for the national side: not one of the three R’s will be trotting onto the field in Vinotinto colours. Indeed, the other two components of the much-capped trio, captain Tomás Rincón and Leganés new-boy Roberto Rosales, have not been summoned. Neither for that matter has Yordan Osorio, who put in a memorable display against hosts Brazil in June and has recently earned a loan move to Zenit St. Petersburg. In an interview with Conexión Goleadora, one player currently in the USA has lamented the absences as well as the somewhat underwhelming prospect of only a solitary game having been scheduled, but as is often the case in matters concerning the FVF, the precise truth is difficult to discern.

Nevertheless, trials and experiments are thus guaranteed to be taking place in all the outfield positions. Firstly, with no Rosales, who has been fielded on both flanks at the back, a number of players will be hoping to get the nod on the left. These include the versatile pair Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile) and Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), both of whom were part of the Copa squad, with the latter the only one of the seven defenders to not see any action in the tournament. Alternatively, manager Rafael Dudamel could well give a run-out to the only home-based player in the squad, the recalled Bernardo Añor of Caracas FC, a 31-year-old who only made his international debut last year. Less promising – though rather curious – are the prospects of club-less 21-year-old left-back Alejandro Mitrano, hitherto a virtual unknown who was last recorded playing in Slovakia and who was called up to train with the squad after the initial 23-man announcement. Who knows what he may bring to the table, but such intrepid talent-scouring reinforces Dudamel’s previous comments about the long-standing issues the national side has with this particular position.

At centre-back, with no Osorio, Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) will be seeking to reclaim a place in the line-up after injury forced him to miss Brazil 2019. However, there is now much competition for these two positions, with erstwhile partner Jhon Chancellor – who has earned a big move to Brescia in Serie A  – and Mikel Villanueva – who, however awkwardly, has been accommodated back into the Málaga side – both also in the running. As, for that matter, is the recalled Under-20 2017 World Cup runner-up Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal), still only 20 years of age.

Moving on, Rincón’s absence opens up an opportunity in the line of three that typically helps to reinforce the back four as well as kickstart attacks. If regulars Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England) and Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) get the nod, then joining them could well be either Renzo Zambrano, who plays under ex-Vinotinto and Swansea City striker Giovanni Savarese at Portland Timbers or Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara), who last season made headlines for being the first player in a Copa Libertadores match to bag a goal, grab an assist, net an own goal and get sent off.

Alternatively, the outspoken and more attack-minded Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor – who, like Villanueva, has also been grudgingly granted minutes by cash-strapped Málaga  – could well reprise a role similar to that in which he shone in June against Bolivia. There is also a chance that Dudamel could instead utilise the La Liga man in the customary attacking pairing that will support either Ponce or Hurtado, although here, perhaps more than anywhere, there is no shortage of talented competition. Indeed, the four players who duked it out for these roles in Brazil are all in the current squad: Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal),  Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA) and Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil). However, accompanying them this time will be Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), unquestionably the biggest surprise omission from the Copa squad. Perhaps his individualistic streaks played a part in this decision, but as more than one fan commented during the tournament, the team really could have done with some of his gravity-defying set-piece spectaculars. Surely at the Raymond James Stadium he will be given an opportunity to win back the trust of Dudamel.

Overall then, plenty of players will be seeking to shake up the boss’s thinking. Even if the preparations for the game have not been ideal, the side are arguably in a better state than twelve months ago when, after a ten-month hiatus, they kickstarted their current cycle with a 2-1 loss against Colombia in a match also played in Florida – it was Miami Gardens back then and it is Tampa now. The Cafeteros are coming into it off the back of a creditable 2-2 draw with Brazil, whereas Venezuela enter poised in the highest position that they have ever attained in the official FIFA rankings: 26th. Ultimately, Dudamel may well be looking more for performances than a result, but any opportunity to get one over their historically more-illustrious neighbours will always be greatly received back home.

To keep track of how things pan out, please continue to check this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintosept2019

Notes: Owing to visa-related issues at club level, Salomón Rondón has withdrawn from the convocatoria. Also, Alejandro Mitrano has been called up to train with the squad.

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (Silkeborg IF, Denmark).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Alejandro Mitrano (No club) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Jan Carlos Hurtado (Boca Juniors) & Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – November 2018 Preview

It is said that good things come in threes and this appears to hold true for the Venezuelan national team, who for the third consecutive month, will contest a pair of friendlies. Here, @DarrenSpherical has a look at the latest La Vinotinto squad.

International Friendlies

Friday 16 November 2018 – Ōita Bank Dome Stadium, Ōita, Kyushu Island, Japan

Japan vs Venezuela

Tuesday 20 November 2018 – Hamad bin Khalifa Stadium, Doha, Qatar

Iran vs Venezuela

bernardoanor

Bernardo Añor in January 2018 (@Caracas_FC)

Venezuela Embark On First Asian Tour Since 2014

It may not have seemed it during the ten months of inaction following La Vinotinto‘s friendly with Iran in the Netherlands 12 months ago, but Rafael Dudamel’s modest request for “at least five friendlies for 2018” is set to be fulfilled.

Indeed, match No. 5 sees the South Americans travel to Japan and No. 6 has them confronting, once again, Carlos Queiroz’s men – albeit, this time in Qatar – bringing the number of Russia 2018 participants faced in recent months to four.

September and October’s encounters yielded mixed results (two wins and two defeats) in what has been and will remain to be for some time, a period of trials and tactical refinement. This is again reflected in the squad, not least in arguably the most eye-catching inclusion: Bernardo Añor, son of the former international of the same name and the elder brother of Málaga’s Juanpi. The 30-year-old may well finally make his international debut after a career spent entirely in the USA until this year, when he returned home to play for Caracas FC. A left-back who has been known to play further upfield, he will provide competition for the only other domestic-based player in this crop, Carabobo FC’s Luis Mago. The latter is also somewhat of a newcomer to the fold, having only made his debut two months ago and together the pair will be seeking to permanently remove the omitted Rolf Feltscher from the manager’s thinking.

It is debatable whether Añor’s belated international call-up will lead to much in the long-run but one player that surely all fans will be excited to re-embrace is the returning 20-year-old captain of 2017’s Under-20 silver generation, Yangel Herrera. The New York City FC midfielder has recently recovered from a long-term injury and will hope to regain his spot next to senior armband-wearer Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) from the main beneficiary of his 12-month international absence, fellow MLS ball-winner Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA).

Elsewhere, the previously injured Salomón Rondón is also back, surely on a high after his first two league goals for Newcastle United. His deputy Andrés Ponce (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia) made the most of his rare opportunities last month, bagging a goal in each friendly. However, although the 22-year-old forward deservedly keeps his place in the squad it is likely that, for the time being at least, Dudamel will be devoted to making the partnership of the Magpies’ new favourite no. 9 and hotshot Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) work.

Just behind this front line, Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany) and Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy) are also back after some time on the sidelines. The right-sided Colombia-based Luis “Cariaco” González has received a call too, with Dudamel evidently wanting another look at the Tolima man after he impressed in spells in September. With so many changes in the make-up of the attacking-midfield, inevitably there have been some noteworthy players who will sit out this double-header. This time it is the turn of Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England) and the betrothed-but-injured headline-grabber Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile). With experimentation very much the order of the day, these three will surely all be back next year.

One man who should currently be in Japan vying for one of these positions but isn’t is Chile-based 21-year-old midfield jinker Yeferson Soteldo. He had been summoned but in an official press release, he is said to have missed his flight from Santiago and, consequently, “due to the decision of national team manager Rafael Dudamel he will not form part of the group”. This follows on from last month when he was compassionately omitted so that he could stay at home to attend the birth of his third child and from September, when he was called up but ultimately left out as he could not gain a visa to enter into the USA. Thus, for one reason or another the much-touted youngster has not worn the Vinotinto shirt since the Iran match last year. Although time appears to be very much on his side, his many admirers should feel a little concerned at the ground he is currently conceding to his rivals in this most competitive of areas within the squad.

Lastly, centre-back Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) – whose status has quietly risen in recent times, culminating in him wearing the captain’s armband last month when Rincón was rested – will also not be making the trip to Japan, but he will at least be available for the Iran clash.

In their previous duel with the Middle Easterners in November 2017, La Vinotinto were defeated by a solitary goal and the last time they faced Japan back in 2014, a 2-2 draw was retrospectively converted into a 3-0 loss, owing to the fielding of an ineligible Salomón Rondón. As will be repeated for some time yet in these pre-Copa América months, results may not be of paramount importance, but any improvement on these two outcomes will no doubt provide a boost for everyone’s belief in the nascent Qatar 2022 project.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintonov2018

(Note: Having reportedly missed his flight, Yeferson Soteldo will now not be part of this squad.)

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (APOEL FC, Cyprus).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Carabobo FC), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal) & Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Sergio Córdova (Augsburg FC, Germany), Luis González (Deportes Tolima), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Crotone, Italy) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA).

Forwards

Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Andrés Ponce (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

United Arab Emirates 0-2 Venezuela – International Friendly (16 October 2018)

Apparently owing to a disagreement between the UAE’s football association and a broadcaster, Venezuela closed the international break playing in a virtually empty stadium from which no transmission of the game was permitted. Thus, aided by the reports of a few of the privileged Venezuelan sources in the ground – as well as a sneaky live-streaming Instagram account or two – @DarrenSpherical provides a brief account of the events in Barcelona…

International Friendly

Tuesday 16 October 2018 – Estadio Olímpico Lluís Companys, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

United Arab Emirates 0-2 Venezuela

Goal Highlights of United Arab Emirates 0-2 Venezuela, Unofficial International Friendly, 16 October 2018 (YouTube/Instagram)

La Vinotinto Shine in Daytime Darkness

Playing in near-silence and obscurity at the prestigious stadium that was once the setting of history-making triumphs at the Barcelona ’92 Olympics, Venezuela’s two goals were enough to plunge the UAE further into the abyss.

Both of these came in the opening exchanges of the two halves, the first after barely a minute when Rómulo Otero’s corner was headed in at the back post by Luis Mago. The Carabobo FC left-back had only made his debut for the national side last month and this was his first-ever goal at senior international level.

Another man bagging his official first (of what could be many) was Andrés Ponce, who also scored last Friday in the unofficial encounter with the Basque Country. This one arrived in the 47th minute and has surely catapulted the 21-year-old Anzhi Makhachkala striker to first in the queue behind the absent Salomón Rondón and Josef Martínez.

Here, he was set up by Real Salt Lake’s Jefferson Savarino, a man he shares a birthday with and who is also consistently gaining ground in the national set-up, having now played key roles in goals in each of his last three appearances. Elsewhere in the match, Savarino also came close with a first-half strike that went just over and a late one-on-one that the goalkeeper denied. This latter chance occurred after a pass from Portugal-based forward Jhonder Cádiz, who was making his international debut along with fellow substitute Nahuel Ferraresi, a 19-year-old centre-back from the silver generation.

Otherwise, defensive-midfielder Júnior Moreno also crashed a first-half strike against the crossbar and the South Americans generally had the better of the opportunities, but their Middle-Eastern opponents did at least give them a couple of scares. Indeed, a second-half strike from Ali Hassan struck the base of the post and, earlier in the 40th minute, Omar Adbulrahman failed to convert a penalty, sweeping it wide of Wuilker Faríñez’s goal.

Overall then, though due in part to the blackout, it is not a game likely to be recalled often by fans, it did produce some personal milestones for a number of players who will surely cherish the memory of this curious encounter for the rest of their lives. Some of these individuals – particularly the two goalscorers – have further entrenched themselves in the plans of coach Dudamel who, judging by this starting line-up, has an ever-solidifying idea regarding seven or eight of his preferred XI.

That said, in this new cycle we really have only just begun and, aside from stiffer Asian competition, who knows what delights and surprises next month’s trips to Japan and Iran shall bring.

Team Selections

United Arab Emirates: A line-up of Alberto Zaccheroni’s men has been provided by the FVF and can be found here. However, it does not appear to be 100% accurate, so interested readers are invited to visit other sites such as Soccerway and play compare-and-contrast.

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Faríñez; R. Rosales, Y. Osorio, W. Ángel (N. Ferraresi, 90+3′), L. Mago; T. Rincón, J. Moreno (A. Romero, 71′); J. Savarino, R. Otero (E. Bello, 57′), J. Murillo (A. Peñaranda, 71′); A. Ponce (J. Cádiz, 71′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Basque Country 4-2 Venezuela – International Friendly (12 October 2018)

In their first friendly game of the latest international break, Venezuela’s long-term ambitions were handed a rude awakening by a proud, well-honed team that has absolutely no chance of bumping into them at Qatar 2022. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…

Unofficial International Friendly

Friday 12 October 2018 – Estadio de Mendizorroza, Vitoria, Álava, Spain

Basque Country 4-2 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Basque Country 4-2 Venezuela, Unofficial International Friendly, 12 October 2018 (YouTube)

La Liga-Level Liquidation for La Vinotinto

The Spain-based top-flight representatives of the border-straddling region of the Basque Country served up a convincing victory over an experimental Venezuela line-up.

With Salomón Rondón already out injured, Rafael Dudamel also opted to place goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez and lynchpin captain Tomás Rincón on the bench. Even taking into account the long called-for return of Roberto Rosales at right-back, this was a rather inexperienced side to be confronting a La Liga-laden outfit.

Conversely, their opponents boasted in their ranks the likes of Athletic Bilbao’s Iñaki Williams and Aritz Aduriz, Real Sociedad’s Asier Illarramendi and Aritz Elustondo and, particularly eye-catching in the first half, Alavés’ Ibai Gómez – playing here on his home turf of Mendizorroza.

With the aid of pyrotechnics, over 15,000 were on hand to generate a carnival-like atmosphere, which spurred on the hosts to dart out of the traps to dominate the opening 25 minutes or so. Their speed, sharpness and mutual understanding controlled the match-tempo, making it difficult for Venezuela’s makeshift defensive-midfield pairing of Arquímedes Figuera and Aristóteles Romero to track and the flanks were also occasionally exposed. It was Gómez who enjoyed virtually all the best chances in this period. In particular, in the 6th minute he gave centre-back Yordan Osorio the slip before his low drive forced a good stop from Rafael Romo and, then in the 20th minute, he received a pass centrally, made room for himself and fired marginally wide of the post.

The visitors could breathe – albeit, only for five more minutes. At this point, Gómez stepped up to take a free-kick somewhat left-of-centre on the edge of the area. Surprisingly – or, perhaps not, for anyone who has seen any of his recent golazos – he anticipated the jump of the wall to perfection, striking the ball underneath them and past the blindsided Romo for the opening goal.

It was the least that his side deserved. Yet, as so often is the case, it galvanised the opponents, who until this moment had only made one or two brief incursions into the final third. Despite this, within five minutes, they found themselves level; hearteningly for Dudamel, this came courtesy of the work of two men who, for differing reasons, have been denied any club action so far this season. Following some purposeful striding from Adalberto Peñaranda on the periphery of area, Romero’s optimistic strike took a fatal deflection off Yuri Berchiche, wrongfooted Asier Riesgo and ended up in the back of the net.

For the remaining 15 minutes of the first period, Venezuela earned themselves a greater share of the play, in the process winning set-pieces as well as greatly diminishing the threat to Romo’s goal.

However, following six home changes at the break, the temporary dam did not take long to burst wide open. Indeed, barely four minutes of round two had been played when a rather static Vinotinto defence was breached by Williams’ central poke forward; this fell to the fresh Jon Bautista who controlled and placed home in space to regain the lead. Fast-forward another four minutes and the gap was doubled. This time, Javier Eraso’s corner was knocked back within the area before Jhon Murillo’s poor clearance landed at the feet of another substitute, Arnaitz Arbilla, whose strike from the edge of the area bypassed Romo.

Subsequently, Dani García had a shot that only narrowly missed the target and it was evident that the South Americans had a mountain to climb. Although some more experienced heads came on to help avert an onslaught, there was never any serious doubt over the result. Later on Venezuela created some minor moments of threat: Rincón drove into the area and then had a penalty appeal waved away, Rosales put in some testing crosses and Eduard Bello warmed the goalkeeper’s gloves from an acute angle. Yet it was the Basques who were next on the scoresheet when an 87th-minute header by Elustondo – which may have been diverted in by defender Luis Mago – made it 4-1. For the third time on the night, Dudamel’s men were undone from a set-piece.

Nevertheless, Venezuela were at least able to respond to this additional setback with a goal of their own at the death. Substitute Jefferson Savarino arced a fine diagonal ball over to Rosales who, from the right byline, saw his cross into the centre nodded home by another erstwhile benchmate, Andrés Ponce.

Make no mistake, although results are not everything at this early stage of this new cycle, this match was anything but a success from a Venezuelan perspective. The makeshift XI lacked an effective game-plan, struggled to keep pace with their opponents and were often easily outplayed.

However, if there is one broad positive to take away it is that both goals involved players – Peñaranda, Romero, Rosales and Ponce – who had previously not even been considered anywhere near the squad, let alone in the starting eleven. Looking ahead, the former two desperately need to find some minutes at club level, however problematic that currently appears to be. Rosales needs to work with his defensive colleagues to bolster their collective organisation but he at least displayed his renowned threat going forward. Ponce, on the other hand, who has had a promising start to his new life in Russia, must be feeling good about his late goal and, with Josef Martínez returning home to Atlanta, he must fancy his chances of leading the line against the United Arab Emirates.

That game, on Tuesday in Barcelona behind closed doors against an official FIFA-recognised nation, is anticipated to be a more winnable encounter. Dudamel is not one to take things for granted but as much as he will want to try out new ideas and personnel, he knows how important positive results are for maintaining faith in the country’s long-term ambitions.

Team Selections

Basque Country (4-1-4-1): A. Riesgo (J. Serantes, 46′); M. Aguirregabiria, A. Elustondo, I. Martínez (A. Arbilla, 46′), Y. Berchiche; A. Illarramendi (D. García, 46′); I. Williams, D. Zurutuza (J. Bautista, 46′), M. García (M. Vesga, 59′), I. Gómez (L. Sangalli, 46′); A. Aduriz (J. Eraso, 46′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): R. Romo; R. Rosales, Y. Osorio, W. Ángel, L. Mago; A. Figuera (T. Rincón, 59′), A. Romero (J. Moreno, 72′); J. Murillo, R. Otero (J. Savarino, 58′), A. Peñaranda (E. Bello, 64′); J. Martínez (A. Ponce, 64′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical