Tag Archives: Argentina

Argentina 2-0 Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Quarter-Final (28 June 2019)

History repeats itself in Rio. Here, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’Copa América 2019 exit to Argentina.

Copa América 2019 – Quarter-Final

Friday 28 June 2019 – Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro.

Argentina 2-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Argentina 2-0 Venezuela, Copa América Quarter-Final, 28 June 2019 (YouTube)

There’s Always Next Year

Venezuela’s unbeaten streak came abruptly to an end at the Maracanã, as for the second successive tournament, La Vinotinto were eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Argentina.

Coming into the game, Rafael Dudamel’s men were fancied by more than a few to cause an upset, yet on the day this never once came close to fruition. Indeed, Argentina were first out of the blocks and that is where they remained. In the third minute, Sergio Agüero’s shot from an angle was saved by the feet of goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez and then four minutes later, a knock-on from a corner found defender Germán Pezzella. However, it must have taken him by surprise as, despite being in a very advantageous position, his control let him down and Faríñez instead gratefully received the ball.

Nevertheless, it was only a matter of a time. Thus, a 10th-minute Lionel Messi corner founds its way to Agüero whose low effort back into the mixer was skilfully backheeled into the back of the net by Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martínez to make it 1-0.

Subsequently, Venezuela did occasionally make it forward – Darwin Machís, in particular, often driving at Juan Foyth – but in the first half they never managed to test the gloves of Franco Armani. Gradually, goalmouth action at either end died down, with instead the card count rising: five yellows by the break, with a red seeming inevitable.

Overall, Venezuela’s best first-half chance – a 40th-minute Jhon Chancellor header from a Júnior Moreno corner, which went comfortably over – was barely worthy of the description. Instead, Argentina, without being dominant or particularly eye-catching, were the more creative side and were close to doubling their lead in stoppage-time when Marcos Acuña’s low cross to the back post was only narrowly knocked away from the looming Martínez by Roberto Rosales.

Soon after the restart in the 48th minute, Martínez had a better chance to net for a second time when he was played through by Leandro Paredes yet, despite his promising his position, his strike hit the outside of the post and went out.

However, this did not lead to an Albiceleste avalanche, as instead things became a little more even. Finally, in the 71st minute, Venezuela were able to fashion a substantial opportunity when captain Tomás Rincón chipped the ball into the area where it was met by right-back Ronald Hernández whose shot from close range had to be parried by Armani.

Yet, just three minutes later, any hope of taking the game to penalties was virtually extinguished. Rather, Argentina doubled their lead after Giovani Lo Celso tapped in the ball after Faríñez badly spilled a relatively tame shot from Agüero. It has to be said that it has not been a successful showcase for the Millonarios goalkeeper who, despite making an important stop against Peru, was also fortunate to get away with two mistakes in that game as well as with another against Bolivia. Ultimately, his luck, along with that of his team, ran out in Rio de Janeiro, but at just 21, age is still most definitely on his side.

Before the 90 minutes were up, Venezuela had one more opportunity – a Salomón Rondón header from a Moreno corner which Armani had to instinctively parry – but alas, it was Argentina who progressed to the semi-final date with Brazil.

Taking everything into account, it is somewhat difficult to judge Venezuela’s Copa América campaign. On the one hand, they went unbeaten in their group and even drew with the hosts, yet on the other, they once again frequently looked bereft of ideas when going forward and fell at the same hurdle as in 2016, despite having recently beaten Argentina in a friendly. Inevitably, many fans have voiced their impatience with, and disapproval of, Dudamel’s caution-first approach and he will know as well as anyone the limitations of seeking to frustrate the more illustrious sides whilst hoping a goal can be snatched at the other end.

Still, although it may not feel this way now, by most people’s standards, Venezuela have, at the very least, equalled pre-tournament expectations, if not slightly surpassed them. Their team is relatively settled and they can take what they have gained into the end-of-year friendlies, ahead of next year’s qualifiers for Qatar 2022: the ultimate objective.

Team Selections

Argentina (4-3-3): F. Armani; J. Foyth, G. Pezzella, N. Otamendi, N. Tagliafico; R. De Paul, L. Paredes (G. Lo Celso, 68′), M. Acuña; L. Messi, L. Martínez (Á. Di María, 64′) & S. Agüero (P. Dybala, 85′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, L. Mago (Y. Soteldo, 55′), R. Rosales (L. Seijas, 84′); J. Moreno, Y. Herrera, T. Rincón; J. Murillo, D. Machís (J. Martínez, 71′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Argentina 1-3 Venezuela – International Friendly (22 March 2019)

On a refined stage in the Spanish capital, La Vinotinto superbly displayed the potential that all followers knew was lurking somewhere. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides a match report of this breakthrough result…

International Friendly

Friday 22 March 2019 – Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain

Argentina 1-3 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Argentina 1-3 Venezuela, International Friendly, 22 March 2019 (YouTube)

Dynamic Venezuela Dazzle and Destroy

A fired-up Venezuela put in an exhilarating performance to deservedly defeat their more illustrious opponents for only the second time in their history.

To most neutrals, the game held at the home of Atlético Madrid was perceived as “Lionel Messi’s somewhat-anticipated Albiceleste comeback”, but not long after kick-off, a different, more captivating, story began to emerge.

Barely five minutes into the game, mask-wearing Roberto Rosales – situated on the left of defence, with U20 World-Cup runner-up Ronald Hernández over on his more customary right side – took the Argentine back-line by surprise with a sublime diagonal ball from the half-way line. It was received by Salomón Rondón who, with an aesthetically-pleasing blend of panache and aplomb, evaded his marker Gabriel Mercado, athletically controlling the incoming pin-point pass and striking the ball home with the outside of his right boot to give Venezuela the lead.

Behind, Lionel Scaloni’s side were spurred into action, with their no. 10 often attempting to orchestrate attacks by spraying balls to the flanks and weaving inside. However, it was never one-way traffic and for the following twenty minutes, the Argentines struggled to direct any meaningful attempts on target, with the opposition rearguard instead compact and regularly on cue to thwart. Despite this absence of genuine goalmouth action, it was nevertheless a keenly contested encounter that often required the referee to intervene: by the end of the night Venezuela would also go on to win the yellow cards battle, 6-2.

When Argentina did finally make the opposition goalkeeper work, it was worth the wait. This occurred at the half-hour mark when Messi jinked his way past three opponents before crossing a left-sided ball into the area that Lautaro Martínez powerfully headed. Many assumed that it was a certain goal but the Inter striker’s erstwhile Under-20 foe Wuilker Faríñez spectacularly managed to get a hand to it and divert the ball over.

This electrified the crowd and ushered in a chance-laden final 15 minutes of the first half. In the 35th minute, Venezuela could easily have made it two after Jhon Murillo played a ball through the middle to Darwin Machís who, virtually one-on-one with a defender scrambling over towards him, had his low effort saved by the feet of goalkeeper Franco Armani.

It was a let-off for Argentina, who two minutes later had a somewhat speculative Messi effort tipped over, but soon afterwards, their own goal was once again under threat. This time, Machís tenaciously evaded some challenges to nudge the ball to Hernández, who crossed the ball to the back post where Rondón’s header went past his marker Juan Foyth, goalkeeper Armani and, agonisingly, the back post. In the centre, Murillo voiced his displeasure at the lack of a knock-back.

However, the Tondela winger was to soon forget about that. Indeed, on the left side of the pitch just before half time, the alert Rosales quickly passed a free-kick to Murillo who, on the edge of the area, cut past Foyth and onto his right to curl an absolute pearl into the far corner. A fantastic way to cap off an eye-grabbing 45 minutes from La Vinotinto.

Following the interval, Argentina understandably resumed the game with three different players on the pitch. However, for the first 13 minutes of the second half, although Scaloni’s men won the possession stats battle, they did not give Faríñez much to do. This changed suddenly in the 59th minute when a rapid counter-attack saw Messi spray the ball to Giovani Lo Celso who, in turn, split the Venezuelan defence with a pass to Martínez, who swept the ball home.

With the deficit reduced, there was much anticipation that Argentina would at least get back on level terms. Yet, although they caused a fright soon after the goal with a knock-back across an uncertain area and there was also audible expectation whenever Messi was on the ball, they did not seriously test the goalkeeper’s gloves in the remaining thirty minutes.

Not that much more could be said for Dudamel’s men, but then, they were not the ones chasing the game. They stayed strong and defiant, never looking too flustered; they also made a couple of substitutions. It was to be these two reinforcements who were to play the leading roles in striking the knockout blow. Indeed, in the 74th minute, Yeferson Soteldo slid a ball into the area for Josef Martínez who – some may feel the forward engineered the contact – was adjudged to have been obstructed by the hapless Foyth. Subsequently, in his patented, gravity-defying manner, as seen multiple times before in the MLS, the Atlanta United hotshot stepped up to confidently dispatch.

With the game very much heading their way, in the 80th minute the thousands of Vinotinto fans present began to “olé” every pass. It was that kind of a night. Aside from two Messi free-kicks over the crossbar, there was little else for them to be concerned by. Just before the 90 minutes elapsed on this unforgettable night for Venezuelan football, another historic moment took place as recent U20 starlet Jan Carlos Hurtado made his senior debut and even found time to squeeze in one of his bustling, rampaging runs.

When the final whistle blew, although Argentina had huffed and puffed, nobody could dispute that this was a well-deserved victory for their northerly counterparts. Perhaps it was not a triumph from completely out of the blue, but given Venezuela’s mixed run late last year after ten months without any games, it was certainly not wholly anticipated either.

Many  things can and will change before June, but may this wonderful night of composed, confident and deadly effective football serve as a launchpad and clarion call for a more prosperous future. The countdown to the Copa América begins here.

Aftermath

Unfortunately, it must be briefly noted that the result has been somewhat marred by politics. Prior to kick-off a photograph was published online of Dudamel and his side being officially received by Antonio Ecarri, the ambassador to Spain for the partially-recognised – that is, by millions of citizens as well as dozens of leading nations – President Juan Guaidó. The manager has since stated that, although it has been “politicised”, for him there was nothing partisan about this meeting, highlighting the fact that in the past he has also met with ambassadors of the current Miraflores Palace-occupant, President Nicolás Maduro. Evidently frustrated at the awkward tightrope he is currently navigating, he has thus offered his resignation to the country’s football federation (FVF). He is still set to take charge of Monday’s game with Catalonia – for which, Xavi will now sadly not be available – but what happens afterwards is currently anyone’s guess.

Team Selections

Argentina (3-4-2-1): F. Armani; J. Foyth, G. Mercado (W. Kannemann, 46′), L. Martínez (D. Blanco, 46′); G. Montiel, G. Lo Celso (R. Pereyra, 78′), L. Paredes, N. Tagliafico; L. Messi, G. Martínez (M. Suárez, 46′); L. Martínez (D. Benedetto, 70′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Faríñez; R. Hernández, Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, T. Rincón, Y. Herrera (Y. Soteldo, 64′); D. Machís (J. Añor, 79′), J. Murillo (J. Hurtado, 89′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 72′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – March 2019 Preview

Four months after a pair of Asian draws, Rafael Dudamel has convened his latest squad who once again find themselves in Spain to confront a challenging friendly double-header. Here, with the Copa América already less than three months away, @DarrenSpherical has a look at the current batch hoping to stay within the manager’s plans.

International Friendly

Friday 22 March 2019 – Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain

Argentina vs Venezuela

Unofficial International Friendly

Monday 25 March 2019 – Estadi Montilivi, Girona, Catalonia, Spain

Catalonia vs Venezuela

wandametropolitano

View of the Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid. (Wikipedia)

Considerable Clashes Await Copa-eyeing Vinotinto

Perhaps not the most exciting, but certainly the most eye-catching name on manager Rafael Dudamel’s 25-man squad list is that of 32-year-old veteran Luis Manuel Seijas.

With an emphasis on youthful potential being nurtured and developed very much the order of the day, the international career of the Colombia-based Santa Fe midfielder had long seemed over. Indeed, even before the Under-20s reached the final of the 2017 World Cup, Seijas appeared to have parted ways with the national set-up, following talks with Dudamel. These statements came hot on the heels of his last and most infamous appearance in a Vinotinto shirt: 18 June 2016, Quarter-final of the Copa América Centenario. On this day against Argentina in Foxborough, Massachusetts, he made himself the object of global ridicule when his weak, sub-Panenka chipped penalty was easily caught by goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Given this unforgettable embarrassment, many people – if they gave him any further thought at all – came to assume that he had been excommunicated indefinitely. Evidently not. Nearly three years on, where will he fit in? Although he can play on the left of midfield, a role in front of the defensive line seems more likely; alternatively, owing to the ongoing uncertainties at left-back, an experiment there does not seem entirely out of question either. All this being said, it is hard to envisage him being much more than a back-up in any of these positions but, at the very least, his 67 caps of experience could provide a mental boost in the changing room.

Elsewhere in the squad, creative midfielder Juanpi – currently loaned out by Spanish second division side Málaga to top-flight strugglers Huesca, where he plays alongside Yangel Herrera – is also set to put on the burgundy shirt for the first time in a while. November 2017 against Iran was the 25-year-old’s last outing and he will be seeking to re-establish himself as part of the long-term plans, thus delivering on the potential that some of his early club and country outings indicated.

Although cultivating the abilities of youngsters is going to be key with regard to the underlying aim of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, only one player from the most recent crop of Under-20 talents makes it into this squad. Perhaps this is due to their ultimately unsuccessful qualifying campaign earlier this year or maybe it is simply not yet their moment. Either way, Jan Carlos Hurtado (Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Argentina) could well soon become a useful squad member. Indeed, the striker – who was actually also a part of the 2017 Under-20 World Cup squad – gained many plaudits at Chile 2019, due to his bustling runs, forward play and, especially, his two goals in the 2-0 win over Brazil. Although Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) is the undisputed leading man – with Atlanta United hotshot Josef Martínez sometimes, but not always, joining him in attack – Hurtado could well develop into a more-than-capable deputy. Another man vying for this status within the current squad is the more experienced Fernando Aristeguieta, who is having a superb season in Colombia with América de Cali, so far netting 9 goals in 10 league games.

Regarding the other six, more involved, members of the 2017 silver generation squad who are present here, diminutive dribbler Yeferson Soteldo is the most noteworthy inclusion, having not played internationally for 16 months. This has not been due to any dip in form – even if he did divide opinion at Universidad de Chile, he now wears the hallowed No. 10 shirt at Santos in Brazil – but instead a combination of visa and family issues which prevented him from joining up with the most recent squads. With Adalberto Peñaranda, Romúlo Otero and Jefferson Savarino all having been omitted, he, along with Sergio Cordóva (Augsburg, Germany), will be looking to regain one of the ever-competitive attacking-midfield positions.

Their erstwhile youth-level team-mates who have also received call-ups are: versatile midfielder Yangel Herrera, right-back Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay) and undisputed first-choice goalkeeper, Wuilker Fariñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia).

The coaching staff will be hoping that these young players as well as the many others who are in their early-to-mid twenties will gel effectively with the more experienced internationals, such as Rondón, captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) and right-back Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain). Perhaps it bodes well for the team that all three of these individuals are currently enjoying above-average goalscoring seasons with their respective clubs.

In press comments made on the eve of the first game, Dudamel curiously stated that “We are not experimenting at all. [That] stage has already passed”. Possibly he was referring to tactical systems (with a three-man midfield having been his most notable trial last year), although it is also true that the vast majority of players in this current squad also received call-ups in 2018. Thus it seems that the coach has an ever-crystallising conviction as to who will make the cut in June, albeit one that does not preclude a few latecomers from staking a claim.

Whoever gets picked and whoever ultimately shines, Venezuela have two significant confrontations on the horizon, the first of which comes on Friday when they face Lionel Messi and co. at the majestic home of Atlético Madrid. Argentina are never an inconsiderable proposition, although perhaps their dubious World Cup displays as well as the pair of draws that Venezuela achieved against them in the Russia 2018 qualification phase will offer La Vinotinto some encouragement. Then, on Monday, they will be at the home of Girona to face the non-FIFA-affiliated Catalan national side, who can count Xavi, Gerard Piqué and a host of primarily La Liga players in their ranks. With a 4-2 defeat against another autonomous region of Spain – the Basque Country, in October 2018 – still fresh in the memory, Dudamel’s men will be striving to use their superior collective preparation to their advantage. That’s certainly not something that can be said often.

Venezuela Squad

venezuelamarch2019squad

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Alexander González (Elche, Spain), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg FC, Germany), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia) & Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal), Jan Carlos Hurtado (Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Argentina), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA),  Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Argentina 1-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (5 September 2017)

The sixteenth jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s embryonic side make history on a monumental stage in Buenos Aires. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 5 September 2017 – El Monumental, Buenos Aires

Argentina 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Argentina 1-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 5 September 2017 (YouTube)

Venezuela Battle to Defy the Odds in Buenos Aires

A wholehearted and committed display garnered Venezuela a historical first-ever point in Argentina, as for the second time this international break Rafael Dudamel’s nascent rebuilding project provided another welcome dose of encouragement for Qatar 2022.

For the first 25 minutes or so, things felt markedly different. Indeed, Jorge Sampaoli’s men seemed determined to breach the considerable, if often stretched, Venezuelan rearguard as many times as possible, with 19-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez once again emerging as a bona fide prospect for the visitors.

The sprightly Caracas FC stopper impressed from the off. With less than four minutes on the clock, his trailing leg denied Mauro Icardi, whose low shot could have otherwise quite easily found a way through. Two minutes later, though play was ultimately called back for offside, the goalkeeper – as well as his ever-increasing band of admirers – was none-the-wiser when he pulled off an eye-catching close-range save. This came as an elevated ball was bustled into the direction of another Serie A forward, Paolo Dybala, who lashed a well-struck volley from barely six yards that the alert Fariñez did well to instinctively parry out with both gloves.

Also in this period, La Albiceleste, in particular Lionel Messi, regularly sought to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses on the flanks, with the Barcelona wizard often spraying balls out wide for team-mates to gain space and/or get in crosses. Ángel Di María was the most threatening wide man, giving right-back Victor García a torrid time. In the 10th minute, he bypassed a couple of burgundy shirts before whacking a ball into the centre; a tap-in looked on the cards, but the cluster of Venezuelans who congregrated there somehow averted this seeming inevitability. A few minutes later, García was again exposed when Messi chipped a fine ball to Di María inside the area; the PSG man volleyed a first-time cross into the centre yet, agonisingly for the majority inside River Plate’s home edifice, Icardi’s goalmouth lunge narrowly evaded the ball.

Although their defensive lines were breached, Venezuela survived that scare and in this early stage, the blank scoresheet was mostly attributable to the sheer number of bodies in the centre who blocked and thwarted attempts. If, however, even these were unequal to the tasks that kept coming their way, there was always, of course, Fariñez. In the 21st minute, he did well to stop Icardi’s shot which, once again, owed a debt to a left-sided cross from Di María.

Soon after this, however, Argentina’s early spell of goal-less dominance was brought to an abrupt end as Di María picked up an injury and had to be replaced after 25 minutes by Marcos Acuña. Things were never quite the same again.

As well as his right-sided counterpart Lautaro Acosta, the Portugal-based replacement did catch the eye on occasion, with his most notable contribution occurring after 32 minutes; here, he slid the ball back to Dybala, with the 20-yard left-footed shot of the Juventus man dragging wide of the far post. However, with their chances of qualification starting to feel as if they may be in jeopardy, the home crowd began voicing their disgruntlement, as the team who have averaged just one goal per qualifying game – a record worse than that of bottom-boys Venezuela – began to look low on ideas.

Messi, who was largely seen characteristically roaming in a vast deep zone, became visibly frustrated with this state of affairs, taking it upon himself to search for a way through with the minimum of assistance. Indeed, he had the three most notable remaining chances of the first half: in the 38th minute, he attempted to weave his way past several Venezuela players – a scenario reminiscent of the famous Maradona vs Belgium 1982 photograph – before striking low past the near post from inside the area. Four minutes later, he curled a much-anticipated free-kick wide, but clearly his best attempt occurred two minutes into stoppage time. Here, he picked up the ball 25 yards out on the inside-left and arrowed a well-hit shot that looked like it may creep inside the post, but which Fariñez did well to parry wide, thus allowing his side to enter into the break still on level terms.

If Sampaoli’s half-time team-talk involved elaborating upon a new approach to undo this annoyingly persistent opponent, there was to be little evidence of this. In fact, any second-half masterplan was tossed away just five minutes after the restart when Venezuela took a surprise lead. Despite having never seriously threatened Sergio Romero’s goal in the opening 45 minutes, Dudamel’s men were able to do what every fear-ridden, fulminating Argentine feared: hit them on the break. Immediately after a home move broke down, the visitors sought to proceed rapidly upfield. One pass was briefly intercepted but momentum was instantly regained as another found Bundesliga youngster Sergio Córdova. Further enhancing what has been a meteoric – and, to many, slightly unanticipated this time last year – ascension, he played a well-weighted through-ball to Jhon Murillo. Centre-back Javier Mascherano was never going to be in the race with the pacy ex-Zamora man – himself having recently done well to ensure he will be in the manager’s long-term thinking – and he, in turn, bore down on goal before deftly dinking it over the shoulder of the Manchester United goalkeeper.

Silence in the stands, pandemonium virtually everywhere else on the continent, this was exhilarating, monumental, game-redefining stuff – for all of four minutes.

That’s all it took for Sampaoli’s charges to momentarily lower the heat on them back down to a state of mere simmering. The equaliser came as García was beaten a little too easily in a speed battle by the purposeful Acuña, whose low cross from the left deflected off defender Rolf Feltscher and into the back of the net. 1-1. Was this to be the galvanising green light for carnage that the hosts needed?

Well, subsequently, some jitters were observable in the Venezuelan ranks, but for all the hosts’ renewed vigour and forays towards the edge of the area, they were only able to cause one further genuine scare in the game. This came on the hour-mark when the home fans were adamant that they should have been awarded a penalty when Icardi, the odds-on favourite to poke a strike goalwards, appeared to have been upended by centre-back Mikel Villanueva. However, replays suggest that, having managed to narrowly evade the challenge, the Inter Milan forward’s rapid adjustment of footing led to him tripping himself up.

Thus, though Argentina still saw more of the ball owing to their increasing desperation for a winner, there grew the genuine possibility that they could be undone by a second lethal break. Particularly in the final 25 minutes, the counter-attacking Venezuelans found themselves in space high up the park and on at least three occasions they won free-kicks in promising positions off a stretched Argentine defence. Just before and after the 70th minute, Salomón Róndon took the first two of these. Alas, the first curled past the wall but was comfortably saved by Romero and the much-anticipated second – which was won after the WBA striker was fouled following Arquímedes Figuera’s lofted ball into very dangerous territory – was fired straight at the ‘nads-grabbers.

Around the 90th-minute mark, having absorbed some more Argentine pressure, Venezuela made their last getaway – the hosts must have feared the worse. Once again, Jhon Murillo chased a ball, finding some space before passing to a team-mate who was fouled on the edge of the area. This time, substitute Josef Martínez stepped up, though to the relief of the majority, the only thing his dead-ball strike troubled was the fans behind the goal – as well as, perhaps, the phones being used to vent considerable spleen to a wider audience.

Such was the malevolent atmosphere whenever a home attack broke down that one suspects more than a few doomsayers secretly hoped Venezuela could nab a late winner solely in order to further amplify their apocalyptic post-match assessments.

Alas, it ended 1-1 and, though some of the dejected home fans may not wish to hear it right now and their nation’s performances have given cause for genuine concern, with two games left, their chances of World Cup qualification are in fact still very much in their own hands.

Conversely, Venezuela, of course, have long since been out of the running and are almost definitely going to finish bottom of the ten-nation pile. However, with a memorable, historical point to add to the one they gained last week against Colombia, Dudamel can feel cautiously optimistic about his nation’s footballing future. With the aid of several fresh faces, including a few plucked from his Under-20 World Cup finalists, his senior side has once again proved that when they are disciplined and able to follow through on instructions, they can be a tough nut to crack.

With their two remaining fixtures next month pitting them against Uruguay at home and Paraguay away, though it may prove a tall order, gaining from these a second victory of the campaign would certainly get many more believing that the road to Qatar 2022 will be a journey well worth hopping aboard for.

Team Selections

Argentina (3-4-2-1): S. Romero; J. Mascherano, F. Fazio, N. Otamendi; L. Acosta, G. Pizarro, É. Banega, Á. Di María (M. Acuña, 25′); L. Messi, P. Dybala (D. Benedetto, 63′); M. Icardi (J. Pastore 75′).

Venezuela (4-2-1-2-1): W. Fariñez; V. García, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; A. Figuera, J. Moreno; Y. Herrera (J. Colina, 77′); J. Murillo, S. Córdova (S. Velázquez, 89′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 82′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – August/September 2017 Preview

Jornadas 15 and 16 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are upon us and, amidst a very bleak domestic backdrop, a new era for La Vinotinto is being sought. Here, @DarrenSpherical previews the state of play in the Venezuelan ranks ahead of the matches with Colombia and Argentina…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 31 August 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira.

Venezuela vs Colombia

Tuesday 5 September 2017 – Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires.

Argentina vs Venezuela

Aerial video of Pueblo Nuevo, venue for Venezuela’s encounter with Colombia (@SeleVinotinto)

The Search for a New Identity Stumbles on

Given the dire economic situation and galling political machinations in a country which has recently witnessed countless deaths and which is also experiencing ever-rising poverty levels, for many Venezuelans, these international fixtures feel even more meaningless than they already effectively are.

If his comments with Four Four Two earlier this month are anything to go by, forward Josef Martínez would certainly prefer not to board the flight back home: “We can’t play…it’s a celebration when the national team plays, and my country is not in the mood to celebrate right now. Venezuela is suffering a lot. People are dying.”

Particularly in the last several months, many other leading players – including captain Tomás Rincón and star striker Salomón Rondón – have expressed outrage on social media over perceived abuses – often fatal – perpetrated by government-controlled forces and/or sympathising militias. Of course, partisans on the other side of the considerable political divide would be quick to tell another story, though no such folk appear to exist within the current Venezuelan squad. If they do, then they certainly kept their views to themselves during the ceaseless and often bloody protests that were at their peak in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the highly controversial National Constituent Assembly elections on 30 July 2017.

Civil unrest and everyday instability abounds, with supporters of the broad coalition of opposition parties (MUD) horrified at what they see as the shameless, undemocratic overriding of institutions by President Nicolás Maduro and his PSUV party. Perceived as economically inept authoritarians by many both inside and outside the country, the government instead have repeatedly claimed that they are victims of international – primarily U.S.-backed – interference and economic sabotage. Either way, without wishing to delve too far into this intractable dispute here, the tragic reality for Venezuelans sees them having to contend with the related unholy cocktail of frightening levels of crime, hyperinflation and chronic shortages of basic food and goods.

So dire are the straits that increasingly citizens try their luck in neighbouring Colombia, whether this be to search for cheaper goods, perhaps make some money selling petrol (still heavily subsidised) or even to seek refuge and start new lives. Smugglers sensing opportunities often journey in the opposite direction and thus such is the human traffic that tight border controls are often enforced, as they will be for the first of La Vinotinto‘s two upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Indeed, the 31 August encounter with Los Cafeteros in the border state of Táchira could scarcely come at a worse time. Nevertheless, Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel, who has himself spoken out about his nation’s turmoil and who even had to cancel a training module last month owing to disruptive protests, has voiced his determination. With his charges long since out of the running for Russia 2018, he has stated that qualification for Qatar 2022 has become his “obsession“. He is also especially delighted for the peripatetic national team to be playing for the first time in this cycle at San Cristóbal’s Pueblo Nuevo, a stadium which he has referred to as the “sacred temple of Venezuelan football“. This is the home of one of his ex-clubs Deportivo Táchira and, more pertinently, the site of some famous international scalps. He hopes it will become a fortress for his men, starting with the visit of the high-flying representatives of the country in which he spent much of his playing days. Though this Thursday’s encounter, which pits 10th against 2nd, may come at an inopportune time to inaugurate a revitalised fresh dawn, Dudamel must find some solace in the fact that Venezuela have not lost on home soil to Colombia in qualifying since 1996.

Though the coach’s 17-month tenure of La Vinotinto has been as similarly underwhelming as that of his predecessor Noel Sanvicente, the exploits of his Under-20 World Cup finalists have given him good reason to feel optimistic about the future. Indeed, it was he who steered this well-organised side to nationwide – and, in some knowing quarters, global – acclaim in June and he has included seven from their ranks in this rather experimental – when isn’t it? – and youthful 30-man squad.

These are goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC), who appears to be the new first-choice, with former occupant between the sticks Dani Hernández not even in this group; left-back José Hernández (Caracas FC), surprisingly the only defender called up from what was a very effective defensive unit; right-sided attacking midfielder Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Venezuela’s top scorer at the World Cup and who is already off the mark in the Bundesliga; versatile midfielder Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), surely the most impressive U20 outfield player and who is already making waves in MLS; 17-year-old midfield starlet Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira), scorer of memorable free-kicks, both at the World Cup and recently in domestic action; jinking dribbler Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile), who has turned some heads at his new club – not least for his dubious alleged resemblance to Barney Rubble – scoring twice in all competitions; lastly, forward Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC) who, frankly, could probably have done better at the World Cup, though has been afforded an opportunity here to provide Dudamel with something different in attack.

(Incidentally, the absence of winger Adalberto Peñaranda – arguably the U20s’ leading attacker – is owing to an injury he sustained in the World Cup final against England which he has yet to recover from.)

With almost all of the starting positions seemingly up for grabs, one would expect to see at least a few of these youngsters feature over the upcoming pair of games. A new-look Venezuela shall gradually emerge in the next 2-3 years, though with experimentalism the order of the day, one is not anticipating many players to sew up starting berths any time soon. One man who definitely won’t be a part of the Qatar 2022 campaign is 32-year-old Alejandro Guerra, who announced his international retirement earlier this month. Also, regarding two of the most notable absentees, one wonders what roles, if any, Málaga’s Roberto Rosales and Juanpi will play in the future; for many observers, this pair are amongst their nation’s leading exports and their omissions from such a large squad only bemuse and baffle.

Once a stalwart, right-back Rosales appears to be out of favour with Dudamel despite still being a La Liga mainstay, whereas the younger Juanpi, a versatile midfielder, struggled with injuries earlier this year and has not featured for his country since last October. Dudamel seems to prefer players he has consistently worked with, so as well as the U20 contingent, some of the following may well feel optimistic about their immediate international careers: centre-back Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), right-back Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), midfielder Junior Moreno (Zulia FC – the standout player in June’s USA-based friendlies) as well as attacking midfielders Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC) and Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil).

Of the current crop, two attackers who seem particularly well-placed to spearhead the assault on Qatar 2022 are the pair of 24-year-olds, Otero (scorer of almost exclusively sensational golazos in Brazil) and Martínez (scorer of 9 goals in 11 MLS games). Still, few things feel certain with the Venezuela national team – even the talisman Rondón has been misfiring this year, so his target-man status can not be taken entirely for granted – and other players will no doubt emerge and compete for places all over the park.

Stability and consistency, largely absent in recent years from La Vinotinto, are what is needed, though with Dudamel concerned with long-term objectives one can’t help but be apprehensive of his side’s chances against two sides (2nd and 5th respectively) very much focused on the here-and-now. Given the domestic situation, this can all seem rather trivial but ultimately, at this stage with just four games left of the long-since-dead campaign, it is more performances than actual results which matter for Dudamel. Indeed, it may not currently feel like it and at either of the final whistles it may still seem imperceptible to most, but in so many ways, a new generation must surely feel they have everything – professional ambitions and, perhaps, a new life – to play for.

Venezuela Squad

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(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) & Carlos Olses (Deportivo La Guaira).

Defenders

Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Free agent), Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), José Hernández (Caracas FC), Edwin Peraza (Deportivo La Guaira), Rubert Quijada (Al Gharafa, Qatar, on loan from Caracas FC), José Manuel “Sema” Velázquez (Veracruz, Mexico) & Mikel Villanueva (Cádiz, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Junior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, on loan from Juventus, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC), Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira) & Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile).

Forwards

Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC), Edder Farías (Once Caldas, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Alavés, Spain).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Argentina – Summary of Top Talents at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup

Following a brief tournament overview of Argentina’s performance at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of several players worth keeping an eye on. As this was far from a memorable campaign for Los Pibes, those seeking more information on these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification as well as, perhaps, this site’s preview for the Under-20 World Cup.

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Surprise inclusion Santiago Colombatto in action against South Korea (GettyImages)

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Argentina

Tournament Overview

Once again, Los Pibes fell short on the global stage. Having scraped through qualification, manager Claudio Úbeda made several changes to the line-up for the opening clash with England and, for 30 minutes at least, it seemed as if his new-look side may just run riot. Alas, despite dominating possession, they conceded against the run of play and ultimately contrived to go down 3-0 in a somewhat peculiar defeat. They followed this up with a 2-1 loss against hosts South Korea, leaving their hopes of progression hanging by a thread. For the crunch game against Guinea, Úbeda finally started with all of his best attackers from qualifiying and this paid off as they performed a 5-0 demolition job. However, owing to results in other groups over the subsequent two days, they were narrowly denied one of the four best third-placed team berths and thus departed at the first stage.

Overall, though their goalkeeper and defence left much to be desired, they do possess several more attack-minded players of note, though whether any of these can ascend to the level demanded by this illustrious footballing nation, is another matter entirely.

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(Group A table and results courtesy of Wikipedia; to read about and view highlights of each game, click here and scroll down)

Top Talents

Lautaro Martínez (Striker, No. 9, Racing Club)

The star striker was hurt in the week leading up to the opening game against England, which likely explains why he only made it onto the field for 15 minutes of this encounter. However, given his contribution consisted mainly of an elbow which saw him red-carded and suspended for the South Korea match, he must have wished that he had sat that one out. Indeed, the man who has been banging them in at club level and linked with, amongst others, Real Madrid, was therefore to have little more than one game to demonstrate to the world why, were it not for him, his country wouldn’t even have made the trip. Nevertheless, when he returned against Guinea he would go some way towards bolstering his reputation as he bagged two goals. The first of these was a sensational top-corner golazo on the turn from the edge of the area and the second a well-worked move with a team-mate from a set-piece which he fired home.

Tomás Conechny (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, San Lorenzo)

Coach Úbeda appears to not be entirely convinced by Conechny – or is unsure how to integrate him into his similarly rotating plans – because, as with qualifying, Argentina’s topscorer at the Sudamericano Sub-17 two years ago started the tournament on the bench. Yet, when he emerged after 60 minutes in the opener with England, he again proved himself to be one of the liveliest players in the squad; for this, he was rewarded with starts against South Korea as well as Guinea. Thus, from both open play as well as set-pieces, in these two games he also came across as one of the likeliest scorers and/or providers. Ultimately, the San Lorenzo attacker – who has so far only been a substitute at club level – had to settle with just the one assist, a quick pass from a free-kick which bamboozled the unsuspecting Guinea defence and was finished off by Martínez.

He may not have been able to put in a string of vintage performances but he was at least afforded more opportunities than another impressive attacker from the qualifiers, Brian Mansilla (Attacking-midfielder, No. 11, Racing Club). Indeed, following on from two substitute appearances, the man Ajax put a considerable bid in for earlier this year was granted a solitary start against Guinea and gained an assist from a cross.

Santiago Colombatto (Midfielder, No. 15, Trapani, on loan from Cagliari)

Perhaps the most positive aspect of Argentina’s campaign was the emergence of this deep-lying playmaker. He did not participate in the qualifying tournament but nevertheless possesses respectable club experience, having played consistently in Italy’s Serie B this past season. He stood out from the off against England, heading against the crossbar and teeing up team-mates. His most telling Group A contribution occurred in the South Korea game when, from near the halfway line, he played a delightful first-time ball which was rapidly finished off to halve the deficit. In the final encounter against Guinea, he was also responsible for another assist, this time a low ball into the area which Martínez dummied over before a team-mate struck home.

Marcelo Torres (Striker, No. 7, Boca Juniors)

The man Colombatto found with both of these passes was Torres who, with few headlines or hype, managed to maintain his goalscoring reputation, netting two to add to the five that he bagged in seven qualifying games. Having been subbed off on both of his starts as well as coming on from the bench against South Korea – with his goal arriving after being on the field for less than five minutes – he doesn’t appear to have as much backing as Martínez. Indeed, he also played, as well as had to contest a place, with Ezequiel Ponce (Striker, No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma), who wasn’t part of the qualification team and also failed to get on the scoresheet, though did look particularly alert against England.

Santiago Ascacibar (Defensive-midfielder, No. 5, Estudiantes de La Plata)

Lastly, the captain Ascacibar merits comment more because of the admiration he receives from the likes of Diego Simeone than his actual performances in South Korea. That is not to say that they were bad but, owing to his easy-to-overlook role and, in particular, the porousness and poor positioning of those behind him in the rearguard, it seems a lot harder for him to stand out at national level than it has been in the domestic league where he is a regular. Indeed, the errors of the goalkeeper and back four in the first two games put Los Pibes at a severe disadvantage and there is only so much that their midfield-roamer with the armband can do to rally the troops. Still, plenty in the game more qualified than your humble observer will tell you he is going places so, like most Argentines, let’s just agree to forget about this collective tournament showing and wait and see.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Guinea 0-5 Argentina (Group A, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 26 May 2017)

Argentina’s third and final Group A game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them inflict a heavy defeat upon the now-eliminated Guinea, though they will need to wait before discovering whether this was enough to progress. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

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(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results, fixtures and standings)

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group A, 26 May 2017 (YouTube)

Argentina at last found their shooting boots as they routed their African opponents in a game they needed to win by a large margin in order to boost their hopes of advancing out of their group.

With the strongest line-up Claudio Úbeda has fielded thus far in the tournament, Los Pibes dominated proceedings from the off and, following some close shaves, finally got off the mark in the 33rd minute when Marcelo Torres tapped home Santiago Colombatto’s low cross. Ten minutes later, it was 2-0 as Lautaro Martínez announced his return in sensational fashion, turning from the edge of the area to fire a belting strike into the top corner.

Five minutes after the restart, Federico Zaracho made it three, heading in Brian Mansilla’s cross from the left. The following goal on 74 minutes also required a bonce, this time that of Marcos Senesi, who powerfully nodded home a free-kick from Exequiel Palacios. Subsequently, the spanking was capped off five minutes later when Martínez notched his second after Tomás Conechny played a disguised quick free-kick to him and he rapidly struck home into the opposite corner.

Thus, Argentina finally got their tournament underway but, with four other groups yet to be decided, will this prove to be too late for them to salvage one of the four best third-placed team berths?

Talent Tracking

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Well, well, Claudio Úbeda finally selects in the line-up all four of the most eye-catching attackers from the qualifiers and quelle surprise, they admonish a beating.

He had Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club) back from suspension and the widely-touted striker certainly made up for lost time. The first of his two strikes was a goal of the tournament contender which came as he received a pass on the edge of the area, took a touch, then rapidly turned to smash an unstoppable effort into the top right-hand corner. Before this, he had looked alert from the off, playing a role in the first goal for which he dummied over the ball in the centre; overall, he was also to have a few other shots of his own. One of these was the second goal, a rather neat set-piece move which he was attentive to, as he latched onto a short ball that surprised the unsuspecting defence; he thus quickly turned to blast a solid strike into the corner. If, as this writer suspects, Argentina are to scrape through to the next round, they really can’t do without their star man.

The man who played this free-kick pass – which drew comparisons to the exquisite Verón-Zanetti move against England at World Cup ’98 – was Tomás Conechny (No. 10, San Lorenzo), a man who, if he hasn’t finally convinced his manager that he deserves to start every single game, then something has gone awry. Indeed, he always appears to have bundles of energy and intent, regularly looking to either make things happen or force an opponent into an error. As well as his assist, early on in the first half he also combined a few times with Santiago Colombatto (No. 15, Trapani, on loan from Cagliari) – the one revelation from this campaign who wasn’t also part of the qualifying phase – such as when the former found the head of the latter from a corner which the Serie B man then flicked on at the near post, causing a hesitant clearance from the goalmouth.

Their most notable link-up, however, was on the opening goal when Conechny fed a pass to the left inside the area which found Colombatto who, in turn, hit a low ball across the goal which Martínez intelligently evaded, leaving Marcelo Torres (No. 7, Boca Juniors) to fire home for his second tournament goal. Previously, Torres was also not far off scoring on at least two occasions earlier in the match. First of all, when Martínez’s shot was parried and the Boca man nearly got to the rebound, as well as not long afterwards when he headed a cross against the underside of the crossbar, which was then put in by a mixture of his boot and Colombatto’s head. However, the play had already been called back for offside – not that this whistle could prevent Colombatto from requiring bandaging following the contact made by Torres’ boot.

Torres, like Martínez, also scored five goals in qualifying and it was encouraging to see the pair both on the scoresheet, as the experiment with Ezequiel Ponce (No. 18, Granada, on loan from Roma) – who came on here for the last 23 minutes – had fallen somewhat short in the two previous matches.

The fourth and final top attacker from qualifying who was granted a start here – having, in his case, had to settle for cameos from the bench in the last two encounters – was Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club). Here, he went some way towards getting himself into Úbeda’s future line-up plans as he crossed in from the left for club team-mate Federico Zaracho (No. 19, Racing Club) to head home for the third.

The other goal, the fourth, came from a free-kick by Exequiel Palacios (No. 8, River Plate) who dinked in a good ball for centre-back Marcos Senesi (No. 6, River Plate) to head home with force.

Regarding the action at the other end, there wasn’t a great deal for Argentina to be concerned about. Certainly, Guinea had a few attempts, particularly in the latter stages when the South Americans had the game well in the bag, but there was nothing Úbeda will be losing sleep over any time soon. That said, though it is difficult to say off the back of just this one performance, it was good that he made some changes at the back, namely playing a back three and dropping the woeful full-backs Gonzalo Montiel (No. 4, River Plate) and, especially, Milton Valenzuela (No. 3, Newell’s Old Boys).

Time will tell whether these changes will be maintained and reap future dividends. Or will it? After all, though the Argentines went some way to improving their goal difference, we still won’t know until Sunday whether or not they have qualified for the knock-out stage. The permutations are too innumerable to go into here but those who wish to contemplate every last one of them can do so here.

In the other Group A game played today, England beat hosts South Korea 1-0 and thus, with the Three Lions having topped the table, both nations shall participate in the next round.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news on the South American nations at South Korea 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match-by-match talent-tracking articles.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical