Tag Archives: Arquímedes Figuera

Brazil 0-0 Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Group A (18 June 2019)

The arc of footballing morality bends decisively towards justice as the clinical clarity of technology helps to even up the score. Here, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’s memorable Copa América 2019 clash against Brazil.

Copa América 2019 – Group A

Tuesday 18 June 2019 – Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador

Brazil 0-0 Venezuela

 

Video Highlights of Brazil 0-0 Venezuela, Copa América Group A, 18 June 2019 (YouTube)

“¡Qué Viva el VAR! ¡Bienvenido el VAR!”

Those were the post-match words of Rafael Dudamel after the new technology played a significant role in frustrating the hosts and complementing what was a remarkably resilient Vinotinto display.

In all, three Brazilian goals were ruled out – one by the referee and two with the assistance of VAR. This brings the total of goals denied to Venezuela’s opponents to five in just two games and gives Venezuela two more points than their tireless defensive endeavours would have been rewarded with in previous years.

Over the course of what were in excess of 100 minutes on the pitch, the hosts saw the majority of the ball and, particularly in the early exchanges, seemed determined to compensate for their laboured performance in the opening-day win over Bolivia.

Indeed, they enjoyed over 80 per cent of possession in the first 20 minutes as they ran the Venezuelan defence ragged with quick passes and movement. David Neres and Richarlison – the two standout players from their 2017 Under-20 crop – came closest to scoring, with the former’s 15th-minute strike being sliced wide from a promising position and the latter’s 17th-minute cross-goal shot being parried wide by Wuilker Faríñez.

Despite this, Venezuela were not far off breaking the deadlock themselves when, in the 19th minute a Yangel Herrera cross was glanced agonisingly wide by Salomón Rondón. Although this moment sparked a five-minute spell of Venezuelan pressure which unsettled the home crowd, ultimately it proved to be his side’s only real opportunity of the entire game.

Seleção uneasiness appeared to have been alleviated in the 38th minute when they appeared to take the lead. Here, Dani Alves crossed in low from the right, with Roberto Firmino controlling and striking home. However, the referee was alert to the Liverpool forward pulling down centre-back Mikel Villanueva before taking aim and thus called back the play.

For the remainder of the half, although Brazil maintained overall control, Venezuela did just about leave ajar the potential for an historic upset, most notably when a 43rd-minute counter-attack saw Rondón and Murillo passing the ball between each other but, ultimately,  the latter’s crucial low cross was too close to goalkeeper Alisson.

Boos were heard from the stands at half-time as well as at various points in the second half, even though in this latter period the attacking impetus always resided with Tite’s men, as Venezuela barely made it into opposition territory. Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesús came on after the restart and soon made an impact, first curling an effort wide in 57th minute and, three minutes later, seemingly giving his team the lead. This time, his strike deflected off Villanueva into the path of Firmino, who quickly found the alert Jesús approaching the six-yard-box, who finished off. However, following a VAR review, the position of the Champions League winner Firmino was adjudged to be offside.

Home fan disgruntlement understandably increased, as did the feeling that this was not going to be their night. Not only was the technology coldly and clinically putting the game to rights, but Venezuela’s defensive performance – most notably that of centre-back Yordan Osorio – was proving resolutely defiant. The toll their tracking was taking must have been significant and was possibly a factor in the surprise 66th-minute removal of Yangel Herrera in favour of the speedy attacker Yeferson Soteldo and consequent tactical shift to a 4-4-2. Incidentally, as if to illustrate that a bright future is on the horizon, the arrival of the latter player made him the fourth 2017 Under-20 World Cup runner-up to see action.

Still, Brazil had not completely given in to fate and in the 76th minute they manufactured a scare when Fernandinho’s low cross seemed destined to be tapped in by Jesús, but Osorio’s presence instead helped divert the ball safely to Faríñez.

If the home fans were unhappy with the Portugal-based defender’s physical challenge then, just over ten minutes later, they were absolutely fuming. On the left in the 87th minute, speedy substitute Everton played a one-two before dinking a ball into the centre that Philippe Coutinho prodded home. This time, it appeared that the dam had at last been broken. However, during the VAR review, it was spotted that, before bustling into the back of the net, the Barcelona player’s strike hit the knee of his former club team-mate Firmino – who was standing in an offside position. Thus, VAR, the death of football for some was to yet again offer life to Venezuela.

Given all the stoppages – including two Venezuela players going down injured – the referee allocated nearly ten minutes of added time, during which Brazil managed to create two more chances. First, a 93rd minute low drive across goal by Filipe Luís that only narrowly evaded two sliding forwards and, with the clock approaching 100 minutes, a Fernandinho header that went less than a yard wide of the back post.

Ultimately, however, the match ended 0-0. The feelings of home frustration and disillusionment were matched by the elation and glee of Venezuelans scattered all over the globe. Indeed, even though the defensive organisation deserves enormous credit and the three goal decisions were correct, only a robot could fail to feel a giddy sense of slight fortune about the result. Brazil, whilst not brilliant, dominated proceedings, yet were thwarted by their opponents along with this new panel of arbitration that does not kowtow to home fan and player pressure.

With their two consecutive clean sheets – as well as their final four defensively sound performances in World Cup qualifying – Venezuela know that they certainly have it within themselves to collectively keep the best in their continent at bay. However, with no goals to their name yet a win against Bolivia on Saturday now being almost essential to ensuring their progress to the knock-out stages, a change of tack is surely required. Although a continuation of the same tactics could yield a counter-attacking victory, Dudamel’s men are not going to receive a better opportunity in this tournament to try out their offensive moves than against the side with zero points who also need a win. Of course, a more open game certainly leaves Venezuela somewhat vulnerable at the back but, having so far struggled to link up effectively in the final third, they need to make the most of this match. They must take the game to their opponents, get the win and make everyone genuinely believe that, rather than just being a nuisance merely postponing an inevitable pounding, their stay in Brazil could well instead be extended until the first weekend of July.

Well, after what was experienced in Salvador, anyone could be forgiven for dreaming.

To keep up-to-date with Venezuela’s Copa América campaign, please return to this website as well as follow @DarrenSpherical.

Team Selections

Brazil (4-2-3-1): Alisson; D. Alves, T. Silva, Marquinhos, F. Luís; Casemiro (Fernandinho, 58′), Arthur; Richarlison (G. Jesús, 46′),  P. Coutinho, D. Neres (Everton, 72′); R. Firmino.

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, Y. Herrera (Y. Soteldo, 66′), T. Rincón; J. Murillo, D. Machís (A. Figuera, 76′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 86′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Preview

It’s here! Nothing else matters, least of all your sanity or “career”! The rest of civilisation can take a running jump because the Copa América is set to kick-off! Below, @DarrenSpherical provides an overview of Venezuela’s build-up as well as which players to look out for.

Copa América 2019

Saturday 15 June 2019 – Arena do Grêmio, Porto Alegre.

Peru vs Venezuela

Tuesday 18 June 2019 – Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador.

Brazil vs Venezuela

Saturday 22 June 2019 – Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte.

Bolivia vs Venezuela

groupacopa2019

Who Are You Kidding Getting Dressed This Morning? TV. Now.

Venezuela head into the 46th edition of South America’s flagship international tournament with a better build-up than in the past two competitions.

That is not saying a great deal and nor can it be taken as an indicator of anything.

You’re welcome and hello. After all, in 2015 the selección then managed by Noel Sanvicente arrived in Chile with nine months of largely forgettable displays and no friendlies in the weeks leading up to kick-off. This did not prevent them from beating neighbours Colombia 1-0 in a passionate-yet-disciplined performance. However, they followed that up by crashing out at the first hurdle after losses in their two other group games. Subsequently, less than ten months later, languishing bottom of the World Cup Qualifying table, Sanvicente was out of a job and in came his replacement, Rafael Dudamel.

Prior to 2016’s Copa América Centenario, the ex-international goalkeeper failed to win in any of his four tightly-scheduled pre-tournament warm-ups, yet managed to turn heads by vanquishing both Jamaica and Uruguay before emerging from the group undefeated after a draw against Mexico. Acclaim soon turned to derision for the burgundy boys, however, when Argentina hammered them 4-1 in the quarter-finals and, in the eyes of some, equilibrium was restored to the natural footballing order.

Over the following 16 months, amidst ever-worsening domestic problems, Dudamel proved unable to lift La Vinotinto from last place in the Russia 2018 qualifying standings. However, speculation that the FVF may look elsewhere died down after the coach led the Under-20s to the extraordinary feat of becoming World Cup runners-up in 2017. Bolstered by a new, exciting generation, he was then able to say with considerable justification that the senior side was planning for the future and backed this up by seeing out the remaining four qualifiers without defeat. Yet of course, no momentum could be allowed to just organically build obstacle-free. Thus, after playing a solitary friendly in November 2017, financial difficulties was the stated FVF explanation behind the national team going on international hiatus and not contesting another game until September of last year. Little was helped by this except the team’s official FIFA ranking, which counter-intuitively rose from 52nd to 31st in the barren ten-month period.

However, credit where it is due: since returning to action in September 2018 they have made use of every single FIFA-designated date (as well as one that wasn’t). In all, they have faced 11, often weighty, opponents: three each from their own confederation, CONCACAF and Asia as well as two non-recognised sides stuffed full of La Liga talent.

Results have been better than in the run-ups to 2015 and 2016, if somewhat mixed: four wins, four defeats and three draws. Most spectacular of the victories was March’s 3-1 humbling of Argentina at the Wanda Metropolitano. Yet casual observers who project from this that Venezuela are therefore serious contenders for the Copa may wish to temper their prognostications by first reviewing three of the reversals: the 2-1 against Catalonia just three days after mauling Messi’s mob, the 4-2 versus Basque Country last October and, most pertinently of all, the 3-1 education meted out by a star-lite Mexico against a full-strength Venezuela barely a week ago.

Dudamel himself has been somewhat sheepish about his team’s prospects, instead placing more emphasis on the tournament serving as good build-up for the true goal: qualification to Qatar 2022. Perhaps he has been chastened from earlier this year when, after many from the Venezuelan camp proclaimed their desire to win the Under-20 South American Championship, his 2019 crop failed to even qualify for the soon-to-be-concluded World Cup.

All that being said, most would back Venezuela to achieve the minimum expectation at Brazil 2019: qualifying from Group A. The opening game against Peru is largely justified as being billed as crucial, even if losing to Los Incas plus the hosts – who La Vinotinto have never beaten in a competitive game – yet pulverising atrocious-travellers Bolivia could theoretically still be enough to see them advance as one of the two best third-place teams.

Not that anyone wishes to be cornered into such a scenario. If the team does progress to the quarter-finals then, in a tournament with a healthy history of surprises – not least Venezuela’s record-best run to the semi-finals in 2011 – they could be forgiven for daydreaming about extending their stay.

After all, what the preceding nine months have produced is a relatively settled way of playing. Indeed, Dudamel evidently intends to utilise a 4-3-2-1 formation, with the defence being covered by a midfield trio of ball-winners and the striker supported by rapid transitions, particularly from the two attackers in tow. Furthermore, regarding the personnel, even if the three recent warm-up friendlies have caused some slight re-thinks – mostly in the defence – there are not likely to be any significant line-ups surprises for Saturday’s opener.

Of those nailed-on to be fielded, four players stand out as being fundamental to Venezuela’s campaign: Fledgling Faríñez and the Three R’s of Experience.

A teenager on the bench in the last two Copas, the 21-year-old sprightly shot-stopper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) has a big chance to further enhance his already glowing reputation and will doubtless be called upon to make up for the defence’s shortcomings. In front, whether on the left or his more-favoured right side, will be the rejuvenated Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain), who last October was brought back into the fold following a curious two-year absence and will be vitally important tenaciously tracking opponents and contributing to attacks. As ever, captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) will also endeavour to be assiduous in his primary task of closing down attackers and reinforcing the defence, as well kickstarting and sometimes contributing to the forward play. Lastly, at the very top of the pitch will be recently-crowned all-time leading goalscorer Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England), who has also netted at all three Copas he’s been involved in and will be on the prowl to wound defenders’ egos with his muscular hold-up play, supreme leaping and wearying workrate.

Some of the individuals he is likely to combine with the most are amongst a secondary group of five within the squad. These are talented players with less-celebrated reputations who nevertheless possess the potential to assert themselves as indispensable assets during the tournament. In this batch are included three fleet-footed attacking-midfielders: Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), a near-certain starter against Peru who is likely to be paired with either Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy) or Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA). The former appeared to have the nod up until the Mexico friendly but after being dropped from the subsequent line-up, the latter, having flourished in the 3-0 win over the USA last Sunday, has more than an outside chance. Either way, both will undoubtedly see action in Brazil.

The two other players who could rise to prominence are the pair pencilled in to aid Rincón in front of the back four: Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) and Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England). If only due to his greater propensity to get forward, the latter has perhaps a higher chance of garnering attention, but both will certainly be wholly absorbed in their largely unglamorous roles.

Herrera, as well as Faríñez, are the two definite starters out of the five players from 2017’s Under-20 squad who have also been convened here. However, moving onto the dubious defence, if Dudamel opts to place Rosales at left-back then, with Alexander González having been omitted, the 21-year-old apprentice Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway) could make that three by taking up the right-back mantle. Alternatively, if Rosales is placed in his natural position – as he was against the USA – then Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile) would appear to be the front-runner for the left flank. That said, as Mago is far from an established fixture, he is vulnerable to being overlooked in favour of the versatile Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), who has not played in the warm-ups owing to a minor injury.

As for the centre-backs, Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain) and Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal) seem the likeliest initial partnership, what with the former playing the final two friendlies and the latter having enjoyed an encouraging club season. However, this is not a niche bet that anyone would place with confidence as Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar) was instead selected after Osorio’s poor showing against Mexico and he also started in the first warm-up against Ecuador.

So, to summarise the Venezuelan defensive quagmire succinctly: there is every chance that all seven defenders will make it onto the pitch during the tournament.

Still, despite this uncertainty as well as their tendency to get exposed, Vinotinto defences, in tandem with the midfielders, have, over the years, also occasionally shown themselves to be capable of collectively rising to be greater than the sum of their parts. This happened in the opening game of Copa América 2015, in virtually all of 2016’s group stage and also in the final four games of World Cup qualification in 2017. Admittedly, they can also ride their luck a little, although at least they now possess a highly-rated goalkeeper to save them from themselves.

Lastly, some MLS-watchers may be wondering where hotshot Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) fits into the scheme of things. Well, although a partnership with Rondón is not completely out of the question as it was deployed at the 2016 Copa and may be used if Venezuela are chasing a game late on, it was never tried in any of the most recent friendlies. Instead, with Dudamel preferring a lone forward, Martínez is more likely to make regular appearances from the bench, whether as a replacement for Rondón or, quite plausibly, in one of the two attacking positions behind. However, for these spots he will not only be competing with Murillo, Machís and Savarino, but also with pint-sized Class of ’17 graduate Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil). The dribbler extraordinaire beloved of many talent-spotters has only played 26 minutes for the national team since last September but he has been called up as an eleventh-hour replacement for the injured Adalberto Peñaranda. His initial omission – allegedly due to a problem processing his visa for the warm-up tour in the USA – as well as that of Rómulo Otero was not greeted favourably by a considerable number of fans, but now, having met up with the side in the country where he plies his trade, he’s good to go.

As, mercifully, is yours truly. ¡Vamos chamos!

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

Venezuela Squad for Copa América 2019

Ven2019CopaAmerica

Note: Owing to an injury, Yeferson Soteldo has replaced Adalberto Peñaranda.

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), 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), 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), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia) & Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

USA 0-3 Venezuela – International Friendly (9 June 2019)

The dress rehearsals finish with a flourish and the stage is ready for Saturday’s premiere! Below, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto‘s final pre-Copa América warm-up clash against the USA.

International Friendly

Sunday 9 June 2019 – Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

USA 0-3 Venezuela

Video Highlights of USA 0-3 Venezuela, International Friendly, 9 June 2019 (YouTube)

Rondón Breaks Record In First-Half Romp

Salomón Rondón struck twice and had a hand in another goal to blitz the USA as well as become Venezuela’s all-time leading goalscorer.

El Gladiador’s 24-goal haul now puts him one above the legendary Juan Arango and, coming off the back of two underwhelming results, the clinical performance of the team in the opening 45 minutes will come as a welcome boost to the entire set-up.

Against an admittedly under-strength USA side, coach Rafael Dudamel fielded eight of the starters from the 3-1 Mexico defeat, making some defensive adjustments as well as bringing in the eye-catching Jefferson Savarino, who netted the other goal.

After some initial USA pressure, it was the Real Salt Lake forward who had Venezuela’s first chance of note in the 12th minute when he struck a dipping diagonal effort that went not too far over Zack Steffen’s crossbar. Four minutes later, the goalkeeper was the prime culprit behind La Vinotinto taking the lead as his disastrous clearance was punished with a trio of deadly touches: Yangel Herrera immediately knocked the ball back into the area, where Jhon Murillo nudged it to Rondón, who swiftly made it 1-0.

15 minutes later, the Premier League marksman glanced on a throw-in that Savarino picked up, first curling a left-footed shot against the post, then anticipating the rebound on the other side of the goalkeeper to make it 2-0. A fine one-two, in every sense.

Throughout the half, the hosts did actually see a lot of the ball and were occasionally a threat from crosses – perhaps never more so than in the 34th minute. Here, a low ball from the right was cut out by Roberto Rosales, only to be struck first-time by Weston McKennie whose shot ended up sliding off agonisingly wide following an important stop from Wuilker Faríñez.

Such moments just made Venezuela’s finishing seem all the more devastating. Particularly so just two minutes later when a rare exhibition of connected, purposeful interplay ended with Tomás Rincón knocking the ball towards Rondón. Through characteristic muscle and assertion, the No. 23 on 23 shrugged off a defender, did a stepover and feinted to go one way before firing low to ascend to the historic plateau of 24 international goals for the Venezuelan national team.

After all this, the second half could only be a letdown. Not just for Venezuela – who, aside from a Rincón effort that curled just wide, were quiet – but also for the USA, who created several opportunities but had the killer instinct of a lifelong pacifist. Indeed, although they exposed the Venezuelan back-line – particularly on Luis Mago’s side as well as in the middle – nobody was able to finish off chances that often arrived from point-blank range. In the 53rd minute a cross from the right whistled across the box without much contact, then later a 68th-minute from the same side should have been converted by either of the two players who had opportunities to cut the deficit but neither made meaningful connections. When, in the 78th minute, a flicked-on corner destined for a player to knock in at the back post instead ended up with a team-mate colliding into him, this seemed to sum up the hosts’ day.

Things could have been quite different had they taken these and some other chances. In particular, a fine curled effort from Jordan Morris that went just wide, a close-range Paul Arriola strike that Faríñez dramatically blocked and a late poked effort also from Arriola that somehow evaded the target. Instead, it was Venezuela, spearheaded by record-holding Rondón, who walked away from Cincinnati with their heads held high.

With one win to add to their preceding defeat and draw, it was a heartening way to end their rather mixed tour of the USA before embarking upon the flight to Porto Alegre.

There, awaits the 2019 edition of the Copa América and it has been announced that well-travelled Colombian manager Francisco “Pacho” Maturana (ex-Atlético Nacional, Colombia, Atlético Madrid, Peru, Ecuador – amongst many others) will also be in the camp as part of the coaching staff.

He will surely know as much as any observer not to get too carried away by the victory against what was a USA absent of some of its biggest names. Rather, surely amongst the main coaching concerns will be selecting and organising the personnel of the defence; to a lesser extent, there likely will also be some debate as to whether or not Savarino has done enough to earn himself a start against Peru on Saturday.

Whether or not the MLS starlet ultimately gets the nod, he has certainly got more chance of making the line-up than Yeferson Soteldo (late replacement of injured Adalberto Peñaranda), who is scheduled to join up with the squad just two days before their opening group game.

With such a momentous challenge on the horizon, there may not be much time for the players to celebrate, but many fans will certainly spare a moment to toast not only the historic feat of Rondón but also that of the team: this 3-0 victory was La Vinotinto‘s first-ever senior victory over the United States of America.

To find out more about Venezuela’s Copa América preparations, please return to this website for an in-depth preview as well as follow @DarrenSpherical.

Team Selections

USA (4-3-3): Z. Steffen; N. Lima, A. Long (W. Zimmerman, 46′), M. Miazga, T. Ream (D. Lovitz, 78′); W. Trapp, W. McKennie (D. Holmes, 62′), C. Roldan; P. Arriola, G. Zardes (J. Altidore, 46′), T. Boyd (J. Morris, 62′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Rosales (R. Hernández, 46′), J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, L. Mago; J. Moreno, Y. Herrera (A. Figuera), T. Rincón (J. Martínez, 60′); J. Murillo (D. Machís, 65′), J. Savarino (J. Añor, 65′); S. Rondón (L. Seijas, 78′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

 

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (1 June 2019)

Not everyone has yet arrived, but Venezuela’s Copa América preparations certainly have. Below, @DarrenSpherical recounts their opening USA-based friendly.

International Friendly

Saturday 1 June 2019 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 1 June 2019 (YouTube)

Rosales’ Rapture Ennered at the Death

A stoppage-time goal by Enner Valencia denied a makeshift La Vinotinto victory in Miami in their first of three Copa América warm-up encounters.

Manager Rafael Dudamel, deprived of eight of his final 23-man squad owing to the game being held on a non-FIFA date, fielded a side which included some individuals who have been omitted from the final cut. Two of these, youngsters Nahuel Ferraresi and Jan Hurtado, were given starting berths, with substitute appearances being granted to Renzo Zambrano, Jhonder Cádiz, Bernaldo Manzano, Erickson Gallardo and Samuel Sosa – the latter three, incidentally, making their senior international debuts.

Of the surprisingly physical early exchanges, captain-for-the-night Roberto Rosales had the best Venezuelan chance, when in the ninth minute he pounced on a loose ball outside the area to dip a well-struck right-footed effort over the bar. Three minutes later, the Ecuadorians made their attacking presence known, as defensive uncertainty led to a header suddenly being presented for Romario Ibarra, whose instinctive nodded effort went just wide of the target. Shortly afterwards, La Vinotinto found themselves in another similar pickle as Jhon Chancellor’s poor header fell into the path of Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, whose shot from an acute angle went just wide of Rafael Romo’s far post.

For the rest of the opening third of the game, Venezuela’s response consisted of little more than a couple of bustling runs from Hurtado. However, come the 38th minute, following a handball from a Ronald Hernández cross, Dudamel’s men had a penalty, which the shaven-headed Rosales stepped up to take. Although goalkeeper Alexander Domínguez got a touch, the experienced full-back scored his first international goal – barely two months after also finding the net in March’s unofficial friendly with Catalonia.

However, if Venezuela slightly edged the first half then the second half was Ecuador’s. They were not far off scoring just two minutes after the restart, as a ball into the area found Carlos Garcés, but the forward was unable to divert it goalwards and the chance was lost.

For the rest of the half, without threatening a great deal, Hernán Darío Gómez’s men looked the more organised of the two units, a fact perhaps partly due to the greater number of substitutions carried out by his Venezuelan counterpart.

It would be very generous to describe the majority of attempts that followed as even half-chances, but this state of affairs changed just as Venezuela thought they were slogging to victory. Indeed, in the first minute of stoppage-time, sudden dispossession in midfield led to eagle-eyed Ayrton Preciado playing in ex-West Ham striker Valencia who clinically pounced to level the score.

Overall, it was a fair outcome to a largely unmemorable game. Venezuela never really clicked and their central defence provided a few jittery moments, but – they will surely tell themselves – they did not lose and they have two more preparation games to settle into a more effective rhythm.

For the first of these, on Wednesday against Mexico, with the exception of the injured Rolf Feltscher – whose place is being temporarily filled by Pablo Bonilla – La Vinotinto will have all of their final 23-man squad available. With the game being played at the stadium of Atlanta United, the current home of incoming hotshot Josef Martínez as well as the former residence of new El Tri manager, Tata Martino, this promises to be a more captivating encounter.

To keep up-to-date with how things transpire in the remainder of Venezuela’s Copa América warm-up as well as the tournament itself, please keep checking back here as well as pay a visit to @DarrenSpherical.

Team Selections

Ecuador (4-2-3-1-1): A. Domínguez; J. Quintero, G. Achilier, B. Caicedo, P. Velasco; J, Intriago, J. Orejuela; A. Valencia (A. Preciado, 69′), R. Ibarra (E. Valencia, 69′); L. Chicaiza; C. Garcés (R. Ibarra, 69′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): R. Romo; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, N. Ferraresi, R. Rosales; A. Figuera (B. Manzano, 90′), Y. Herrera (R. Zambrano, 67′), L. Seijas (J. Añor, 79′); J. Murillo (E. Gallardo, 83′), A. Peñaranda (S. Sosa, 46′); J. Hurtado (J. Cádiz, 46′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – June 2019 Preview

With Copa América 2019 on the horizon, the official 23-man squad has been announced, although not everyone is currently in the USA for the three-match warm-up tour. To become more familiar with the Venezuelan orbit, @DarrenSpherical provides an update on the current state-of-play.

International Friendlies

Saturday 1 June 2019 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA

Ecuador vs Venezuela

Wednesday 5 June 2019 – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Mexico vs Venezuela

Sunday 9 June 2019 – Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

USA vs Venezuela

Peñaranda

Adalberto Peñaranda has some doubters to win over. (FVF)

Mixed Response to Squad Announcement Ahead of Testing Friendlies

Rómulo Otero, Yeferson Soteldo, Jan Hurtado and Alexander González head a list of considerable Venezuelan talents who will not be present in Brazil at the upcoming 46th edition of Copa América.

Ahead of a three-game warm-up tour of the USA, these names and more were omitted from Rafael Dudamel’s final 23-man squad. They were culled from an initial 40-man convocatoria that had been announced on 10 May – despite many players on that list never having been afforded the opportunity to physically be part of the set-up.

It thus appears that Dudamel – whose position was in doubt two months ago but who has since been ratified to continue – had largely made up his mind a while ago and, as is to be expected, not all of his choices have been greeted with unanimous approval. In particular, some were not convinced by the coach’s comments ostensibly justifying the exclusion of Santos No. 10 Soteldo on the inability to secure for him a US visa in time, thus rendering him absent for the build-up. Flimsy pretext or not, those following La Vinotinto over the past year should have not been too surprised, as the diminutive dribbler has, for a variety of reasons, missed call-ups and only played for less than half an hour. That said, one of his positional rivals who avoided the chop, Adalberto Peñaranda, has played even less and, more disconcertingly, only chalked up two FA Cup appearances last season for his club side, Watford. However, it appears that Dudamel is a big believer in the peroxide-blonde attacker. This is, after all, not the first time that he has held out an olive branch to the player who outshone Soteldo – as well as most of his team-mates – as part of 2017’s history-making Under-20 Silver Generation.

No explanations have yet been articulated regarding the other omissions. However, in the case of the eye-grabbing Otero, rightly or wrongly, it is possible that Dudamel was not convinced that his individualistic tendencies could be effectively harnessed within his system. Yet, with his swirling long-range strikes and occasional set-piece brilliance, to some it feels that a potential game-changer has been left behind.

As for Hurtado, since his return to club football eight months ago following an acrimonious hiatus, the striker has rose in stature. However, as well as strong competition from the in-form Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), his non-inclusion may be owing to his inexperience (he is still only 19), questionable discipline (two red cards with the Under-20s earlier this year) and relatively low goals tally.

Yet sespite this momentary setback, one feels that Hurtado’s time shall come – quite possibly as early as next year at 2020’s Argentina/Colombia co-hosted extravaganza. For now, however, he does have at least one more chance to show his boss what he is going be missing. Indeed, he is one of eight young/fringe players currently based in Miami who won’t be going to Brazil but who are nevertheless part of the 23-man squad set to play Ecuador on the first day of June. According to the FVF’s press releases, the other seven are: Pablo Bonilla (Portuguesa), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Erickson Gallardo (Zamora FC), Bernaldo Manzano (Deportivo Lara), Samuel Sosa (Talleres de Córdoba, Argentina), Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA) and Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal).

This curious situation is due to this game being played on a non-FIFA date. Afterwards, however, despite some of their club seasons still being contested, the likes of Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy) and Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) should gradually show their faces.

With two subsequent warm-up games lined up against Gold Cup-eyeing Mexico and USA, Venezuela have quite the competitive friendly guantlet to navigate their way through. As things stand, the consensus is that only one or two of the starting places are up for grabs. Indeed, based on the friendlies played since last September, with everyone available Dudamel would ideally opt to field his charges in a flexible 4-3-2-1 formation. In this system, Faríñez undoubtedly wears the gloves and the left-back is odds-on to be right-footed Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain), with one of the two central defenders being Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal). As Wilker Ángel is injured, Osorio is likely to be partnered by either Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar) or Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain), although surprise inclusion Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA) has an outside shot, given that Dudamel has praised the experienced Swiss-born player’s “versatility“. That said, with no González to vye with, he perhaps has a greater chance of dislodging 21-year-old Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), seemingly the current front-runner to start at right-back.

Further up the park, things appear more concrete: a tight midfield three is predicted to consist of captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), along with Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England) and Moreno. Ahead of them are likely to be the defence-terrorisers Machís and Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal) who, in turn, should be just behind Newcastle United’s 2018/19 Player of the Season, Salomón Rondón.

Yet, three games can be a long time in football and with the potential for injuries as well as high-calibre talents such as Martínez and Savarino lurking in the wings, more than a few purported certainties could well appear misplaced come mid-June.

To keep track of how things develop, please keep checking back to this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad for Copa América 2019

Ven2019CopaAmerica

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), 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), 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), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA) & Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

 

Venezuela Squad for Friendly against Ecuador

Ven2019Ecuador

Goalkeepers

Joel Graterol (Zamora FC) & Rafael Romo (APOEL FC, Cyprus).

Defenders

Pablo Bonilla (Portuguesa), Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), 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), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Erickson Gallardo (Zamora FC), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Bernaldo Manzano (Deportivo Lara), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia), Samuel Sosa (Talleres de Córdoba, Argentina) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal), Jan Carlos Hurtado (Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Argentina), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

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

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