Tag Archives: Boca Juniors

Day 2 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Uruguay 0-0 Venezuela & Argentina 1-1 Peru)

The second day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship saw Group B get under way, with Uruguay taking on Venezuela and holders Argentina facing Peru. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting… 

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(Source: Wikipedia)

Uruguay 0-0 Venezuela

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 19 January 2017 (YouTube)

Though it ended goalless, this Group B encounter was not without incident. Despite the talent in their ranks, Uruguay struggled to combine effectively in the first half and Venezuela gave them more than a few frights, persistently matching them across the field. Both sides had come close to opening the deadlock but in the 60th minute, Uruguay were presented with a golden opportunity to do so. However, captain Nicolás De La Cruz was left embarrassed as his Panenka-esque penalty was coolly saved by an upright Wuilker Fariñez. Despite going down to ten men, Venezuela stayed in the game and actually came closest to getting the winner, with Yangel Herrera’s 81st-minute effort saved by an overhead-kick clearance on the goal-line by Rodrigo Bentancur. Alas, it remained all square in Ibarra.

Talent Spotting

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To many, the skipper Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) acted a bit too big for his youthful boots when his audacious chipped penalty went awry. Nevertheless, he was his side’s most notable attacker, often looking to play in team-mates, taking over set-piece duties and not being afraid to shoot, as evidenced by his fierce 25-yard strike in the first half that drew an instinctive parry from Fariñez. With an illustrious brother, Carlos Sánchez, who has earned caps for La Celeste, young Nicolás may just possess the nature to help him make his senior bow; after a setback like this, one hopes he’ll also receive the right nurture.

The striker he was often looking to play in was Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid). The ex-River Plate (Montevideo parish) looked to get involved with some decent runs and also tried to slide through his team-mates, yet he rarely got a clear sight of goal. Indeed, so slim were the pickings that the nearest he came was from a 25-yard left-footed effort entirely of his own making in the 43rd minute, which rebounded hard off the base of the post. He was substituted with just over 15 minutes left, though given his move to Spain last year, much is expected of him.

Another man with a growing reputation is No. 20 Rodrigo Bentancur, who has already played over 50 times for Boca Juniors. Here, he had a mixed time in midfield as he and his colleagues were not always successful in suppressing the Venezuelan bursts upfield. Nevertheless, Bentancur was responsible for ensuring Uruguay came away with at least one point when, in the 81st minute, he cleared an effort off the goal-line with a rather acrobatic overhead kick.

Otherwise, Uruguay seemed to lack the organisation and collective intent they possessed two years ago when they came close to winning on home soil. One man from that team, roaming midfielder Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay), now 19, was somewhat surprisingly a substitute here. His presence after the break did not dramatically change things though he did show some invention from a nicely worked free-kick move in the 50th minute that caught the opposition defence off-guard.

Lastly, a quick word of praise for the speedy Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio). Just before the hour-mark, he did well to make space for himself after taking on a defender and then firing low to draw a save from Fariñez; this, in turn, led to the foul that yielded the penalty.

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Owing to his penalty save, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) understandably earned the headlines. It’s just the kind of highlight that could tip the balance in a move for this 18-year-old who already has a senior international cap and over 50 domestic club appearances to his name. He also did well to parry out De La Cruz’s well-struck first-half effort and often appeared assertive in his area. One small criticism though: Could he not have done better when palming out Saracchi’s shot straight to De La Cruz, which led to the latter being fouled, the awarding of a penalty and his defender Eduin Quero being sent off? Nevertheless, even if play was ultimately called back, he did recover impressively to save the rebound.

Perhaps the most eye-catching individual on the field was the diminutive Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile). He often seemed to be running the show for Venezuela, roaming forward, looking to make things happen, taking set-pieces and not being afraid to shoot. He nearly set up a goal in the 21st minute when he received a pass on the right, dipped his shoulder to evade a defender and put in a dangerous low ball, but Uruguay just about survived this scare. His nifty footwork sometimes led him into positions where he attempted to feed in team-mates; the closest to the target he came himself occurred in the 32nd minute when he played a one-two from a throw on the left and then aimed for the far post, though this went a few yards wide. When he was substituted in the 74th minute, he received a notable ovation from what must have been a largely neutral crowd.

The player Soteldo often sought out and who he played the one-two with, was Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain), another attacking midfielder/forward. Up until the very last minute he was very visible chasing every ball to the byline, creating space for himself and making life rather uncomfortable for the Uruguayan back-line. Given Soteldo’s withdrawal, come the final whistle, Peña was arguably getting even more praise on social media than the ex-Zamora man. On several occasions, he got within firing distance of the opposition goal but was thwarted, either by a block, a miscue or a clumsy challenge – such as the one in the 62nd minute which, irrespective of his pleas, the referee flatly waved away.

Impressing in a more subtle manner was holding midfielder and captain, Yangel Herrera (No. 8, Atlético Venezuela). As with Soteldo and Fariñez, he has already appeared for the senior side and the three of them, along with Peña, really did exhibit some much-needed confidence and drive that must have rubbed off on some of their compatriots. He often won midfield duels with the more highly-regarded Bentancur and, more than once, fed team-mates through with central, well-weighted passes. Although he was largely in the right place at the right time, he was nevertheless unlucky not to have scored with nine minutes remaining with his effort from a ricochet that his foe Bentancur brilliantly cleared on the line.

As well as the defence as a whole for rarely affording Uruguay a clear sight of goal, some positive words can be said for a few other individuals. Antonio Romero (No. 19, Deportivo Lara) often looked to get involved with his fellow attackers, most notably after 14 minutes when Peña robbed a defender before nudging the ball to Romero who, from 25 yards out, shaped to shoot, with his low, hard effort going just a yard or so wide. Seven minutes later, Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC) perhaps had his country’s best chance to score in the first half when he inched inside the six-yard-box to get on the end of Soteldo’s wicked cross, forcing a save from very close range. Lastly, a quick word for substitute Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) to note that it was he who put in the free-kick that nearly led to a goal for Herrera.

Argentina 1-1 Peru

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 19 January 2017 (YouTube)

Defending champions Argentina may require a more effective Plan B, as it was not until the last minute that their blushes were spared here. Peru took the lead in the 12th minute, courtesy of a Roberto Siucho strike from range that took a wicked deflection before swerving past Ramiro Macagno. In the remainder of the half, Argentina may have seen more of the ball, but it was Peru who came closest to getting the game’s second goal. After the interval, the holders stepped things up a few notches and were at times almost camped around the periphery of the opposition area yet, particularly after they were reduced to ten men in the 84th minute, a defeat looked on the cards. However, just before the clock hit 90′, Lautaro Martínez struck home a fine equaliser and at least went some way towards softening some of the headlines the Argentine press had no doubt already written.

Talent Spotting

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Perhaps even more so than his team-mates up until his well-taken goal, Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club) had a frustrating evening. He was regularly involved in attempts to unlock the well-drilled Peruvian defence, yet he was often close and yet so far from doing so. Indeed, his best chance in the first half was a header from a cross that he rose well to greet but his effort lacked direction. Six minutes after the restart, he latched onto a ball yet was a bit too near to the goalkeeper whose gloves thwarted him when he attempted to hook it above him into the net. Another chance of note occurred in the 73rd minute when he received a pass in a promising position inside the area but struck it wide of the far post. Nevertheless, the young man ultimately got what he was after and, though he may have wanted more, one suspects plenty of chances await him in upcoming games.

17-year-old Ezequiel Barco (No. 10, Independiente) fed in Martínez for his 73rd-minute opportunity and he was to be similarly agitated whilst seeking an equaliser. Indeed, the roles were in the reverse earlier in the 53rd minute when the Racing man played a fine cutting pass to the left inside the area only for Barco to strike the ball wide of the far post. Shortly before, Barco had also curled a rasping free-kick just over the bar and overall, looks to be a likely threat in this tournament.

The man who actually set up Martínez’s goal was his club team-mate Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club); he brilliantly drove past two players from his own half before sliding it to the No. 9 for the strike. Previously, he too had looked to make things happen, but the closest he himself came occurred in the 68th minute when a diagonal ball somehow bounced through to him in the area but, from an awkward angle, he struck across the goal and wide.

From this game, other Argentine players could be picked out as likely to pose threats in their future encounters. However, as they were largely all constricted here to long range efforts, blocked attempts and other moments one can not get too excited about, it may be better to instead wait and let them give us something to really write home about.

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As a collective, Peru deserve a lot of credit. After getting their early goal, they did well to keep Argentina at bay throughout the first half, almost nullifying them and actually coming closer themselves to scoring. As their opponents increased the pressure after the restart, so too did Peru raise their game at the back, scurrying in and around their area, seeking to close off every potential avenue. Though they ultimately succumbed, the back-line as a whole deserve credit and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain this level of performance in their other games, whilst also allowing their attackers to counter effectively.

That said, in this game their goal which allowed them to sit back and frustrate was a bit of a fluke. Roberto Siucho (No. 11, Universitario), deserves credit for being willing to strike from 25 yards out, but he was greatly aided by the deflection the ball took to bypass the Argentine goalkeeper. Nevertheless, though he was substituted in the 66th minute – presumably due to a knock he took – he often got forward and though he himself may not have come close to a second, he and others played a vital role in momentarily relieving the strained defence.

Another man who was often on the ball was striker Adrián Ugarriza (No. 19, Universitario). Now 20 and only eligible for this competition by a whisker, he actually appeared at 2015’s tournament, scoring two goals. Since then, he has moved to a bigger domestic club and thus with an age-advantage over quite possibly all his opponents this time around, he has an opportunity to really make his mark. In this match, he very nearly doubled the scoreline in the 30th minute when a flick-on fell in his path on the edge of the area and he struck low, drawing a fine save from the goalkeeper.

Despite having to settle for the draw, Peru nearly actually regained the lead in the third minute of stoppage-time. Indeed, substitute Miguel Castro (No. 14, Juan Aurich) ran over from the inside-left, jinking left and right into the area, before firing a right-footed strike that only went over by a mere yard or so. Whilst, overall, the Attempts statistics may look more favourably upon Argentina, in future games against – on paper, at least – weaker opposition, Peru’s attackers should have more opportunities to break free and create havoc.

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be Brazil vs Chile and Ecuador vs Colombia from Group A – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Q & A with David Freeman, Author of Barra Brava (A Latin American Football Journey)

Having recently finished reading Barra Brava, David Freeman’s envy-inducing account of his 18-month journey amongst a diverse range of Latin American football fans, Hispanospherical.com has been fortunate to be able to talk to the author. Following on from an introduction to his book, this extensive Q & A should be essential reading for anyone who has ever contemplated embarking upon a similar adventure.   

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Game 18: Itagüí Ditaires (now Águilas Doradas) 4-0 Atlético Nacional, Copa Colombia Quarter Final First Leg, Estadio Atanasio Girardot, Medellin, Antioquia Department, Colombia, 15 September 2010. One of 67 games David Freeman attended in the Americas.

David Freeman’s Barra Brava is sold in paperback and/or Kindle format through Amazon’s many location-specific websites. To purchase a copy, click whichever link is most relevant to you: UK/Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil and Spain

Barra Brava: An Introduction

In the collective consciousness of most football fans outside of its vibrant orbit, Latin America is somewhat of a dichotomy. While it may harbour a tantalising cocktail of innovative skills and irrepressible passion, it is nevertheless very much on the periphery of the global footballing mainstream. Although hundreds of its exports to Europe’s opulent centre-stage regularly provide incalculable instances of the substantial reservoirs of talent that this vast region consistently produces, the awareness of the footballing cultures from whence they came leaves something to be desired. Indeed, the clubs, supporters and environments that initially helped to nurture many of these cracks exist in many imaginations as little more than a combination of crude, often unflattering stereotypes, as well as names – the latter of which are diminishing in stature with each passing year.

As the exodus of native talent shows no sign of abating and kick-off times in this area for spectators in the Old Continent tend to be either anti-social or clash with top-flight European matches, none of these leagues appear well-placed to redress this situation. Nevertheless, for many, the curiosity will always linger. After all, having witnessed the 2014 Brazil World Cup, in which several Latin American nations were well-represented in both the stands as well as on the pitches, how many fans idly daydreamed about experiencing some of these atmospheres first-hand?

Well, one man who has already done just that and on a scale that is surely the envy of football fans and cultural tourists the world over, is David Freeman. His book, Barra Brava, is an absorbing travelogue, chronicling an 18-month journey that began in October 2009. Starting off with a brief Latin-tinged spell in the United States watching the now-defunct Chivas USA, he then crossed the language-barrier to experience many of the sights, sounds and sensations of Latin America, culminating with one final linguistic hurdle in Brazil where the fun ended in April 2011. Along the way, he visited 18 different countries, watching no less than 67 live matches in 15 of them. With so much ground covered, Freeman was able to experience the footballing cultures of not only some of the area’s heavyweights, such as Argentina and Mexico, but also those of nations that most people would struggle to name a single international player from (Guatemala and Nicaragua, anyone?).

Bringing a modicum of order to complement the roaming devil-may-care spirit that often pervaded his travels, Freeman made it his mission to mix with as many local supporters as he encountered. With his accompanying England flag conspicuously signposting him as a figure of curiosity in the stands, he was able to use his ever-developing Spanish skills to learn about many varied fan groups, their matchday rituals and relationships with their clubs. Subsequently in print, he displays an admirable levelling of the playing field, relaying his experiences of the barra bravas of the likes of Boca Juniors, Santos and Club América in a similar manner to those of Motagua (Honduras), Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica) and Blooming (Bolivia).

Wherever he turned up, there were always songs, gestures and/or dances to first decode and then perhaps, when enough of his beverage of choice had been consumed, join in with. Yet, as readers will discover, it was not always to be plain sailing, with the tensions in the stands sometimes escalating into atmospheres markedly less hospitable towards this Englishman. Indeed, from finding himself on an Argentine pitch being booed by supporters less-than-impressed with his flag to requiring police intervention to restrain a knife-wielding Colombian youth, Freeman’s recollections often serve to caution, as much as to inspire, the prospective traveller.

Away from the stadiums, his explorations of a rather breathtaking range of locations were no less colourful, with every other page flowing with anecdotes and evocative descriptions. A rich diversity of experiences was evidently had, not least during a lengthy spell at a Mexican hotel situated by a nudist beach as well as, conversely, when teaching English in the poverty-stricken Nicaraguan capital of Managua, where he participated in some controversy-mired Independence Day celebrations. Furthermore, some of his more inquisitive forays included visits to the Mayan ruins in Central America, the idiosyncratic capitals of Panama City, Bogotá and La Paz, as well as the topological treasures of the Calchaquí Valleys in north-west Argentina.

As can be expected, invaluable nuggets of practical advice are scattered throughout this book, rendering it an essential primer for anyone thinking of embarking on a journey that encompasses even a fraction of the ground covered here. Freeman regularly takes into consideration such readers, particularly when providing what amounts to a mini-dictionary of Spanish words and phrases at the beginning of each chapter that can be used to ingratiate oneself with the locals.

So, if you like the sound of going on such a trip yourself or would simply like to read the adventures of someone who did, be sure to check out this book, the most latest edition of which has just been published. If, however, before making such an investment, you would prefer to know a little more, then as well as perusing the promotional website, please read on as Señor Freeman has recently been kind enough to answer some questions in detail, providing a considerable idea of what Barra Brava is all about.

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Q & A with David Freeman, author of Barra Brava

[Darren Spherical] Hello David, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions (and for providing so many photographs!). Your book provides countless entertaining vignettes and fascinating insights into various footballing cultures and societies in the Americas.

Prior to beginning your adventure, you mention that you worked for an internet bank and had not done a great deal of travelling. What motivated you to sell your house to embark on such an extensive and, at times, daunting journey? Also, why Latin America?

[David Freeman] My short answer is that I’d been bitten by the travel bug when I went to Australia and seven years on I needed to scratch the itch. The timing was all about personal circumstances, having been promised redundancy and not having responsibilities such as kids to worry about. Latin America was chosen based on learning Spanish and being able to communicate throughout two continents.

Regarding the book’s title, on your travels you met dozens of different groups of fans from over a dozen Latin American countries. Based on your observations, could you give an introduction to the barra bravas? How did they differ in some of the nations you visited?

I’d describe the barra as universally passionate people who support their club in a noisy, colourful and fanatical way. In my experience, barra bravas are not the same as hooligans because clubs like Pumas (Mexico) and LDU Quito (Ecuador) are supported by civilised, friendly students who had no interest in violence, but instead created atmospheres to compete with the most fervent in the world. Whilst I tried not to get involved in the seedy sides of any barra that I encountered, there could be no doubt that in certain places (mainly Colombia and Argentina) they were a public menace whose activities resulted in people dying every year.

At each ground you entered, you tried to get a photograph of yourself with your flag (an English St. George’s Cross emblazoned with the name of Birmingham City’s Zulu Army firm). How did you feel in such situations? Regarding some of the more negative responses, you must have feared for your own safety at times? 

A gringo waving a flag around always attracted attention from the locals but I found the majority to be friendly, particularly as I spoke Spanish and it was clear that I was as crazy about football as they were. In some places it was really intimidating waving a piece of cloth around that advertised that you were a vulnerable foreigner, but it proved to be a great ice-breaker amongst curious strangers. The numerous positive experiences with my St. George’s cross far outweighed an occasional negative one – plus the volatile situations made for the best stories!

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To see dozens more photographs of David with his flag at stadiums, click here.

Could you give any advice to future football tourists who wish to experience some of the colourful and raucous Latin American atmospheres without getting embroiled in any trouble? 

Simple: go in the main stand. At every ground I visited there was a tranquilo section that charged around twice as much to enter than the ‘popular’ terrace. This more expensive seating area had a far better view, superior facilities, good stewarding and was populated by reasonable people. If, however, you insist on mixing it up, I would repeat the point about being able to communicate with the natives and, above all, be wary of everything!

With regard to fan culture (pre-match rituals, songs/chants, dances, paraphernalia etc.), what were some of the most memorable things you observed and/or joined in with on your travels? 

Personally, I found the friendly beer-drinking culture whilst watching games in Mexico, Central America and Ecuador enjoyable. More universally, the fans consistently bouncing and singing, always admirably supported by musical instruments. Every club had at least one drummer, some even had horn sections (see this video compilation for some of the highlights of fans I encountered). Also, the socialising during play, aided by the open terraces, which is something that has been lost in the UK. This is in contrast to Germany, which is the leading nation in Europe with regard to atmosphere at domestic fixtures, driven by their affordable safe standing sections.

Moving away from the stands and onto the pitches, you saw many well-known players, some of whom were winding down their careers after spells in Europe and others who were emerging and have since gone on to play in the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and elsewhere. Who were you most excited to see and who left the most lasting impressions on you?

Juan Manuel Iturbe impressed me most as a 17 year old turning a match at the 2011 South American Youth Championship in Argentina’s favour against Chile. He made some stunning appearances in the Copa Libertadores before impressing for Hellas Verona and now finds himself at Roma.

Of the big players I watched live more than once:

Neymar won the Libertadores with Santos in 2011 scoring crucial goals throughout, although showcasing his ample array of skills and tricks at that level did not always benefit the team.

Juan Sebastián Verón’s passing at Estudiantes was masterful in Argentina’s Primera División.

Salvador Cabañas looked a class act for América in Mexico’s top-flight, though this was of course before he was tragically shot by a drug dealer.

Indeed, understandably he was never the same afterwards. Staying with on-field matters, what were some of the most memorable games and goals you saw?

The Clásicos were always the best value for money atmosphere-wise; the derbies in Mexico (Pumas 3-2 América, Game 3) and Colombia (Deportivo Cali 6-3 América de Cali, Game 24) lived up to the hype on the pitch. My favourite was bouncing among Universidad Católica’s fans in Buenos Aires as the Chileans scored three goals in the last 20 minutes to record a 4-3 Libertadores group stage victory away at Vélez Sarsfield (Game 51). There were also many dull games where la barra provided the entertainment.

Just under a quarter of the games you watched were in the North/Central American (CONCACAF) region, often in countries which many football fans will not have considered visiting. What did you make of the play, supporters and stadiums in this area?

Central America’s population were as passionate about football as those in the southern continent. Yet though, for example, Los Ticos defied the odds to reach 2014’s World Cup Quarter Finals, football in Central America was markedly inferior to the South American game. Though considered part of the North, Mexico was the region’s domestic powerhouse, aided in part in being alone in having some of its teams compete in the most prestigious club tournament in the Americas, the Copa Libertadores. Whilst the CONCACAF Champions League wasn’t a particularly competitive tournament, it did throw up some interesting ties, sending high-profile MLS sides and former European legends to remote places such as El Salvador. In my experience, the rural locations were really friendly and the atmospheres were brilliant, even at a Nicaraguan league final held in a baseball park.

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Football-related photographs from Central America (Click to Enlarge)

Outside of the stadiums in this area, you seemed to have rather diverse experiences, from the fun of Mexico to the comparative austerity of Nicaragua. Which places would you recommend to visitors to this region? 

Most visitors to this part of the world head to Cancún (Mexico) or Costa Rica, and the tourist industry outside of these places is still developing. I found every country to be fascinating and despite not receiving as many visitors, each had some fairly well-established attractions. These were mainly based around coasts, lakes, mountains and Aztec or Mayan historical sites. Panama City was one of the oddest capitals I’ve seen and there was an amazing sunset pretty much anywhere along the Pacific coast. Nicaragua would be my suggestion if you want to escape reality and don’t mind a chaotically relaxed experience. Compared to South, Central America is far cheaper on the ground and much less ‘discovered’, although air fares can be expensive.

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Photographs from North/Central America (Click to Enlarge)

You watched 18 games in Buenos Aires (and 20 in Argentina altogether) in little over five weeks. As this is a footballing Mecca, what advice can you impart to anyone wishing to visit this city with similar intentions? 

Where possible, I would suggest buying your ticket in advance. Also, when I was there, the home fans were generally retained in the ground for 40 minutes after the final whistle, so going in the away end was preferable. However, as visiting fans have since been banned due to repeated problems with fan violence, there may be a wait before this advice can be put into practice again. Nevertheless, also make sure you use public transport to your advantage. From Central BA the train is best for Vélez, All Boys, Quilmes, Arsenal de Sarandí, Lanús and Argentinos Juniors; the Metro is convenient for River, San Lorenzo, Huracán and Atlanta; whilst the bus is quickest when visiting Boca, Racing and Independiente. Also, if you have the time and inclination, go to a smaller club in addition to Boca or River, as they can be far cheaper, friendlier and almost as spectacular. Finally, be wary of the alcohol exclusion zones around stadiums in Buenos Aires.

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Football-related photographs from Buenos Aires Province, Argentina (Click to Enlarge)

Outside of Argentina, but remaining in South America, what were some of your highlights watching football in this particular continent? 

Colombia had the most edgy and memorable atmospheres. Ecuador was the friendliest, although my opinion is aided by the fact that they served beer in the grounds, plus Guayaquil and Quito were unexpectedly vibrant football cities. Asunción (Paraguay) was a little gem in the middle of nowhere which had a wonderful history. Iquique (Chile) had the best band I saw, complemented by a full brass section.

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Football-related photographs from South America (Click to Enlarge)

Again, away from the football, what would you recommend to future visitors to the nations you travelled to in South America? 

Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia) was the most spectacular natural wonder I have ever seen and certainly guarantees some amazing photos. Generally speaking, Bolivia was cheap, friendly and diverse, with lots of unique tourist opportunities. Ecuador had easily accessible sights and offered the possibility of cycling from the Andes to the Amazon in a day. Colombia had rugged scenery as well as an attractive and cool population, although its reputation discourages many people. North-west Argentina’s vineyards and mountains were very pleasant and buzzing in the January I was there, as that is when many in Buenos Aires escape to the countryside.

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 Photographs from South America (Click to Enlarge)

On the subject of buying match tickets, it seemed that for the most part you showed up on matchdays without having pre-purchased them and yet, irrespective of what barriers you initially encountered, still managed to get in. As you appear to have acquired much know-how in this area, what advice can you impart?

Generally, I would advise showing up a couple of hours in advance, at which point you should be able to make a purchase and spend some time among the locals – most will be delighted that a gringo has chosen to watch their club. Face value prices were cheap – generally $5-10 in Central and South America, $10-12.50 in Argentina, whilst Brazil could cost as much as it does in the English Premier League. If you aren’t able to purchase a ticket in advance then touts are ever-present, although at the big Argentinian clubs you may have to pay tourist rates, which includes transport to the match (approximately $100 in 2011). Oddly, to watch Universitario in Lima – visit your local supermarket!

What were the most value-for-money places to live and/or watch football in? 

Buenos Aires is probably the world’s most exciting city to watch football in, and although accommodation isn’t cheap, public transport, food, drink and entrance fees are generally very reasonable – something I believe has continued as the Peso weakened in late 2014. Ecuador was probably best value in South America for watching top-level football, whilst accommodation and living in Central America was noticeably cheap. Conversely, Chile and Brazil were more expensive than the other countries I watched matches in.

While there was clearly much to be enjoyed on your journey, readers will discover that it was not always fun and games. Based on your experiences, if you wished to put someone off embarking on a similar adventure, what would you say to them?

Unless you go to a resort, Latin America isn’t somewhere that you can just turn up to without any preparation and then expect to have a great tourist experience. Considerations need to be made for the language barrier (hardly anyone speaks good English), the heat, the altitude and the distances you will be travelling within a limited transport network. If you like things going according to plan then this certainly isn’t your ideal destination, as nothing runs like clockwork. Also, it is important to accept that the locals will assume that you are rich and therefore you are likely to be a target. Although in my experience overcharging was the only real annoyance, I met many people who were robbed and subjected to violence, particularly in the big centres such as Lima and Quito. Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, seemed to be the most dangerous places, but it is all subjective.

What is your interest in Latin American football like these days? Do you look out for any teams in particular? Finally, on a related note, what have you been up to since returning from your travels?

I have been following Latin American results on Soccerway, particularly Argentinos Juniors’ return to a reformed 30-team Primera División and Vasco da Gama battling back into Brazil’s top-flight. Also, although I feel there could be a lot more exposure on British TV, I have been enjoying this year’s Copa Libertadores on Premier Sports and will certainly also be watching the Copa América on the channel and/or YouTube – whichever is most convenient. On a personal note, in the past three years between working for a bank and marrying my Brazilian girlfriend, I’ve spent much of my free time writing and editing the book. The first edition totalled almost 120k words, though thankfully the latest version has been whittled down to 103k – apologies to anyone who bought a copy a couple of years ago! Ultimately, while it may not be perfect, I believe it is a decent travelogue.

David, thank you for giving up so much of your time to answer these questions and providing a taste of your experiences. Again, readers, if you would like to purchase Barra Brava in either paperback or Kindle format, click on whichever link is most relevant to your location: UK/Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil and Spain

If you have any questions for David Freeman, feel free to either reply to this article with them or, if you fancy the more direct option, he can be reached on Twitter under the account @TheBlueBarra

More From the Author

While Barra Brava is David Freeman’s first book, he has also written these articles on Latin American football, which may be of interest:

Fútbol in a Baseball Park, In Bed With Maradona, 15 February 2013. A detailed feature on the standard and status of football in Nicaragua, partially informed by his experiences of living there for four months as an English teacher.

Latin American Football 2012 in Review, Talking Sports, 2 January 2013. Covering the year following his travels, here is a summary of who won what in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico.

My Trip to Brazil: A Year of Expectation, Football Friends Online, 17 June 2014. Craftily combining a pre-World Cup trip to meet his Brazilian girlfriend’s family with a football detour or three, Freeman visited the Mineirão, Estádio Independência and, of course, the Maracanã.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Article originally published on 6 June 2015.

Venezuela’s Participation in the 2015 Copa Libertadores – Review

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

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

Copa Libertadores 2015: Review of the Venezuelan Participants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down But Not Entirely Out: Venezuelans Abroad Flying the Flag 

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Zamora FC 1-5 Boca Juniors – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5 (17 March 2015)

Tuesday 17 March 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5

Zamora FC 1-5 Boca Juniors

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas

Video Highlights of Zamora 1-5 Boca Juniors, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 17 March 2015 (courtesy of YouTube user Boca Juniors +HD – TV)

Zamora’s Early Optimism Dashed by Second-Half Turnaround

Despite having left some big names in Buenos Aires, for the second time in six days Boca Juniors put five goals past the Venezuelan champions and thus maintained their 100 per cent record at the top of Group 5. 

Internationally capped players Dani Osvaldo (Italy), Nicolás Lodeiro (Uruguay), Fernando Gago and Agustín Orión (both Argentina) were the most notable absentees, though there was plenty of quality on hand to administer another hiding.

However, despite what the scoreline may suggest, it was not to be all one-way for the visitors as, following a lacklustre opening period, they were to go into the half-time interval a goal down. Indeed, Zamora came out of the blocks displaying far more attacking intent in the opening quarter of an hour than they showed in the entirety of the encounter at La Bombonera.

In the 18th minute, a shot from outside the area by Yordan Osorio was poorly spilled by deputy goalkeeper Guillermo Sara to Jhon Murillo, who instinctively nudged it past him and then ensured it crossed the line. Replays showed that the high-rated 19-year-old – who was returning, having missed the last two Libertadores games due to suspension – aided the ball’s trajectory with the use of his lower arm, something that he seemingly referenced when pointing to it while celebrating in front of the cameras. Afterwards, some Boca players did mount some protests but like those that followed a rather handy goal by their most famous son in the Estadio Azteca in 1986, they were to no avail.

In terms of entertainment, the rest of the half offered very little with Boca struggling to get back into the game and it was actually their hosts who looked marginally the more likelier to score the next goal. Indeed, with just under five minutes remaining until the break, defender Edwin Peraza rose high to head a corner against the crossbar, with the ball then falling kindly for Sara to catch.

For the Argentines, this state of affairs was unacceptable and so changes were swiftly made in anticipation for the second half. Manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena took off both Franco Cristaldo and Fabián Monzon, replacing them with Gonzalo Castellani and Nicolás Colazo – the latter of whom was to be arguably the stand-out player in the subsequent proceedings.

Arruabarrena did not have to wait long to see his charges heed his no doubt stern half-time words as seven minutes after the restart they were level. Chilean international José Fuenzalida – who has been called up for the upcoming friendlies with Iran and Brazil – slid through Juan Manuel Martínez, whose run was not tracked, allowing ‘El Burrito’ to sneak in and niftily dink it over Álvaro Forero. Some Zamora defenders immediately appealed for an offside decision that rightfully was never going to come and this was to be the last time their side displayed any real fight as things were to rapidly descend downhill.

Just a few minutes later, captain Luis Vargas crudely brought to a halt a counter-attack spearheaded by Federico Carrizo and was to receive his second yellow card in quick succession (his second red card in less than 40 days). Capitalising with brutal efficiency on the man advantage, the two Boca substitutes combined from the subsequent free-kick on the edge of the area as Castellani laid the ball to Colazo who struck a low shot through the wall to put his side ahead.

In the 71st minute, Colazo’s left foot was to again make its mark, this time with the goal of the game as from just outside the the area on the left, he struck a fine shot that glided in the air, ultimately soaring into the far corner. 3-1 and no doubt a game to remember for the 24-year-old who, barring a brief loan spell, has spent his entire career on the books at La Bombonera.

A few minutes later, Andrés Chávez came off the bench and within no time extended the visitors’ lead. Jonathan Calleri nudged him through and, as was becoming frequently the case for many on his side, found himself free with no one near him. He thus strode towards the area where Forero came far off his line only to see the ball duly slid around him into the goal. Chávez, a promising player who was embroiled in a salacious scandal last year involving him allegedly sharing a night with a transvestite, has yet to feature so far in the 30-team domestic league. However, this was the second time that he has found the net in this year’s Libertadores – a respectable example of a player taking the chances that are afforded to him, something that unfortunately could not be said about his strike-partner Calleri.

Indeed, though not on the same scale as Dani Osvaldo in last week’s meeting between the two sides, Calleri was to miss at least three presentable chances in this game, two of which followed hot on the heels of Chávez’s goal. Nevertheless, at just 21 years of age and having already scored a remarkable chip in the league this season, Boca fans will surely maintain faith that he will be able to improve his composure when in scoring positions in the future.

The fifth and final goal of this rout came with virtually the final kick of the match as Marcelo Meli drove forward inside the area before chipping a short ball into the centre where Martínez was afforded the space to hit an acrobatic bicycle kick into the back of the net.

By the time the final whistle had blown, some Zamora fans had already left, with others, irrespective of the calibre of the opposition, staying to voice their anger at their team. The first-half performance seemed to offer them the very viable possibility of a famous victory being secured here, but that optimism was to be rapidly crushed as it became evident that their illustrious visitors had simply not been utilising all their available gears.

Four defeats out of four then for Zamora and now six points away from second spot with a dismal goal difference of -11, the Venezuelan league leaders can consider themselves out of the competition. They will be playing for pride in their two remaining games against Chile’s Palestino and Uruguay’s Montevideo Wanderers. Boca, by contrast, are looking unstoppable – even if the draw has been generous to them – with this game demonstrating that they have a big enough squad to continue to rest players in their last two group matches and still gain positive results.

Nevertheless, while this year’s Copa Libertadores has certainly highlighted the shortcomings of the Venezuelan domestic game, for further updates on their representatives – Zamora FC, Deportivo Táchira and Mineros de Guayana – please check back here.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

Wednesday 11 March 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5

Boca Juniors 5-0 Zamora FC 

La Bombonera, Buenos Aires

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

Exhibition Football as Boca Coast to Easy Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Zamora FC 0-1 C.D. Palestino – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5 (26 February 2015)

Thursday 26 February 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5

Zamora FC 0-1 C.D. Palestino

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas

Match Highlights of Zamora FC 0-1 C.D. Palestino, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 26 February 2015 (YouTube user MXFS Venezuela).

Suspension-Hit Venezuelans Test the Woodwork but Remain Pointless

Despite being without three players who received suspensions in their entertaining opening-day game, Venezuelan champions Zamora put in a spirited display but were nevertheless sunk by Alejandro Márquez’s first-half strike.

Missing following red cards in the 3-2 loss to Montevideo Wanderers were defenders Ángel Faría, Luis Ovalle and, perhaps most significantly, attacking winger Jhon Murillo (who has recently been linked to Torino). It was the Colombian Johan Arenas who took his spot on the right-hand side of the attack and he was to prove an adequate replacement on the night, having occasional success running at defenders and being the catalyst behind several chances. The first of these came after nine minutes when, after running into the area on the right, he cut onto his left to curl a shot that was parried out to Yeferson Soteldo who missed a gilt-edged opportunity, heading onto the crossbar when the goal beckoned. Unfortunately for the promising 17-year-old, this was not to be his only memorable miss of the game.

On balance, the play was rather even in the first half with the Chileans at times edging affairs. One moment that caused the home crowd to inhale their breath came just before the half-hour mark as Diego Rosende’s cross from the right was met at the near post by 36-year-old Renato Ramos (formerly of the fabulously named Lota Schwager), who headed little more than a yard wide.

Soon after, the host’s Pierre Pluchino had a fine effort from outside the area skilfully tipped over by Chilean Under-20 2013 World Cup goalkeeper Dario Melo, but just before the stroke of half-time the side founded by Palestinian immigrants took the lead. Indeed, breaking the deadlock was another former Under-20 international, Alejandro Márquez, who, upon receiving a lay-off from Ramos, struck home low from the edge of the area.

In the second-half, Zamora turned things up a notch or two and were to have the better of the chances, with the very first coming a mere three minutes after the restart. From a central position, Venezuela international Luis Vargas chipped the ball into the area where defender Dustin Valdez climbed high to head into the middle where, initially in space, Edson Mendoza struggled to get the ball out of his feet and was soon crowded out. Had this been a deadly centre-forward rather than a defender receiving this knock-down, it is likely that the game would have been level at this point.

The Chileans always looked to have the potential to break and add to their lead, but the two best remaining opportunities fell to the hosts and, more specifically, young Soteldo. Firstly, with little over 15 minutes left he played a one-two and then toe-poked a shot from just inside the area against the outside of the post. Then, with seven minutes left, half-time substitute Ricardo Clarke beat the Melo to a long ball played up the left channel and then, with the goalkeeper out of position, quickly managed to pass to Soteldo in the centre. However, despite the goal largely being unguarded aside from Paulo Díaz – a man with a solitary Chile cap earned in a recent friendly with USA – the young Venezuelan was unable to compose himself and instead hit it straight at the defender.

While to some he may have squandered a hat-trick – and, indeed, he probably should have scored at least one, if not two – Yeferson Soteldo was nevertheless a lively presence and, given his age, hopefully will have plenty of future opportunities to gain confidence and demonstrate his true potential.

Despite continued pressure, Zamora were unable to find an equaliser and will feel that an opportunity was missed here. They may have four games left to play and qualification is certainly not out of the question at this stage, but winning this home tie would have been high up their list of priorities, if not at the very top.

Palestino, to their credit, will be pleased to have got off the mark with this win and will travel next to the Uruguayan capital to face Montevideo Wanderers, a game which looks rather tough to call with both sides on three points having attained narrow victories over Zamora. The next task of the the Venezuelans, on the hand, is altogether more difficult as they will find themselves at La Bombonera facing Boca Juniors. The Argentine giants are the only side in the group who have the maximum 6 points following a 2-1 victory over Wanderers, in which Southampton-loanee Dani Osvaldo – less than 24 hours after allegations about his private life emerged – rose to head in the winner and his first goal for the club.

This game will be reported on here and so as always, for more updates on the Libertadores campaign of Zamora as well as those of their fellow Venezuelan sides – Deportivo Táchira and Mineros de Guayana – please check back and/or visit @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical 

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

Tuesday 17 February 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5

Montevideo Wanderers 3-2 Zamora FC

Estadio Gran Parque Central, Montevideo

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

Eight-Man Zamora Implode Against Nine-Man Wanderers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical