Tag Archives: Bolivia

Day 8 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Venezuela 0-0 Bolivia & Uruguay 2-0 Peru)

On the eighth day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship, attention turned back to Group B, with Venezuela taking on Bolivia and Uruguay facing Peru. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…

groupb25117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Venezuela 0-0 Bolivia

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 25 January 2017 (YouTube)

Although this must-win game for Venezuela ended goalless, were it to be judged on Golden Opportunities Wasted, they would have roared to at least a 7-2 hammering. The main culprit of the first half was José Balza, who missed two gilt-edged chances; soon after the interval he was replaced by Yeferson Soteldo, whose presence seemed to spark life into both sides. Indeed, around the hour-mark, a previously insipid game became very much end-to-end, with Bolivia twice nearly making their opponents pay for their profligacy. Nevertheless, it was Venezuela who were the elite goalmouth villains here, with Ronaldo Peña, in particular, guilty of haplessly missing a hat-trick of chances; on two of these occasions, he was presented with near-open goals. Thus, Bolivia somehow survived and could well afford to lose their final match against Uruguay and yet still qualify for the Hexagonal. Venezuela, on the other hand, may rue their collective squandering for a long time as they will need a result against Argentina – and, if they can only manage a draw, require Bolivia to lose – in order to progress.

Talent Spotting

venezuelaflag Venezuela

With Benfica and Manchester City target Yangel Herrera suspended and Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) starting on the bench, it was difficult to see how Venezuela were going to undo the Bolivian back-line. Consequently, the first half was a little flat, though the burgundy boys did nevertheless manage to create at least two clear scoring opportunities; however, Soteldo’s introduction in the 52nd minute certainly increased the tempo and creativity. Doubts had been raised pre-game about the diminutive dribbler’s temperament and decision-making but he can’t be faulted for the stalemate here, as he played a part in three of his side’s five further chances in the second half. Elsewhere on the field, Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) took his chance with his first start by setting up some opportunities from crosses and, similarly, Heber García (No. 14. Deportivo La Guaira) also provided some invention. With more mixed results, Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC) could at times be another effective threat.

However, departing from the usual structure somewhat, rather than detailing all of the most noteworthy players’ eye-catching contributions, what follows is a list of the seven key chances squandered. Supplemented by a perusal of the video highlights, acclaim and condemnation shouldn’t be hard to apportion.

1) 7th min: From the right, Lucena put in a fine cross that José Balza (No. 7, Carabobo) easily out-jumped the goalkeeper for, yet couldn’t direct his header beneath the crossbar, instead seeing it go over.

2) 13th min: On the inside-right, Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain) did well to play on a ball for Balza to latch onto in the area; however, the first-time starter amateurishly screwed a dreadful attempt well off-target, when a competent professional would have been expected to at least make the goalkeeper work for a save.

3) 54th min: Fresh to the pitch, Yeferson Soteldo received a nice touch by Peña on the left side of the area before giving a defender the runaround one way and then another. He made space for himself to be able to lay the ball to Córdova some 12 yards out yet, though the Caracas FC man had three Bolivians in his eye-line, he really should have done better than the pathetic attempt that scuffed wide.

4) 60th min: Córdova went some way towards atoning for this when he worked his way past two players on the right before sliding the ball across the goalmouth, gifting Peña what was easily the best opportunity. However, from barely four yards out, the Las Palmas youngster air-kicked what was meant to be a right-footed tap-in and the ball instead embarrassingly rebounded against his left heel and up into the air, leading to a fruitless scramble.

5) 78th min: From the right edge of the area with his left boot, García knocked in a low bouncing ball that found its way through to the back post towards Peña and Soteldo. However, despite the latter’s close proximity, Peña maintained his focus on the ball’s trajectory as it came over to him, yet somehow nevertheless missed what should have been a low header at the back post past the goalkeeper.

6) 84th min: Goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) rapidly began a move with a great throw up the right flank towards Soteldo, who did brilliantly to dash past an opponent and ultimately dink in a ball from the byline. Lucena cushion-headed this back to Peña, yet to nobody’s surprise, instead of bulging the net with a 15-yard half-volley, he saw his horrible miscue go high and wide. Faith in Peña, who had earned many plaudits for his harrying and hassling against Uruguay, was virtually non-existent at this point; perhaps he is more effective playing a support role, connecting attackers and pressuring opponents into errors, rather than being gift-wrapped chances to make some howlers of his own.

7) 93rd min: With one last throw of the dice, Soteldo slid through Antonio Romero (No. 19, Deportivo Lara) on the inside-right of the area. However, despite only having the goalkeeper to beat, instead of composing himself, he leant back and stretched somewhat when connecting with the ball; thus, his shot, with a fatalistic air of predictably, went wide of the near post.

These were the most exasperating opportunities, though some may wish to add to the list the 27th-minute header that Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas) awkwardly, back-to-goal, knocked over from another good Lucena free-kick.

Ultimately, though Venezuela will be grateful for the return of captain Herrera to bolster attacks whilst shoring things up defensively against Argentina on Friday, they face an uphill task before one even begins to worry about chances being finished off. Indeed, their opponents are comfortably the highest-scorers in the competition and may well expose Venezuela’s defensive record (one conceded – also the tournament’s best) as being a somewhat false reflection of the reality. Time shall tell, though it would be a disappointment to lose the likes of Soteldo, Herrera and Fariñez early, when a Final Phase spot had seemed so eminently attainable.

boliviaflag Bolivia

Somewhat remarkably, they now have four points and, if Argentina beat Venezuela, can afford a loss against Uruguay and still progress past Group B. They were second-best in this game and virtually all of their players who had impressed in their opening win against Peru did little of note here. Indeed, any lustre goalkeeper Rubén Cordano (No. 1, Blooming) may have gained following that match has by now well and truly worn off. He was not responsible for stopping any of Venezuela’s glaring misses and had Balza displayed more direction and anticipation, then he would have been culpable for at least the first of these. Furthermore, in the 64th minute following a cynical kick to halt Córdova’s charge just outside of his area, many Venezuelans were angered to see him only receive a yellow card.

The outfield stars from that opening win were little better, though Bruno Miranda (No. 11, Universidad de Chile, Chile) could well have scored twice. Firstly, in the 59th minute, 17-year-old Ramiro Vaca (No. 10, Quebracho) – who could be one-to-watch in the long run, having scored a free-kick against Argentina and having had another decent one parried here – dinked a short diagonal ball over to him on the left inside the area. From here, Miranda gained some space from a defender by getting the ball over to his right yet, though many were anticipating a goal, he instead struck a couple of yards wide of the near post. Things became rather end-to-end at this stage and just a few minutes later, a Bolivian ball was pumped clear and chased by Miranda; he did well to outpace a defender and then loop it over the outcoming Fariñez, though he couldn’t quite knock it in from the other side as a defender just about got the better of a ball that was bouncing perilously in the goalmouth.

Nevertheless, despite this rather poor display which perhaps should have ended with a scoreline similar to the one that Argentina inflicted upon them, Bolivia go into the final day as favourites to nab the third qualifying position.

Uruguay 2-0 Peru

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 25 January 2017 (YouTube)

Though it was by no means a vintage performance, Uruguay did what they needed to in order to spring up to 2nd in Group B, whilst simultaneously eliminating an uninspiring Peru side. With what was his nation’s fourth penalty in three games – and only the second to be successfully converted – Rodrigo Amaral gave them an early lead with his second goal of the tournament. Although Peru did threaten, Uruguay looked likelier to double their lead and did so in the 63rd minute when Nicolás Schiappacasse also notched his second competition goal with a fine left-footed strike from the inside-left of the area. Though shortly afterwards Peru’s Adrián Ugarriza hit the post and Uruguayan substitute Santiago Viera was quickly red-carded, La Celeste‘s youngsters held on for the three crucial points.

Talent Spotting

uruguayflag Uruguay

As against Argentina, Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay) put his side ahead within the first ten minutes, this time from a confidently-executed penalty. Again, he was to be found running at defenders with Rooney-esque (circa. 2004) fearlessness and put in at least a couple of decent balls that fell into good positions, even if there was no-one there to meet them. He also had a couple of chances to shoot from open play, such as in the 18th minute when he brilliantly turned a player and then struck well from 25 yards, though it went a couple of yards wide. Later, just before half-time, he received a pass on the left inside the area but, owing to his awkward position, could only strike into the side-netting. Similar to the Argentina game, he had a quieter second half and so, whether for fitness or performance reasons, he was substituted off in the 70th minute.

The man who slid in Amaral for his half-time opportunity and who also won the 9th-minute penalty was Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid). His second-half goal, for which he latched onto a left-sided pass from Matías Viña (No. 17, Nacional), was rather well-taken from inside of the area and was the sign of a natural marksman – even if the goalkeeper probably should have got closer to a strike at his near post.

Otherwise, there were a few other moments of note: in the 11th minute, José Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio) strode forward and played it to the edge of the area to club team-mate Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio); with his upper body, he guided it into his own path then flicked an effort with the outside of his left boot which the goalkeeper just about touched over his head and onto the top of the crossbar. Later in the 59th minute, Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) did well to drive into the area on the inside-left before striking low to force a parry for a corner. Lastly, in the 72nd minute shortly after Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) had taken the place as well as the captain’s armband from Amaral, he displayed some nice footwork on the right to beat a few players and have a one-two returned to him; alas, his shot from inside the area was on the stretch and well over.

The 77th-minute straight red card of another substitute, Santiago Viera (No. 21, Liverpool, Uruguay), seven minutes after he had come on, may have made the final quarter-hour a tad tighter but, as his game-time so far has been restricted to two very brief appearances from the bench, Uruguay should be fine without him. Indeed, though they are not yet through to the Hexagonal stage, sitting 2nd in the table and with Bolivia as their final opponents, they should be feeling rather confident.

 peruflag Peru

Alas, the time has come to say goodbye to Peru, who have amassed just two points from four games. Though they were rather unlucky to have succumbed to last-minute equalisers in their games against Argentina and Venezuela, they struggled to really sparkle at any point as an attacking force and have especially paid the price for surprisingly getting turned over by Bolivia.

Here against Uruguay, they did get forward from time to time but were already two goals behind and heading out before they had their best chance, which came in the 69th minute. Just inside the area on the inside-left, striker Adrián Ugarriza (No. 19, Universitario) did rather well to control with his left and make some space from a defender, before quickly firing with his right; unfortunately, his shot hit the near post and went out wide.

Otherwise, perhaps the next best chance Peru had was all the way back in the 4th minute when Miguel Castro (No. 14, Juan Aurich) struck a good, left-footed effort from 30 yards which had to be parried low and then quickly cleared. In the 44th minute, Castro also played in a decent free-kick from the inside-right which looked promising for Fernando Pacheco (No. 16, Sporting Cristal), but his header went comfortably over.

Ultimately, throughout Peru’s tournament, there were always players who showed glimpses of ability that suggested that they could take the bull by the horns in future games and become impossible to ignore. However, this never really materialised. There are undeniably some useful creative players in this Peru team who may well receive regular call-ups to the senior side at some point in their professional careers, but on the evidence of the past eight days, one could not confidently assert which individuals these are likely to be.

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Day 6 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Peru 1-1 Venezuela & Argentina 5-1 Bolivia)

On the sixth day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship, attention turned back to Group B, with Peru taking on Venezuela and holders Argentina facing Bolivia. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…

groupb23117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Peru 1-1 Venezuela

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 23 January 2017 (YouTube)

Venezuela struggled to create clear chances for the majority of this game, but a last-minute equaliser has greatly enhanced their chances of qualifying for the Final ‘Hexagonal’ Phase. Despite Peru coming closer to hitting the back of the net in the first half, it was the boys in burgundy who had the best opportunity to do so. Indeed, after being fouled in the 38th minute, Yangel Herrera dusted himself down to take a penalty but his strike was saved onto the bar, with his headed rebound also clipping the top of the framework. After the interval in the 56th minute, Venezuela were made to pay as Peru’s Roberto Siucho took advantage of some defensive indecision to rob the ball and nudge home for the lead. Subsequently, as the clock ticked away, Venezuela saw more of the ball but struggled to create clear chances; thankfully for them, there are always set-pieces. Indeed, in the 89th minute, Ronaldo Lucena’s free-kick was greeted ahead of the goalkeeper by the atoning Herrera, who nodded Venezuela level. However, barely a minute later the bacon-saver received his marching orders after a second yellow card. Nevertheless, thanks also in part to a fine late Wuilker Faríñez stop, Venezuela held on and now look to be in a better position than their opponents to nab one of the three final phase berths.

Talent Spotting

peruflag Peru

Off the back of their blip against Bolivia, Peru generally put in an admirable defensive performance that had more in common with their 1-1 draw against Argentina, rarely letting their opponents gain a clear sight of goal. Therefore, the concession of a late equaliser has really scuppered their chances of qualification, as they now have just the two points with only one game left – as opposed to the two of Venezuela, Uruguay and Bolivia.

If they are able to salvage their campaign on Friday against Uruguay, they will certainly require the creativity of 17-year-old Gerald Távara (No. 7, Sporting Cristal). Indeed, he was away early on, looking to set up and score. After four minutes he wasn’t far off bagging a gol olímpico (from a direct corner) and, three minute later, curled wide a free-kick from 30 yards. He came much closer in the 33rd minute, when a ball fell to him just outside the area on the centre-left; with his left peg, he struck a threatening diagonal shot that went barely a yard wide of the far post. Just after the interval in the 48th minute, he nearly turned provider when he curled in a fine free-kick from the right to the edge of the six-yard-box that found Adrián Ugarriza (No. 19, Universitario), but the latter’s powerful header lacked direction. He later hit another free-kick which went a yard or so wide, but ultimately, though he is quietly suggesting he may be one for the future, he was unable to find the net on this occasion.

However, the player who did get on the scoresheet – and who has netted both of his country’s two goals at this tournament – was Roberto Siucho (No. 11, Universitario). Earlier on in the 31st minute he had threatened the Venezuelan goal when he cut in from the right and sneaked in a left-footed effort; this picked up an opposition touch along the way which caused some additional uncertainty, with the goalkeeper ultimately glad to see it bobble wide. The goal itself came in the 56th minute out of nothing: a headed ball bounced uncomfortably in between two Venezuelan defenders; lacking in communication and decision-making, they allowed Siucho to march in to dispossess and embarrass them, before nudging the ball home to give his country the lead. Just over five minutes later, he actually had another chance; playing a one-two on the edge of the area, he charged forward and shaped for a shot, but was perhaps a bit too close as he struggled to bend the ball around the goalkeeper, who ultimately managed to divert it wide.

Instead, the closest Peru came to a second goal occurred at the death. Indeed, this chance came via a right-sided cross from Bryan Reyna (No. 8, Real Mallorca, Spain), who earlier actually had Peru’s first chance of the match, when he was played by Ugarriza into a half-decent position and subsequently saw his effort palmed over. In the 93rd minute, however, Reyna was looking to supply and his low ball bounced through to Ugarriza’s replacement Fernando Pacheco (No. 16, Sporting Cristal); he immediately snapped to strike a low drive towards the near corner but the goalkeeper was supremely alert to his intentions and denied him his glory with a fine save.

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Captain Yangel Herrera (No. 8, Atlético Venezuela) had quite the game: he could well have ended up being scapegoated for failing to convert a penalty but instead will be hailed by many as a goalscoring saviour – albeit one whose elation was quickly soured by a red card. He played a useful role in his central midfield position, regularly halting central attacks as well as getting forward; senior captain Tomás Rincón may well have a useful partner-in-crime developing here. Indeed, following a left-sided low ball from wing-back José Hernández (No. 5, Caracas FC), it was actually Herrera himself who was fouled to win the 38th-minute penalty. However, though he drove his penalty with exemplary force, the semi-committed Peru goalkeeper did well to leave out a trailing arm which helped parry the ball onto the crossbar; for the rebound, Herrera had to wait for the bouncing ball to fall kindly for his header which, agonisingly, was directed a little too high, clipping the framework before going over. To his credit, he did not let this failure devour his drive and instead ploughed on in the second half admirably. In the 52nd minute, he slid the ball up to the edge of the area to provide a half-chance for the otherwise quiet Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain), but the latter did not get enough power or direction behind his saved effort. 12 minutes later from an awkward position, Herrera stabbed a knock-down a yard or so wide but, more substantial was a 71st-minute opportunity; here, he received back a one-two in the area, though found himself in a narrow, albeit close, position from which he nudged a low shot a couple of yards wide. Not to be denied though, in the 89th minute, substitute Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) displayed his abilities from set-pieces by curling in a fine free-kick from the left which Herrera rose to emphatically beat the goalkeeper to for the equaliser. His joy was short-lived, however, as barely a minute had passed before a late tackle led to him receiving his second yellow card; thus, with their skipper now out of Wednesday’s must-win game against Bolivia, manager Rafael Dudamel will need to find ways to plug the hole in the middle as well as find alternative ways to create chances.

One man who shall be crucial in unlocking the Bolivian defence will be Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile). However, though his fellow attackers may be equally culpable for the options they sometimes fail to provide him with, he will really need to improve his decision-making in the final third. Indeed, against Peru, he was frequently driving forward, dribbling the ball affectionately with perhaps the lowest centre of gravity that can be witnessed in the entire tournament, yet he struggled to create any clear chances. Perhaps the closest he came to being of effective assistance was the one-two that put Herrera in a somewhat tight shooting position; there were other moments involving the likes of Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC), but nothing worth recording for posterity. At times he came across as a frustrating, tunnel-visioned ball-hogger, but these were often during the moments, particularly in the second half, when he also appeared to be running the show for his side. Ultimately, it is imperative for Venezuela that this raw natural talent is harnessed and guided towards more productive ends.

Lastly, the third of Venezuela’s trio of prime talents deserves a mention. Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) can not be blamed for the defensive calamity that was responsible for the goal, but he can certainly be credited with preserving his country’s point. Indeed, although his goal-frame was targeted a fair bit, aside perhaps from an early unexpected attempt direct from a corner and a 62nd-minute close-range Siucho effort, it wasn’t until the last minute of stoppage-time that heroics were demanded of him. He can not have had more than a split-second to anticipate Pacheco’s 93rd-minute strike from Reyna’s cross, but he was more than equal to it as he got down and maintained his side’s promising prospects with a strong save with his gloves.

Argentina 5-1 Bolivia

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 23 January 2017 (YouTube)

The first real hammering of the tournament occurred as Argentina all but assured their place in the Final Phase. Marcelo Torres opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, nodding in from Nahuel Molina’s cross. 13 minutes later, Bryan Mansilla made it 2-0 after a defensive gift allowed him to strike home low from outside the area into the far corner. Just before half time, Torres doubled his tally as he pounced to make it three, after Mansilla’s shot was spilt by goalkeeper Ruben Cordano. The second half began in similar fashion with Tomás Conechny repaying the faith shown in providing him with his first start by cutting inside from the right to strike home a 25-yard golazo with his left boot in the 55th minute. 14 minutes later, Lautaro Martínez crossed in for substitute Lucas Rodríguez’s powerful header to make it five. By this point, Los Pibes had taken things down a notch or two and, consequently, Bolivia made most of their forward forays in this period, even managing a consolation goal. It wasn’t a bad one either: in the 71st minute, substitute Ramiro Vaca curled a fine right-footed free-kick from 25 yards around the wall and into the back of the net.

Talent Spotting

argentinaflag Argentina

He wasn’t prominently featured in many of the tournament previews but, with four goals, Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors) is currently the leading goalscorer – and deservedly so. He notched his first here when the cross of Nahuel Molina (No. 4, Boca Juniors) from deep on the right bounced for him to nod home to give his side the lead; his second came later in the first half when the Bolivian goalkeeper spilled a team-mate’s effort and he was on cue to tap in for 3-0. Otherwise, he was often to be found on the prowl in the final third; for example, in the 30th minute in the interim between his two goals, he had another noteworthy attempt, when he whacked a good, low, hard shot from the right, which was parried wide. Presumably to preserve his powers for future battles, he was denied a further half-hour of hat-trick hunting as he was substituted just before the clock struck 60′.

Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club) was withdrawn not long afterwards, most likely for similar reasons as he and Torres had been the best players of the first half. Indeed, it was he who scored the second goal of the rout after 36 minutes, capitalising on a defender’s dreadful pass that fell to his feet some 25 yards out in a central area; with the goalkeeper out of position, he then placed a textbook left-footed strike into the far corner. He also played a part in the third goal, as it was his strike from 20-odd yards out that was clumsily dealt with, enabling Torres to net his second.

The fourth goal was scored by Tomás Conechny (No. 20, San Lorenzo), who was rewarded here with his first start following his two assists from the bench against Uruguay. His 55th-minute effort was a stunning strike that came after he cut in on the right edge of the area and unloaded with his left, beating the goalkeeper at his near post. A fine golazo indeed and he could well have had another earlier in the 29th minute when he slalomed inside from the left past two players; alas, his strike inside the area with his less-fancied right was somewhat wild and wide of the mark. Otherwise, though he did not play as much of a critical role as he did on Saturday, he did certainly look to set up his team-mates. Perhaps his most notable supplementary effort came in the 42nd minute when he went past a player on the left, then played a low cross which Torres nabbed from surrounding defenders before, from an awkward position, forcing an attempt that went not too far wide.

Lastly, Lautaro Martínez (No. 9 Racing Club) also supplied at least a couple of reasons as to why he is one of Los Pibes’ stand-out performers thus far. Firstly, in the 11th minute from the inside-left, he forced a fine parry from the Bolivian goalkeeper when he rapidly struck a fierce effort with his right boot from 20 yards out. Then, later on in the 69th minute, he whipped in a cross from the left with his right that substitute Lucas Rodríguez (No. 7, Estudiantes de La Plata) did well to powerfully head home at the near post to make it 5-0.

Although they are not yet through, Argentina look to be on their way and, perhaps to nobody’s surprise, have demonstrated that they have some strength in depth in the forward ranks.

boliviaflag Bolivia

Aside from the consolation goal, a fine curled free-kick from substitute Ramiro Vaca (No. 10, Quebracho) some 25 yards out, it would be a tad superfluous to highlight potential cracks based on this performance. Indeed, although Juan Mercado (No. 2, Guabirá) should have also scored soon afterwards but instead missed a tap-in from a knock-on from a corner, both these and the other lesser Bolivian attempts on goal occurred when they were already well on their way to a hiding and Argentina had begun substituting some key players. Thus, while in the last 20-25 minutes the likes of Moisés Villarroel (No. 8, Bolívar) and Bruno Miranda (No. 11, Universidad de Chile, Chile) – though less so erstwhile star Limberg Gutiérrez (No. 20, Nacional, Uruguay), who had a quiet game – exhibited some signs of attacking life, one can almost strike this evidence from the record.

Off the back of a respectable debut tournament performance, goalkeeper Rubén Cordano (No. 1, Blooming) also had a poor game, despite a good early save from Martínez. Nevertheless, if he and his colleagues can regroup, then despite having suffered the first tonking of Ecuador 2017, they are actually still in with a good chance of qualifying second in Group B. Indeed, with three points and two games left against Venezuela and then Uruguay, all may not be so bad in the camp after all.

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Day 4 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Peru 0-2 Bolivia & Argentina 3-3 Uruguay)

On the fourth day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship, attention turned back to Group B, with Peru taking on Bolivia and holders Argentina facing Uruguay. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…

groupb21117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Peru 0-2 Bolivia

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 21 January 2017 (YouTube)

Peru were unfortunate not to beat Argentina in their opening game but, to the surprise of some, they came unstuck here against a well-organised Bolivia. In what was a game not short of open spaces, Peru enjoyed the better of the early exchanges, though Bolivia gradually grew in confidence. Despite this, it was nevertheless somewhat unanticipated when Ronaldo Monteiro chased a ball hoisted upfield and slid home the opener after 55 minutes. Further confounding expectations, Bolivia didn’t merely sit back and cling onto their rare lead. Instead, towards the end of their admirable debut performance, they doubled the scoreline, with Limberg Gutiérrez playing in Bruno Miranda to seal the win.

Talent Spotting

peruflag Peru

They only made four changes from the side that nearly beat Argentina, so one can not help but feel that, though having to play twice in three days may have taken its toll, Peru may be better off playing counter-attack football rather than conceding so much open space. Indeed, both Bolivian goals, as well as some other opposition attacks, made Peru look potentially porous, with some of their defenders being either too slow to keep apace of forwards or simply rather sluggish in foreseeing danger.

That said, they did appear to be edging things for at least the first half-hour or so. Although no individual could really be said to have stood out, there were at least a couple of attacks of note. Firstly, in the 21st minute, 17-year-old left-footed corner-taker Gerald Távara (No. 7, Sporting Cristal) swung in a cross that was greeted in a prime central position by fellow 17-year-old club team-mate Fernando Pacheco (No. 17, Sporting Cristal); alas, though his connection certainly possessed power, it was a bit too close to the goalkeeper, who nevertheless deserves credit for getting two strong gloves behind the ball for the parry. Secondly, five minutes later, the perhaps unfortunately-named Mark Estrella (No. 18, Universidad San Martín de Porres), chipped a fine ball forward up the inside-right channel to Rely Fernández (No. 22, Carlos A. Mannucci); with a deft chest, he took it in his stride into the area, though again, despite having the goalkeeper in his sights, his shot from a slight angle went straight at the shot-stopper.

If such chances had been taken, things may indeed have been different. Alas, as this performance left much to be desired, one has to hope that they put in better showings in their other two group games.

boliviaflag Bolivia

In a game in which the perceived quality was condemned by some before a ball had even been kicked, one man stood out above all others: Limberg Gutiérrez (No. 20, Nacional, Uruguay), son of a much-capped former international who he shares his name with. He was often to be found attacking up the inside-left, looking to create chances as well as get away the odd shot himself. He also vied for set-piece duties with another dead-ball threat, Moisés Villarroel (No. 8, Bolívar), and displayed a moment of slight ingenuity in the 33rd minute. Here, as if to highlight that those around him may be on a different wavelength, his diagonal pass to play in Henry Vaca (No. 22, O’Higgins, Chile) in the area ended in embarrassment for the latter; he could not take the ball in his stride, let alone shape to take a shot. Nevertheless, Gutiérrez also had a couple of chances to score himself, with the first of these coming in the 35th minute. At this moment, from the inside-left, he capitalised on a poor clearance, audaciously outpacing a defender into the left side of the area before firing a cross-goal strike, which had to be parried out.

Later on in the 80th minute, following a one-two with Ronaldo Monteiro (No. 9, Bolívar) – target-man and scorer of the 55th-minute opener – Gutiérrez found himself in the area on the left with the goalkeeper in his sights. However, perhaps not believing he hadn’t been flagged offside, he hesitated and hit a somewhat tame shot into the side-netting. Nevertheless, he compensated for this in the 89th minute when he brilliantly turned to leave his marker for dead and then paced up his trusty inside-left channel towards the area. Here, he slid in Bruno Miranda (No. 11, Universidad de Chile, Chile), who finished the job to make it 2-0. Furthermore, a few minutes later, the scorer was not far off bagging another goal with a well-struck shot from the edge of the area, though this was parried out wide.

Finally, though one suspects he will be picking the ball out of his net a fair bit over the next week or so, goalkeeper Rubén Cordano (No. 1, Blooming) often appeared assured and pulled off two or three decent saves, the most notable being a close-range parry from Pacheco’s strong header in the 21st minute.

Argentina 3-3 Uruguay

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 21 January 2017 (YouTube)

For the second day in a row, the second game of the day proved to be a thriller, with both teams coming into it with much to prove after disappointing opening matches. Naturally, some changes were paid and within four minutes, one paid dividends for Uruguay as Rodrigo Amaral hit an unstoppable strike from 25 yards out. Argentina were back on level terms in the 24th minute when Marcelo Torres controlled a diagonal ball, dipped a shoulder and impressively struck home. However, just before half time his side fell behind again as a penalty was converted by Nicolás De La Cruz, who this time took a more prosaic approach from 12 yards. Argentina generally had the better of the second half, knocking on the door, though it wasn’t until the 74th minute that Torres got his second with a powerful header from a corner. It then felt as if only one side could get a third goal but that was soon dispelled when Uruguay won a penalty out of nowhere in the 82nd minute; De La Cruz was no longer on the pitch, so Nicolás Schiappacasse stepped up. However, though Ramiro Macagno saved both his spot-kick and Waller’s rebound, the goalkeeper diverted the latter back to the feet of Schiappacasse, who was able to give Uruguay the lead. Several minutes later though, Rodrigo Bentancur hindered their cause by receiving his marching orders and alas, they could not hold on. In stoppage-time, a Tomás Conechny corner was nodded home, seemingly by the celebrating Lautaro Martínez, though some sources have credited it as an own-goal. Thus, it ended all-square and despite having both played a game extra than Bolivia, it is the unfancied side who are currently at high-altitude atop Group B.

Talent Spotting

argentinaflag Argentina

Playing his first game of the tournament, striker Marcelo Torres (No. 21, Boca Juniors), certainly took his chance, netting two clinical goals. The first came in the 24th minute when a fine, long-range diagonal ball from club team-mate, right-back Nahuel Molina (No. 4, Boca Juniors), was sent over to the left side of the area. Torres controlled exquisitely with the outside of his right boot, before nudging it past a defender and brilliantly striking home. Much later on in the 73rd minute, he did well to get onto the end of a fine free-kick aimed towards the back post; though the angle was difficult, he was nevertheless able to create discomfort and uncertainty with a header that was ultimately diverted wide. From the resulting corner, he rose in exemplary fashion to power home a bullet-header to make it 2-2.

The man who put in both of these pin-point left-footed crosses for Torres was substitute Tomás Conechny (No. 20, San Lorenzo). He came on for the final 20 minutes and is clearly a vital weapon to have sitting about on the bench as he was also responsible for the stoppage-time equaliser. Indeed, his corner was nodded in, some – probably correctly – said by defender Agustín Rogel for an own-goal, while others were willing to credit striker Lautaro Martínez (No. 9 Racing Club). He was somewhat of a lesser threat than he had been against Peru, with the closest he had previously come to scoring in this game being a 31st-minute header that was literally punched into his direction. This came from a sudden rebound after the Uruguayan goalkeeper reacted instinctively to a surprise shot from the left side. Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club) was behind this effort and, later on in the 80th minute, he came rather close to getting on the scoresheet when he shot again from another position that most mortals would have crossed from – this time he clipped the bar.

Before Conechny came on in the 70th minute to boost the goal-hunt, it was the man he replaced who appeared to be the likeliest candidate to be a supplier or scorer. 17-year-old Ezequiel Barco (No. 10, Independiente) was not far away from the scoresheet on at least three occasions: in the 23rd minute, when he struck a swerving 35-yard free-kick which had to be parried low for a corner; in the 53rd minute, when another free-kick curled low around the wall some 20-odd yards out and again had to be parried to the side; and in the 60th minute, when he collected a ball on the right side of the area, shimmied his way into a slightly better position, before striking with his – possibly weaker – left boot, which went a yard or two wide of the far post. At the time, it seemed a slight surprise that Barco was withdrawn from the field, but it is possible that his energy is being saved for upcoming battles; at his age, one would have thought that the coaching staff will be careful not to demand too much, too soon. Nevertheless, expect to see much more of him.

uruguayflag Uruguay

He was a second-half substitute against Venezuela, but here charging midfielder Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay) was granted a start as well as the captain’s armband – he did not take long to formally announce himself to observers. Indeed, barely three minutes had gone when he picked up the ball on the inside-left, advanced to 25 yards out and then struck a sensational swerving left-footed shot with the outside of his left boot which crashed into the net for the lead. Just a couple of minutes later, he curled in a fine cross which Agustín Canobbio (No. 19, Fénix) met with a diving header that necessitated a parry. Later on in the 53rd minute, Amaral displayed another aspect of his attacking arsenal when he drew a decent save from a fine free-kick some 25 yards out. Though he was withdrawn from the pitch after 66 minutes when his side was still leading, one suspects that this must have been to protect him ahead of future encounters in this tightly-scheduled competition.

Another man substituted off who nevertheless left a lasting impression was Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay). He especially came to life in the last five or so minutes of the first half, when he looked to play through his team-mates with short defence-splitting passes and even had a chance from open play himself. Indeed, this came in the 43rd minute when Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) – who, whilst rarely generating any eye-catching highlights himself nevertheless appears to be a useful player – set him up with a pass into the area. De La Cruz looked as if he felt the flag was going to be raised and thus ended up hitting a low shot lacking direction or intent at the goalkeeper. However, his most memorable moment occurred in first-half stoppage-time when he went some way towards putting the ghosts of a mere two days ago behind him. Indeed, rather than opt for another Panenka-esque chipped penalty, he instead dispatched his spot-kick in textbook fashion, aiming hard for the top corner.

The other leading attack-minded player, Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid), also directly contributed to the result as well as helped to make things happen for others. Indeed, though he missed an opportunity in the first half that De La Cruz set up, he himself looked to make things happen and won some set-pieces throughout the game, including the noted free-kick taken by Amaral as well as the second penalty of the match. This, occurring after he was on the receiving end of a clumsy hack in the 82nd minute at a time when De La Cruz was no longer on the pitch, was taken by Schiappacasse himself. However, his low effort was at a good height for Macagno who parried, yet unfortunately for the goalkeeper, despite also saving a rebound by Waller, the ball fell kindly to Schiappacasse who put Uruguay ahead 3-2 with his first goal of the tournament.

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship – A Look Ahead

 

Possibly against his better judgement, @DarrenSpherical is preparing to watch and report back on the leading talents in all 35 games of the upcoming Under-20 South American Youth Championship. If you are seeking information on the teams and players participating, click one of the links at the bottom of this article (or alternatively, here). Otherwise, featuring some reflections on the last tournament two years ago, provided below is a loose idea of what is in store over these 25 days…

quitostadium

Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa, Quito, Ecuador (capacity: 35,724). The venue for the 15 games of the Final Phase. 

2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship – A Look Ahead

It faces stiff competition in the football-watching itineraries of even the most caffeine-addled obsessives, but within the next several years, many of its headline-grabbers are likely to invade the elite leagues of world football. From 18 January until 11 February witnesses the return of the biennial, raw talent-loaded South American Youth Championship (Campeonato Sudamericano Sub-20 Juventud de América).

Between them, the Under-20 sides of the 10 CONMEBOL nations shall make use of four different stadiums in the north and centre of Ecuador and duke it out in the latest edition of this prestigious competition. Such is the draw that it possesses that a staggering 65,235 turned up at Montevideo’s historic Estadio Centenario for 2015’s deciding match between hosts Uruguay and eventual-winners Argentina. Yet, though both of those sides certainly cared about winning, the competition is as much a qualification stage for the Under-20 World Cup.

Indeed, the tournament is structured as follows: the 10 CONMEBOL nations are split into two groups of five teams, in which they all play each other once. After these four games, the top three teams from each group go through to the final league of six sides, all of whom play each other once. Although following these five games whichever selección has the most points in this table shall momentarily bask in the glory of winning the trophy, all of the top four will nevertheless be travelling to South Korea in May for the World Cup. Thus, as one should be able to deduce, there is no actual knock-out final; it just so happened that last time around the top two played each other in what was the last match.

Cramming nine games into 24-25 days for each of the final six nations may not sound entirely conducive to the development of their players; however, intentionally or otherwise, it serves well the biggest attraction of this tournament: talent-spotting. Indeed, as the youngsters will be fully aware, professional scouts and agents from all over the world shall be present at the games, with many more of varying qualifications watching on from afar. To get an idea of the calibre of players who may be displaying their wares in the upcoming weeks, a perusal of past squad lists yields many household names. Lionel Messi? He banged in five goals in 2005 in an Argentina team featuring Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Biglia and Ezequiel Garay. Alexis Sánchez? He was there with Chile in 2007 alongside a six-goal Arturo Vidal, as well as Gary Medel and Mauricio Isla. Neymar? He led Brazil to victory in 2011 with nine goals in a squad that included Danilo, Casemiro, Oscar, Alex Sandro, Lucas Moura and Juan Jesus.

They have much to live up to and it is too early to judge the class of ’15; they are, after all, still between just 19 and 21 years of age. Nevertheless, it seems noteworthy that the final, decisive clash from that tournament featured some of the players who have since enjoyed the greatest prominence at club level. Indeed, the opener was scored by Uruguay’s Gastón Pereiro, one of the players of the tournament with five goals, who in July 2015 was snapped up by PSV Eindhoven for a handsome fee; in October of that year he also scored both goals in an away win against Ajax and now has over 20 goals to his name. Argentina’s first-half equaliser came courtesy of Sebastián Driussi who, in the last several months has emerged as a River Plate regular, netting 10 times in 14 league games; he has attracted interest from, amongst others, Tottenham Hotspur. Fittingly, La Albiceleste‘s 81st-minute winner was struck home by four-goal Ángel Correa, widely considered to be the championship’s standout player. Eyes were on the stocky rampager from the off as he had already signed for Atlético Madrid following some impressive displays at San Lorenzo. He has since been in and out of Diego Simeone’s side, though has scored some important goals, including the equaliser in September’s away draw with Barcelona. Speaking of Cholo, his son Giovanni Simeone was in fact the top-scorer in 2015 with nine goals. Derided by some at the time as being largely the beneficiary of the playmaking of Correa and co. as well as, less charitably, a goalhanger, he has answered such critics this season by making his mark on the European game, becoming a regular name on the Genoa scoresheet in Serie A.

Many more who featured in 2015 are playing regularly for top-level clubs in South America. Also, a considerable number of others have made the leap and are currently at teams in major European leagues, some of the most notable being: Gerson (Roma/Brazil), Mauricio Lemos (Las Palmas/Uruguay), Cristian Espinoza (Alavés, on loan from Villarreal/Argentina), Emmanuel Mammana (Lyon/Argentina), Mauro Arambarri (Bordeaux/Uruguay), Malcolm (Bordeaux/Brazil), Antonio Sanabria (Real Betis/Paraguay), Davinson Sánchez (Ajax/Colombia), Kenedy (Chelsea/Brazil), Rafael Santos Borré (Villarreal, on loan from Atlético Madrid/Colombia), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, on loan from Watford/Venezuela), Sergio Díaz (Real Madrid/Paraguay) and Marlon (Barcelona/Brazil).

Some of these impressed two years ago more than others. Another player of note, the much-hyped ‘new Neymar’ Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa, had a mixed tournament in a patchy Brazil side but has since won Olympic gold, played and scored for the senior side and moved from Santos to Inter Milan for an eye-watering €29.5m. Whether he and the others live up to expectations remains to be seen. By contrast, Colombia’s nippy attacker Jeison Lucumí was widely picked out as one of the stars of Uruguay 2015 yet, in the two years since, has been languishing with fallen giants América de Cali in his country’s second-flight. He may still be only 21 and his team have just been promoted back to the big league but such tales do both cause one to ponder the power and influence of certain agents as well as caution against getting carried away with tournament form.

Indeed, a prime case in point comes from 2005 when Hugo Rodallega ended up the top-scorer, netting a staggering 11 goals. Though he has since distanced himself from the comments, he was reported as claiming that this meant that he is ‘undoubtedly better than Messi‘, who bagged a mere five. In fairness, while he may not have subsequently met some people’s expectations (least of all his own), a career that has included six seasons in the English Premier League can not be glibly dismissed. Quite, for most youth internationals from any part of the world, it would constitute a rip-roaring success.

Nevertheless, roll on Ecuador 2017, false promises, surprise gems and all. As one person could not possibly claim to be an authority on all 10 sides, there will be no overview on this website, but if that is what one seeks then some links at the bottom of this article should come in handy. Having scoured through all the squad lists, it can at least be said that those who regularly watch any of these nations’ domestic leagues should spot several familiar names. Overall, however, very few players have already been snapped up by teams outside of their respective homelands – expect that to change. Also, those who watched two years may recognise a few names, such as Jesús Medina (Paraguay), Adrián Ugarriza (Peru) and Rodrigo Amaral (Uruguay). Each of these players put in good showings and one can not help but wonder if their slight age-advantages will benefit them here. The likes of Gerson, Sergio Díaz and Adalberto Peñaranda would also be eligible for a second throw of the dice but, alas, none of these Europe-based players have been released.  Lastly, 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City’s £27m signing from Palmeiras, did not appear for his country in 2015 yet did at that year’s Under-20 World Cup and has since scored five times for the senior side in qualifiers for Russia 2018; needless to say, he hasn’t made the trip to Ecuador.

Thus, yours truly plans to go into this tournament with open eyes and shall report back after each matchday with observations on the standout players, providing video highlights, brief summaries and maybe the opinions of others as well. With two games per day for the first ten days, followed by a well-earned two-day break before, gulp, three matches per day every three days which cover the final five matchdays, one hopes to maintain one’s sanity.

The opening day is 18 January 2017 and the two matches will be Colombia vs Paraguay and Ecuador vs Brazil. Daily updates should appear on this website following each matchday but for more up-to-the-minute coverage, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

groups

The two groups: the teams play each other once, then from 30 January-11 February, the three top teams from each group play each other once in the final phase of six teams, with the top four qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup). 

Preview Articles

La Pizarra Del DT: Tournament Preview – Perhaps the most detailed overview in Spanish, though these translations should help decode the key information on each page: Estrella – Star, Otro jugador clave – Other key player, Entrenador – Manager, Baja importante – Important loss/absence. You’re welcome.

Argentina Team Preview – The most thorough look at these perennial contenders, courtesy of Peter Coates of Golazo Argentino. Here is another of his articles, which highlights five key players for La Albiceleste.

Uruguay Team PreviewTim Vickery takes a broader, historical perspective in his piece on La Celeste.

ESPN Tournament Preview Article – Tim Vickery with another article again looking both back and forward, this time with a more general outlook.

Goal’s Ones to WatchDaniel Edwards selects 11 players tipped to stand out in 2017’s competition.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela 5-0 Bolivia

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

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

Match Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Team Selections

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – November 2016 Preview

Jornadas 11 and 12 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are on the horizon and, whisper it, Venezuela may just win a game. Honestly, @DarrenSpherical isn’t making this up…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela vs Bolivia

Tuesday 15 November 2016 – Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa, Quito, Pichincha Province

Ecuador vs Venezuela

tomasrinconvsuruguay

Well, We Know He’ll Be Starting: Captain Tomás Rincón (Via: Zimbio.com)

Unsettled Venezuela Confronted with Best Hope of a Victory

Barely halfway completed, Venezuela’s campaign for Russia 2018 has long seemed over, but they have the chance to belatedly boost morale with this upcoming set of encounters.

Indeed, bottom of CONMEBOL qualifying with just two points, they will surely not have a better chance to gain their first victory than against their next opponents. A home match against Bolivia is the closest thing the region offers in the way of a ‘banker win’, even if a similar meeting with Venezuela currently competes for that unwanted billing. Bolivia’s woes on the road go back a lot further, however, with their last qualification win outside of their homeland occurring over 23 years ago in July 1993, a 7-1 thrashing against – who else? – Venezuela. The following summer, La Verde went to the USA to play in the World Cup, a now unthinkable prospect as they sit just two points ahead of La Vinotinto, second-bottom. Thus, as their only victory came against Venezuela (4-2 almost a year ago today in high-altitude La Paz), a win for the hosts in this battle of the basement boys is essential for manager Rafael Dudamel. He presides over a generation of players widely believed to be underperforming and urgently needs to restore belief in the future with what remains of this campaign.

However, though it may prove to be a blessing in disguise, his task has been complicated by the absence of a few key players, all of whom have picked up injuries in the past week: Málaga midfielder Juanpi (a rare player to come out of recent internationals with any credit), Copa Libertadores winner Alejandro Guerra and star striker Salomón Rondón. Their replacements are two players from the domestic league, Yeferson Soteldo and Luis ‘Cariaco’ González, as well as Christian Santos, who just this weekend scored his first ever goal in La Liga – a late winner for Alaves away to Osasuna.

These fresh setbacks will cause two additional changes to the line-up that will face Bolivia (though all three were in contention), but personnel switches were in any case inevitable after last month’s defeats against Uruguay and Brazil. As the national side struggles to settle, aside from captain Tomás Rincón, no other player in the current squad can be feeling confident about consistently starting games for the foreseeable future. Indeed, though Roberto Rosales is one of the most reliable performers at club level with Málaga and is poised to start this week, he has nevertheless been engaged in a surprise battle at right-back with Spanish second-tier player, Alexander González. Perhaps in more danger of losing his first-team spot is veteran centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Indeed, though his competitors in recent months, Sema Velázquez and Wilker Ángel, have struggled to convince, Dudamel has spoken of his desire to try Mikel Villanueva in this spot. Venezuela’s third Málaguista – who made his La Liga debut in the past month – may be more accustomed to the left flank, but the boss has said this position will be contested by Rolf Feltscher and Rubert Quijada. The latter, a 27-year-old from Caracas FC, is not short of champions who feel he ought to be given a chance though, for the Bolivia game at least, the former is likelier to receive the nod.

Further up the field, though predicting starters has made a fool of many in recent times, more than a few are anticipating an opportunity for Rómulo Otero. Given the absences of Juanpi and Guerra, the Atlético Mineiro playmaker would be a welcome addition on set-pieces and provide some necessary creativity from deep. To see he and 19-year-old Adalberto Peñaranda running the flanks could certainly garner some enthusiasm for the future of La Vinotinto. Another young gun, Jhon Murillo, is a possible alternative for either of these positions.

Up front, no Rondón and defensively porous opponents (26 goals conceded in 10 games – the same as Venezuela) means a 4-4-2 is on the cards. Torino’s Josef Martínez has put in some decent showings when granted opportunities (usually in tandem with Rondón), though, bafflingly to some, there always appears to be a question mark hanging over his head. A starting spot is not assured and he will face competition from the likes of Jacobo Kouffaty, Edder Farías and Manuel Arteaga. All three men are strangers to the starting positions and, with regard to the latter two for over the past year, the squad as a whole. Farías has been in impressive goalscoring form for Caracas since returning from an underwhelming spell in Portugal. However, the fact that all three men were included before Santos (again, only here due to a late Rondón injury) is symptomatic of a recurring issue that is of questionable benefit to the national team. Namely, players who regularly play at club level tend to be chosen ahead of those who are not, regardless of the calibre of league they ply their trade in. Indeed, in this case, Santos has struggled for starting spots at Alaves this season but he only moved to Spain a few months ago after a very successful goalscoring season in the Dutch Eredivisie. Yet, he appears to be far from the front of a queue that includes a player who made little mark in his brief European spell, as well as two who have not exactly taken their respective leagues in Ecuador and Bolivia by storm. Perhaps Dudamel feels they possess characteristics that are more beneficial to the system he is trying to implement. Although with around half the line-up for the Bolivia game likely to be different from those who took to the field last month, one is not expecting much coherent and confident team play.

Nevertheless, with no victories yet to their name in qualifying, many Venezuelans will take the first one any way they can. Right now, next week’s away match against Ecuador (who gave La Vinotinto the runaround in a 3-1 win last November) seems almost irrelevant in comparison with getting these first three points. Gain them, however, and who knows what effect the consequent seretotin boost will have on the side’s expectations and performance.

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

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC, Venezuela) & Dani Hernández (Tenerife, Spain).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Rolf Feltscher (Getafe, Spain), Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC, Venezuela),  Roberto Rosales (Málaga, Spain), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal), Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes, France).

Midfielders

Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Arles Flores (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Luis ‘Cariaco’ González (Monagas SC, Venezuela), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Jacobo Kouffaty (Deportivo Cuenca, Ecuador), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Udinese, Italy, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy), Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora, Venezuela) & Renzo Zambrano (Real Valladolid, Spain). 

Forwards

Manuel Arteaga (The Strongest, Bolivia, on loan from Palermo, Italy), Edder Farías (Caracas FC), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy) & Christian Santos (Alaves, Spain).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (12 November 2015)

The third matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign brought the third consecutive loss to Noel Sanvicente’s charges. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 12 November 2015 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department

Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 12 November 2015 (YouTube)

Match Report

Fluid Bolivia Soundly See Off Sanvicente’s Makeshift XI

Not for the first time, a substantial strategy to combat the vertiginous altitude of La Paz was thwarted by Bolivia. This time, in a largely dominant display, La Verde bagged four goals – a feat they had not achieved since October 2012 – to emphatically end a run of five consecutive losses in all competitions. For Venezuela, it was their fifth competitive defeat on the bounce and their third straight loss in this World Cup qualifying campaign. Upon taking over in July 2014, manager Noel Sanvicente may have wanted the fans of La Vinotinto to be dreaming of Russia 2018 but already they can only think of Qatar 2022; he must now confront the very real possibility that Tuesday’s game against Ecuador may be his last. While the conditions definitely played a role in this latest reversal, Chita will have to concede that, as soon as the first ball was kicked, his charges were out-fought and his tactics were ineffective (and to some, incomprehensible). Once again, there was little on display to sway the hearts and minds of the ever-growing number of dissenters.

The hosts, coached by USA ’94 veteran Julio César Baldivieso and benefitting from having nine players in their line-up who regularly see club action in this stadium, frequently looked a threat going forward. Throughout the game, they passed and paced around with greater accuracy and purpose than their visitors, leaving observers with the impression that if they really wanted more goals, they could easily have had them.

They enjoyed much success on the flanks, particularly in the opening exchanges. With just five minutes on the clock, the irrepressible Alejandro Chumacero forced a good instinctive save from the legs of Alain Baroja, following a cross from Damián Lizio.

Despite such pressure being frequently exerted from wide positions, the opening goal on 19 minutes was more direct, albeit greatly facilitated by a defensive error. A long ball pumped towards the right-hand side was hooked by centre-back Franklin Lucena straight into more dangerous territory. Rudy Cardozo picked it up centrally some 40-plus yards from goal before rapidly feeding an incisive pass to Rodrigo Ramallo who, intentionally or otherwise, dinked the ball over Baroja.

Barely a minute later, Sanvicente was left mentally shredding up a month’s worth of preparation as Bolivia doubled their lead. Some neat interplay on the edge of the area culminated with Ramallo heading the ball on for Lizio who was barged over by Wilker Ángel. Juan Carlos Arce duly stepped up to convert the penalty to make it 2-0.

Whether a bit of complacency crept in amongst the hosts or the visitors suddenly found some attacking fluency, Venezuela’s immediate response saw them enjoy more time in opposition territory. Despite this, they were not really threatening Daniel Vaca’s goal, with Mario Rondón often chasing balls up the right but unable to put through a testing ball. Then, however, in the 33th minute, not without a little slice of luck, they were offered a lifeline. A throw from the right was touched on by Richard Blanco to captain Tomás Rincón on the edge of the area. El General did well to swiftly evade a tackle before striking a shot that was deflected towards Rondón who, in turn, just about nudged it past Vaca to halve the deficit. The Bolivian defence claimed offside but alas, the diversion had caught them out.

However, any hope of mounting a comeback was scuppered in first-half stoppage-time. A ball was sprayed out to Chucamero who was afforded considerable room on the right of the area, from where he crossed for Ramallo to head in with relative ease. 3-1.

Sanvicente appeared to want to shore things up at half-time by bringing on defender Francisco Carabalí for midfielder Arquímedes Figuera. Alas, this was to no avail as within three minutes the contest was all-but-over. Once again, Chumacero was the catalyst. With breathtaking skill, perhaps supplemented by some fortune, he received a hoisted ball on the right and, with a phenomenal first touch, gained a stately garden’s worth of space away from two defenders. He raced into the area before sliding it back to Ramallo whose shot was saved by Baroja at close range only to fall to Cardozo who, with the aid of a deflection, fired home.

Sanvicente responded by withdrawing – and, no doubt, humiliating – centre-back Ángel and replacing him with Arouca’s ‘Sema’ Velázquez, who received his first appearance under the incumbent manager. Given the already commanding scoreline and the subsequent continuation of attacking threat offered by Bolivia, it is difficult to say how much this change had in halting the concession of goals.

Nevertheless, in the 55th minute, Venezuela were to tease the eternal optimists by finding the net for a second time. Another throw-in – this time on the left – was picked up by Rondón who found Blanco on the edge of the area with a pinpoint pass. The Mineros de Guayana forward did well to take a touch to bring the ball away from his marker before striking low with his left boot. He shaped, he shot, he scored.

Despite this, Bolivia’s superiority was still very much in evidence for the remainder of the game, with attacks on the flanks as well as shots and balls fired into the area causing frequent problems for the Venezuelan rearguard. Such was the hosts’ dominance, with little more than ten minutes remaining, the La Paz crowd began to cheer their representatives’ every pass.

With eight minutes left, however, some of those in the stands may have briefly feared a previously unthinkable comeback as Venezuela put the ball into the back of the net. Luis Manuel Seijas’ corner from the left was headed against the crossbar by Rafael Acosta; from the rebound, Velázquez’s effort was saved but Rondón was able to hook it into the back of the net. Alas, the flag had already been raised – correctly – for offside.

Thus, Bolivia held on to their two-goal advantage to gain their first points of the qualifying campaign. Venezuela remain point-less and, if countering the after-effects of playing at high altitude before facing CONMEBOL leaders Ecuador (9 points) was not tough enough for Sanvicente, he will have to do it without one of his regular starters. Though it can not be said for sure that Seijas would have played anyway, he nevertheless ruled himself out in the third minute of stoppage-time, earning a straight red card; this was allegedly for comments made towards the official.

What follows are some thoughts on this latest Venezuelan setback. 

Match Thoughts

Decisions as well as Conditions Played Their Part

Despite undergoing specialist preparations with a pool of home-based talent at the national training facility (CNAR) for the past few weeks, Venezuela undoubtedly struggled with the altitude of La Paz. Only ten of those who received time with the hyperbaric chambers made the journey, with just five named in the line-up (plus one who came off the bench). Sanvicente’s selected XI consisted of a makeshift crop of individuals, many of whom have rarely, if ever, played together internationally and some of whom were only playing due to the circumstances.

Contrast this with the nine Bolivian starters (adding on two substitutes) who regularly play their domestic football at the Estadio Hernando Siles for either Bolívar or The Strongest. Indeed, all of the goalscorers and attacking threats – Chumacero, Ramallo, Cardozo, Arce and Lizio – are very much accustomed to playing at 3,600 metres above sea level in both the league as well as the Copas Libertadores and/or Sudamericana. Thus, while fielding a team with such experience undoubtedly aided the victory, their familiarity with one another for their clubs as well as their individual qualities were also major factors.

Venezuelan Rearguard Flimsy, Disorganised and/or Inexperienced

Not that these were the only reasons. For all the attacking qualities the Bolivians possessed, their routes towards goal – both through the middle and from the flanks – were greatly enabled by their opponents. Indeed, despite four of Venezuela’s starting midfielders – Rincón, Figuera, Acosta and Seijas – either being defence-minded or having experience of providing extra protection to the back four, acres of space was often gifted away. Furthermore, of the back line, only the experienced Lucena can be considered a regular; whereas Alexander González, a right-back or right-winger for his club Young Boys, was hopelessly exposed at left-back; the two home-based youngsters – 20-year-old debutant right-back Jefre Vargas and, especially, 21-year-old centre-back Ángel – will not wish to recall their rare outings any time soon.

On all four goals, there was more than one error of note. For the opener, Lucena’s poor clearance gifted plenty of space in the middle for Cardozo who, in turn, was not closed down and was instead able to rapidly pick a pass between the defenders for Ramallo to finish. On the second, Bolivia’s attackers were able to knock the ball between themselves in a central area before Ángel’s foul gave away the penalty. On the third, Chumacero had an abundance of time and space on González’s right-hand side to pick out a cross for Ramallo to nod home ahead of Ángel and Lucena. Similarly for the fourth, Chumacero glided into a huge free area in the right side of the area before Ramallo again beat the central defenders to the cross, with his shot being saved before Cardozo latched onto the rebound.

This is without detailing all the other chances that were created  on Baroja’s goal. Undeniably then, Sanvicente’s tactics and choice of defensive personnel were also factors in the loss. Given that many of these players would not be likely starters in regular playing conditions, they can consider this a squandered personal opportunity to make their presence count on this stage. Between them, they were responsible for the second-highest number of goals conceded in a match under Sanvicente (runners-up only to those involved in the 5-0 mauling dished out by Chile this time last year).

Experienced Men Stand Out in Attack but do they Possess a Future?

Despite the two goals, there are not many in the attacking positions who could be said to have done themselves many favours in the long run. It is perhaps asking a bit much to expect any attacking fluency and well-worked moves from individuals who rarely play in the same line-up but all the same, there was little of this on show. Indeed, of the starters, only Seijas can be considered a regular and he normally plays for his country just ahead of the back four, as opposed to on the left of midfield. He caused some problems from set-pieces but his red card at the death will have not helped his personal cause.

Mario Rondón will doubtless feel emboldened, not only scoring but also having a hand in the second goal as well as finding the net again towards the end – albeit after an offside flag had been raised. He regularly chased balls and with three goals since Sanvicente took over (albeit one of these has since been chalked off, through no fault of the player), he is having the best phase of his international career. Alas, with under 15 caps to his name and his thirtieth birthday approaching in March, Rondón is not well-placed to make a long-term claim for a starting spot. Indeed, he is not really an out-and-out striker and faces competition from numerous versatile attacking players, many of whom are just emerging and are tipped to be fixtures of the selección for the best part of the next decade.  That said, as he was omitted from the Copa América squad, one suspects he will at least derive some contentment from any future call-ups, having been largely ignored outright by previous managers.

Age is even more of a concern for the other attacker of note, 33-year-old Mineros de Guayana striker Richard Blanco. Nevertheless, he took his goal very well and also played a minor role in Rondón’s strike.

Although both men may struggle to get onto the pitch in future, Sanvicente must glean some satisfaction from the fact that both of their goals started via the same route: a throw-in. Indeed, this was not too dissimilar from the history-making Salomón Rondón goal against Colombia in June that had its origins in a Roberto Rosales throw. While in all of these situations, the touchline hoist may have been far from the decisive factor, it is a curious coincidence and most likely has its roots on the training ground. Although Venezuela still urgently need to broaden their attacking arsenal, this particular weapon does at least show they can always offer a surprise irrespective of their general performance.

Sanvicente’s Last Stand on Tuesday? 

Much of this speculation regarding the national team’s future could soon either be discarded or moderated as a change in leadership could well be in the offing. Indeed, the dissent that has long been a feature of Noel Sanvicente’s reign has grown considerably in recent months and increases with every disappointing result. This defeat was the sixth in Venezuela’s last seven games (with the other match being a dire home draw against Panama). Scurious internet rumours and managerial wishlists have since evolved into published articles suggesting possible replacements; questions regarding Sanvicente’s position have made it into at least a couple of press conferences. There is a growing feeling that Tuesday’s home game against Ecuador could well be Chita‘s last game in charge.

Although now is not yet the time to write an obituary, things have undoubtedly regressed during his 16-month reign, giving younger fans a taste of what the dark pre-boom years were like before the nation were viable underdogs. Indeed, despite the opening day win against Colombia, the failure to get out of their group in this year’s Copa América was their worst performance since 2004’s competition. Similarly, their three consecutive defeats mark their worst start to a World Cup qualifying campaign since their opening games of the preliminary stage of Japan/South Korea 2002.

Though the Venezuelan football association (FVF) has been relatively quiet on their manager’s position, it is hard not to escape the feeling that much is riding on Tuesday’s home clash in Puerto Ordaz. For this bottom-versus-top encounter with Ecuador, Sanvicente will welcome back leading players such as Salomón Rondón, Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo; they are tipped to be supplemented by the bright new things (at international leve, at least), Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez.

At this point, a sudden turnaround that catalyses and transforms the campaign seems rather unlikely. Not only have the players frequently been on the wrong end of scorelines in both competitive and friendly action, but they have also deserved to be. Unsurprisingly, they have rarely seemed particularly happy when out on the field; whether that is simply due to the results or the system under which they are playing is difficult to discern. Nevertheless, one can not help but feel that if Sanvicente is to keep his job, this does heavily hinge upon whether his players, particularly the most senior ones, really want him to. Regardless of how low Venezuela’s chances of making Russia 2018 already seem, many players know that Qatar 2022 is too late for them. For such players as well as many fans, when placed in such a scenario, patience does not seem like much of a virtue. The final whistle in Puerto Ordaz awaits.

Team Selections

Bolivia (4-4-2): Vaca; Saavedra, Zenteno, Marteli, Morales; Arce (Eguino, 86′), Chumacero, Veizaga, Lizio (Duk, 78′); Cardozo, Ramallo (Arrascaita, 58′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): Baroja, J. Vargas (Falcón, 65′), Ángel (Velázquez, 50′), Lucena, A. González; Acosta, Rincón, Figuera (Carabalí, 46′); M. Rondón, Seijas; Blanco. (The formation alternated somewhat; sometimes a 4-3-3, other times a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical