Tag Archives: Caribbean Football

Jamaica 2-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (27 March 2015)

International Friendly

Friday 27 March 2015 – Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Jamaica 2-1 Venezuela

(To read a detailed look at the 23 players in this current Venezuela squad, please click here)

Goals Highlights of Jamaica 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 27 March 2015, (Video courtesy of YouTube user Super Soccer 27). To watch the game in its near-entirety, click here.

Familiar Failings as Venezuelan Hope is Docked at the Bay

Team Selections

Jamaica (4-4-2): Kerr; Mariappa, Morgan, Taylor (Gordon, 61′), Lawrence; Watson, Austin (Gray, 78′), McAnuff, McCleary (Parkes, 90+2′); Mattocks (Grant, 66′), Barnes (Williams, 84′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Hernández; Rosales (A. González, 82′), Vizcarrondo, Amorebieta, Cichero; Rincón, Lucena (Martínez, 46′); M. Rondón (Guerra, 46′), Arango, Santos (Vargas, 60′); S. Rondón (Blanco, 88′).

Match Report

Despite having a rare fully fit cadre of cracks to call upon, Venezuela showed no signs of improvement as they were again lacking in creativity, composure and basic coordination, unable to stop a pacy Jamaican side overpowering them.

From the perspective of La Vintotinto‘s attack at least, the opening exchanges were to be a microcosm of the majority of what was to follow, with little being created, very few moves opening up space in the final third and set-pieces repeatedly wasted. Yet, they were to open the scoring after 13 minutes when left-back Gabriel Cichero received a pass centrally 35 yards out and curled a beautiful strike into the top corner past Duwayne Kerr. Bona fide golazo it most certainly was and, coupled with his goal against Japan in September from a similar position, he is now the joint-top scorer of manager Noel Sanvicente’s reign.

However, a team is rarely more vulnerable than when they have sudden shots of serotonin coursing through their bodies and so, adhering to the cliché, Jamaica equalised almost immediately. Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, normally a pillar of solidity at club level with Nantes, gave the ball away with a forward pass that was cut out around 40 yards from goal. This was then rapidly released to Giles Barnes, who burst centrally towards goal, evading a desperate recovery challenge from Vizcarrondo and then striking home from the edge of the area. 26-year-old Barnes, who now plies his trade in the MLS with Houston Dynamo following an English upbringing that included spells at Derby, West Brom and Doncaster, was actually making his debut for the Reggae Boyz. Thus, he marked his shift of international allegiance memorably.

Subsequently, the hosts were to look the more likely to score before the interval with one man, Darren Mattocks, having two glorious chances to extend their lead in a matter of three minutes. Midway through the half, his side capitalised on a wasted opposition corner, swiftly releasing the ball up the right channel, before a cross was put on a plate for the Vancouver Whitecaps striker, but his stabbed effort from a mere six yards rose to hit the tip of the crossbar. A gilt-edged chance, no doubt, and the opportunity he was unable to convert a couple minutes later reflected little better on him.

This originated in some more careless play from Venezuela’s backline as, on the right flank, the pass of Málaga’s Roberto Rosales that was intended to go innocuously back to Oswaldo Vizcarrondo instead went hopelessly askew and Mattocks beat the Nantes man to the chase. Dribbling into the area at an angle to the left of the goal, he nearly managed to slide the ball between the legs of Dani Hernández, but fortunately the deflection off the goalkeeper’s inner leg slowed the ball’s pace down and allowed Rosales to sprint back to clear from the goalmouth. To witness two of the national team’s most reliable and high-profile players involved in such amateurish play was, for Venezuela fans, disconcerting to say the least.

From the defensive side of things, the visitors were to continue to see crosses lofted into their area not dealt with entirely convincingly but otherwise, in terms of shots on goals in the rest of the half, their hosts were largely consigned to long-range efforts. Nevertheless, this was more than what Venezuela were able to muster at the other end, with barely a shot threatening the Jamaica goal and Juan Arango repeatedly wasting set-pieces.

Come half-time, Sanvicente made a couple of changes, first removing the booked Mario Rondón from the right of the attack to be replaced by Atlético Nacional’s Alejandro Guerra. Second to be withdrawn was defence-minded midfielder Franklin Lucena, with Torino’s highly promising 21-year-old forward Josef Martínez coming on. Consequently, Arango switched places with Martínez and drifted back to partner Tomás Rincón in front of the back four, a position his 34-year-old legs have become increasingly accustomed to in Liga MX, to great acclaim. Overall, while these two substitutes were to show more attacking impetus in the second period, this half went little better for the visitors.

Indeed, just four minutes in, more poor defending allowed Mattocks to miss his third big opportunity of the game. A ball was knocked towards the edge of the Venezuela area, where Fernando Amorebieta – playing his first international in nearly 18 months and only his second senior game in four months – misjudged his leap, with the ball falling to Mattocks. He ran into the area where he was one-on-one with Hernández but instead of lifting it over the Tenerife goalkeeper, he was to hit it low into his anatomy.

However, how much of the MLS striker’s wastefulness the home fans will actually choose to recall in their post-match recollections is open to debate as around ten minutes later he was to make amends by getting the game-winning goal. Once again, it arose from a needless defensive error. Various Jamaicans pressed the Venezuelans as they were passing the ball around in their own half when it came to Amorebieta, whose lack of game-time was reflected by his poor alertness, as a brief dawdle was enough to allow Mattocks to dispossess him. The 24-year-old striker then ran into the area to comfortably slot the ball low into the corner for his seventh international goal.

Venezuela responded by replacing the much-anticipated debutant Christian Santos with erstwhile golden boy Ronald Vargas, now 28, who was making his first appearance in over two years, having gone some way to rejuvenate his injury-plagued career this year in Turkey. However, it was left to some other substitutes to provide the visitors with their best chances of getting back into the game.

Indeed, in the 68th minute, from a central position, Guerra dinked a ball into the area which Martínez exquisitely lashed home on the volley, though the celebrations had no time to get underway, as he was instantly adjudged to be offside. Later, with time ticking away, Alexander González, who had come on for Rosales, played a low ball through to Martínez, which the Torino marksman greeted with a characteristic turn that allowed him to get away a quickly executed shot that was saved low by Kerr for a corner.

Yet, these were really the only clear sights of goal for the visitors in this half and they were certainly not alone in the attacking stakes. Indeed, Jamaica’s pacey pouncers could well have extended their lead when, after 76 minutes, Crystal Palace’s Adrian Mariappa whipped in one of his many testing crosses that the attacker in the middle somehow failed to connect with. Seven minutes later, in what for Sanvicente must have been an infuriatingly frequent occurrence, Arango was carelessly dispossessd by Mariappa on the Venezuelan’s left. The Premier League right-back sprinted forward but fortunately for the Venezuelan captain, his blushes were spared by the fine recovery work of Gonzalez who ran over from his right-back position to intercept.

La Vinotinto survived that scare but they could not avoid the outcome. When the final whistle blew, they were confronted with the fact that they had been second-best to the side that, at the time of the Copa América, were seeded last of the twelve competing teams. Where does this leave Venezuela standing?

Next up on Tuesday they will face Group C rivals Peru, whose squad features 13 home-based players and no Jefferson Farfán, Claudio Pizarro, Juan Manuel Vargas or Paolo Guerrero. A win seems essential for morale, yet on the back of a drearily familiar performance, one can not help but feel apprehensive. Against Jamaica, as with most matches of the Sanvicente era, they struggled to put three meaningful passes together, create much from open play and were also guilty of numerous defensive errors, for which even an amateur side would be roundly ridiculed. Given the quality of many of these players and the strong showings they regularly put in at club level, one can not help but feel that the problem is not so much with the standard of personnel, per se. Instead, perhaps their interpretation of the coach’s ideas, the team’s preparation and/or other off-field matters which the average fan is not privy to are the source of the team’s dismal displays.

Nevertheless, they must regroup after they journey back to their base in Miami in order to be ready for their Peruvian test on Tuesday 31 March in Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium, a game which will be covered in similar depth on this website and on @DarrenSpherical. Anyone wishing to watch a stream of this game can do so on the website of TeleAragua.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – In-Depth Look at March’s Squad

With Venezuela set to face Jamaica and Peru in international friendly matches, what follows is an in-depth look at their squad and likely starting XI for the first clash. It is politely recommended that before reading this article, visitors take a look at this preview of the two clashes which helps to put the following into context.

Friday 27 March 2015 – Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Jamaica vs Venezuela

Tuesday 31 March 2015 – Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Peru vs Venezuela

For those wanting to watch either of these games, both are scheduled to be broadcast on TeleAragua

venezuelavsjamaicapredictedtean

Venezuela’s predicted line-up against Jamaica (created by Twitter user @vitomartinez_ and posted on the account @FutbolVen1)

This graphic, based on how the players have been organised in training this week, is believed to be Venezuela’s probable line-up in their first game, which is away to Jamaica. The subsequent analysis and information regarding the squad is thus structured according to this predicted XI.

UPDATE: Just under an hour to kick-off until the Jamaica game, the starting line-ups have been announced and Venezuela’s had two changes to the above graphic, with the more defensive Franklin Lucena playing in front of the back four instead of Luis Manuel Seijas and  Mario Rondón starting on the right instead of Josef Martínez. The two Rondóns thus get the opportunity to link up again. Irrespective of these changes, the article below remains unaltered as it was only ever intended as a broad, if detailed, guide to the players. Hispanospherical.com has enormous – perhaps misplaced – faith in its readership to engage their brains when encountering the two discrepancies as there is more than enough information provided to assist with filling in the necessary ‘gaps’. So, whether you are coming to this article before, during or after the game, feel free to read on if you would like to know more about the leading Venezuelan players currently in contention for those vital Copa América squad places.

Brief Background

These will be the seventh and eighth games of manager Noel Sanvicente’s reign since taking over in July 2014. A brief summary of their first six matches can be found in the preview article and all the match reports with highlights can be found in this section, but here is a quick recap: In September on a tour to Asia, they lost 3-1 to South Korea, then drew 2-2 with Japan which, due to the fielding of an ineligible player, was later reversed to a 3-0 win in the hosts’ favour. November’s depleted squad, which had no fewer than eight regulars ruled out, suffered predictably disastrous results: a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Chile and a 3-2 loss away to Bolivia. In February, La Vinotinto notched their first two victories – both against Honduras, 3-2 away and 2-1 at home – though as these two games were contested solely by players based in the domestic league, they can be viewed as B internationals. Thus, the current crop of players is undoubtedly the strongest yet that manager Noel Sanvicente has had the fortune to work with. Please read on to find out more about them and their respective places within the squad.

The Formation

Though manager Noel Sanvicente has largely preferred to kick-off games with a 4-2-3-1 formation, it has at times appeared to morph into a 4-4-2 (or, to be more specific, a 4-4-1-1, utilising a support-striker). Nevertheless, based on how they have lined up in training this week (see graphic at the top of the page), it is believed that against Jamaica at least, he will go with a 4-2-3-1.

The Squad

Goalkeeper

Dani Hernández is the first-choice between the sticks and though it is unlikely that he will be usurped, he should not be feeling too comfortable just yet. His performances in the four international games he played in September and November were marked by several unconvincing moments, as he did little to inspire reassurance with his often faulty positioning, dubious handling and poor clearances. Sanvicente has commented upon this but believes that Hernández being second-choice at that time for his then-club, Real Valladolid, may have affected his confidence. Having since moved to fellow Spanish second-tier side Tenerife in January and played in ten consecutive games  – conceding nine goals, as opposed to the 24 in the preceding 20 matches – it is hoped that this time around he will serve as a more assertive last line of defence.

His understudy, 25-year-old Alain Baroja of Caracas FC, only received his first two caps in the pair of games contested solely by home-based players against Honduras in February but it was notable that he played all 180 minutes of these. Indeed, his rival Rafael Romo was somewhat surprisingly not granted a solitary second on the field and has since gone on to make some costly blunders for his side Mineros de Guayana in the Copa Libertadores. Thus, Baroja’s status as the new number two appears assured and though he is not anticipated to start against Jamaica, he may well see some action against Peru.

Defence

It is beyond doubt that Sanvicente will start with a conventional four at the back. Given how porous his side has been in previous encounters – officially, 17 goals have been conceded in his six games in charge, with not one clean sheet – some different personnel and defensive relationships are surely needed and that appears to be what he has decided upon.

Centre-backs

First-choice centre-back, the towering Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, has been a beacon of reliable consistency for Nantes this season, playing almost every minute of every game. It can not be said that this form has been replicated at international level where goals have leaked in abundance, though to pin this squarely on him would be unfair. His partner for all four games that he played, Grenddy Perozo – who, at club level is in danger of enduring a second successive relegation with Ligue 2’s Ajaccio – has been more culpable, something Sanvicente appears to have recognised as he has not called him up this time around.

Instead, he has sought a future partner for Big Viz and his quest for a replacement has taken him to the not-so-distant past, with the call-ups of Fernando Amorebieta and Andrés Túñez. The former is rumoured to be starting against Jamaica though his level of fitness as well as his ability to rekindle his past form and partnership with Vizcarrondo raise more than a few doubts. Indeed, he has only played seven games this season in the Championship, having first been frozen out by then-manager Felix Magath and then, after he had won a spot in the line-up, suffering two spells out with injury, the second of which lasted four months. When he returned to action earlier this month in a 5-1 home defeat against title-challenging Bournemouth, he was played in his less-favoured left-back position and looked horrendously off-the-pace and out of position, with his dismal night ending in a 69th-minute dismissal. If he is unable to do the job then Túñez, who in November won the Thai league title and has recently been playing in the AFC Champions League with Buriram United, stands a considerable chance of being more than a mere back-up. Furthermore, Sanvicente has spoken of his desire to try out different options at the back, though where this leaves 35-year-old Juan Fuenmayor of Deportivo Anzoátegui – a surprise call-up even in last month’s domestic squad – remains to be seen.

Left-back

Gabriel Cichero appears to have this position sewn up. The experienced Mineros de Guayana lateral is the only player to have played every single minute of Sanvicente’s reign, though his early performances did see him upbraided in various quarters. Indeed, though after each of the first four games almost all seven players in defence-minded positions (goalkeeper, four defenders and the two defensive-midfielders) came in for criticism, the opprobrium levelled at Cichero was especially severe. In the hammering meted out by Chile, in particular, he struggled to deal with attacks down his flank, granting opponents more than their fair share of space. However, since then he has enjoyed two rather composed games against Honduras (even having a hand in one of the goals) and, domestically, though his club side have been underperforming all season, he has managed to chip in with three fine goals since the start of 2015. As it is more his defensive game that he is going to be judged upon, if he can carry his performances from last month’s domestic-players-only friendlies into these two more illustrious affairs, the calls to find a replacement will surely go on mute. That said, he appears to face no current threat from inside the current squad, even if both Amorebieta and Fuenmayor have experience of playing in this position (and may well be given a run out here).

Right-back

FC Thun’s Alexander González played here for three of the first four games, yet it is looking like Roberto Rosales will instead start against Jamaica and thus reclaim what many feel is rightfully – and naturally – his. Indeed, despite the Málaga star being, by trade, a right-back, he was placed in a defensive-midfield partnership with Tomás Rincón in Sanvicente’s second game against Japan – partly as a measure to avoid getting as easily overran in midfield as they did against South Korea. It seemed as if this arrangement would continue in November’s friendlies but as both men were ruled out through injury, it never had a chance to come to fruition. Now several months on, it appears as if Rosales’ exemplary form in his debut season in Spain has influenced Sanvicente’s decision-making. What no doubt would have swayed the boss was Rosales’ fine performance in February at Camp Nou, where he kept Neymar quiet all game in a surprise 1-0 victory – the second occasion he had helped his side keep a clean sheet against Barcelona – which no doubt also influenced the La Liga panel that voted him into the league’s official Team of the Month. Given that González tends to play in a more advanced position in Swiss domestic action and, more pertinently, Rosales will again be facing the Brazilian lead man in June, reverting the Málaga man back to his natural position seems almost a non-brainer.

Midfield

Due to Rosales’ alleged shift, it appears that, rather than using two defence-minded players to cover the back four, Sanvicente will instead first be experimenting with two contrasting individuals in a doble pivot of sorts. Whether this will seem quite as appealing against the likes of Brazil is a question for another day. (UPDATE: see the update at the top of the article regarding a late change in this area).

Doble Pivot

Defence-minded ball-winner

Tomás Rincón is the vice-captain of the side and will be greeted back into the line-up with open arms, having only previously featured in the first two games in Asia. At club level, he has enjoyed a broadly positive debut season thus far with Genoa, featuring in approximately two-thirds of their league games, helping them defy various odds to sit in the top half of the table. His ability to roam around the middle third, breaking up play with key interceptions and tackles should add some bite and composure that has thus far been sorely lacking, particular in November’s embarrassing 5-0 loss against Chile.

Indeed, the Mineros duo Édgar Jiménez and Rafael Acosta started that day and, not for the first time in Sanvicente’s reign, were widely panned. As they do not feature in this squad, they appear to have played their way out of the coach’s plans, with the fortunes of another home-based player, Deportivo La Guaira’s Franklin Lucena, seemingly moving in the other direction. The now 34-year-old may well have initially been considered too old for a new qualifying cycle but, having been granted his first start against Bolivia following the Chile debacle and then playing every minute of the friendlies against Honduras, he seems to have earned his place as the number one reserve to Rincón. If Sanvicente scraps the doble pivot idea at any point and instead goes for a more defensive arrangement here, Lucena would surely be in line for a start.

Another player who will hope to be considered for this position also plies his trade in the domestic league and is a club team-mate of Lucena’s. 26-year-old Arquímedes Figuera received a rare call-up for the Honduras games and even scored a similarly rare goal, though he must be considered as no more than an outside bet to be included in the final Copa America squad. However, one factor counting in his favour is Sanvicente’s apparent fondness for selecting home-based players who play on a regular basis as opposed to those who spend large periods of time on foreign benches, such as Empoli’s Franco Signorelli, who has been overlooked this time around.

Deep-lying Playmaker

According to the reports, Independiente Santa Fe’s Luis Manuel Seijas has been earmarked for this position. Although this reigning Colombian champion tends to play further upfield, this role should not be out of his realm of experience and abilities. Formerly of Standard Liège and with over 50 caps to his name, Seijas is one of the most familiar faces at international level of the current crop and is more than capable of spraying searching long-range passes with his cultured left foot. It will be interesting to see what effect this supposed new arrangement in this area has on the team’s play.

If Sanvicente wishes to try someone else in this position, the similarly versatile Alejandro Guerra – who also plays in Colombia, albeit for Atlético Nacional – seems a reasonable bet, as does even the veteran Juan Arango, though more on these two later. One man who could very well be a long-term fixture in this position is 21-year-old Juan Pablo Añor, or Juanpi, as he is more commonly known. Having this season made his debut for Málaga, he has inspired much excitement with his confident, somewhat balletic, poise on the ball, which he utilised to sensational effect when he scored his first goal, a superb left-footed strike into the top corner against Levante. He has often featured in a deep-lying playmaker role for his club, though, not too dissimilar to the two aforementioned players, he is also capable of playing further upfield, which he demonstrated impressively in his youth career, scoring at a rate of one in every two games. However, while he is a definite talent, those clamouring for him to be fast-tracked into the line-up must acknowledge that it may be a case of too much too soon for a player who has a mere nine senior club appearances to his name (three of these as a substitute). Nevertheless, having been called up to this squad as a late replacement for home-based starlet Rómulo Otero, he will understandably take any opportunity, no matter how it comes to him.

Attacking Midfielders

This area of the field is undoubtedly the strongest and most competitive, providing Sanvicente with regular selection headaches that ultimately involve having to leave out at least a couple of seemingly deserving candidates who play their domestic football at a respectable level. While the Venezuelan game may well just have a knack of producing a relatively high number of such players it is also possible that the contemporary trend to play with one up front means that there is an excess of attackers who have learned to adapt their game out of necessity, thus adding to the competition for these three places. Indeed, as will later be expanded upon, there is really only one player officially listed as a forward in this squad who would not also be in contention for a role in this area. Nevertheless, despite all this talent, La Vinotinto have not shown a great deal of attacking cohesion and fluency under Sanvicente – will these two games provide a turning point?

Left-sided Attacking Midfielder

Of all the rumoured starters in this line-up, the anticipated occupant of this position will be of keen interest to many, being as it will be his international debut. Naturally, with this incursion someone has had to make way and this appears to have been Luis Manuel Seijas who, as noted, has been redeployed elsewhere.

Furthermore, given the versatility of many of the players in this area, the number of players who could also be tested on this side at some point in these two games is high. César González, Juanpi and even Juan Arango are all viable possibilities, as is the erstwhile golden boy, Ronald Vargas, though, like González,  he would admittedly be more at home on the opposite side. However, while he is more naturally right-footed, he has been known to cut inside from the left and vice versa. Given Chita‘s propensity to play people in positions different to where they feature at club level, coupled with the contemporary fondness for inverted wingers, an appearance at some point on either flank seems probable for the Balıkesirspor wideman.

Nevertheless, regarding the debutant golden boy in this position, Christian Santos, his noted aerial prowess certainly gives him an additional dimension over most of his rivals and all La Vinotinto fans will be eagle-eyed to see if his scintillating club form translates to the international stage. With Nijmegen’s N.E.C. in the Dutch second tier he has shown himself to be a prolific scorer as well as a creator of goals and, on paper at least, he would appear to have a strong chance of worming his way into a regular first-choice XI. However, given his ability to play anywhere across the attacking midfield area as well as in a more forward role, it is certainly not inconceivable that he and one of his supposed competitors – perhaps Seijas, possibly Juanpi – may well end up lining up within the same team in the future.

 Central Attacking Midfielder

Predicted to be in the centre is creative veteran, undisputed free-kick master and icon of Venezuelan football for the past decade, Juan Arango. Leaving the Bundesliga in May 2014, he returned to a previous club of his, Mexico’s Xolos de Tijuana, yet only since the turn of the year has his season really taken off there. Indeed, after his side endured a rather disappointing Apertura campaign, he has been at the forefront of a remarkable turnaround that now sees them top of the Clausura, with the Venezuelan having contributed 5 goals and 2 assists. However, though his neat interplay and particularly his long balls, efforts from distance and crosses are still valued weapons, with his 35th birthday less than two months away it may be that his international future lies a little further back in midfield. Indeed, this is how his club manager Daniel Guzman has fielded him in order to precipitate such fine form and it is something that Sanvicente has expressed his admiration of.

Again, when it comes to potential alternatives in this area, there are at least a few possibilities, with these including Josef Martínez, Mario Rondón and Christian Santos, among others. Yet, had he not been ruled out by a late injury, then Caracas’ Rómulo Otero would have possibly been in line for a substitute appearance in this position, though he does also work the flanks.

Right-sided Attacking Midfielder

(UPDATE: see the update at the top of the article regarding a late change in this position).

According to the alleged line-up, Torino’s Josef Martínez is likely to start on the right of this triumvirate. Still not 22 until May, he has, on occasion, demonstrated what an energetic livewire and clinical finisher he can be with the Serie A side, albeit usually while playing as a striker or support-striker. He possesses just over a dozen international caps and though he has not yet managed to claim any regular spot in the line-up as his own, he has enough raw talent for most fans to believe that if he can just channel it to his advantage then he will be a regular fixture in this side for at least several years to come.

Martínez’s most likely competitor for this spot on the right is Alejandro Guerra, who started the two games in Asia before injury ruled him out of the November clashes. He, like Arango, has had a promising start to 2015, scoring four goals in five league games for Atlético Nacional, as well as a fine scissor-kick in the Copa Libertadores. Nevertheless, given that both he and Martínez can play in more than one position, Guerra’s spell on the sidelines may only prove to be a temporary displacement and fans can be sure that he will get at least one opportunity on the field over these two games.

Not quite so much certainty can be attached to the predicament of César González. The 32-year-old Deportivo Táchira winger – who has been known to play on either flank – has not featured in any of Sanvicente’s squads so far, though with over 50 caps to his name, he is no stranger to the international fold. His last call-up came in late 2013, yet despite his age it appears that the coach could not resist him in his current form, as he has netted 6 goals in his last 7 matches (including 2 in the Libertadores), not to mention providing several assists from dead-ball situations.

With this latter quality in mind, it may be better to use González as a potential replacement for Arango – who has often been withdrawn when displaying signs of fatigue after 60-70 minutes at club level – as his set-pieces would be warmly greeted by the head of the man who is scheduled to make his first start on the opposite flank – not to mention a certain gentleman up front.

Forward

As already noted, there are several players who can play in this position but only really one who is considered a pure striker. That man is Zenit St. Petersburg’s Salomón Rondón, the current joint-top scorer in the Russian Premier League and the undisputed focal-point for his country. After a lengthy barren spell at club level provoked whispers that he may be on the way out, he has recently returned to something approaching his clinical best, having scored twice against PSV Eindhoven in the Europa League and netting a domestic hat-trick at home to FC Ural. Though some doubts over his consistency and future may persist in St. Petersburg, at international level he can be assured of his status as Venezuela’s top man.

This week, however, there have been some rumours leading up to the Jamaica game that he has been nursing some kind of injury and that his namesake Mario Rondón would instead be starting. Though this now appears not to be the case, spectators can expect to see at some point the man who has recently swapped Portugal’s Nacional for China’s Shijiazhuang Ever Bright. Indeed, he played in all four of the previous games open to overseas-based players and, in the first two in particular, was many observers’ stand-out player, contributing two goals. Previously, he had not received many chances under the former managerial incumbent César Farías (2008-2013) and at 29, still possesses fewer than 10 caps, yet in the two Asia-based games was able to show some signs of a promising future partnership with the Zenit hotshot. As he tends to play more of a supplementary role to the striker, often featuring in a deeper position and/or working the channels, it is very much possible that fans will once again see the two Rondóns link up for their country. Whether or not it will be in this international week remains to be seen.

Regarding the very last person in this squad, Richard Blanco of Mineros de Guayana, it is hard not to feel that, despite scoring a tap-in in one of last month’s friendlies, he is largely here to make up the numbers. His domestic goalscoring record – 7 in 22 games – is nothing to shout about and vastly inferior to the 18-goal tally of Deportivo Táchira’s Gelmin Rivas, who has not received a call-up. Quite what he can offer that several others can not in a supporting role is not readily apparent either. Thus, come late May, when the players are waiting with bated breath for the final Copa América squad to be announced, one would expect forwards such as Juan Falcón (Metz), Miku (Rayo Vallecano) and Fernando Aristeguieta (Philadelphia Union, on loan from Nantes) to find themselves in with a far greater chance of inclusion.

Nevertheless, it is Salomón Rondón who is the likely starter up front. Having so far only featured in two games of the Sanvicente era without managing to score, a first goal from him, as well as any other signals that all the big names are back in the fold – an Arango free-kick, perhaps? – would be received very warmly by many a Venezuelan.

venezuela23squadformarch

Graphic of Venezuela Squad for March Friendlies (created by @GolesVinotinto). Please note: not all the positions are accurate – e.g. Figuera’s actually a central midfielder – and almost all the players are more versatile that can be conveyed in such an image. Still, it helps to put some faces to names.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – March 2015 Preview

Friday 27 March 2015 – Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Jamaica vs Venezuela

Tuesday 31 March 2015 – Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Peru vs Venezuela

For those wanting to watch either of these games, both are scheduled to be broadcast on TeleAragua

(For a detailed position-by-position look at all the players Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente has selected, as well as a peek at the probable line-up for the first game against Jamaica, please take a look at this article)

Expectations Mount as Sanvicente Sources a Rare Embarrassment of Riches

With the 2015 Copa América a mere 80 or so days away, these internationals can comfortably be billed as the most vital yet of the Noel Sanvicente era. Not only do they, the seventh and eighth of his reign, include a preliminary test against one of their tournament opponents, Peru, but they will also be potentially pivotal in determining who will be boarding the aeroplane to Chile. Most significant of all, however, is the available pool of players that Chita has been able to call upon – on paper at least, the strongest since he took over in July 2014.

Indeed, for his first two games – which occurred on September’s Asian tour and consisted of a 3-1 defeat against South Korea and a 2-2 draw with Japan (later officially overruled as a 3-0 loss; see here for more details) –  veteran icon Juan Arango omitted himself and a few other hitherto first-teamers were missing. October’s scheduled matches were cancelled and replaced by hastily arranged training sessions in Madrid that were almost exclusively attended by overseas-based players. Any tactical plans for the subsequent set of matches in November were undermined by the absences of 8-10 key players (mainly due to injury), which led to predictably disastrous results: a 5-0 thumping from Chile and a 3-2 defeat against Bolivia. Then early last month, it was left to domestic league players to contest two matches – a double-header against Honduras – which, in light of the fact that only seven home-based individuals have made it into the latest squad, can be considered  B-level encounters.

You Can’t Please Them All: Notable Absentees

Having endured this inauspicious start, La Vinotinto fans are no doubt mostly delighted – and rather relieved – that Sanvicente has this time been able to take with him to the Florida training base almost any player he desires. Though some may haved wished that he had selected the likes of the recently nationalised Jeffrén Suárez (Real Valladolid, ex-Barcelona) and Yonathan Del Valle (last seen scoring a stoppage-time winner for Rio Ave against Benfica), not to mention Fernando Aristeguieta and Miku (both of whom have received call-ups from Sanvicente but have been inactive at club level for much of this season, particularly the latter), he has only been denied two players this time around. Both had originally been included in this squad but succumbed to injuries. The first of whom, Metz striker Juan Falcón, Sanvicente knows well from his double title-winning spell at Zamora. The other is Caracas’ Rómulo Otero, the most promising attacking talent currently plying his trade in Venezuela. This 22-year-old set-piece maestro will be especially disappointed to miss out at this critical stage, rendering him unable to build on last month’s momentum when he was widely lauded as the catalyst in the first victory against Honduras.

Nevertheless, as neither of these two players has staked a durable claim for a regular starting berth, Sanvicente does have at his disposal the players to name in at least one of these games what could potentially be his first-choice XI come the opening Copa América clash against Colombia on 14 June. However, this is unlikely as, owing to the noted problems that he has so far faced, several places in the line-up are still up for grabs and he has already indicated that there will be some experimentation in these two games. Nevertheless, upon their conclusion, whatever transpires in Jamaica and the USA, some much-needed clarity should be added to the coach’s thoughts.

The Squad: Collective Aims and Key Call-Ups

A cursory glance of the list of players (see bottom of the page) called up to this 23-man squad should give everyone an idea of one of the key issues Sanvicente needs to resolve. While plenty have experience of playing together under previous regimes at club and international level, this group are nevertheless a disparate collection of individuals who play their domestic football in 13 different countries while representing 21 separate clubs. One of the noticeable characteristics of the games played so far in this new era has been a lack of attacking cohesion and fluency, something that could well be further complicated in these fixtures as it is anticipated that the manager will introduce new players and arrangements in the forward positions. Another glaring issue that requires urgent attention is the number of goals that have thus far been conceded in the six games played: 16 or, officially, 17, given FIFA’s retrospective decision pertaining to the game against Japan. With this in mind and moving on to the list of players announced this time around, Sanvicente will be hoping that two individuals in particular will be able to shore up his back-line.

Indeed, regarding the playing personnel (who are discussed in much greater depth in this article), the headlines when this squad was initially announced largely went to four players who have yet to play a single minute of the Sanvicente era. Two of these are primarily central defenders, the first of whom being Fernando Amorebieta, who just this week has completed a loan switch from Fulham to title-challenging Middlesbrough in the English second tier. During a two-year spell starting in late 2011, he was often Oswaldo Vizcarrondo’s partner at the back before injuries and a lack of game-time thwarted further call-ups. He has not played for his country since October 2013 whereas another returnee, erstwhile first-choice back-up Andrés Túñezwho has enjoyed much success with Thailand’s Buriram United after being forced out the door of his boyhood club Celta Vigo – has not featured since June of the same year.

One man who has gone even longer without a look-in is Ronald Vargas who, several years ago, was tipped by some to be the long-term successor to the majestic Juan Arango. Considerable excitement – albeit of the kind that is partially tempered by the pitfalls that experience knows are always lurking – has greeted the return of this winger/attacking midfielder, offering many a chance to recall his promising early career. Indeed, he made his international debut in February 2008 and not long afterwards in June scored the second goal in his nation’s first ever victory over Brazil (who on that day started with, amongst others, Robinho, Adriano, Dani Alves and Gilberto Silva). He continued to play for his country throughout this calendar year and shortly after his history-making exploits, he made his debut in Belgium for Club Brugge. Although not everything ran smoothly for him here, his performances gradually gained in consistency and following a superb third season in which he scored a remarkable 15 goals in 23 league games, he earned a move to the more prestigious Anderlecht. However, the three years he spent here were plagued by recurring injuries – as indeed, to a lesser extent, were the three seasons with his former club – which thus hindered his playing time and hampered his international career. Consequently, a transfer that could have solidified his place in the selección and bolstered his reputation in Europe ended on a sad note as he was released when his contract expired at the end of the 2013/14 season. Somewhat stigmatised as an injury-prone liability and having made barely a handful of international appearances since late 2008, he was subsequently picked up by Turkish Süper Lig new-boys Balıkesirspor. Although they currently prop up the division, looking well on course to head back from whence they came, the now 28-year-old Vargas has had a relatively prosperous time, scoring six goals in 21 league appearances and, perhaps most crucially, not suffering any serious injury setbacks. Five of these goals were bagged following the turn of the year and he will be hoping that not only will such form ensure that he is not condemned to follow his club down a level, but also that it will enable him to make a surprise late entry into Sanvicente’s Copa América plans.

In stark contrast to these three players, the last inclusion of note, Christian Santos, has never before played for his country. Indeed, the Venezuela-born 27-year-old was raised from a young age in Germany and has only recently acquired the relevant documentation that allows him to represent the country of his birth. This man, whose looks have drawn comparisons to those of none other than David Beckham, can play up front or anywhere across the supporting line of attackers, particularly towards the flanks as either an inside-forward or winger. He comes into the squad off the back of the season of his life in the Dutch second tier with Nijmegen’s NEC who, being 21 points clear with 7 games to spare, are virtually already promoted. The team has scored a staggering 87 goals, with Santos netting a highly commendable 18 of these in his 28 league appearances (21 of these starts). A significant proportion of his tally were headers which, with set-pieces being a regular source of goals for La Vinotinto, could well aid his case for future call-ups. Sanvicente spoke of his desire to try him out back in November and though logistical issues were to thwart these plans, it looks like this time around he will have his way.

Morale on the Line: Two Winnable Games

Old or new, stalwarts or relative whippersnappers, this group of players will be facing two nations who will also be contesting this year’s Copa América with their most realistic route of advancing from their respective groups being as one of the two best-performing third-placed sides.

Indeed, CONCACAF guests Jamaica have been allocated an unenviable group that includes Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. With this in mind, the Reggae Boyz will need all the preparation they can get and will follow up hosting La Vinotinto with another match at the Montego Bay Sports Complex against Cuba. Given that along with five players from their domestic league, their squad is largely comprised of representatives from the two highest divisions in USA/Canada (nine – eight from the MLS) and the three highest in England (six – two from each of the top three leagues), two wins does not seem out of reach for them.

This would certainly sow some seeds of doubt in the minds of all Venezuelans, though it is debatable if this would be more dispiriting for morale than a loss against CONMEBOL rivals Peru. Indeed, La Blanquirroja have recently appointed a new manager, Argentine Ricardo Gareca, whose first moves suggest he may be looking to the future with his relatively inexperienced squad that features 13 players from the domestic league. Regarding their exports, while Sporting’s André Carrillo is included, the majority of their most famous ambassadors are not: Fiorentina’s Juan Manuel Vargas, Schalke’s Jefferson Farfán (who is reportedly nursing a minor injury), Corinthians’ Paolo Guerrero (suspended) and Bayern Munich’s Claudio Pizarro (originally called up, but succumbed to an injury).

While the seemingly understrength nature of this squad would normally be reason enough for Venezuelans to expect a victory, another additional factor is the Copa América draw, which has pitted the two nations together in the rather daunting Group C alongside Brazil and Colombia. Though gaining a result against either of these teams is certainly not out of the question for Venezuela and Peru, the likeliest scenario sees the game on 18 June between the two nations having the most significant bearing on whether or not either can progress to the next stage.

As only the two best-performing third-placed teams can reach the knock-out stage, Venezuelans will be hoping here not only for a win but a much-improved defensive display in both games, as goal difference could well prove decisive in June.

Ultimately, though two victories in the upcoming days seems eminently attainable, there is the ever-weary possibility that these friendlies may descend into training match-level farces brought about by high numbers of substitutions. Nevertheless, though such games can never be relied upon to act as the most accurate barometers of a team’s progress and quality, all Venezuelan football fans will be excited to see what feels like the closest to a first-choice squad Sanvicente has had at his disposal since his appointment.

For a detailed position-by-position look at all the players Sanvicente has selected, as well as a peek at the probable line-up for the first game against Jamaica, please take a look at this article

Venezuela Squad for the Friendly Internationals Against Jamaica (27 March 2015) and Peru (31 March 2015)

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Caracas FC)

Dani Hernández (Tenerife)

Defenders

Fernando Amorebieta (Middlesbrough, on loan from Fulham)

Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana)

Juan Fuenmayor (Deportivo Anzoátegui)

Alexander González (FC Thun)

Roberto Rosales (Málaga)

Andrés Túñez (Buriram United)

Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes)

Midfielders

Juan ‘Juanpi’ Pablo Añor (Málaga)

Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana)

Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira)

César González (Deportivo Táchira)

Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, on loan from Mineros de Guayana)

Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira)

Tomás Rincón (Genoa)

Christian Santos (N.E.C. Nijmegen)

Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe)

Ronald Vargas (Balıkesirspor)

Forwards

Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana)

Josef Martínez (Torino)

Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright)

Salomón Rondón (Zenit St. Petersburg)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical