Tag Archives: Central American Football

Panama 0-2 Venezuela – International Friendly (11 September 2018)

In their second friendly game of this international break, Venezuelans on the pitch and in the stands came together to generate a moving, memorable evening for the country. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…

International Friendly

Tuesday 11 September 2018 – Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama.

Panama 0-2 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Panama 0-2 Venezuela, International Friendly, 11 September 2018 (YouTube)

Salomón Spearheads Supersubs’ Show

Salomón Rondón came off the bench to combine twice with his fellow substitutes to give La Vinotinto a heartening, well-fought win in front of a sizeable number of their compatriots.

This victory was the first against Panama since 2000 and also the very first against any opposition in a senior friendly encounter for Rafael Dudamel in his 29 months in the job – and just his fifth overall.

Beforehand, the coach stated that he would like his side to be “not so vertical” and instead have “more time with the ball” than they had against Colombia. Although there were considerable spells where neither side could gain much command over the play, Venezuela did at least manage to assert themselves to a greater degree in what was a more inviting contest.

For the second consecutive game, Darwin Machís started with intent, driving into space and even troubling the goalkeeper with a deflected shot in the second minute. However, with six changes made to the line-up, it was to be two of his fellow attackers who garnered themselves more attention in the first half. Indeed, firstly Luis “Cariaco” González built on Friday’s promising sub appearance, outpacing opponents numerous times on the right, managing to knock in several crosses and even squeezing in an attempt or two at goal.

However, prominence-wise at least, both men were eclipsed by Rómulo Otero. Nominally fielded in the centre behind Christian Santos, he often seemed to be on a one-man mission to gain himself a regular starting place, frequently drifting into other areas, particularly the left side. His contributions were hit-and-miss, with plenty of long-range shots, crosses and set-pieces either ballooning over or cannoning off the first man, but his thrusting, do-or-die mobility did genuinely unsettle opponents and create spaces for team-mates. Two of his opening-half free-kick attempts did also hit the target: a 13th-minute right-footed curler from an impossible angle on the left caused an instinctive parry for goalkeeper Luis Mejía who was anticipating a cross and, more notably, a 43rd-minute strike from some 40 yards that bounced just before Mejía, causing him to awkwardly deflect it out with his lower ribcage.

Although there was more action around the hosts’ goal, the Central Americans led by English-Panamanian interim coach Gary Stempel were always very much in the game. Often thwarted at the moment of a key pass, they did nevertheless provide a few scares. In the 28th minute, Cristian Martínez whipped in a devilish cross which the diving goalkeeper Rafael Romo – playing his first international in seven years – got fingertips to, before Yordan Osorio’s shin awkwardly cleared for a corner. In the 36th minute, following one of many clever flicks by José Rodríguez, a shot from Martínez in a good position in the area was well-blocked by Osorio’s centre-back partner Wilker Ángel. From the subsequent Gabriel Torres corner, Venezuela perhaps received a huge let-off, as a Fidel Escobar header hit the arm of left-back Luis Mago; contrary to how it initially appeared to almost everyone, this was adjudged by the referee to be marginally outside, not inside the penalty area. A mere matter of yards from the incident, the man in black could not have had a better view. Regardless, from the resulting free-kick, Escobar gave Dudamel’s men a second fright, as his right-footed bullet arrowed barely a yard over the bar.

Thus, at half-time, both sides had good cause to feel that this open game was there for the taking and immediately after the restart, it was the 2018 World Cup qualifiers who were first out of the traps. With barely 40 seconds played, Martínez shaped up from some 30 yards, striking a fine right-footed effort which Romo’s outstretched palm had to deal with. Some seven minutes later, Venezuela trumped the home side in the long-range stakes as another Otero free-kick from 40 yards – for which a 15-yard run-up was required – dipped menacingly before Mejía, causing him to parry out wide.

Subsequently, scares were averted at both ends but when the next real attempt on goal arrived, it was made to count. This came in the 67th minute with two substitutes as the lead protagonists. First, following some neat Venezuelan play, fresh-and-fleet-footed Jefferson Savarino of Real Salt Lake played a one-two on the right with Otero, receiving back the ball inside the area to slide across the goalmouth past Román Torres where none other than Salomón Rondón knocked it into the back of the net. Celebrated by thousands of Venezuelans in attendance, it sounded as if the Premier League striker’s first international goal since March 2017 had been scored at home.

Additional changes were later made to both sides, which perhaps further diluted the attacking fluidity. Yet, despite the dearth of shots on target, the pulsing atmosphere and highly competitive pinball-esque action lended itself to an engrossing spectacle. Towards the end, however, another one of the reinforcements from the bench ensured that his spell on the pitch would be remembered.

Eduard Bello, an attacker enjoying an impressive first season with Chilean side Deportes Antofagasta, came on for his international debut in the 78th minute. Ten minutes later he earned a corner which he himself then took; Rondón connected but his header on the stretch at an angle to the goal went slightly wide of the post. Then, in the final minute of stoppage-time after a Panamanian cross and headed knock-back had been hastily cleared, a ball was hoisted upfield by captain Tomás Rincón. The defence were largely committed further upfield and so, following a fortuitous ricochet off the defender, Bello was able to swivel and slide the ball towards Rondón in space who pounced like a predator to seal the win.

The elation in the stands was palpable and afterwards at the press conference, Dudamel dedicated the win to these joy-deprived believers, many of whom would have moved to the Panamanian capital in recent years due to the well-documented domestic difficulties:

“For multiple reasons our compatriots have emigrated from our country. There is something that in life can not be lost, which is dignity. Today we wanted to give a boost to the dignity of the Venezuelan who has accompanied us and who makes life in this beautiful country. May La Vinotinto become an example for all our people – that is the invitation.”

Many observers of Russia 2018 may blithely dismiss the weight of this Venezuelan victory but nobody who experienced it can deny the importance of such a welcome morale-boost. Friday against Colombia now feels like quite some time ago. Regarding the performances, although the action was again largely disjointed and fragmented, Rondón, Otero, González, Machís, Savarino and Bello have all provided Dudamel with positive moments on which to build more sustained attacking play. As for the rearguard, while the coach may wish to try out other players for next month’s double-header in Spain, the prized clean sheet that they kept and their general solidity should give the likes of Osorio and Mago hope that a consecutive call-up will be forthcoming.

Lastly, post-match Dudamel also said that, after nearly ten months without senior matches, he hopes that his side will go on to have “no less than 15-18 games” (including however many they play at the 2019 Copa América) under their belts before the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers commence. Such a number seems optimistic but if an array of seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome to pull this off, it would go a considerable way towards narrowing the preparatory chasm with their major CONMEBOL rivals.

Precarious though the future most certainly is, in this international break some positive steps were undeniably taken.

Team Selections

Panama (4-3-3): L. Mejía; M. Murillo, R. Torres, F. Escobar, F. Palacios (K. Galván, 71′); C. Martínez, A. Godoy, M. Camargo (A. Carrasquilla, 65′); J. Rodríguez (J. González, 77′), R. Blackburn, G. Torres (Á. Orelien, 65′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): R. Romo; A. González, Y. Osorio, W. Ángel, L. Mago; T. Rincón, J. Moreno (A. Flores, 86′); L. González (J. Savarino, 56′), R. Otero (S. Córdova, 75′), D. Machís (E. Bello, 78′); C. Santos (S. Rondón, 56′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela Team Preview for Copa América Centenario

As Venezuela get set to kick-off their Copa América Centenario campaign, Hispanospherical.com takes a look at how they may fare in this USA-hosted 16-team competition. Following on from a general overview that lays out the state La Vinotinto currently find themselves in, there are profiles of some of the key players, which also touch upon their team-mates most likely to see action this June.

Venezuela

Copa América Centenario Preview

venezuela23

The official 23-man Venezuela squad for Copa América Centenario (FVF).

(See bottom of page for clearer details on the clubs of the players)

venezuelasgroup

Rock-bottom of CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying and with a manager barely two months into the job, this is not ideal preparation ahead of a challenging group containing Mexico, Uruguay and Jamaica.

Then again, compared to the norm for Venezuela, can it really be considered bad? Last year, with Noel Sanvicente at the helm, the players had been gradually mentally worn down by a year of lacklustre performances, FIFA/FVF scandals and played no warm-up games, yet still managed to make headlines across the world with a surprise opening day win against Colombia. This time around, they have played an eyebrow-raising four games in the fortnight preceding kick-off and the changes made to the coaching staff are still fresh enough for the players not to have become too jaded. So, swings and roundabouts. While an exit at the group stage seems probable, one can not help but feel that will be far from the full story in the USA.

What is more, while many of the starters will be familiar, only ten players remain from last year’s squad in what is the selección with the youngest average age in the entire tournament (in fact, three of the ten youngest players are Venezuelans). Thus, although inexperience could be a problem, there will also be several high-profile players along with plenty of fresh faces looking to impress and make their mark on a big stage.

Who then, is this new manager who has hitherto been alluded to? Rafael Dudamel’s the name and, for the time being at least, ‘Latino Loco Goalscoring Goalkeeper’ will be how he is caricatured. Indeed, in common with the likes of José Luis Chilavert and Rogério Ceni, the 43-year-old spent his playing career not only thwarting goal attempts but scoring them as well. In total, he scored well over 20 goals at club level in Venezuela and particularly in Colombia, but he also notched a phenomenal free-kick for his country back in a 1996 World Cup qualifier against Argentina. At the moment, his heroics in this department may be of more interest to broadcasters with broad audiences but, make no mistake, this is a man of substance who already has a strong idea of the task he has inherited.

The youthfulness of his squad is no doubt, in part, due to his work in recent years as head of the Under-17 and Under-20 national sides (the latter of whom, he will retain his role with). The nation’s football authorities – who have suggested they would have preferred a foreign manager had they the cash – will nevertheless be hoping Dudamel will be able to unite the seniors in more ways than one. As well as assimilating the newcomers with the well-travelled, they will be hoping he can act as an effective mediator between the federation and the players. Indeed, back in late November, an open letter voicing serious grievances with the FVF that largely concerned poor conditions and a lack of respect was signed by 15 senior players (with several more subsequently offering support). In the immediate aftermath, there was a public war of words and then-boss Sanvicente travelled to meet some of the players but there does not appear to have been a resolution (if one can even be found – this is, after all, partly a clashing of personalities). Problems still linger then and if little cohesion is to be found on the pitch in the USA, rest assured there will also be speculation about the lack of it off-field.

The four recent friendlies will have surely given the new manager some food for thought, although results were not very encouraging and performances were – barring the promising first-half attacking display against Costa Rica – similarly uninspiring. Indeed, unsurprisingly, Venezuela are hardly set to take their group by storm after a 1-1 draw with the largely La Liga-based representatives of Galicia, a dull 0-0 draw with Panama, a mixed-bag of a 2-1 defeat against Costa Rica and a curious 1-1 draw with Guatemala. Given how this rather high number of warm-up games all occurred away from home soil, one can not help but wonder if they will have taken some toll on the players who joined up with the squad at the start of this friendly-frenzy. In Group C, La Vinotinto will be travelling over 3,000 miles to predominantly NFL stadiums in Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston – how many starters against Jamaica will finish the closer (and possible decider) with Mexico?

If it is a low number, then there could well instead be footballing reasons for this as it is unlikely that Dudamel’s first-choice XI is set in stone and fans can expect to see changes throughout the tournament. Nevertheless, his selections in the friendly games certainly gave a few indications as to who will be lining up against Jamaica. For those who last watched Venezuela at the 2015 tournament, expect to see many new faces in midfield and defence – some of which may already be familiar from their club exploits.

Before detailing some of these men, it should first be noted that there will also be a different goalkeeper from last year. Indeed, after some high-profile errors in World Cup Qualifying, Alain Baroja, who received the nod at the last-minute ahead of 2015’s opener with Colombia and subsequently went on to receive acclaim as well as a move to AEK Athens, has surprisingly been left out the squad. Thus, the experienced Tenerife shot-stopper Dani Hernández will compete with José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira) for this position though, as the number one shirt has already been given to the latter, the decision may have already been made. However, Contreras made a glaring error when he played against Costa Rica and it would not be a surprise to see the former (who is also far from innocent in the blunder department) make an appearance at some stage.

Nevertheless, despite the huge importance of this position, whoever plays there can hardly be considered to be one of the leading players for Rafael Dudamel (even if, as a former occupant between the posts, the role must play on his mind a lot). Instead, the new entrenador will be counting more on the individuals listed below to both make their mark and galvanise their compatriots towards an unlikely progression to the knock-out stage.

Thus, what follows is an overview of the most likely stand-out Venezuelan performers, which also touches upon their team-mates who will either take to the field near them or be pushing hard to supplant them should anything go awry.

Key Players in Context

Roberto Rosales (Málaga)

Defence (Right-back)

Over the past two years at Málaga, 27-year-old right-back Rosales has been one of the most consistent players, in terms of both performances as well as appearances. He has been a vital part of the defence that, last season, conceded the joint-fourth fewest goals in La Liga, behind only the big three of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. Yet with the Andalusians being very much a selling club that has recently caused even promising manager Javi Gracia to depart, one must wonder if the diminutive bargain-buy from FC Twente will be the next out the door.

An energetic presence on the flank, he likes to get forward and help create chances. While his crossing could be more accurate, he is nevertheless responsible for an above-average number of assists at club level and possesses the tenacity and wherewithal to chase back if caught out of position.

There has, however, been repeated criticisms that his international performances of late have not matched those for his club – an assessment that, in fairness, could apply to most high-profile players in the squad. For the first game at least, he is likely to be joined at the back by left-back Mikel Villanueva, who will know him well as he plays for Málaga’s reserve side, Atlético Malagueño. He is a relative newcomer to the national side, having only debuted earlier this year towards the end of Sanvicente’s reign; his competition for a place will come from the returning Rolf Feltscher (Duisburg). There is also a slight chance that the right-footed Alexander González (Huesca) may be a back-up for this position, but he will primarily be the understudy to Rosales or, perhaps, the right side of midfield.

The very experienced Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes) cannot be said to have been up to his 2011 vintage (when he was one of the stars of the entire tournament) but he is still a likely starter at centre-back. He will have a different partner from last year; most likely it will be Sema Velázquez, a towering presence who helped Arouca to a 5th-placed finish in the Portuguese top-flight. However, it would be of little surprise if Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira) gets the nod at some point.

Tomás Rincón (Genoa)
Midfield (Defensive Midfielder)

The captain whose leadership, organisational and communication skills will be integral if his nation is to have any success. Venezuela are not renowned goalscorers so the tackling, harrying and interceptions of El General and those around him will be essential to allow the attackers to escape away up the other end. A defensive midfielder, he does not tend to get too far forward himself, preferring instead to limit his forward forays to occasionally driving the ball upfield to feed his more attack-minded team-mates. However, perhaps at the somewhat late age of 28, things may be changing in this area as last season he went some way to compensating for his relative goal-drought in Europe. Indeed, before 2015/16 kicked off, he had not scored once since moving to Hamburg in early 2009. Yet in what was his second season at Italy side Genoa (2014-), he managed to bury three of the beauties in the space of four months. One does not expect him to break his duck for La Vinotinto in what is often cautious tournament football, but with over 70 goalless games to his name, it would be a pleasant surprise.

Joining him in stemming the tide in front of the back four could well be Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), who has played there in some recent friendlies. However, he faces strong competition from Luis Manuel Seijas, one of the stand-out players at Colombian side Independiente Santa Fe last season who has recently joined Brazilian giants Internacional. An experienced international of 29 who has played in Belgium for Standard Liège, he partnered Rincón last year as well as in many qualifiers. With such pedigree, he will definitely get on the pitch at some point, whether in a protective position of further upfield in an attacking role.

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga)
Midfield (Attacking Midfielder – left, right or centre)

Juanpi has been known on occasion to play in front of the back four in a deep-lying playmaker position but will probably be fielded further up the pitch in the line behind the forward(s). Having previously been overlooked during much of Sanvicente’s reign  -presumably due to his inexperience as well as the cautious approach of Chita – the 22-year-old has somewhat belatedly made his way into the senior set-up and has a strong chance of starting. His personal cause was undoubtedly aided by an impressive second season for Málaga, during which he emerged to become a regular in the line-up and scored four league goals along the way. Three of these came in consecutive weeks (with one being against Barcelona), which really raised his profile.

A graceful, creative player who often exudes much confidence and poise on the ball wherever he plays, he was granted a starting position in Sanvicente’s last two qualifiers in March and has continued to be named in line-ups under Dudamel. He is a fine left-footed set-piece taker and offers something different in attacks by playing through-balls from central positions as well as instigating some more intricate passing moves. He has already set up some goals in his brief international career and also possesses the capacity to force himself forward to score. A player of tantalising potential.

Rómulo Otero (Huachipato)
Midfield (Attacking Midfielder – left, right or centre)

Perhaps even more so than Juanpi, attacking midfielder Otero could well be the Venezuelan on most neutrals’ lips after this tournament. Indeed, the 23-year-old has turned many heads in Chile with Huachipato in his debut season outside of his homeland and many of his compatriots feel that, quite frankly, he could do a lot better. Injury ruled him out of last year’s Copa América as well as much of Sanvicente’s reign, but like Juanpi, he did feature in the last two qualifiers (scoring a sensational free-kick against Chile) and has since appeared in some of Dudamel’s friendlies.

While not identical to Juanpi in that he has a propensity to run at defenders more and, so far at least, tends to score more goals, they do both share strong abilities from dead-ball situations and are rather versatile in the attacking midfield positions. Perhaps for more than any other player in the squad, this tournament serves as an opportunity to impress the scouts.

Although both Otero and Juanpi appear likely to start the first game, it is not guaranteed and, as always, there is much competition and inconsistency in the attacking positions. Should Dudamel opt for a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1), they could find themselves on either wing, but both in these formations as well as in a 4-2-3-1, there are plenty of players who are eager to nab their places.

One of these who has already been mentioned is Seijas, who can also play as a left-sided attacker, but there is also the similarly experienced Alejandro Guerra. He was a regular during last year’s tournament and this season for Colombian giants Atlético Nacional has scored at a rate of one in every two games, being a key player in their run to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores, where they will meet São Paulo in July.

Another player of note who could well make a mark in these positions is one of the youngest in the tournament and who has already made quite a name for himself: Adalberto Peñaranda. The then-18-year-old burst onto the La Liga scene with Granada last season and immediately grabbed headlines and broke records, both setting up and scoring goals that ultimately aided his club’s survival. Despite speculation that some of Europe’s biggest clubs would snap him up, he eventually signed a deal with ‘sister’ club Watford, who loaned him back to Andalusia where he finished the season.

However, though he has had a meteoric rise in the European game, at international level he only has three recent substitute appearances to his name and this is where he is likely to start the tournament. Nevertheless, given his abilities, at some point he will surely receive an opportunity from the bench to run at defenders and cause havoc.

There are some other players who could potentially play in attacking midfield/supplementary forward roles, but these are mentioned in the following profile.

Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion)
Attack (Striker)

The most famous current Venezuela international, Rondón will be integral to his nation’s chances of progressing and will undoubtedly start up front. It has been a big year for this talismanic figure, as he swapped Champions League football at Zenit St. Petersburg for a more stressful – if, potentially, career-enhancing – life at West Bromwich Albion. While many feel that, owing to his stature and attributes, he was born and bred to play in the Premier League, a more glamorous move had been desired and throughout his debut campaign quite a few of his compatriots have criticised how he has been used by manager Tony Pulis – a man who, incidentally, seems unaware that he was signing a South American international given that his complaints are as predictable as clockwork whenever his top-scorer is called up.

On the other hand, in his early outings in particular, many West Brom and Premier League followers felt he could be wasteful – something he has since accepted himself – but as the season progressed, he grew in importance to his team. When all was said and done, he had scored ten goals in all competitions, including the winning goal in five different matches, including the 1-0 win away to Everton and, most notably, the 1-0 home victory against Manchester United. Many doubters were won over.

While he may not take all his chances, he certainly works hard and comes deep to join in with some of the build-up play, although his primary strength is probably as a target man, to knock down and head in balls.

There is a chance that he may have a partner in attack. If so, the most likely candidate is Josef Martínez (Torino), who has played alongside him both under Dudamel and Sanvicente – albeit, usually in friendly encounters. Perhaps more so than any other player not granted the honour of an individual profile in this article, he could well emerge as one of the leading Venezuelan players in this tournament. What prevents one from confidently stating his importance to the team is that, despite his undeniable talents, he often gets overlooked as a starter, instead often being used in competitive games as an impact substitute.

Nevertheless, when given opportunities, he often displays a promising understanding with Rondón and is good at running at defenders as well as playing a key role in more direct attacks. He could also be used in an attacking midfield role though what, in the long run, could enhance his national team prospects is a move away from Torino, where he has also been used primarily as a substitute.

Otherwise, Christian Santos could be given a chance in a similar manner to that suggested for Martínez – albeit utilising different characteristics. Indeed, while he can also play as a striker, he has frequently been used at club level in a deeper role and possesses considerable abilities in the air. A late-bloomer at 28, who only decided to play for the country of his birth last year, he has been a phenomenal goalscorer for NEC Nijmegen over the past two years, scoring, on average, well above one in every two games. A move to La Liga has been strongly rumoured – perhaps this tournament will determine where precisely he ends up.

Venezuela’s tournament may well hinge on the very first game on 5 June against Jamaica – stern opponents but on paper, their weakest in Group C. For the sake of this niche blog – if not the author’s social and profressional life when the games from the USA are being played concurrently with those from Euro 2016 – one hopes that they can prolong the guessing game somewhat longer. To keep up-to-date with La Vinotinto’s progress, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back on this website for match reports, highlights and who knows what else. 

Venezuela’s 23-man squad for Copa América Centenario

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Rolf Feltscher (Duisburg, Germany), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Roberto Rosales (Málaga, Spain), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño, Spain) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes, France).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Rómulo Otero (Huachipato, Chile), Adalberto Peñaranda (Granada, Spain on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy), Luis Manuel Seijas (Internacional, Brazil) & Carlos Suárez (Carabobo, Venezuela).

Forwards

Yonathan Del Valle (Kasımpaşa, Turkey on loan from Rio Ave, Portugal), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen, Netherlands) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Guatemala 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (1 June 2016)

International Friendly

Wednesday 1 June 2016 – Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Guatemala 1-1 Venezuela

Highlights of Guatemala 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 1 June 2016 (YouTube – quality of video suspiciously superior to what was available during the match)

‘Where Were You For Guatemala ’16?’ 

Although Salomón Rondón’s second goal in consecutive games earned Venezuela a draw, many fans will be disappointed that Rafael Dudamel was unable to gain his first win as manager. 

Indeed, he now heads into Sunday’s  Copa América opener with Jamaica with a record that reads: Played 4, Won 0, Drew 3, Lost 1. Furthermore, whilst the concession of four goals does hint at some improvement, scoring just three does little to raise expectations even if Venezuela are historically low-scorers.

However, the main thing most fans will take from this game was the viewing experience itself. With no official live transmission on either television or any online outlet (betting sites and the like), many will have assumed there was no way of watching and thus opted to sit it out or, perhaps, listen to the radio and/or follow text updates. Yet, those au fait with certain social media sites were to stumble across at least a couple of curious live feeds from the stadium, seemingly transmitted from fans’ state-of-the-art mobile devices.

Thus, to begin with, at least a couple of thousand clicked to squint at events from deepest darkest Fort Lauderdale which, initially, were provided by an individual whose vantage point rendered him/her unable to actually fit either goal-net into his frame. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. As there was little sound, many fans also opted to supplement the pictures with commentary from Internet radio, which was not in sync. Although some rather high-end everyday modern technology was in use here, the experience was somewhat of a throwback, akin to watching a bootleg film recorded on a shaky old video-camera, with someone on hand to explain any of the action one may have missed.

However, just when this rogue reporter was all set to go down in Vinotinto folklore as the Periscope Pirate, their operations were stopped by security in the 13th minute and they were told to put their phone away. Disaster. The fans were to be thwarted after all.

Or so it seemed for about five minutes, anyway. Following some frantic social media searches, those who were so inclined gradually cottoned on to the existence of another hand-held hero who had in fact also been broadcasting since the beginning of the game and was to do so until the very end. This feed was coming from a slightly higher position in the centre of the stands, yet somehow nobody in security picked up on this. Needless to say, the audience rapidly ascended and reached a peak of nearly 5,000 in the second half.

Nevertheless, though those responsible for the footage can rightly bask in the acclaim that their services to national morale merits, the viewing figures hardly suggest a football-mad nation. Thus, one can not help but feel that this match has served, in part, as a test of commitment and those who saw it live will trade on it for decades to come, as some kind of perverse badge of honour. Indeed, perhaps one day when La Vinotinto are at least threatening to qualify for a World Cup, there will be a somewhat chippy subculture of fans who, whether they actually saw the game or not, will become notorious for sniffily asking the Jhonny-Come-Latelys they encounter, ‘Where were you for Guatemala ’16?’

Lord knows what those who actually attended the game in person will say.

For now though, let us return to the present day. What, at long last, follows is a relatively succinct match report that is compiled from a mixture of watching the live feeds, listening to the radio and reading text updates.

In the early stages, Guatemala had the upper hand, pressing forward, winning free-kicks and shooting from range. Dani Hernández, playing his first Venezuela game between the goalposts for over a year, certainly had to be alert upon his return. Nevertheless, Venezuela were still a presence, with Guerra striking wide, Rondón hitting an attempt a little too close to the goalkeeper and Juanpi having a free-kick deflected wide. Although Seijas also managed a couple of shots, as the halfway point of the first half approached, the consensus was that Guatemala had enjoyed the better of the play.

Still, Venezuela had a good opportunity to take the lead just before the half-hour mark. Juanpi, who again was offering his country some more direct, central attacking options, found Rondón with a through-ball, but the West Brom forward struck too close to the goalkeeper.

However, if the first half was edged by Guatemala, Venezuela certainly stepped up a gear at the beginning of the second. The half was less than five minutes old when Juanpi curled a graceful free-kick just wide of the post, which on first viewing looked as if it hit the woodwork. Later on, just before the 70th minute, Rondón controlled a long diagonal ball ten or so yards from the right edge of the area then, after taking a stride or two, struck low and hard at goalkeeper Ricardo Jérez, who blocked and then gathered the ball.

Yet, despite these attempts, it was actually La Azul y Blanco who took the lead and when they did, it took many Vinotinto fans by surprise. The goal came following a long diagonal ball that bounced into the path of Gerson Tinoco who, with some space separating him and the two defenders, hit it first time from the edge of the area across the goal and past the despairing Hernández.

Venezuela, facing a very disappointing loss taking them into a major tournament, responded with some urgency, forcing a couple moments of uncertainty in the opposition area before the equaliser eventually arrived. Indeed, when it came, it certainly was not pretty nor, for that matter, is it particularly worth tracking down if you were in the overwhelming majority who missed the game. Nevertheless, they all count and we just about have the video footage to prove. The goal came from a corner that was flicked along into the middle where Rondón, with a little too much space for the most high-profile player in the team, hooked it in.

1-1 it ended. Underwhelming, it certainly was and hardly likely to provide much concern to their opening-day opponents Jamaica who, in marked contrast, beat holders Chile 2-1 in their last warm-up game. Nevertheless, at least Dudamel has had four matches to run the rule over his charges. Last year, Noel Sanvicente had zero in the weeks preceding the tournament yet still managed to pull off a surprise 1-0 win against the much-fancied Colombia. With fairly fresh facts still at the forefront of the minds of the fans, one can not help but still wonder, what awaits La Vinotinto this time around?

Team Selections

Guatemala (4-3-3): R. Jérez; L. Cardona, H. López, C. Jiménez, G. Arias; R. Saravia, M. Hernández, J. Contreras (J. Priego, 73′); L. Martínez, G. Tinoco (J. Pinto Samayoa, 82′), C. Ruíz (M. Castellanos, 90+3′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): D. Hernández; R. Rosales (A. González, 75′), W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo, M. Villanueva; A. Figuera (R. Otero, 63′), T. Rincón; A. Guerra (A. Peñaranda, 85′), L. Seijas, Juanpi (J. Martínez, 71′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Costa Rica 2-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (27 May 2016)

International Friendly

Friday 27 May 2016 – Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, La Sabana Metropolitan Park, San José, Costa Rica

Costa Rica 2-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Costa Rica 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 27 May 2016 (YouTube)

First Half Provides Rare Light Despite Loss

Despite a positive start that saw them take the lead, a strong Venezuela line-up suffered their first defeat under Rafael Dudamel. 

In what was his third game in charge, the new manager was able to give minutes to Tomás Rincón and Salomón Rondón for the first time. These two men, the most high-profile pair of the current crop, started alongside other top players who had already received varying amounts of game-time in the new era, such as Juanpi, Rómulo Otero and Josef Martínez. Also given a chance from the off were Rolf Feltscher at left-back, who was making his first international appearance for three years and goalkeeper José Contreras, who had an opportunity to bolster his claim for the No.1 shirt.

The match began at a very promising pace with both sides stretching opposition defences, putting in a number of crosses as well as winning a similar amount of corners. Most of these balls into each box caused nerves rather than actual saves, though one exception was Otero’s 11th-minute ball that centre-back Wilker Ángel met with a strong header, albeit one that went straight at goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton.

Alas, in the opening 25 minutes there were more jitters generated than shots on goal. For example, in the 19th minute, a Costa Rican corner was knocked down awkwardly by a Venezuelan defender, causing a ricochet and then a collision between outfield player and goalkeeper as, after the ball was frantically cleared, Contreras was left momentarily down for the count. A few minutes later, Rincón broke up an attack in midfield and charged forward, supplying Otero on the left who put in a low ball that eventually fell to Martínez, who managed to turn but had his shot blocked. Shortly afterwards, a mix-up between Pemberton and a defender 35 yards from goal briefly gifted the ball to Rondón, but the West Bromwich Albion striker was unable to adjust his feet and positioning in time to capitalise on the error.

A moment of greater substance occurred not long afterwards when, in the 28th minute, a Costa Rican cross from the right was greeted by the left foot of Ronald Matarrita, whose wicked diagonal volley went just wide of the far post.

A minute later the hosts nearly made some headway when a through-ball was only narrowly cut out. However, just as they thought they were gaining momentum, they fell behind. Indeed, in a rapid turnaround, in the 29th minute Contreras rolled the ball out to Rincón, who passed short to Juanpi near the halfway mark. Seemingly with his next move already plotted in his head, the Málaga youngster turned and coolly slid the ball between the centre-backs to Martínez, who quickly squared the ball to Rondón to knock home from the edge of the area. It was a fine team goal, a rare direct team move and provides much optimism that future games will feature more of this creative, cutting attack play.

Eight minutes later, the lead was close to being doubled as an attack up the inside-left came infield, with the ball eventually slid through to Juanpi who turned and swerved a low shot just wide of the far post. Alas, it was to be the hosts who got the second goal of the game and, just like the first, it came from a West Brom player.

Also not entirely dissimilar from the first, it took many in the ground by surprise. Indeed, being at least 35 yards out, right-back Cristian Gamboa seemed a little ambitious to be sizing up for a strike at goal. However, his low, skimming shot somehow managed to find its way past Contreras, who appeared to have ample time to manoeuvre himself over to keep the ball out. Yet again, a Venezuelan goalkeeper struggles to confidently seize his opportunity between the posts.

The hosts could have actually gone into the break ahead as, on the stroke of half time, they were denied a legitimate goal. A fine diagonal long ball by Cristian Bolaños was controlled and knocked over Contreras to be headed in but – incorrectly – the offside flag was raised.

However, they were not to be denied for too long. Four minutes after the restart, substitute Ariel Rodríguez gained some space from Vizcarrondo on the left edge of the area. Facing away from goal he then hooked a fine strike that seemed to float over Contreras and into the top corner.

Venezuela were thus back in a familiar position. However, just before the hour-mark they really should have been on equal terms. Indeed, Juanpi again played a fine direct through-ball to Martinez who this time dinked it over Pemberton and into the back of the net. Yet, despite being at least level with the last defender, the linesman perhaps got him confused with the nearby Rondón and raised his flag for offside.

For the remainder of the game, neither side created much of note as the game gradually petered out, with the excessive number of substitutes inevitably taking their toll on proceedings.

Nevertheless, when the final whistle blew, though disappointed by the outcome, the first-half performance gave many Venezuelans considerable reasons to feel encouraged by the new era.  They had played at a tempo rarely seen in the past couple of years and, especially due to the inclusion of Juanpi and Otero, displayed a variety of attacking options not often at their disposal. Ultimately undone by a goalkeeping error and a fine golazo, the defence should not feel too downhearted by their performance as they again put in a relatively solid shift.

Ultimately, while one should try not to read too much into these three friendlies, the signs have been quietly encouraging. Win away to Guatemala on Wednesday (1 June) and expectations will be raised that La Vinotinto will actually be able to make a fist of qualifying out of Copa América Group C.

Team Selections

Costa Rica (5-1-3-1): P. Pemberton (L. Moreira, 46′); C. Gamboa, K. Watson, Ó. Duarte (F. Calvo, 51′), J. Acosta, R. Matarrita; C. Borges (Y, Tejeda, 63′); J. Campbell, B. Ruiz, C. Bolaños (J. Venegas, 60′); Á. Saborío (A. Rodríguez, 46′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): J. Contreras; A. González (V. García, 53′), W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo (S. Velázquez, 77′), R. Feltscher (M. Villanueva, 77′); Juanpi, A. Figuera (C. Santos, 74′), T. Rincón, R. Otero (A. Guerra, 53′); J. Martínez & S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Panama 0-0 Venezuela – International Friendly (24 May 2016)

International Friendly

Tuesday 24 May 2016 – Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama

Panama 0-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Panama 0-0 Venezuela, International Friendly, 24 May 2016 (YouTube)

Makeshift Venezuela Put in Solid Shift

Rafael Dudamel maintained his unbeaten start to life in the Venezuelan dugout as his side chalked up their second successive draw.

Although he did not have all of his cracks available, it was nevertheless a curious choice to start with five players who have already been told they are not travelling to the USA for Copa América. If he had any doubts regarding his final 23-man selection, this game may have added some more as two of the rejected – Jacobo Koufatti and Andrés Ponce – were arguably amongst the most eye-catching performers.

It was in fact a curious spectacle in general as the hosts lined up in shirts not too dissimilar in hue to Venezuela’s renowned burgundy, whereas the stands had more than their fair share of Vinotinto followers.

The atmosphere itself, however, was for the most part a little muted and it took just over 20 minutes for the first chance of note to occur. Sampdoria youngster Ponce, having already looked rather alert with his positioning, nearly connected with a fine cross on the turn by Christian Santos. Alas, his grazed header went wide of the far post.

Several minutes later up the other end, Porto youngster Ismael Diaz unsettled the Venezuelan defence as he ran onto a knock-on into the area, but goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez raced out to thwart him.

The next moment of note in this well-contested, if opportunity-lite, friendly came in the 40th minute when the visitors won a free-kick following good work by Ponce, whose through-ball was stopped by a hand. Koufatti lined up 25 yards out near the centre of the pitch and drove the ball low, which went narrowly wide off the post, having perhaps taken a slight touch off goalkeeper Jaime Penedo’s hand.

Just before the players went in for the break, there were a few tasty challenges and scuffles in quick succession that caused many from each side to size one another up, as things threatened to turn ugly. There had already been rumblings of this and it was not to be the last instance before the ninety minutes were up.

Six minutes after the restart, a combination of first Abdiel Arroyo and then, after his charge was bluntly halted, fellow substitute Roberto Nurse, tried to force their way into the Venezuela box but the latter collided with a defender and the momentum was lost. This attack came after Arroyo opportunistically robbed the ball off centre-back Sema Velázquez, a rare occasion when the visitors’ defence looked genuinely vulnerable – something that could rarely be said during recent Venezuelan displays.

A few minutes later, former Spain Under-21 attacker Jeffrén Suárez – now representing the country of his birth, though not included in Dudamel’s final 23 – hit a dipping free-kick that hit the roof of the net – alas the wrong side of it. This was the closest the visitors were to come for the remainder of the game.

Again though, the middle-third of the pitch was always there to compensate for the shortcomings of both final-thirds. On the hour-mark, there was another coming together, as Santos took exception to the way he was backed into by his opponent and appeared to kick out in response. Whether on the advice of the officials or members of the coaching staff, the NEC Nijmegen striker was substituted off straight afterwards, to be replaced by midfield magician Rómulo Otero.

Though it would be a stretch to say the Panamanians were dominant in the final half-hour, they did nevertheless have the better of the chances. Indeed, perhaps the best opportunity came after 65 minutes when Arroyo crossed in low for Nurse who beat his marker to stab the ball just wide of the near post. Later, with less than ten minutes remaining, following some good work from Adolfo Machado on the right, his low ball in was only just cut out by the defender.

By contrast, the closest the Venezuelans came to the target were some uncharacteristically wayward free-kicks from Otero, as the game finally ended the way it had long been heading: goalless.

Alas, though the significance of such a match can always be called into question, this was the second time the two nations have finished level in a non-competitive match in the past year. Undeniably the coaches will have got far more out of this game than either set of fans. Nevertheless, though Venezuelan fans may feel a little in the dark as to who exactly will be lining up against Jamaica on 5 June, there is some comfort in the fact that both of Dudamel’s games have ended level and there are still two games left for experimentation. Next stop, Costa Rica.

Team Selections

Panama (4-4-2): J. Penedo (J. Calderón, 46′); F. Baloy, R. Miller (F. Escobar, 78′), A. Machado, L. Henríquez; G. Gómez, A. Henríquez, A. Cooper (M. Camargo, 46′), V. Pimentel (A. Arroyo, 37′); R. Buitrago, I. Diaz (R. Nurse, 46′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Faríñez; V. García, W. Ángel, S. Velázquez, M. Villanueva (A. González, 90′); J. Suárez (Juanpi, 73′), A. Flores,  C. Suárez (A. Figuera, 68′), J. Kouffati (J. Martínez, 79′); C. Santos (R. Otero, 60′) & A. Ponce.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-3 Honduras – International Friendly (4 September 2015)

International Friendly

Friday 4 September 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State.

Venezuela 0-3 Honduras

(To read a preview of both of Venezuela’s September 2015 friendlies, click here)

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-3 Honduras, International Friendly, 4 September 2015 (YouTube)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Túñez (A. González, 90′), Cichero; Guerra (Arango, 46′), Rincón (Signorelli, 78′), Seijas (C. González, 68′), R. Vargas (M. Rondón, 61′); Martínez (Miku, 69′), S. Rondón. (The formation was nominally a 4-4-2 though often looked like the usual 4-2-3-1, with Martínez slightly behind S. Rondón).

Honduras (4-4-2): Lopez; Beckeles, Velásquez, Figueroa, Izaguirre (Oseguera, 90+2′); Andino (Méndez, 87′), A. Mejía (Garrido, 78′), Acosta, B. García (E. Hernández, 80′); Bengtson (Castillo, 71′), J. Mejía (Discua, 65′).

Match Report

Uncreative Venezuela Humbled at Home By Honduras 

Plans for Venezuela to overcome the shortcomings of their premature Copa América exit and instead gain a morale boost on home soil ahead of their World Cup qualifying campaign took a backwards step as they were undone by three second-half goals.

Possibly in a bid to improve his side’s poor goalscoring stats, coach Noel Sanvicente started with the same players that were named for the final Group C game with Brazil in June, albeit with one key change. Experienced icon Juan Arango was replaced with Torino prospect Josef Martínez, who from the off was perhaps the chief instigator of a more direct approach, often seeking to play in close tandem with star striker Salomón Rondón.

Indeed, though Venezuela certainly attempted many attacks on the flanks throughout the game, it was often the central approach that yielded the best results, particularly in the first half when they were the better side, playing at a tempo not witnessed in the Chile-hosted tournament.

That said, their first moment of note came from the right wing in the 10th minute when right-back Roberto Rosales, who was a frequent intruder into opposition territory, glided in a challenging cross. Rondón jumped for it with a defender, who just about beat the West Brom striker to the ball at the back post and goalkeeper Luis Lopez rose up to collect. However, just a couple of minutes later, Honduras were to give the hosts the first taste of what could happen if they fail to take advantage of their more frequent forward forays. The internationally prolific Jerry Bengtson – who has recently moved to Iran to play for Persepolis –  did well to take a long ball up the inside-left in his stride and suddenly had some space on the left within the area. However, centre-back Andrés Túñez’s presence may have just about served its purpose, as the shot was fired comfortably over.

Undeterred, Venezuela continued with their pressing and were to enjoy the next few chances of note. Just after the quarter-hour mark, the strike partnership haphazardly displayed some promise as a series of central knock-ons, intentional or otherwise, from opposition defender Maynor Figueroa as well as Martínez and Rondón led to the latter almost poking the ball in, though he was narrowly beaten to it by the fleet-footed Lopez. A few minutes later, a corner from Ronald Vargas – whose success rate of finding a team-mate from a set-piece was otherwise largely abysmal – was glanced wide by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Had the Nantes centre-back arrived a fraction of a second earlier to meet the ball, he could well have bullet-headed it into the back of the net. AEK winger Vargas was involved in the next opportunity in the 24th minute as, from the inside-right position, he slid the ball forward to give Rondón a chance at goal. However, though he could have squeezed a shot between the defender and Lopez towards the far corner, he instead hit a low strike straight at the goalkeeper.

Overall, Rondón was to have a rather mediocre game, not only failing to convert the chances that came his way but also giving away the ball several times when involved in quick-paced direct passing moves, though his efforts in such exchanges were not entirely without merit. Much of this was in evidence in the last moment of note in the first half. Indeed, in the 44th minute, Martínez bustled through the middle, played a rapid one-two with Rondón before being adjudged to have been fouled in the area. Up stepped Rondón but his penalty was struck barely halfway between the centre and left post of the goal-frame and thus, having guessed correctly, Lopez pulled off what was a fairly comfortable save.

Venezuela returned for the second half with the ineffectual Guerra having been replaced by Arango and were to again have the first chance of note. The roaming Rosales once more reached the right edge of the Honduran area, where this time he cut inside and curled a left-footed effort goalwards, though his accuracy was unfortunately off by several yards.

However, a minute later when the clock struck 50′, the tide was to begin to turn against the hosts. All of a sudden, they found themselves stretched at the back as the youthful Bryan Acosta was to beat the ageing Vizcarrondo to the chase and dinked the ball over the onrushing Alain Baroja but also a yard or two above the goalkeeper’s bar. Under-fire visiting manager Jorge Luis Pinto, who has had a relatively poor start to his reign in charge, shook his head on the touchline as if to query the footballing Gods as towhen exactly he is finally going to get a break.

Fortunately for him, the answer to that was very shortly. Indeed, a few minutes after Vizcarrondo almost got outpaced again, Erick Andino struck a bona fide golazo that really did come out of nowhere. Controlling a ball 25 yards out just to the right of the centre of the park, he hoisted a dipping half-volley towards the far top corner which Baroja could only help on its way into the net.

Momentarily at least, a hush of seemingly silent admiration appeared to spread amongst the Puerto Ordaz crowd. However, they soon had reason to regain their voices as immediately following the goal, another direct Venezuelan attack nearly reaped dividends. This time, from the edge of the area, Martínez flicked on with Cantona-esque panache a return-ball for Rondón, who stabbed a volley from inside the area that Lopez did well to instinctively tip over at point-blank range. From the resulting corner, Vargas’ second and final dead-ball delivery of note was met by the towering Túñez at the back post, but though Lopez was caught in a difficult position, the header was off target.

From that moment onwards, Venezuela struggled to get a clear sight of the Honduran goal as familiar problems came to the fore and were magnified by the scoreline. An absence of effective team-work and incisive passing marked most forward forays as La Vinotinto seemed short on ideas to find ways through or around the opposition. In the 70th minute, Rosales’ frustrations appeared to almost get the better of him after one of his many bursts up the right resulted in his infield pass to substitute Miku being wasted by the Rayo Vallecano striker, who attempted a hopelessly wayward return-ball. Subsequently, the Málaga right-back wore an expression of exasperation, quite possibly weary of several of his team-mates who were rarely capable of adequately complementing his charges up the right.

Unsurprisingly, such sullenness did not do much to aid his own performance. Just a few minutes later from Rosales’ side, Celtic left-back Emilio Izaguirre swung in a fine, elegant cross that recent substitute Román Castillo of Motagua beat his marker to and nodded home to double the lead. The out-manoeuvred defender in question was Túñez who also came in for some criticism against Brazil in June when he was similarly beaten to the ball for the two Seleção goals.

If Rosales’ culpability for the second goal was masked by the positioning of his team-mate in the centre, then there was no hiding for the third. This came in the 83rd minute when goalscorer Andino cut back from the byline inside the area where he was upended by the Venezuela right-back’s left leg. Some felt this was a soft call but, nevertheless, Izaguirre made no mistake from the spot, blasting down the centre to complete the rout.

With a minute remaining, there was a final chance for a consolation goal, though this was squandered. With a spacious area to aim his cross into, Rondón chipped the ball from the left edge towards the right-hand side near the back post where it was nodded down by Miku for substitute César González. However, what looked like being an inevitable close-range headed goal instead turned into an embarrassing miss that went well wide of the target, almost in a parallel trajectory to the goal line. Perhaps on second viewing, the Deportivo Táchira midfielder had a little trouble adjusting his body in time and the ball was a little behind him, though few fans will be willing to argue the toss over that one.

When the final whistle blew, the scoreline was emphatically not what the admirably vocal crowd had expected at the start of the game and at no point during the first 45 minutes did it seem likely either. Alas, Venezuela’s familiar failings came to the fore once again and they were made to pay, suffering the ignominy of what is, according to the revered statistician Mister Chip, their worst ever defeat at home to a Central American opponent. Owing to manager Noel Sanvicente’s success at club level, criticism during his reign has so far been less severe than it perhaps would have been for a foreign manager who had overseen similar results. Yet, with World Cup qualifying on the horizon, the underlying belief shared by many that things will eventually come together has taken another battering. Indeed, although the Puerto Ordaz crowd were consistently supportive during this game, a similar scoreline against Panama on Tuesday may well provoke a response from the stands that reverberates in the national press for some time before the Russia 2018 campaign kicks off against Paraguay.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical