Tag Archives: César González

Deportivo Táchira 0-0 Sporting Cristal – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (8 April 2015)

Wednesday 8 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Deportivo Táchira 0-0 Sporting Cristal 

Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal

Highlights of Deportivo Táchira 0-0 Sporting Cristal, 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8, 8 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Táchira Bow Out as Cristal’s Fortunes Hang in the Balance

In their penultimate group game, Deportivo Táchira’s elimination from this year’s Copa Libertadores was confirmed following a relatively uneventful encounter with Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal. 

Without getting a real opportunity on target, it was the visitors who edged the first half, often looking to attack from the flanks, with left-back Alexis Cossío – who recently featured at the Under-20 South American Youth Championship – delivering the bulk of the crosses. The closest they came to a goal occurred in the 30th minute as a free-kick delivered by Argentina-born Horacio Calcaterra was headed by Irven Ávila at the backpost past goalkeeper José Contreras, necessitating a desperate hooked clearance on the line by Carlos Rivero.

By contrast, the hosts were more reliant on long balls, pumping them upfield to be chased by the likes of Pablo Olivera who, to the increasing irritation of the home fans, was to often find himself in offside positions. However, their best opportunity, which arrived in the 38th minute, came via a more direct route as Yohandry Orozco – who impressed so much last time out that boos greeted his removal from the field – dribbled up the inside-right towards the area. Yet, the lack of threat offered by Táchira in this period was exemplified by the outcome of this attack as Orozco’s left-footed shot was struck without venom and thus comfortably saved by erstwhile Burnley goalkeeper Diego Penny.

A small mercy was to be afforded to the spectactors inside the ground – which, in marked contrast to the full house for the first home game against Racing, was well under half its capacity – as the second half was to be marginally more entertaining. The majority would have been pleased to see the hosts enjoy the greater of the chances and, to some extent, change tact with more opportunities being derived from the runs of the likes of Orozco and, latterly, substitute José Alí Meza.

Their best chances were to come in quick succession with the half barely five minutes old. Firstly, having had another run abruptly halted by Cossio, Orozco won a free-kick on the edge of the area, which he himself curled over the wall only to see it rebound straight back off the post. Subsequently, the ball fell to Olivera who instinctively knocked it past Penny yet, once again, he was standing in an offside position and thus the goal was ruled out. Just a minute later, Orozco was to find himself over on the left, from where he ran past a defender and slid the ball low across the area to Olivera yet, from a hugely advantageous position, the Uruguayan striker was to squander what was a golden opportunity by tapping the ball wide.

Throughout the rest of this half, Orozco was to continue to spread uncertainty amongst the Cristal back line and Olivera was to find himself offside time and time again before being substituted, but the chances that occurred at the opening of the half were to remain the hosts’ best. The Peruvians, though less successful from the flanks in this period, were to gradually recover from the early threats and had their best overall chance in the 69th minute. This came following a cross from the right that was struck sweetly on the volley in the centre by substitute Renzo Sheput, from which Contreras, with little time to think, managed to pull off a superb one-handed save on the stretch.

In the remaining 20 minutes of regulation time, while both sides continued their forward forays, aside from the odd half-chance and, in the case of the visitors, a half-hearted penalty shout, neither was to seriously threaten the opposition goal. However, following a last-minute red card for Cristal substitute Edinson Chávez, one final opportunity to win the match was to be had, though despite the implorations in the crowd, this was not to fall to the hosts. Instead, Sheput, with what was virtually the last kick of the game, curled a swerving left-footed free-kick from 35 yards just inches wide of the post.

With the game ending in a goalless draw, nobody in the Pueblo Nuevo was particularly surprised to see the Venezuelans eliminated. However, while a point against the Peruvian champions is not to be sniffed at, they may feel an opportunity to claim the first victory in this year’s group stage for their country was missed. As their final opponents, leaders Racing (9 points), are not yet confirmed as the top dog in the group and so are unlikely to field a weakened side, nobody will be expecting Táchira to be the Venezuelan side to rectify this sorry state of affairs next week. By contrast, Sporting Cristal (6 points) will have significantly more to play for in their home tie against Guaraní (8 points), as both know only one can reach the knock-out stage.

Nevertheless, though it has been a rather forgettable year for Venezuelan teams in this year’s Copa Libertadores, for those who are still curious to see if any of them (Zamora and Mineros de Guayana, as well as Deportivo Táchira) can gain that as-yet-elusive win, be sure to continue checking back on this site and/or on @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Reflections on Venezuela’s March 2015 Internationals

Summary of Venezuela’s March 2015 Internationals Against Jamaica and Peru

With an eye towards the 2015 Copa América, Venezuela recently played two fellow entrants in the form of invitees Jamaica and long-term South American rivals Peru (who have been drawn in the same group as La Vinotinto, along with Brazil and Colombia). Against the Reggae Boyz, Noel Sanvicente’s charges put in a limp performance largely devoid of chances, cohesion and often basic organisation, losing 2-1 in the Caribbean. Given Jamaica were ranked the lowest amongst all the teams at the time of the draw for the Chile-hosted tournament, this was a particularly rude awakening. Some pride and morale was salvaged in Fort Lauderdale against Los Incas, however, as promising Torino forward Josef Martínez netted the only goal in a game that saw a significantly higher number of goalscoring opportunities and mercifully fewer defensive errors.

To get a better impression of the Jamaica and Peru games as well as the state of play before the two matches, please take some time to read a preview and a detailed analysis of the squad selection as well as the two match reports. If, however, you saw both matches then feel free to read on here as what follows are some brief reflections:

Key Points

Alain Baroja put in an assured performance in his opportunity between the sticks against Peru and, vitally for a goalkeeper, pulled off a memorable save. This will hopefully ensure that Tenerife’s Dani Hernández does not get too complacent as the current number one. The clean sheet that was kept – the first in all eight of Sanvicente’s games – will not have done Baroja’s case any harm either.

Andrés Túñez put in a superior shift at centre-back against Peru than Fernando Amorebieta did against Jamaica. Whether this was more due to the opposition than their respective abilities is difficult to say but Amorebieta, now on loan at Middlesbrough, must be hoping to be able to put in a few performances at club level that show that he is not only a solid unit but also in possession of basic match fitness as otherwise he could very well lose out to his Thai-based rival. Amorebieta was switched over to left-back for the Peru game, with the injured Gabriel Cichero missing his first game in all of Sanvicente’s reign, but one would have thought the Mineros de Guayana man is a safer bet for a starting berth here. The defence as a whole looked woeful against Jamaica, yet while far from flawless against Peru, not conceding a goal for the first time in two years should aid the collective confidence.

Alejandro Guerra and Josef Martínez were, over the course of the two games, the leading attacking threats for La Vinotinto. They were involved in the two main goalscoring chances in the second half against Jamaica and subsequently tested the Peruvian back-line from the very first minute, with Martínez scoring the winning goal. In the hotly contested attacking area behind Salomón Rondón, the Torino forward seems a near cert to start at the Copa América, whereas the Atlético Nacional man may have more of a battle on his hands. Whether or not he makes the line-up for the opening game against Colombia, he will still remain a key squad player and should appear more than once in the tournament.

Furthermore, continuing with this line of three behind the Zenit forward, Mario Rondón must be unsure where these games leave him. Indeed, having been arguably the brightest attacking player in the early phase of Sanvicente’s reign, this time around he only played an unremarkable, if volatile, half against Jamaica followed by a very brief cameo as a timewasting substitute in the dying stages of the Peru match. Similarly, Christian Santos, who made his much-anticipated debut against Jamaica before being withdrawn after an hour, did not even feature against Peru and must be wondering if he will receive another call-up in the next few months.

With more certainty it can be stated assertively that it would take a severe and sustained loss of form at club level for the likes of Roberto Rosales (right-back), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (centre-back), Tomás Rincón (defensive-midfielder) and Salomón Rondón (striker) to lose their first-choice statuses. One can not be so sure about the legendary Juan Arango but, despite his misses against Peru, so long as he keeps up his fine club form and maintains his ability to perform well in various midfield positions, he should be okay.

Finally, with a squad of 23 players – 20 of whom got onto the pitch – and at least a handful who missed out but will be hopeful of being on the flight to Chile, there are understandably many more issues that could be explored. Rather than dissecting them now, it may be better to wait until the next – and final – game(s) before Copa América are due to be played in May (at the moment, only an encounter late in the month with Bolivia appears to be on the cards). However, if any readers seek any more information on how things currently stand regarding the likely squad, perusing the two latest match reports in conjunction with this lengthy analysis of the March selection, may well help to inform.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Peru 0-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (31 March 2015)

International Friendly

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

Peru 0-1 Venezuela

Match Highlights of Peru 0-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 31 March 2015 (Courtesy of YouTube user Claudio Navarro Vargas)

La Vinotinto Bounce Back as Starlet Martínez Restores Optimism

Team Selections

Peru (4-2-3-1): Gallese; Advíncula, Zambrano, Ramos, Céspedes; Ballón, Tapia; Carrillo (Benavente, 71′), Deza (Cueva, 30′), Hurtado (Gonzáles, 84′); Ávila (Ruidíaz, 71′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Túñez, Amorebieta; Rincón, Seijas (Lucena, 68′); Guerra (A. González, 90+2′), Martínez (Arango, 64′), C. González (Vargas, 78′); S. Rondón (M. Rondón, 90+3′).

Match Report

In what was an open and often fiercely contested international, Torino forward Josef Martínez’s strike on the hour-mark was enough to give La Vinotinto a morale-boosting win against their Copa América Group C rivals. 

As Brazil and Colombia are also in this group, the encounter on 18 June between these two nations may prove decisive in determining whether either can qualify for the knock-out stage as one of the two best-peforming third-placed sides. Venezuela, having just four days prior been defeated by Jamaica – another side with marginal hopes of reaching the second phase of this competition – will be pleased, not to mention relieved, to have gone some way to getting back on track with this victory. Had they not, the pessimism that has occasionally been expressed in the national media in the first eight months of Noel Sanvicente’s reign possibly would have permeated throughout the squad before a Copa ball had even been kicked.

This Vinotinto performance, though far from flawless, was nevertheless an improvement, with the side linking up more effectively in attacking positions, creating far more chances and conceding less ground in defensive areas. The more frequent forward forays can partly be attributed to three changes, namely the use of Luis Manuel Seijas as a deep-lying playmaker and, more significantly further upfield, Alejandro Guerra and Josef Martínez – both of whom had provided rare offensive optimism after they came on at half-time against Jamaica.

Here at the Lockhart Stadium – home to NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers, whose pitch is evidently also used for American Football games – this attacking prowess was to be mostly demonstrated in the second half, with the first being a more even, albeit spirited, affair.

Indeed, Venezuela – in their blindingly luminous new away kit – began promisingly, with Martínez gaining some space on the inside-right within the first minute, though perhaps twisted one too many times in the area, thus allowing the defender to recover and block out any potential shot. Ten minutes later, the Serie A striker was to link up with Atlético Nacional’s Guerra on the inside-right, gaining space and putting in a low cross that rolled into space but was nevertheless dealt with. It was to be the Colombia-based Guerra who created La Vinotinto‘s best chance of the half when, on 26 minutes, he dinked in a ball from the right byline that went over goalkeeper Pedro Gallese but just evaded the agonising stretch of Zenit forward Salomón Rondón at the back post.

However, it was not to be all one-way traffic, with the Peruvians – who were missing top exports such as Paolo Guerrero, Jefferson Farfán, Claudio Pizarro and Juan Manuel Vargas – also exploiting space on the right in what was a rather even half. With what proved to be the only real efforts on goal in this period, both of Peru’s best chances came around the midway point and each fell to Jean Deza, currently plying his trade with Alianza Lima on loan from Ligue 1 outfit Montpellier. First, on 21 minutes, Luis Advíncula nudged the ball though to Deza in a central position and he gained some space before hitting a deflected shot that was comfortable for Alain Baroja. Six minutes later, the Caracas FC goalkeeper was again not to have too much trouble saving another effort that went into his arms from the edge of the area from Deza. Unfortunately for the Peruvian, despite looking like his side’s most likely scorer, this was to be his last contribution to the game as he was hurt by an incoming challenge and had to be withdrawn.

Though the first half was rather open and contested with a spirit that was refreshing for a friendly – possibly influenced by the buoyant expatriates in the crowd – this was to be turned up an extra notch or two after the interval, with both sides having more chances to score. Adherents to certain psychological methods may feel Venezuela coach Sanvicente helped to precipitate this by sending his charges out a few minutes before Los Incas. If so, it was to pay nearly instant dividends when a free-kick from a deep position was lofted into the area, then headed across by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo to Salomón Rondón who, under some defensive pressure, leant back slightly to scoop an attempt just over. On another day, he may well have been able to wrestle himself into some space before getting a snap-shot away.

Ten minutes into the new half, it was looking as if the game may boil over with three players – André Carrillo, Roberto Rosales and Josef Martínez – receiving yellow cards in quick succession, bringing the total number of players on a yellow card up to five. However, while the scrapes and skirmishes did not halt at this point, the cards did, with instead the real action – and what proved to be the pivotal moment – occurring soon afterwards.

Indeed, just before the hour-mark, the Peruvians were to suddenly gain some space on right, with a subsequent cross put into the area where it was met by Sporting Cristal marksman Irven Ávila. However, despite being in acres of room and being granted an age to direct his header, he could only nod it against the ground for it to clip off the top of the bar and over. The fact that the offside flag had gone up did little to spare his blushes.

However, little time was available to dwell on his poor finishing as immediately from Baroja’s pumped upfield clearance, Salomón Rondón flicked on the ball with Martínez taking it into his stride before unleashing a clinical right-footed shot from inside the area past Gallese. The versatile Torino forward, still a mere 21 years old, had given Venezuela the breakthrough. Yet, in a move that may have been planned before the goal, this highly promising starlet was almost immediately replaced by the undisputed icon of the past decade, Juan Arango.

Several minutes later it looked as if Sanvicente was looking to preserve this lead rather than extend it, as he took off Seijas, the attack-minded deep-lying playmaker, and replaced him with the more reserved, holding midfielder, Franklin Lucena. Yet if this was this intention, it was certainly not how the remaining 22 minutes panned out.

Indeed, La Vinotinto were to have several strong opportunities to increase the score as the Peruvians increasingly conceded possession and space. In the 76th minute, Arango burst forward slightly to the right-of-centre 30 yards out but, with only one defender separating him and Rondón, his pass went slightly askew, forcing the Zenit man into a wide position from where he could only win a corner. A couple of minutes later, Rondón attempted to turn provider when a poor clearance was rapidly headed into his path on the right, which he quickly released into the area but his intended target, César González, was in a difficult position and was unable to direct it goalwards. Another two minutes passed and Rondón again nearly set up a goal as he flicked on a ball centrally for Arango who, just inside the area, momentarily had a clear sight of goal, but a defender was ultimately to catch up and put him off making a meaningful connection with the ball.

Three minutes after this Arango was to have another, arguably better, chance to score as a cross sprayed from the right by Guerra drifted over two players tangling in the centre all the way to the Xolos de Tijuana man on the left of the area. Blessed with considerable time to shape up and shoot with only a defender’s desperate lunge separating him and the goalkeeper, he nevertheless dragged his shot wide of the far post.

With just three minutes remaining, Arango nearly managed to go some way towards making up for these wasted opportunities when, from the left inside the area, he slid the ball through to Guerra. Yet, from a mere seven yards out, ‘El Lobo’ was to sidefoot a very presentable opportunity straight at the chest of Gallese who managed to parry it out.

From then on, in stoppage-time Venezuela were to have one final opportunity to extend the lead. Following some rapid – and, in contrast to the majority of previous games, effective – short passing play, substitute Ronald Vargas curled in a fine cross from the left that Rondón ran onto but, perhaps due to a slight mis-timing of his run, headed over from just outside the six-yard box.

Though Venezuela had all these chances to record a more impressive victory, they could have also conceded on more than one occasion. Indeed, while the Peruvians were ultimately second-best in this half, they did continue to threaten, having a couple of penalty shouts turned down as well as, in addition to Ávila’s header against the bar, two opportunities that on another day could well have gone in. The most notable of the two came on 82 minutes when Paços de Ferreira’s Paolo Hurtado played an exquisite return pass to Alianza Lima’s Christian Cueva who, from eight yards out, volleyed a strike that seemed destined to go in but which Baroja did very well to parry out wide. This was a close shave, as was, more literally, Christofer Gonzáles’s shot a few minutes later. The Universitario substitute played a quick one-two from a free-kick then, 35 yards out, hit a fine effort that dipped only marginally over the crossbar.

Ultimately, La Vinotinto were to hold on, attaining what many will feel was the country’s first real victory under manager Noel Sanvicente, due to the other two against Honduras being in games contested solely by home-based players. While nobody should be getting too carried away given that the opposition were not at full strength and were experimenting in Ricardo Gareca’s first game in charge, it was nevertheless a boost following the dispiriting performance against Jamaica.

Quite where this all leaves the hopes of some of the players not entirely sure of their ticket to Chile in June is another matter, but several things taken from these two friendly matches can nevertheless be asserted. For some reflections on the Jamaica and Peru games, click here.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Deportivo Táchira 1-1 Club Guaraní – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (18 March 2015)

Wednesday 18 March 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Deportivo Táchira 1-1 Club Guaraní

Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal

Highlights of Deportivo Táchira 1-1 Club Guaraní, 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8, 18 March 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user MXFS Venezuela)

Orozco Impresses but Improved Táchira Fail to Capitalise in Game of Penalties

Having been dispatched 5-2 last week in Asunción, Deportivo Táchira put in a much-improved performance though will ultimately feel an opportunity to get back into the qualification hunt was missed. 

From the off, the Venezuelans sought to take it to their Paraguayan opponents, frequently gaining some space on the flanks, putting in crosses and trying their luck from range. After five minutes, Guaraní received the first clear message that this encounter would be unlike last week’s as Táchira captain César González, possibly unintentionally, hit the top of the crossbar with a long-range free-kick from the right. Four minutes later, dimunitive winger Yohandry Orozco – whose runs, both on the flanks and further infield, were to cause problems all night – curled a low left-footed free-kick just wide from the edge of the area.

It was to be these two players who were involved in the opening goal as, in the 19th minute, Orozco ran from the inside-right into the area where, following an entanglement with Luis Cabral which sent both men to the ground, a penalty was awarded. Replays struggled to pinpoint exactly what the offence was, but nevertheless González stepped up and confidently converted the spot-kick into the bottom left-hand corner for his fourth goal in consecutive games and his third in four Libertadores group matches.

The Venezuelans continued to attack but the first half as a whole was a rather even affair with the Paraguayans also regularly getting forwards and testing the Táchira rearguard with crosses and long-range shots. They were afforded an opportunity back into the game on the half-hour mark as a free-kick from the edge of the area hit the arm of a player in the wall and was adjudged, somewhat harshly, to have been an intentional handball. However, Federico Santander, a 23-year-old forward who has been capped at international level and who has had loan spells in both France and Argentina, was unable to score from the 12-yard spot. Instead, goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind guessed correctly to pull off what remarkably was his fourth penalty save since joining Táchira at the beginning of the year.

However, the visitors continued their drive to get back into the game and five minutes after Julián Benítez hit a fine long-range shot just wide of the post, he was to get an opportunity to level from the spot. Indeed, in the 41st minute, Argentine centre-back Javier López was penalised in the area for holding back Santander as both men awaited a cross. Thus, the third penalty of the game was awarded, with this time Benítez taking control of the situation and burying the ball into the back of the net to even up the score at half-time.

The second half, though certainly not a one-sided affair, largely belonged to Táchira and yet they were ultimately unable to take advantage of the situation. Eight minutes after the restart they thought they had taken the lead as González, from a similar position to last week’s assist for López’s goal, crossed a free-kick into the area for full-back Yuber Mosquera to head in off the bar. However, his celebrations were quickly cut short by an offside flag.

On the hour-mark, it was Orozco’s turn to come close as a deflected shot from outside the area took a wicked deflection and rebounded off the crossbar, causing goalkeeper Alfredo Aguilar to flail around largely oblivious to the ball’s whereabouts. The next big moment for the hosts came after 72 minutes and was again the work of Orozco as he skilfully took on his man inside the area, before putting a low ball across for González in space sideways-on. Unfortunately for the experienced international who has recently earned a recall to the national side, he was unable to orientate himself quickly enough and his shot was deflected for a corner.

However, despite earning plaudits from the fans for this piece of creativity and generally for his role as the leading attacking threat, Orozco was surprisingly taken off soon afterwards to be replaced by Ángel Osorio. This decision caused uproar amongst the home faithful whose booing and abuse towards manager Daniel Farías – ‘Fuera  Farías’ and ‘Farías hijo de puta’ were amongst the ditties heard – continued with varying degrees of venom until the final whistle. For a manager who many were surprised did not receive the sack following his side’s poor showing in the 2014 Torneo Apertura, this was not the wisest of moves.

In the remaining moments of the game, the hosts nevertheless continued to lead the play and were not too far from winning it when González’s free-kick cross was narrowly missed in the centre – much to the captain’s annoyance. However, a shadow had been cast over the game following Orozco’s removal and when the final whistle was blown, the discontented hordes will have felt vindicated when their man was duly awarded the official man of the match prize.

While Orozco can feel justly aggrieved by his manager’s decision, the outrage on his behalf that followed certainly will not do his reputation any harm. This is something that he has sought to rebuild since returning from Wolfsburg just under two years ago, a move which somewhat dented his status as his nation’s ‘Next Big Thing’.

Whether or not he could have inspired his side to victory on the night can never be known but their failure to pick up three points has surely sealed their fate in Group 8. Whereas a win would have put them just one point off second place, they instead trail by three points and, with a trip to Argentine champions Racing as one of their last two group games, it seems very unlikely that they will progress to the knock-out stage.

Nevertheless, Táchira came close to attaining the first Venezuelan victory of the group stage and will fancy their chances of achieving this in their next game, a home encounter with Peru’s Sporting Cristal. This match, as well their final encounter and all the remaining games of the other two Venezuelan sides – Mineros de Guayana and Zamora FC – will be featured on this site as well as on @DarrenSpherical, so feel free to return to both for further updates.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Club Guaraní 5-2 Deportivo Táchira – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (10 March 2015)

Tuesday 10 March 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Club Guaraní 5-2 Deportivo Táchira

Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asunción

Highlights of Club Guaraní 5-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 10 March 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Tepid Táchira Sunk in Asunción

For the second time in three Libertadores group matches, Deportivo Táchira conceded five goals, leaving their already low chances of qualifying for the knock-out stage very much contingent upon next week’s return fixture in San Cristóbal. 

It did not take long for the Paraguayan Apertura leaders to announce their superiority as their early dominance led to a 10th-minute opener from Argentine Darío Ocampo. He finished off a move that started from a long ball down the right-flank that Julián Benítez easily beat left-back Yuber Mosquera to, before turning another defender and playing a low cross from the byline for Ocampo to lash home.

However, seven minutes later and against the run of play, Táchira were to surprise their hosts by getting back on level terms. Captain César González picked up the ball on the inside-left, before inching away from a player to strike a fine right-footed shot low into the bottom corner from 25 yards.

Though this goal marked an immediate improvement in the visitors’ morale and play, it was not to last as the hosts were to gradually return to dominate play, albeit without creating too many clear-cut chances. That is, until the last ten minutes of the half when they were to blitz their opponents with three goals in rapid succession. First, in a goal not entirely dissimilar from their opener, Jorge Mendoza blasted home in the centre a pass that was skilfully directed to him by Eduardo Filippini, following more good work from Benítez on the right. Then, after a cross came in again from the right, defender Carlos Rivero was adjudged to have hauled down striker Federico Santander and he himself stepped up to give his side a two-goal advantage. Barely 60 seconds then elapsed before another goal was added as the Táchira defence, no doubt reeling from the past few minutes, played a few hesistant passes between themselves 35 yards out, upon which the Paraguayans pounced. Indeed, some high pressing led to the ball being won and quickly released to Benítez in the area, who capped off a fine first-half performance by gaining space from defender Javier López to poke home a cultured shot. 4-1 the scoreboard read at half-time.

In such a perilous position, Táchira had a daunting task ahead of them in the second period but within five minutes of the restart were to go some way to getting back into the match from that most reliable source of hope for teams under the cosh: a set-piece. Captain César González lofted in a fine free-kick from the right that the Argentine centre-back López rose onto to head home.

However, though the play was more even for the subsequent ten minutes, the visitors were to needlessly and senselessly write themselves out of contention on the hour mark. Indeed, seemingly apropos of nothing, Agnel Flores, who had only been on the pitch for 15 minutes, appeared to elbow Santander in the middle of the field and was immediately given his marching orders.

The remaining half-hour was anything but a contest with the hosts dominating possession and largely conducting a long-range target practice session. For the eternal optimists, things briefly got interesting with eight minutes left when the hosts’ Tomás Bartomeus was sent off, thus evening up the playing field. Yet the Venezuelans were unable to take any initiative that may have been offered by this change in circumstances as it was the Paraguayans who were to get the next goal, thus confirming a victory that had rarely been in much doubt. This involved two late substitutes as a pass from Luis de la Cruz from the right towards the edge of the area was skipped over by a team-mate before Fernando Fernández managed to gain space from a defender before firing home a low strike.

Thus, for the second time in three games, the Venezuelans from the border state of Táchira were on the receiving end of a heavy defeat. With only one point, winning their next game – a home tie against the Paraguayans – is imperative and has been made all the more so following the surprise win of Peruvians Sporting Cristal away to Argentine champions Racing. The Venezuelans now find themselves rooted to the bottom of their group, with the Paraguayans on 4 points, the Peruvians on 5 and the Argentines on 6. Consequently, a win next week for Táchira, however unlikely it may currently seem, would certainly blast further wide this already rather open group.

Whether or not the Venezuelans are up to such a task remains to be seen, but irrespective of what happens, feel free to check back here and/or at @DarrenSpherical for further updates on the Copa Libertadores campaign of not only Deportivo Táchira but also those of Mineros de Guayana and Zamora FC.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Sporting Cristal 1-1 Deportivo Táchira – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (24 February 2015)

Tuesday 24 February 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Sporting Cristal 1-1 Deportivo Táchira

Estadio Alberto Gallardo, Lima

Highlights of Sporting Cristal 1-1 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 24 February 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Liebeskind to the Rescue as Táchira Gain Morale-Boosting Point

In stoppage-time, Alan Liebeskind’s penalty-saving heroics came to the fore once again as the Venezuelans salvaged a late draw to gain their first point in this year’s Libertadores.

For the majority of this game, things were looking rather pessimistic for Táchira as they struggled to get a decent shot on target until around the hour-mark. Instead, in the opening exchanges, aside from a good long-range effort from Jorge Rojas that went a yard or two over, it was their Peruvian hosts who dominated possession, looking more assured on the ball and creating clearer chances. The first of these fell to Irven Ávila – a Peruvian international who has been very prolific at club level – though he was unable to guide his header either side of Liebeskind. Their next moment of note in the penalty area was the opening goal, which came on 27 minutes as Ávila slid a pass to 35-year-old Carlos Lobatón in acres of room on the edge of the area. Here, far too much time and space was afforded to him as his low right-footed strike was blocked by Liebeskind but rebounded straight back for the midfielder to put it away with his opposite foot.

For the remainder of the half, the hosts were to continue to exert their superiority, with two more notable efforts attempted, the first a low shot from Horacio Calcaterra that Liebeskind parried uncomfortably and the second from Ávila that went no more than a yard or two wide.

While still second-best, Táchira were to enjoy more forward forays after the interval. Within the first ten minutes of the restart, top-scorer Gelmin Rivas was played through by Rojas but was unable to get a shot away, then soon after narrowly missed a low ball put in by Yohandry Orozco, before the roles were reversed and Rivas knocked in a similar pass that his team-mate could not quite make contact with. Not long following this, the Venezuelans first attempt on goal came on 57 minutes when defender Javier López connected with a corner though his header was too close to Diego Penny. Regarding the Cristal goalkeeper, those with exceptionally good memories may or may not remember Penny making a solitary appearance just over five years ago in the English Premier League as well as in the Championship for Burnley.

Nevertheless, despite this bright start from the visitors, Cristal largely remained on top and came very close to extending their lead on 76 minutes when Uruguayan hotshot Sergio Blanco lashed a strike from an acute angle that Liebeskind did well to save with his trailing leg. Blanco was to have another opportunity a minute later as he headed a cross that the goalkeeper tipped over.

However, though the hosts had the better of the chances, Táchira were to level up the score with just a few minutes left on the clock when César González curled one of his patented 25-yard free-kicks over the wall, leaving Penny rooted to his spot.

Yet, in what was not entirely a surprise to observers of Venezuelan sides of all levels playing outside of their borders, their opponents were to receive some assistance in their hunt to regain the lead late on. Indeed, in stoppage-time the experienced Jorge Rojas was adjudged to have committed a foul in his own area. It seemed a little harsh as, to clear the ball, the highly capped international stretched out a raised leg which unfortunately caught substitute Diego Manicero who had dashed in from behind in a bid to win the ball. Nevertheless, the referee pointed to the spot, from which another substitute, Renzo Sheput – a 34-year-old with a couple of Peruvian caps to his name – fired a textbook left-footed strike towards the right-sided bottom corner that was spectacularly denied by Liebeskind. The goalkeeper, a mid-season signing from struggling Portuguesa in early January, parried it wide to make what was an astonishing third save from the five penalties he has faced since his move.

Thus, after last week’s 5-0 home humiliation by Argentine champions Racing, Táchira picked up a point that their performance perhaps did not quite merit but which, after Liebeskind’s late heroics, will have felt hard-fought. Their opponents will be disappointed but will have to quickly pick themselves up as they next travel to Buenos Aires to face Racing, whose attacking prowess showed no signs of abating as they despatched Paraguayans Guaraní 4-1 on the same night. In this game, Gustavo Bou achieved the extremely impressive feat of a second consecutive hat-trick, thus giving him six goals in two group games – already one more than the joint top-scorers of last season’s competition.

For their next game, Táchira will be away to Guaraní and as always, for more updates on their Libertadores campaign, as well as those of their fellow Venezuelan sides – Zamora FC and Mineros de Guayana – please check back here and/or visit @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Copa Libertadores Preview: Deportivo Táchira Join Zamora and Mineros de Guayana on the Grandest Stage

Tonight (17 February) may see Europe’s Champions League return for its knock-out phase, but in South America (and Mexico), attention will be very much on the inauguration of the Group Stage of the 2015 Copa Libertadores, the premier club competition.

Interest will be particularly high in Venezuela, the nation whose clubs have historically made the least impact in this tournament. For the first ever time since the round of play-off qualifiers was introduced in 2005, the continent’s traditional underdogs will be represented by their full quota of three teams, as Zamora (2013-14 champions) and Mineros de Guayana (2013-14 runners-up & Apertura winners) will be joined by Deportivo Táchira (3rd in 2013-14 aggregate table, behind the other two qualifiers).

Highlights of Cerro Porteño 2-2 Deportivo Táchira (3-4 aggregate), 11 February 2015, Copa Libertadores First Round.

(Video courtesy of YouTube user: Enfermos X el fútbol)

Deportivo Táchira’s Asunción Ascension

Táchira, who as well as making four appearances at this stage in the past ten years have also been unsuccessful in each of the three previous times that they have contested the play-off round, finally overcame this hurdle last week when they defeated Cerro Porteño. Perhaps being rivalled only by Palestino of Chile knocking out Uruguay’s three-time winners Nacional as the biggest surprise of the preliminaries, the side from the eponymous state on the Colombian border drew 2-2 in Asunción, thus claiming a memorable 4-3 aggregate victory

Before the first leg was contested on 4 February, the six-time semi-finalists from Paraguay were considered comfortable favourites to progress. Táchira, however, gave short shrift to the supposed script as it took no more than 12 minutes for 34-year-old Argentine Javier López – a recent recruit from Zamora FC – to head in the fine set-piece delivery of 32-year-old erstwhile Venezuela international César ‘Maestrico’ González. Rather than sitting back, San Cristóbal’s finest absorbed and were further invigorated by the raucous atmosphere of a well-populated Pueblo Nuevo and seven minutes later, the fans were to witness a goal that undoubtedly lived up to the significance of the occasion. Maintaining the theme of experience, this came from the much-travelled 37-year-old Jorge Rojas, a recent acquisition from one of the capital’s smaller sides, Metropolitanos, as well as being La Vinotinto‘s third highest-capped player of all-time. Upon receiving a throw-in, Rojas demonstrated why he is known as ‘El Zurdo’, as he let the ball roll into his stride and unleashed an unstoppable left-footed strike from over 30 yards that fizzed in the air before going in off the underside of the crossbar.

A goal surely fit to grace any stadium in the world and a fine example of the strength in depth that exists in this competition. Not to be outdone, five minutes after the restart Cerro were to get what proved to be their consolation and seemingly vital away goal, with a strike that left many impartial observers unsure as to which was the finest of the game. This was a swerving 30-yard free-kick from Jonathan Fabbro, an Argentina-born Paraguay international who has represented clubs in six countries within Latin America and who, at 33 years of age, was well on-message with this game’s theme.

Thus, with an away goal to their name and home advantage for the decisive tie on 11 February to look forward to, Cerro returned to the Paraguayan capital confident that a group berth awaited. When, with 40 minutes on the clock, Fabbro again got on the scoresheet – this time via a dubiously awarded penalty – many home nerves dissipated as now Táchira were compelled to attack in order to avoid elimination, thus leaving them vulnerable on the counter. Yet, while at times the Venezuelans rode their luck, from the very first minute they always looked like they were capable of posing a threat, not to mention a surprise or two, the first of which they delivered on 55 minutes. Gelmin Rivas, the club’s leading goalscorer with 11 goals in 17 league games, followed up the good work of Pablo Olivera – recently acquired from Uruguay’s second tier – to hold off defenders and adeptly side-foot home.

The onus was thus back on the hosts and to their credit, they required little more than five minutes to regain the lead with that man Fabbro again involved in the goal, albeit this time as supplier. He did well on the right of the area to shrug off some challenges before chipping a fine cross into the area that local youngster Cecilio Domínguez chested and dispatched with a consummate ease that belied his 20 years.

However, as the Asunción crowd began pondering whether or not extra-time would be necessary, Rivas abruptly rendered any such musings academic, stunning the home faithful within a minute of the restart. The striker, who was linked with a possible move to Standard Liège or Club Brugge in January, picked up the ball 30 yards out and evaded a challenge to hit a low bouncing shot from the right edge of the area into the bottom far corner. 2-2, the local scoreboard now alarmingly read. Although the goalkeeper Rodolfo Rodríguez probably should have parried this shot away, any anger felt by the home fans had to be suppressed as this sensationally swift turn of events meant that their side now had to frantically get their act together and score twice in just under half an hour.

As it panned out, while Cerro did have the bulk of the remaining chances, Táchira were to resist and hold on, thus not only qualifying for the group stage but also managing to avoid defeat against a side that had reached this very phase in four of the past five years.

Although it is unlikely that fans of Táchira’s El Clásico foes Caracas FC share the following sentiments, it must be said that as this second leg victory was immediately followed by the national team’s second successive win over Honduras in a week, for many Venezuelan football fans this was certainly a day to be savoured.

Previews of Venezuela’s 3 Teams in the 2015 Copa Libertadores

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Deportivo Táchira

With the confidence gained from their impressive win against Cerro Porteño coupled with their return to form in the early stages of Venezuela’s Torneo Clausura, Los Aurinegros should feel that advancing from Group 8 (of 8) is not beyond their capabilities. Indeed, while the encounter with Argentine champions Racing and their strike-force of Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou may cause the most butterflies, their games against Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal and another Paraguayan side, Guaraní, now seem, by comparison, manageable.

Coach Daniel Farías will certainly be hoping his side does not experience a similarly disastrous decline in form that befell them in the 18-team Torneo Apertura when they contrived to fall from 1st at the midway point to a final position of 11th.  To avert this, the form of various key players will be crucial: goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind, who has made a strong impression since joining at the beginning of the Clausura; young centre-back Wilker Ángel, who can chip in with more than his fair share of goals from set-pieces and who may well be heading abroad later in the year; playmaker César González, whose set-pieces and link-up play will be vital, as will be those of Jorge Rojas, though how much of the campaign the latter will feature in at his age remains to be seen; another dead-ball specialist, albeit one surely not concerned with stamina issues is young, creative livewire Yohandry Orozco, a man who will want to use this opportunity to display to a wide audience some of the talent that gained him recognition four years ago; the service of the likes of Orozco, Rojas, González and, to an extent, Pablo Olivera, will need to be spot-on in order for striker Gelmin Rivas to have a prosperous tournament, being as he is in the main a penalty-area predator.

zamorafc

Zamora FC

Before Táchira get their campaign underway with a home game against Racing, the 2013-14 champions of Venezuela will be ushering in their nation’s participation in the tournament with an away game against Montevideo Wanderers. Their Uruguayan opponents will be hosting this encounter at Parque Central, the home of their more illustrious cross-city neighbours, Nacional, whose qualifying-round conquerors Palestino – a Chilean side originally set up by Palestinian immigrants – are the third side in Group 5. The final team is Argentine giants Boca Juniors who, having raised eyes and expectations with the recruitment of Uruguayan international Nicolás Lodeiro, Málaga midfielder Pablo Pérez and striker Dani Osvaldo, promise to be the dominant threat.

Zamora may have won last season’s championship but, as is often the case in South America, they were victims of their own success. Consequently, key individuals were swiftly snapped up by all and sundry, such as midfielder Pedro Ramírez (FC Sion), leading goalscorer Juan Falcón (FC Metz) and, most significantly, manager Noel Sanvicente (Venezuela national team). They thus began the Torneo Apertura campaign in August disastrously, not picking up a win in their first 11 games and finding themselves rooted to the bottom. However, their form was to undergo a remarkable U-turn as their final six games ended with five wins and a draw, salvaging some pride with a final position of 12th. This reversal in fortunes has impressively and, with the reputation of Venezuelan football on the continental stage in mind, thankfully, continued into the second half of the domestic season, as they currently sit 1st in the Torneo Clausura, with four wins and two draws – unbeaten in a total of 13 games.

Key to continuining this impressive transformation under coach Julio Quintero will be the performance of the defence, which has four clean sheets in the past six games and now features some new faces as well as the likes of Panama international Luis Ovalle and the long-serving Moisés Galezo. Other players whose roles will be crucial include deep-lying playmaker, set-piece taker and occasional shield Luis Vargas, as well as fellow midfield stalwart Arles Flores; with his dribbles down the flanks as well as the inroads he makes infield, temperamental-yet-gifted 19-year-old Jhon Murillo – who had an unsuccessful trial with Basel last year – will certainly be hoping to make an impression, as well as chip in with some goals; the man who has been on target the most for the champions and who was the catalyst behind their return to form is attacking midfielder/support-striker Pierre Pluchino, whose elegant creativity and finishing will be crucial; lastly, Santiago Bello, a striker with an impressive record recently brought in from the Uruguayan second tier in advance of the Libertadores – so far yet to start a game, but from whom goals are anticipated.

Minerosdeguayana

Mineros de Guayana

The 2013 Torneo Apertura winners and overall runners-up for 2013-14 have thus far had a rather mediocre season, sacking Richard  Páez (the well-respected former national team manager from 2001-07) and ending the most recent Apertura in 6th place. Their uninspiring form has continued into the Clausura as they sit in 11th place, having played six games – one, and in some cases, two, more than the vast of majority of the sides around them.

Thus, of Venezuela’s three representatives, Mineros are currently heading into this tournament with the worst form. However, they may be able to boost morale ahead of their official entrance into the competition as they will be involved in another league game before they play their opening Libertadores match next week on Tuesday 24 February away to Argentine side Huracán (Update 24/2/15: this game against Estudiantes de Mérida did not take place due to the tragic death of club captain Carlos de Castro. Mineros now find themselves 12th in the table). This newly promoted club – who qualified by virtue of winning the Copa Argentina – will certainly be no pushover, as evidenced by their comfortable 4-0 play-off round win over Peru’s Alianza Lima. The other two sides that will be contesting Group 3 are champions of their respective countries: Club Universitario of Bolivia and Cruzeiro of Brazil, the latter of whom, despite some post-season departures, will be firm favourites and who now count Leandro Damião and Uruguayan prospect Giorgian De Arrascaeta amongst their ranks.

The success or otherwise of Mineros will depend largely on players who have mostly performed at a standard markedly lower than they did last season suddenly raising their game, however unlikely that may seem. Their side consists of many individuals who regularly receive call-ups to the national squad, such as goalkeeper Rafael Romo who, judging by his inaction in the recent Venezuela friendlies, finds himself demoted from second to third choice; Gabriel Cichero who, though certainly not without his critics, is Venezuela’s first-choice left-back and who also possesses attacking qualities, particularly on set-pieces; the two defence-minded midfielders Rafael Acosta and Édgar Jiménez also have their attacking merits, but when playing for the national side have largely been panned, particularly when they were both regularly left for dead in November’s 5-0 thrashing handed out by Chile; striker Richard Blanco recently played and scored a tap-in against Honduras but, as this was a squad of home-based players, he is unlikely to get a regular call-up; depending on form, the Colombian duo of Zamir Valoyes and James Cabezas may well find themselves sidelining Blanco; Cabezas was brought in from recent Apertura winners Trujillanos (where he scored 10 goals in 16 games), along with defender Edixon Cuevas, yet rather than boost the squad, both have thus far struggled to replicate the form they displayed at their old club. As a final consideration, it will be interesting to see how former Venezuela international defender Luis Vallenilla copes against the pace of the likes of Cruzeiro, given that he turns 41 in March.

Venezuelans Flying the Flag: More Bonuses

If following the three clubs was not enough for Venezuelan football fans, there are also some other compatriots who will be competing in this year’s edition for Colombian sides. Luis Manuel Seijas, a left-sided attacking midfielder who features regularly for the national side will be playing for 2014 Torneo Finalización champions Independiente Santa Fe. They have been drawn in Group 1 and their very first match comes tonight away to Mexico’s Atlas after the second game of interest – Táchira’s – has finished – a long night is thus in store for all. The two other teams in their group are 2014 Copa do Brasil winners Atlético Mineiro and last year’s Chilean Clausura winners, Colo-Colo.

In Group 7, Colombia’s 2014 Apertura winners Atlético Nacional should field another Venezuelan international midfielder, Alejandro Guerra. Also in their ranks is Jonathan Copete, a Colombian in origin but who has been in talks for some time now with Venezuelan national boss Noel Sanvicente about naturalisation and who could well feature in future national team squads at some point this year. Irrespective of how his international aspirations pan out, both men come into this competition with strong continental experience, having been part of their side’s run to the final of December’s Copa Sudamericana, in which they were runners-up to River Plate. Their first Libertadores match will be on Thursday 19 February and will be possibly their sternest test, being as it is against Paraguay’s 2014 Apertura and Clausura winners, Libertad. Their other two opponents are Ecuador’s championship runners-up Barcelona and Argentina’s Estudiantes de la Plata, whose President regular Argentine football fans will know is club legend Juan Sebastián Verón. While this is a far from straightforward group to negotiate, Guerra and Copete will fancy their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stage.

Although the general consensus is that the two Colombian sides featuring Venezuelans have more chance of progressing than the three domestic teams, one can not help but feel that no matter what happens, many memorable moments will occur this year for Venezuelan football fans to recall fondly for some time afterwards. It is going to be an enthralling tournament which should be covered as much as possible from a Venezuelan perspective on this site.

Now, that is more than enough talking – let’s get the caffeine ready and prepare for some long nights of top-level action!

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical