Tag Archives: Christian Santos

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – June 2017 Preview

At the end of April, two friendlies were announced to aid La Vinotinto‘s preparations for a more prosperous future, though now in early June, most Venezuelan minds are focused elsewhere. Here, the beleaguered @DarrenSpherical takes a quick look at the squad preparing to face the USA and Ecuador…

International Friendlies

Saturday 3 June 2017 – Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

USA vs Venezuela

Thursday 8 June 2017 – FAU Stadium, Boca Ratón, Florida

Ecuador vs Venezuela

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Venezuela assistant manager, Marcos Mathías (GettyImages)

Places Up For Grabs in the States

Since La Vinotinto‘s last pair of disappointing outings in March, the FVF have managed to cobble together two warm-up games before the team concludes their depressing World Cup Qualifying campaign later this year.

However, coach Rafael Dudamel will not be overseeing these two America-based encounters as he is currently in South Korea where he has led his remarkable Under-20 squad to the Quarter-finals of the World Cup. Indeed, the head-turning Sub-20 side have won all four of their games without conceding a goal and their do-or-die clash with USA’s youngsters shall commence barely two hours after the seniors of both nations have duked it out in Salt Lake City.

Thus, assistant manager Marcos Mathías will instead be leading this still-rather-youthful 27-man squad into battle in the States and will have to make do without the likes of Wuilker Faríñez, Yangel Herrera, Adalberto Peñaranda and Yeferson Soteldo. At least three, if not all, of these players – as well as some others currently in South Korea – have strong chances of being regulars in a future rebuilt Venezuela on the road to Qatar 2022 and there are several, more senior, players who have also not made the trip.

Most significantly, the captain Tomás Rincón will be somewhat preoccupied with the small matter of the Cardiff-hosted Champions League Final which his Juventus will contest against Real Madrid. One wonders how many Venezuelans will have the stamina to watch this game, plus the first senior friendly some five hours later and then the Under-20 knock-out tie.

There are again no places in the squad for the Málaga pair of Juanpi and Roberto Rosales. Regarding the former, who has recently been spotted in his home country participating in political demonstrations, he has had an injury-plagued 2017 though when he recuperates he will surely be welcomed back to the fold with open arms. However, this is something that is difficult to assert regarding Rosales – who has also made his anti-government sentiments known – as, though he is currently also carrying a knock, he was also surprisingly left out of March’s World Cup Qualifying double-header despite being fully fit.

Another absentee is forward Josef Martínez (Atalanta United), who was injured against Peru three months ago and has yet to resurface on a professional pitch – though he is apparently knocking on the door for a return at club level. Otherwise, as he was in March, goalkeeper Dani Hernández is again left out, though this is probably due to him still being involved in Tenerife’s vital promotion push. Also, possibly owing to some poor performances for the national team, there is no place for Terek Grozny’s Wilker Ángel.

One says “probably” and “possibly” because there has not been a great deal of press coverage for these two games, with Mathías/Dudamel’s plans shrouded in secrecy and/or a yawning cloud of indifference.

Still, what can be said is that there is a surprise return to the squad for Alain Baroja (Sud América, Uruguay, on loan from Cádiz CF, Spain) who, some two years ago had looked as if he could be Venezuela’s number one goalkeeper for the long haul yet, after some galling errors, was banished into international exile. This is his first-ever call-up in Dudamel’s 14-month reign.

There are also a fair few players in this squad who ply their trade in the domestic league, such as striker Edder Farías, who has scored 22 times in his last 37 league matches for Caracas FC. It would be greatly beneficial for Venezuela to have more options up top for when Martínez and/or West Brom’s Salomón Rondón – who has also been included – are unavailable. Farías could well provide one possible alternative though another possibility is 20-year-old Jefferson Savarino, a more versatile forward/attacking-midfielder, who was banging in the goals for Zulia until recently moving on loan to the MLS with Real Salt Lake. Who knows, for the USA game at the Rio Tinto Stadium, there may even be a few locals in the stands on hand to give him a wave, if not a cheer.

Otherwise, one can not help but feel these games are good opportunities for some of the more experienced-yet-still-relatively-young individuals to further entrench themselves in the coaching staff’s thinking following their appearances in March’s qualifiers. Perhaps chief amongst this crop are the likes of attacking-midfielders Darwin Machís (Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal) and Rómulo Otero** (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil on loan from Huachipato, Chile).

Ultimately, though one is not anticipating a vintage set of clashes on American soil, with almost every first-team place seemingly up for grabs – barring Rincón’s and Rondón’s – these are undoubtedly good chances for these players to make it hard for Dudamel, Mathías and co. to overlook them come August.

To keep up-to-date with these two friendly encounters, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match reports and highlights.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Sud América, Uruguay, on loan from Cádiz CF, Spain) & José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira).

Defenders

Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), José Luis Marrufo (Mineros de Guayana), Yordan Osorio (Tondela, Portugal), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC), Jefre Vargas (Arouca, Portugal, on loan from Caracas), José Manuel “Sema” Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) &  Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Jacobo Kouffati (Millonarios, Colombia), Francisco La Mantía (Deportivo La Guaira), Darwin Machís (Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Júnior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Aristóteles Romero (Mineros de Guayana) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia).

Forwards

Edder Farías (Caracas FC), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Deportivo Alavés, Spain).

**Please note that, according to renowned journalist Juan Sifontes, the following players will not be available for the clash vs USA: Alexander González, Jhon Chancellor, Rolf Feltscher, Arquímedes Figuera, Alejandro Guerra, Jacobo Kouffati and Rómulo Otero.

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(Source: @SeleVinotinto)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – March 2017 Preview

Jornadas 13 and 14 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign have finally arrived and whilst Venezuela have long been out of the running, they’re now playing the long-term game. Here, @DarrenSpherical takes a look at the squad preparing to face Peru and Chile…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 23 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental de Maturín, Maturín, Monagas State

Venezuela vs Peru

Tuesday 28 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Macul, Santiago

Chile vs Venezuela

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Josef Martínez Celebrating in the Snow in Atlanta United’s 6-1 win away to Minneapolis United, MLS, 12 March 2017 (Image: josefmartinez17)

Dudamel Bids To Rejuvenate Venezuela’s Long-term Ambitions

A Youthful Injection

Four months on from their last two fixtures, Venezuela return to competitive action as they enter the final third of their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. Despite being bottom of the ten-team group and long since out of serious contention, manager Rafael Dudamel has said in the build-up that his men shall approach the games with Peru and Chile as if they are wilfully ignorant of the CONMEBOL table.

Well, what else could he say, really? Coasting it for the next six games was never going to be an option when there is a future out there to be won. Thus, as was also anticipated, Dudamel is looking to try out and integrate new faces to give La Vinotinto the best chance of fulfilling their collective potential by the time qualification for Qatar 2022 rolls around. This was partly expected as changes in personnel and/or tactics were clearly needed, but also because of the widely-celebrated success earlier this year of the World Cup-qualifying Under-20 national team, who Dudamel also manages. All of the three stand-out performers, Yeferson Soteldo, Yangel Herrera and Wuilker Fariñez, have made it into this 28-man squad and, having already debuted for the senior team, must fancy their chances of call-ups for the foreseeable future.

Admittedly, 5 feet 3 inch-dribbler Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile) will have his work cut out to earn a regular starting place in the unsettled attacking line behind the striker(s). Here, the front-runners in recent times have included Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, Spain, on loan from Watford, England) and the injured Juanpi. However, given the fluidity and rotation of the players in this area, Soteldo could well gain some minutes over the next week; if not, waiting in the wings are the marginally older yet similarly inexperienced internationals, Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Jacobo Kouffaty (Millonarios, Ecuador) and Darwin Machís (CD Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain).

Under-20 captain Herrera, recently signed by Manchester City and shipped over to New York City FC, currently appears to have a much stronger chance of consistently seeing first-team action for the seniors. Indeed, Tomás Rincón (Juventus, Italy), captain of the big boys, could do with a consistent partner-in-crime in front of the back four. The likes of Renzo Zambrano (Real Valladolid, Spain) and Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru) have been tried but Herrera, a man not shy of a challenge (and a yellow card) who can also be a positive influence further upfield, may have more to his game. Momentum is on his side.

This can also certainly be said of Caracas FC’s Fariñez, even if is not yet clear if the universally acclaimed goalkeeper of the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament will get the nod over domestic rival José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira). He is the favourite but if he loses out, he does nevertheless seem a safe bet for a run as first-choice at some point; time will tell if the sprightly 5-feet-9-incher can – to repeat a recurring theme – become a mainstay of future line-ups.

This goalkeeping issue as well as the inclusion of one other member of the Under-20 squad – Joel Graterol, who never featured between the sticks in the tournament and has hardly ever done so for domestic side Carabobo FC – leads into a less anticipated matter.

Surprise Omissions

First of all, there’s no place for Dani Hernández. He had reclaimed the No. 1 jersey at last year’s Copa América Centenario and, though the side has since leaked goals, accusatory fingers have rarely been pointed his way. Perhaps more pertinently, since the national side last convened he has been a vital component of Tenerife’s promotion push to return to the Spanish top-flight, contributing to an impressive defensive record. His absence has caught many off-guard and while there has been idle – though plausible – speculation that his club side may have requested he stay to play in their crucial domestic fixtures, there has been no explanation from Dudamel.

Also left out is experienced centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, virtually an ever-present for La Vinotinto who has earned over 80 caps. 33 in May, though Dudamel has stressed that the Nantes man hasn’t been put out to pasture just yet, he has also stated that he wishes to open up opportunities for others. That will have been news to the ears of 25-year-old Jhon Chancellor, who has recently moved to Ecuadorian side Delfin and may receive a rare opportunity. Alternatively, Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia) and Sema Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) had once looked the likeliest contenders to form a consistent partnership with Vizcarrondo or each other, though their performances, particularly that of Ángel, have often left much to be desired. Though they haven’t played themselves out of contention just yet, Vizcarrondo’s partner for the previous two games was instead Mikel Villanueva. Dudamel has said how he prefers to consider the Málaga man for a position in the middle, rather than at left-back, where he can also play; thus instead on this flank, it is Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain) and Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC) who will be competing for the manager’s approval.

Over on the right side of defence, however, is where the most surprising omission is concerned. Despite being Mr. Consistent at club level, a mainstay of Málaga’s defence for nearly three years now (which has included three clean sheets in five games against Barcelona) and easily one of Venezuela’s most high-profile performers, there is no place for Roberto Rosales. Given that he’s 28 years old, it’s a bit premature for him to be making way for a new generation. In justification, Dudamel has asserted that Alexander González of Spanish second-tier side Huesca has impressed by taking advantage of his opportunities since they first came his way following an injury to Rosales at last June’s Copa América Centenario. Yet whilst González has looked assured in glimpses, he has also played in several comfortable losses, though even if one is in accord with Dudamel’s viewpoint, champions of Rosales find his outright exclusion with Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal) as back-up hard to swallow. At best, this decision may instil a determination in Rosales not to be complacent for his nation, though if not matching club performances at international level were consistently enforced grounds for exclusion, none of this mob would survive three consecutive call-ups.

High-Profile Concerns…and Some Joy

With no Rosales, there shall be no Three R’s, leaving Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) and Tomás Rincón as the only two players in the current squad who can be classed as dead certs to be repeatedly named as starters. Naturally then, there are nevertheless some concerns about this pair, which have been aired in the Venezuelan media: with Rondón, it’s his goal drought in the Premier League since his hat-trick against Swansea City on 14 December; with Rincón, it’s his lack of match-time since his big move from Genoa to Juventus back in the January transfer window.

Rincón is one of ten players in the present selección who have moved club since the national team was last convened. One of these, Adalberto Peñaranda, has also struggled to make it onto the field, both for Udinese at the start of the campaign and, since January, new club Málaga. Though the Andalusian outfit twice managed the remarkable feat of fielding four Venezuelans in January, these have also been Peñaranda’s only two appearances. His stock has fallen somewhat since this time last year, when he was being hyped by football hacks as a potential superstar off the back of little more than a handful of observed appearances. However, as he is still a mere 19 years of age, Dudamel has included him in part so that support can be provided and spirits hopefully raised.

As always, there shall be much competition for one of the inner-channel/flank positions behind the striker(s) that the jinking Peñaranda is tailor-made for. One potential rival, who could also be moved elsewhere along the line or up front with Rondón, is 23-year-old Josef Martínez – another man who has recently moved clubs. By contrast, however, three games and five goals into his MLS career with Atlanta United, he has already been proclaimed a rip-roaring success; so much so, in fact, that Tata Martino’s club have just this week been able to make the loan deal from Torino a permanent one. Though a starting spot is not always guaranteed for him, he does tend to link up well with Rondón, either from behind or in tandem. As Rondón was injured last November, Martínez was afforded the rare opportunity of leading the attack alone and managed to notch a hat-trick against Bolivia. If, any time soon, the unthinkable happens and Rondón actually loses his place when fit, then the Atlanta new-boy – also his country’s top-scorer in qualifying with five – is easily the front-runner to displace.

Is It Even Possible To Pick Up Momentum?

Overall then, as always there is much speculation and few concrete certainties except the predominance of uncertainties. Several players are likely to be given new and/or rare opportunities over the upcoming two games and almost all of those who start can not feel too comfortable about this consistently recurring for the remainder of the campaign, let alone for the next few years. However, as the subsequent two qualifiers are not for another five months, one can not help but query in advance the weight that may be placed on the upcoming two matches in informing August’s squad. As evidenced by the justification behind Rosales’ omission, Dudamel is willing to overlook long-standing club form in favour of what he sees in these comparatively short spells when the men on his radar don the burgundy shirts. If this is the case, then Herrera, Soteldo and Fariñez will have more opportunities than most to sway his mind, given that he will be leading them to the Under-20 World Cup in two months’s time.

Nevertheless, despite the omissions and the new-look rearguard, there’s plenty of attacking talent in their ranks. A home win against Peru – who they should have beaten away in March 2016 but let a 2-0 lead become a 2-2 draw – is precisely the result a Venezuelan side challenging for World Cup qualification should attain; to do so would provide a significant boost to the hitherto underwhelmed faithful and subsequently decrease fears of another tonking from Chile. The last one came after the draw in Lima and turned out to be Noel Sanvicente’s last ever game as Venezuela manager; a year on, two more positive results against the same opposition would mark a symbolic shift in the right direction for Rafael Dudamel.

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

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC, Venezuela) & Joel Graterol (Carabobo FC, Venezuela).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Delfin, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain), Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC, Venezuela), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana, Venezuela), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Jacobo Kouffaty (Millonarios, Ecuador), Darwin Machís (CD Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, Spain, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Juventus, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Mineros de Guayana, Venezuela), Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile) & Renzo Zambrano (Real Valladolid, Spain). 

Forwards

Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Alaves, Spain).

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(Image: @SeleVinotinto)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela vs Bolivia

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

Ecuador vs Venezuela

tomasrinconvsuruguay

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

Unsettled Venezuela Confronted with Best Hope of a Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

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

Midfielders

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

Forwards

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Mexico 1-1 Venezuela -Copa América Centenario Group C (13 June 2016)

With the group stage complete, Venezuelans are slightly disappointed to have finished 2nd. Who would have thought…?

Copa América Centenario Group C

Monday 13 June 2016 – NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas, USA

Mexico 1-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Mexico 1-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario Group C, 13 June 2016 (YouTube).

Corona Thwarts Resilient Venezuela 

Venezuela narrowly missed out on an unprecedented third consecutive Copa América victory, as Jesús Corona’s late strike means Rafael Dudamel’s men finish 2nd in Group C and will most likely face Argentina in the Quarter-Finals.

Up until the 80th minute, it looked as if La Vinotinto were going to defy the odds yet again as they put in a fine defensive performance, soaking up huge amounts of pressure and once more dispelling the myth that Venezuelans lack mental fortitude. The fact that they were facing a Mexico side with nine changes to their previous line-up should do little to undermine their achievement – especially as they themselves had made five, including consigning star man Salomón Rondón to the bench.

In contrast to their other two group games, Dudamel’s charges were quicker off the mark, with the opening goal coming after just 10 minutes. This time, Alejandro Guerra’s free-kick from the left was curled into the area where Christian Santos – making his debut in the tournament – headed the ball back towards centre-back Sema Velázquez. The Portugal-based centre-back, himself fielded instead of Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, was afforded an obscene amount of space to fire home a sensational bicycle kick. This was certainly not what the sea of green in the stands had eagerly paid months in advance of kick-off to see. Yet thrilled though the minority of Venezuelans were at the time, it could not have been long before a few cautious sorts began to contemplate the cliché regarding scoring ‘too early’. Indeed, if they were going to beat El Tri for the first ever time, they knew a lot of defensive work was going to be required.

That said, though Juan Carlos Osorio’s side had more of the ball in the first half, the quality of the chances they created certainly did not reward the voluminous and nerve-jangling support they received. Also, owing to the number of bodies they often committed forward, they were occasionally vulnerable on the break.

Indeed,  in the 22nd minute, a slight fright was provided by one Yonathan Del Valle, who from the left hustled his way into the area and struck a rasping shot which swerved wide of the far post. It was one of a few occasions that the Kasımpaşa attacker was to both remind the hardcore of his abilities as well as introduce himself to thousands, if not millions, of fans who may have missed him first time around. After all, this was a remarkable personal story, as it was the player’s first international appearance for four years, going back to June 2012 when the then-22 year-old was considered a potential star of the future. Yet, just a year ago around the time of his 25th birthday, angered by the subsequent lack of opportunities and being overlooked by then-manager Noel Sanvicente, he resigned from the national team. However, the tables appeared to have turned as while he faces much competition at the top of the field, one suspects that this will not be his final outing in the burgundy shirt.

Returning to the action, though it felt to many Venezuelans that just one error could bring them swiftly back down to earth, Mexico continued to threaten without really making the opposition goalkeeper work too hard. Their opportunities were no more than half-chances, such as in the 34th minute when Jorge Torres crossed in for Jesús Corona whose diving header went straight to Dani Hernández. Or four minutes later when Héctor Herrera’s corner was headed by Héctor Moreno against the arm of defender Wilker Ángel – claims were made, but nothing was given.

When the half-time whistle blew, plenty of Venezuelan fans were left daydreaming about the further kudos from unexpected quarters that three consecutive 1-0 victories would bring their nation.

After the restart, the game continued with Mexico dominating the play and they were to get closer and closer to the target as the final whistle approached. One early notable moment was in the 50th minute when Porto full-back Miguel Layún played a one-two on the left inside the area and slid it along the goalmouth where it looked like it was going to be a tapped in by Oribe Peralta. However, centre-back Ángel once again got himself in the way, this time rather dramatically as his extremely low diving head diverted the ball off for a corner. A fine example of a player putting himself on the line for his country.

There was little respite for Venezuela as in the 57th minute on the inside-right 30 yards out, Corona picked up the ball and struck hard with his left but his shot went several yards wide. Then, just after the hour-mark, Layún from 25 yards out hit a fearsome shot that Hernández simply punched as far away outside of his area as possible.

Three minutes later, a better chance was created as Layún played in a low ball from the left. Rolf Feltscher’s attempted clearance went straight to Jesús Molina who, first-time, instinctively hit the ball and had to watch it trickle agonisingly wide of the far post.

However, just before this moment, Del Valle had managed to get away from his marker to hit a low strike at the goalkeeper and, a few minutes later, his replacement Josef Martínez had a golden opportunity to double his nation’s lead. Indeed, the Torino forward was slid through just inside the area, yet though he had plenty to aim for, he struck far too close to goalkeeper José Corona.

Venezuela were made to rue this miss and were nearly back on level terms in the 75th minute when Herrera’s free-kick in from the right met the head of Diego Reyes. However, Hernández earned plaudits around the globe for his astonishing double-save as he stretched down low to thwart and then, with the goal gaping, also blocked out the rebound whilst on the floor.

Nevertheless, Mexico kept up the onslaught. In the 79th minute Corona embarked upon a fine run on the left, powering through the Venezuelan back-line before striking wide from the left of the area. La Vinotinto survived, though not for long as barely a minute later the tenacious Porto youngster roamed infield from the left before taking the ball directly past four or five players and then blasting home for a sensational equaliser. The Venezuelan rearguard, which up until this point had seemed inpenetrable, was made to look all-too-mortal by this humbling. It was a great moment of relief for the El Tri faithful.

However, though their opponents were on the ropes for the remainder of the game, they did not merely lay down and invite the inevitable. Instead, with just over five minutes left, out of nowhere Martínez chested and teed himself up for an overhead kick, which dipped tantalisingly and had to be parried out for a corner.

Nevertheless, it was generally Mexico who were on the front-foot and with two minutes left, they came close to completing the reversal. This time, a ball was pulled back from the right-hand byline for substitute and fan-favourite Javier Hernández. However, though ‘Chicarito’ had a fair amount of the goal to aim for, Velázquez managed to get in his way and block his shot.

Thus, when the final whistle went, though they no longer had a 100 per cent record in the tournament and had in fact experienced their first draw after 11 consecutive wins, Mexico could console themselves with their first-placed finish. However, if as seems likely, Chile finish 2nd in Group D,  one can not help but wonder if a meeting with last year’s winners is really much of a reward for Mexico emerging victorious from their own group.

For Venezuela, however, just being in the knock-out phase seems like a prize in itself. Also, though they will face some sublime attacking talent, they will have picked up plenty of confidence from the way their players have absorbed so much pressure in the past three games, conceding just one goal.

One can not help but wonder if these strengths will be crucial for La Vinotinto as they enter a stage of the tournament in which, for the quarter- and semi-finals at least, matches level after 90 minutes go straight to penalties.

To find out how Venezuela get on, remember to keep up-to-date with @DarrenSpherical and this website.

Team Selections

Mexico (4-5-1): José Corona; P. Aguilar, D. Reyes, H. Moreno, J. Torres (M. Layún, 46;); H. Lozano, H. Herrera, J. Molina (J. Hernández, 68′), A. Guardado, J. Aquino (Jesús Corona, 18′); O. Peralta.

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; A. González, S. Velázquez, W. Ángel, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra (R. Otero, 83′), T. Rincón, L. Seijas, A. Peñaranda; C. Santos (S. Rondón, 78′) & Y. Del Valle (J. Martínez, 65′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

With Venezuela having lost their opening four World Cup Qualifying fixtures, Hispanospherical.com looks at the state of a somewhat unfamiliar squad ahead of the latest round of qualifiers.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 24 March 2016 – Estadio Nacional de Lima, Lima

Peru vs Venezuela

Tuesday 29 March 2016 – Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas

Venezuela vs Chile

romulootero

Chile-based Rómulo Otero is one of several Venezuelans looking to make their mark.

Familiar Issues Surround a Squad with Some Unfamiliar Faces

Suprise Omissions Open Some Doors in Attack

While there does not appear to have been a mass culling of stars – or, conversely, a boycott – familiar issues nevertheless abound for Venezuela boss Noel Sanvicente, who is set to field some unfamiliar faces in his nation’s latest round of Russia 2018 qualifiers.

Indeed, although only seven of the 15 signatories of November’s bombshell letter criticising the country’s football association (FVF) (and, to a lesser extent, the national team set-up) have been called up, most of the omissions can be justified without recourse to conspiracy theorising.

Most, that is, but – in the minds of many Vinotinto fans – perhaps not all. While the exclusion of stalwarts such as Grenddy Perozo, Gabriel Cichero and César González can be explained away via a combination of their age, lack of recent success with the national team and/or little match-time at club level, there are two notable exceptions.

One, Christian Santos, has been amongst the most prominent Venezuelans abroad over the past eighteen months, first firing NEC Nijmegen to promotion to the Dutch Eredivisie where, more recently, he has continued his impressive goalscoring exploits (15 goals in 26 league games). During this period, he also made his long-awaited international debut – scoring against Brazil in October along the way – and many have envisaged him being a key player for the foreseeable future. Unsurprisingly then, his absence has not gone down well in several quarters; national sports daily Líder En Deportes reflected this sentiment, in one article emphasing his exclusion above all others. However, his relatively new status and presumed lack of authority within the squad surely precludes him from having been a ringleader in the uprising.

Another similarly fan-infuriating omission is that of Ronald Vargas. Since rejuvenating his injury-hit career last year in Turkey, the 29-year-old attacker has gone from strength to strength this season at current club AEK Athens. In Greece he has garnered many effusive headlines and back/front-page splashes, scoring nine league goals, including in each of his side’s 1-0 wins against close-rivals Olympiakos, Panathinaikos and PAOK. He too seems an unlikely rebel, having enjoyed his most consistent spell in the national side under Sanvicente since he first burst onto the scene just under a decade ago.

Instead, no matter how baffling it may appear to many, it seems that the two players have been left out for footballing reasons. Sanvicente has said as much, commenting that he wishes to experiment with other players further up the field. Given his side’s lack of success in this area despite a seemingly disproportionate amount of talent in these positions, he may well prove to be vindicated. However, as changes in the attacking personnel have already frequently been made and selection controversies seem to surround every convocatoria, many fans have long ago reached the conclusion that the problem lies more with the boss than the men at his disposal.

Nevertheless, where there is frustration there is perhaps also the future, as Sanvicente has instead called up some of the nation’s most promising prospects. 18-year-old Adalberto Peñaranda has forced himself into the international scene much earlier than anticipated, owing to some impressive performances and goals for Granada. In a breathtakingly short space of time, he has earned a first-team place, broken a goalscoring record once held by Lionel Messi and has become one of the most famous Venezuelan legionarios. Despite reported interest from many leading European sides, he has already been snapped up by Granada’s sister club Watford, though will remain in Andalusia for the time being. This will be his first ever international call-up.

He is joined in the squad by Juanpi, another impressive La Liga starlet who, particularly in the past few months, has shone and participated in many goals for a rejuvenated Málaga. This has been his ‘breakthrough season’ and his performances coupled with his regular first-team appearances have seemingly made it impossible for Sanvicente to continue to frustrate fans by overlooking him.

Incidentally, 2015/16 has been a memorable year for Venezuelans in La Liga; along with these two individuals, Roberto Rosales has been an ever-present for Málaga and Miku impressively broke a scoring record for Rayo Vallecano (5 goals in 5 consecutive top-flight games). The latter man is only absent from the current squad due to an injury occurring at the most inauspicious of times.

Another attacker seeking a starting place is perhaps the most likeliest of the three to do so. Rómulo Otero, who over the past year has struggled with injuries at inopportune moments, has many admirers who see him as the leading creative catalyst of a new era; a mean free-kick taker, he has recently spoken to the local press about the possibility of taking over set-piece duties from the retired maestro Juan Arango. Plying his trade at Huachipato, he will be a familiar face to many Chile fans when La Roja travel to Barinas for the 29 March clash.

A Far Less Experienced Rearguard

Overall, owing to the suspensions of Luis Manuel Seijas, ‘Sema’ Velázquez and Roberto Rosales for the first game against Peru, Sanvicente has called up a bumper 26-man squad for this double-header. The absences of these latter two defenders, plus the relatively recent international retirement of Fernando Amorebieta and the omissions of Andrés Túñez and Gabriel Cichero have opened many doors – and perhaps even more holes – in the Venezuelan rearguard. Indeed, the one remaining regular, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, is likely to be in a defensive unit with three men who have barely a dozen caps between them.

Last month’s inclusion in the 1-0 win against Costa Rica (both fielded understrength sides) has no doubt bolstered the starting prospects of domestic league players such as centre-backs Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Tachira) and Daniel Benítez (Deportivo La Guaira), as well as right-back Ángel Faría (Zamora FC). Mikel Villanueva, who plays for Málaga’s reserve side Atlético Malagueño, also impressed last month and could well start at left-back. His main competition comes from Caracas FC’s Rubert Quijada, a man who has contributed to a miserly club defence but who has largely been overlooked at international level. Lastly, another defender receiving a rare call-up is Víctor García, a 21-year-old who primarily plays at right-back for Porto’s B team but who has also featured on the bench of the first team a couple of times this season. Though few Venezuelans have seen much of him in recent times, owing to his club affiliation as much as the desperation for improvement at the back, many are optimistic of this young man’s future.

Not entirely dissimilar issues concern the defensive midfield berths as a few domestic league players who rarely make competitive international starts have received call-ups. With regular first-team member Seijas out of the Peru game and late concerns being raised on the fitness of captain Tomás Rincón, it is possible that a very inexperienced and unfamiliar Venezuela takes to the field in Lima.

Change Needed, but What Kind?

Ultimately, with Sanvicente still in his post despite having overseen largely disappointing performances and results that currently place Venezuela bottom of CONMEBOL qualifying without a point, it may be a stretch to call these games ‘must-win’. Indeed, supposed crisis talks were held after the last round of losses with the media and fan consensus concluding that even if the FVF wanted change they simply could not afford it. Thus, although another two defeats will undoubtedly raise the calls for his head to unprecedented levels, Sanvicente has not really given off the impression that his future rests upon these two games.

Nevertheless, even if – as many people feel – Venezuela are already out of realistic contention for a Russia 2018 place, as well as playing for pride and progression, there is also this June’s Copa América  tournament to  consider. Their opponents will surely bring back memories of last year’s competition, with Chile having emerged victors on home soil and Peru playing a significant role in the eventual exit of Sanvicente & co. Indeed, had Amorebieta not been sent off in the second group game against Los Incas, many Venezuelan fans are keen to believe that they ultimately would not have fallen to a late 1-0 defeat and instead secured at least a point that would have been enough to make the knock-out stages.

Although not considered one of the region’s heavyweights, as Peru finished third in that competition, they certainly present a stern challenge, especially in Lima. If only to improve public relations, Sanvicente and his charges know they could well do with a good result or two from these two encounters, though it is difficult to say which game presents the better opportunity to do so. While he will be missing some well-known and much-capped individuals – particularly in the opening game – this nevertheless opens the door for new approaches and players. Given that a lack of stability, continuity and cohesion have been hallmarks of his 20-month reign, these are not things that fans can easily feel optimistic about. However, for very similar reasons, nor can they dismiss them outright as evidently there are problems that, for the sake of a rather promising generation of Venezuelan footballers, urgently need to be solved.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers: Alain Baroja (AEK Athens), José David Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñéz (Caracas FC).

Defenders: Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Tachira), Daniel Benítez (Deportivo La Guaira),  Ángel Faría (Zamora FC), Víctor García (Porto), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders: Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga), Carlos Cermeño (Deportivo Táchira), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Arles Flores (Zamora FC), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional), Jhon Murillo (CD Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Rómulo Otero (CD Huachipato, on loan from Caracas FC), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe),  Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora FC).

Forwards: Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana), Josef Martínez (Torino), Adalberto Peñaranda (Granada, on loan from Watford), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (17 November 2015)

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

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 17 November 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State

Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador

Video Highlights of Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 17 November 2015 (YouTube)

Match Report

Contrasting Fortunes in Puerto Ordaz

What began as bottom versus top ended as bottom versus top yet, for now at least, Noel Sanvicente is still the Venezuela manager. A replacement had been rumoured beforehand and at least another one has been linked since the final whistle was blown in a disenchanted Cachamay stadium. Although Chita emphatically ruled out resigning immediately after this fourth consecutive qualifying loss, he is not really in a position to determine his own fate. With four months from now until matchday five, the Federación Venezolana de Fútbol (FVF) have got considerable time to weigh up how they envisage the remainder of the seemingly doomed Russia 2018 campaign. This may be partially revealed as soon as Monday 23 November, as a meeting with Sanvicente has been scheduled.

Before kick-off, fan discontent was already high, a fact reflected in the vast numbers of empty seats – a far cry from a near-full crowd of 35,076 who turned up to the Estadio José Antonio Anzoátegui for the same fixture three years ago. Much of the Puerto Ordaz public no doubt felt scarred and short-changed from the three other dreadful Vinotinto encounters that have taken place in the same ground over the past two months. Nevertheless, those who did attend brought with them some vocal, giddy, enthusiasm that could only be gradually tamed by events.

Many were excited to get a good look at a vast array of their leading representatives, all of whom currently play for overseas clubs in, remarkably, 11 different countries. This was a much-changed side from the one featuring five home-based players that was seen off by Bolivia at high altitude. It combined established cracks and familiar faces with a few individuals who many hope will be long-term regulars (namely injury-hit Rómulo Otero and the recently converted pair, Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez).

Alas, it did not take long to dissipate the rather optimistic hope that, in spite of recent performances, this encounter against CONMEBOL’s most in-form nation would be when things suddenly gel. Though the hosts just about held their own in the opening exchanges, the 11th minute witnessed Pumas striker Fidel Martínez receiving a short pass in a disconcerting amount of space before firing into the back of the net. The Venezuelan back-line breathed  a collective sigh of relief upon seeing the offside flag but their mood did not last long. Following a failed attack just four minutes later, they were caught hopelessly out of position as right-back Juan Carlos Paredes simply dinked a ball over into the central area to Martínez who had the time to control and strike home. Highlighting the hosts’ defensive woes, it was right-back Roberto Rosales – albeit, with little hope of success – who was the closest to putting in a challenge, with centre-backs Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and ‘Sema’ Velázquez never in the race.

Ecuador were apparently aware of Venezuela’s lack of pace at the back and later in the half were only narrowly denied with a couple more speed battles in open spaces that they instigated via chipped central passes.

No tactical know-how was needed for the second goal, however, though home fans will have felt a dispiriting sense of déjà vu. In the 23rd minute, it seemed Venezuela’s – and, perhaps, Sanvicente’s – fate was sealed when the pass out by goalkeeper Alain Baroja went awry. It was far too short for Vizcarrondo, who was beaten to the ball by Miller Bolaños who, in turn, nudged it to Jefferson Montero. The Swansea City winger quickly passed it back to Bolaños on the left side of the area and the Emelec man was able to return the ball to the centre for the incoming Montero, who doubled the lead with relative ease. While the culprit was different – for most observers, anyway – the goal inevitably drew comparisons with the mix-up involving Vizcarrondo and Baroja for Paraguay’s late winner  in the same ground a month ago.

Deflated on the pitch as well as in the stands, Venezuela struggled to inspire genuine hope of a comeback. Otero seemed the most likely catalyst with his occasionally testing balls into the area, bursts of pace, plus an ambitious shot or two. It was his run into the left side of the area in the 43rd minute that created a chance of sorts for Jeffrén; alas, he shot too close to goalkeeper Esteban Dreer. Just a minute prior, the ex-Barcelona wide man had fashioned a chance for himself when, from the right, he cut onto his left and struck a shot a yard or so wide from the edge of the area.

This slight momentum continued and grew in the early stages of the second half. NEC Nijmegen’s top-scorer Santos was to come close twice in as many minutes. Firstly on 52 minutes, he got onto the end of Rosales’ cross but his header, though powerful, was directed straight at Dreer. Soon afterwards, he received a flick-on by Salomón Rondón and beat Dreer to the ball, nudging it around him, though was ultimately denied by a defender guarding the exposed net.

Alas, just several minutes later as the hour mark approached, the contest was effectively over. From a break, Montero paced up the left to cross in a hanging ball that was met in space 16 yards out by Felipe Caicedo. Unmarked, the Espanyol striker powered a spectacular header into the top left-hand corner.
In the remaining thirty minutes, Ecuador continued to attack without increasing their lead. As has often recently been the case with Venezuela’s opponents, the home spectactors were left with the feeling that if their rivals had really needed at least one more goal, then they would have got it. The closest they did come, however, occurred in the 69th minute when a phenomenal 35-yard left-footed free-kick from Walter Ayoví venomously curled over the wall and then rattled off the highest point of the right-sided post.
Goal-wise at least, Venezuela were to have the last say. Their consolation came with little more than five minutes left as substitute Josef Martínez arrived unmarked at the far post to side-foot home Rosales’ cross from the right. Much as the Torino striker wanted to rouse his team-mates for an ambitious grand finale, it was the visitors who looked more likely to find the net. Indeed, as the game entered stoppage-time, Ecuador broke on a counter with at least a man advantage, but Rosales just about caught up with Walter Ayoví to commit a foul a couple of yards outside the area, for which he received a booking.
Nevertheless, with a 3-1 away victory, fans of La Tricolor will be as delighted with their fourth consecutive win as La Vinotinto followers will be dejected with their fourth straight defeat.
What follows are some thoughts on this encounter. 
Too Much Diversity? Venezuela’s Awkward Transition

Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Colombia, Italy, Chile, England, Belgium and the Netherlands. These are the countries in which the Venezuelan starting XI play their respective domestic football. All different and all overseas. Given the weakness of the Venezuelan top-flight, the latter is perhaps not so much a problem but the former surely is. While several have long-standing experience of playing together at international level, this is certainly not the case for new ‘recruits’ such as Jeffrén and Santos. These two men are past their mid-20s and have only recently become eligible to represent La Vinotinto, having moved away from Venezuela with their families while very young.

Of course, most fans are always excited to see their disparate representatives all on one field together. However, it is hard not to avoid the feeling that their distances from one another for most of the year are not really conducive to effective team play. Indeed, familiarity amongst players at club level is a huge asset for international managers who are usually short of preparation time, as has been evidenced by the last two World Cup-winning sides, Germany and Spain.

While many South American nations have their leading talents scattered across the globe (mostly in Europe), the diversity of leagues represented is easily the highest amongst the current Venezuelan crop. Although a typical Argentina or Brazil squad may draw upon talents based in seven or eight different countries, the cream of the crop largely come from no more than three or four. While recent results for these two decorated nations may not be meeting past standards, their records from the past decade or so are nevertheless envied by the vast majority of national federations.

Thus, though Venezuelans should be proud to now have so many players plying their trade in highly competitive leagues, it could well be that they are currently at a difficult transition phase in their footballing development. Indeed, while it may only provide one piece of the puzzle, in order to see more unity and cohesion on the pitch we may all have to wait until more top players are clustered in no more than a handful of different leagues. In such a scenario, irrespective of whether or not they play for the same teams, not only would they be experiencing broadly similar playing styles, surfaces, cultures etc. but there would be more opportunities to socialise off the pitch. Fostering a collective team spirit is every bit as important as a functioning playing system.

Sanvicente’s Future/Venezuela’s Regression

Another defeat for Noel Sanvicente and another unwanted record. Venezuela have now got off to their worst start in World Cup Qualifying since the campaign for USA 1994. This was in a different format and consisted of a run of seven straight losses that, on the last matchday, was ended by a solitary victory. If Chita‘s current charges are to avoid again making history for the wrong reasons, their best chance may be in the next encounter away to Peru in March – quite a challenge in itself. Otherwise, their subsequent encounters in the 18-game process are against Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. For Venezuela at least, there really are no easy games in CONMEBOL qualifying.

Such regression has understandably irked fans. Not only are the results very poor but there is no discernible style to Venezuela’s play and there is little awareness of what the manager is trying to achieve. Consequently, analyses of team performances seem increasingly unenlightening. Even if a player shows glimpses of promise – for this game, Josef Martínez’s goal and general drive to go forward should not go unremarked upon – not only does it seem relatively minor but also, they seem to have prospered in spite of, rather than because of, whatever system Sanvicente is trying to implement.

Although they may just be idle rumours, two Argentines have been linked with replacing him as national boss. Firstly, 2014 Copa Libertadores-winning Edgardo Bauza of San Lorenzo and, even more eye-raisingly, renowned maverick Marcelo Bielsa, formerly of Argentina and Chile, whose most recent job was at Marseille. Even if it does not come from either of these two men, there is certainly a threat to the position of Sanvicente and he will have to wait until Monday to discover his fate.

UPDATE (23 November 2015): Following a meeting with the FVF, Noel Sanvicente remains as the Venezuela national team manager. One casualty from the talks, however, is the Estadio Cachamay, where Venezuela have played – and lost – two qualifiers and will no longer be appearing at during this qualifying cycle.

Venezuela Also Disconcerting off the Field

Finally, it was not just a bad night for Venezuelan football but also for the nation’s politics – not to mention democracy. Indeed, towards the end of the game, some fans started chanting against the current government headed by Nicolás Maduro and were audible to those watching at home. It did not take long for those in control of the public announce system to drown these voices out with the sounds of what was most probably the first piece of music they could lay their hands on. Anyone who is familiar with the country’s media will be unsurprised to learn that this unsavoury incident largely went unreported in the leading outlets.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Velázquez, Cichero; Jeffrén (Martínez, 54′), Rincón, Lucena (Acosta, 46′), Otero; S. Rondón, Santos (M. Rondón, 68′).

Ecuador (4-2-3-1): Dreer; Paredes, Guagua, Erazo, W. Ayoví; Noboa, Quiñónez (Castillo, 70′); F. Martínez, Bolaños, Montero (Cazares, 76′); Caicedo (J. Ayoví, 82′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical 

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – November 2015 Preview

With Venezuela having lost their opening two World Cup Qualifying fixtures, Hispanospherical.com looks at the situation facing manager Noel Sanvicente, his team’s preparations for their visit to high-altitude La Paz to face Bolivia as well as the notable call-ups for this game and the subsequent home encounter with Ecuador.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Bolivia vs Venezuela

Tuesday 17 November 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State

Venezuela vs Ecuador
Sanvicente Urgently Needs to Give Fans Something to Cheer About

Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department, Bolivia, where Venezuela play on 12 November 2015. (Photo courtesy of David Freeman who travelled to 67 football matches across Latin America. Read more about his adventures here

‘I am not a coward, I won’t resign’. So proclaimed Venezuela boss Noel Sanvicente last month at a lengthy press conference shortly after his nation’s Russia 2018 qualifying campaign had been inaugurated with two straight defeats. The 3-1 loss away to Brazil may have been largely anticipated, but the embarrassing late defensive mix-up that caused a 1-0 reversal in the opener in Puerto Ordaz at home to Paraguay certainly irked fans, greatly lowering morale at the first hurdle. Coming off the back of poor friendly performances and the failure to reach the knock-out stages of Copa América 2015, many fans ran out of patience with Chita.

The ex-Caracas and Zamora director técnico has lost considerable goodwill in his 16 months in charge. Results have not met expectations, displays have been lacklustre and most players have struggled to replicate their club form. Regarding this last point, given the tactical incoherence repeatedly exhibited as well as the high number of attackers fielded with similarly incohesive results, many point the finger of blame at Sanvicente as his intentions continue to puzzle and bewilder.

In further comments to the media, while he acknowledged some of the criticism and accepted responsibility, he seemed unwilling to consider a fundamental shift in his approach. Instead, amongst other things, he lamented the ‘accident’ involving Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Alain Baroja that gifted the win to La Albirroja and also remarked upon the superior club levels that many of his country’s opponents play at – an observation that ‘you don’t have to be Harry Potter to see’.

Before Sanvicente categorically stated that the thought of ‘resigning doesn’t go through my head’, he also reiterated that ‘my thing is work, work and more work’. Weary words for many Vinotinto fans as ‘all work and no play’ would certainly be a succinctly apt assessment of his goal-shy reign to date.

Under pressure, currently point-less and in charge of the lowest ranked nation in CONMEBOL (83rd), Sanvicente knows that all this much-vaunted labour must be converted into positive results as soon as possible. This month’s challenges from fellow strugglers Bolivia as well as injury-hit high-flyers Ecuador, while certainly substantial and seemingly with the potential to send Chita scurrying out of a job, do also offer opportunities to reinvigorate the cause. However, though he has claimed his methods will not be changing any time soon, the personnel definitely will be – more so than at any other point since he took up the post.

Venezuelan Preparations: Bumper-sized Squad to Help Cope With High Altitude  

Indeed, Thursday’s trip to La Paz’s Estadio Hernando Siles – over 3,600 metres (nearly 12,000 feet) above sea-level – serves up all kinds of logistical issues that South American nations have attempted to counteract in differing ways. Sanvicente has opted to call up an enlarged squad of 33 players, with 20 of them making the journey to Bolivia; these comprise of an equal mixture of ten home-based individuals and ten, largely more established, legionarios who ply their trade abroad. Several of the latter possess experience of playing at high altitude at club and/or international level but it is those currently featuring in the transitory Torneo Adecuación who have undergone the greatest preparation ahead of this game.

For the past three weeks or so, they have been training at La Vinotinto‘s National Centre of High Performance (CNAR) facility on the northerly Isla de Margarita. Ideally, physical trainer Rodolfo Paladini said he would have liked 17 consecutive days with the players but due to club commitments for some – though not all – this was somewhat problematic. Nevertheless, when available, this domestic crop have been spending time in hyperbaric chambers which are intended to help users experience and acclimatise to simulated high-altitude conditions.

In the few days preceding the game, the overseas-based contingent have gradually been joining up with them at CNAR and today, Wednesday 11th, the 20-strong group flew to Bolivia. However, rather than travel straight to La Paz, they are instead staying in the relatively low-altitude Santa Cruz de la Sierra (416 metres above sea-level). Tomorrow on matchday, they will embark on a get-in-and-get-out strategy as they shall enter the city of the fixture no more than two hours before kick-off; some Bolivia-based portable chambers have been hired to assist any breathing problems they may experience. Almost as soon as the game is concluded, the squad will then take an aeroplane back to the national training centre.

A calculated risk, no doubt, though far from the first time something like this has been deployed by a South American nation. The altitude issue has been a bone of contention for decades and FIFA resolutions have been passed more than once (notably in 1995 and 2007) to ban international games in La Paz, though these were subsequently repealed. It is undeniable that even if not all of Bolivia’s players are accustomed to high-altitude conditions, they have more than enough who are and this has been a partial factor in many victories over some of the continent’s heavyweights. Anyone resistant to this argument may wish to briefly peruse the nation’s woeful record away from home – their Copa América win against Ecuador in June was their first competitive victory on foreign soil since 1995.

Nevertheless, though their home advantage has attained near-mythical status over the years and casual observers may consider a visit from CONMEBOL’s lowest-ranking team as a banker win for La Verde, this is far from assured. Indeed, in the past two visits during World Cup Qualifying campaigns Venezuela have attained a 1-1 draw (in 2013, when Juan Arango’s last international goal was cancelled out with four minutes left) and a 1-0 win (in 2009 via an own goal; this was during the same qualification cycle in which Bolivia beat Argentina 6-1 and Brazil 2-1).

If, however, they are unable to get a result, the pressure will be on to get one against Ecuador – no mean feat as La Tricolor are riding high following two consecutive wins, the first of which being a sensational 2-0 away triumph against under-fire Tata Martino’s Argentina. Though they will be missing key-man Antonio Valencia, they have strength in depth and will fancy their chances as last month’s heroics came without Enner Valencia, Michael Arroyo or Renato Ibarra on the pitch (and who are all injured this time around). The likes of Jefferson Montero and Felipe Caicedo promise to offer the Venezuelan backline a consistent threat throughout the game.

Again though, La Vinotinto have a strong recent qualifying record in this particular fixture, drawing the last encounter 1-1 and winning the preceding two 3-1. Post-La Paz, after the full Venezuela squad reconvenes at CNAR, they will head over to Puerto Ordaz for this game looking to give the Estadio Cachamay public something to cheer about. Indeed, not only did the 1-0 debacle against Paraguay occur at this ground but in September it was also the site of two dreadful displays: a 3-0 reversal meted out by Honduras which was followed by a 1-1 draw with Panama on a bog of a pitch. An on-field apology of sorts is very much in order.

Predicting who will line-up for this second fixture is only marginally more problematic than that of the Bolivia game. Nevertheless, what follows is a brief overview of some players to look out for in the upcoming week, starting with the La Paz trip.

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20-man Venezuela squad for the trip to face Bolivia in La Paz (photo: @SeleVinotinto)

Players to Keep an Eye Out For

‘The following are the matches of our lives. We have to go out with impetus. [We] can not give away more points.’ Experienced Franklin Lucena understands the significance of these two games and will more than likely start in La Paz, either as a central defender or a holding midfielder. This is owing to his club outings this season at Colombia’s Once Caldas who play home matches at over 2,000 metres above sea-level and who are accustomed to similar levels of altitude in certain away matches. For similar reasons, Luis Manuel Seijas of Colombia’s Independiente Santa Fe has also been touted for a place in the line-up. If both men start, then Lucena will be more than likely at the back with Seijas partnering captain Tomás Rincón in defensive midfield – that is, if El General of Genoa has recovered from his injury.

First-team spots have also been rumoured for the versatile right-back/wide-man Alexander González (Young Boys) and centre-back Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), who both scored the last time Venezuela played in La Paz in a 3-2 defeat in November 2014. So long as he has shaken off his minor injury then first-choice goalkeeper Alain Baroja (AEK Athens) will be between the sticks. Once again, the attacking positions are the hardest to predict though, if utilised effectively, there is certainly talent in the 20-man squad: Josef Martínez (Torino), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Juan Falcón (Metz) and Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright) may all be granted a chance to wangle their respective ways into the long-term thinking of Chita.

Regarding potential starters from the home-based crop, aside from Ángel, few strong rumours exist though Sanvicente has said he is keen on giving youth a chance. If he follows through on this, many fans will be keen to see international debuts granted to 20-year-olds Carlos Cermeño, a highly rated defence-minded player at Táchira, and Caracas’ attacking full-back, Jefre Vargas. However, one youngster who will not be featuring is the league’s top-scorer, 21-year-old Manuel Arteaga who, despite intiially being called up to the full squad, was the victim of some kind of communication failure between his club and country and so was unable to make the trip. On a more experienced note, midfielder Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira) can not be too far away from a starting berth, having featured as a substitute against Brazil.

Who from this group will be in a state to play against Ecuador is anyone’s guess though it can be said with the closest thing to certainty that the following cracks will start in Puerto Ordaz: right-back Roberto Rosales (Málaga), centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes) and striker Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion).

The locals as well as most fans will also be keen to see Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez, two men born in the state but who were raised in other countries and who have only in the past year acquired the relevant citizenship documentation to represent La Vinotinto. The former in particular has been in eye-catching form, banging in 9 goals in 12 games for NEC Nijmegen in his debut season in the Dutch Eredivisie. The latter has also shown promising form as he seeks to revitalise his career with KAS Eupen, who currently reside at the top of the Belgian second tier. One other individual who, due to injury troubles, is featuring in his first international squad since he ran the show away to Honduras in February is 23-year-old Rómulo Otero (Huachipato). For some, a possible successor to Juan Arango, this Chile-based playmaker has long been tipped for a long-term spell in the first team.

Alas, this is all largely educated conjecture at this stage. On matchdays, Sanvicente’s line-ups tend to be revealed in advance to the press, so those interested in being in the know at least a couple of hours before kick-off should either return to this page for a short update or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. Otherwise, enjoy the games and feel free to return for some thoughts on them in the upcoming week.

UPDATE (12 November): This, courtesy of @SoccerDataVEN, is the Venezuela line-up that will face Bolivia:

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Full Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers: Alain Baroja (AEK Athens), José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira) and Wuilker Faríñez (Caracas FC).

Defenders: Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Francisco Carabalí (Mineros de Guayana), Carlos Cermeño (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Mineros de Guayana), Gabriel Cichero (Sion), Alexander González (Young Boys), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), Jefre Vargas (Caracas FC), José Manuel Velásquez (Arouca) and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders: Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), César González (Deportivo Táchira), Jacobo Kouffati (Deportivo Lara), Franklin Lucena (Once Caldas, on loan from Deportivo La Guaira), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Rómulo Otero (Huachipato), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe) and Ronald Vargas (AEK Athens).

Forwards: Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana), Juan Falcón (Metz), Josef Martínez (Torino), Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen) and Jeffren Suárez (KAS Eupen),

Notes: Fernando Amorebieta (Middlesbrough, on loan from Fulham) and Juan Pablo Añor (Málaga) were initially called up to the 33-man squad but have since been ruled out due to injury.

Also, Manuel Arteaga (Zulia) was also in the initial squad but has been unable to join up with the group following a communication problem between his club and the Venezuelan football association (FVF).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical