Tag Archives: Colombia

Colombia 3-0 Venezuela — Conmebol Qualification Stage for Fifa World Cup 2022 (9 October 2022)

Oh football’s bloody back, all right...

Conmebol Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2022

Friday 9 October 2022 — Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez, Barranquilla

Colombia 3-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights (YouTube)

Atalanta Trio Provide Poor Premiere for Peseiro

José Peseiro’s first game in charge of Venezuela was one to forget as La Vinotinto were put out of sight by a clinical Colombia before the half-time whistle.

The well-travelled Portuguese coach would have been fearing the worst with barely even ten minutes played, as the in-form Darwin Machís was shown a red following a horrific ankle injury suffered by Colombian right-back Santiago Arias. This card, however, was rescinded, as VAR proved the Granada attacker’s role in the incident had been accidental.

It wasn’t much of a reprieve, though, as with 16 minutes on the clock the 11 men of Venezuela fell behind to a Duván Zapata tap-in. Carlos Queiroz’s charges took advantage of the visitors’ laissez-faire marking, with a well-worked move down the full length of the right channel resulting in a low Juan Cuadrado cross that was finished off by the sliding Atalanta forward.

Ten minutes later, the lead was doubled, and this time both Venezuelan full-backs were made to look silly. First, another Atalanta player, left-back Johan Mojica, dribbled into the area, leaving right-back Ronald Hernández flailing on the ground, before passing it to Luis Muriel; Vinotinto left-back Roberto Rosales was again all over the place as Mojica and Zapata’s Atalanta teammate Muriel was able to calmly place it in the back of the net.

On at least a few occasions in the game, Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez looked shaky and lacking in focus. Perhaps this was owing to a lack of first-team game time at his new French club, but it’s not the first time he has raised question marks and so post-match calls for Joel Graterol to instead be given a chance will only increase.

In the 35th minute, the Lens acquisition noticeably spilled a shot from Bournemouth’s Jefferson Lerma and was luckily saved by the post. Then, in stoppage time, he probably should have done better for Colombia’s third goal. Here, his counterpart at the other end, Camilo Vargas, threw the ball out to Muriel who, once again, was given the freedom of Junior’s spacious stadium. This time he ran from inside his own half up the left and into the area, where a bit of footwork easily shifted him away from Jhon Chancellor and allowed a strike at the near post. Faríñez made contact with the ball, but could only divert it into the roof of his net for 3-0.

Subsequently, the second half was a bit of a write-off, with a combined total of nine substitutions being made, one of which saw New York Bulls’ Cristian Casseres Jr., son of another international, gain his first cap.

To their credit, the Venezuelans did at least continue to try to get forward, but their attempts throughout the game were mostly from long range and the best one actually occurred in the first half: a fine 36th-minute arrow released by Rosales outside of the area that actually hit the side of the post. Even so, it was the hosts’ substitute Falcao who came the closest in the second period, striking a low effort on the turn that Faríñez was able to block.

Given the soporific offerings of the second half, fans of both nations probably couldn’t wait for the final whistle. When it was blown, Peseiro would have already had plenty of time to contemplate possible future changes, and in the aftermath he conceded that his 4-2-3-1 formation had been a mistake.

One wonders what he’ll have in mind for the upcoming clash in Mérida with Paraguay. It may only be the second game, but a considerable number of home victories will be essential for Venezuela if they are to have any chance of reaching Qatar in two years’ time. Some fans will be able to recall that this very same fixture was actually the first one in the last campaign five years ago; it ended in embarrassment owing to a late defensive mix-up, leaving many deflated upon the first puncture.

Although qualification certainly won’t be secured or squandered at this early stage, to at least quiet down some early discontent, Peseiro really needs to inject a clearer purpose into his team on Tuesday and, hopefully, gain a result.

Team Selections

Colombia (4-1-2-2-1): C. Vargas; S. Arias (S. Medina, 13′), Y. Mina, D. Sánchez, J. Mojica; W. Barrios; J. Cuadrado (A. Morelos, 59′), J. Lerma; J. Rodríguez (S. Alzate, 74′), L. Muriel (F. Fabra, 59′); D. Zapata (R. Falcao, 74′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Faríñez; R. Hernández, W. Ángel, J. Chancellor, R. Rosales (R. Feltscher, 79′); T. Rincón, Y. Herrera; J. Murillo (Juanpi, 82′), J. Savarino (R. Otero, 67′), D. Machís (C. Cásseres Jr., 78′); S. Córdova (A. Ponce, 67′).

Darren

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Conmebol Qualifying Campaign for Fifa World Cup 2022 — October 2020 Preview

We all know things are far from what they could be and how we’ve landed in this situation. No doubt you’ve all got far more important things to worry about and it’s certainly understandable if you’ve lost interest. Nevertheless, some ambitious folk have been summoned to dream on a global scale — let’s hope we can all be able to do the same sooner rather than later.

Conmebol Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2022

Friday 9 October 2020 — Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez, Barranquilla.

Colombia vs Venezuela

Tuesday 13 October 2020 — Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida.

Venezuela vs Paraguay

Image

“This game is not between Peseiro and Queiroz; it is between Venezuela and Colombia” — tell that to this blogger, José.

Quote from AS; image from Marca.

Come On Then, If We Must

In common with all other Conmebol nations, Venezuela belatedly begin their Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign after nearly 11 months of inaction.

Such a lengthy gap between matches is certainly not without precedent for La Vinotinto; after all, it was only two years ago that they returned from a 10-month hiatus to face the same country that they will first encounter this time around: neighbours Colombia. They’re also definitely not strangers to shambolic preparations, which, given all the hurdles the c-word has thrown at them in the run-up, is just as well.

Still, pity the new manager.

New manager? Ah yes, a bit of background may be in order: Rafael Dudamel, the man who led the under-20 side to second place at the 2017 World Cup, finally had enough. No more federation politics and restrictions to navigate for him, as he was instead lured away at the turn of the year by Brazilian giants Atlético Mineiro. There, he lasted less than two months, getting the boot after prematurely exiting the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa do Brasil. He was then promptly replaced at Mineirão by former Argentina, Chile and Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli, which brings us back to Dudamel’s successor at international level.

Well, it’s not Sampaoli, is it? No, but in early February many fans thought it was going to be as talks were reported to have reached a very advanced stage. In a swift and hazy turn of events, however, José Peseiro was instead announced as the new man at the Venezuela helm. Despite the Portuguese 60-year-old having previously managed the likes of Sporting Clube de Portugal and Porto, it would be fair to say his reception was underwhelming, with many confessing to have never heard of him. Perhaps they could be forgiven, as not only has he struggled to pick up much silverware but also in recent years he has rarely stayed anywhere long enough to be remembered: his last six appointments have each lasted a mere matter of months. This does not bode well for the long-term project he has landed himself, even if the pandemic has already allowed him to boost his longevity credentials.

Despite these reservations, maybe he’ll be able to command a greater level of authority within the dressing room, owing in part to having trained players of the highest calibre. Indeed, in a curious — he may prefer the word “irrelevant” — subplot, not only has he led top teams within his homeland, but during the 2003/04 season he was also the assistant manager at Galácticos-era Real Madrid. Who was he second in command to? Oh, only his compatriot and current Colombia coach, Carlos Queiroz.

Although many of the Venezuelan players may have also scratched their heads upon his appointment, he’s certainly had plenty of time to familiarise himself with them: pre-lockdown he got Josef Martínez back on board, embarked on a tour to meet various talents and then named a 40-man preliminary squad in March for the qualifiers that we’re now catching up with. Since then, he’s been in touch with many of the chaps and has no doubt watched countless videos. Despite this, he hasn’t had much time with them on the training ground, so he’s not expected to implement any radically new tactical schemes just yet.

Of the 29 players he has in his squad, all of them play their club football outside of their homeland — this is probably for the best, not least because the domestic league has yet to restart (scheduled return date: 14 October). Even so, although it is a strong crop, Peseiro will have to contend without several key individuals: talismanic striker Salomón Rondón and midfielder Júnior Moreno have both been prevented from joining up by their clubs and the country’s most high-profile defender, Parma new-boy Yordan Osorio, is also missing.

Facilitated by this latter absence, a starting position at centre-back had been on the cards for Mikel Villanueva (who has been enjoying a new lease of life in the Portuguese top flight), but injury the day before the opener has ruled him out. It’s too early to say whether he’ll recover in time to face Paraguay. Yeferson Soteldo and Fernando Aristeguieta are also currently in Colombia and had reportedly been part of Peseiro’s plan A, but their respective difficulties entering the country mean they are unlikely to be kicking off in Barranquilla.

With Aristeguieta probably exhausted, Rondón virtually incarcerated in a Chinese hotel and Josef Martínez nursing a long-term injury, it is set to be a big moment for Germany-based Sergio Córdova, who has been used as the sole striker in training.

Since this time last year, over half of the players in this squad have moved clubs. Goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez is one, having joined newly promoted Ligue 1 side Lens. However, as he has yet to play, there have been some calls to instead give the No. 1 shirt to his fellow U20 World Cup teammate Joel Graterol, who has been chalking up league and Libertadores appearances at Colombian side América de Cali. That said, for now at least, it’s still Faríñez who will be between the sticks.

Another player who has embarked on a new club life in 2020 is Jefferson Savarino, having been snapped up by Atlético Mineiro during Dudamel’s brief tenure; the attacking midfielder’s since put in some good performances and has won the state championships.

He is predicted to start behind Córdova in the line of three alongside Jhon Murillo and Darwin Machís. Regarding the latter, he and his Granada teammate Yangel Herrera (who is set to be in a holding midfield duo with captain Tomás Rincón) are arguably their nation’s top-performing players at the moment, having finished seventh in La Liga last season and recently qualified for the group stage of the Europa League.

Elsewhere, there are also some fresh faces in the squad, such as three of the four-man MLS contingent who will be hoping for their first caps, but the likely line-up is, once all caveats have been taken into account, very familiar. According to a reliable source, Peseiro will set up his men in a 4-2-3-1:

W. Faríñez; R. Hernández, W. Ángel, J. Chancellor, R. Rosales; T. Rincón, Y. Herrera; J. Murillo, J. Savarino, D. Machís; S. Córdova.

Venezuela haven’t actually beaten Colombia for five years, but when they do play them, the result is usually close. As for Paraguay, the last time the two nations squared off was a memorable encounter three years ago on the final matchday of the last qualifying campaign: a goal by 19-year-old Yangel Herrera in Asunción simultaneously ended the hosts’ dreams, while allowing the youthful visitors to envisage a much more prosperous future.

The circumstances may not be ideal, but the time has come for them to start delivering on their promise.

Venezuela Squad

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Lens, France, on loan from Millonarios, Colombia), Alain Baroja (Delfín, Ecuador) & Joel Graterol (América de Cali, Colombia).

Defenders

Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain), Alexander González (Dinamo București, Romania), Mikel Villanueva (Santa Clara, Portugal), Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Ronald Hernández (Aberdeen, Scotland), Luis Mago (Universidad de Chile, Chile) & Miguel Navarro (Chicago Fire, USA).

Midfielders

Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Rómulo Otero (Corinthians, Brazil, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Juan Pablo Añor (No club, recently released by Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil), Jefferson Savarino (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Bernaldo Manzano (Atlético Bucaramanga, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara, Venezuela), Eduard Bello (Antofagasta, Chile), Cristian Cásseres Jr. (New York Red Bulls, USA), Arquímedes Figuera (César Vallejo, Peru, on loan from Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela) & José Andrés Martínez (Philadelphia Union, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Mazatlán, Mexico), Sergio Córdova (Arminia Bielefeld, Germany, on loan from Augsburg, Germany), Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) & Eric Ramírez (DAC Dunajská Streda, Slovakia).

Darren

@DarrenSpherical

Colombia 0-0 Venezuela – International Friendly (10 September 2019)

Little to see or learn in Tampa. Nevertheless, @DarrenSpherical is here to dutifully recount La Vinotinto’s friendly encounter with Colombia.

International Friendly

Tuesday 10 September 2019 – Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida, USA

Colombia 0-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Colombia 0-0 Venezuela, International Friendly, 10 September 2019 (YouTube)

Uncompetitive Venezuela Struggle to Dreary Draw With Vecinos

On a patchy NFL-marked pitch, Rafael Dudamel’s somewhat experimental side was anything but buccaneering as they failed to thrill against Carlos Queiroz’s much-changed Colombia.

Viewed context-free on paper, the draw could be perceived as representing progress on the 2-1 defeat this time last year, though witnesses to this bore-chore will beg to differ. After all, not only were there nine changes to the line-up of Los Cafeteros but, as Dudamel insinuated post-match, the majority of the Venezuelans given opportunities – due to the absences of Rondón, Rincón, Rosales and others – failed to take them.

Indeed, aside from the closing stages when some more eager substitutes had entered the fray, the burgundy boys rarely threatened Álvaro Montero’s goal. Instead it was Colombia who had the lion’s share of the ball, particularly in the first half in which they regularly caused concerns in and around the Venezuelan area.

The first of these came in the ninth minute when a corner was knocked away by goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez, but only to Bournemouth’s Jefferson Lerma, whose first-time effort went a little too close to the crossbar for comfort. Five minutes later the net perhaps should have been bulging after Yairo Moreno dinked a ball to Rafael Santos Borré at the back post, but the River Plate striker mis-timed the bounce and skied his attempted placement well over the bar. Soon afterwards in the 16th minute, a corner led to a scramble which Óscar Murillo redirected goalwards, but his low effort was thwarted by the legs of Faríñez.

Venezuela’s defensive lines were regularly finding themselves bypassed and given the runaround. In the 27th minute, Juventus’ Juan Cuadrado gained space from Juanpi to come in from the left and strike a right-footed effort that went narrowly wide into the side-netting. Ten minutes later, it was Cristian Borja who was granted too much room on the left of the area as he struck a venomous effort that mercifully missed the target. Off the back of this on the other side, Luis Díaz was able to strike from an acute angle, though Faríñez comfortably diverted the ball wide. Rounding off this series of goal-threats, two minutes before half-time the Colombia-based goalkeeper of Millonarios was a little more concerned as a low free-kick from León midfielder Moreno whistled just wide of the post.

Shortly before the interval, Venezuela finally made their attacking presence known. On the left, Yeferson Soteldo’s free-kick that swung into the area was headed on by captain-for-the-night Wilker Ángel, forcing Montero to tip the ball over.

Understandably, Venezuela made a couple of changes at the break and though the second-half play was to prove to be less one-sided, Colombia were nevertheless quick to generate a great chance to open the scoring. This time, in the 51st minute, Cuadrado menaced the Venezuelan backline before sliding the ball to Santos Borré in space in the area. Yet, the 23-year-old striker, though he managed to dink an effort over the outrushing Faríñez, perhaps should have done better as the ball – which glanced off the goalkeeper’s glove – was probably going wayward before safety-first Ángel headed it out.

Colombia’s next chance of note came in the 62nd minute when Díaz raced into space on the inside-left. A goal seemed inevitable yet the Porto youngster appeared to overrun it as he strode too close to Faríñez before finally attempting to square it to a team-mate; instead, his pass was easily cleared and he himself ended up clattering into the goalkeeper.

These two opportunities were as good as the half got for Queiroz’s men, with the subsequent 20 minutes very low on opportunities. When, however, some threats did re-emerge, they instead came from Dudamel’s men as some substitutes helped the team show some belated impetus late on. First of all in the 82nd minute, Darwin Machís took it upon himself to impressively burst past two players on the left before knocking in a testing low cross from the byline which Montero had to parry out to be sure. Later on, Rómulo Otero, returning to the side having been left out of the Copa América squad, made himself hard to ignore from set-pieces. Indeed, although his much-anticipated attempt in the last minute of regulation time went into the wall, he nearly won the match with another effort in the fourth minute of stoppage time. This came from thirty yards out on the left, delivered with his right and with trademark deadly dip, forcing Montero into a desperate and eye-catching parry before it could creep in at the near post.

Alas, there was no late steal here, with the game ending goalless. Overall, not disastrous, just tedious; an unadventurous, uninmaginative draw. Perhaps only the returning Otero and Ángel will feel in any way emboldened by their performances.

Ultimately, fans looking for drama should have just skipped the game and waited for the post-match comments. Indeed, although Rafael Dudamel attended to his media duties, the players did not, provoking anger from several broadcasters on Twitter. Stirring the pot, the Venezuela’s football federation (FVF) responded to this by releasing a statement distancing themselves, claiming that such decisions were taken by those directly in charge of the team (the manager and his coaching staff). To this, the national team’s Twitter account got involved, instead proportioning blame to the match organisers. They stated – amongst other things – that La Vinotinto‘s changing room was just 20 metres from their team bus, whereas the media mixed zone was off-route, some 200 metres away on the other side of the ground, nearer to the Colombian changing room. Needless to say, the soundbite-chasers who had travelled thousands of miles were not moved by these protestations.

This is just the latest chapter of an ongoing internal saga. Things are clearly not healthy in the Vinotinto camp and this is unlikely to be the last time that divisions bubble up to the surface, causing fans to roll their erstwhile optimistic eyes.

Team Selections

Colombia (4-3-2-1): A. Montero; L. Orejuela, D. Sánchez (J. Lucumí, 56′), Ó. Murillo, C. Borja; J. Lerma, J. Cuadrado (J. Campuzano, 57′), Y. Moreno (M. Uribe, 74′); O. Berrío (L. Muriel, 71′), L. Díaz (R. Martínez, 71′); R. Santos Borré (D. Zapata, 71′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Feltscher (R. Hernández, 46′), W. Ángel, M. Villanueva, L. Mago (B. Añor, 56′); Y. Herrera, J. Añor (D. Machís, 46′), J. Moreno (B. Manzano, 85′); J. Murillo (J. Savarino, 73′), Y. Soteldo (R. Otero, 77′); J. Hurtado.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly International – September 2019 Preview

For the first time since their quarter-final exit at Copa América, La Vinotinto has been reassembled. Just like this time last year, a kickabout with their neighbours to the west awaits. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides a look at those looking to see action.

International Friendly

Tuesday 10 September 2019 – Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida, USA

Colombia vs Venezuela

romuloterosept2019

Back in the Fray: Rómulo Otero (GettyImages)

Youthful Venezuela Bring Average Age Even Further Down

Reportedly owing to visa issues relating to his new club adventure in China, Salomón Rondón has been compelled to withdraw from Venezuela’s sole international friendly this month.

Thus, with MLS hotshot Josef Martínez also not part of the squad, a considerable opportunity has presented itself up front, with either Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) or Jan Carlos Hurtado (Boca Juniors) best placed to profit. Both men were absent from June’s Copa América cohort, but Ponce’s output has in the past suggested that he might have a future at this level, most notably last October when he bagged two goals in the Vinotinto shirt. On the other hand, although Hurtado has struggled to find the net during his senior career at club and international level, the 19-year-old inspires many a fan’s daydreams, even more so these days as he has recently been signed by Boca Juniors and donned their much-fetishised shirt in the Superclásico.

Rondón’s absence also throws up a rare situation for the national side: not one of the three R’s will be trotting onto the field in Vinotinto colours. Indeed, the other two components of the much-capped trio, captain Tomás Rincón and Leganés new-boy Roberto Rosales, have not been summoned. Neither for that matter has Yordan Osorio, who put in a memorable display against hosts Brazil in June and has recently earned a loan move to Zenit St. Petersburg. In an interview with Conexión Goleadora, one player currently in the USA has lamented the absences as well as the somewhat underwhelming prospect of only a solitary game having been scheduled, but as is often the case in matters concerning the FVF, the precise truth is difficult to discern.

Nevertheless, trials and experiments are thus guaranteed to be taking place in all the outfield positions. Firstly, with no Rosales, who has been fielded on both flanks at the back, a number of players will be hoping to get the nod on the left. These include the versatile pair Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile) and Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), both of whom were part of the Copa squad, with the latter the only one of the seven defenders to not see any action in the tournament. Alternatively, manager Rafael Dudamel could well give a run-out to the only home-based player in the squad, the recalled Bernardo Añor of Caracas FC, a 31-year-old who only made his international debut last year. Less promising – though rather curious – are the prospects of club-less 21-year-old left-back Alejandro Mitrano, hitherto a virtual unknown who was last recorded playing in Slovakia and who was called up to train with the squad after the initial 23-man announcement. Who knows what he may bring to the table, but such intrepid talent-scouring reinforces Dudamel’s previous comments about the long-standing issues the national side has with this particular position.

At centre-back, with no Osorio, Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) will be seeking to reclaim a place in the line-up after injury forced him to miss Brazil 2019. However, there is now much competition for these two positions, with erstwhile partner Jhon Chancellor – who has earned a big move to Brescia in Serie A  – and Mikel Villanueva – who, however awkwardly, has been accommodated back into the Málaga side – both also in the running. As, for that matter, is the recalled Under-20 2017 World Cup runner-up Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal), still only 20 years of age.

Moving on, Rincón’s absence opens up an opportunity in the line of three that typically helps to reinforce the back four as well as kickstart attacks. If regulars Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England) and Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) get the nod, then joining them could well be either Renzo Zambrano, who plays under ex-Vinotinto and Swansea City striker Giovanni Savarese at Portland Timbers or Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara), who last season made headlines for being the first player in a Copa Libertadores match to bag a goal, grab an assist, net an own goal and get sent off.

Alternatively, the outspoken and more attack-minded Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor – who, like Villanueva, has also been grudgingly granted minutes by cash-strapped Málaga  – could well reprise a role similar to that in which he shone in June against Bolivia. There is also a chance that Dudamel could instead utilise the La Liga man in the customary attacking pairing that will support either Ponce or Hurtado, although here, perhaps more than anywhere, there is no shortage of talented competition. Indeed, the four players who duked it out for these roles in Brazil are all in the current squad: Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal),  Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA) and Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil). However, accompanying them this time will be Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), unquestionably the biggest surprise omission from the Copa squad. Perhaps his individualistic streaks played a part in this decision, but as more than one fan commented during the tournament, the team really could have done with some of his gravity-defying set-piece spectaculars. Surely at the Raymond James Stadium he will be given an opportunity to win back the trust of Dudamel.

Overall then, plenty of players will be seeking to shake up the boss’s thinking. Even if the preparations for the game have not been ideal, the side are arguably in a better state than twelve months ago when, after a ten-month hiatus, they kickstarted their current cycle with a 2-1 loss against Colombia in a match also played in Florida – it was Miami Gardens back then and it is Tampa now. The Cafeteros are coming into it off the back of a creditable 2-2 draw with Brazil, whereas Venezuela enter poised in the highest position that they have ever attained in the official FIFA rankings: 26th. Ultimately, Dudamel may well be looking more for performances than a result, but any opportunity to get one over their historically more-illustrious neighbours will always be greatly received back home.

To keep track of how things pan out, please continue to check this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintosept2019

Notes: Owing to visa-related issues at club level, Salomón Rondón has withdrawn from the convocatoria. Also, Alejandro Mitrano has been called up to train with the squad.

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (Silkeborg IF, Denmark).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Alejandro Mitrano (No club) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Jan Carlos Hurtado (Boca Juniors) & Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Colombia 2-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (7 September 2018)

In front of a passionate Miami crowd, well-populated by those with ties to either of the neighbouring countries, Venezuela fell short in their long-awaited return to international action. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…

International Friendly

Friday 7 September 2018 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA

Colombia 2-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Colombia 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 7 September 2018 (YouTube)

La Vinotinto Return Half-Awake

With only stoppage-time left to play, Yimmi Chará struck to give Colombia a deserved 2-1 comeback win over a Venezuela whose lack of game-time for 298 days became more evident as the encounter wore on.

However, it certainly did not feel that way in the opening exchanges. Straight away, with less than a minute on the clock, an Alexander González diagonal ball offered a surprise one-on-one for Salomón Rondón against David Ospina. Unfortunately for the Newcastle summer signing, his touch was heavy and he could only awkwardly bundle the ball a fraction past the Napoli-loanee before the defence was on hand to clear up. Undeterred, before the clock reached the fourth minute, a González cross from the right caught the Colombian back line by surprise and, with his first-ever goal for the senior side, the alert Darwin Machís headed low into the opposite corner to give La Vinotinto a 1-0 lead.

There was a healthy number of compatriots in the stands of the home of the Miami Dolphins to cheer this dream collective return to the international fold and these two men would prove to be two of Venezuela’s more noteworthy contributors. The Elche right-back occasionally being a threat knocking balls into the area and the Udinese attacker – playing here on the left of midfield – rarely afraid to cut inside, drive past opponents and strike at Ospina’s goal.

Also early on, Venezuela’s most-capped active player, captain Tomás Rincón, asserted himself in midfield and, when the opportunity presented itself, sought to find the second-most-experienced player, Rondón. Overall, the Torino man had the kind of night that has earned him his ball-winning, battling reputation, whereas the Magpie, as at club level, lacked sharpness, often finding himself burdened with the donkey work of chasing scraps and attempting to fashion something from almost nothing. The link-up play with man-of-the-moment Josef Martínez was virtually non-existent, as the Atlanta United goal-machine saw even less of the ball. It has since been claimed that he was carrying a knock and that it had been agreed in advance that he would subsequently stay in the USA and thus not make the trip to Panama on Tuesday.

Further back in the Vinotinto ranks, another eye-catching performance was put in by 20-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez; for some, his side’s man of the match. However, his increasing involvement from around the quarter-hour mark onwards was to be rarely overturned for any substantial period of time, as Colombia’s World Cup-level fluidity and ability became more prominent.

Indeed, Los Cafeteros – in their first game since the departure of José Pékerman – enjoyed more midfield possession and were quick to target the Venezuelan left-flank, where Rolf Feltscher often found himself exposed and received little support from Machís. Atlético Madrid right-back Santiago Arias regularly profited, first really making his presence felt in the 15th minute when he whipped in a cross that Mateus Uribe did well to volley; Faríñez parried this low, preventing it from creeping into the far corner.

Three minutes later, River Plate-loanee Juan Fernando Quintero, announced himself on the Hard Rock turf. He would go on to be Colombia’s standout player, giving Venezuela’s rearguard a torrid time with his dribbles, crafty through-balls and all-round inventiveness. His first moment of magic saw him drop the shoulder with great ease to both Machís and Feltscher, putting himself in a great position inside the area, before miscuing his shot.

Quintero and his colleagues ensured that Venezuela regularly ceded the midfield ball-play, finding themselves on the backfoot, deeply retreated with often two defensive lines crowding the area, anxiously repelling balls from all directions. Thus, the scares arrived with greater frequency: Carlos Bacca sped past centre-back Jhon Chancellor but González marginally out-paced an opponent to clear the goalmouth cut-back; Quintero dummied a pass, leaving Arias in acres of space on the right to play a first-time pass to Juan Cuadrado in the area, whose shot was well-blocked by Chancellor’s partner Wilker Ángel; a minute later from a deep position, Quintero and Radamel Falcao were one step ahead of their opponents, as the former’s incisive pass to the latter left Júnior Moreno playing catch-up, although the Monaco striker’s effort from an acute position went into the side-netting.

Venezuela did make some further first-half in-roads into the Colombian half but struggled to have any command over the ball; instead, Quintero continued running the show. In the 33rd minute, from a centre-right position, he curled a left-footed ball that Cuadrado was more alert to than González, but the Juventus attacker was ultimately denied by the ever-attentive Faríñez, who knocked it out for a corner. Almost ten minutes later, the Millonarios goalkeeper was again very much awake, this time to a deceptive, curling free-kick by Quintero from near the right touchline; it was curling towards the back of the net, before being punched over the bar.

However, before the half-time whistle went, Venezuela gave their opponents a reminder of the sudden, unanticipated threat that lurked. Some rather improvised passing inside the final third between Rincón, Rondón and Machís ended with the captain turning in his tracks to play a pass to the edge of the area to the goalscorer. He, in turn, struck first-time with his right, curling barely a yard wide of Ospina’s far post.

For a fleeting moment, the 1-0 lead of Rafael Dudamel’s men did not feel quite so precarious, though they were to struggle to build upon this in the second half.

The pattern of play of the opening five minutes after the restart was very familiar, with last-ditch blocks and interceptions required to quell the Colombian threat. That is, until the 51st minute when a goal seemed on the cards, as an exquisite touch by Quintero generated a one-on-one opportunity for Falcao. However, his shot from little more than ten yards lacked direction as Faríñez stayed strong to dramatically block. Not to be outdone, Colombia’s all-time top-scorer would soon make up for this lack of composure.

Indeed, shortly after Machís cut over from the left to feed Sergio Córdova for a long-range effort that was easy work for Ospina, Colombia returned to their hunting ground and found a 55th-minute equaliser. Here, the Colombian strike-force were able to demonstrate high-level intuitive, cut-throat abilities against a Russia-based centre-back pairing. Upon making a run to receive a pass from Quintero, Villarreal’s Bacca – who played club football in Venezuela a decade ago – only needed two touches to gain space from Ángel and then poke the ball to the central Falcao, who also took two touches: first to open up the opportunity away from Chancellor and the second, killer, one to strike the ball home into the bottom corner.

The goal was undoubtedly deserved and nine minutes later, they could have taken the lead were it not for Faríñez. This time, Quintero’s attempt to cut open the defence was only partially thwarted, with the ball falling very invitingly for the central Uribe, whose side-footed effort would have crept into the far corner were it not for the low glove of the ex-Caracas FC stopper.

Although after the goal Colombia continued to give the opposition defence the jitters, Dudamel’s men were able to offer some glimpses of offensive threat. On the hour-mark, Machís was on hand to intercept a pass and play through Martínez, who suddenly had a one-on-one which was struck at Ospina – albeit after the play had been called back for a debatable offside.

Just before this moment, the rather ineffective Córdova was replaced on the right side of midfield by the more dynamic Luis “Cariaco” González, who appeared to relish playing against the country in which he now earns his living. Indeed, in his half-hour cameo, the Tolima winger gained space for himself and played in several balls that caused concern for Ospina and his centre-backs. Rondón managed to meet one of these in the 68th-minute but, perhaps owing to the defender on his back, was unable to make a telling connection. With a bit of work in training, this could potentially become a useful creative outlet for Dudamel. Elsewhere in the Venezuelan ranks, Rincón showed once again that his particular understanding with the ex-West Brom striker still holds some currency. Indeed, six minutes later, his lofted ball into the area was chested by the centre-forward, before the strike was blocked by Davinson Sánchez for a corner.

All that being said, the most positive attacking performance for Venezuela undoubtedly came from Serie A new-boy Machís. Out of nothing from 25 yards out in the 79th minute, he further underlined this by taking a stepover and firing a feisty left-footed strike that demanded a spectacular one-handed tip-over from Ospina.

Nevertheless, ultimately it was to be Colombia’s day and in the final ten minutes, with both teams semi-transformed due to the number of substitutes, they re-asserted their superiority. In the 83rd minute, they should really have had the winner, but Glasgow Rangers’ international debutant Alfredo Morelos was unable to adjust his footing; with the vacant goal gaping following a goalmouth pass from impressive fellow substitute Sebastián Villa, he instead knocked the ball into the hands of the grateful Faríñez. Despite this gaffe, one way or another, Morelos had a very memorable quarter-of-an-hour. Just two minutes later he received a pass from Luis Muriel on the edge of area, swivelling rapidly to strike low and only marginally missing the near post. Then, in the final minute of regulation time, though he knew little about it, he was involved in the winning goal.

Here, Villa played a one-two with Muriel on the right inside the area and dinked a ball past the – possibly misjudged – onrushing Faríñez, which defenders attempted to knock away but could only clear as far as Atlético Mineiro’s Yimmi Chará. Comically, his first attempt was blocked by the horizontal Morelos – who had instinctively decided to duck-and-cover on the goal-line – but he made sure from the rebound, giving interim manager Arturo Reyes the result that his side’s play had merited.

Overall then, in so many ways, Venezuela’s rusty performance should have come as little surprise, playing as they did in a similar manner to how they ended the qualifers, albeit with somewhat less verve and success. A few players, most notably Machís, offered optimism for the long-term future but the team lacked match sharpness and were often unable to keep up with a more advanced footballing nation. They were unable to hold onto the ball in the centre of the pitch, with attacking avenues largely coming from crosses and – mostly thwarted – rapid transitions, rather than patient build-up play. This absence of possession and the concomitant cautious camping meant that they often packed the centre of their considerable rearguard with bodies, seemingly in an implicit acknowledgement that the flanks were going to leak problems that necessitated reinforcements. As Dudamel said pre-game, the left-side in particular is a “headache” and thus it proved, both with Feltscher on the pitch as well as with his 62nd-minute replacement, debutant Luis Mago. With the Carabobo FC man scheduled to start against Panama on Tuesday, many Vinotinto fans will be hoping that he can provide a surprising solution and develop a better relationship with those around him.

Dudamel has indicated that several other hitherto unused players will see action in Panama City, in what is likely to be a considerable challenge against a side that Venezuela have not managed to beat in their last seven attempts – even if the last two games were draws.

Although we are unlikely to witness any dramatic changes in playing style, this may turn out to be a more inviting test and with the new cycle having only just begun, for everyone involved, there really is everything to play for.

Team Selections

Colombia (4-3-1-2): D. Ospina; S. Arias (H. Palacios, 90+2′), D. Sánchez, W. Tesillo, C. Borja; J. Cuadrado (Y. Chará, 75′), W. Barrios (J. Campuzano, 81′), M. Uribe; J. Quintero (S. Villa, 75′); C. Bacca (L. Muriel, 68′) & R. Falcao (A. Morelos, 77′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; A. González, J. Chancellor (Y. Osorio, 87′), W. Ángel, R. Feltscher (L. Mago, 62′); S. Córdova (L. González, 59′), T. Rincón (J. Savarino, 81′), J. Moreno, D. Machís (R. Otero, 81′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Lucena, 68′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – September 2018 Preview

After an international hiatus of nearly ten months, Venezuela’s senior team are finally returning to action with a friendly double-header. Still coming to terms with this impending reality, @DarrenSpherical fills in some gaps and takes a look at the state-of-play within La Vinotinto’s 24-man squad.

International Friendlies

Friday 7 September 2018 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA.

Colombia vs Venezuela

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

Panama vs Venezuela

hardrockstadium

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida – the site of La Vinotinto‘s return

Time To Start Putting the Pieces Together

Last October, as the prematurely-doomed Russia 2018 qualifying campaign was ending with a post-Under 20 World Cup upswing of fortunes (three draws and a final-day victory), La Vinotinto coach Rafael Dudamel revealed that he had asked for “at least five friendlies for 2018“. With four now scheduled and possibly one or two more in the pipeline, it now looks as if his rather modest request may ultimately be granted.

Also this year – a World Cup year, no less – the match-shy Venezuela have defied all logic and managed to ascend from 52nd to 31st in the FIFA rankings. Thus, taking a very partial-sighted view of things, it could be said that Venezuela appear to be well-poised to crack on with unburdening themselves of being branded the “Cinderella” of CONMEBOL.

Perhaps, but throughout the near-300 days since last November that the senior national side has gone without playing – during which an astonishing 17 of the 24 players in the current squad have switched club sides – there has been no shortage of concern over the perceived lack of activity. In response, the FVF (Federación Venezolana de Fútbol) have repeatedly stated what should come as no surprise to anyone with a passing interest in the country’s economic situation: there is simply not enough money. Friendlies come at unfriendly prices and plenty of proposals have had to be declined. Thus, regardless of whether or not some pleading phonecalls were made, it makes considerable sense to see that the first two encounters that have been belatedly set in stone come against countries very close to home.

Nevertheless, for a football association who invited the nation’s media to a presentation in July titled “Qatar 2022. The Objective of Everyone” and whose social media channels regularly repeat the slogan that “We are World [Cup] Class“, tests against two recent World Cup-qualifiers are an apt reintroduction into the international fold.

Furthermore, despite all the frustrations from fans who fear that the country is losing ground, Rafael Dudamel has undoubtedly been a busy man in the intervening lull, pursuing the stated strategy of investing in the young. Indeed, he, along with his coaching staff have not only held a dozen or so training modules with primarily local talent, but they have also led into several tournaments the new generation of Under-20s as well as some prospects from the previous history-making cycle. Ironically, two clear beneficiaries of one of these campaigns have been two eligible overage players: left-back Luis Mago (Carabobo FC, 24 this month) and holding midfielder Agnel Flores (Monagas SC, 29). Barely a month ago, this pair helped a mostly Under-21 squad reach the final of the 2018 Central American & Caribbean Games, where they were runners-up to hosts Colombia.

Concerning youth though, another two members of that particular squad also called to the current Selección are centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay) and midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira). These are two of the four players present – along with attacking midfielder Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany) and goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) – who were runners-up last year in South Korea and in whom considerable hope is indeed invested.

Initially, there were in fact six players from the silver crop in this squad, but within the past week right-back Ronald Hernández and jinking Yeferson Soteldo have had to be replaced, along with the marginally more experienced Jhon Murillo (22). Visa problems being the official reason disclosed by the FVF. Were it not for a long-term injury, midfielder and erstwhile Under-20 captain Yangel Herrera would have received a call and a stronger recent run of form as well as a UK work permit would have also surely helped the cause of fellow absentee Adalberto Peñaranda. More than a handful of others from their generation are also considered potential future call-ups, further reinforcing the sense that if the senior side is to seriously threaten their continental rivals in the next four years, the integration of youth with more established figures will be key.

This thus begs the question, who out of the current crop are considered likely first-teamers? Right now, all would agree that the fast-tracked Fariñez undoubtedly receives the No. 1 shirt and that the pivotal role in front of the back-four of captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) is not up for debate. Forwards Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) and Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) are also leading figures. However, questions have been asked as to whether or not the pair can combine effectively and, should Dudamel opt for a lone striker, if the latter’s phenomenal MLS goalscoring exploits could one day rather soon lead to him usurping the Magpie as the focal point of the attack. Either way, such is the gulf in stature that even if one has to make way for the other in the line-up, the two other forwards named in this squad will have a considerable battle on their hands just to receive further call-ups, let alone gain a starting berth off one of the aforementioned pair.

After these names, things start to become a little more precarious. Regarding the rearguard, one of Dudamel’s great achievements last year at both Under-20 level as well as in the final stretch of the qualifiers was the tightening up at the back, resulting in an admirably low number of goals conceded. However, there lurks the feeling that these were feats of a more collective, well-disciplined and systematic nature, rather than owing to a combination of individual brilliance. Thus, though the Russian-based pair of Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny) and Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala) currently have the strongest claims to the centre-back positions, it will be well worth looking at the 19-year-old Ferraresi as well as Yordan Osorio, who currently finds himself on loan at Vitória Guimarães, after a January transfer to Portuguese giants Porto.

Regarding the defensive flanks, they were repeatedly exploited by opponents in the qualifiers and Dudamel himself has admitted that the left-back position is a problem. As Rolf Feltscher‘s form at LA Galaxy – where, owing to the competition of Ashley Cole, he is usually deployed on the right – does not inspire confidence, opportunity surely beckons for the uncapped Mago. On the right, Hernández’s late omission is definitely a setback for personal, as well as collective, development. His replacement Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), a 27-year-old with less than a handful of caps who spent some of the past year playing in Gibraltar, does not appear to be one for the long run. Thus, the door is still very much open to Alexander González (Elche, Spain), a healthily-capped individual whose optimum position seems to lay somewhere curiously between that of a right-back and a right-sided midfielder, joining in with attacks but occasionally leaving himself exposed.

Just in front, though Flores or Lucena may well receive a chance to partner Rincón, with the absence of Herrera, Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) can really stake a claim to challenge his fellow MLS-dwelling compatriot for that coveted first-team spot. Aided by the arrival of Wayne Rooney, the 25-year-old is enjoying a good spell at club level, off the back of making his international debut last year, from which he went on to start in the heart of the Vinotinto midfield in the draws against Uruguay and Argentina.

Regarding the more attack-minded midfield positions, whether Dudamel opts for one on each flank or an attacking line of three, he still has the customary, welcome selection issue. Venezuela have had a relatively impressive amount of success with the development of players in this broad area and new candidates for the limited number of roles frequently emerge. Indeed, the right-sided Córdova rapidly transitioned from his country’s Under-20 World Cup topscorer to a regular in the Vinotinto line-up, starting all four of the remaining qualifying matches. However, with no starts yet this season in the Bundesliga, he will know more than anyone that nothing can be taken for granted. The visa-less Murillo was also making headway in the final qualifying stretch along with, to perhaps a lesser extent, Rómulo Otero, who has since raised eyebrows by swapping being a one-man highlight reel in Brazil for a loan spell in Saudi Arabia.

If there is to be a reordering in the pecking order, there are two men in particular who are primed to capitalise. Firstly, Darwin Machís, who can be deployed on either side of an attacking midfield and who also gained a start against Colombia last August. Since then, the tenacious late-bloomer of 25 years has enjoyed a sensational, golazo-laden season with Granada, justifying their faith in him and earning himself a move to Udinese, where he has already started the first three Serie A games of the season. Secondly, there is the right-sided Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), whose inclusion only came at the eleventh hour following the omissions of Murillo and Soteldo. Perhaps this will prove to be a blessing in disguise as, after initially being overlooked, the ex-Zulia man – only a mere several months older than the much-hyped Soteldo – has gone on a spectacular run of form, to the point where he now seems like a permanent fixture of the MLS’s official Team of the Week.

Machís and Savarino undoubtedly have the higher-profiles, but many will also be hoping to see some contributions from two other players in fine form: the uncapped Eduard Bello, who has netted 8 times in 21 league games since his move to Chile with Deportes Antofagasta and  Luis “Cariaco” González, the other beneficiary of the Murillo/Soteldo withdrawals. The latter has recently turned up at Colombian title-winners Deportes Tolima, assisting an impressive number of times in the same side as compatriot Yohandry Orozco (who, in turn, despite being one of the three overage players at the Central American and Caribbean Games, where he contributed three goals in five games, has not been selected here).

So, overall then, aside from perhaps four starting positions, there is certainly all to play for, with no shortage of competition inside and outside of the current squad. Tactically, Dudamel has spoken of experiments with the youth sides – in particular, playing with three at the back – though there is no indication yet as to whether this will be carried over to the seniors. What does remain likely, however, is that the side will continue with a compact defensive rearguard and will seek to break with rapid transitions on the counter. If, in time, they can also add some consistency in the starting personnel – particularly amongst the attacking midfield positions – and generate some more positive, front-foot play, this will certainly feel like team progress.

Although they are merely friendlies and the Copa América is not for another nine months, all Vinotinto fans will be hoping, perhaps with hearts rather than heads, that their representatives have not lost too much momentum since last year’s promising end. Results may not be the priority, but there is reason for optimism, not least because the national side does possess a respectable recent record against Colombia and have drawn their last two games against Panama (with the rain-soaked September 2015 encounter actually proving to be Juan Arango’s final appearance for his country).

There are, of course, far more important things for Venezuelans to be preoccupied with.

In April of this year, the life of 30-year-old Jesús Guacarán – physiotherapist for La Vinotinto who was part of the Under-20 national team’s success – was taken, shot dead whilst out shopping in Barquisimeto, thus depriving his wife of not only her husband but of a father for their then-unborn child. This is but one of countless tragedies that have occurred in a nation contending with unimaginable economic and social turmoil, though it is one of the more acutely-felt incidents for the Selección. Plenty of high-profile individuals conveyed their sadness on social media and it can only be speculated how the everyday uncertainties and hardships of their family members, friends and other loved ones impact upon the mindsets of the players and coaches of the national side.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Salomón Rondón offered this insight into the team’s perspective going into games: “My responsibility is to make Venezuelan people proud. When we play for the national team we try to make them forget the bad things, just for those 90 minutes.”

Though this may be impossible for some, here’s hoping that the long-awaited return of La Vinotinto can at least raise a few extra smiles, however fleeting, and inspire many in the face of adversity.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintosept2018

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (APOEL FC, Cyprus).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Alexander González (Elche, Spain), Luis Mago (Carabobo FC) & Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal),

Midfielders

Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Agnel Flores (Monagas SC), Luis González (Deportes Tolima, Colombia), Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela, on loan from Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Deportivo La Coruña, Spain).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-0 Colombia – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (31 August 2017)

The fifteenth jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s revitalised side earn a respectable point. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 31 August 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira

Venezuela 0-0 Colombia

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-0 Colombia, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 31 August 2017 (YouTube)

Dudamel’s Darlings Give Heart

Upon their long overdue return to Pueblo Nuevo, a new-look Vinotinto gained a credible point against their qualification-chasing neighbours.

Though at times it could be a bitty affair with the referee’s whistle frequently heard, Rafael Dudamel’s youthful side displayed admirable intent and tenacity to deny Colombia the two additional points they desired. In turn, José Pékerman’s 2nd-placed men often lacked attacking fluency, something which has been a consistent problem in their campaign as in their 15 games they have scored only 18 goals – just one more than bottom-placed Venezuela.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, much of the first half played in the politically contentious border state of Táchira – anti-government chants were heard and fan signs were assessed upon entry – was an ugly affair, with 26 fouls committed (the highest so far in this CONMEBOL qualifying cycle). Very few attempts on goal were made in the opening half, though given Venezuela’s porous defence (34 conceded) and the number of personnel alterations made, this could only be seen as encouraging for the Qatar 2022-dreaming hosts.

Soon after the half-hour mark, however, this changed, with one of the prospective leading lights of the next qualifying campaign called into action. 19-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez – a star throughout the U20 side’s remarkable run to the World Cup final in June – pulled off the first few of what were to be several noteworthy stops. The first was the best of the lot, with Radamel Falcao’s powerful nine-yard header in space from a left-sided cross superbly blocked with an equally strong glove. Subsequently, virtually on the goal-line, centre-back Mikel Villanueva did well to hook the rebound away from an opponent.

As much as jolt the Venezuelan back-line, this shook the game into life. Shortly afterwards in the 35th minute at the other end, seemingly out of nothing, Josef Martínez received a long ball on the centre-left, came inside and rattled the crossbar with a spectacular right-footed 25-yard shot.

In an immediate response, the action returned to Fariñez’s domain, with a corner being struck on the low volley by Carlos Sánchez and going only narrowly wide – though the Caracas FC goalkeeper appeared to have it covered. A minute later, 26-year-old Yimmi Chará – playing his first-ever competitive international – latched onto a ball on the right edge of the area, firing a low, well-struck effort which Fariñez was alert to, blocking and then collecting.

At this point, it did seem that if the hosts were to score, a goal was most likely to arrive following something sensational á la Martínez’s effort and/or a set-piece. Hitherto, captain Tomás Rincón, not typically the first-choice free-kick taker, had little joy with his dead-balls but as the half drew to a close, he floated in a fine, direct chip from some 45 yards. This found towering centre-back Jhon Chancellor in space, who rose well and quite possibly should have opened the scoring. Alas, instead his header went just inches wide of the far post and the two sides went into the interval level.

After the restart, Colombia had a similar opportunity in the 52nd minute when Edwin Cardona’s free-kick was headed by the central Falcao, albeit straight into the grateful arms of Fariñez. Five minutes later, Venezuela were gifted a chance when a long ball from the left was meekly passed back towards his own goalkeeper by Colombian Cristian Zapata. Criminally, it was too short and Salomón Rondón pounced, though from an acute angle inside the area, the striker could only manage a low attempt which David Ospina saved for a corner.

With the game opening up, Fariñez had to be increasingly attentive to play, something that he proved to be more than capable of. Indeed, just 24 seconds after the restart he did well to block a low Juan Cuadrado strike at his near post and, throughout the half, was quick to race off his line to intercept long balls and dangerous crosses. More than one of these came from the tricky left-sided wide man Chará, who in the 64th minute looked as if he was going to blitz the back of the Venezuelan net. Here on his flank, he picked up an exquisite, pinpoint ball, swiftly raced past his man into the area, before cutting over to his right boot. Yet, with home fans inhaling their breath and fearing the worst, he blazed his strike well over the bar, squandering one of the best opportunities of the match.

Up the other end, for the first 20-25 minutes of the second half, Venezuela’s chances were largely long-range efforts, such as a 69th minute attempt from U20 World Cup captain Yangel Herrera and a similar, earlier strike from his senior counterpart, Rincón. Neither of these caused too much trouble for Ospina, less so a 68th-minute effort from substitute Jhon Murillo, which went far over the bar from the left edge of the area. However unremarkable this particular attempt may have been, plenty were on the edges of their seats to appreciate the build-up play of Venezuela’s U20 World Cup top scorer Sergio Córdova, who held off three players as he roamed infield from the right before making the pass. This was one of a few eye-catching, positive attacking moments from the Augsburg man, in what was his senior international debut.

Murillo may not have covered himself with glory in the aforementioned move, but the Turkey-based attacker soon atoned, being the driving force behind two heart-racing moments, the first of which perhaps should have resulted in a goal. This came in the 71st minute when, almost back-to-goal some 30 yards out, he immediately bypassed one opponent with a deft touch, before gaining space from another. Rampaging into the area, he cut across a golden low ball towards Rondón in the centre. However, though a goal looked a near-certainty, whether owing to Zapata’s positioning and/or the West Brom man being out-muscled, the ball was nudged – by either striker, defender or a combination of the two – softly at Ospina, who blocked instinctively with an outstretched leg. This felt like Venezuela’s moment to once again do over their neighbours, who still haven’t won a qualifier in this country since 1996. Two minutes later, Murillo’s second effective contribution occurred when he evaded a challenge to shuffle inside from the left; his ball found fellow substitute Rómulo Otero and somewhat fortuitously ricocheted into space for him to screw a low left-footed effort. It was hit well, but a little too close to Ospina, who will have been relieved to embrace the ball with both arms on the bobbly turf of Deportivo Táchira.

Aside from one or two testing balls into the Colombian area, Venezuela were unable to make any more inroads of note, with instead the visitors creating the better attempts before the final whistle. Indeed, in the 77th minute, China-based substitute Giovanni Moreno blasted a blistering 25-yard left-footed strike, which Fariñez did well to parry out to the side. Five minutes later, the goalkeeper spooned a deflected Falcao shot wide and, though he also later awkwardly punched out a cross, when the final whistle blew to proclaim a stalemate, overall this was another impressive performance by the diminutive shot-stopper.

He will go down as the man of the match for many and, more generally, Dudamel will be pleased with how well his men frustrated their more fancied opponents, picking up only their second clean sheet of their 15 qualifying games. Although the coach’s future appears precarious owing to a lack of FVF funds, if he can stay in his post for the long haul, this gutsy showing featuring three Under-20 graduates certainly offers him a rather positive platform on which to build.

However, in the short-term, he will be a little concerned that skipper Rincón picked up a yellow card in stoppage-time, thus ruling him out of Tuesday’s away match with Argentina. Consequently, when Venezuela go out onto the hallowed turf of El Monumental, they will need all the composure and organisation they can collectively muster. That said, another thwarting of a high-profile qualification-seeker is certainly not out of the question, particularly as Jorge Sampaoli’s 5th-placed men have only scored 15 goals in as many games – two fewer than Dudamel’s darlings.

The 16th matchday could scarcely be less decisive for Venezuela, but nevertheless, a considerable test awaits.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; V. García, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; S. Córdova (A. Figuera, 84′), T. Rincón, Y. Herrera, D. Machís (J. Murillo, 60′); S. Rondón, J. Martínez (R. Otero, 55′).

Colombia (4-2-3-1): D. Ospina; S. Arias, C. Zapata, O. Murillo, F. Fabra; C. Sánchez (A. Aguilar, 75′), W. Barrios; J. Cuadrado, E. Cardona (G. Moreno, 63′), Y. Chará (L. Muriel, 80′); R. Falcao.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical