Tag Archives: CONCACAF

Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela – Copa América Centenario Group C (Sunday 5 June 2016)

Another Sunday in June, another Venezuela Copa América Group C opening-day victory by a solitary goal. Hispanospherical.com heartily welcomes this expectation-defying tradition…

Copa América Centenario Group C

Sunday 5 June 2016 – Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario Group C, 5 June 2016 (YouTube).

Josef’s the Man as Venezuela Announce Themselves as Group C Contenders

Venezuela turned more than a few heads as they got off to a winning start in Group C, courtesy of Josef Martínez’s well-worked winner.

Despite playing in front of a crowd that was only a fraction of the 60,000-plus capacity, the two sides certainly put on an entertaining spectacle of frequently fast-paced and end-to-end action.

Rafael Dudamel’s first victory as manager of La Vinotinto at the fifth attempt came as a slight surprise not only because of uninspiring recent results, but also due to the fact that he fielded a line-up somewhat different to the anticipated one. Indeed, to the disappointment of many who were hoping to see a brave new era of attacking play, the exciting creative midfielders Rómulo Otero and Juanpi were both consigned to the bench. Also not in the starting line-up were Sema Velázquez, usurped by the more youthful Wilker Ángel, and Mikel Villanueva, who in the last several months seemed to have become the clear frontrunner for the left-back spot but who ultimately lost out to Rolf Feltscher. Drawing fewer raised eyebrows but nevertheless noteworthy was José Contreras being pipped by Dani Hernández as the man between the goalposts, despite the former being handed the no.1 squad number and the latter not being trusted in a competitive game since October 2013.

The Tenerife goalkeeper certainly had to be alert throughout these 90 minutes though, as Jamaica edged the early proceedings in what was a rather energetic, knockabout affair. From the off, they caused some jitters with snapshots of what they are capable of, such as in the fourth minute when a long ball headed on to Clayton Donaldson in space led to the Birmingham City striker being clumsily nudged over in the area by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Fortunately for the Nantes centre-back, the offside flag had already been raised.

However, seven minutes later, if they were not already awake to task in front of them, Venezuela received a fresh, wet double-slap of reality from their Caribbean opponents. Firstly, Vizcarrondo was again caught out, as he missed a long ball which was instead headed on to Donaldson, who managed to get away a fine strike from the edge of the area which Hernández tipped over. Then, from the corner that was swung towards the far post, New England Revolution midfielder Je-Vaugh Watson powered a header against the crossbar.

Rattled, Venezuela most certainly were. Thus, while they did get forward themselves in the opening 15 minutes, it was nevertheless somewhat against the run of the play when they took the lead. This goal arrived when Feltscher cut out a lazy forward pass some 35-40 yards out on the inside-left channel and put into motion a very quick-paced passing move. He knocked it short to Luis Manuel Seijas, who helped it on to Salomón Rondón. The West Brom striker gave it to Alejandro Guerra in a more central position and with a deft touch, the Atlético Nacional man set up Torino striker Josef Martínez who slid it under the goalkeeper.

Momentarily at least, the goal appeared to take the wind out of Jamaica’s previously rather powerful sails, as they were to threaten far less in the ten minutes that followed. Then, in the 24th minute, came another sign that it may just be Venezuela’s day after all. Lunging for a loose ball with Tomás Rincón, Brøndby midfielder Rudolph Austin caught the Vinotinto captain from behind and the referee deemed it to be reckless enough for him to immediately brandish a straight red card.

However, despite the man-disadvantage, Jamaica were far from out of it and rallied together to regularly put their opponents ill-at-ease with their ability to create space and stretch play via their direct, powerful moves.

Nevertheless, there were moments in the remainder of the first half when the inequality in numbers was apparent and Venezuela made the most of the situation. For example in the 29th minute, when right-back Roberto Rosales was able to collect the ball in a very advanced position and jink his way infield past a player or two before forcing a low save from his left-footed shot. In the next few minutes his side continued to burst forward and could well have got a second goal in the 33rd minute. Indeed, not for the only time in this game, Jamaica’s marking deserted them, as Guerra’s corner found Ángel in acres of space, but the lofty centre-back badly headed well over, when he had time to get the ball down and possibly get a shot in.

Sensing that his side may effectively be on their way out of the tournament before it had even really started, Jamaica manager Winfried Schäfer appeared to hit the nuclear button. Indeed, with just 40 minutes on the clock, he took off Kemar Lawrence, replacing him with Leicester City captain Wes Morgan – a man he had been hoping to rest after his domestic heroics with the Premier League champions. However, it has since emerged that Lawrence was suffering from a groin injury that will rule him out of the rest of the competition. Nevertheless, with their next two games being against Mexico and Uruguay, Jamaica’s prospects were not looking bright.

For the remainder of the half, the CONCACAF side increased the pressure on the leaders, causing much uncertainty from set-pieces and crosses – albeit without seriously threatening the goal. Just before the half-time whistle, Venezuela midfielder Arquímedes Figuera was booked for a foul not entirely dissimilar to that of the dismissed Austin. When the teams emerged for the second half, coach Schäfer was to be found watching it from the stands as, one suspects, his complaints to the referee over incidents such as this led to him receiving a red card.

Nevertheless, for his own sake, one hopes he had a good view of his side’s considerable efforts to get back into the game after the restart. Indeed, within four minutes, they were nearly level. On the left edge of the area, the ball fell into the path of Michael Hector who curled a fine strike that swerved off the far post. A narrow escape for Dudamel’s men.

While Venezuela could be on the backfoot, they also certainly got forward themselves. On the hour-mark, Martínez and Rondón gave further evidence of their potential as a regular partnership. Two minutes after one move broke down, the West Brom striker had more success, controlling a pass, then sliding it forward to the Torino striker in the area, though just before he pulled the trigger his shot was blocked for a corner.

With around 20 minutes remaining, their best chance to double the lead presented itself. The Jamaican marking from a corner once again was non-existent as Guerra’s set-piece found Angel in the middle who powered a very strong low diving header from which the goalkeeper Andre Blake pulled off a sensational save. The rebound fell slightly unkindly to Rondón, who could only blaze the ball over.

Just a couple of minutes later up the other end, Venezuela were nearly made to rue such moments. Here, from a throw into the area, Rincón’s defensive header only went to Watson, who was afforded enough space for a spine-chilling run-up, yet his strike was blazed well over the crossbar.

The last ten minutes of the game did not have too much in the way of clear chances, with the closest Jamaica came being Adrian Mariappa’s header from a corner that was saved somewhat theatrically by Hernández. Nevertheless, they caused Venezuela some further jitters while also opening themselves up to potential counter-attacks.

Ultimately, however, the boys in burgundy were able to see out the game to record a memorable victory. Having historically being the whipping-boys of South America, they are now unbeaten in their last four opening-day Copa América matches. Last year in Chile, they began their tournament with a euphoric victory against neighbours Colombia, yet despite overcoming this considerable hurdle, lost their next two games against Peru and Brazil and were out. This time around, they know that – on paper at least – with Uruguay and Mexico on the horizon, Jamaica are not likely to have provided the sternest test in this group. Nevertheless, though many fans would take a draw, the fact remains that if, as seems likely, the Reggae Boyz fail to beat El Tri, then a victory against La Celeste would take La Vinotinto through.

Still, while this blog can be rather ponderous at times, it is certainly not one to spend too much time day-dreaming about getting what one’s heart actually desires. Thus, that will be all for now, but if you are not able to watch the Uruguay match – or, conversely, are, but simply enjoy revisiting what you are familiar with – then feel free to check back on this site and/or @DarrenSpherical in the upcoming days. Who knows what terrifyingly upbeat tones and adjectives may await.

Team Selections

Jamaica (4-4-2): A. Blake; J. Watson (M. Binns, 88′), A. Mariappa, J. Taylor, K. Lawrence (W. Morgan, 40′); G. McCleary, R. Austin, M. Hector (L. Williamson, 77′), J. McAnuff; G. Barnes & C. Donaldson.

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra (A. González, 90+1′), T. Rincón, A. Figuera, L. Seijas (R. Otero, 86′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (A. Peñaranda, 77′).

Darren Spherical 

@DarrenSpherical

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

International Friendly

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

Panama 0-0 Venezuela

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

Makeshift Venezuela Put in Solid Shift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Selections

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

International Friendly

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

Jamaica 2-1 Venezuela

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

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

Familiar Failings as Venezuelan Hope is Docked at the Bay

Team Selections

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

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

Match Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

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

Jamaica vs Venezuela

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

Peru vs Venezuela

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

venezuelavsjamaicapredictedtean

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

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

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

Brief Background

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

The Formation

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

The Squad

Goalkeeper

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

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

Defence

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

Centre-backs

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

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

Left-back

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

Right-back

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

Midfield

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

Doble Pivot

Defence-minded ball-winner

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

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

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

Deep-lying Playmaker

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

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

Attacking Midfielders

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

Left-sided Attacking Midfielder

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

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

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

 Central Attacking Midfielder

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

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

Right-sided Attacking Midfielder

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

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

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

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

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

Forward

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

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

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

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

venezuela23squadformarch

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-1 Honduras – International Friendly (11 February 2015) & Assessment

Wednesday 11 February 2015 

International Friendly

Venezuela 2-1 Honduras

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas 

Match Highlights of Venezuela 2-1 Honduras (YouTube channel: Deportes Hn)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Baroja; Carabalí, Fuenmayor (Vargas, 46′), Sánchez, Cichero; Lucena (c), Figuera (Acosta, 58′); Gómez (Murillo, 56′), Farías (Arteaga, 64′), Lugo (L. González, 46′); Blanco (Ocanto, 82′).

Honduras (4-3-3): Valladares; Crisanto, Figueroa, Leverón, Sánchez (Palacios, 69′); Peralta (Delgado, 76′), Claros, Martínez (Cardona, 82′); Quioto (Discua, 62′), Lozano (Tejeda, 75′), Castillo (Acosta, 36′).

Match Report

Following last week’s 3-2 away victory, Venezuela picked up their second consecutive win against Honduras in the two nations’ friendly double-header, with local debutant Jhon Murillo ensuring that his former club manager Noel Sanvicente enjoyed a triumphant return to his erstwhile stomping ground.

The Estadio Agustín Tovar, built in anticipation of Venezuela’s hosting of Copa América 2007, is the home of Zamora FC, the current leaders of the Torneo Clausura and the reigning two-time champions of Venezuela. Before taking the national job last July, it was Sanvicente who managed this club to these two titles – the only two in their modest history – and appropriately, in what was La Vinotinto‘s first home game under his guidance, he received a hero’s welcome upon his return.

noelsanvicente

Banner Tribute to Noel Sanvicente, expressing the fans’ support and belief that he will fulfil the nation’s dreams by qualifying for the 2018 World Cup (Image: Bet365 match feed).

The game itself was contested by home-based players plus one MLS-based Honduran who lasted little more than half an hour – more on this later. Whereas Jorge Luis Pinto, mastermind behind Costa Rica’s World Cup run, opted to experiment with his new squad by making seven changes from last week’s encounter, Sanvicente only made one alteration – one which was forced upon him. Indeed, Rómulo Otero – the pivotal figure who played a crucial role in all three of Venezuela’s goals – was injured in club action for Caracas FC at the weekend and was replaced in the line-up by club colleague, Edder FaríasThat the majority of the Venezuelan players were also in domestic action at the same time as Otero was a factor that their Honduran counterparts did not have to contend with and may have had some effect on this game’s dynamics (or lack, thereof). The play was, for the most part, sluggish and devoid of any sustained rhythm or fluidity, something that the players’ relative unfamiliarity with one another was no doubt also partly responsible for.

However, the opening exchanges were rather lively, with Farías driving a loose ball at Honduras’ returning World Cup goalkeeper, Noel Valladares, and within 17 minutes the two sides were level. The visitors looked to be relishing their role as potential homecoming saboteurs when, with 9 minutes on the clock, Rubilio Castillo’s decent low long-range effort was parried by Alain Baroja, only to be rapidly chipped back into the area from the left by Romell Quioto for Anthony Lozano to powerfully head in.

The hosts responded 8 minutes later from a free-kick just outside the right edge of the area. Argenis Gómez – who played a role in two of the goals in last week’s encounter – swung in a fine left-footed ball that was met by left-back Gabriel Cichero, whose header into the goalmouth found the trailing left leg of captain Franklin Lucena. Though Jorge Claros managed to hook it away, the linesman flagged that it had already crossed the line – parity had been restored.

One recurring theme of the first game between this pair was the high number of petulant fouls committed, a feature that was to recur to a slightly lesser extent in the subsequent phase of play. Within no more than two minutes of play, both Honduras’ Castillo and Venezuela’s Juan Fuenmayor were booked for offences on each other, though the likelihood of their tussles resulting in a red card or two was abruptly averted when Castillo went off injured after 36 minutes.

Before the match reached this point, however, two notable incidents had occurred. Firstly, after 22 minutes, from the free-kick conceded by Fuenmayor on Castillo, Mario Martínez  lined up a free-kick from the right flank 35 yards out. Struck with his left peg, his curled ball was met on the volley by Lozano’s outstretched right boot and his effort caused a few jitters but went narrowly wide into the side-netting. However, any Honduran hopes of regaining the lead were dealt a blow by the second incident worthy of comment in this period: Jorge Claros, arguably the most high-profile player in this line-up owing to his performances with Sporting Kansas City, receiving his marching orders for a wild high-foot challenge in midfield, some 5-6 feet off the ground.

Yet with ten men, the visitors certainly did not crumble and were to have at least a few more chances worthy of comment in the game, the closest one coming on 37 minutes, just several minutes after the dismissal. An exquisite left-footed diagonal ball by Martínez on the turn from the half-way line was taken adeptly in the stride of Quioto who, from inside the area on the left lashed a low shot that was to come off the inside of the post and agonisingly trickle back across the goalmouth. Whether or not Baroja got any of his left glove on this is open to debate, though if he did, as the margins involved here were so thin, this contact surely stopped the ball from crossing the line.

Though this reminded Sanvicente of the threat Honduras could pose even with the numerical disadvantage, he opted to make some attack-minded substitutes at the break. Off came centre-back Fuenmayor and attacking midfielder Jesús Lugo to be replaced by Luis Vargas, who appeared to operate in a deep-lying playmaker role, and debutant Luis ‘Cariaco’ González, who was largely to be found in advanced positions on the left.

The second half, perhaps partly due to it consisting of one side with many players who were contesting their third game in eight days up against a team trying to compensate for being a man down, was rather short on chances. However, when the first of note came after 57 minutes, it resulted in the winning goal. This was scored by Venezuela’s third substitute, local hot prospect – and hot-head – Jhon Murillo, a remarkable 37 seconds after arriving on the pitch. The Zamora winger as well as the unused José Marrufo were both not in the original squad but were called up on the strength of their performances at the recent South American Youth Championship.

He replaced Gómez on the field and was soon found on the right side of the area by the long searching ball of club team-mate Vargas. Murillo won an aerial duel to guide the ball into the area, where defender Johnny Leverón – back home after a season with Vancouver Whitecaps – horribly miscued an attempted clearance. Under no real pressure around his own six-yard box, he acrobatically hit the ball over goalkeeper Valladares – who had come out to claim it – and Murillo, with predatory anticipation, burst forward to chest the descending ball in from little more than a yard out – a dream debut for the substitute. It was certainly not a bad moment for Sanvicente either, with the move beginning with one former charge of his at club level and then finished off by another in what is their present, and his former, home ground – an ideal winning scenario.

In the rest of the half, after Cichero, González and Vargas all hit shots either wide or over from rather optimistic positions, Venezuela had their only other concrete chance. This came from another substitute, Manuel Arteaga, who capitalised on a poor midfield pass to rob a defender but then, from the edge of the area, shot far too close to Valladares.

Up the other end, the visitors mildly threatened first with a cross that was well-headed away for a corner and then a subsequent effort from outside the area that went comfortably wide. Their best chance, however, came with what proved to be the last kicks of the game, as Bryan Acosta’s free-kick was flicked on by Ángel Tejeda, which Baroja did well to see at a late stage and dive down low to parry out to the left.

Not long after, the whistle sounded and Noel Sanvicente had attained his second consecutive victory over his Central American opponents – also the second win of his reign, following defeats in his opening four games.

A Worthwhile Pair of Games?

Quite what the coach will draw from both games is difficult to ascertain as the constitution of the teams bore very little – if any – resemblance to the sides he is likely to select when Venezuela play competitive fixtures and the full overseas contingent is called up.

Left-back Gabriel Cichero is the only player likely to retain his place in future line-ups and he will be pleased to have had little to trouble him on his side of the pitch, as well as notching an assist.

Defensive-midfielder Franklin Lucena will surely have been buoyed at starting, being named as captain for both games and scoring a goal – he is surely now back ahead of Rafael Acosta and Édgar Jiménez (the latter of whom was not in the squad) in the pecking order. However, he is unlikely to receive a first-team place ahead of the supposed preferred pairing of converted right-back Roberto Rosales and official captain Tomás Rincón. Furthermore, with his 34th birthday coming up within a week, it remains to be seen how much of an international future the Deportivo La Guaira man has.

Alain Baroja, though he is very unlikely to replace Tenerife’s Dani Hernández as number one goalkeeper, will nevertheless be delighted to have played both games and surely consolidate his position as second-choice ahead of Rafael Romo. Regarding the defence as a whole, though their performance certainly improved and was more assured, that they still failed to provide Sanvicente with his first clean sheet will be a lingering concern.

Further upfield, both Argenis Gómez and, to a greater extentRómulo Otero did much to enhance their claims for a regular squad place. Though the attacking midfield slots are the most competitive positions at present, Otero’s absence from the second game arguably only helps to preserve the perception of his star performance in the first game and bolster his personal cause.

Finally, in the forward positions, though both Edder Farías and Richard Blanco scored in the first game, to see either in a future squad for a competitive game would be a surprise. Not only are there plenty of overseas-based rivals in this area but there is also competition from the top-scoring home-based Venezuelan who was unable to join this squad as he was busy enhancing the domestic league’s reputation in sensational fashion.

Indeed, immediately after the second national game had ended, Gelmin Rivas fired Deportivo Táchira through to the Copa Libertadores group stage, getting both goals away to Paraguayan giants Cerro Porteño as his side’s 2-2 draw ensured a 4-3 aggregate victory. To have three sides involved in this phase of the continent’s premier competition is very rare and this, along with the two national victories, marked a much-needed morale-booster for Venezuelan football.

It will be curious to see whether Rivas can maintain his form and earn what would be a somewhat unanticipated call-up to the senior side for their two friendlies in late March against Peru and an as-yet-unconfirmed opponent. These two games are currently the last scheduled chances to alter Sanvicente’s plans ahead of Copa América, so whoever ends up in the squad will be best-advised to make the most of their opportunity. With the coach having always been at least a few key players short in his squads up until this point, those that do receive a call-up will be acutely aware that there are certainly some places still yet to be determined.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical 

Honduras 2-3 Venezuela – International Friendly (4 February 2015)

Wednesday 4 February 2015

International Friendly

Honduras 2-3 Venezuela 

Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula

Match Highlights of Honduras 2-3 Venezuela (YouTube channel: Futbol Hondureño)

Team Selections

Honduras (4-4-2): Escober; Peralta (Crisanto, 61′), Montes, Velásquez, Palacios; García (Quioto, 73′), Garrido (Acosta, 66′), Méndez (Claros, 46′), Martínez; Castillo (Tejeda, 61′), Lozano.

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Baroja; Carabalí, Fuenmayor, Sánchez, Cichero; Lucena (c), Figuera; Gómez (Farías, 66′), Otero, Lugo (Acosta, 66′); Blanco (Vargas, 89′).

Match Report

At the fifth attempt, Noel Sanvicente achieved his first victory since taking charge of La Vinotinto – and the nation’s first since September 2013 – as Rómulo Otero enhanced his claims for a regular place by playing a prominent role in all three goals.

Though this game, the first in a double-header between the two nations, was contested by sides consisting of home-based players (plus three MLS-dwellers in the case of Honduras), it was nevertheless a much-needed morale-booster for Venezuela.

Sanvicente’s opposite number here was Jorge Luis Pinto, taking control of his first Los Catrachos match, having had some time to recharge his batteries following his exceptional World Cup quarter-final run with Costa Rica. With his considerable experience in both Central and South America, he no doubt was unsurprised to witness a first half in which his new charges, as well as their opponents, committed fouls at a rate of nearly one per minute. As the nature of these offences could rarely be defined as anything more than petulant or calculated, only four players ended up in the book.

Something that was also anticipated before kick-off that came into being was the inability of the relatively unacquainted players on both sides to build effective moves and engage in interplay for any sustained period of time. Nevertheless, Honduras saw more of the ball in the opening stages, often looking to attack down the right flank, but their crosses were either blocked or effectively dealt with in the centre.

When Venezuela scored in the 21st minute, it came very much against the run of play and was the visitors’ first shot on goal. Indeed, though La Vinotinto were to struggle throughout the game with any build-up play that involved lengthy possession, on three separate occasions they made rapid use of the ball in the final third to create goals out of nothing.

The first of these came from a move that began from a loose ball just outside the right edge of the Honduran area, where right-back Francisco Carabalí nudged the ball to Argenis Gómez. The sole representative of Apertura champions Trujillanos caught the defenders off-guard by swiftly playing an incisive ball into the area to Rómulo Otero who immediately passed it across the goalmouth for Richard Blanco to tap in. Quite what an international future the 33-year-old striker has beyond these two matches is unclear, but this will no doubt go down as a memorable goal for him and he will be hoping to enjoy similar moments in the upcoming Copa Libertadores group stage with Mineros de Guayana.

As an attacking threat, Venezuela were not to be greatly feared for the remainder of the half as instead the majority of the play consisted of the hosts’ quest for an equaliser. However, with the exception of a well-struck free-kick being deflected a couple of yards over and a soft shot in a promising position from Román Castillo, Honduras did not really threaten their opponents’ goal. Instead, aside from debutant goalkeeper Alain Baroja’s rather hasty advancements off his line to thwart attacks – which on one occasion saw him drop the ball that consequently trickled goalwards – the Venezuelan defence looked rather assured dealing with the attacks down the flanks and the crosses that drifted into the area.

Soon after the second half got underway, Honduras registered another shot on target, as Olimpia striker Anthony Lozano – who, in 2013, earned some online notoriety for this glaring miss at club level – received a low cross and got away a decent effort that was nevertheless comfortably, if acrobatically, caught by Baroja. However, barely a minute afterwards, the visitors were to provide the second sucker punch. This time it began with a Gabriel Cichero throw-in on the left, which bounced through to Gómez who passed it to Otero on the edge of the area who, with two deft touches and a turn, played it back to his onrushing team-mate. From inside the area, Gómez collected it and slid it over to Arquímedes Figuera to gently chip in for his first international goal.

In response, Honduras continued their fruitless quest for a goal, but though they sometimes advanced into good positions, their crosses were again either blocked or not met with enough intent/direction and their shots were of little concern to Baroja. In this period, the Caracas FC goalkeeper again only really encountered trouble from his own, seemingly nervy, desire to impress, as evidenced when he mishandled a comfortable catch from a header.

In the 76th minute, Venezuela were to deliver to the hosts what, at that point, was surely almost an anticipated blow. Otero’s role was again crucial as the 22-year-old starlet – a club team-mate of Baroja’s – picked up the ball on the inside-right, beat a man, then got the better of another inside the area, before playing the ball into the six-yard box. Here, another Caracas colleague – substitute Edder Farías – scored a cheeky effort sideways-to-goal with his trailing right foot to put the result beyond doubt.

Or at least that is how it seemed until a nervy climax emerged following two home goals, the first of which was as fortituous as it was an instinctive finish. It came on 80 minutes as a corner by Mario Martínez – formerly of the Seattle Sounders – was headed out only to be hit straight back into a crowded area for Anthony Lozano to divert past Baroja. The second came in the final minute of regulation time as Martínez swung in another corner from the opposite side that bounced through the crowd and was knocked in by incoming 2014 World Cup squad member, Juan Montes. The error that always seemed a possibility for Baroja had occurred as he was caught in no man’s land when the cross he came out to claim evaded him, though the failure of any of the outfield players to pick up the run of Montes must also be highlighted.

Despite these late lapses, Venezuela’s saw out the four additional minutes to attain their first victory of the Sanvicente era. ‘Chita’ can be proud of the improved defensive performance, with Carabalí, and especially his fellow often-maligned full-back Cichero, doing well to thwart many of the attempted crosses. Those that did make it into the area were largely dealt with effectively by Andrés Sánchez and the 35-year-old Juan Fuenmayor, neither of whom shirked from the frequent pressure they were put under.

Further upfield, though La Vinotinto were unable to put together many forward passes, engage in much possession play or even create a great deal of chances within the final third, the three that mattered were executed swiftly and clinically. Rómulo Otero, with two assists and a pivotal role on the other goal, has to be the man of the match and though the constitution of the side means that even a star performance like this can not guarantee a spot for him in future squads, it will nevertheless be of great benefit to his personal cause.

Before the game kicked off, gaining at least one victory from these two games seemed a necessity for Sanvicente in order to keep some of his impatient critics at bay. Having already achieved this away from home, expectations have increased and a solid win in his former stomping ground of Estadio Agustín Tovar – home of the reigning champions Zamora FC, whom he led to two successive titles – now seems the order of the day. Whether this has any bearing on his undoubted desire to use this rare opportunity to experiment ahead of the 2015 Copa América will remain unclear until the game kicks off next Wednesday.

Darren Spherical 

@DarrenSpherical

Preview for Venezuela’s February 2015 Friendly Double-Header with Honduras

Friendly International Double-Header

4 February 2015

Honduras vs Venezuela

Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula 

11 February 2015 

Venezuela vs Honduras

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas 

Less Prestigious Than Friendlies?

This international double-header between two nations represented by players from their respective domestic leagues (plus three MLS stars, in the case of Honduras) would be more accurately defined as a pair of ‘B’ internationals. Indeed, approximately three-quarters of a typical, fully fit Venezuela squad tends to consist of players based overseas. Even from the pool of home players, coach Noel Sanvicente has been partially thwarted in his attempt to watch the best local talent at close-quarters as the dates of these two matches coincide with Deportivo Táchira’s two Copa Libertadores play-off games against Paraguayan giants Cerro Porteño. From the side from San Cristóbal, he would have likely called up young centre-back Wilker Ángel (who scored on his debut against Bolivia in November), jinking midfielder Yohandry Orozco (who also featured against El Verde), as well as Gelmin Rivas (the highest scoring Venezuelan in the domestic league). Consequently, as these games are going to be contested by players who are largely unlikely to even feature again on the same field together for their country, it is a struggle, at least from tactical and team-building perspectives, to justify their arrangement.

The Managers:

Any Preparation Time is Invaluable

It may well prove that what the respective managers gain from proceedings will not be readily discernible to the majority of spectactors, as this may consist of learning who they feel they can trust, who are most receptive to their ideas and/or who shows the most potential in training.

For Honduras, these will be the first two games under the stewardship of Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto, last seen in the dugout by a mass audience guiding Costa Rica to a remarkable Quarter-Final finish in the 2014 World Cup. It remains to be seen whether he opts for the defence-minded counter-attacking approach that he utilised with Los Ticos when leading this particular Central American nation who generated some headlines of their own in Brazil – though largely for their rather physical play on and off the ball. With both squads mostly containing home-based players he does, arguably, have an advantage over his opposite number as he possesses some first-hand insights into Venezuelan football. Indeed, for almost a year and a half prior to taking the Costa Rica job, he was the coach of Deportivo Táchira and ended his reign with great success by winning the 2010-11 championship. Thus, as neither nation has called upon any of their emerging prospects from their U20 contingents – both of which having been recently preoccupied with their respective regional tournaments – he should have some familiarity with the majority of the Venezuelan side.

That is not to say his counterpart Sanvicente is completely in the dark regarding his opponents, as eight of the World Cup squad remain, including the MLS trio of Luis Garrido, Jorge Claros and Óscar Boniek García. Although attaining positive results may not be the primary purpose of such games, he will, however, surely be looking to gain at least one victory from the double-header. The man they call ‘Chita’ may have received much goodwill upon taking the job in July but, even though he has encountered some bad luck with injuries, having lost all four of the games he has overseen* he has certainly not been without criticism. A win then, irrespective of the personnel and methods used to achieve it, would give him some breathing space and surely boost morale amongst both the playing and coaching staff.

Venezuela’s Players

A Rare Opportunity for the Majority

In all, Venezuela have officially lost their last five games, with the first in this dismal sequence coming last March against Honduras in the same ground the first game will be played this time around. From this 2-1 defeat that featured many squad regulars, only Rómulo Otero – who started and scored a fine free-kick – and Arquímedes Figuera – who came on for little more than five minutes –  have been selected in the current crop.

Thus, it seems that Venezuela’s players, at least, will be very unfamiliar with their Honduran counterparts (and, depending on how much insight Pinto can impart, vice versa), not to mention somewhat unacquainted with one another. Indeed, this 20-man, largely makeshift, squad has been chosen from 10 different teams and the majority of these players have only really been together for a three-day series of training modules (from 19-21 January). Unless several players have an abnormal telepathic understanding, one thing that should not be expected from the Venezuelan players is free-flowing passing movements and creativity.

Nevertheless, while in this squad there are players who have little hope of a call-up to June’s Copa América squad and others who are frankly making up the numbers, approximately one-third have been previously selected at some point in the Sanvicente era. The majority of these are not regular starters but will most probably find themselves in the line-up next to players who they are unlikely to ever begin a competitive international with. Though their interplay and partnerships with most of their team-mates will not be utilised in future matches, they will nevertheless be under scrutiny with regards to their performances and how faithfully they carry out the coach’s instructions.

Thus, with all these caveats out of the way, what follows is a brief look at some aspects of La Vinotinto‘s side to look out for in these two games:

What to Look out for in the Venezuelan Side

How the Goalkeepers Perform

With Rafael Romo and Alain Baroja in the squad, both will likely feature at some point and, quite probably, receive 90 minutes each. With number one choice Dani Hernández having recently moved from the Real Valladolid substitutes’ bench to the Tenerife first team, seemingly only a severe loss of form on his part could see either of these men take his place between the sticks on a regular basis. However, it is not entirely clear who is the favoured stand-in, as neither have played in this new era. Although Romo – unlike Baroja – received a call-up to the last squad in November, he has been known to make the odd glaring error (as most recently witnessed at the weekend for his club side, Mineros de Guayana). His rival from Caracas FC perhaps benefits from playing for a more in-form club though he has himself made some impressive saves lately, yet in terms of goals conceded this season, there is little to separate the two men. The argument is unlikely to be settled by these two games, though they may go some way to suppressing it for the foreseeable future.

How the Defence Copes

This consideration may well be included in every Venezuela preview until at least when the upcoming World Cup Qualifying campaign ends. While Romo and/or Baroja will do well to avoid making any of the handling and positioning errors of Hernández, it is more the back four and the defensive-midfield partnerships that have been at fault in recent matches.

In Sanvicente’s four games as manager, his side have conceded 13 goals (*14 officially – see footnote), being frequently bypassed with ease in midfield and slow, not to mention disorganised, when dealing with through-balls and crosses. Left-back Gabriel Cichero – who is the only player in this squad to have faced Costa Rica under Pinto in a 2-0 loss back in December 2011 – has the unfortunate distinction of having started all of these games. He was not alone in his errors, but many fans did reserve for him their sternest opprobrium. Yet Sanvicente may well find his experience and know-how at this level invaluable, as he will likely be lining up with three other defenders who have little chance of playing much competitive international football. One possible defensive colleague, Juan Fuenmayor, who can operate at either left-back or in central defence, may have a couple-dozen caps to his name but the last of these came as a last-minute substitute four years ago and, more to the point, at 35 years old, age is not on his side. Cichero’s organisational and leadership capacities may be especially required when, as is likely, he finds himself in a back-line with Francisco CarabalíAndrés Sánchez and/or Jhon Chancellor who, between them, have a mixture of little and no senior international experience.

In front of the back four, when everyone is fit and available, Sanvicente appears to favour a defensive-midfield partnership of converted Málaga right-back, Roberto Rosales, and new captain, Tomás Rincón of Genoa. Although he has only ever been able to field this pairing once, when both men are available, the players in the current set-up have no chance of dislodging them. Indeed, when two players from the domestic league – Édgar Jiménez and Rafael Acosta – began the 5-0 thrashing meted out by Chile in November, both were hopelessly and repeatedly left for dead, unable to cope with the pace and movement of players from vastly superior leagues. Acosta also started but was to fare little better in the subsequent 3-2 defeat by Bolivia and so it was readily apparent, if it was not already, that the players who are used to competing in Europe’s top leagues were far better suited to these positions. Nevertheless, Acosta survives to live another day and is in this squad, though rather than looking to push for a regular first-team place, he should be more concerned with preserving his status as a fringe player in the squad. Franklin Lucena, who came on as a substitute for Acosta against Chile and replaced Jiménez in the line-up for the Bolivia game, would appear to be his most likely competitor from this pool of players to be first-choice stand-by, though again, turning 34 later this month, he does not appear to have much of a long-term future.

Rómulo Otero’s Role as an Attacking Threat

In the Sanvicente era, a recurring theme has been the inability of the attacking players to effectively and consistently link up and create chances. While this may be partly explained away by the changes in personnel that have occurred from game-to-game in these positions, it is nevertheless a concern. From their overseas contingent, Venezuela do not lack players of considerable talent who can play in the line behind the forward(s), with talents at their disposal including Luis Manuel Seijas, Juan Arango, Alejandro Guerra, rising star Juanpi and even, if required, Mario Rondón (who has been more accustomed to playing further forward). Thus again, the players in the current squad have quite a job on their hands with regards to attempting to gain a first-team place, though if anyone can do it, Rómulo Otero is surely the man. The Caracas FC starlet made substitute appearances against Chile and Bolivia, impressively assisting Alexander González’s goal against the latter with a swiftly executed lofted diagonal ball. With teams from abroad interested in him for some time now, and at the age of just 22 being the most internationally experienced attacking midfielder in this particular side, there should be some onus on him to impose himself in the games and be the catalyst going forward.

Elsewhere in this area, it will be interesting to see what Luis Vargas can offer, having played a key role in Zamora FC’s resurgence in form and subsequent ascent to the top of the Torneo Clausura.

How the Forwards Fare

At the very top of the field, not one of the forwards called up in previous match squads has come from the domestic league and the highest-scoring Venezuelan at home – Gelmin Rivas – is not even available for this clash. So what hope do this crop have of even being in with a chance of a place in a future squad for a competitive match?

Some focus will be on Jesús Lugo, a one-club man of only 23, who has been impressive creating and scoring chances in Aragua FC’s ascent to the outskirts of the title race and has U20 international experience. Despite being classified as a forward, he does tend to play a deeper role, offering support for the main goalscorer(s) and often finding himself in more of an attacking midfield position – an already highly competitive area in the selección, as noted.

When it comes to more traditional goal-getters, though Caracas FC’s Edder Farías has a respectable scoring record, he will turn 27 in the spring and yet has less than ten caps to his name. More long-term potential may come from taking a chance on Manuel Arteaga, a 20-year-old who has already scored twice in the Clausura for his new club Zulia FC, demonstrating strong composure when presented with one-on-one opportunities. He has previously had trials with Liverpool and Fiorentina, as well as a non-playing stint with Parma, so if his good form continues at club level, he may well earn a move abroad and find himself more in contention for future call-ups.

Ultimately, with the likes of Salomón Rondón, Mario Rondón, Josef Martínez, Miku and Juan Falcón all playing in strong European leagues, it will not be easy for any domestic forwards to find a spot in the first-choice squad, an issue faced by most players in this crop, irrespective of position. With so many reserves (and reserves to the reserves) on display, it is undeniable that these two meetings have the feel of being of less significance than even regular friendly games are generaly perceived. Nevertheless, as the games were hastily arranged at short-notice to give the managers some much-needed preparation time ahead of their respective continent-wide tournaments in June/July, it can be safely assumed that Sanvicente and Pinto view them as far from pointless.

20-man Venezuela Squad for the double-header against Honduras

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Caracas FC)

Rafael Romo (Mineros de Guayana)

Defenders

Francisco Carabalí (Caracas FC)

Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo Lara)

Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana)

Juan Fuenmayor (Deportivo Anzoátegui)

Andrés Sánchez (Caracas FC)

Midfielders

Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana)

Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira)

Argenis Gómez (Trujillanos FC)

Luis González (Deportivo La Guaira)

Óscar González (Deportivo La Guaira)

Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira)

Rómulo Otero (Caracas FC)

Luis Vargas (Zamora FC)

Forwards 

Manuel Arteaga (Zulia FC)

Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana)

Edder Farías (Caracas FC)

Jesús Lugo (Aragua FC)

Aquiles Ocanto (Carabobo FC)

*Venezuela’s match with Japan on 9 September 2014 ended 2-2 on the day but was later awarded as a 3-0 victory to Japan. Read more about it here.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical