Tag Archives: CONMEBOL Qualifying

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – August/September 2017 Preview

Jornadas 15 and 16 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are upon us and, amidst a very bleak domestic backdrop, a new era for La Vinotinto is being sought. Here, @DarrenSpherical previews the state of play in the Venezuelan ranks ahead of the matches with Colombia and Argentina…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela vs Colombia

Tuesday 5 September 2017 – Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires.

Argentina vs Venezuela

Aerial video of Pueblo Nuevo, venue for Venezuela’s encounter with Colombia (@SeleVinotinto)

The Search for a New Identity Stumbles on

Given the dire economic situation and galling political machinations in a country which has recently witnessed countless deaths and which is also experiencing ever-rising poverty levels, for many Venezuelans, these international fixtures feel even more meaningless than they already effectively are.

If his comments with Four Four Two earlier this month are anything to go by, forward Josef Martínez would certainly prefer not to board the flight back home: “We can’t play…it’s a celebration when the national team plays, and my country is not in the mood to celebrate right now. Venezuela is suffering a lot. People are dying.”

Particularly in the last several months, many other leading players – including captain Tomás Rincón and star striker Salomón Rondón – have expressed outrage on social media over perceived abuses – often fatal – perpetrated by government-controlled forces and/or sympathising militias. Of course, partisans on the other side of the considerable political divide would be quick to tell another story, though no such folk appear to exist within the current Venezuelan squad. If they do, then they certainly kept their views to themselves during the ceaseless and often bloody protests that were at their peak in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the highly controversial National Constituent Assembly elections on 30 July 2017.

Civil unrest and everyday instability abounds, with supporters of the broad coalition of opposition parties (MUD) horrified at what they see as the shameless, undemocratic overriding of institutions by President Nicolás Maduro and his PSUV party. Perceived as economically inept authoritarians by many both inside and outside the country, the government instead have repeatedly claimed that they are victims of international – primarily U.S.-backed – interference and economic sabotage. Either way, without wishing to delve too far into this intractable dispute here, the tragic reality for Venezuelans sees them having to contend with the related unholy cocktail of frightening levels of crime, hyperinflation and chronic shortages of basic food and goods.

So dire are the straits that increasingly citizens try their luck in neighbouring Colombia, whether this be to search for cheaper goods, perhaps make some money selling petrol (still heavily subsidised) or even to seek refuge and start new lives. Smugglers sensing opportunities often journey in the opposite direction and thus such is the human traffic that tight border controls are often enforced, as they will be for the first of La Vinotinto‘s two upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Indeed, the 31 August encounter with Los Cafeteros in the border state of Táchira could scarcely come at a worse time. Nevertheless, Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel, who has himself spoken out about his nation’s turmoil and who even had to cancel a training module last month owing to disruptive protests, has voiced his determination. With his charges long since out of the running for Russia 2018, he has stated that qualification for Qatar 2022 has become his “obsession“. He is also especially delighted for the peripatetic national team to be playing for the first time in this cycle at San Cristóbal’s Pueblo Nuevo, a stadium which he has referred to as the “sacred temple of Venezuelan football“. This is the home of one of his ex-clubs Deportivo Táchira and, more pertinently, the site of some famous international scalps. He hopes it will become a fortress for his men, starting with the visit of the high-flying representatives of the country in which he spent much of his playing days. Though this Thursday’s encounter, which pits 10th against 2nd, may come at an inopportune time to inaugurate a revitalised fresh dawn, Dudamel must find some solace in the fact that Venezuela have not lost on home soil to Colombia in qualifying since 1996.

Though the coach’s 17-month tenure of La Vinotinto has been as similarly underwhelming as that of his predecessor Noel Sanvicente, the exploits of his Under-20 World Cup finalists have given him good reason to feel optimistic about the future. Indeed, it was he who steered this well-organised side to nationwide – and, in some knowing quarters, global – acclaim in June and he has included seven from their ranks in this rather experimental – when isn’t it? – and youthful 30-man squad.

These are goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC), who appears to be the new first-choice, with former occupant between the sticks Dani Hernández not even in this group; left-back José Hernández (Caracas FC), surprisingly the only defender called up from what was a very effective defensive unit; right-sided attacking midfielder Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Venezuela’s top scorer at the World Cup and who is already off the mark in the Bundesliga; versatile midfielder Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), surely the most impressive U20 outfield player and who is already making waves in MLS; 17-year-old midfield starlet Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira), scorer of memorable free-kicks, both at the World Cup and recently in domestic action; jinking dribbler Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile), who has turned some heads at his new club – not least for his dubious alleged resemblance to Barney Rubble – scoring twice in all competitions; lastly, forward Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC) who, frankly, could probably have done better at the World Cup, though has been afforded an opportunity here to provide Dudamel with something different in attack.

(Incidentally, the absence of winger Adalberto Peñaranda – arguably the U20s’ leading attacker – is owing to an injury he sustained in the World Cup final against England which he has yet to recover from.)

With almost all of the starting positions seemingly up for grabs, one would expect to see at least a few of these youngsters feature over the upcoming pair of games. A new-look Venezuela shall gradually emerge in the next 2-3 years, though with experimentalism the order of the day, one is not anticipating many players to sew up starting berths any time soon. One man who definitely won’t be a part of the Qatar 2022 campaign is 32-year-old Alejandro Guerra, who announced his international retirement earlier this month. Also, regarding two of the most notable absentees, one wonders what roles, if any, Málaga’s Roberto Rosales and Juanpi will play in the future; for many observers, this pair are amongst their nation’s leading exports and their omissions from such a large squad only bemuse and baffle.

Once a stalwart, right-back Rosales appears to be out of favour with Dudamel despite still being a La Liga mainstay, whereas the younger Juanpi, a versatile midfielder, struggled with injuries earlier this year and has not featured for his country since last October. Dudamel seems to prefer players he has consistently worked with, so as well as the U20 contingent, some of the following may well feel optimistic about their immediate international careers: centre-back Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), right-back Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), midfielder Junior Moreno (Zulia FC – the standout player in June’s USA-based friendlies) as well as attacking midfielders Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC) and Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil).

Of the current crop, two attackers who seem particularly well-placed to spearhead the assault on Qatar 2022 are the pair of 24-year-olds, Otero (scorer of almost exclusively sensational golazos in Brazil) and Martínez (scorer of 9 goals in 11 MLS games). Still, few things feel certain with the Venezuela national team – even the talisman Rondón has been misfiring this year, so his target-man status can not be taken entirely for granted – and other players will no doubt emerge and compete for places all over the park.

Stability and consistency, largely absent in recent years from La Vinotinto, are what is needed, though with Dudamel concerned with long-term objectives one can’t help but be apprehensive of his side’s chances against two sides (2nd and 5th respectively) very much focused on the here-and-now. Given the domestic situation, this can all seem rather trivial but ultimately, at this stage with just four games left of the long-since-dead campaign, it is more performances than actual results which matter for Dudamel. Indeed, it may not currently feel like it and at either of the final whistles it may still seem imperceptible to most, but in so many ways, a new generation must surely feel they have everything – professional ambitions and, perhaps, a new life – to play for.

Venezuela Squad

venaugust2017

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) & Carlos Olses (Deportivo La Guaira).

Defenders

Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Free agent), Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), José Hernández (Caracas FC), Edwin Peraza (Deportivo La Guaira), Rubert Quijada (Al Gharafa, Qatar, on loan from Caracas FC), José Manuel “Sema” Velázquez (Veracruz, Mexico) & Mikel Villanueva (Cádiz, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Junior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, on loan from Juventus, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC), Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira) & Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile).

Forwards

Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC), Edder Farías (Once Caldas, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Alavés, Spain).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela vs Peru

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

Chile vs Venezuela

josefmartinez2

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

Dudamel Bids To Rejuvenate Venezuela’s Long-term Ambitions

A Youthful Injection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise Omissions

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

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

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

High-Profile Concerns…and Some Joy

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

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

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

Is It Even Possible To Pick Up Momentum?

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

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

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

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

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

Midfielders

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

Forwards

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

venezuelasquadmarch2017

(Image: @SeleVinotinto)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela vs Bolivia

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

Ecuador vs Venezuela

tomasrinconvsuruguay

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

Unsettled Venezuela Confronted with Best Hope of a Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

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

Midfielders

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

Forwards

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Uruguay 3-0 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (6 October 2016)

The ninth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign felt over after little more than 45 minutes. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 6 October 2016 – Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay

Uruguay 3-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Uruguay 3-0 Venezuela, 6 October 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

Venezuela Comfortably Seen Off by Cavani & co. in the Centenario

Match Report

Despite some early scares, Uruguay swatted aside Venezuela in Montevideo, thus maintaining their lead at the top of CONMEBOL qualifying and leaving La Vinotinto bottom without a win after nine games. 

From the first whistle, Óscar Tabárez’s men seemed determined to erase memories of June’s 1-0 reversal that sealed their fate at the Copa América Centenario; this time, on the pitch and not agitated on the bench, they also had all-time top-scorer Luis Suárez to bolster the Celeste cause. In the opening exchanges, they regularly burst forward, causing problems on the flanks, sneaking balls into the area that had to be hastily – and not always convincingly – dealt with. Yet, as with the Group C encounter four months ago, they were vulnerable to counter-attacks and it was actually Rafael Dudamel’s men who had the best chance to go ahead.

Indeed, the burgundy boys actually registered the first shot on target after two minutes. This arose when the charge of star-man Salomón Rondón was partially thwarted, but the ball was re-directed towards 22-year-old starlet, Juanpi, whose low strike from just outside the area was parried by Fernando Muslera for a corner. A few minutes later, the experienced Galatasaray goalkeeper unnerved his team-mates when his dreadful clearance went straight towards an opposition shirt, yet Venezuela were unable to capitalise.

Particularly in the first half, Adalberto Peñaranda was La Vinotinto’s most impressive player. Indeed, he was hard to miss with his bleached blond hair and often jinked his way past defenders on the flanks as well as in the centre. In the ninth minute he slalomed down the left touchline and into the area, bypassing Mathías Corujo, Carlos Sánchez and Egidio Arévalo Ríos along the way, before poking the ball back from the byline towards Juanpi. The Málaga youngster was somewhat squeezed for space in the area, yet was still able to chest the ball down and gain a little air, though was ultimately unable to hook it towards Muslera’s goal.

Yet while discerning minds will surely note Peñaranda’s overall contribution, those who prefer a good quick-click ‘lol’ may fixate upon the events of the 22nd minute. Once again, Muslera was at fault and his error really should have seen his nation go a goal behind. Following the breakdown of a free-kick move which left Uruguay exposed in the middle, Peñaranda dribbled into opposition territory; a defender put in a foot but this interception was knocked straight back towards the danger zone by the head of Rondón. It was brilliantly diverted over the heads of the defensive back-line and into the stride of Peñaranda. The Udinese loanee suddenly found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper and the odds got even better when Muslera hastily raced out of his area and completely missed the ball with his ridiculous attempt at a tackle.  Yet, confronted with an unguarded goal-frame towards which a light-blue shirt was running in vain, he dragged his shot wide of the post. Rondón was quick to chide him for his miss and, though the presence of Sánchez may have affected his concentration, the 19-year-old really should have composed himself better.

Just four minutes later, roles reversed and it was Peñaranda’s turn to be frustrated with Rondón. His nicely-weighted ball was slid through towards the West Bromwich Albion striker who, from the edge of the area, had a decent sight of goal yet dragged his shot wide of the far post.

Alas – always an ominous word in Venezuela match reports – the visitors were made to pay by their hosts. In the 29th minute, a long diagonal ball found Suárez on the left near the byline. He looked up just before he struck a first-time cross into the centre which Seattle Sounders’ Nicolás Lodeiro – not marked by either Oswaldo Vizcarrondo or Wilker Ángel – headed down and into the net. Dani Hernández got a hand to it, but the ball was just too powerful for the Tenerife goalkeeper.

In the remaining quarter-hour of the first period, when Venezuela managed to get ahold of the ball, Peñaranda still caused some problems with his runs but the goal certainly knocked some spirit out of his team-mates. Their dreadfully consistent record of going behind and then staying behind can only contribute to feelings of weariness and 15 seconds into the second half, the contest was effectively over.

Indeed, after a brief spot of head-tennis, Sánchez’s hopeful volleyed ball was hoisted in the air and, upon its fall, embarrassingly missed by Ángel on the edge of the area. The ball thus fell kindly for the man he jumped with, Edinson Cavani, who brushed an exquisite right-footed shot past the keeper and into the back of the net.

With their lead doubled, La Celeste continued to dominate proceedings, but the third quarter of the game was conspicuously marked by scrappy play and stoppages, during which Lodeiro and the visitors’ Arquímedes Figuera were both booked. In the 65th minute, a couple of minutes after a Rondón free-kick went straight into the wall, the foul play reached the conclusion many were predicting as Venezuela were reduced to ten men. Experienced centre-back Vizcarrondo was the guilty man as he earned a second yellow for upending the ravenous Suárez just outside the area.

Subsequently, the hosts were more forthcoming in expressing their superiority, with Sánchez, Suárez and Matías Vecino all having decent chances to extend the lead. In the 79th minute, Cavani achieved just that. The third goal came about after Sánchez was fed on the right; looking up, he slid the ball towards Suárez who dummied it for the incoming Paris St. Germain striker, who beat Hernández to the ball and knocked it home. Doubtless, these two goals were very pleasing for Cavani, who was rather wasteful during the 1-0 defeat against Venezuela four months ago but who is, according to some, now the most in-form top-level striker in the world.

Thus, for a change, the spotlight was taken off his strike-partner, Suárez, despite the latter’s role in the goals. However, in the final ten minutes he had a few, ultimately unsuccessful, moments in front of goal himself: in the 81st minute, he jinked down the left and past a couple of defenders before firing a ferocious shot that Hernández did well to parry over at close range; from the resulting corner, Hernández came for and missed the cross, but the ex-Liverpool striker was unable to direct his back-post header in; lastly, in the 86th minute, he was almost played in by Cavani but the goalkeeper raced out to beat him to the ball.

Aside from Rondón’s header wide from substitute Rómulo Otero’s late free-kick, Venezuela rarely threatened Muslera’s goal in the second half. Thus, when the final whistle blew and the Uruguayans celebrated the consolidation of their position at the top of CONMEBOL Qualifying, La Vinotinto were left rooted to the bottom with just two points. Next up on Tuesday? Brazil, who are not only second-placed, having freshly thrashed Bolivia 5-0, but who have also never once lost a competitive match against their northern neighbours.

Nevertheless, glass-half-fullers will be keen to note the parallels with last month’s qualifiers. Indeed, after a similarly poor defeat against Colombia, they then defied expectations to gain a point against a Messi-less Argentina. In Mérida, a rejuvented Seleção will be without suspended golden boy, Neymar. It does not feel likely at the moment, but could we be about to witness Dudamel’s revolution finally kick-starting into gear in the qualifiers?

To find out how Venezuela get on, remember to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and/or check back here for match reports and news. 

 

Team Selections

Uruguay (4-3-1-2): F. Muslera; M. Corujo, D. Godín, S. Coates, G. Silva (Á. Pereira, 89′); C. Sánchez, E. Arévalo, C. Rodríguez (D. Laxalt, 80′); N. Lodeiro (M. Vecino, 67′); L. Suárez & E. Cavani.

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): D. Hernández; A. González, O. Vizcarrondo, W. Ángel, M. Villanueva; T. Rincón,  A. Figuera (R. Otero, 81′); Juanpi (S. Velázquez, 66′), A. Guerra,  A. Peñaranda (J. Martínez, 61′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

Jornadas 9 and 10 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are on the horizon and, with the matches not getting any easier, Venezuela are already thinking about Qatar 2022. Here, @DarrenSpherical attempts to prove that this isn’t all just a futile waste of time…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 6 October 2016 – Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay

Uruguay vs Venezuela

Tuesday 11 October 2016 – El Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida State, Venezuela.

Venezuela vs Brazil

El Centenariazo: Uruguay 0-3 Venezuela, CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying,  31 March 2004. Historic first-ever away win for Venezuela against Uruguay.

Venezuela Still Waiting for a Generation’s Bonfire to Begin 

So, this revolution, eh? All set? Just like you were in September? Ah. Still, early days and all that…

Last month, off the back of a decent showing at Copa América Centenario Rafael Dudamel took charge of his first two Russia 2018 qualifiers, seeking to revive La Vinotinto‘s fortunes. Neighbours Colombia and regional heavyweights Argentina provided the rather unpropitious opposition. In boiling Barranquilla, the burgundy boys were comfortably outplayed, finishing with nine men in a 2-0 defeat. At home in the Andean state of Mérida, however, they were in the vertiginous position of being 2-0 up against Argentina with just over half an hour remaining. Alas, the campaign comeback was postponed, with the game ultimately ending in a 2-2 draw, leaving Venezuela to merely double their points tally to an overall total of 2 from a possible 24.

Thus, whilst that is one additional point more than most neutrals predicted, stronger evidence will be required before a clear demarcation line can be drawn between the current regime and that of Noel Sanvicente (July 2014 to April 2016). Still, there were positives to be taken away – Juanpi’s performances, for one – so there is some justification in enquiring if genuine progress in the form of the first victory of the campaign is on the horizon.

‘Unlikely’, would nevertheless appear to be the response of the objective observers (betting websites, online sneerers and other reprobates). After all, awaiting them in the upcoming week are none other than the top two teams in the CONMEBOL group: a trip to the Centenario to face Uruguay (1st) and then a home clash against a rejuvenated Brazil (2nd), who have never lost to La Vinotinto in a competitive match. Dudamel – who, incidentally, recently decked someone good an’ proper and yet has not even been ‘cuffed –  could not really have been provided with a more challenging opening four qualifiers.

Nevertheless, the manager has said that he was encouraged by the performance against Argentina and feels that there is much that can be built upon. He can also take comfort from the fact that in his short reign he has already beaten Uruguay once, when sending La Celeste packing from Copa América Centenario. Regarding the Brazil encounter, if he is of a superstitious persuasion or just has a propensity to clutch at straws then the statistic that Venezuela are undefeated in all five games they have played at Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida will be something to bear in mind. That this includes three draws, including one against Canada, should not be dwelt upon.

As for his squad, Dudamel knows that he has at his disposal a very young, talented collection of individuals that has shown signs of being receptive to his ideas. Although his first-choice starting line-up is far from settled, it is likely that most, if not all, of the seven players who began both games last month will also be fielded for kick-off in Montevideo. These are: goalkeeper Dani Hernández, veteran centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, central/defensive midfielder and captain Tomás Rincón, promising wingers/attacking midfielders Juanpi and Adalberto Peñaranda and star striker Salomón Rondón and his partner/back-up, Josef Martínez. Dudamel may well opt for different personnel altogether in one or two of these positions and he certainly has a decision to make regarding the returning Copa Libertadores winner Alejandro Guerra. Some speculation suggests that the much-capped ‘Lobo’ may be granted a midfield start, with Martínez or Peñaranda most likely to be sacrificed.

Nevertheless, more concretely, Dudamel definitely has decisions to make in various other spots as he was forced into changes following the Colombia game. Indeed, against Argentina, owing to suspension, Venezuela’s Copa América discovery Rolf Feltscher was replaced at left-back by Mikel Villanueva; having also received a red card, Wilker Ángel‘s centre-back position was taken by Sema Velázquez; injury ruled out the once untouchable Roberto Rosales, whose right-back role fell to the seemingly in-favour Alexander González; lastly, Arquímedes Figuera had accumulated one too many yellow cards and so Arles Flores instead partnered Rincón in defensive-midfield. In the Venezuelan press, it is this last dilemma that appears to be of most interest selection-wise. Otherwise, though Dudamel has many other options in his 28-man squad, none of these have been rumoured to be in with a sniff of starting.

That said, if there any surprises they may come from the bench as he has thus far displayed a consistent propensity to bring on players who are either new to the national set-up or have been largely overlooked during the past few years. Domestic players Yordan Osorio and Aristóteles Romero are the freshest faces in the present crop and can not entirely rule out receiving a second-half summoning. These two men are 22 and 20 respectively and Dudamel, no doubt owing in part to his work with the Under-20s and Under-17s, has repeatedly shown faith in youth. Indeed, he took the youngest squad to the Copa América Centenario and has also shunned a handful of Sanvicente’s favoured elder statesmen – not to mention ignored Luis Manuel Seijas since his excruciatingly poor penalty in June’s quarter-final defeat against Argentina. Furthermore, the head coach has also taken the Under-20 side to Uruguay with him in order to prepare for January’s Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament with two warm-up games (the first, a 3-1 loss against Uruguay, was played on Wednesday and featured three of the first-team squad).

Though it is tempting – particularly when results are not favourable – to regularly update daydreams about who the men of tomorrow will be, there are more than a few players in the current squad who have youth on their side and points to prove. Of these in the attacking midfield positions, creative maestro and set-piece taker Juanpi has thus far done the most to be confident of a regular starting place. Adalberto Peñaranda, touted within the past year as a potential wonderkid due to his exploits with Granada, has earned some starts under Dudamel but will need to show more consistency – as well as earn more match-time at new-club Udinese – if he is to see off his competition. Rómulo Otero, still only 23 but a favourite of many, has somewhat surprisingly not started any competitive games under Dudamel yet could well dislodge Peñaranda in the not-too-distant future. Then there is 19-year-old Yeferson Soteldo, who has been linked with a move away from home club Zamora since his goalscoring exploits in 2015. Unsurprisingly, some of the impatient masses have wanted to see him line-up in a qualifier but it appears that Dudamel, for the time being at least, is instead wisely prepping him to take the Under-20 tournament by storm. After that, he may well have a more serious selection dilemma on his hands.

So, plenty of options in the attacking ranks, but at least two-thirds of the line-up for Thursday’s match at the Centenario seems assured and the remaining four or so starting spots are unlikely to take more than two guesses each. That said, if Uruguay come seeking revenge for June’s humiliation – especially with Luis Suárez back as he had to watch on in frustration from the bench in Philadelphia – perhaps some unexpected names will make it onto the subsequent teamsheet. However, armed with more than a few likely starters who have never set foot on this ground’s turf with the national team, childhood memories of the Centenariazo some 12 years ago could well inspire some more history-making.

Either way, whoever starts, they will always have another chance to make even greater names for themselves in the home game against Brazil. Too much of an ask? Perhaps, but for many, the first win of the campaign can not come soon enough. Undoubtedly, the subsequent three games against Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru provide better opportunities but what could better convince the public that there is substance behind all the talk of ‘planning for Qatar 2022’?

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

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

Midfielders

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Arles Flores (Deportivo La Guaira), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Udinese, Italy, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Mineros de Guayana) & Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora, Venezuela). 

Forwards

Yonathan Del Valle (Bursaspor, Turkey on loan from Rio Ave, Portugal), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Colombia 2-0 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (1 September 2016)

Despite the impressive showing at Copa América Centenario, Rafael Dudamel’s first World Cup qualifier in charge of Venezuela yielded a familiar result.  The seventh matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign thus provided the sixth defeat. Here, Hispanospherical.com offers a match report plus a few words of resignation…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 1 September 2016 – El Metro, Barranquilla, Atlántico Department, Colombia

Colombia 2-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Colombia 2-0 Venezuela, 1 September 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

The Unthinkable is Unthinkable for a Ruddy Good Reason

Match Report

The proposed Venezuelan qualification fightback has yet to materialise as La Vinotinto were comfortably seen off in Barranquilla. 

Pre-match, Los Cafeteros manager José Pékerman complained about the poor playing surface but any fears were allayed by his own charges, who demonstrated far greater mastery of the conditions than their opponents.

Indeed, from the off, Colombia took the game to their neighbours. Frenziedly urged on by the Estadio Metropolitano crowd, they nearly took the lead within the first minute and, frequently spearheaded by James Rodríguez, were to make virtually all of the forward forays in the opening 20 minutes. Not helping the visitors’ cause in this period, goalkeeper Dani Hernández fumbled on at least a couple of occasions and centre-back Wilker Ángel could quite justifiably have been sent off for what many felt should have been a second yellow card after just 13 minutes.

Málaga youngster Juanpi, given an opportunity to make a regular starting place his own, took Venezuela’s first corner after 21 minutes but this was comfortably dealt with. The hosts soon went back up the other end and restated their dominance, with Rodríguez, Luis Muriel, Carlos Bacca and others frequently linking up in such seamless ways as to suggest that they possess a far greater shared telepathy than their opponents. In the 26th minute, they were not far off the mark when Stefan Medina put in an arcing, testing cross that Bacca could well have hit home were it not for the stretched block of Ángel.

However, despite the flow of the game, Venezuela’s first real chance was also hitherto the closest the game had to an opening goal. Perhaps it was the first-half drinks break to counter the heat that was behind a minor shift in affairs, but Venezuela did gradually come to see a little more of the ball. Juanpi, in particular, made inroads and it was he who won the 33rd-minute free-kick just several yards outside the area. A dead-ball specialist, he then stepped up and curled a fine left-footed effort over the wall; this appeared to be heading for the top corner but was ultimately denied by the tips of David Ospina’s gloves.
Subsequently, following some fine interplay, Colombia were only narrowly thwarted at the final pass stage on at least three more occasions in this half. Yet despite their supremacy, they must have known only too well from the past two Copa Américas that Venezuela do possess a considerable capacity for soaking up pressure before delivering the suckerpunch. On the 41st minute, the visitors nearly provided this. From a central position, Juanpi slyly played through the ball into the area to Josef Martínez who gained some space from his marker and stretched to take aim; Colombians inhaled but, thankfully for them, the shot was parried out by Ospina for a corner.
Barely five minutes later, home fans’ anxieties about the squandering of possession and momentum were permitted to diminish. Indeed, in a route one move, Colombia took the lead. Ospina pumped the ball upfield, where it was headed on towards Bacca, who turned on the edge of the area and teed up Rodríguez; the Real Madrid attacker thus made some room for himself before placing the ball past Hernández.
Venezuela boss Rafael Dudamel thus narrowly missed out on going into the break on level terms and, more so than before, needed to find a way of altering the course of events. Just five minutes into the second half, he acted, removing next-big-thing Adalberto Peñaranda (who, aside from his peroxide blonde hair, had been largely anonymous) for the next next-big-thing, Yeferson Soteldo. In the remaining 40 minutes, the diminutive 19-year-old Zamora attacker provided several examples of the play that have got so many people excited about him; he regularly hustled to get on the ball and get things moving, using his enviable low centre of gravity to evade challenges and maintain possession.
Nevertheless, the hosts still had the better of the half, with the pattern of fast-paced passing moves only narrowly being thwarted at a late stage continuing. On the hour, they nearly went one better as Muriel was found on the edge of the area, but his left-footed strike swished across goal to pass the far post by a few inches.
Shortly before the drinks break in 70th minute, Soteldo managed to win some space 25 yards out and take a strike at goal. Ospina comfortably got down to save this, but it was nevertheless notable for providing a rare whiff of the opposition goal for La Vinotinto.
After the Lucozade-fest, however, it was all Colombia, with Bacca spurning a few chances to double the lead. Indeed, first in the 74th minute, the AC Milan striker was played through, one-on-one with Hernández, but his shot lacked direction and was blocked by the Tenerife goalkeeper.
In the 81st minute, Bacca appeared to redeem himself by winning a penalty, having been brought down by a desperate lunge from Wilker Ángel, who, in turn, received his marching orders. However, despite assuring Rodríguez that he was fine to take the spot-kick, Bacca’s 12-yard strike was comfortably parried out and away by Hernández. Yet, unfortunately for the latter, there was little time to bask in the acclaim of his save as, within a minute, Rodríguez brilliantly slalomed down the right side of the area before shifting feet to rapidly swing in a left-footed cross towards the back post. There, Atlético Nacional’s Macnelly Torres was unmarked and on cue to knock the ball home. 2-0. Any doubts regarding the result were put to bed.
However, that was not the end of the goalmouth action. With four minutes remaining on the clock, Bacca’s replacement Roger Martínez was found by a lofted pass in the area but, somewhat akin to the man whose shoes he had briefly stepped into, he was only able to strike at Hernández. Soon afterwards, Venezuela had a rare sight of goal as again that man Soteldo forced into the area a low ball from the left which caused some uncertainty before being dealt with.
The last act of the game came in the third minute of stoppage time when the visitors conceded another penalty as well as received their second red card. This time, left-back Rolf Feltscher was given his marching orders after he clumsily upended Rodríguez. With Bacca no longer on the pitch, it was to be the former Monaco man who stepped up, yet the outcome was to be the same as Hernández guessed right again and parried out.
Thoughts: What Now? 
Thus, when the final whistle sounded, both sides had reasons to feel disappointed, yet one suspects the most westerly of the two nations will be comforted by the three points. Taking into account results from elsewhere, they have now moved up two places to third, though just one point separates them in both directions from 1st and 6th. By contrast, Venezuela are now even more rooted to the bottom, with their solitary point putting them 11 points off the play-off spot currently occupied by Brazil.
As they are no doubt all-too-aware, there really is no let-up in CONMEBOL qualifying. Next up for La Vinotinto is a home encounter with 1st-placed Argentina and then in October, they will be travelling to Uruguay (currently 2nd), before hosting Brazil (5th). Many (including, implicitly, then-manager Noel Sanvicente) had written off Venezuela’s campaign as soon as they lost their first game at home to Paraguay. With a new manager appointed ahead of June’s Copa América and the impressive showing at that tournament, some were curious to see if a mircaulous turnaround could be in motion. Alas, in light of this performance and the upcoming fixtures, there is surely no-one left who has yet to blow out their own candle of hope.
Though Lionel Messi may be out, Venezuela will be facing Argentina without the suspended Feltscher,  Ángel and defensive-midfielder Arquímedes Figuera (two cumulative yellow cards). Thus, opportunities once again open up within this rather unsettled line-up yet with just one competitive win against their upcoming opponents in their entire history, it is very difficult at this moment to envisage a radical defiance of expectations.
Team Selections
Colombia (4-2-3-1): D. Ospina; S. Medina (E. Cardona, 90′), O. Murillo, J. Murillo, F. Díaz; D. Torres & C. Sánchez; J. Rodríguez, M. Torres, L. Muriel (J. Cuadrado, 70′); C. Bacca (R. Martínez, 83′).
Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo (S. Velázquez, 82′), R. Feltscher; Juanpi (C. Santos, 67′), T. Rincón, A. Figuera, A. Peñaranda (Y. Soteldo, 50′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez.
Darren Spherical

Venezuela 1-4 Chile – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (29 March 2016)

The sixth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded the fifth defeat, in what proved to be manager Noel Sanvicente’s last game in charge. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game and the aftermath.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 29 March 2016 – Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas

Venezuela 1-4 Chile

Video Highlights of Venezuela 1-4 Chile, 29 March 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

‘Chita’ Bows Out After Chile Setback

Match Report

In what turned out to be Noel Sanvicente’s last game as Venezuela manager, Chile survived an early scare to eventually run out comfortable 4-1 victors. 

This win, the first of Juan Antonio Pizzi’s reign, puts Chile back into the automatic qualification places for Russia 2018 and leaves La Vinotinto even further adrift at the bottom.

However, for the first thirty minutes or so, it looked as if the hosts, cheered on by a capacity crowd, may belatedly gain some ground on their CONMEBOL rivals. Indeed, in the ninth minute, Rómulo Otero surprised everyone – not least stand-in goalkeeper Jhonny Herrera – with a phenomenal right-footed free-kick from the left flank 30 yards out that swerved mischievously high into the net. Otero, who plies his trade in Chile with Huachipato, did his club and international prospects no harm at all with this goal and so long as he keeps himself injury-free, should score many more free-kicks in the burgundy shirt.

For the following twenty minutes, few goalmouth incidents occurred with the game at times somewhat stop-start, but the hosts nevertheless did an effective job neutering their more illustrious opponents. However, soon after the half-hour mark, La Roja found an extra gear and got back on level terms courtesy of a Mauricio Pinilla header from Alexis Sánchez’ corner. Afterwards, Pizzi’s rejuventated players grew in confidence and dominated until the half-time whistle, creating a string of chances that only evaded the back of the opposition net due to the offside flag, last-ditch blocks and some faulty finishing.

Into the second half, Chile continued to enjoy the lion’s share of the ball, with Venezuela – often led by Otero – sometimes managing to catch them on the break and win a free-kick or two. Nevertheless, the visitors took the lead just seven minutes after the restart, with Pinilla latching onto a low cross from Jean Beausejour to coolly volley home and double both his and his nation’s tally.

Chile were now in the ascendancy in every way, yet had a decision a few minutes later gone another way, subsequent events could have transpired quite differently. Indeed, Venezuelan striker Josef Martínez chased after a ball and was clumsily brought down by Gonzalo Jara, the last man, just outside the area. However, for this, the Universidad de Chile defender received no more than a booking and Otero’s free-kick curled a couple of yards too high of the crossbar.

Although Chile generally saw more of the ball in the aftermath, in the 62nd minute Venezuela created their best chance to get back into the game. Alas, though substitute Adalberto Peñaranda did well to burst towards the byline on the left and poke a low cross into the goalmouth, Martínez’s despairing lunge towards the ball – and open goal – was just a yard or so off the pace. Instead of a close-range finish, the ball evaded the Torino striker and from then onwards, the hosts would struggle to create an opportunity that was anywhere near as promising as this one.

Barely ten minutes later, it was 3-1 and, effectively, game over. Celta Vigo’s Fabián Orellana gained some space from Mikel Villanueva on the right inside the area and slid a low pass for Arturo Vidal to control and fire home. For the remainder of proceedings, Chile looked the more likely to score, with Sánchez notably scooping a presentable chance over when there was a mere two minutes of regulation time left. In stoppage-time, however, where Sanchez failed, Vidal succeeded as the Arsenal forward cut into the area from the right and provided the Bayern Munich midfielder with a tap-in he could not miss.

4-1 it ended and though it may be a stretch to call this an embarrassment, Venezuela were nevertheless very much second-best overall. Ultimately, this depressing outcome was a dismal, if fitting, send-off for Noel Sanvicente.

Match Thoughts

Otero the Only Performer of Note

Although the outcome may have been different if either Jara had received a red card instead of a mere booking or Martinez had been able to stretch to make it 2-2 just after the hour-mark, the hosts were nevertheless on the back-foot for well over half of this game. Whilst not a dreadful collective performance, it is still difficult to say anything too positive about most of the home players, with the possible exception of Rómulo Otero. The Huachipato attacker, who scored in the previous game against Peru, here gave Venezuela the lead with a sensational free-kick and also won and took several more. If media reports are to be believed, it appears that Colo Colo were impressed, as the Chilean giants are rumoured to be interested in him.

 A Very Unstable Starting XI

Otherwise though, one would be clutching at straws if other individuals were singled out and commended. Indeed, there have been so many underwhelming performances and changes to the regular starting XI under Sanvicente that, even if every player was fit for the next competitive game, the average fan would struggle to name more than four players likely to start. In all probability, these would be Salomón Rondón, Tomás Rincón, Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Yet even here there is some uncertainty, as Vizcarrondo has been partly at fault for several goals in recent memory and appears to keep his place largely due to the lack of competition at centre-back.

After these games, if fit, Otero and Juanpi (and perhaps Martínez) also appear to be relatively well-poised to start the Copa América group games in June, but who can really say that with any confidence? They have as much competition within this current squad as outside of it and will not only need to maintain decent form at club level, but also possess and maintain the faith of the national team manager.

Sanvicente Says a Sorrowful Sayonara

Lastly, then, this brings matters onto the most important thing to come out of this international double-header: the departure of Noel Sanvicente. On the day of the Chile match, the headline on the front cover of Meridiano read: ‘To Win: Yes or Yes’, with anything less being deemed unacceptable – and so it has proved. In post-match comments, ‘Chita’ strongly implied that he was on his way out and now, a few days later (1 April 2016), this has been confirmed by FVF President Laureano González.

Despite his club success (seven domestic league titles) and personal familiarity with many of the players, his international reign (Played 20: Won 5, Drew 2, Lost 13) never really gained much momentum behind it. His initial friendly results leading into Copa América 2015 were poor, with the three wins (from eight games) either coming with (as well as against) second-string sides (Honduras, twice) or against a nation missing several of their biggest names (Peru). Thus, the only credible result of note during the Sanvicente era came as quite a surprise, turning heads and making headlines around the world. This was the 1-0 win against neighbours Colombia on the opening day of Chile 2015 and was celebrated as a counter-attacking tactical masterclass; yet jubilation soon turned to despair after they lost their remaining two games against Peru and Brazil and exited at the group stage.

Sanvicente’s men followed up this disappointment with two dismal friendly performances on home soil (losing against Honduras and scraping a late draw against Panama). In October, Venezuela were in poor shape to mount a historic, successful challenge for World Cup qualification (what Sanvicente considered his main objective upon taking over) and so it has proved. With six games having been played, they currently sit at the bottom on the CONMEBOL group, with only one point from a possible 18. It could be argued that had his side managed to hold on for a few more seconds last week against Peru and picked up their first victory, then Sanvicente would still be in a job. However, it is hard not to see how that would not have just been postponing the inevitable, given all that has occurred beforehand as well as the lack of structure, teamwork and stability that has been evident in most of the games he has overseen.

Enter Dutiful Dudamel 

His replacement has already been announced and it is Rafael Dudamel, a 43-year-old former international goalkeeper, who once scored a sensational free-kick against Argentina in 1996 and who has been a fine servant to his country, both as a player and as a manager. He has most recently been in charge of the national Under-20 side and previously enjoyed some impressive managerial spells at club level as well as with the Under-17 squad.

Fans are already debating if he can change Venezuela’s trajectory and get the best out of a relatively impressive generation of players or if the deeper problems that lay in the team’s relationship with the FVF will prove insurmountable for him, at least in the short term.

Dudamel’s first encounters will not be until late May, when he will take charge of some friendlies leading into the  Copa América Centenario. In the meantime, he would do well to build relations with both the FVF as well as the players and ensure that he sees as much of his leading countrymen in action as possible – there is a lot of talent around, if only it could be organised into an effective system.

To keep abreast with Dudamel’s progress, be sure to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and return to this site in May, when there should be a summary of the new coach’s early moves, plans and actions. 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Contreras; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Velázquez, Villanueva; Rincón, Figuera (Seijas, 28′) (Blanco, 74′); Juanpi (Peñaranda, 60′), Guerra, Juanpi; Martínez.

Chile (4-3-2-1): Herrera; Isla, Medel, Jara, Beausejour; Vidal, Silva, Gutiérrez; Sánchez, Orellana (Mena, 87′); Pinilla (Castillo, 80′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical