Tag Archives: CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifiers

Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (10 October 2017)

The eighteenth and final jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s post-Under-20 World Cup rebirth capped off with a memorable, disciplined victory. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 10 October 2017 – Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asunción

Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 10 October 2017 (YouTube)

Herrera Heralds New Era at the Death

Rafael Dudamel’s youthful Venezuela concluded their late surge of good form by gaining their first away victory in their otherwise long-dead campaign, destroying Paraguayan hopes of progression in the process.

As revealed in post-match comments, La Vinotinto resisted some late-night intimidation and temptation – the latter arriving in the form of some rather talented young ladies sent to the team hotel – in order to methodically inflict some late, heartbreaking sabotage, courtesy of an 84th-minute Yangel Herrera winner.

The game was somewhat reminiscent of recent Venezuela encounters – particularly the away draw against Argentina – as the onus was on the opponents – for whom a win would, ultimately, have kept their qualification hopes very much alive – to break them down.

Thus, roared on by the ascension-seeking Asunción faithful, they took the game to Dudamel’s men, looking to gain advantages down the flanks in order to whip in balls as well as occasionally try their luck from dead-ball scenarios. Many of these crosses were dangerous and elicited gasps from both sets of fans but, truth be told, the vast majority were also very well dealt with by those in the centre, notably Wilker Ángel. Indeed, throughout most of the encounter, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez, whilst having to remain alert and viligant, was perhaps only ever once forced into an acrobatic save – and that did not occur until just before the end of regulation time.

The most troubling shot in the first half that he stopped was a mild worm-murderer from Rodrigo Rojas; it demanded merely a routine low save, though as with some other cross-area balls, goalkeeper did have to contend with the fear that a foot or other body part could so easily redirect it. Shortly afterwards in the 26th minute though, he did have to face his side’s biggest fright of the half as Cecilio Domínguez bypassed debutant right-back Ronald Hernández, broke into space inside the area on the left and cut back into the goalmouth. It looked as if someone in the centre was inevitably going to knock it home, yet somehow, after at least one attacker, defender and Faríñez all made tentative touches, the ball was cleared. The relieved rearguard thus breathed a collective sigh of relief – that is, until an Óscar Romero cross caused more concern, though ultimately this whistled by the cluster of bodies in the box and out to the other side.

Romero often put in testing balls, such as in the 38th minute when a lofted free-kick met Antonio Sanabria just inside the area, but the Real Betis forward’s header went a couple of yards over the bar. Four minutes later, Romero crossed in again – this time at the second attempt from the left – and Gustavo Gómez beat Ángel to the header, yet though he was in a promising goalmouth position, his effort comfortably evaded the target.

Throughout all of this, Venezuela’s forward forays were limited, though did gradually increase without seriously threatening the Paraguayan goal. Indeed, the only real attempt was Salomón Rondón’s soft 19th-minute header from a floated Tomás Rincón free-kick, which goalkeeper Antony Silva easily caught. However, Dudamel’s men were biding their time, hoping they could repeatedly thwart their hosts to the point where morale would slip and they would be on hand to grow in confidence and punish.

If home belief was dipping it did not tell immediately after the restart when, 30 seconds into the second half, a Paraguayan roamed down the right and played in a near-perfect cross. This found Domínguez in the centre with just one defender near him, yet his touch was off and the ball missed the target. Less than a minute later, the Paraguayans came storming forward again and their momentum was only halted by Yangel Herrera taking one for the team, strategically fouling and picking up a yellow card.

Venezuela composed themselves for a bit, though in the 50th minute had to deal with another series of scares. This involved Romero winning space again inside the area and crosses going across and back, but alas, without a killer connection.

Paraguay continued to see more of the ball, though with each passing minute, Venezuela became more bold. Suddenly, in the 61st minute, Jhon Murillo fashioned what was hitherto the best actual shot of the match, as from just outside the area on the centre-right, he blasted an effort that stung Silva’s palms and went out for a corner. Four minutes later, Murillo came even closer when substitute Yeferson Soteldo did well to hold off opponents and play him through on the inside-left. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, he had to quickly get a shot away, but the result was too close to Silva, who blocked low.

The game was more open and, with just one unanswered goal likely to suffice, Paraguay had certainly not given up hope. In the 68th minute, they caused further frights as a cross in from the right was headed goalwards; another player attempted to divert the ball with a high foot but Fariñez was there to dive-and-punch away. Three minutes later, after the ball was again played in and around the area, Óscar Romero had evidently had enough of the final-third frustrations and struck a low left-footed effort from almost 25 yards. Though it missed the target by at least a yard, it was hit with intent and was the closest Paraguayan effort of the half thus far. In so many ways, this said a lot.

Indeed, subsequently, Venezuelan forays became very commonplace and in the 77th minute, they came agonisingly close to the opening goal. Here, ultra-fresh substitute Rómulo Otero hit a slightly unexpected low drive from just outside the angle of the area on the right. Goalkeeper Silva could only parry this into the path of Rondón, yet with the goal gaping, his instinctive lunge instead somehow diverted the ball over the bar. Whether or not his footing and/or anticipation was at fault, it did look much easier to score.

A momentary let-off for the hosts. Five minutes later, they survived another one, as jinking Yeferson Soteldo showed what he can do at senior level, cutting into the area onto his right foot and hitting a strike that appeared to be net-bound, but instead clipped the top of the crossbar.

However, with their own forays yielding repetitive, underwhelming results, Paraguay’s fortune at their own end could not last and barely a minute after Soteldo’s effort, Venezuela finally made the heartbreaking breakthrough. After a home attack was snuffed out, the impressive Otero brilliantly bypassed an opponent on the right flank and then gained space from another inside the area, before pulling the ball back from the byline. It rolled for what felt like a potential golden age towards the middle of the area, some 16 yards out, where the steely-eyed 19-year-old Herrera met it in space and struck home. He immediately reeled away to celebrate with his fellow Under-20 graduate Soteldo as La Vinotinto‘s future gleefully hammered virtually the final nail into La Albirroja‘s 2018 qualification dreams.

Though most inside the stadium were deflated, their representatives did nevertheless attempt some hurried late attacks. One of the more notable attempts involved Fariñez parrying a strike and then, from the resulting cross, seemingly tipping Gómez’s powerful header onto the crossbar.

A sensational moment and some further heat exploded into the late proceedings as in the 89th minute Wilker Ángel and Gustavo Gómez let tensions get the better of each other and their mutual pushes resulted in double red cards.

Finally, in the last of what somehow turned out to be eight hair-pulling minutes of stoppage-time, Fariñez was called upon again to see the win out. At this point, an unexpected ball hoisted forward caught out the Venezuelan back-line and Rojas charged past them all, yet when confronted by the 5 feet 9 inch frame of Fariñez, his attempted chip was weak and the Caracas FC goalkeeper gratefully gathered the ball with barely a stretch.

When the final whistle blew, Paraguayan dejection, following a game which must have felt eminently winnable, was contrasted with elation from a Venezuela supposedly playing for nothing. However, this, their first away win in the entire campaign – only their second victory in the 18-game marathon and which extends their competitive unbeaten run to four matches – featured five players from the squad of Under-20 World Cup finalists. A rebuilding project is very much under way and at this moment, one can not rule out at least a dozen of the players whose exploits thrilled a nation several months ago receiving call-ups at some point during the Qatar 2022 qualification cycle.

Dudamel – who has just this week signed an extension deal to take him to 2022 – no doubt knows that he will certainly have difficulty in maintaining any kind of momentum from now until the next competitive games are played at June 2019’s faraway Copa América. Indeed, in preparation, he has requested “at least five friendly games” for next year, a relatively meagre number but one which was no doubt informed by the FVF’s cash-strapped situation as well as a mere handful having also been played in the previous World Cup year of 2014.

Still, against a backdrop of domestic turmoil, with such a promising pool of young talent already reaping dividends in tamden with a frequently shifting cast of – also relatively young – elders, really, what’s to stop this group from seriously competing for a spot at Qatar 2022? After all, upon final cold-light-of-day reading of the Russia 2018 CONMEBOL qualification table – their worst performance since the road to France ’98 – everyone will be determined to ensure that things can only get better.

conmeboltable

Final Standings for the CONMEBOL Qualification Campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup (Wikipedia)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, W. Ángel, R. Quijada; S. Córdova (Y. Soteldo, 57′), Y. Herrera, T. Rincón, J. Murillo (J. Moreno, 81′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Otero, 77′).

Paraguay (4-4-2): A. Silva; J. Moreira, G. Gómez, P. Da Silva (M. Samudio, 62′), J. Alonso; Ó. Romero, R. Rojas, R. Piris, C. Domínguez (A. Bareiro, 56′); A. Sanabria (O. Cardozo, 56′) & Á. Romero.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

Jornadas 17 and 18 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are finally here as the cycle reaches its climax. Whether in the short- or long-term, most nations are competing for something and here @DarrenSpherical previews La Vinotinto‘s renovating squad ahead of their clashes with Uruguay and Paraguay.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 5 October 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira.

Venezuela vs Uruguay

Tuesday 10 October 2017 – Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asunción.

Paraguay vs Venezuela

farinezsosa

Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) and Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira) on opposing teams in the recent Clásico match (Photo: Jean Contreras and Balonazos)

Nine Under-20 World Cup Finalists Selected to Aid Rebuilding Process

Well, it’s been a bloody disaster, hasn’t it? The final two games of World Cup qualifying are upon us and Venezuela are almost certainly going to finish bottom, having never at any point seriously been in contention.

That’s certainly what a cursory glance of the CONMEBOL standings conveys, though it’s not necessarily how it currently feels for the average follower of La Vinotinto. Indeed, long resigned to their nation’s fate within this cycle which began two years ago with Noel Sanvicente at the helm, the hinchas have had little option throughout but to pine for a transformation of fortunes. El Chita was ultimately unable to perform such a resuscitation, being relieved of his duties after six qualifiers and – despite an impressive showing at 2016’s Copa América Centenario – his replacement Rafael Dudamel has struggled to revitalise the side as they dawdle along their self-made CONMEBOL cul-de-sac. That is, perhaps – and it is a very tentative supposition, more evidence definitely being required – until last month’s pair of draws with Colombia and then, historically, away to Argentina. Tellingly, this was the first time in the entire campaign that they had managed to avoid defeat during a CONMEBOL double-header.

Was this the long-awaited turning point? Time may, in fact, be unable to tell. This being because after next Tuesday, the subsequent competitive games will not occur until June 2019’s Copa América. To plug the considerable gap, Dudamel has stated that he has requested “at least five friendlies for 2018“). Plenty of time for further alterations to be made both on and off the pitch, then. Still, though it could very well have come at a better moment, some modicum of momentum appears to be with the manager, particularly as September’s results were achieved with some fresh faces, drawn from an ever-more-youthful pool of players.

Indeed, many experienced and valuable contributors to La Vinotinto‘s 21st century footballing rise have either retired or otherwise departed the picture since Sanvicente’s Venezuela commenced the Russia 2018 preliminaries in October 2015. The legendary Juan Arango handed in his notice the month prior but the list of those who have participated in competitive action yet are no longer on the scene includes the following: Alejandro Guerra, Luis Manuel Seijas, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, César González, Grenddy Perozo, Gabriel Cichero, Franklin Lucena, Nicolás “Miku” Fedor, Fernando Amorebieta and Ronald Vargas.

It has been noted by more than a few on social media that many of these players were amongst the 15 who signed the notorious letter protesting against the national football federation (FVF) a mere 22 months ago. It is a curious coincidence and in a country in which there exists a general fear of repercussions if authorities are challenged via the media and where the football press tend not to delve particularly deep, such conspiracies will always be nurtured. That said, they do appear to be, for the most part, just that: most of these players are on the wrong side of 30, so even if some of their departures seemed a tad premature, they were not entirely unjustifiable and/or unexpected.

This reasoning, however, is a tad harder to apply to the continued snubbing of the Málaga pair of right-back Roberto Rosales and midfielder Juanpi, both currently regularly featuring in La Liga. The former is one of his nation’s most high-profile players and a mere 28 years of age; the latter is just 23 and had been widely-tipped as a star for the Qatar 2022 cycle. Rosales was one of the infamous 15, whereas Juanpi expressed his sympathy with their grievances. The former has often been very vocal on social media with his opposition to the country’s government; the latter has as well, also appearing at local protests. This is fertile material for full-blown paranoia.

Really though, who knows? No explanation, whether it be be grounded in football, politics or human relations, is without contradictions when applied to other players’ inclusions/exclusions. Thus, with 20 months of uncompetitive international football on the horizon, perhaps it is best to just view this puzzling state of affairs as merely part of the early phase of what is going to be a very drawn-out and experimental reshuffling period. Things can so easily change, as calling up a squad of some 31 players should testify.

The only signatories remaining in this selection are captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, on loan from Juventus, 29 years old), Premier League striker Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, 28) and MLS goal-machine Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, 24). They have been joined by no less than nine players from Dudamel’s hallowed Under-20 squad which reached the World Cup final in June; it is hoped that as many as possible can be gradually weaved into the senior starting XI. Of these, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) – who has recently signed a deal with Colombian side Millonarios – has already established himself as the country’s No. 1 choice and central midfielder Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) as well as right-sided attacker Sergio Córdova (Augsburg) also looked at home in their starts last month.

Although in Wednesday’s press conference Dudamel did not reveal any of his line-up plans, one would expect to see at least two or three of the other Under-20 starlets receive a run-out. Perhaps, with Herrera himself actually being suspended for Thursday’s Uruguay game along with the more experienced Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario), the door may be ajar for Ronaldo Lucena (Atlético Nacional) – Herrera’s midfield partner at youth level who is also the brother of the veteran Franklin, sharing with him some impressive dead-ball capabilities. Further back, though collectively Venezuela defended admirably last month, the two spots on the flanks are still causes for concern and this could open the door to “Los Hernández” (no relation). Indeed, over on the left, Rolf Feltscher – currently without a club after a trial with Birmingham City broke down following Harry Redknapp’s sacking – will also be suspended against Uruguay, so José Hernández (Caracas FC) could be in with a shout. Without Rosales, the right side is seemingly up for grabs with Dudamel appearing to have lost some faith in his initial replacement, Alexander González, who has not even been called up this time around. This month’s likely starter, 23-year-old Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães) looked markedly off the pace against Argentina so if Dudamel wants to try someone fresh, then he knows a lot about what Ronald Hernández (Stabæk) can do. At Under-20 level, he was one of his side’s most impressive performers, shining during both the qualifying tournament as well as the World Cup, rarely giving opponents an inch on his flank and showing a propensity to roam forward. It is tempting to perceive shades of Rosales in his play.

Otherwise, plenty will be enthusiastic to see if jinking dribbler Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato) can light up the park at any point, whether in San Cristóbal or Asunción. Receiving his first call-up, Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira), the 17-year-old prodigy who has already won a place in the hearts of many with his U20 World Cup semi-final free-kick against Uruguay, is another attacking talent well worth getting excited about.

They, as well as forward Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC), may struggle for minutes in the upcoming week, but it feels as if most of this group are on course to receive further call-ups. Remarkable as this inclusion of nine players is, the fact is that over a dozen of the Under-20 heroes can consider themselves in contention for future senior engagements. Indeed, had Adalberto Peñaranda recovered from injury a little sooner than this past weekend – in which he shared the field at Málaga with Rosales and Juanpi – then he would definitely have been included. Furthermore, not one of the three centre-backs who impressed in the U-20 qualifying and/or World Cup – Williams Velásquez, Nahuel Ferraresi and Josua Mejías – have yet received senior call-ups, but given their integral roles, one can not help but feel that their names will never be far from Dudamel’s thoughts in the upcoming year or two. Well, that is, of course, if the manager himself isn’t tempted to flee the cash-strapped FVF…

With all this emphasis on the next generation stars being integrated into a rejuvenated side with a few longstanding and established servants of the cause, it can be easy to forget about those who fall somewhere in between. Several of these individuals, in their early-to-mid-twenties, have been afforded more opportunities of late under Dudamel and the one who seems to have done himself the most favours is Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal). Not only has the 21-year-old driving attacker displayed greater tactical nous but he also scored a well-taken breakaway goal against Argentina and is sure to have earned himself at least one – though probably two – starts in the upcoming week. One other player from this “inbetweener” group worth keeping in mind is attacking-midfielder Yohandry Orozco (Zulia FC), who has not played for the national team in almost three years. Now 26, he was hyped by many after the 2011 Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament as the next big thing, consequently earning himself an ill-fated move to Wolfsburg. Aside from a spell in the American second-tier (NASL), he has spent most of the past four years in Venezuela, where his form this season with Zulia – he leads the league in assists for 2017 – has earned him a recall. It is not known whether he will make it onto the pitch but his presence will bring a smile to many as well as remind all that success at Under-20 level will not guarantee a prosperous senior career – at least, not immediately.

Dudamel has a daunting, though exciting, job on his hands. With two games coming up against qualification-chasing opponents, it is likely that he will set his side up defensively, hoping to cut out balls in the middle of the park, crowd out opponents and counter-attack. This is how almost all of the best competitive results under his reign have been achieved. Given the context, two further draws – which would make it five out of their last six qualifying games – would certainly be commendable, though if they can nab a win, that would really give the faithful reason to believe in the long-term future. It would, after all, be merely their second victory of the entire 18-game campaign.

Both matches could go every conceivable way, though Venezuelans should be inspired by the memory of the Dudamel-led 1-0 win against Uruguay at last year’s Copa América Centenario and take heart from Paraguay having an even worse goalscoring record than their burgundy representatives (17, to La Vinotinto‘s 18).

Whatever happens, for the neutral at least, these final two rounds of games promise to be utterly enthralling. Some dreams are set to be fulfilled and others dashed; Venezuela may have long been eliminated, but they have certainly got a role to play. As they seek to rebuild, there will also be plenty of room for sabotage.

Venezuela Squad

venteam2017oct

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Free agent), Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães, Portugal), José Hernández (Caracas FC), Ronald Hernández (Stabæk, Norway), 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

Juan Colina (Carabobo FC), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Ronaldo Lucena (Atlético Nacional, Colombia) Junior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Yohandry Orozco (Zulia FC), 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

Anthony Blondell (Monagas S.C.), Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC), Edder Farías (Once Caldas, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Please note: Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC) was initially called up to the 31-man squad but has since been ruled out with injury.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Argentina 1-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (5 September 2017)

The sixteenth jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s embryonic side make history on a monumental stage in Buenos Aires. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 5 September 2017 – El Monumental, Buenos Aires

Argentina 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Argentina 1-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 5 September 2017 (YouTube)

Venezuela Battle to Defy the Odds in Buenos Aires

A wholehearted and committed display garnered Venezuela a historical first-ever point in Argentina, as for the second time this international break Rafael Dudamel’s nascent rebuilding project provided another welcome dose of encouragement for Qatar 2022.

For the first 25 minutes or so, things felt markedly different. Indeed, Jorge Sampaoli’s men seemed determined to breach the considerable, if often stretched, Venezuelan rearguard as many times as possible, with 19-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez once again emerging as a bona fide prospect for the visitors.

The sprightly Caracas FC stopper impressed from the off. With less than four minutes on the clock, his trailing leg denied Mauro Icardi, whose low shot could have otherwise quite easily found a way through. Two minutes later, though play was ultimately called back for offside, the goalkeeper – as well as his ever-increasing band of admirers – was none-the-wiser when he pulled off an eye-catching close-range save. This came as an elevated ball was bustled into the direction of another Serie A forward, Paolo Dybala, who lashed a well-struck volley from barely six yards that the alert Fariñez did well to instinctively parry out with both gloves.

Also in this period, La Albiceleste, in particular Lionel Messi, regularly sought to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses on the flanks, with the Barcelona wizard often spraying balls out wide for team-mates to gain space and/or get in crosses. Ángel Di María was the most threatening wide man, giving right-back Victor García a torrid time. In the 10th minute, he bypassed a couple of burgundy shirts before whacking a ball into the centre; a tap-in looked on the cards, but the cluster of Venezuelans who congregrated there somehow averted this seeming inevitability. A few minutes later, García was again exposed when Messi chipped a fine ball to Di María inside the area; the PSG man volleyed a first-time cross into the centre yet, agonisingly for the majority inside River Plate’s home edifice, Icardi’s goalmouth lunge narrowly evaded the ball.

Although their defensive lines were breached, Venezuela survived that scare and in this early stage, the blank scoresheet was mostly attributable to the sheer number of bodies in the centre who blocked and thwarted attempts. If, however, even these were unequal to the tasks that kept coming their way, there was always, of course, Fariñez. In the 21st minute, he did well to stop Icardi’s shot which, once again, owed a debt to a left-sided cross from Di María.

Soon after this, however, Argentina’s early spell of goal-less dominance was brought to an abrupt end as Di María picked up an injury and had to be replaced after 25 minutes by Marcos Acuña. Things were never quite the same again.

As well as his right-sided counterpart Lautaro Acosta, the Portugal-based replacement did catch the eye on occasion, with his most notable contribution occurring after 32 minutes; here, he slid the ball back to Dybala, with the 20-yard left-footed shot of the Juventus man dragging wide of the far post. However, with their chances of qualification starting to feel as if they may be in jeopardy, the home crowd began voicing their disgruntlement, as the team who have averaged just one goal per qualifying game – a record worse than that of bottom-boys Venezuela – began to look low on ideas.

Messi, who was largely seen characteristically roaming in a vast deep zone, became visibly frustrated with this state of affairs, taking it upon himself to search for a way through with the minimum of assistance. Indeed, he had the three most notable remaining chances of the first half: in the 38th minute, he attempted to weave his way past several Venezuela players – a scenario reminiscent of the famous Maradona vs Belgium 1982 photograph – before striking low past the near post from inside the area. Four minutes later, he curled a much-anticipated free-kick wide, but clearly his best attempt occurred two minutes into stoppage time. Here, he picked up the ball 25 yards out on the inside-left and arrowed a well-hit shot that looked like it may creep inside the post, but which Fariñez did well to parry wide, thus allowing his side to enter into the break still on level terms.

If Sampaoli’s half-time team-talk involved elaborating upon a new approach to undo this annoyingly persistent opponent, there was to be little evidence of this. In fact, any second-half masterplan was tossed away just five minutes after the restart when Venezuela took a surprise lead. Despite having never seriously threatened Sergio Romero’s goal in the opening 45 minutes, Dudamel’s men were able to do what every fear-ridden, fulminating Argentine feared: hit them on the break. Immediately after a home move broke down, the visitors sought to proceed rapidly upfield. One pass was briefly intercepted but momentum was instantly regained as another found Bundesliga youngster Sergio Córdova. Further enhancing what has been a meteoric – and, to many, slightly unanticipated this time last year – ascension, he played a well-weighted through-ball to Jhon Murillo. Centre-back Javier Mascherano was never going to be in the race with the pacy ex-Zamora man – himself having recently done well to ensure he will be in the manager’s long-term thinking – and he, in turn, bore down on goal before deftly dinking it over the shoulder of the Manchester United goalkeeper.

Silence in the stands, pandemonium virtually everywhere else on the continent, this was exhilarating, monumental, game-redefining stuff – for all of four minutes.

That’s all it took for Sampaoli’s charges to momentarily lower the heat on them back down to a state of mere simmering. The equaliser came as García was beaten a little too easily in a speed battle by the purposeful Acuña, whose low cross from the left deflected off defender Rolf Feltscher and into the back of the net. 1-1. Was this to be the galvanising green light for carnage that the hosts needed?

Well, subsequently, some jitters were observable in the Venezuelan ranks, but for all the hosts’ renewed vigour and forays towards the edge of the area, they were only able to cause one further genuine scare in the game. This came on the hour-mark when the home fans were adamant that they should have been awarded a penalty when Icardi, the odds-on favourite to poke a strike goalwards, appeared to have been upended by centre-back Mikel Villanueva. However, replays suggest that, having managed to narrowly evade the challenge, the Inter Milan forward’s rapid adjustment of footing led to him tripping himself up.

Thus, though Argentina still saw more of the ball owing to their increasing desperation for a winner, there grew the genuine possibility that they could be undone by a second lethal break. Particularly in the final 25 minutes, the counter-attacking Venezuelans found themselves in space high up the park and on at least three occasions they won free-kicks in promising positions off a stretched Argentine defence. Just before and after the 70th minute, Salomón Róndon took the first two of these. Alas, the first curled past the wall but was comfortably saved by Romero and the much-anticipated second – which was won after the WBA striker was fouled following Arquímedes Figuera’s lofted ball into very dangerous territory – was fired straight at the ‘nads-grabbers.

Around the 90th-minute mark, having absorbed some more Argentine pressure, Venezuela made their last getaway – the hosts must have feared the worse. Once again, Jhon Murillo chased a ball, finding some space before passing to a team-mate who was fouled on the edge of the area. This time, substitute Josef Martínez stepped up, though to the relief of the majority, the only thing his dead-ball strike troubled was the fans behind the goal – as well as, perhaps, the phones being used to vent considerable spleen to a wider audience.

Such was the malevolent atmosphere whenever a home attack broke down that one suspects more than a few doomsayers secretly hoped Venezuela could nab a late winner solely in order to further amplify their apocalyptic post-match assessments.

Alas, it ended 1-1 and, though some of the dejected home fans may not wish to hear it right now and their nation’s performances have given cause for genuine concern, with two games left, their chances of World Cup qualification are in fact still very much in their own hands.

Conversely, Venezuela, of course, have long since been out of the running and are almost definitely going to finish bottom of the ten-nation pile. However, with a memorable, historical point to add to the one they gained last week against Colombia, Dudamel can feel cautiously optimistic about his nation’s footballing future. With the aid of several fresh faces, including a few plucked from his Under-20 World Cup finalists, his senior side has once again proved that when they are disciplined and able to follow through on instructions, they can be a tough nut to crack.

With their two remaining fixtures next month pitting them against Uruguay at home and Paraguay away, though it may prove a tall order, gaining from these a second victory of the campaign would certainly get many more believing that the road to Qatar 2022 will be a journey well worth hopping aboard for.

Team Selections

Argentina (3-4-2-1): S. Romero; J. Mascherano, F. Fazio, N. Otamendi; L. Acosta, G. Pizarro, É. Banega, Á. Di María (M. Acuña, 25′); L. Messi, P. Dybala (D. Benedetto, 63′); M. Icardi (J. Pastore 75′).

Venezuela (4-2-1-2-1): W. Fariñez; V. García, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; A. Figuera, J. Moreno; Y. Herrera (J. Colina, 77′); J. Murillo, S. Córdova (S. Velázquez, 89′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 82′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela 0-0 Colombia

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

Dudamel’s Darlings Give Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Selections

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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 2-2 Peru – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (23 March 2017)

At half-time, the thirteenth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign appeared to herald a rebirth; by full-time, it was just another chapter in a weary story. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela 2-2 Peru

Video Highlights of Venezuela 2-2 Peru, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 23 March 2017 (YouTube)

First Half Fantastic, Second Half Familiar for Fresh-Faced Venezuela

For the third time during their Russia 2018 qualifying campaign, Venezuela were pegged back to a draw after leading 2-0, thus stalling Rafael Dudamel’s attempts to revitalise his new-look bottom-dwelling nation. 

On what was a dangerous, rain-soaked pitch in Maturín, Peru came closest in the first quarter when Aldo Corzo’s powerful header from a corner was well-parried out by 19-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez. However, soon afterwards in the 24th minute, Venezuela took the lead. Rómulo Otero’s free-kick from the left was whipped in and headed onto the bar by a Peruvian defender, with the ball then bouncing kindly to Mikel Villanueva, who nodded home for his second international goal – both of which have come against Peru.

The hosts, playing in a 4-4-2 formation, often showed much intent to get forward, with the two strikers in particular finding themselves in promising positions. In the 32nd-minute, Salomón Rondón drove towards the area but instead of squaring it to Josef Martínez, he continued his run and was hustled off the ball by a defender, yet despite the West Brom man’s protests, no penalty was awarded. Three minutes later, his partner Martínez managed to get away from an opponent inside the area, before sliding it back to Jhon Murillo. However, though this ball bypassed the goalkeeper, there were a few defenders crowding the goalmouth and one of them did well to chest wide the Tondela winger’s side-footed strike for a corner.

However, in the 40th minute, Venezuela sensationally doubled their lead. Adding to a couple of similarly spectacular strikes earlier this year for his Brazilian side, Atlético Mineiro, Rómulo Otero phenomenally struck a swerving 35-40-yard free-kick which fizzed off goalkeeper Pedro Gallese’s gloves and into the net; perhaps the Peru no. 1 should have done better but it was also a very impressive hit. Five minutes later when the teams went in for the break, it looked as if Dudamel’s tweaking of the personnel and the system had ushered in the belated start of a new, more competitive, phase.

Yet, within the first minute of the restart, things began to sour. Peru pulled a goal back after Rolf Feltscher was easily beaten by Édison Flores on the flank; he, in turn, fed Christian Cueva who had plenty of space to pass it between the centre-backs to Benfica’s André Carrillo, who slid the ball past Fariñez.

Despite this, Venezuela were to have two very good opportunities to regain their two-goal lead before the hour-mark. Firstly, in the 49th minute, Murillo crossed in a dangerous low ball from the right yet Rondón couldn’t quite reach it with his slide. Then, five minutes later, the Premier League striker played into space Martínez, who then roamed towards the edge of the area; however, despite only having the goalkeeper to beat, the MLS top-scorer badly sliced his golden opportunity wide. Shortly afterwards, some attacking impetus was lost as he was replaced by youngster and fellow America resident, Yangel Herrera; post-match, it was revealed that Martínez had picked up an injury and will be reportedly out of action for ten days, thus missing Tuesday’s Chile clash.

However, it was to be Peru who took advantage of this increasingly open game. Familiar foe Paolo Guerrero provided the goal in the 64th minute when he beat the out-of-sorts Wilker Ángel to climb highest and head home Yoshimar Yotún’s corner. Eight minutes later, Guerrero was not far off taking Los Incas in front when a low cross fell invitingly, but he couldn’t quite locate the trigger, with Fariñez instead gratefully gathering.

Not long afterwards, the impressive Otero was replaced by 24-year-old Leganés attacker Darwin Machís, who was making his first Vinotinto appearance in over five years. Within two minutes, he took the ball past a defender on the left edge of the area before striking a hard low shot at the goalkeeper who, given the conditions, did well to hold onto it. However, this was soon eclipsed by a greater chance that fell to Rondón, who benefited from a ricochet yet, despite having a clear sight of goal, he horribly miscued his left-footed effort comfortably wide. Gasps of disbelief reigned around the rainy Estadio Monumental de Maturín; this was to be Venezuela’s last chance of note.

With six minutes remaining, Murillo made way for diminutive dribbler Yeferson Soteldo. With Herrera and Fariñez already on the pitch, this meant Dudamel had managed to field all three of the stand-out performers from the Under-20 side’s impressive Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament earlier this year. The manager appears to have many promising youngsters at his disposal, either still in their teens or early twenties; however, today was not the day for them to collectively flourish and announce themselves to a wider public.

After all, they very nearly ended up on the losing side when, in the 91st minute, Miguel Trauco’s cross was headed low inside the area by Raúl Ruidiaz. Yet to the evident relief of Fariñez and the apparent disbelief of Peru boss Ricardo Gareca, this went narrowly wide.

Thus, after a 2-0 lead was squandered, it ended all-square, just as it had done a year ago. Even though Villanueva scored, Venezuela’s new-look defence looked out-of-sorts, with the players gifting space and struggling to keep up with their opponents. Further upfield, Murillo and, in particular, Otero, caught the eye and provided some creative moments. Regarding the two strikers Martínez and Rondón, however, though they did demonstrate some nice link-up play and creativity of their own, their finishing left something to be desired.

With no Martínez, Venezuela will really need Rondón to be on his game when leading their attack against Chile, holding up the ball and providing relief for the defence. Given La Roja beat La Vinotinto 4-1 on Venezuelan soil a year ago, the back four will also especially be required to improve, in their case by demonstrating more alertness and mutual understanding.

Waiting for them in Santiago will be a Chile side who, having just lost to Argentina, are now outside of the top five positions and so really need to win. Venezuela famously knocked Chile out of the 2011 Copa América quarter-final, yet since then have lost all four subsequent encounters, scoring just once and conceding 14. Thus, those anticipating a Dudamel Revolution may wish to keep these wishful thoughts private for the time being.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; A. González, W. Ángel, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; J. Murillo (Y. Soteldo, 84′), A. Guerra, T. Rincón, R. Otero (D. Machís, 73′); J. Martínez (Y. Herrera, 59′) & S. Rondón.

Peru (4-2-3-1): P. Gallese; A. Corzo, C. Ramos, A. Rodríguez, M. Trauco; Y. Yotún (S. Peña, 78′), R. Tapia (P. Aquino, 85′); A. Carrillo (R. Ruidíaz, 78′), C. Cueva, É. Flores; P. Guerrero.

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