Tag Archives: CONMEBOL

Brazil 1-0 Venezuela — Conmebol Qualification Stage for Fifa World Cup 2022 (13 November 2022)

Just because you knew it was going to happen doesn’t make it any less dispiriting.

Conmebol Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2022

Friday 13 November 2022 — Estádio do Morumbi, São Paulo

Brazil 1-0 Venezuela

Venezuela Sunk in São Paulo

A second-half Roberto Firmino strike undid José Peseiro’s otherwise resilient side, who are still pointless and goalless after their opening three qualifiers.

Until the Liverpool forward’s 67th-minute goal it did look like Venezuela might just frustrate Tite’s men as they did at last year’s Copa América. There were plenty of echoes of that 0-0 draw, particularly Brazil again having efforts chalked off by the officials.

This time they had two disallowed goals, with the first coming in the seventh minute: left-back Renan Lodi’s cross-shot was parried by goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez, with Richarlison then knocking in the rebound. However, Lodi was adjudged to have been offside when the diagonal ball was played his way.

Over half an hour later, the impressive Lodi whipped in a fine cross that Gabriel Jesus knocked into the centre for Richarlison. The Everton striker’s attempt was blocked at point-blank range by Faríñez, but Douglas Luiz was there to hit home the loose ball. This time, however, a foul in the danger zone let Venezuela off the hook.

The first half largely consisted of Brazil attempting to find ways through. Some further shots were saved low and the hosts were especially close to scoring when the goal was gaping for Richarlison following Jesus’s knock-back, but his agonising stretch could only direct the ball wide.

As for Venezuela, they were very much on the back foot throughout the opening period and did not make their attacking presence known until the 39th minute. Here, Yeferson Soteldo, justifying his selection, found space to jink past Danilo, before hitting in a low cross. This evidently took goalkeeper Ederson by surprise, who will have been grateful that Marquinhos was there in the six-yard-box to divert the ball away from Salomón Rondón.

The second half was barely six minutes old when Brazil were again denied by the officials — this time a VAR check on an alleged handball in the area by Venezuelan defender Wilker Ángel ultimately ruled in favour of the visitors.

Subsequently, the Seleção continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession, albeit without really threatening. That is, until Firmino pounced. His match-winner came after Darwin Machís was pressured into directing Éverton Ribeiro’s cross towards his own goal and the Liverpool man was on hand to gratefully accept the gift.

The rest of the game will not live long in the memory, but there was one incident that could have some serious repercussions: captain Tomás Rincón picked up a booking and is now ruled out of La Vinotinto‘s home clash against Chile.

Although Peseiro will be able to replace him with the returning Yangel Herrera, it’s nevertheless a blow. Furthermore, with full-backs Roberto Rosales and Rolf Feltscher sustaining injuries and having to be withdrawn, Venezuela’s rearguard could really struggle in Caracas.

Post-game, Peseiro said that as he is pressed for time to implement anything more daring, he is likely to persist with the defensive 4-3-2-1 formation for the time being. It may not be easy on the eye, but it has yielded results for the players in the past under the previous regime.

On Tuesday, Venezuela will have their work cut out to keep their first clean sheet of the campaign against a nation they conceded seven goals against in their last two qualifying encounters. Even if they manage this, they’ll need something a little extra if they want to convince the country and the continent that they are viable contenders for a place at Qatar 2022.

Team Selections

Brazil (4-3-3): Ederson; Danilo, Marquinhos, T. Silva, R. Lodi (A. Telles, 90+6′); É. Ribeiro, Allan, D. Luiz (L. Paquetá, 46′); G. Jesus (Éverton, 76′), Richarlison (Pedro, 76′), R. Firmino.

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Faríñez; R. Rosales (A. González, 65′), Y. Osorio, W. Ángel, R. Feltscher (L. Mago, 18′); T. Rincón, J. Moreno, C. Cásseres Jr; D. Machís (J. Savarino, 79′), Y. Soteldo (R. Otero, 65′); S. Rondón.

Darren

@DarrenSpherical

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

The campaign relaunches…

Conmebol Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2022

Friday 13 November 2020 — Estádio do Morumbi, São Paulo

Brazil vs Venezuela

Tuesday 17 November 2020 — Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas

Venezuela vs Chile

Soteldo Starts As Venezuela Seek Points

With two big tests on the horizon, Venezuela manager José Peseiro knows he’s got a job on his hands if he is to improve upon his team’s pointless start to World Cup qualifying.

The Portuguese gaffer got to work straight after last month’s dismal defeats against Colombia and Paraguay, forgoing a return to his European base to instead remain in the nation he now leads.

There, the domestic league kicked off on 14 October, so Peseiro has been able to meet with many club bosses as well as run the rule over the home-based talent.

This has resulted in a surprising six local call-ups initially featuring in the final squad, with each player belonging to a different team, as the courteous coach said he did not wish to cause too much disruption given that league action will continue throughout the international break.

However, this figure has since lowered to four as goalkeeper José Contreras and midfielder Christian Larotonda have unfortunately been struck down by the c-word. Even so, it’s still an eye-catching number, especially considering last month’s squad was entirely composed of overseas-based players.

Admittedly, the likelihood of any of this youthful quartet making it onto either pitch in the upcoming week are not generous, but if there is one individual to keep in mind then it is 19-year-old Caracas FC midfielder Anderson Contreras. He has played consistently for the 2019 champions over the past 18 months and projected himself into a higher stratosphere in September when he scored a sensational 30-yard free-kick in the Copa Libertadores against Colombia’s Independiente Medellín.

Moving on to the opening clash in São Paulo, these are the eleven players who are reportedly very likely to start (most likely in a 4-3-2-1 formation):

W. Faríñez; R. Rosales, Y. Osorio, W. Ángel, R. Feltscher; T. Rincón, J. Moreno, C. Cásseres Jr; D. Machís, Y. Soteldo; S. Rondón.

For many national team followers, the inclusion of Yeferson Soteldo leaps out as, to the dismay of many, the 23-year-old dribbler only featured last month as a late substitute against Paraguay. Since then, he’s certainly been in the headlines.

Indeed, to the horror of Santos and Vinotinto fans alike, his team actually agreed to sell him to Saudi Arabian outfit Al Hilal. This headturning deal was purportedly owing to the Brazilians’ financial difficulties, but the player was less enamoured by the prospect. It seemed like he might be forced out against his will but thankfully Huachipato, his erstwhile Chilean club who are owed money by Santos, stepped in and an agreement was reached to keep el enano put.

In the country where he plies his trade, he’s predicted to pair up behind the striker alongside Darwin Machís, arguably the most in-form attacker in the squad. This tandem will be an intriguing experiment, as some have voiced concerns that the pair may be incompatible because both are inclined to operate on the left flank.

Also standing out from that line-up are three players who were unable to join up last time around.

First, of course, there’s Salomón Rondón, whose Chinese side, Dalian Pro, refused to let him travel in October. Having narrowly avoided relegation, their season is now over, leaving Venezuela’s record top scorer free and at a loose end for the past few weeks.

He’ll certainly boost his country’s front line as Sergio Córdova — who was initially called up but was then prevented from travelling by his German team — can’t be said to have made the most of his two outings as lead man last month.

Barring an injury to Rondón, it’s unlikely any of the other forwards in the squad will see much action. That said, many supporters will be pleased that Jan Carlos Hurtado made the final cut; the promising 2017 U20 World Cup finalist recently bagged his first two goals for Brazilian side RB Bragantino.

Second, there’s Júnior Moreno, who has been permitted to travel after his club, DC United, failed to qualify for the MLS playoffs. He’ll return to his customary position in front of the back four alongside captain Tomás Rincón; this pair will be joined by the fresh-faced Cristian Cásseres Jr — one of few players to come away from the previous qualifiers with any credit.

Absent from this line of three is Yangel Herrera, who, together with Machís, has continued to reach new heights with Granada in La Liga and the Europa League. He is suspended for the Brazil game, but will be available against Chile.

The other welcome return is that of the nation’s most high-profile defender, Yordan Osorio, who recently made his Parma debut. The 26-year-old centre-back shone in last year’s 0-0 draw with the Seleção at Copa América and if Venezuela are to come away with anything on Friday, similar defensive heroics will be essential.

Anyone who witnessed last month’s qualifiers, particularly the 3-0 first-half pummelling meted out by Colombia, knows that won’t be easy. One of many things that is of concern in and around the Venezuelan goal is that rusty, underperforming goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez is still yet to make his Ligue 1 debut for Lens.

All this being said, despite the absence of Herrera, this feels like a slightly stronger Vinotinto side that is set to face Brazil. Perhaps some further optimism can be derived from the hosts being without the likes of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Casemiro; although, of course, they certainly have other talents in reserve.

Ultimately, given the calibre of the opposition, Peseiro knows there is a very real possibility that he could enter into the new year having lost his first four games in charge. It would be an understatement to say that a historic first-ever competitive victory against Brazil would certainly be one way to win over the legions of sceptics.

Perhaps more plausibly, at the very least his team just need to demonstrate more cohesion and purpose, particularly in Caracas against Chile; getting a measly point on the board wouldn’t hurt either, if only to allay fears that the campaign isn’t over before it has even begun.

Venezuela Squad

Note: José Contreras, Christian Larotonda and Sergio Córdova have been removed owing to their withdrawals. Alain Baroja (not pictured) has been called up.

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain), Alexander González (Dinamo București, Romania), Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Luis Mago (Universidad de Chile, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Parma, Italy), Jean Fuentes (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela) & Óscar Conde (Academia Puerto Cabello, Venezuela).

Midfielders

Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Rómulo Otero (Corinthians, Brazil, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Juan Pablo Añor (Al-Ain, Saudi Arabia), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil), Jefferson Savarino (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Bernaldo Manzano (Atlético Bucaramanga, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara, Venezuela), Cristian Cásseres Jr (New York Red Bulls, USA), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Anderson Contreras (Caracas FC, Venezuela) & Cristhian Rivas (Estudiantes de Mérida, Venezuela).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Mazatlán, Mexico), Jan Carlos Hurtado (RB Bragantino, Brazil, on loan from Boca Juniors, Argentina) & Salomón Rondón (Dalian Pro, China).

Darren

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

Conmebol Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2022

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

Colombia vs Venezuela

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

Venezuela vs Paraguay

Image

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

Quote from AS; image from Marca.

Come On Then, If We Must

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

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

Still, pity the new manager.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venezuela Squad

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

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

Midfielders

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

Forwards

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

Darren

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (5 October 2017)

The seventeenth and penultimate jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s youthful side continue to impress with their eyes very much on a Middle East-based prize. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 5 October 2017 (YouTube)

Stalemate Gives Venezuela Third Consecutive Draw Against Qualification Hopefuls

In a game short on clear attempts, Venezuela held Uruguay to a draw, postponing La Celeste‘s likely qualification celebrations until Tuesday.

Although his side’s ongoing inability to create chances will be of concern, La Vinotinto boss Rafael Dudamel will nevertheless be pleased to have earned his third consecutive point.

Not entirely dissimilarly, though his Uruguayan counterpart Óscar Tabárez may feel confident of wrapping up automatic qualification at home to Bolivia, he would have no doubt hoped his side could have posed a greater attacking threat in this game.

Indeed, their best opportunity of the first half was also their first: after three minutes, a hanging Cristian Rodríguez corner was headed, in space, by Atlético Madrid’s José Giménez, whose effort was spectacularly saved by Wuilker Fariñez. Tipping the ball wide as it headed towards the top corner, this was to be the much-hyped Caracas FC stopper’s only real save of the match.

Subsequently, both sides put in crosses and attempted efforts from distance but, one way or another, these mostly evaded their targets. The bobbly state of the Pueblo Nuevo pitch appeared to do zero favours for free-flowing, passing football, as each side hardly ever worked themselves into space within the final third. Instead, some individuals attempted relatively tame and/or wayward long-range efforts and the best prospects were evidently most likely to arise from set-pieces – thus it was from a corner in the 34th minute that Venezuela came closest. Here, Junior Moreno – standing in for the suspended Yangel Herrera (and Arquímedes Figuera) – saw one of his many dead balls headed back across goal by Mikel Villanueva, where it was met by left-back Rubert Quijada – himself playing in place of the suspended Rolf Feltscher – who nodded just over from a goalmouth position. That said, as much as this opportunity gave the home crowd some hope of a slight upset, the referee’s whistle had in fact already been blown for an infringement.

Soon after up at the other end, Luis Suárez – who had been duking and diving without really winning much more than a corner – chipped a good ball to strike-partner Edinson Cavani. Though he was near the edge of the area, the qualification campaign’s top scorer must have considered this at least a half-chance, but his volley was ultimately quite weak, causing no difficulty for Fariñez.

Into the second half, the disjointedness of the play continued but the volume of the crowd noticeably increased as a little more initiative was displayed. In the 49th minute, La Vinotinto captain Tomás Rincón suddenly forced a low parry from Fernando Muslera with a pacey shot, then soon up the other end Cavani had a decent chance, this time turning dangerously from just inside the area on the right. He was squeezed for space, but his shot deflected off a defender and, though it was heading wide, Fariñez still felt that he had to dive low to make sure, as the ball brushed his gloves and went out for a corner.

With a little more space available to roam and buoyed on by the crowd, 20-year-old Sergio Córdova knocked in a cross that caused concern amongst the Uruguayan backline and then, just before the hour-mark, he tried his luck from range. However, as with most shots from this distance, this one troubled nobody but the ballboys.

However, deeper into the second half, though there was considerable midfield endeavour and some minor moments of intrigue, greater interest was provided by the introduction of a few players who starred in this year’s Under-20 tournaments. Indeed, Uruguay already had World Cup starlet Federico Valverde on the field and he was to be joined on the 65th minute by Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur, who was making his first ever senior appearance. On the Venezuelan side of things, Ronaldo Lucena also debuted, coming on in the 83rd minute, a few minutes after diminutive dribbler Yeferson Soteldo had also taken to the field. The latter replaced another youngster, Sergio Córdova, and, overall, with Wuilker Fariñez also in goal, Venezuela fielded four members of their Under-20 World Cup side that finished runners-up in June. With Herrera available in their final qualifier and four other youngsters in the squad, it is likely that at least one other member shall receive a run-out before this cycle is concluded.

Still, before the game itself was over, the visitors did manage to fashion two further chances to win it. Firstly, with seven minutes remaining, substitute Giorgian De Arrasceta dinked a ball over to the centre-right just inside the area, where Cavani, with a good sight of Fariñez’s goal, quickly controlled and struck. However, perhaps it was the pressure of the encroaching defenders who he had briefly stole a pace or two from or maybe it was instead a lack of composure, but either way, his shot went low and narrowly wide of the target.

It was surely his side’s best chance of the match, though their final opportunity of note was also rather presentable. This time, De Arrasceta crossed in a fine set-piece from the right towards the back post where, in space from a closer position than he was some 80-plus minutes prior, Giménez attempted to head it on the stretch. Alas, his connection lacked intent and his effort bobbled harmlessly wide.

Thus, goalless it ended. A laborious encounter in more ways than one, Venezuela will surely be the happier of the two nations, even if they do not appear to be any closer to finding any consistent attacking cohesion. Still, post-Under-20 World Cup, Dudamel has certainly managed to instil and stabilise an impressive defensive system – much-needed, even if nothing can ever entirely massage the figures in the “Goals Conceded” column.

His side’s final encounter on Tuesday sees them travel to Asunción to face qualification-chasing Paraguay, whose remarkable late win away to Colombia has given them genuine belief that they may yet nab at least the playoff berth. Against a very fired-up La Albirroja, a draw would surely constitute another credible result for La Vinotinto, but if – if – they can just build on that impressive rearguard by sneaking an unanswered goal, it really would provide a huge boost in morale.

Much of the footballing world are watching as the future of several CONMEBOL countries hangs precariously; Venezuela may be out, but they certainly have a role to play.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; V. García, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, R. Quijada; S. Córdova (Y. Soteldo, 80′), J. Moreno, T. Rincón, J. Murillo (R. Lucena, 83′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Otero, 69′).

Uruguay (4-4-2): F. Muslera; M. Pereira, J. Giménez, D. Godín, M. Cáceres; N. Nández (Á. González, 83′), F. Valverde (G. De Arrascaeta, 79′), M. Vecino, C. Rodríguez (R. Bentancur, 65′); E. Cavani & L. Suárez.

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