Tag Archives: CONMEBOL

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

Day 2 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Uruguay 0-0 Venezuela & Argentina 1-1 Peru)

The second day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship saw Group B get under way, with Uruguay taking on Venezuela and holders Argentina facing Peru. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting… 

group19117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Uruguay 0-0 Venezuela

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 19 January 2017 (YouTube)

Though it ended goalless, this Group B encounter was not without incident. Despite the talent in their ranks, Uruguay struggled to combine effectively in the first half and Venezuela gave them more than a few frights, persistently matching them across the field. Both sides had come close to opening the deadlock but in the 60th minute, Uruguay were presented with a golden opportunity to do so. However, captain Nicolás De La Cruz was left embarrassed as his Panenka-esque penalty was coolly saved by an upright Wuilker Fariñez. Despite going down to ten men, Venezuela stayed in the game and actually came closest to getting the winner, with Yangel Herrera’s 81st-minute effort saved by an overhead-kick clearance on the goal-line by Rodrigo Bentancur. Alas, it remained all square in Ibarra.

Talent Spotting

uruguayflag Uruguay

To many, the skipper Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) acted a bit too big for his youthful boots when his audacious chipped penalty went awry. Nevertheless, he was his side’s most notable attacker, often looking to play in team-mates, taking over set-piece duties and not being afraid to shoot, as evidenced by his fierce 25-yard strike in the first half that drew an instinctive parry from Fariñez. With an illustrious brother, Carlos Sánchez, who has earned caps for La Celeste, young Nicolás may just possess the nature to help him make his senior bow; after a setback like this, one hopes he’ll also receive the right nurture.

The striker he was often looking to play in was Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid). The ex-River Plate (Montevideo parish) looked to get involved with some decent runs and also tried to slide through his team-mates, yet he rarely got a clear sight of goal. Indeed, so slim were the pickings that the nearest he came was from a 25-yard left-footed effort entirely of his own making in the 43rd minute, which rebounded hard off the base of the post. He was substituted with just over 15 minutes left, though given his move to Spain last year, much is expected of him.

Another man with a growing reputation is No. 20 Rodrigo Bentancur, who has already played over 50 times for Boca Juniors. Here, he had a mixed time in midfield as he and his colleagues were not always successful in suppressing the Venezuelan bursts upfield. Nevertheless, Bentancur was responsible for ensuring Uruguay came away with at least one point when, in the 81st minute, he cleared an effort off the goal-line with a rather acrobatic overhead kick.

Otherwise, Uruguay seemed to lack the organisation and collective intent they possessed two years ago when they came close to winning on home soil. One man from that team, roaming midfielder Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional, Uruguay), now 19, was somewhat surprisingly a substitute here. His presence after the break did not dramatically change things though he did show some invention from a nicely worked free-kick move in the 50th minute that caught the opposition defence off-guard.

Lastly, a quick word of praise for the speedy Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio). Just before the hour-mark, he did well to make space for himself after taking on a defender and then firing low to draw a save from Fariñez; this, in turn, led to the foul that yielded the penalty.

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Owing to his penalty save, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) understandably earned the headlines. It’s just the kind of highlight that could tip the balance in a move for this 18-year-old who already has a senior international cap and over 50 domestic club appearances to his name. He also did well to parry out De La Cruz’s well-struck first-half effort and often appeared assertive in his area. One small criticism though: Could he not have done better when palming out Saracchi’s shot straight to De La Cruz, which led to the latter being fouled, the awarding of a penalty and his defender Eduin Quero being sent off? Nevertheless, even if play was ultimately called back, he did recover impressively to save the rebound.

Perhaps the most eye-catching individual on the field was the diminutive Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile). He often seemed to be running the show for Venezuela, roaming forward, looking to make things happen, taking set-pieces and not being afraid to shoot. He nearly set up a goal in the 21st minute when he received a pass on the right, dipped his shoulder to evade a defender and put in a dangerous low ball, but Uruguay just about survived this scare. His nifty footwork sometimes led him into positions where he attempted to feed in team-mates; the closest to the target he came himself occurred in the 32nd minute when he played a one-two from a throw on the left and then aimed for the far post, though this went a few yards wide. When he was substituted in the 74th minute, he received a notable ovation from what must have been a largely neutral crowd.

The player Soteldo often sought out and who he played the one-two with, was Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain), another attacking midfielder/forward. Up until the very last minute he was very visible chasing every ball to the byline, creating space for himself and making life rather uncomfortable for the Uruguayan back-line. Given Soteldo’s withdrawal, come the final whistle, Peña was arguably getting even more praise on social media than the ex-Zamora man. On several occasions, he got within firing distance of the opposition goal but was thwarted, either by a block, a miscue or a clumsy challenge – such as the one in the 62nd minute which, irrespective of his pleas, the referee flatly waved away.

Impressing in a more subtle manner was holding midfielder and captain, Yangel Herrera (No. 8, Atlético Venezuela). As with Soteldo and Fariñez, he has already appeared for the senior side and the three of them, along with Peña, really did exhibit some much-needed confidence and drive that must have rubbed off on some of their compatriots. He often won midfield duels with the more highly-regarded Bentancur and, more than once, fed team-mates through with central, well-weighted passes. Although he was largely in the right place at the right time, he was nevertheless unlucky not to have scored with nine minutes remaining with his effort from a ricochet that his foe Bentancur brilliantly cleared on the line.

As well as the defence as a whole for rarely affording Uruguay a clear sight of goal, some positive words can be said for a few other individuals. Antonio Romero (No. 19, Deportivo Lara) often looked to get involved with his fellow attackers, most notably after 14 minutes when Peña robbed a defender before nudging the ball to Romero who, from 25 yards out, shaped to shoot, with his low, hard effort going just a yard or so wide. Seven minutes later, Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC) perhaps had his country’s best chance to score in the first half when he inched inside the six-yard-box to get on the end of Soteldo’s wicked cross, forcing a save from very close range. Lastly, a quick word for substitute Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) to note that it was he who put in the free-kick that nearly led to a goal for Herrera.

Argentina 1-1 Peru

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group B, 19 January 2017 (YouTube)

Defending champions Argentina may require a more effective Plan B, as it was not until the last minute that their blushes were spared here. Peru took the lead in the 12th minute, courtesy of a Roberto Siucho strike from range that took a wicked deflection before swerving past Ramiro Macagno. In the remainder of the half, Argentina may have seen more of the ball, but it was Peru who came closest to getting the game’s second goal. After the interval, the holders stepped things up a few notches and were at times almost camped around the periphery of the opposition area yet, particularly after they were reduced to ten men in the 84th minute, a defeat looked on the cards. However, just before the clock hit 90′, Lautaro Martínez struck home a fine equaliser and at least went some way towards softening some of the headlines the Argentine press had no doubt already written.

Talent Spotting

argentinaflag Argentina

Perhaps even more so than his team-mates up until his well-taken goal, Lautaro Martínez (No. 9, Racing Club) had a frustrating evening. He was regularly involved in attempts to unlock the well-drilled Peruvian defence, yet he was often close and yet so far from doing so. Indeed, his best chance in the first half was a header from a cross that he rose well to greet but his effort lacked direction. Six minutes after the restart, he latched onto a ball yet was a bit too near to the goalkeeper whose gloves thwarted him when he attempted to hook it above him into the net. Another chance of note occurred in the 73rd minute when he received a pass in a promising position inside the area but struck it wide of the far post. Nevertheless, the young man ultimately got what he was after and, though he may have wanted more, one suspects plenty of chances await him in upcoming games.

17-year-old Ezequiel Barco (No. 10, Independiente) fed in Martínez for his 73rd-minute opportunity and he was to be similarly agitated whilst seeking an equaliser. Indeed, the roles were in the reverse earlier in the 53rd minute when the Racing man played a fine cutting pass to the left inside the area only for Barco to strike the ball wide of the far post. Shortly before, Barco had also curled a rasping free-kick just over the bar and overall, looks to be a likely threat in this tournament.

The man who actually set up Martínez’s goal was his club team-mate Brian Mansilla (No. 11, Racing Club); he brilliantly drove past two players from his own half before sliding it to the No. 9 for the strike. Previously, he too had looked to make things happen, but the closest he himself came occurred in the 68th minute when a diagonal ball somehow bounced through to him in the area but, from an awkward angle, he struck across the goal and wide.

From this game, other Argentine players could be picked out as likely to pose threats in their future encounters. However, as they were largely all constricted here to long range efforts, blocked attempts and other moments one can not get too excited about, it may be better to instead wait and let them give us something to really write home about.

peruflag Peru

As a collective, Peru deserve a lot of credit. After getting their early goal, they did well to keep Argentina at bay throughout the first half, almost nullifying them and actually coming closer themselves to scoring. As their opponents increased the pressure after the restart, so too did Peru raise their game at the back, scurrying in and around their area, seeking to close off every potential avenue. Though they ultimately succumbed, the back-line as a whole deserve credit and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain this level of performance in their other games, whilst also allowing their attackers to counter effectively.

That said, in this game their goal which allowed them to sit back and frustrate was a bit of a fluke. Roberto Siucho (No. 11, Universitario), deserves credit for being willing to strike from 25 yards out, but he was greatly aided by the deflection the ball took to bypass the Argentine goalkeeper. Nevertheless, though he was substituted in the 66th minute – presumably due to a knock he took – he often got forward and though he himself may not have come close to a second, he and others played a vital role in momentarily relieving the strained defence.

Another man who was often on the ball was striker Adrián Ugarriza (No. 19, Universitario). Now 20 and only eligible for this competition by a whisker, he actually appeared at 2015’s tournament, scoring two goals. Since then, he has moved to a bigger domestic club and thus with an age-advantage over quite possibly all his opponents this time around, he has an opportunity to really make his mark. In this match, he very nearly doubled the scoreline in the 30th minute when a flick-on fell in his path on the edge of the area and he struck low, drawing a fine save from the goalkeeper.

Despite having to settle for the draw, Peru nearly actually regained the lead in the third minute of stoppage-time. Indeed, substitute Miguel Castro (No. 14, Juan Aurich) ran over from the inside-left, jinking left and right into the area, before firing a right-footed strike that only went over by a mere yard or so. Whilst, overall, the Attempts statistics may look more favourably upon Argentina, in future games against – on paper, at least – weaker opposition, Peru’s attackers should have more opportunities to break free and create havoc.

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be Brazil vs Chile and Ecuador vs Colombia from Group A – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 5-0 Bolivia – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (10 November 2016)

The eleventh matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded, in more ways than one, an unprecedented result. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela 5-0 Bolivia

Video Highlights of Venezuela 5-0 Bolivia, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 10 November 2016 (YouTube)

Hat-trick Man Martínez Revels in His Role as New-Look Venezuela Earn Emphatic Win

Match Report

At the eleventh attempt, Venezuela finally earned their first qualifying victory, emphatically seeing off Bolivia in a history-making game in which there was only ever one winner.

Manager Rafael Dudamel went into this must-win game without some familiar faces: Salomón Rondón, Juanpi and Alejandro Guerra were all injured and he also took some further gambles by relegating Adalberto Peñaranda and Roberto Rosales to the bench. Yet, from the third minute onwards, his charges vindicated his decisions to a degree far greater than any Vinotinto fan could have hoped.

Indeed, Venezuela opened the scoring with perhaps the first real attack of the game. One of the men receiving a rare start, Jhon Murillo, beat goalkeeper Carlos Lampe – who was in no-man’s-land – to a ball on the right, lofting it into the goalmouth. A defender instinctively headed it away but only towards another fresh face, Jacobo Kouffaty, who was on hand to squeeze a header past a Bolivian body and in at the near post. He wheeled away to the delight of the Maturín crowd.

Seven minutes later, they had more reason to cheer as from a corner from Rómulo Otero (returning to the line-up due to the injuries), Josef Martínez was afforded plenty of space to comfortably head home a second for the hosts. With no Rondón, the Torino man was to take his opportunity to prove there was still much to be feared from the Venezuelan frontline.

As the home side found themselves in an unfamiliar yet pleasing situation, they sat back throughout much of the rest of the half, with Bolivia in turn creating little of actual threat. Though La Verde saw more of the ball, they could only really offer a long-range shot from Marvin Bejarano that was comfortably saved as well as a 30-yard free-kick that went straight into the wall.

Venezuela themselves saw out the half by demonstrating greater likelihood of getting the game’s next goal. In the 38th minute, Martínez was played through in the area and narrowly won the race to the ball but goalkeeper Lampe stood his ground and blocked the low poke with his legs. However, the action was not over as from a fortuitous ricochet on the edge of the Bolivian area, the ball fell kindly for Alexander González who hit a half-volley a couple of yards over the bar, albeit with little venom. The hosts came closer two minutes later when, from a similar position to his spectacular goal against Chile in March, Otero struck a low, dipping, snake-like free-kick with the outside of his right boot which swerved dynamically before being touched narrowly wide by Lampe.

Bolivia made a couple of changes at the break but they were to have little impact. Barely three minutes into the second half, Otero tried his luck with another free-kick, this one from over 35 yards and which dipped wickedly just over the bar. Then, three minutes later, Kouffaty made some space for himself, evading a tackle from Diego Wayar just inside the area on the left, before striking a powerful low show with his right that Lampe parried away.

After the hour mark, with on-field affairs calming down somewhat, it seemed Dudamel was content to see out this two-goal lead when, in the 64th minute, he replaced attacking midfielder Kouffaty with holding midfielder Arquímedes Figuera. However, defying expectations, his charges stepped up a gear and three minutes later put the outcome beyond reasonable doubt. This time, from another Otero corner, centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo powered a header that Lampe could only parry out to opposition feet. However, Mikel Villanueva – playing for the first time at centre-back, with Rolf Feltscher granted the left-back berth – was denied a tap-in by Martínez who instead nabbed the third. The visitors were evidently still reeling from this nail in the coffin two minutes later. From a central position over 30 yards out, they allowed international debutant Renzo Zambrano to dink a ball into the area which Martínez, back-to-goal, managed to get a head to, which dipped over the agonising palms of the out-of-sorts Lampe. Not only did this goal cap off what some hip young upstarts might call a ‘statement performance’ from the Torino forward but, rather staggeringly, it was also the first-ever Venezuelan hat-trick in a competitive fixture and the first one in any international encounter since 1962.

The goal-glut was rounded off in the 74th minute when Murillo sped away up the right flank into the area, trickling a ball from the touchline across the goalmouth which Otero tapped in at the back post for a deserved goal. The 45,850 fans that were reportedly in the stands could thus see out the remaining quarter-of-an-hour with wide-eyed grins. Whether they knew it or not, they had just witnessed history as this 5-0 scoreline was in fact the largest competitive victory in Venezuela’s history. They have now leapfrogged Bolivia and sit ninth in CONMEBOL qualifying, with five points.

Regardless of the opposition’s long-standing woes on the road, this record-breaking performance was certainly not bad for a side low on confidence playing on a dreadful surface with at least five high-profile players absent from the line-up. Expectations have now suddenly been raised and plenty of fans are pondering just how many of those afforded a start here will maintain their spots for the Ecuador game as well as for subsequent encounters. Long-term, if there is one thing that this team needs, it is stability.

 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): D. Hernández; A. González, O. Vizcarrondo, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; R. Zambrano, T. Rincón; J. Murillo, R. Otero (L. González, 77′), J. Kouffaty (A. Figuera, 64′); J. Martínez (C. Santos, 71′).

Bolivia (4-3-3): C. Lampe; E. Rodríguez, R. Raldes, E. Zenteno, M. Bejarano; D. Wayar, P. Azogue, W. Veizaga (M. Zoch, 46′); R. Ramallo (J. Campos, 78′), M. Martins, Y. Duk (R. Castro, 46′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-2 Brazil – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (11 October 2016)

Rather than historic headlines, the tenth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded goalkeeping and power failures. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela 0-2 Brazil

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-2 Brazil, 11 October 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

Oh Dani Boy, Gifting the Night Away

Match Report

Within eight minutes, Venezuela were knocked down and rarely looked like getting up again as Brazil went on to inflict upon them their eighth defeat in ten World Cup Qualifying games.

Making five changes from the Uruguay defeat (including three of the four defenders), Rafael Dudamel set up his men in a relatively bold 4-4-2 formation but no strategy or set of tactics could have accounted for the opening goal. This arrived when goalkeeper Dani Hernández, under no real pressure, suicidally passed the ball straight to Gabriel Jesus some 30 yards out. The Manchester-bound 19-year-old stopped the ball with his left boot and, as the Tenerife man scrambled in front of the penalty spot, with his right deftly scooped the Seleção into the lead with a masterful chip. Thus marked the latest instance of Venezuela’s tradition of providing significant aid to countries who don’t really need it.

Though it was his most glaring, this was hardly Hernández’s first error since regaining the gloves under Dudamel and pressure to make a change will surely intensify now. Yet with the two other goalkeepers in the squad relatively inexperienced at international level – and having not entirely convinced when called upon – there are no obvious alternatives. The previous number one Alain Baroja has been excluded from the selección throughout the new manager’s reign, seemingly due to having also committed some high-profile errors in earlier qualifying matches (the home games against Paraguay and Ecuador providing the most egregious examples). A recall can not now be entirely out of the question but, whatever happens, goalkeeping woes and back-line jitters look set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Conceding an early goal against one of the best teams in the continent would have deflated any nation but Venezuelans had additional reasons to fear the following 80+ minutes. Not only have they not won a single game in the current qualifying campaign, but – barring one friendly match in 2008 – they have never beaten Brazil and the last time that they gained a positive result from a competitive game after falling behind was exactly three years ago (their last match of the Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign, a 1-1 home draw with Paraguay on 11 October 2013).

In the remainder of the half, though Venezuela were not shrinking violets, it was certainly the visitors who came closest to getting the game’s second goal. In the 15th minute, Gabriel Jesus earned some space after he latched onto a long ball up the inside-left channel and slid it to Phillipe Coutinho, whose low strike from the edge of the dee was poked a bit too close to Hernández. Nine minutes later at the second attempt, roaming right-back Dani Alves volleyed in a goalmouth cross that was only narrowly diverted by Roberto Rosales from the path of Gabriel Jesus for a corner.

Just past the half-hour mark, Paulinho had a chance when he greatly unnerved the opposition back-line on the edge of the area, playing a few one-twos before eventually firing just wide. A few minutes later, it was Coutinho’s moment to strike a yard or two the wrong side of the post when an elevated ricochet in the area fell kindly for his right boot.

As with previous matches against the region’s heavyweights, the hosts’ best hope of an attempt on goal came from set-pieces (which here were flagged offside at the key moment) and breakaways, the impetus for which invariably derived from the feet of Adalberto Peñaranda. Indeed, the 19-year-old raised the volume in the stands in the 23rd minute when he left a player for dead in midfield before running into trouble. Later in the 41st minute, he impressively gained some space on the left before cutting inside and winning a corner from his own effort, though one or two of his colleagues seemed irritated that he did not pass for them to take aim.

Venezuela thus went into the break not completely out of the game, but having barely troubled opposition goalkeeper Alisson. Their struggle was compounded by the yellow cards earned by both centre-backs, Wilker Ángel and Sema Velázquez – not encouraging news for a team that has had three defenders (including Ángel) sent off in their last three games.

Nevertheless, as a spot of rain-lashing greeted the arrival of the second half, the hosts gained some heart from avoiding a repeat of the Uruguay game. No game-killing goals after 15 seconds here then. No, Tite’s men had to instead wait eight minutes for that. They doubled their lead thanks to Renato Agusto dragging the ball away from Rosales on the left and firing the ball across the goalmouth where Willian beat the other full-back Rolf Feltscher to clinically strike home at the back post.

Just five minutes later in the 58th minute, Brazil seemed well on their way to humiliating their hosts when an Augusto header from a corner ended up in the back of the net. However, Gabriel Jesus helped it across the line and his involvement caused the linesman to raise his flag.

Soon afterwards, partly inspired by the substitution of Alejandro Guerra on for Juanpi, Venezuela gradually overcame their dejection and started to threaten Alisson’s goal. Seconds after his arrival on the hour, it was the fresh Atlético Nacional midfielder who diverted a forward ball to Salomón Rondón. The West Bromwich forward’s first-time strike hit Marquinhos, seemingly on the upper arm, leaving Alisson stranded. Fortunately for the latter two, the ball went wide for a corner.

A couple of minutes later, Rondón had another chance. This time, from the right with his left boot, Rosales swung in a cross that the striker beat his marker to, with his header bouncing just a yard or so wide of the near post.

However, they were reminded of exactly what they were up against just a minute later when Brazil stretched their back-line and a pass from the left into the centre seemed to be heading for an inevitable third; yet the shot that followed was too close to Hernández, who parried.

The action continued and it was virtually end-to-end. Just two minutes later at the other end, Josef Martínez volleyed an arced free-kick that forced a save, though play was immediately halted for offside. Four minutes later, Alves skipped past the slide of Peñaranda on the right where he crossed towards the centre of the area to Paulinho but, despite the space the ex-Tottenham man had, he volleyed well over. Barely 30 seconds later at the other end, Rondón curled in a fine ball from the left with his right which destabilised and discombulated Filipe Luís. Prowling behind him at the back post was Guerra who did well to stretch to control the ball, but from his crab-like stance with Alisson narrowing the angles, he could only scuff a shot wide of the post.

However, pulses in the stands were not to be maintained at the same rate for much longer as in the 73rd minute, the floodlights suddenly went out. Darkness, punctuated by lights from phones and advertising boards, descended upon the Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida. There was initially much cheering and clapping from the home fans, perhaps proving Venezuelans like a good old ‘wheeeyyy’ when something goes wrong as much as anyone. Or maybe they just thought the game may get called off and they would receive a second chance. This was certainly debated by onlookers, with most agreeing a replay would have to be played the following night – sadly, such musings were not immediately relayed to a mid-kip Tony Pulis. Also during this interval, some fans began chanting for the removal of President Nicolás Maduro,  a fairly common occurrence when things are not going well at home (anti-government signs are also frequently seen at games on foreign soil). Last year towards the end of the 3-1 loss against Ecuador in Puerto Ordaz, similar chants were drowned out by music suddenly blasting out over the public announce system. This time in Mérida, however, no amount of pro-government officials would have been able to enforce similar action.

Fortunately for them though, there was little chance of a full-scale demonstration occurring as the electricity did gradually return and thus almost 25 minutes after the ball was last officially in play, the match resumed. Yet, in the remaining 17 minutes or so, little of note happened, with the interruption greatly diminishing the momentum of the players and the volume of the crowd. The one stand-out moment was Rondón’s 88th-minute header from a cross swung in from the right, which he powered towards Alisson, who was required to pull of a decent save to tip it over the bar.

Nevertheless, despite the hosts’ improvements after the second goal, when the Peruvian official blew for full-time, the Venezuelans were left to be confronted with their unenviable position at the bottom of the CONMEBOL Qualifying group. With Bolivia having picked up a point at home to Ecuador, Dudamel’s men now find themselves six points adrift at the bottom, with just two draws from ten games to their name.

After June’s promising Copa América campaign, the Vinotinto boss has now lost some of his initial goodwill, having presided over four qualifying games and earned just one point. Yet this worrying statistic is somewhat undermined by the fact that these matches were against four of the current top five teams in the region. However, with Venezuela’s next encounter being at home against those notoriously bad travellers Bolivia, nothing less than a victory will be enough to contain the critics for the time being. With changes to his already rather unsettled line-up inevitable, he may wish to spent the next month wisely while poring over his decisions.

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

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, S. Velázquez, W. Ángel, R. Feltscher; Juanpi (A. Guerra, 60′), T. Rincón,  A. Flores (Y. Herrera, 84′); A. Peñaranda (R. Otero, 73′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez.

Brazil (4-3-3): Alisson; D. Alves, Marquinhos, J. Miranda, F. Luís; Paulinho, Fernandinho, R. Augusto; Willian (Taison, 89′), G. Jesus, P. Coutinho (Giuliano, 83′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 6 October 2016 – Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay

Uruguay vs Venezuela

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

Venezuela vs Brazil

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

Venezuela Still Waiting for a Generation’s Bonfire to Begin 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

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

Midfielders

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

Forwards

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-2 Argentina– CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (6 September 2016)

The eighth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded one point more than anticipated yet two less than many Venezuelans felt attainable at half-time. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report plus thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 6 September 2016 – El Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida State

Venezuela 2-2 Argentina

Video Highlights of Venezuela 2-2 Argentina, 6 September 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

Mixed Emotions for Both Sides as Juanpi Announces Himself on the International Stage

Match Report

‘Bottom versus top’ could have been mistaken for ‘seventh versus eighth’ as what began as a tepid affair ended as a slugfest with Venezuela being denied a famous victory.

La Vinotinto went into the game with just one point, having just been comfortably dispatched 2-0 by neighbours Colombia, yet really needing to raise the morale of their compatriots in the Andean city of Mérida. Pace-setters Argentina were thus hardly the ideal opponents. However, the hosts were far from overawed in the opening half and with each passing period of play, the pre-game predictions of a pounding proved increasingly preposterous.

Indeed, the first threat they had to contend with – the closest Edgardo Bauza’s men came all half – occurred in the 16th minute. Inter Milan new-boy Éver Banega received a pass centrally, quickly turned and from 25 yards out struck a low drive that went just wide of the far post. Banega often appeared to be one of his side’s likeliest catalysts for a goal as at times he enjoyed plenty of midfield space in which to roam before searching for a key, incisive pass – though this latter, crucial phase largely proved elusive.

Ángel Di María, with his tormenting runs down the wing and balls into the area, was a more noticeable threat in the first period. Just after the 20th minute, he crossed in a fine ball for Lucas Pratto, but the Atlético Mineiro striker – playing in part due to the absences of several more high-profile strikers – stretched but could not make a meaningful connection. He certainly did, however, in the 32nd minute, when he met Di María’s cross but his solid header was a little too close to goalkeeper Dani Hernández, who managed to get his body behind it.

The hosts’ early chances were hardly much more threatening. Rafael Dudamel’s men sometimes resorted to pumping long balls towards star striker Salomón Rondón, but this rarely proved propitious, even if it was a cunning way of bypassing Javier Mascherano. The West Bromwich Albion forward did nevertheless have his country’s first opportunity of note when, after 21 minutes, he received the ball just outside the area. However, although some space opened up for him, it was not enough to warrant the headlines that must have been swirling in his head; he may have shaped up with intent but his tame shot trickled goalwards for goalkeeper Sergio Romero to gratefully collect.

One Venezuelan causing more problems for the Argentine back-line was Rondón’s strike-partner, Josef Martínez. He regularly beat defenders for pace, causing uncertainty as well as winning throws and corners. In the 23rd minute, he was especially of concern when he received a pass in the area and soon hit the deck, but his penalty claim was waved away.

The other leading attacking threat for the hosts in this half was the man who was to break the deadlock. The profile of Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor has been rising since he made his Málaga debut two years ago, with last season’s exploits really helping him emerge to prominence in La Liga. Aiding his cause in particular during that campaign were three goals in consecutive weeks (including one against Barcelona) and he is already off the mark for 2016/17. With the experienced Alejandro Guerra and Luis Manuel Seijas not part of this particular squad, he has been provided with opportunities to bolster his claims for a first-team spot in midfield. Overall, he has taken them.

Yet though he is capable of pinpoint accuracy from dead-ball situations, thankfully his largely wayward set-pieces throughout this half are unlikely to be used as arguments against future starts. Indeed, it is more the events in the 35th minute that shall be uppermost in most people’s minds when the line-up for the trip to Uruguay in October is being mulled over.

As befitting a largely listless half, it came almost out of nowhere. Rondón’s low cross in from the right was cut out before being immediately knocked back to the edge of the area, where it fell to the feet of Juanpi. Two players quickly tried to close him down yet somehow he bundled his way through them, before making some space for himself on the right corner of the area. Judging by the reaction of at least one Argentine defender, they did not consider him a serious threat from this position. Big mistake. Before anyone could get near enough to him, he unleashed a phenomenal strike that scorched past Romero and nearly burst the top corner of the net. The crowd erupted and the 22-year-old diminutive Málaga maestro was mobbed by his team-mates, both starters and subs alike. His first international goal, his formal arrival on this stage; aficionados of this balletic young man’s career will have been aware that it bore more than a slight resemblance to his first ever club goal against Levante in January 2015. Now, all Venezuelans know that no matter how bleak their nation’s prospects often seem, there will always be reason to keep an eye on them so long as the likes of Juanpi are in embryo.

Just four minutes later, Dudamel’s men nearly enhanced the euphoria in the ground to unprecedented levels. Rondón helped the ball on to Alexander González on the right inside the area. The Huesca right-back quickly slid the ball into the goalmouth where Josef Martínez was waiting and the goal was a-gaping, yet the Torino striker was narrowly beaten to the ball by Pablo Zabaleta, who managed to clear.

Thus, when the half-time whistle blew, the hosts had to resign themselves to being just 1-0 up against the No. 1 ranked side in the world. In the ever-bewildering and screen-throttling social media world, more than a few were quick to denigrate Venezuela’s lead by pointing out that Lionel Messi was missing and that this was a ‘depleted’ Argentine team. Risible claims, as aside from two attacking players, this was virtually a first-choice Albiceleste XI and, as no Venezuelan was staggered to observe, the hosts had problems of their own. Indeed, they made four changes from the Colombia loss, all of which were forced upon Dudamel: three of the four defenders were out (two due to suspensions, one due to injury) and one of the defensive-midfielders (suspended) was also unavailable. Such absences made their lead and hitherto ability to repel trouble all the more impressive.

Yet when the second half kicked off, the visitors returned with more intent to extricate themselves from the mire that they had slipped in. Much anticipation greeted Banega’s free-kick in the 50th minute, but when he finally took it, the ball sailed comfortably over. The hosts were nevertheless able to withstand such pressure and not long afterwards they broke free up the other end where Rondón nearly fed in Martínez, but the latter had his run abruptly blocked off.

However, shortly afterwards in the 53rd minute, the same combination sent the stands into raptures. The nation’s talisman robbed a hapless defender flailing in the Mérida rain and strode into the area, where he slipped a short pass to his Serie A-based partner who, with the visitors on the back foot, was afforded acres of space. Had he desired to, Martínez would have had time to whip out the day’s paper and read his horoscopes before pulling the trigger; regardless of what it would have said, the Torino man certainly would have felt it was his lucky day when his well-placed shot hit the back of the net. 2-0.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, the hosts celebrated their dizzying lead by going immediately on the defensive as Argentina raised their game and/or Venezuela pondered the ‘2-0 is the most dangerous lead in football’ cliché for a bit too long. Given such a change in approach, it came as little surprise when the visitors halved the deficit in the 58th minute. Here, Erik Lamela was gifted plenty of space to slide the ball through to Pratto in the area. Despite having left-back Mikel Villanueva and centre-back Sema Velázquez seemingly on his case, it seemed a little too easy for him. He nudged the ball forward and it ricocheted off Villanueva back to him in slightly more space and he simply toe-poked it goalwards past the possibly blindsided Hernández. 2-1. Game well and truly on.

Bauza’s men thus went on the hunt for an equaliser. Some more shaky goalkeeping from Hernández from a corner was to follow not long afterwards and the visitors were not too far from catching him out in the 66th minute. Here, Banega, on the inside-left just outside the area, went for a cross-shot which rebounded kindly off a defender, thus necessitating the Tenerife goalkeeper to scramble over to ensure his near post was covered. He got there just in time to block out the resultant shot that Di María fired from an acute angle from inside the area on the left.

One rare reprieve from the pressure came after 74 minutes when the much-touted 19-year-old Adalberto Peñaranda burst forward and gave a rare glimpse of why he made so many headlines at Granada last season. In a characteristically direct run, he passed through a few Argentine shirts before being cynically fouled not far from the area. This bought his nation some time, though the free-kick was duly squandered.

With the clock not ticking fast enough, Dudamel made some changes yet his second, replacing Martínez with Ecuador-based Jacobo Kouffaty, unfortunately did not reap the desired dividends. Indeed, officially he lasted no more than three minutes before succumbing to an injury and being replaced by Yonathan Del Valle in the 81st minute.

Compounding Kouffaty’s misery, as he was walking dejectedly along the sidelines, Di María whipped in a low corner which was clinically struck into the back of the net to level things up. Manchester City’s Nicolás Otamendi beat his centre-back counterpart Velázquez to the ball and restored some pride for his nation. Now, they were favourites to snatch all three points.

Ultimately, although they certainly put the jitters up their hosts, it was in fact Venezuela who came closest to emerging victorious in a five-goal thriller. First, with five minutes remaining, Juanpi curled in a free-kick from the right with his left boot which Romero went to catch but was easily beaten in the air by Rondón – unfortunately for the latter, his header also comfortably cleared the crossbar when it seemed as if with a bit more direction, he could well have won the game.

It was a let-off for the Manchester United goalkeeper and yet with a minute of regulation time left, he somehow had time to emerge relatively unscathed from an even greater howler. This time, Juanpi’s central free-kick from range bounced harmlessly through to the out-of-favour stopper, yet perhaps his rustiness affected him, as he was slow in anticipating the ball’s trajectory. Instead of catching it, the ball caught him by surprise and bounced off his chest and straight to Villanueva. The 23-year-old Atlético Malagueño left-back instinctively struck at the ball in textbook centre-forward fashion; he had Romero well beat but unfortunately his effort cannoned straight back off the near post.

Alas, the final whistle soon blew and it was greeted by both sides with a mixture of emotions. The visitors’ comeback could not mask the fact that they had once again struggled to contend with the absence of Messi and had been displaced from their perch, now finding themselves 3rd in the CONMEBOL standings. For the hosts, while it is a credible point, they will surely feel that they could have added a little more dignity to their campaign by gaining their first victory.

With Peru having beaten Ecuador 1-0, Venezuela now find themselves five points adrift at the bottom on a paltry two points. Although ten games still remain, as Dudamel’s men are 11 points away from the play-off spot (5th), sights are undoubtedly now set on Qatar 2022 and not Russia 2018. Building a new team with the likes of Juanpi at its core will be uppermost in the manager’s thoughts. After all, next month will involve a trip to Uruguay (1st) and a home clash against Brazil (2nd); Rome was indeed not built in a day.

To keep up-to-date with the Venezuelan football world, feel free to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; A. González (V. García, 71′), O. Vizcarrondo, S. Velázquez, M. Villanueva; Juanpi, T. Rincón,  A. Flores, A. Peñaranda; S. Rondón & J. Martínez (J. Kouffaty, 78′) (Y. Del Valle, 81′).

Argentina (4-2-3-1): S. Romero; P. Zabaleta, N. Otamendi, R. Funes Mori, M. Rojo (N. Gaitán, 83′); J. Mascherano, L. Biglia (L. Alario, 71′); E. Lamela (Á. Correa, 67′), É. Banega, Á. Di María; L. Pratto.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical