Tag Archives: Copa América

Argentina 2-0 Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Quarter-Final (28 June 2019)

History repeats itself in Rio. Here, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’Copa América 2019 exit to Argentina.

Copa América 2019 – Quarter-Final

Friday 28 June 2019 – Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro.

Argentina 2-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Argentina 2-0 Venezuela, Copa América Quarter-Final, 28 June 2019 (YouTube)

There’s Always Next Year

Venezuela’s unbeaten streak came abruptly to an end at the Maracanã, as for the second successive tournament, La Vinotinto were eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Argentina.

Coming into the game, Rafael Dudamel’s men were fancied by more than a few to cause an upset, yet on the day this never once came close to fruition. Indeed, Argentina were first out of the blocks and that is where they remained. In the third minute, Sergio Agüero’s shot from an angle was saved by the feet of goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez and then four minutes later, a knock-on from a corner found defender Germán Pezzella. However, it must have taken him by surprise as, despite being in a very advantageous position, his control let him down and Faríñez instead gratefully received the ball.

Nevertheless, it was only a matter of a time. Thus, a 10th-minute Lionel Messi corner founds its way to Agüero whose low effort back into the mixer was skilfully backheeled into the back of the net by Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martínez to make it 1-0.

Subsequently, Venezuela did occasionally make it forward – Darwin Machís, in particular, often driving at Juan Foyth – but in the first half they never managed to test the gloves of Franco Armani. Gradually, goalmouth action at either end died down, with instead the card count rising: five yellows by the break, with a red seeming inevitable.

Overall, Venezuela’s best first-half chance – a 40th-minute Jhon Chancellor header from a Júnior Moreno corner, which went comfortably over – was barely worthy of the description. Instead, Argentina, without being dominant or particularly eye-catching, were the more creative side and were close to doubling their lead in stoppage-time when Marcos Acuña’s low cross to the back post was only narrowly knocked away from the looming Martínez by Roberto Rosales.

Soon after the restart in the 48th minute, Martínez had a better chance to net for a second time when he was played through by Leandro Paredes yet, despite his promising his position, his strike hit the outside of the post and went out.

However, this did not lead to an Albiceleste avalanche, as instead things became a little more even. Finally, in the 71st minute, Venezuela were able to fashion a substantial opportunity when captain Tomás Rincón chipped the ball into the area where it was met by right-back Ronald Hernández whose shot from close range had to be parried by Armani.

Yet, just three minutes later, any hope of taking the game to penalties was virtually extinguished. Rather, Argentina doubled their lead after Giovani Lo Celso tapped in the ball after Faríñez badly spilled a relatively tame shot from Agüero. It has to be said that it has not been a successful showcase for the Millonarios goalkeeper who, despite making an important stop against Peru, was also fortunate to get away with two mistakes in that game as well as with another against Bolivia. Ultimately, his luck, along with that of his team, ran out in Rio de Janeiro, but at just 21, age is still most definitely on his side.

Before the 90 minutes were up, Venezuela had one more opportunity – a Salomón Rondón header from a Moreno corner which Armani had to instinctively parry – but alas, it was Argentina who progressed to the semi-final date with Brazil.

Taking everything into account, it is somewhat difficult to judge Venezuela’s Copa América campaign. On the one hand, they went unbeaten in their group and even drew with the hosts, yet on the other, they once again frequently looked bereft of ideas when going forward and fell at the same hurdle as in 2016, despite having recently beaten Argentina in a friendly. Inevitably, many fans have voiced their impatience with, and disapproval of, Dudamel’s caution-first approach and he will know as well as anyone the limitations of seeking to frustrate the more illustrious sides whilst hoping a goal can be snatched at the other end.

Still, although it may not feel this way now, by most people’s standards, Venezuela have, at the very least, equalled pre-tournament expectations, if not slightly surpassed them. Their team is relatively settled and they can take what they have gained into the end-of-year friendlies, ahead of next year’s qualifiers for Qatar 2022: the ultimate objective.

Team Selections

Argentina (4-3-3): F. Armani; J. Foyth, G. Pezzella, N. Otamendi, N. Tagliafico; R. De Paul, L. Paredes (G. Lo Celso, 68′), M. Acuña; L. Messi, L. Martínez (Á. Di María, 64′) & S. Agüero (P. Dybala, 85′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, L. Mago (Y. Soteldo, 55′), R. Rosales (L. Seijas, 84′); J. Moreno, Y. Herrera, T. Rincón; J. Murillo, D. Machís (J. Martínez, 71′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Bolivia 1-3 Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Group A (22 June 2019)

Opposition territory was belatedly discovered and fully explored as Venezuela progressed to the quarter-finals. Here, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’Copa América 2019 victory over Bolivia.

Copa América 2019 – Group A

Saturday 22 June 2019 – Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte

Bolivia 1-3 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Bolivia 1-3 Venezuela, Copa América Group A, 22 June 2019 (YouTube)

Next Stop: the Maracanã!

Having previously played two goalless games, Venezuela at last went on the attack, clinching their place in the knock-out stage with a 3-1 win over Bolivia.

Manager Rafael Dudamel made a few changes (two enforced) from the side that battled to a draw with Brazil. One of these, midfielder Juanpi, frequently found himself on the ball with his customary balletic poise and he had a role in the opening goal which came after less than 75 seconds. Here, he, followed by Jefferson Savarino, helped the ball out wide to right-back Ronald Hernández, who curled in a cross which Darwin Machís rose high to, bursting the back of the net with a powerful header. It’s very rare and pleasantly discombobulating to witness anyone other than a centre-back or a certain centre-forward to score with their temple for Venezuela and this sensational start calmed a few jitters early on.

Perhaps a bit too much as, although proceedings were to be relatively even and open, Bolivia did manage to hit the woodwork twice in the first half. The first time occurred in the seventh minute when Cristian Arano’s strike was touched onto the post by Wuilker Faríñez. Then, later on in the 39th minute, Raúl Castro made some space for himself 25 yards out and arrowed an effort that left everyone rooted to the spot as it curled towards the corner of the goal, hitting the inside of the post but bouncing back out.

That’s not to say Venezuela went quiet after the goal. They still got forward with Machís sometimes causing problems on the left flank, particularly in the 29th minute when he received a pass from Juanpi and then crossed it in the middle where it was met by Savarino. Alas, the Real Salt Lake attacker was unable to take proper command of the ball and he instead waywardly missed the target. Nevertheless, the MLS man was to do better with his side’s other major chance within this half, which came just before the referee blew for the break. In this instance, Salomón Rondón charged forward on a counter-attack and slid the ball over to the left to Savarino. At the corner of the area, the latter cut onto his right foot and struck a low testing effort that goalkeeper Carlos Lampe was compelled to parry wide.

In the second half, Bolivia started brightly, with Arano trying another effort from range, but this time Faríñez was able to get down low to collect the powerful strike. A few minutes afterwards, Venezuela belatedly began to reassert themselves with some low crosses that were cut out at the crucial moment. Even so, it nevertheless felt a bit out of the blue when, in the 55th minute, Machís on the left cut over to his right and struck a pearl  into the back of the net. Upon scoring his second goal of the game, he held up the shirt of the injured Arquímedes Figuera, who has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament. A fine goal with which to pay tribute, even if replays did show that it actually took a big deflection off a defender, but details, details…

Despite the two-goal deficit, the Bolivians were not completely out of it. Indeed, in the 64th minute, Faríñez continued his mixed tournament when he needlessly spilled Marcelo Moreno’s shot, which led to Arano’s strike on the rebound needing to be cleared from the goal-line by Luis Mago.

Even so, Venezuela could have put the game to bed shortly afterwards with either of two big chances that they created. First, a minute later when Hernández’s perfect cross was volleyed wide by Rondón, when he should have really hit the target. Then, barely another minute later when another fine Hernández ball was acrobatically scissor-kicked just wide by Machís.

La Vinotinto were still going for that third goal in the 74th minute when Soteldo’s low cross ricocheted into the path of Júnior Moreno, whose shot was blocked by a defender. However, the loose ball was then immediately struck with venom by Savarino, forcing a fine parry from Lampe. Seven minutes later, they came even closer when Hernández put in yet another great cross, which centre-back Jhon Chancellor headed down, bouncing up to hit the underside of the bar, before being gratefully gathered by Lampe.

However, despite all this Venezuelan door-knocking, barely a minute later it was Bolivia who netted the third of the game. They were granted a generous amount of space to centrally find an opening via some short passes before Leonel Justiniano struck low from the edge of the area into the bottom corner of Faríñez’s net.

Momentarily, there was a concern that Venezuela may end up getting shunted into third place in Group A and thus be at the mercy of events elsewhere. This fear lasted barely four minutes. Indeed, Venezuela secured their qualification as the second-placed team in Group A when Soteldo jinked on the left before dinking in a cross that fellow substitute Josef Martínez headed home.

3-1, job done. Although the action wasn’t completely over as, with the clock striking 90′, the Atlanta United striker could well have had another goal when he met Soteldo’s chipped free-kick in considerable space. Alas, from a possibly offside position, he could only head comfortably over.

Still, he and Soteldo will have been delighted to have given Dudamel some selection headaches ahead of the knock-out round. Venezuela had gone into the game having struggled to create chances yet needing to win to ensure qualification. With a slight change of approach and personnel, they have achieved it while demonstrating that they are capable of threatening and finding the goal via several different avenues.

Although the quarter-final will no doubt be considerably tougher, not one of the other teams remaining in the tournament will be taking the unbeaten Vinotinto for granted.

The following day, Argentina finished second in Group B and will be Venezuela’s opponents in a mouth-watering clash to be held on Friday 28 June at the Maracanã. To keep up-to-date with Venezuela’s Copa América campaign, please return to this website as well as follow @DarrenSpherical.

Team Selections

Bolivia (4-2-3-1): C. Lampe; D. Bejarano (R. Fernández, 72′), L. Haquin, A. Jusino, M. Bejarano; C. Arano, L. Justiniano; R. Vaca, F. Saucedo, L. Vaca (R. Castro, 33;); M. Moreno (G. Álvarez, 78′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, L. Mago, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, J. Añor (Y. Soteldo, 58′), T. Rincón; J. Savarino, D. Machís (J. Martínez, 72′); S. Rondón (J. Murillo, 72′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Brazil 0-0 Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Group A (18 June 2019)

The arc of footballing morality bends decisively towards justice as the clinical clarity of technology helps to even up the score. Here, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’s memorable Copa América 2019 clash against Brazil.

Copa América 2019 – Group A

Tuesday 18 June 2019 – Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador

Brazil 0-0 Venezuela

 

Video Highlights of Brazil 0-0 Venezuela, Copa América Group A, 18 June 2019 (YouTube)

“¡Qué Viva el VAR! ¡Bienvenido el VAR!”

Those were the post-match words of Rafael Dudamel after the new technology played a significant role in frustrating the hosts and complementing what was a remarkably resilient Vinotinto display.

In all, three Brazilian goals were ruled out – one by the referee and two with the assistance of VAR. This brings the total of goals denied to Venezuela’s opponents to five in just two games and gives Venezuela two more points than their tireless defensive endeavours would have been rewarded with in previous years.

Over the course of what were in excess of 100 minutes on the pitch, the hosts saw the majority of the ball and, particularly in the early exchanges, seemed determined to compensate for their laboured performance in the opening-day win over Bolivia.

Indeed, they enjoyed over 80 per cent of possession in the first 20 minutes as they ran the Venezuelan defence ragged with quick passes and movement. David Neres and Richarlison – the two standout players from their 2017 Under-20 crop – came closest to scoring, with the former’s 15th-minute strike being sliced wide from a promising position and the latter’s 17th-minute cross-goal shot being parried wide by Wuilker Faríñez.

Despite this, Venezuela were not far off breaking the deadlock themselves when, in the 19th minute a Yangel Herrera cross was glanced agonisingly wide by Salomón Rondón. Although this moment sparked a five-minute spell of Venezuelan pressure which unsettled the home crowd, ultimately it proved to be his side’s only real opportunity of the entire game.

Seleção uneasiness appeared to have been alleviated in the 38th minute when they appeared to take the lead. Here, Dani Alves crossed in low from the right, with Roberto Firmino controlling and striking home. However, the referee was alert to the Liverpool forward pulling down centre-back Mikel Villanueva before taking aim and thus called back the play.

For the remainder of the half, although Brazil maintained overall control, Venezuela did just about leave ajar the potential for an historic upset, most notably when a 43rd-minute counter-attack saw Rondón and Murillo passing the ball between each other but, ultimately,  the latter’s crucial low cross was too close to goalkeeper Alisson.

Boos were heard from the stands at half-time as well as at various points in the second half, even though in this latter period the attacking impetus always resided with Tite’s men, as Venezuela barely made it into opposition territory. Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesús came on after the restart and soon made an impact, first curling an effort wide in 57th minute and, three minutes later, seemingly giving his team the lead. This time, his strike deflected off Villanueva into the path of Firmino, who quickly found the alert Jesús approaching the six-yard-box, who finished off. However, following a VAR review, the position of the Champions League winner Firmino was adjudged to be offside.

Home fan disgruntlement understandably increased, as did the feeling that this was not going to be their night. Not only was the technology coldly and clinically putting the game to rights, but Venezuela’s defensive performance – most notably that of centre-back Yordan Osorio – was proving resolutely defiant. The toll their tracking was taking must have been significant and was possibly a factor in the surprise 66th-minute removal of Yangel Herrera in favour of the speedy attacker Yeferson Soteldo and consequent tactical shift to a 4-4-2. Incidentally, as if to illustrate that a bright future is on the horizon, the arrival of the latter player made him the fourth 2017 Under-20 World Cup runner-up to see action.

Still, Brazil had not completely given in to fate and in the 76th minute they manufactured a scare when Fernandinho’s low cross seemed destined to be tapped in by Jesús, but Osorio’s presence instead helped divert the ball safely to Faríñez.

If the home fans were unhappy with the Portugal-based defender’s physical challenge then, just over ten minutes later, they were absolutely fuming. On the left in the 87th minute, speedy substitute Everton played a one-two before dinking a ball into the centre that Philippe Coutinho prodded home. This time, it appeared that the dam had at last been broken. However, during the VAR review, it was spotted that, before bustling into the back of the net, the Barcelona player’s strike hit the knee of his former club team-mate Firmino – who was standing in an offside position. Thus, VAR, the death of football for some was to yet again offer life to Venezuela.

Given all the stoppages – including two Venezuela players going down injured – the referee allocated nearly ten minutes of added time, during which Brazil managed to create two more chances. First, a 93rd minute low drive across goal by Filipe Luís that only narrowly evaded two sliding forwards and, with the clock approaching 100 minutes, a Fernandinho header that went less than a yard wide of the back post.

Ultimately, however, the match ended 0-0. The feelings of home frustration and disillusionment were matched by the elation and glee of Venezuelans scattered all over the globe. Indeed, even though the defensive organisation deserves enormous credit and the three goal decisions were correct, only a robot could fail to feel a giddy sense of slight fortune about the result. Brazil, whilst not brilliant, dominated proceedings, yet were thwarted by their opponents along with this new panel of arbitration that does not kowtow to home fan and player pressure.

With their two consecutive clean sheets – as well as their final four defensively sound performances in World Cup qualifying – Venezuela know that they certainly have it within themselves to collectively keep the best in their continent at bay. However, with no goals to their name yet a win against Bolivia on Saturday now being almost essential to ensuring their progress to the knock-out stages, a change of tack is surely required. Although a continuation of the same tactics could yield a counter-attacking victory, Dudamel’s men are not going to receive a better opportunity in this tournament to try out their offensive moves than against the side with zero points who also need a win. Of course, a more open game certainly leaves Venezuela somewhat vulnerable at the back but, having so far struggled to link up effectively in the final third, they need to make the most of this match. They must take the game to their opponents, get the win and make everyone genuinely believe that, rather than just being a nuisance merely postponing an inevitable pounding, their stay in Brazil could well instead be extended until the first weekend of July.

Well, after what was experienced in Salvador, anyone could be forgiven for dreaming.

To keep up-to-date with Venezuela’s Copa América campaign, please return to this website as well as follow @DarrenSpherical.

Team Selections

Brazil (4-2-3-1): Alisson; D. Alves, T. Silva, Marquinhos, F. Luís; Casemiro (Fernandinho, 58′), Arthur; Richarlison (G. Jesús, 46′),  P. Coutinho, D. Neres (Everton, 72′); R. Firmino.

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, Y. Herrera (Y. Soteldo, 66′), T. Rincón; J. Murillo, D. Machís (A. Figuera, 76′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 86′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Peru 0-0 Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Group A (15 June 2019)

Creditable if not a classic. Here, @DarrenSpherical recounts La Vinotinto’s first Copa América 2019 game against Peru.

Copa América 2019 – Group A

Saturday 15 June 2019 – Arena do Grêmio, Porto Alegre

Peru 0-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Peru 0-0 Venezuela, Copa América Group A, 15 June 2019 (YouTube)

Venezuela Ride Their Luck To Hang On For A Valuable Point

In their group stage bow, Venezuela were reduced to ten men but VAR and goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez aided them to battle to a potentially crucial point.

Manager Rafael Dudamel fielded the same team that swept aside an under-strength USA, but here, against World Cup-level opposition, they were unable to combine with anything like the same verve. Perhaps it was the fear of the likely ramifications of losing, possibly it owed something to the stadium being less than one-quarter full, but whatever the cause, overall it was a rather lacklustre game.

The frequent stoppages didn’t help matters. The first of these came after seven minutes when Peru thought that they had taken the lead. Talismanic striker Paolo Guerrero was fouled by left-back Luis Mago on the right edge of the area and the resulting free-kick was swung into the danger zone. The cross was contested by Renato Tapia and Faríñez and the goalkeeper was left red-faced as he failed to collect it, with the ball instead bobbling to Christofer Gonzáles, who composed himself well to bounce a strike that ended up in the top corner of the net. However, after a four-minute wait, the goal was ruled out owing to an offside picked up by VAR. Nobody can argue with this decision, but they certainly can with the time it took to reach it as well as how this was factored into the amount of stoppage-time allocated. Indeed, given that several players were to later find themselves down on the deck for prolonged periods, then other than to save the organisers’ blushes, one can only wonder why the referee added on a mere four minutes at the end of the first half.

Still, Peru seemed to be in the ascendancy early on and could well have scored in the 15th minute when they broke up Mago’s side with Jefferson Farfán squaring the ball to Christian Cueva on the left edge of the area. However, despite the defenders being at sixes and sevens, the Santos attacker could only screw his strike wide of the target.

Not for the first time, Venezuela struggled to link up effectively with one another and it wasn’t until the 22nd minute that a chance of note was generated. On the left, Jhon Murillo received a diagonal ball from Jefferson Savarino and crossed into the area, with Yangel Herrera’s touch knocking it on to Salomón Rondón. The Premier League striker poked a point-blank effort goalwards but goalkeeper Pedro Gallese instinctively stuck his leg in the way to prevent a goal.

Five minutes later, Venezuela had another chance when, from an acute angle on the left, Savarino swung in a free-kick that Gallese punched away. Nevertheless, Peru soon re-asserted themselves and fashioned some half-chances: Luis Advíncula’s 32nd-minute low drive from the edge of the area that Faríñez collected at the second attempt and then a 37th-minute chest-and-strike from Guerrero which was hit with intent, albeit over the bar. Perhaps the Internacional forward was just warming up as in the 42nd minute he swung a powerful free-kick around the wall, forcing Faríñez to touch it out behind. From the resulting corner, the goalkeeper’s shaky start to the tournament continued as he weakly punched out the cross and was fortunate that, whilst he was in no-man’s-land, Tomás Rincón was covering the net and able to block Luis Abram’s goal-bound attempt.

All square at the break, the second half started a little brighter for Venezuela as Rondón’s 47th-minute free-kick just outside of the area was struck a yard or so wide.

This was a false dawn and some 15 minutes later when Farfán was granted space to head home, Los Incas thought that they had gained the lead. Again, however, Señor VAR intervened, this time to correctly adjudge that the ball was played offside before the cross even came in to the area.

Thus, another let-off for Venezuela who, courtesy of a Rondón flick five minutes later, suddenly found a hole in the Peruvian backline, but Murillo’s shot from a slight angle was aimed straight at Gallese.

Any hopes that Venezuela may just pull a crafty one on their opponents were largely put to bed in the 74th minute when Mago received his second yellow card for a badly-timed challenge. At this point, many Vinotinto fans’ memories were cast back to the 2015 Copa when fellow left-back Fernando Amorebieta also received his marching orders and a late Peru goal condemned Venezuela to a 1-0 defeat in a similarly crucial encounter.

However, it appears that Venezuela’s No. 1 is less prone to such fatalistic thoughts. Indeed, less than two minutes later he redeemed himself with a fantastic save. This came as Farfán’s effort was deflected to the back post where it looked as if it would be knocked home, yet the Millonarios goalkeeper was somehow able to anticipate the direction of the strike and claw it out from the goal line. Subsequently, the ball was played back into the goalmouth, forcing Faríñez to pull off another close-range save and then watch as the rebound was sliced against the post. As an aside, not that anyone involved was aware at the time, but these latter two attempts were from offside players.

This bout of goalmouth pinball was the biggest scare that the ten men were to face in the final 15 minutes, but not the only one: in the 81st minute, Faríñez was forced to parry wide Edison Flores’ strike from the edge of the area and two minutes later the goalkeeper breathed a sigh of relief as Farfán’s close-range header narrowly evaded the target.

Thus, overall Peru had the better of this 0-0 draw and for the majority of the second half Dudamel’s men, although never completely out of the game, struggled to really test Gallese’s gloves. Substitutes Yeferson Soteldo and Darwin Machís perhaps displayed some late attacking intent and creativity which may well influence the manager’s thinking ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Brazil, but he’ll know that they will need to do a lot better to trouble the hosts.

That said, even though Venezuela’s progression hopes are likely to be determined by the final game against Bolivia, this point, albeit gained in underwhelming circumstances, could undoubtedly prove invaluable to prolonging their stay.

To keep up-to-date with Venezuela’s Copa América campaign, please return to this website as well as follow @DarrenSpherical.

Team Selections

Peru (4-3-3): P. Gallese; L. Advíncula, C. Zambrano, L. Abram, M. Trauco; R. Tapia, C. Gonzáles (A. Carrillo, 88′), Y. Yotún (A. Polo, 66′); J. Farfán, P. Guerrero, C. Cueva (E. Flores, 46′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Rosales, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, L. Mago; J. Moreno (R. Hernández, 78′), Y. Herrera, T. Rincón; J. Savarino (D. Machís, 69′), J. Murillo (Y. Soteldo, 84′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Preview

It’s here! Nothing else matters, least of all your sanity or “career”! The rest of civilisation can take a running jump because the Copa América is set to kick-off! Below, @DarrenSpherical provides an overview of Venezuela’s build-up as well as which players to look out for.

Copa América 2019

Saturday 15 June 2019 – Arena do Grêmio, Porto Alegre.

Peru vs Venezuela

Tuesday 18 June 2019 – Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador.

Brazil vs Venezuela

Saturday 22 June 2019 – Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte.

Bolivia vs Venezuela

groupacopa2019

Who Are You Kidding Getting Dressed This Morning? TV. Now.

Venezuela head into the 46th edition of South America’s flagship international tournament with a better build-up than in the past two competitions.

That is not saying a great deal and nor can it be taken as an indicator of anything.

You’re welcome and hello. After all, in 2015 the selección then managed by Noel Sanvicente arrived in Chile with nine months of largely forgettable displays and no friendlies in the weeks leading up to kick-off. This did not prevent them from beating neighbours Colombia 1-0 in a passionate-yet-disciplined performance. However, they followed that up by crashing out at the first hurdle after losses in their two other group games. Subsequently, less than ten months later, languishing bottom of the World Cup Qualifying table, Sanvicente was out of a job and in came his replacement, Rafael Dudamel.

Prior to 2016’s Copa América Centenario, the ex-international goalkeeper failed to win in any of his four tightly-scheduled pre-tournament warm-ups, yet managed to turn heads by vanquishing both Jamaica and Uruguay before emerging from the group undefeated after a draw against Mexico. Acclaim soon turned to derision for the burgundy boys, however, when Argentina hammered them 4-1 in the quarter-finals and, in the eyes of some, equilibrium was restored to the natural footballing order.

Over the following 16 months, amidst ever-worsening domestic problems, Dudamel proved unable to lift La Vinotinto from last place in the Russia 2018 qualifying standings. However, speculation that the FVF may look elsewhere died down after the coach led the Under-20s to the extraordinary feat of becoming World Cup runners-up in 2017. Bolstered by a new, exciting generation, he was then able to say with considerable justification that the senior side was planning for the future and backed this up by seeing out the remaining four qualifiers without defeat. Yet of course, no momentum could be allowed to just organically build obstacle-free. Thus, after playing a solitary friendly in November 2017, financial difficulties was the stated FVF explanation behind the national team going on international hiatus and not contesting another game until September of last year. Little was helped by this except the team’s official FIFA ranking, which counter-intuitively rose from 52nd to 31st in the barren ten-month period.

However, credit where it is due: since returning to action in September 2018 they have made use of every single FIFA-designated date (as well as one that wasn’t). In all, they have faced 11, often weighty, opponents: three each from their own confederation, CONCACAF and Asia as well as two non-recognised sides stuffed full of La Liga talent.

Results have been better than in the run-ups to 2015 and 2016, if somewhat mixed: four wins, four defeats and three draws. Most spectacular of the victories was March’s 3-1 humbling of Argentina at the Wanda Metropolitano. Yet casual observers who project from this that Venezuela are therefore serious contenders for the Copa may wish to temper their prognostications by first reviewing three of the reversals: the 2-1 against Catalonia just three days after mauling Messi’s mob, the 4-2 versus Basque Country last October and, most pertinently of all, the 3-1 education meted out by a star-lite Mexico against a full-strength Venezuela barely a week ago.

Dudamel himself has been somewhat sheepish about his team’s prospects, instead placing more emphasis on the tournament serving as good build-up for the true goal: qualification to Qatar 2022. Perhaps he has been chastened from earlier this year when, after many from the Venezuelan camp proclaimed their desire to win the Under-20 South American Championship, his 2019 crop failed to even qualify for the soon-to-be-concluded World Cup.

All that being said, most would back Venezuela to achieve the minimum expectation at Brazil 2019: qualifying from Group A. The opening game against Peru is largely justified as being billed as crucial, even if losing to Los Incas plus the hosts – who La Vinotinto have never beaten in a competitive game – yet pulverising atrocious-travellers Bolivia could theoretically still be enough to see them advance as one of the two best third-place teams.

Not that anyone wishes to be cornered into such a scenario. If the team does progress to the quarter-finals then, in a tournament with a healthy history of surprises – not least Venezuela’s record-best run to the semi-finals in 2011 – they could be forgiven for daydreaming about extending their stay.

After all, what the preceding nine months have produced is a relatively settled way of playing. Indeed, Dudamel evidently intends to utilise a 4-3-2-1 formation, with the defence being covered by a midfield trio of ball-winners and the striker supported by rapid transitions, particularly from the two attackers in tow. Furthermore, regarding the personnel, even if the three recent warm-up friendlies have caused some slight re-thinks – mostly in the defence – there are not likely to be any significant line-ups surprises for Saturday’s opener.

Of those nailed-on to be fielded, four players stand out as being fundamental to Venezuela’s campaign: Fledgling Faríñez and the Three R’s of Experience.

A teenager on the bench in the last two Copas, the 21-year-old sprightly shot-stopper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) has a big chance to further enhance his already glowing reputation and will doubtless be called upon to make up for the defence’s shortcomings. In front, whether on the left or his more-favoured right side, will be the rejuvenated Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain), who last October was brought back into the fold following a curious two-year absence and will be vitally important tenaciously tracking opponents and contributing to attacks. As ever, captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) will also endeavour to be assiduous in his primary task of closing down attackers and reinforcing the defence, as well kickstarting and sometimes contributing to the forward play. Lastly, at the very top of the pitch will be recently-crowned all-time leading goalscorer Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England), who has also netted at all three Copas he’s been involved in and will be on the prowl to wound defenders’ egos with his muscular hold-up play, supreme leaping and wearying workrate.

Some of the individuals he is likely to combine with the most are amongst a secondary group of five within the squad. These are talented players with less-celebrated reputations who nevertheless possess the potential to assert themselves as indispensable assets during the tournament. In this batch are included three fleet-footed attacking-midfielders: Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), a near-certain starter against Peru who is likely to be paired with either Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy) or Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA). The former appeared to have the nod up until the Mexico friendly but after being dropped from the subsequent line-up, the latter, having flourished in the 3-0 win over the USA last Sunday, has more than an outside chance. Either way, both will undoubtedly see action in Brazil.

The two other players who could rise to prominence are the pair pencilled in to aid Rincón in front of the back four: Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) and Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England). If only due to his greater propensity to get forward, the latter has perhaps a higher chance of garnering attention, but both will certainly be wholly absorbed in their largely unglamorous roles.

Herrera, as well as Faríñez, are the two definite starters out of the five players from 2017’s Under-20 squad who have also been convened here. However, moving onto the dubious defence, if Dudamel opts to place Rosales at left-back then, with Alexander González having been omitted, the 21-year-old apprentice Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway) could make that three by taking up the right-back mantle. Alternatively, if Rosales is placed in his natural position – as he was against the USA – then Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile) would appear to be the front-runner for the left flank. That said, as Mago is far from an established fixture, he is vulnerable to being overlooked in favour of the versatile Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), who has not played in the warm-ups owing to a minor injury.

As for the centre-backs, Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain) and Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal) seem the likeliest initial partnership, what with the former playing the final two friendlies and the latter having enjoyed an encouraging club season. However, this is not a niche bet that anyone would place with confidence as Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar) was instead selected after Osorio’s poor showing against Mexico and he also started in the first warm-up against Ecuador.

So, to summarise the Venezuelan defensive quagmire succinctly: there is every chance that all seven defenders will make it onto the pitch during the tournament.

Still, despite this uncertainty as well as their tendency to get exposed, Vinotinto defences, in tandem with the midfielders, have, over the years, also occasionally shown themselves to be capable of collectively rising to be greater than the sum of their parts. This happened in the opening game of Copa América 2015, in virtually all of 2016’s group stage and also in the final four games of World Cup qualification in 2017. Admittedly, they can also ride their luck a little, although at least they now possess a highly-rated goalkeeper to save them from themselves.

Lastly, some MLS-watchers may be wondering where hotshot Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) fits into the scheme of things. Well, although a partnership with Rondón is not completely out of the question as it was deployed at the 2016 Copa and may be used if Venezuela are chasing a game late on, it was never tried in any of the most recent friendlies. Instead, with Dudamel preferring a lone forward, Martínez is more likely to make regular appearances from the bench, whether as a replacement for Rondón or, quite plausibly, in one of the two attacking positions behind. However, for these spots he will not only be competing with Murillo, Machís and Savarino, but also with pint-sized Class of ’17 graduate Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil). The dribbler extraordinaire beloved of many talent-spotters has only played 26 minutes for the national team since last September but he has been called up as an eleventh-hour replacement for the injured Adalberto Peñaranda. His initial omission – allegedly due to a problem processing his visa for the warm-up tour in the USA – as well as that of Rómulo Otero was not greeted favourably by a considerable number of fans, but now, having met up with the side in the country where he plies his trade, he’s good to go.

As, mercifully, is yours truly. ¡Vamos chamos!

To keep track of how things pan out, please keep checking back to this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad for Copa América 2019

Ven2019CopaAmerica

Note: Owing to an injury, Yeferson Soteldo has replaced Adalberto Peñaranda.

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia), Joel Graterol (Zamora FC) & Rafael Romo (APOEL FC, Cyprus).

Defenders

Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia) & Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Argentina 4-1 Venezuela – Copa América Centenario Quarter-Final (18 June 2016)

Copa América Centenario Quarter-Final

Saturday 18 June 2016 – Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA

Argentina 4-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Argentina 4-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario Quarter-Final, 18 June 2016 (YouTube).

La Vinotinto Outshone in the USA but Exit with Spirit of Renewal

Venezuela’s head-turning run in Copa América 2016 was brought to a shuddering halt, as Rafael Dudamel’s men were outclassed in Foxborough.

Tata Martino’s men set out with intent and took the lead with less than eight minutes played. 40 yards out, Lionel Messi picked up the ball on the right and, with his left boot, rapidly arced a sublime ball  over Oswaldo Vizcarrondo’s head which Gonzalo Higuaín exquisitely converted home with a stretched half-volley.

Although La Vinotinto did not sit back following the goal, they nevertheless continued to be largely on the back-foot against their more illustrious counterparts. Amongst several scares, they somehow avoided conceding a penalty in the 19th minute when, upon receiving a pass in the area, Messi looked to be clumsily fouled by Arquímedes Figuera. However, the Mexican referee thought otherwise.

Not that La Albiceleste were to be deterred in the slightest. Nine minutes later, Figuera was to succeed in gifting his opponents a goal as his suicidal back-pass went straight to Higuaín, who rounded goalkeeper Dani Hernández before slotting home for his own and his country’s second.

To his credit, Figuera went some way towards redeeming himself in the 33rd minute, as he robbed Javier Mascherano some 30-odd yards from goal. Salomón Rondón picked up the ball and, benefitting from Josef Martínez’s run that left a defender in two minds, was able to drive into space before striking hard from the edge of the area. Unfortunately for the West Bom marksman, Sergio Romero was alert and his right glove was to thwart as the ball came straight back out, before it was hastily cleared. Six minutes later, Rondón was to come much closer as he used his impressive neck muscles to direct Alejandro Guerra’s corner goalwards past the static Man United goalkeeper, only to be denied by the far post.

Venezuela were to continue their impressive attacking spell. Just two minutes later, a loose ball fell to roaming left-back, Rolf Feltscher who tried his luck from just outside the area, seeing his shot deflect off a defender and nearly loop above and beyond the goalkeeper. However, Romero did well to backtrack and tip over for a corner.

Finally, in the 42nd minute, Venezuela’s pressure paid off as Rondón creeped in a low cross from the right to find his strike-partner Martínez. Romero seemingly undid some of his good work by rashly racing towards the ball and bringing down the Torino forward for a clear penalty.

Yet, Brazil-based Luis Manuel Seijas stepped up and instantly made himself a figure of ridicule on social media the world over. His dinked, Panenka-style penalty went straight down the middle and into the grateful gloves of Romero. The Venezuelan will indeed not be allowed to forget this in a hurry, with one commenter on The Guardian‘s website suggesting that in the future when such audacious efforts go awry, they should be universally known as a ‘Seijas’.

Having spurned this opportunity to get back into the game just before the break, optimism in the Vinotinto ranks must have been on the wane. The match was nearly settled within a minute of the restart following a dangerous low ball that caused many jitters in the box.

It definitely was all done and dusted on the hour-mark. In another instance of poor Venezuelan concentration, Vizcarrondo passed the ball straight to Nicolas Gaitán  some 40 yards out. He rapidly passed it forward to Higuaín, who then laid it off to Messi, with the Barcelona superstar quickly finding Gaitán who had rushed towards the inside-left edge of the area. It was all clinically and stylistically executed, with the Benfica attacker returning the pass to Messi, who poked home with consummate grace.

Dudamel’s men were not go out entirely with a whimper, however. Indeed, in the 70th minute, Guerra cut onto his right on the left and curled in a perfect inswinging cross which Rondón – benefitting from some defenders dreaming of the next round – leaped up high to meet and head home.

The few seriously contemplating whether this meant ‘game on’ were soon stopped mid-thought as Argentina went up the other end to get their fourth. This time, following some more rapid interplay, Messi fed substitute Erik Lamela who hooked a shot goalward that appeared to catch Hernández off-guard as he struggled to stop what should have been a relatively comfortable save. Instead, he added to his country’s goalkeeping woes as the ball trickled past him and Argentina marched into the semi-finals.

Thus ended Venezuela’s otherwise promising 2016 Copa América, a tournament in which they had nevertheless defied all expectations. They came to the USA bottom of their World Cup qualification group and with a new manager who had not won in his opening four matches; in these friendlies, they did not appear to have had enough time to work out the best system and personnel. However, their defensively solid opening day win against Jamaica gave rise to considerable optimism and when they beat Uruguay with a similar approach to virtually seal qualification with a game to spare, a sizeable amount of pride had returned amongst Venezuelan football fans. Subsequently, though they had to settle for a draw, when they led against pre-tournament dark horses Mexico, it was hard not to get a little carried away.

Alas, if some realism did not enter the minds of all Venezuelans after the end of that match, then it certainly has now. This could well turn out to be little more than a brief summer fling with euphoria to be crushed by the slog of the World Cup qualifying campaign – a battle that some feel was lost a long time. However, there was plenty on display in the USA to suggest that Venezuela can go some way to getting back on track and, though making it to Russia seems a tall order, at least rebuilding and nabbing a few more scalps over the next year or so seem entirely plausible aims.

Team Selections

Argentina (4-3-3): S. Romero; G. Mercado, N. Otamendi, R. Funes Mori, M. Rojo; A. Fernández, J. Mascherano, É. Banega (L. Biglia, ’80); L. Messi, G. Higuaín (S. Agüero , ’74), N. Gaitán (E. Lamela, ’67).

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; A. González, W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra, T. Rincón (S. Velázquez, ’85), A. Figuera, L. Seijas  (Juanpi, ’55); S. Rondón, J. Martínez (Y. Del Valle, ’80).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Mexico 1-1 Venezuela -Copa América Centenario Group C (13 June 2016)

With the group stage complete, Venezuelans are slightly disappointed to have finished 2nd. Who would have thought…?

Copa América Centenario Group C

Monday 13 June 2016 – NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas, USA

Mexico 1-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Mexico 1-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario Group C, 13 June 2016 (YouTube).

Corona Thwarts Resilient Venezuela 

Venezuela narrowly missed out on an unprecedented third consecutive Copa América victory, as Jesús Corona’s late strike means Rafael Dudamel’s men finish 2nd in Group C and will most likely face Argentina in the Quarter-Finals.

Up until the 80th minute, it looked as if La Vinotinto were going to defy the odds yet again as they put in a fine defensive performance, soaking up huge amounts of pressure and once more dispelling the myth that Venezuelans lack mental fortitude. The fact that they were facing a Mexico side with nine changes to their previous line-up should do little to undermine their achievement – especially as they themselves had made five, including consigning star man Salomón Rondón to the bench.

In contrast to their other two group games, Dudamel’s charges were quicker off the mark, with the opening goal coming after just 10 minutes. This time, Alejandro Guerra’s free-kick from the left was curled into the area where Christian Santos – making his debut in the tournament – headed the ball back towards centre-back Sema Velázquez. The Portugal-based centre-back, himself fielded instead of Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, was afforded an obscene amount of space to fire home a sensational bicycle kick. This was certainly not what the sea of green in the stands had eagerly paid months in advance of kick-off to see. Yet thrilled though the minority of Venezuelans were at the time, it could not have been long before a few cautious sorts began to contemplate the cliché regarding scoring ‘too early’. Indeed, if they were going to beat El Tri for the first ever time, they knew a lot of defensive work was going to be required.

That said, though Juan Carlos Osorio’s side had more of the ball in the first half, the quality of the chances they created certainly did not reward the voluminous and nerve-jangling support they received. Also, owing to the number of bodies they often committed forward, they were occasionally vulnerable on the break.

Indeed,  in the 22nd minute, a slight fright was provided by one Yonathan Del Valle, who from the left hustled his way into the area and struck a rasping shot which swerved wide of the far post. It was one of a few occasions that the Kasımpaşa attacker was to both remind the hardcore of his abilities as well as introduce himself to thousands, if not millions, of fans who may have missed him first time around. After all, this was a remarkable personal story, as it was the player’s first international appearance for four years, going back to June 2012 when the then-22 year-old was considered a potential star of the future. Yet, just a year ago around the time of his 25th birthday, angered by the subsequent lack of opportunities and being overlooked by then-manager Noel Sanvicente, he resigned from the national team. However, the tables appeared to have turned as while he faces much competition at the top of the field, one suspects that this will not be his final outing in the burgundy shirt.

Returning to the action, though it felt to many Venezuelans that just one error could bring them swiftly back down to earth, Mexico continued to threaten without really making the opposition goalkeeper work too hard. Their opportunities were no more than half-chances, such as in the 34th minute when Jorge Torres crossed in for Jesús Corona whose diving header went straight to Dani Hernández. Or four minutes later when Héctor Herrera’s corner was headed by Héctor Moreno against the arm of defender Wilker Ángel – claims were made, but nothing was given.

When the half-time whistle blew, plenty of Venezuelan fans were left daydreaming about the further kudos from unexpected quarters that three consecutive 1-0 victories would bring their nation.

After the restart, the game continued with Mexico dominating the play and they were to get closer and closer to the target as the final whistle approached. One early notable moment was in the 50th minute when Porto full-back Miguel Layún played a one-two on the left inside the area and slid it along the goalmouth where it looked like it was going to be a tapped in by Oribe Peralta. However, centre-back Ángel once again got himself in the way, this time rather dramatically as his extremely low diving head diverted the ball off for a corner. A fine example of a player putting himself on the line for his country.

There was little respite for Venezuela as in the 57th minute on the inside-right 30 yards out, Corona picked up the ball and struck hard with his left but his shot went several yards wide. Then, just after the hour-mark, Layún from 25 yards out hit a fearsome shot that Hernández simply punched as far away outside of his area as possible.

Three minutes later, a better chance was created as Layún played in a low ball from the left. Rolf Feltscher’s attempted clearance went straight to Jesús Molina who, first-time, instinctively hit the ball and had to watch it trickle agonisingly wide of the far post.

However, just before this moment, Del Valle had managed to get away from his marker to hit a low strike at the goalkeeper and, a few minutes later, his replacement Josef Martínez had a golden opportunity to double his nation’s lead. Indeed, the Torino forward was slid through just inside the area, yet though he had plenty to aim for, he struck far too close to goalkeeper José Corona.

Venezuela were made to rue this miss and were nearly back on level terms in the 75th minute when Herrera’s free-kick in from the right met the head of Diego Reyes. However, Hernández earned plaudits around the globe for his astonishing double-save as he stretched down low to thwart and then, with the goal gaping, also blocked out the rebound whilst on the floor.

Nevertheless, Mexico kept up the onslaught. In the 79th minute Corona embarked upon a fine run on the left, powering through the Venezuelan back-line before striking wide from the left of the area. La Vinotinto survived, though not for long as barely a minute later the tenacious Porto youngster roamed infield from the left before taking the ball directly past four or five players and then blasting home for a sensational equaliser. The Venezuelan rearguard, which up until this point had seemed inpenetrable, was made to look all-too-mortal by this humbling. It was a great moment of relief for the El Tri faithful.

However, though their opponents were on the ropes for the remainder of the game, they did not merely lay down and invite the inevitable. Instead, with just over five minutes left, out of nowhere Martínez chested and teed himself up for an overhead kick, which dipped tantalisingly and had to be parried out for a corner.

Nevertheless, it was generally Mexico who were on the front-foot and with two minutes left, they came close to completing the reversal. This time, a ball was pulled back from the right-hand byline for substitute and fan-favourite Javier Hernández. However, though ‘Chicarito’ had a fair amount of the goal to aim for, Velázquez managed to get in his way and block his shot.

Thus, when the final whistle went, though they no longer had a 100 per cent record in the tournament and had in fact experienced their first draw after 11 consecutive wins, Mexico could console themselves with their first-placed finish. However, if as seems likely, Chile finish 2nd in Group D,  one can not help but wonder if a meeting with last year’s winners is really much of a reward for Mexico emerging victorious from their own group.

For Venezuela, however, just being in the knock-out phase seems like a prize in itself. Also, though they will face some sublime attacking talent, they will have picked up plenty of confidence from the way their players have absorbed so much pressure in the past three games, conceding just one goal.

One can not help but wonder if these strengths will be crucial for La Vinotinto as they enter a stage of the tournament in which, for the quarter- and semi-finals at least, matches level after 90 minutes go straight to penalties.

To find out how Venezuela get on, remember to keep up-to-date with @DarrenSpherical and this website.

Team Selections

Mexico (4-5-1): José Corona; P. Aguilar, D. Reyes, H. Moreno, J. Torres (M. Layún, 46;); H. Lozano, H. Herrera, J. Molina (J. Hernández, 68′), A. Guardado, J. Aquino (Jesús Corona, 18′); O. Peralta.

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; A. González, S. Velázquez, W. Ángel, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra (R. Otero, 83′), T. Rincón, L. Seijas, A. Peñaranda; C. Santos (S. Rondón, 78′) & Y. Del Valle (J. Martínez, 65′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical