Tag Archives: Copa Libertadores 2015

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (21 April 2015)

Tuesday 21 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán

Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz

Highlights of Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 21 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Victory, At Last: Huracán Dreams Shattered by Clinical Mineros

Mineros de Guayana may have already been eliminated from this year’s Copa Libertadores yet while few fans turned up to see them formally bow out, those that did were rewarded with the first (and only) victory by a Venezuelan team in this year’s competition.

This came at the 18th (6th, specifically for Mineros) and final attempt in a match that meant considerably more to their Argentine opponents who, had they won, would have joined Brazilian champions Cruzeiro in the next round. Alas, it was not to be, as they failed to take advantage of the hosts’ low morale and absence of several first-team regulars, all of whom are recent internationals: Gabriel Cichero, Edgar Jiménez, Richard Blanco and Rafael Romo (not to mention 41-year-old Luis Vallenilla, even if his last cap for La Vinotinto was over seven years ago). Instead, the Bolivian champions Club Universitario de Sucre progressed.

While Huracán initially took the game to the Venezuelans and were to perhaps edge possession in the first half, they went behind in the 10th minutes. The goal originated in a corner from Ángelo Peña, a talented individual with international experience and brief spells in Portugal and Brazil under his belt. He was to have a memorable game roaming all across the line behind the very tip of the Mineros attack, feeding in his team-mates on numerous occasions. His cross from the left was headed straight back to him but, undeterred, he swiftly left a defender for dead before inching into the area where he chipped a delightful ball over the goalkeeper to the back post where it was headed in by Colombian Zamir Valoyes.

For the visitors and many neutrals at least, this was not in the script. Six minutes later, the Argentines briefly thought they were level when Federico Vismara quickly took a free-kick that was knocked into the area for Ramón Ábila to tap in. However, the striker – nicknamed ‘Wanchope’ after the ex-Costa Rican international with what is apparently a disconcerting lack of irony – was offside and the goal was ruled out. Ábila was to frustrate fans, team-mates and coaching staff alike with his positioning throughout the game, repeatedly being ruled offside – a familiar story for those who have watched him regularly this season in the domestic Primera División.

For the following twenty minutes, the many Argentine forays into Venezuelan territory struggled to legally bypass the opposition’s back line or culminate with a testing shot on goal. Most crosses were blocked and/or headed out and while Ábila wormed a relatively harmless attempt wide, the majority of efforts stopped by goalkeeper Luis Romero were struck from a distance. By contrast, Mineros were to have clearer sights of goal, working two opportunities in quick succession from similar positions on the left inside the area. The first, after 34 minutes, fell to goalscorer Valoyes but, though he had a defender hot on his heels, he should have done better than blazing over the crossbar. Two minutes later, Edson Castillo was played through and did well to aim a left-footed shot across goal that provoked a rather theatrical parry from Marcos Díaz.

Throughout this half, though the Argentine domestic strugglers often attacked with intent, with the final key pass or cross eluding a forward, they were often conceding a great deal of space that was exploited by the likes of Peña and a few other team-mates who were to also put in good performances. Three of these were to combine impressively for the second goal on the 40th-minute mark. Indeed, Luis Guerra, an 18-year-old in his debut season, embarked on an eye-catching run that began in his own half and proceeded up the left-channel, evading three challenges along the way. Upon reaching the edge of the area, he played the ball towards the dee to Venezuela international Rafael Acosta, who swiftly arced it to Valoyes on the right, who in turn, confidently hit an exquisite shot with the outside of his foot to make it 2-0. The Colombian had scored his fourth goal in this year’s Copa Libertadores – all of which have come against the Argentines.

Two goals down and not even half-time, Huracán were heading out. The best they could muster in the five minutes before the interval was a header from Ábila that went marginally wide of the near post – albeit, once again from an offside position. Such transgressions by ‘El Wanchope’ and his team-mates as well as other decisions going against the visitors were to continue in the second half. Indeed, after another offside goal – this time netted in the 54th minute by Chilean  Edson Puch –  the coaching staff were visibly animated and, following each sounding of the whistle, continued to be as what was anticipated to be an historical day turned increasingly sour.

Their side persevered with their ever-fruitless attacks while affording the hosts more and more space to counter. Luis Guerra was always seeking ways to take advantage of this and he was to contribute further to his memorable performance in the 66th minute when he had a hand in the third and final goal. On the left, he cut into the area, turned back from the byline and, with his right foot, squeezed a ball through to Acosta whose first shot was blocked, only to come back to him to strike home into the net. 3-0, game over. The players on the away bench were utterly stunned and, in the aftermath, could do little but stare with their hands on their heads as the ramifications of this missed opportunity sunk in.

In the remainder of the game, each side had at least another notable long range effort but the one chance that perhaps summed up Huracán’s miserable day came with just over ten minutes left. Half-time substitute Cristian Espinoza – who impressed on the wing in Argentina’s victorious Sudamericano Sub-20 side earlier this year – chipped in a ball that Ábila, eight yards out and unmarked, contrived to head wide of the far post.

The final whistle marked a game to forget for the visitors. Many neutrals as well as Argentines were rather rash to proclaim this result to be a surprise, if not an embarrassment. Seemingly, they were forgetting the 2-2 draw in Buenos Aires back in February and somewhat overstating the reputation of Huracán, a newly promoted side who currently reside in 25th in a bloated 30-team division. This club was unable to stop Zamir Valoyes scoring twice in both Argentina and Venezuela which, along with Rafael Acosta’s strike, constituted the only times Mineros de Guayana managed to find the net in this year’s Copa Libertadores. As these five strikes also generated the only four points the Venezuelans gained in the tournament, the Argentines would do well to show a little more humility.

For Mineros, while the result can not be said to have been a complete surprise, given they were playing for nothing and 4-5 first-team regulars were missing, not many would have anticipated that they would have won by three goals. Given this game was the final one contested by Venezuelan teams and marked the solitary group stage win, following a winless run of 18, one must try not to read too much into it. Mineros are struggling domestically, they have sacked two managers this season and will not be competing in next year’s Libertadores; with only three league games left, it is unlikely this game will have much significance in the long run.

Nevertheless, they did well to salvage some pride and no doubt spoil the ’18 games, 0 wins’ narratives of planned obituaries for the three Venezuelan teams. One such review – albeit, marginally more level-headed – of the campaigns of Mineros de Guayana, Zamora and Deportivo Táchira will be appearing on this website in the upcoming days, so please keep returning to the site for that as well as much more.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Zamora FC 0-3 Montevideo Wanderers – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5 (16 April 2015)

Thursday 16 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 5

Zamora FC 0-3 Montevideo Wanderers

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas

Goal Highlights of Zamora FC 0-3 Montevideo Wanderers, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 16 April 2015 (Courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Demoralised Zamora End Campaign on a Familiar Note

Fresh from a 5-0 league drubbing at the hands of lowly Llaneros de Guanare, the Venezuelan champions ended their dismal Libertadores campaign with their sixth consecutive loss – the worst record  of any of the three sides from this nation of perennial underdogs.

Although they were a tad unfortunate to not get anything out of the barnstorming opening-day game against their Uruguayan opponents, judging by the sparsely attended ground, there was little local enthusiasm to see if they could turn them over on their own patch. The match that transpired was to largely dovetail with the atmosphere in which it was played, being largely of little interest to the neutral. This could only benefit the visitors who were actually playing for second place and ultimately succeeded in doing so by taking most of the chances that they engineered, thus finishing above Chilean outfit Palestino.

Though few will have cared at the time, let alone now, Zamora were largely matching their opponents in the first half-hour, with Jhon Murillo running at the defenders and Luis Vargas, amongst others, taking shots from range. However, none of their opportunities were particularly threatening and when the Wanderers took the lead in the 34th minute, those of a fatalistic disposition could not help but feel that the inevitable had arrived. The goal itself was a tap-in by Matías Santos – scorer of the crucial winner in the home tie against Palestino – following a low cross into the goalmouth from Joaquín Vergés. As the half petered out, it was actually Vergés who could have doubled the visitors’ advantage when he was played through a minute before the interval but goalkeeper Edward Ibarbo did well to instinctively put out an arm to deflect the ball over at point-blank range.

The second half began similarly to the first, with Zamora having their fair share of the ball but, largely consigned to fruitless runs on the wings and long shots, rarely creating anything of note. If there was any desire for at least a point it was swiftly lost when the second goal went in after 64th minutes. Receiving a lofted pass from Santiago Martínez on the left flank, Nicolás Albarracín, centrally in the dee, controlled and then clinically struck a perfectly placed left-foot shot into the bottom right-hand corner. The goalscorer, who is still a mere 21 years of age, has been one of the Montevideo side’s best players in this group stage and though he has already experienced a brief spell abroad with Serie B’s Spezia, another foreign foray does not seem out of the question.

Albarracín was to further enhance his reputation by playing a key role in the third and final goal. With two minutes left, he robbed the ball off the dawdling Jordani Abreu some 35 yards from goal, immediately passed to Gastón Rodríguez before inching towards the edge of the area, where he again received the ball and then laid it off for Rodríguez to strike home emphatically. A great bit of teamwork between the two players, both of whom have scored twice in this year’s competition, with all four coming against their beleaguered Venezuelan opponents. Soon after the final whistle was blown, the relatively modest Montevideo club had more reason to celebrate as their place in the knock-out phase had been confirmed following Boca Juniors’ 2-0 victory over Palestino.

Zamora, on the other hand, can take away little from their participation in this year’s tournament. Ultimately, Palestino and Montevideo Wanderers proved themselves to be far from pushovers but, when the draw was made, more than a few Venezuelans felt that the bicampeones would make a decent fist of the fight for second place. Indeed, in last year’s competition they finished just a point off this spot, having recorded wins against more established opposition in the form of Colombia’s Santa Fe and Paraguay’s Nacional. Sadly and yet unsurprisingly, losing key individuals – manager Noel Sanvicente to the national side, midfielder Pedro Ramírez to Sion and top-scorer Juan Falcón to Metz – following their second championship win in May 2014 cost them dearly. To go from pushing hard for a knock-out place to losing every game and having the worst defensive record in the competition (21 goals conceded) is jarring. Given the relatively humble means and stature of this club even within Venezuelan football (their two championship wins are the only two in their history), one can not be confident that they will be making any improvements in the immediate future.

To read more about the shortcomings of their Copa Libertadores campaigns as well as those of their fellow Venezuelan sides, Deportivo Táchira and Mineros de Guayana, make sure you return to this site after the group stage is concluded in its entirety, as there will be an article published. In the meantime, if there is any enthusiasm remaining out there, then look out for the final Libertadores clash involving a Venezuelan side, Mineros de Guayana vs Huracán on Tuesday 21 April, a report of which should also be up on this site soon afterwards.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (14 April 2015)

Tuesday 14 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira

 Estadio Presidente Juan Domingo Perón, Avellaneda, Buenos Aires

Goal Highlights of Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 14 April 2015 (courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Rare Venezuelan Optimism Cruelly Dashed Following Late Blunder

Despite already being out of this year’s Copa Libertadores, Venezuela’s Deportivo Táchira nearly pulled off a shock victory against the Argentine champions but were to ultimately be denied by a comeback painfully completed at the death.

Given the significance of seeding in the draw for the knock-out phase and the fact that the hosts had yet to confirm their position at the top of group, they certainly had good reason to go for victory here in their final group game. However, perhaps their 5-0 demolition of their opponents in San Cristóbal back in February was a little too fresh in their memories as while they enjoyed much of the ball in the first half, clear chances were in short supply. Indeed, although Iván Pillud on the right and, more centrally, the likes of Washington Camacho, Óscar Romero, Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou, played the ball around a lot in the final third, they tended to either lack the killer pass or were blocked off by a wall-cum-gauntlet of Táchira players. The closest they came in the first half-hour was when the competition’s top-scorer Bou was played through on 18 minutes but goalkeeper José Contreras raced out to block him off. He was, in any event, offside.

Despite the general flow favouring the group leaders, the humble visitors still managed to make their presence known in the early stages, gaining free-kicks in promising positions and enjoying attacks down the flanks led by Yohandry Orozco and José Alí Meza. It was to be the latter, who has started less than half of his side’s league games and is more often used as an impact substitute, who opened the scoring after 30 minutes. To everyone’s surprise, not least that of the player who had hitherto only managed to find the net in the Copa Venezuela, he profited from some slack marking around the halfway line. He gained some space, dribbled down the inside-right channel while holding off two defenders, before completing what amounted to a 360-degree turn and striking home from the edge of the area.

This most certainly was not in the script. Though it should have served as a wake-up call for the hosts, little changed in the immediate aftermath. Their first real chance to get back in the game occurred in the 37th minute when a cross from Romero on the right reached Milito on the stretch at the back post but he was in such an acute position that he could only head into the side-netting. Their next effort of note was their best of the half and occurred just before the break. Bou received a pass on the right within the area and slapped a fine shot low across goal that Contreras did well to tip onto the far post. The ball rebounded out, narrowly avoiding an attacker, with the Venezuelans just about escaping and heading into the break with their unanticipated lead in tact.

While half-time for both sides must have involved drastically contrasting team-talks, these no doubt required rapid re-thinks less than five minutes after the restart. Incredibly, following on from a pass by César González, Meza managed to find the net again, nimbly evading a challenge before striking home a low effort at Saja’s near post to make it 2-0. Even though Táchira were effectively playing for nothing and Racing’s position in the group made their attitude towards the game questionable, the Venezuelans were nevertheless in dreamland. Leading the full-strength Argentine champions by two goals on their own turf is certainly not to be sniffed at and even taking into account the caveats, this was shaping up to be one of the finest Venezuelan moments in the Copa Libertadores.

Alas, it was not to be. The fightback began in the 58th minute when the widely admired strike-force of Gustavo Bou and Diego Milito combined, with the former receiving a diagonal ball then hitting a cross into the goalmouth for the ex-Inter Milan marksman to tap in.

With their lead halved, manager Daniel Farías soon made changes, the first of which was the surprising replacement of Meza with the less mobile Uruguayan forward Pablo Olivera. Not only had Meza scored twice in what was arguably the game of his life, but by chasing long-range balls and dribbling at the opposition’s back line, he was often playing a leading role in relieving the strain on the defence. With his withdrawal went such moments.

Instead, Racing ramped up the pressure, pitching their tents in the Venezuelan half. In the 67th minute substitute Brian Fernández must have rattled some nerves as much as he shattered the crossbar with a ferocious strike from 25 yards that was hit with such velocity that it rebounded well over 30 yards away from the goal. Denied, but not for long as three minutes later Bou drew his team level. A combination of opposing players headed on a corner to the competition’s top scorer and following a low strike at the near post, he increased his tally to seven goals in six matches.

With twenty minutes still left on the clock and the momentum with the hosts, Táchira were to offer very little going forward, content instead to aim for the reduced glory of a draw. As time wore on, Farías enhanced his reputation for unadventurous and unpopular substitutions, firstly taking off César González, who played the crucial passes that led to both goals and replaced him with 37-year-old Jorge Rojas. Then, with a couple of minutes left, top scorer Gelmin Rivas came on for pacey Yohandry Orozco, who had been playing a role not entirely dissimilar to that of Meza and who was also taken off in an earlier Libertadores game with Club Guaraní to widespread dismay.

Nevertheless, when the 90-minute mark was reached, the game was still 2-2 and owing to a combination of the resilience of the visitors and the lack of urgency of the hosts, Racing had not done much to further threaten the opposition goal. However, just seconds later, disaster struck. On the edge of the area, Fernández dipped a shoulder and quickly got a shot away that should have been comfortable for Contreras. However, to what will be the goalkeeper’s eternal horror, he did not get enough of his body behind the ball and it went under him, trickling agonisingly over the line. Racing, in little over half an hour, had completed the turnaround whereas Táchira, having done so well to confound expectations, ultimately were to go away empty handed and, particularly in the case of Contreras, permanently scarred.

Thus ended the 2015 Copa Libertadores campaign of Deportivo Táchira. Despite impressively qualifying for the competition following an aggregate win over solid Paraguayan outfit Cerro Porteño, they were to underwhelm in the group stage, gaining just three draws and no victories from their six games. Quite where this leaves Daniel Farías remains to be seen as, despite being under pressure after a dreadful 11th-placed finish in the Torneo Apertura, they are currently second in the Torneo Clausura and, with a handful of games left, could well emerge victorious.

A more thorough look at Táchira’s shortcomings should appear on this website soon after all three Venezuelan sides have completed their group matches so be sure to either check back here and/or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter to find out about that and much more.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (14 April 2015)

Tuesday 14 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana

Estadio Olímpico Patria, Sucre

Goal Highlights of Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 14 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Mineros Depart as Universitario Continue to Impress

Though they put in a spirited performance in the altitude of Sucre, Mineros’ Copa Libertadores exit was confirmed by two goals, both of which came towards the end of each half.

The first half was fairly even, with the Bolivians marginally edging it overall though it was the visitors from Venezuela that had the first chance of note. In the fifth minute, international striker Richard Blanco managed to get a shot away within the area from an acute angle that Chilean goalkeeper Raúl Olivares parried out. A couple of minutes later up the other end, Miguel Suárez curled a left-footed shot from the right edge of the area a yard or two wide of the far post.

A quarter of an hour in, Colombian striker Leonardo Castro had the hosts’ next opportunity but, though he received a dinked ball in a promising position, he leant back and blazed over. Five minutes later the Bolivians were to have their best moment thus far, with a header forcing Mineros goalkeeper Rafael Romo to pull off a fine save. However, following some pressure from the visitors, including a couple of corners, there was to be a temporary halt to proceedings in the 26th minute when some of the floodlights abruptly went out.

Three minutes later they were back on and soon afterwards, Mineros were to have their brightest chance of the half. This came when Blanco roamed forward on the inside-right and squared the ball to Ebby Pérez but instead of going for a shot or taking the ball confidently in his stride, he instead went a little wayward. Indeed, he struggled to take command of the situation and his lack of control led to him having to knock the ball back unconvincingly from the touchline towards a team-mate who was unable to get a shot on target.

However, though the Venezuelans were to continue to attack, the Bolivians were to make the breakthrough just before the interval. From a deep position on the inside-right, Rubén Cuesta chipped a free-kick into the area where Castro headed low and hard into the net to ensure his side left the pitch with a spring in their step.

Given their respectable showing, one doubts there were any verbal fireworks inside the Mineros dressing room, though there were some actual ones outside in the Universitario stands as the hosts appeared to be celebrating their final home group game (and a fine showing from their side). The pyrotechnics continued in a similarly well-contested half, with the first chance coming from the hosts five minutes in as Castro hit a shot with pace from 25 yards that was at a good height for Romo, who parried wide.

Ten minutes into the second period, Mineros had a couple of opportunites that both derived from the crosses of  Pérez. The first was headed comfortably over by centre-back Julio Machado whereas the second was somewhat closer to the mark, being nodded 2-3 yards wide of the far post by half-time substitute Zamir Valoyes.

However, far nearer the target was Ezequiel Filippetto’s gilt-edged chance that he was presented with in the 63rd minute. A corner was swung in, then headed on to the back post where the Argentine defender stretched for the ball but could only limply knock it wide of the goal. An opportunity to double the lead was certainly missed, though the hosts ploughed on and were to have the next significant chance six minutes later but Romo was equal to the powerful shot that was driven at him from just outside the area.

The Bolivians were nearly made to pay for Filippetto’s miss with just 15 minutes remaining on the clock when Blanco made space for himself on the edge of the area and hit a well-struck effort that was tipped over by Olivares.

However, ultimately they were to leave victorious and made sure of their win with five minutes remaining when a long ball was pumped forward up the left channel. This was flicked on just outside the area where Mineros substitute Edson Castillo erroneously ran onto it, unthinkingly nodding into the path of Suárez who rounded Romo to wrap up the game with a 2-0 win.

Thus, with one more date of fixtures to be played in this group, Universitario surprisingly top the group with 9 points, though their final opponents Cruzeiro (8 points) may well depose them. There also still remains the chance that the Bolivians may fail to reach the knock-out stage as third-placed side Huracán (7 points) will certainly retain firm hopes of qualifying. However, their final game, an away match against Mineros (1 point), may not be as plain sailing as some casual observers may presume, given the Venezuelans nearly beat them in Buenos Aires in February.

Whether Tpny Franco (who took over from Marcos Mathías in mid-March) feels potentially thwarting the Argentines is worth the bother remains to be seen though with a mere one point from five games, a morale-boosting performance may be deemed necessary. Indeed, domestically, they languish in ninth and are well on course to finish mid-table in the aggregate league – a far cry from the form under Richard Páez that gained them their place in this year’s competition: winning the 2013 Apertura, finishing 2013/14 runners-up and topping the aggregate table.

As always, irrespective of what happens, be sure to continue following what is left of the campaigns of the three Venezuelan sides – Deportivo Táchira, Zamora FC and Mineros de Guayana – on this website as well as on the affiliated Twitter account @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Club Guaraní 5-2 Deportivo Táchira – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (10 March 2015)

Tuesday 10 March 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Club Guaraní 5-2 Deportivo Táchira

Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asunción

Highlights of Club Guaraní 5-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 10 March 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Tepid Táchira Sunk in Asunción

For the second time in three Libertadores group matches, Deportivo Táchira conceded five goals, leaving their already low chances of qualifying for the knock-out stage very much contingent upon next week’s return fixture in San Cristóbal. 

It did not take long for the Paraguayan Apertura leaders to announce their superiority as their early dominance led to a 10th-minute opener from Argentine Darío Ocampo. He finished off a move that started from a long ball down the right-flank that Julián Benítez easily beat left-back Yuber Mosquera to, before turning another defender and playing a low cross from the byline for Ocampo to lash home.

However, seven minutes later and against the run of play, Táchira were to surprise their hosts by getting back on level terms. Captain César González picked up the ball on the inside-left, before inching away from a player to strike a fine right-footed shot low into the bottom corner from 25 yards.

Though this goal marked an immediate improvement in the visitors’ morale and play, it was not to last as the hosts were to gradually return to dominate play, albeit without creating too many clear-cut chances. That is, until the last ten minutes of the half when they were to blitz their opponents with three goals in rapid succession. First, in a goal not entirely dissimilar from their opener, Jorge Mendoza blasted home in the centre a pass that was skilfully directed to him by Eduardo Filippini, following more good work from Benítez on the right. Then, after a cross came in again from the right, defender Carlos Rivero was adjudged to have hauled down striker Federico Santander and he himself stepped up to give his side a two-goal advantage. Barely 60 seconds then elapsed before another goal was added as the Táchira defence, no doubt reeling from the past few minutes, played a few hesistant passes between themselves 35 yards out, upon which the Paraguayans pounced. Indeed, some high pressing led to the ball being won and quickly released to Benítez in the area, who capped off a fine first-half performance by gaining space from defender Javier López to poke home a cultured shot. 4-1 the scoreboard read at half-time.

In such a perilous position, Táchira had a daunting task ahead of them in the second period but within five minutes of the restart were to go some way to getting back into the match from that most reliable source of hope for teams under the cosh: a set-piece. Captain César González lofted in a fine free-kick from the right that the Argentine centre-back López rose onto to head home.

However, though the play was more even for the subsequent ten minutes, the visitors were to needlessly and senselessly write themselves out of contention on the hour mark. Indeed, seemingly apropos of nothing, Agnel Flores, who had only been on the pitch for 15 minutes, appeared to elbow Santander in the middle of the field and was immediately given his marching orders.

The remaining half-hour was anything but a contest with the hosts dominating possession and largely conducting a long-range target practice session. For the eternal optimists, things briefly got interesting with eight minutes left when the hosts’ Tomás Bartomeus was sent off, thus evening up the playing field. Yet the Venezuelans were unable to take any initiative that may have been offered by this change in circumstances as it was the Paraguayans who were to get the next goal, thus confirming a victory that had rarely been in much doubt. This involved two late substitutes as a pass from Luis de la Cruz from the right towards the edge of the area was skipped over by a team-mate before Fernando Fernández managed to gain space from a defender before firing home a low strike.

Thus, for the second time in three games, the Venezuelans from the border state of Táchira were on the receiving end of a heavy defeat. With only one point, winning their next game – a home tie against the Paraguayans – is imperative and has been made all the more so following the surprise win of Peruvians Sporting Cristal away to Argentine champions Racing. The Venezuelans now find themselves rooted to the bottom of their group, with the Paraguayans on 4 points, the Peruvians on 5 and the Argentines on 6. Consequently, a win next week for Táchira, however unlikely it may currently seem, would certainly blast further wide this already rather open group.

Whether or not the Venezuelans are up to such a task remains to be seen, but irrespective of what happens, feel free to check back here and/or at @DarrenSpherical for further updates on the Copa Libertadores campaign of not only Deportivo Táchira but also those of Mineros de Guayana and Zamora FC.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Sporting Cristal 1-1 Deportivo Táchira – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (24 February 2015)

Tuesday 24 February 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Sporting Cristal 1-1 Deportivo Táchira

Estadio Alberto Gallardo, Lima

Highlights of Sporting Cristal 1-1 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 24 February 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Liebeskind to the Rescue as Táchira Gain Morale-Boosting Point

In stoppage-time, Alan Liebeskind’s penalty-saving heroics came to the fore once again as the Venezuelans salvaged a late draw to gain their first point in this year’s Libertadores.

For the majority of this game, things were looking rather pessimistic for Táchira as they struggled to get a decent shot on target until around the hour-mark. Instead, in the opening exchanges, aside from a good long-range effort from Jorge Rojas that went a yard or two over, it was their Peruvian hosts who dominated possession, looking more assured on the ball and creating clearer chances. The first of these fell to Irven Ávila – a Peruvian international who has been very prolific at club level – though he was unable to guide his header either side of Liebeskind. Their next moment of note in the penalty area was the opening goal, which came on 27 minutes as Ávila slid a pass to 35-year-old Carlos Lobatón in acres of room on the edge of the area. Here, far too much time and space was afforded to him as his low right-footed strike was blocked by Liebeskind but rebounded straight back for the midfielder to put it away with his opposite foot.

For the remainder of the half, the hosts were to continue to exert their superiority, with two more notable efforts attempted, the first a low shot from Horacio Calcaterra that Liebeskind parried uncomfortably and the second from Ávila that went no more than a yard or two wide.

While still second-best, Táchira were to enjoy more forward forays after the interval. Within the first ten minutes of the restart, top-scorer Gelmin Rivas was played through by Rojas but was unable to get a shot away, then soon after narrowly missed a low ball put in by Yohandry Orozco, before the roles were reversed and Rivas knocked in a similar pass that his team-mate could not quite make contact with. Not long following this, the Venezuelans first attempt on goal came on 57 minutes when defender Javier López connected with a corner though his header was too close to Diego Penny. Regarding the Cristal goalkeeper, those with exceptionally good memories may or may not remember Penny making a solitary appearance just over five years ago in the English Premier League as well as in the Championship for Burnley.

Nevertheless, despite this bright start from the visitors, Cristal largely remained on top and came very close to extending their lead on 76 minutes when Uruguayan hotshot Sergio Blanco lashed a strike from an acute angle that Liebeskind did well to save with his trailing leg. Blanco was to have another opportunity a minute later as he headed a cross that the goalkeeper tipped over.

However, though the hosts had the better of the chances, Táchira were to level up the score with just a few minutes left on the clock when César González curled one of his patented 25-yard free-kicks over the wall, leaving Penny rooted to his spot.

Yet, in what was not entirely a surprise to observers of Venezuelan sides of all levels playing outside of their borders, their opponents were to receive some assistance in their hunt to regain the lead late on. Indeed, in stoppage-time the experienced Jorge Rojas was adjudged to have committed a foul in his own area. It seemed a little harsh as, to clear the ball, the highly capped international stretched out a raised leg which unfortunately caught substitute Diego Manicero who had dashed in from behind in a bid to win the ball. Nevertheless, the referee pointed to the spot, from which another substitute, Renzo Sheput – a 34-year-old with a couple of Peruvian caps to his name – fired a textbook left-footed strike towards the right-sided bottom corner that was spectacularly denied by Liebeskind. The goalkeeper, a mid-season signing from struggling Portuguesa in early January, parried it wide to make what was an astonishing third save from the five penalties he has faced since his move.

Thus, after last week’s 5-0 home humiliation by Argentine champions Racing, Táchira picked up a point that their performance perhaps did not quite merit but which, after Liebeskind’s late heroics, will have felt hard-fought. Their opponents will be disappointed but will have to quickly pick themselves up as they next travel to Buenos Aires to face Racing, whose attacking prowess showed no signs of abating as they despatched Paraguayans Guaraní 4-1 on the same night. In this game, Gustavo Bou achieved the extremely impressive feat of a second consecutive hat-trick, thus giving him six goals in two group games – already one more than the joint top-scorers of last season’s competition.

For their next game, Táchira will be away to Guaraní and as always, for more updates on their Libertadores campaign, as well as those of their fellow Venezuelan sides – Zamora FC and Mineros de Guayana – please check back here and/or visit @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Copa Libertadores Preview: Deportivo Táchira Join Zamora and Mineros de Guayana on the Grandest Stage

Tonight (17 February) may see Europe’s Champions League return for its knock-out phase, but in South America (and Mexico), attention will be very much on the inauguration of the Group Stage of the 2015 Copa Libertadores, the premier club competition.

Interest will be particularly high in Venezuela, the nation whose clubs have historically made the least impact in this tournament. For the first ever time since the round of play-off qualifiers was introduced in 2005, the continent’s traditional underdogs will be represented by their full quota of three teams, as Zamora (2013-14 champions) and Mineros de Guayana (2013-14 runners-up & Apertura winners) will be joined by Deportivo Táchira (3rd in 2013-14 aggregate table, behind the other two qualifiers).

Highlights of Cerro Porteño 2-2 Deportivo Táchira (3-4 aggregate), 11 February 2015, Copa Libertadores First Round.

(Video courtesy of YouTube user: Enfermos X el fútbol)

Deportivo Táchira’s Asunción Ascension

Táchira, who as well as making four appearances at this stage in the past ten years have also been unsuccessful in each of the three previous times that they have contested the play-off round, finally overcame this hurdle last week when they defeated Cerro Porteño. Perhaps being rivalled only by Palestino of Chile knocking out Uruguay’s three-time winners Nacional as the biggest surprise of the preliminaries, the side from the eponymous state on the Colombian border drew 2-2 in Asunción, thus claiming a memorable 4-3 aggregate victory

Before the first leg was contested on 4 February, the six-time semi-finalists from Paraguay were considered comfortable favourites to progress. Táchira, however, gave short shrift to the supposed script as it took no more than 12 minutes for 34-year-old Argentine Javier López – a recent recruit from Zamora FC – to head in the fine set-piece delivery of 32-year-old erstwhile Venezuela international César ‘Maestrico’ González. Rather than sitting back, San Cristóbal’s finest absorbed and were further invigorated by the raucous atmosphere of a well-populated Pueblo Nuevo and seven minutes later, the fans were to witness a goal that undoubtedly lived up to the significance of the occasion. Maintaining the theme of experience, this came from the much-travelled 37-year-old Jorge Rojas, a recent acquisition from one of the capital’s smaller sides, Metropolitanos, as well as being La Vinotinto‘s third highest-capped player of all-time. Upon receiving a throw-in, Rojas demonstrated why he is known as ‘El Zurdo’, as he let the ball roll into his stride and unleashed an unstoppable left-footed strike from over 30 yards that fizzed in the air before going in off the underside of the crossbar.

A goal surely fit to grace any stadium in the world and a fine example of the strength in depth that exists in this competition. Not to be outdone, five minutes after the restart Cerro were to get what proved to be their consolation and seemingly vital away goal, with a strike that left many impartial observers unsure as to which was the finest of the game. This was a swerving 30-yard free-kick from Jonathan Fabbro, an Argentina-born Paraguay international who has represented clubs in six countries within Latin America and who, at 33 years of age, was well on-message with this game’s theme.

Thus, with an away goal to their name and home advantage for the decisive tie on 11 February to look forward to, Cerro returned to the Paraguayan capital confident that a group berth awaited. When, with 40 minutes on the clock, Fabbro again got on the scoresheet – this time via a dubiously awarded penalty – many home nerves dissipated as now Táchira were compelled to attack in order to avoid elimination, thus leaving them vulnerable on the counter. Yet, while at times the Venezuelans rode their luck, from the very first minute they always looked like they were capable of posing a threat, not to mention a surprise or two, the first of which they delivered on 55 minutes. Gelmin Rivas, the club’s leading goalscorer with 11 goals in 17 league games, followed up the good work of Pablo Olivera – recently acquired from Uruguay’s second tier – to hold off defenders and adeptly side-foot home.

The onus was thus back on the hosts and to their credit, they required little more than five minutes to regain the lead with that man Fabbro again involved in the goal, albeit this time as supplier. He did well on the right of the area to shrug off some challenges before chipping a fine cross into the area that local youngster Cecilio Domínguez chested and dispatched with a consummate ease that belied his 20 years.

However, as the Asunción crowd began pondering whether or not extra-time would be necessary, Rivas abruptly rendered any such musings academic, stunning the home faithful within a minute of the restart. The striker, who was linked with a possible move to Standard Liège or Club Brugge in January, picked up the ball 30 yards out and evaded a challenge to hit a low bouncing shot from the right edge of the area into the bottom far corner. 2-2, the local scoreboard now alarmingly read. Although the goalkeeper Rodolfo Rodríguez probably should have parried this shot away, any anger felt by the home fans had to be suppressed as this sensationally swift turn of events meant that their side now had to frantically get their act together and score twice in just under half an hour.

As it panned out, while Cerro did have the bulk of the remaining chances, Táchira were to resist and hold on, thus not only qualifying for the group stage but also managing to avoid defeat against a side that had reached this very phase in four of the past five years.

Although it is unlikely that fans of Táchira’s El Clásico foes Caracas FC share the following sentiments, it must be said that as this second leg victory was immediately followed by the national team’s second successive win over Honduras in a week, for many Venezuelan football fans this was certainly a day to be savoured.

Previews of Venezuela’s 3 Teams in the 2015 Copa Libertadores

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Deportivo Táchira

With the confidence gained from their impressive win against Cerro Porteño coupled with their return to form in the early stages of Venezuela’s Torneo Clausura, Los Aurinegros should feel that advancing from Group 8 (of 8) is not beyond their capabilities. Indeed, while the encounter with Argentine champions Racing and their strike-force of Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou may cause the most butterflies, their games against Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal and another Paraguayan side, Guaraní, now seem, by comparison, manageable.

Coach Daniel Farías will certainly be hoping his side does not experience a similarly disastrous decline in form that befell them in the 18-team Torneo Apertura when they contrived to fall from 1st at the midway point to a final position of 11th.  To avert this, the form of various key players will be crucial: goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind, who has made a strong impression since joining at the beginning of the Clausura; young centre-back Wilker Ángel, who can chip in with more than his fair share of goals from set-pieces and who may well be heading abroad later in the year; playmaker César González, whose set-pieces and link-up play will be vital, as will be those of Jorge Rojas, though how much of the campaign the latter will feature in at his age remains to be seen; another dead-ball specialist, albeit one surely not concerned with stamina issues is young, creative livewire Yohandry Orozco, a man who will want to use this opportunity to display to a wide audience some of the talent that gained him recognition four years ago; the service of the likes of Orozco, Rojas, González and, to an extent, Pablo Olivera, will need to be spot-on in order for striker Gelmin Rivas to have a prosperous tournament, being as he is in the main a penalty-area predator.

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Zamora FC

Before Táchira get their campaign underway with a home game against Racing, the 2013-14 champions of Venezuela will be ushering in their nation’s participation in the tournament with an away game against Montevideo Wanderers. Their Uruguayan opponents will be hosting this encounter at Parque Central, the home of their more illustrious cross-city neighbours, Nacional, whose qualifying-round conquerors Palestino – a Chilean side originally set up by Palestinian immigrants – are the third side in Group 5. The final team is Argentine giants Boca Juniors who, having raised eyes and expectations with the recruitment of Uruguayan international Nicolás Lodeiro, Málaga midfielder Pablo Pérez and striker Dani Osvaldo, promise to be the dominant threat.

Zamora may have won last season’s championship but, as is often the case in South America, they were victims of their own success. Consequently, key individuals were swiftly snapped up by all and sundry, such as midfielder Pedro Ramírez (FC Sion), leading goalscorer Juan Falcón (FC Metz) and, most significantly, manager Noel Sanvicente (Venezuela national team). They thus began the Torneo Apertura campaign in August disastrously, not picking up a win in their first 11 games and finding themselves rooted to the bottom. However, their form was to undergo a remarkable U-turn as their final six games ended with five wins and a draw, salvaging some pride with a final position of 12th. This reversal in fortunes has impressively and, with the reputation of Venezuelan football on the continental stage in mind, thankfully, continued into the second half of the domestic season, as they currently sit 1st in the Torneo Clausura, with four wins and two draws – unbeaten in a total of 13 games.

Key to continuining this impressive transformation under coach Julio Quintero will be the performance of the defence, which has four clean sheets in the past six games and now features some new faces as well as the likes of Panama international Luis Ovalle and the long-serving Moisés Galezo. Other players whose roles will be crucial include deep-lying playmaker, set-piece taker and occasional shield Luis Vargas, as well as fellow midfield stalwart Arles Flores; with his dribbles down the flanks as well as the inroads he makes infield, temperamental-yet-gifted 19-year-old Jhon Murillo – who had an unsuccessful trial with Basel last year – will certainly be hoping to make an impression, as well as chip in with some goals; the man who has been on target the most for the champions and who was the catalyst behind their return to form is attacking midfielder/support-striker Pierre Pluchino, whose elegant creativity and finishing will be crucial; lastly, Santiago Bello, a striker with an impressive record recently brought in from the Uruguayan second tier in advance of the Libertadores – so far yet to start a game, but from whom goals are anticipated.

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Mineros de Guayana

The 2013 Torneo Apertura winners and overall runners-up for 2013-14 have thus far had a rather mediocre season, sacking Richard  Páez (the well-respected former national team manager from 2001-07) and ending the most recent Apertura in 6th place. Their uninspiring form has continued into the Clausura as they sit in 11th place, having played six games – one, and in some cases, two, more than the vast of majority of the sides around them.

Thus, of Venezuela’s three representatives, Mineros are currently heading into this tournament with the worst form. However, they may be able to boost morale ahead of their official entrance into the competition as they will be involved in another league game before they play their opening Libertadores match next week on Tuesday 24 February away to Argentine side Huracán (Update 24/2/15: this game against Estudiantes de Mérida did not take place due to the tragic death of club captain Carlos de Castro. Mineros now find themselves 12th in the table). This newly promoted club – who qualified by virtue of winning the Copa Argentina – will certainly be no pushover, as evidenced by their comfortable 4-0 play-off round win over Peru’s Alianza Lima. The other two sides that will be contesting Group 3 are champions of their respective countries: Club Universitario of Bolivia and Cruzeiro of Brazil, the latter of whom, despite some post-season departures, will be firm favourites and who now count Leandro Damião and Uruguayan prospect Giorgian De Arrascaeta amongst their ranks.

The success or otherwise of Mineros will depend largely on players who have mostly performed at a standard markedly lower than they did last season suddenly raising their game, however unlikely that may seem. Their side consists of many individuals who regularly receive call-ups to the national squad, such as goalkeeper Rafael Romo who, judging by his inaction in the recent Venezuela friendlies, finds himself demoted from second to third choice; Gabriel Cichero who, though certainly not without his critics, is Venezuela’s first-choice left-back and who also possesses attacking qualities, particularly on set-pieces; the two defence-minded midfielders Rafael Acosta and Édgar Jiménez also have their attacking merits, but when playing for the national side have largely been panned, particularly when they were both regularly left for dead in November’s 5-0 thrashing handed out by Chile; striker Richard Blanco recently played and scored a tap-in against Honduras but, as this was a squad of home-based players, he is unlikely to get a regular call-up; depending on form, the Colombian duo of Zamir Valoyes and James Cabezas may well find themselves sidelining Blanco; Cabezas was brought in from recent Apertura winners Trujillanos (where he scored 10 goals in 16 games), along with defender Edixon Cuevas, yet rather than boost the squad, both have thus far struggled to replicate the form they displayed at their old club. As a final consideration, it will be interesting to see how former Venezuela international defender Luis Vallenilla copes against the pace of the likes of Cruzeiro, given that he turns 41 in March.

Venezuelans Flying the Flag: More Bonuses

If following the three clubs was not enough for Venezuelan football fans, there are also some other compatriots who will be competing in this year’s edition for Colombian sides. Luis Manuel Seijas, a left-sided attacking midfielder who features regularly for the national side will be playing for 2014 Torneo Finalización champions Independiente Santa Fe. They have been drawn in Group 1 and their very first match comes tonight away to Mexico’s Atlas after the second game of interest – Táchira’s – has finished – a long night is thus in store for all. The two other teams in their group are 2014 Copa do Brasil winners Atlético Mineiro and last year’s Chilean Clausura winners, Colo-Colo.

In Group 7, Colombia’s 2014 Apertura winners Atlético Nacional should field another Venezuelan international midfielder, Alejandro Guerra. Also in their ranks is Jonathan Copete, a Colombian in origin but who has been in talks for some time now with Venezuelan national boss Noel Sanvicente about naturalisation and who could well feature in future national team squads at some point this year. Irrespective of how his international aspirations pan out, both men come into this competition with strong continental experience, having been part of their side’s run to the final of December’s Copa Sudamericana, in which they were runners-up to River Plate. Their first Libertadores match will be on Thursday 19 February and will be possibly their sternest test, being as it is against Paraguay’s 2014 Apertura and Clausura winners, Libertad. Their other two opponents are Ecuador’s championship runners-up Barcelona and Argentina’s Estudiantes de la Plata, whose President regular Argentine football fans will know is club legend Juan Sebastián Verón. While this is a far from straightforward group to negotiate, Guerra and Copete will fancy their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stage.

Although the general consensus is that the two Colombian sides featuring Venezuelans have more chance of progressing than the three domestic teams, one can not help but feel that no matter what happens, many memorable moments will occur this year for Venezuelan football fans to recall fondly for some time afterwards. It is going to be an enthralling tournament which should be covered as much as possible from a Venezuelan perspective on this site.

Now, that is more than enough talking – let’s get the caffeine ready and prepare for some long nights of top-level action!

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical