Tag Archives: Darwin Machís

Iran 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (20 November 2018)

Venezuela concluded their rare foray into the Asian continent on the neutral territory of Qatar. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides a match report of their latest friendly outing…

International Friendly

Tuesday 20 November 2018 – Hamad bin Khalifa Stadium, Doha, Qatar

Iran 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Iran 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 20 November 2018 (YouTube)

La Vinotinto Leave Asian Tour Undefeated

Rafael Dudamel’s much-changed side ended 2018’s late run of six away games with their second consecutive draw.

Contested by two sides seeking to try out new players and approaches, it was not a flair-filled end-to-end thriller, but it did nevertheless contain several significant moments.

The first of these came after nine minutes when an Irani cross found Sardar Azmoun inside of the six-yard box. Unmarked, a goal seemed certain, yet his effort from point-blank-range was miraculously diverted over the bar by the renowned prospect Wuilker Faríñez.

In the following exchanges, goalmouth action was to be in short supply, with Venezuela’s sole effort coming from an untroubling shot on the spin from Josef Martínez. That is, until the 35th minute when captain Tomás Rincón slid a ball forward that was latched onto by the left-sided Darwin Machís; in turn, the Udinese attacker cut onto his right and struck a low effort that creept under the dive of the goalkeeper.

La Vinotinto were now ahead, but they had to be on their toes. Just two minutes later following a defensive giveaway, Faríñez was again called upon, this time to parry a well-hit, though relatively comfortable, strike from Ali Gholizadeh. However, three minutes before the break the Charleroi man had more success, after the ball was robbed off Rincón and knocked into his path. From here, the forward gained space away from centre-back Jhon Chancellor and, from the edge of the area, fired clinically with his left boot past Faríñez.

Going into the break level boosted the morale of Carlos Queiroz’s men and, upon the restart, surely aided them in being much quicker out of the blocks. They were certainly more alert than right-back Ronald Hernández, who in the 49th minute was mugged of the ball by Medhi Taremi, who marched on the Venezuelan goal, but this one-on-one was once again blocked by Faríñez. Then two minutes later, a major setback appeared on the cards as Taremi was brought down in the area by Chancellor and the referee pointed to the spot. However, after consulting the pitch-side VAR monitors, the decision was reversed and Venezuela could breathe a little easier.

Subsequently, the South Americans managed to quell opposition danger with greater success and in the 64th minute, they momentarily thought that they had retaken the lead. Here, a ball suddenly found its way to the feet of Josef Martínez, who made room for  himself away from the goalkeeper and fired home, but alas, the linesman’s flag was up.

As also occurred against Japan last Friday, the game was to then suffer under the bloated weight of a high number of substitutions. However, after this lull, two more chances were created, with each being struck by Venezuelan replacements. First, in the 84th minute, Salomón Rondón took a ball in his stride and fired it across goal, causing the goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh to pull off a decent parry. Then, two minutes from time on the inside-left within the area, Real Salt Lake’s Jefferson Savarino received a threaded ball from Luis González. Although at a slight angle, he was alone with the goalkeeper, rapidly controlling before firing, but to the frustration of a team-mate in the middle his shot went wide of the mark.

Even though he was offside, it seemed like an eminently scoreable scenario, but ultimately Dudamel’s men had to settle for another draw. On the balance of play, this was probably the fairest result and with an overall record for 2018 of two wins, two draws and two defeats, the manager can’t be too displeased. Still, he will know better than anyone that the present cycle has really only just begun and even just consolidating the team’s current level will be a task that will require negotiating with care. Indeed, at the time of writing, he will most likely have to wait until March to have another look at his full squad. In the meantime, it remains to be seen how the players will progress at their clubs and what, if any, bearing the performances of the latest Under-20 crop in the upcoming Sudamericano tournament will have on his thinking.

Team Selections

Iran (4-3-3): A. Abedzadeh; R. Rezaeian (S. Moharrami, 74′), M. Khanzadeh, S. Hosseini, M. Mohammadi; S. Ghoddos (M. Soleimani, 74′), O. Ebrahimi, V. Amiri (M. Torabi, 65′); A. Gholizadeh (S. Dejagah, 74′), S. Azmoun, M. Taremi (K. Rezaei, 81′).

Venezuela (4-1-4-1): W. Faríñez; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, W. Ángel, B. Añor; J. Moreno; S. Córdova (J. Murillo, 74′), Y. Herrera (J. Savarino, 61′), T. Rincón,  D. Machís (L. González, 81′); J. Martínez (S. Rondón, 74′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Japan 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (16 November 2018)

Venezuela’s Asian tour has got underway, with Japan the first stop. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the events in Ōita…

International Friendly

Friday 16 November 2018 – Ōita Bank Dome Stadium, Ōita, Kyushu Island, Japan

Japan 1-1 Venezuela

Goal Highlights of Japan 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 16 November 2018 (YouTube)

El General Rallies the Troops Late On

Having soaked up a considerable amount of Japanese pressure, Venezuela eventually managed to gain a draw on the first leg of their Asian tour courtesy of the first-ever international goal by captain Tomás Rincón.

The opening exchanges had a rather different complexion, however, as Rafael Dudamel’s reinforced line-up – Rincón, Júnior Moreno and the returning Yangel Herrera were all fielded in the middle – enjoyed a few notable chances. First of all, after 11 minutes, a ball ricocheted into Salomón Rondón’s path, who nudged it past debuting US-born goalkeeper Daniel Schmidt; the effort of the Newcastle striker was inches from crossing the line until defender Takehiro Tomisayu stretched to clear at the last moment.

Rondón again came close just four minutes later, following a free-kick on the right edge of the area won by the dynamic Darwin Machís. Although the Magpie’s initial attempt was blocked, he responded by lashing a fearsome left-footed strike which almost grazed Schmidt’s far post. Later in the 25th minute, Rondón played a ball on for roaming right-back Roberto Rosales who, somewhat similarly to the previous effort, also hit an effort with his less-favoured left boot that went across goal and not too far wide of the mark.

Throughout all of this, the hosts were also a threat, occasionally finding gaps, storming forward before a cross would typically be thwarted by a defender. Their first clear chance came in the 26th minute when some quick passes left the ball at the feet of Ritsu Doan, who spun and shot past goalkeeper Rafael Romo. Vinotinto hearts were in mouths, but mercifully for them, the Groningen man’s effort went narrowly wide of the post. Soon after at the half-hour mark Japan were again not far off when Takumi Minamino crossed low for Yuya Osako, though the visitors were to have 20-on-Monday Nahuel Ferraresi to thank, as he put in a sliding boot to divert out. Four minutes later, Romo was to be the momentary hero, as a defence-splitting pass forward found Shoya Nakajima whose one-on-one shot the goalkeeper manfully stood up to, diverting wide.

However, La Vinotinto could not completely stem the tide and so in the 39th minute, the hosts found the opener. Here, Nakajima’s free-kick was swung in from deep on the right and Marseille defender Hiroki Sakai met it in the air to volley home with aplomb. 1-0 and, just under two minutes before the break, Nakajima almost doubled the lead when, on the inside-left, he cut onto his right before firing low into the side-netting.

As the second half began, La Vinotinto knew they needed to get a foothold back into the match, but unfortunately for them, the hosts were in no mood to be accommodating. Subsequently, the majority of the best chances were to fall to Japan, one of which was a shot by Getafe midfielder Gaku Shibasaki that Romo parried at his near post. A few minutes later, the Samurai Blue had another opportunity when Osako slid the ball to Doan, but the latter’s effort from the left was blocked low by the goalkeeper.

Shortly afterwards the pace of the game was to be gradually diluted by the raft of substitutions, one of which was the 74th-minute introduction of international debutant, Bernardo Añor. Yet, just a minute later, the hosts were to regain some of their attacking momentum as Genki Haraguchi earned himself some space from his marker and, with some close control, danced his way into an acute spot to the left of the goal, but his attempt was greeted by the wall of Romo. The 28-year-old Cyprus-based shot-stopper has only been a part of Dudamel’s thinking since the dawn of this new cycle in September, but on the basis of his two appearances within that time, he has shown enough to be confidently described as Wuilker Faríñez’s understudy.

Despite the Japanese having the better of the game, five minutes later goalscorer Sakai was to squander his side’s on-field superiority as he clumsily brought down substitute Luis González in the area. After a delay, captain Tomás Rincón stepped up and confidently converted the penalty, bringing his side level when a defeat was beginning to seem inevitable. In the 91st minute, El General managed to rescue his side again when, following some ball-waltzing from Koya Gitagawa, he put in a perfectly-timed last-ditch challenge to slide the ball wide.

Following a header in the final throes of stoppage-time the hosts did actually have the ball in the back of the net, but a linesman’s flag quickly halted the elation in the stands. Thus, the game ended in a creditable 1-1 draw for Dudamel’s men. Although – some early first-half pressure and attempts aside – the performance left something to be desired, this result against a World Cup-level opponent in front of over 33,000 of their fans certainly feels like a respectable outcome. Fans will be hoping they can go one step further in Qatar on Tuesday, when the side face a similarly tough encounter against Carlos Queiroz’s Iran.

Team Selections

Japan (4-2-3-1): D. Schmidt; H. Sakai, M. Yoshida, T. Tomiyasu, S. Sasaki; W. Endo, G. Shibasaki; R. Doan (K. Sugimoto, 77′), T. Minamino (J. Ito, 77′), S. Nakajima (G. Haraguchi, 68′); Y. Osako (K. Kitagawa, 68′).

Venezuela (4-1-4-1): R. Romo; R. Rosales, N. Ferraresi, J. Chancellor, L. Mago (B. Añor, 74′); J. Moreno (J. Savarino, 90+5′); J. Murillo (L. González, 65′), Y. Herrera (A. Romero, 65′), T. Rincón, D. Machís (S. Córdova, 84′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 65′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – November 2018 Preview

It is said that good things come in threes and this appears to hold true for the Venezuelan national team, who for the third consecutive month, will contest a pair of friendlies. Here, @DarrenSpherical has a look at the latest La Vinotinto squad.

International Friendlies

Friday 16 November 2018 – Ōita Bank Dome Stadium, Ōita, Kyushu Island, Japan

Japan vs Venezuela

Tuesday 20 November 2018 – Hamad bin Khalifa Stadium, Doha, Qatar

Iran vs Venezuela

bernardoanor

Bernardo Añor in January 2018 (@Caracas_FC)

Venezuela Embark On First Asian Tour Since 2014

It may not have seemed it during the ten months of inaction following La Vinotinto‘s friendly with Iran in the Netherlands 12 months ago, but Rafael Dudamel’s modest request for “at least five friendlies for 2018” is set to be fulfilled.

Indeed, match No. 5 sees the South Americans travel to Japan and No. 6 has them confronting, once again, Carlos Queiroz’s men – albeit, this time in Qatar – bringing the number of Russia 2018 participants faced in recent months to four.

September and October’s encounters yielded mixed results (two wins and two defeats) in what has been and will remain to be for some time, a period of trials and tactical refinement. This is again reflected in the squad, not least in arguably the most eye-catching inclusion: Bernardo Añor, son of the former international of the same name and the elder brother of Málaga’s Juanpi. The 30-year-old may well finally make his international debut after a career spent entirely in the USA until this year, when he returned home to play for Caracas FC. A left-back who has been known to play further upfield, he will provide competition for the only other domestic-based player in this crop, Carabobo FC’s Luis Mago. The latter is also somewhat of a newcomer to the fold, having only made his debut two months ago and together the pair will be seeking to permanently remove the omitted Rolf Feltscher from the manager’s thinking.

It is debatable whether Añor’s belated international call-up will lead to much in the long-run but one player that surely all fans will be excited to re-embrace is the returning 20-year-old captain of 2017’s Under-20 silver generation, Yangel Herrera. The New York City FC midfielder has recently recovered from a long-term injury and will hope to regain his spot next to senior armband-wearer Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) from the main beneficiary of his 12-month international absence, fellow MLS ball-winner Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA).

Elsewhere, the previously injured Salomón Rondón is also back, surely on a high after his first two league goals for Newcastle United. His deputy Andrés Ponce (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia) made the most of his rare opportunities last month, bagging a goal in each friendly. However, although the 22-year-old forward deservedly keeps his place in the squad it is likely that, for the time being at least, Dudamel will be devoted to making the partnership of the Magpies’ new favourite no. 9 and hotshot Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) work.

Just behind this front line, Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany) and Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy) are also back after some time on the sidelines. The right-sided Colombia-based Luis “Cariaco” González has received a call too, with Dudamel evidently wanting another look at the Tolima man after he impressed in spells in September. With so many changes in the make-up of the attacking-midfield, inevitably there have been some noteworthy players who will sit out this double-header. This time it is the turn of Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England) and the betrothed-but-injured headline-grabber Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile). With experimentation very much the order of the day, these three will surely all be back next year.

One man who should currently be in Japan vying for one of these positions but isn’t is Chile-based 21-year-old midfield jinker Yeferson Soteldo. He had been summoned but in an official press release, he is said to have missed his flight from Santiago and, consequently, “due to the decision of national team manager Rafael Dudamel he will not form part of the group”. This follows on from last month when he was compassionately omitted so that he could stay at home to attend the birth of his third child and from September, when he was called up but ultimately left out as he could not gain a visa to enter into the USA. Thus, for one reason or another the much-touted youngster has not worn the Vinotinto shirt since the Iran match last year. Although time appears to be very much on his side, his many admirers should feel a little concerned at the ground he is currently conceding to his rivals in this most competitive of areas within the squad.

Lastly, centre-back Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) – whose status has quietly risen in recent times, culminating in him wearing the captain’s armband last month when Rincón was rested – will also not be making the trip to Japan, but he will at least be available for the Iran clash.

In their previous duel with the Middle Easterners in November 2017, La Vinotinto were defeated by a solitary goal and the last time they faced Japan back in 2014, a 2-2 draw was retrospectively converted into a 3-0 loss, owing to the fielding of an ineligible Salomón Rondón. As will be repeated for some time yet in these pre-Copa América months, results may not be of paramount importance, but any improvement on these two outcomes will no doubt provide a boost for everyone’s belief in the nascent Qatar 2022 project.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintonov2018

(Note: Having reportedly missed his flight, Yeferson Soteldo will now not be part of this squad.)

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Carabobo FC), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal) & Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Sergio Córdova (Augsburg FC, Germany), Luis González (Deportes Tolima), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Crotone, Italy) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA).

Forwards

Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Andrés Ponce (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Panama 0-2 Venezuela – International Friendly (11 September 2018)

In their second friendly game of this international break, Venezuelans on the pitch and in the stands came together to generate a moving, memorable evening for the country. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…

International Friendly

Tuesday 11 September 2018 – Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama.

Panama 0-2 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Panama 0-2 Venezuela, International Friendly, 11 September 2018 (YouTube)

Salomón Spearheads Supersubs’ Show

Salomón Rondón came off the bench to combine twice with his fellow substitutes to give La Vinotinto a heartening, well-fought win in front of a sizeable number of their compatriots.

This victory was the first against Panama since 2000 and also the very first against any opposition in a senior friendly encounter for Rafael Dudamel in his 29 months in the job – and just his fifth overall.

Beforehand, the coach stated that he would like his side to be “not so vertical” and instead have “more time with the ball” than they had against Colombia. Although there were considerable spells where neither side could gain much command over the play, Venezuela did at least manage to assert themselves to a greater degree in what was a more inviting contest.

For the second consecutive game, Darwin Machís started with intent, driving into space and even troubling the goalkeeper with a deflected shot in the second minute. However, with six changes made to the line-up, it was to be two of his fellow attackers who garnered themselves more attention in the first half. Indeed, firstly Luis “Cariaco” González built on Friday’s promising sub appearance, outpacing opponents numerous times on the right, managing to knock in several crosses and even squeezing in an attempt or two at goal.

However, prominence-wise at least, both men were eclipsed by Rómulo Otero. Nominally fielded in the centre behind Christian Santos, he often seemed to be on a one-man mission to gain himself a regular starting place, frequently drifting into other areas, particularly the left side. His contributions were hit-and-miss, with plenty of long-range shots, crosses and set-pieces either ballooning over or cannoning off the first man, but his thrusting, do-or-die mobility did genuinely unsettle opponents and create spaces for team-mates. Two of his opening-half free-kick attempts did also hit the target: a 13th-minute right-footed curler from an impossible angle on the left caused an instinctive parry for goalkeeper Luis Mejía who was anticipating a cross and, more notably, a 43rd-minute strike from some 40 yards that bounced just before Mejía, causing him to awkwardly deflect it out with his lower ribcage.

Although there was more action around the hosts’ goal, the Central Americans led by English-Panamanian interim coach Gary Stempel were always very much in the game. Often thwarted at the moment of a key pass, they did nevertheless provide a few scares. In the 28th minute, Cristian Martínez whipped in a devilish cross which the diving goalkeeper Rafael Romo – playing his first international in seven years – got fingertips to, before Yordan Osorio’s shin awkwardly cleared for a corner. In the 36th minute, following one of many clever flicks by José Rodríguez, a shot from Martínez in a good position in the area was well-blocked by Osorio’s centre-back partner Wilker Ángel. From the subsequent Gabriel Torres corner, Venezuela perhaps received a huge let-off, as a Fidel Escobar header hit the arm of left-back Luis Mago; contrary to how it initially appeared to almost everyone, this was adjudged by the referee to be marginally outside, not inside the penalty area. A mere matter of yards from the incident, the man in black could not have had a better view. Regardless, from the resulting free-kick, Escobar gave Dudamel’s men a second fright, as his right-footed bullet arrowed barely a yard over the bar.

Thus, at half-time, both sides had good cause to feel that this open game was there for the taking and immediately after the restart, it was the 2018 World Cup qualifiers who were first out of the traps. With barely 40 seconds played, Martínez shaped up from some 30 yards, striking a fine right-footed effort which Romo’s outstretched palm had to deal with. Some seven minutes later, Venezuela trumped the home side in the long-range stakes as another Otero free-kick from 40 yards – for which a 15-yard run-up was required – dipped menacingly before Mejía, causing him to parry out wide.

Subsequently, scares were averted at both ends but when the next real attempt on goal arrived, it was made to count. This came in the 67th minute with two substitutes as the lead protagonists. First, following some neat Venezuelan play, fresh-and-fleet-footed Jefferson Savarino of Real Salt Lake played a one-two on the right with Otero, receiving back the ball inside the area to slide across the goalmouth past Román Torres where none other than Salomón Rondón knocked it into the back of the net. Celebrated by thousands of Venezuelans in attendance, it sounded as if the Premier League striker’s first international goal since March 2017 had been scored at home.

Additional changes were later made to both sides, which perhaps further diluted the attacking fluidity. Yet, despite the dearth of shots on target, the pulsing atmosphere and highly competitive pinball-esque action lended itself to an engrossing spectacle. Towards the end, however, another one of the reinforcements from the bench ensured that his spell on the pitch would be remembered.

Eduard Bello, an attacker enjoying an impressive first season with Chilean side Deportes Antofagasta, came on for his international debut in the 78th minute. Ten minutes later he earned a corner which he himself then took; Rondón connected but his header on the stretch at an angle to the goal went slightly wide of the post. Then, in the final minute of stoppage-time after a Panamanian cross and headed knock-back had been hastily cleared, a ball was hoisted upfield by captain Tomás Rincón. The defence were largely committed further upfield and so, following a fortuitous ricochet off the defender, Bello was able to swivel and slide the ball towards Rondón in space who pounced like a predator to seal the win.

The elation in the stands was palpable and afterwards at the press conference, Dudamel dedicated the win to these joy-deprived believers, many of whom would have moved to the Panamanian capital in recent years due to the well-documented domestic difficulties:

“For multiple reasons our compatriots have emigrated from our country. There is something that in life can not be lost, which is dignity. Today we wanted to give a boost to the dignity of the Venezuelan who has accompanied us and who makes life in this beautiful country. May La Vinotinto become an example for all our people – that is the invitation.”

Many observers of Russia 2018 may blithely dismiss the weight of this Venezuelan victory but nobody who experienced it can deny the importance of such a welcome morale-boost. Friday against Colombia now feels like quite some time ago. Regarding the performances, although the action was again largely disjointed and fragmented, Rondón, Otero, González, Machís, Savarino and Bello have all provided Dudamel with positive moments on which to build more sustained attacking play. As for the rearguard, while the coach may wish to try out other players for next month’s double-header in Spain, the prized clean sheet that they kept and their general solidity should give the likes of Osorio and Mago hope that a consecutive call-up will be forthcoming.

Lastly, post-match Dudamel also said that, after nearly ten months without senior matches, he hopes that his side will go on to have “no less than 15-18 games” (including however many they play at the 2019 Copa América) under their belts before the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers commence. Such a number seems optimistic but if an array of seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome to pull this off, it would go a considerable way towards narrowing the preparatory chasm with their major CONMEBOL rivals.

Precarious though the future most certainly is, in this international break some positive steps were undeniably taken.

Team Selections

Panama (4-3-3): L. Mejía; M. Murillo, R. Torres, F. Escobar, F. Palacios (K. Galván, 71′); C. Martínez, A. Godoy, M. Camargo (A. Carrasquilla, 65′); J. Rodríguez (J. González, 77′), R. Blackburn, G. Torres (Á. Orelien, 65′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): R. Romo; A. González, Y. Osorio, W. Ángel, L. Mago; T. Rincón, J. Moreno (A. Flores, 86′); L. González (J. Savarino, 56′), R. Otero (S. Córdova, 75′), D. Machís (E. Bello, 78′); C. Santos (S. Rondón, 56′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Colombia 2-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (7 September 2018)

In front of a passionate Miami crowd, well-populated by those with ties to either of the neighbouring countries, Venezuela fell short in their long-awaited return to international action. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…

International Friendly

Friday 7 September 2018 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA

Colombia 2-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Colombia 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 7 September 2018 (YouTube)

La Vinotinto Return Half-Awake

With only stoppage-time left to play, Yimmi Chará struck to give Colombia a deserved 2-1 comeback win over a Venezuela whose lack of game-time for 298 days became more evident as the encounter wore on.

However, it certainly did not feel that way in the opening exchanges. Straight away, with less than a minute on the clock, an Alexander González diagonal ball offered a surprise one-on-one for Salomón Rondón against David Ospina. Unfortunately for the Newcastle summer signing, his touch was heavy and he could only awkwardly bundle the ball a fraction past the Napoli-loanee before the defence was on hand to clear up. Undeterred, before the clock reached the fourth minute, a González cross from the right caught the Colombian back line by surprise and, with his first-ever goal for the senior side, the alert Darwin Machís headed low into the opposite corner to give La Vinotinto a 1-0 lead.

There was a healthy number of compatriots in the stands of the home of the Miami Dolphins to cheer this dream collective return to the international fold and these two men would prove to be two of Venezuela’s more noteworthy contributors. The Elche right-back occasionally being a threat knocking balls into the area and the Udinese attacker – playing here on the left of midfield – rarely afraid to cut inside, drive past opponents and strike at Ospina’s goal.

Also early on, Venezuela’s most-capped active player, captain Tomás Rincón, asserted himself in midfield and, when the opportunity presented itself, sought to find the second-most-experienced player, Rondón. Overall, the Torino man had the kind of night that has earned him his ball-winning, battling reputation, whereas the Magpie, as at club level, lacked sharpness, often finding himself burdened with the donkey work of chasing scraps and attempting to fashion something from almost nothing. The link-up play with man-of-the-moment Josef Martínez was virtually non-existent, as the Atlanta United goal-machine saw even less of the ball. It has since been claimed that he was carrying a knock and that it had been agreed in advance that he would subsequently stay in the USA and thus not make the trip to Panama on Tuesday.

Further back in the Vinotinto ranks, another eye-catching performance was put in by 20-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez; for some, his side’s man of the match. However, his increasing involvement from around the quarter-hour mark onwards was to be rarely overturned for any substantial period of time, as Colombia’s World Cup-level fluidity and ability became more prominent.

Indeed, Los Cafeteros – in their first game since the departure of José Pékerman – enjoyed more midfield possession and were quick to target the Venezuelan left-flank, where Rolf Feltscher often found himself exposed and received little support from Machís. Atlético Madrid right-back Santiago Arias regularly profited, first really making his presence felt in the 15th minute when he whipped in a cross that Mateus Uribe did well to volley; Faríñez parried this low, preventing it from creeping into the far corner.

Three minutes later, River Plate-loanee Juan Fernando Quintero, announced himself on the Hard Rock turf. He would go on to be Colombia’s standout player, giving Venezuela’s rearguard a torrid time with his dribbles, crafty through-balls and all-round inventiveness. His first moment of magic saw him drop the shoulder with great ease to both Machís and Feltscher, putting himself in a great position inside the area, before miscuing his shot.

Quintero and his colleagues ensured that Venezuela regularly ceded the midfield ball-play, finding themselves on the backfoot, deeply retreated with often two defensive lines crowding the area, anxiously repelling balls from all directions. Thus, the scares arrived with greater frequency: Carlos Bacca sped past centre-back Jhon Chancellor but González marginally out-paced an opponent to clear the goalmouth cut-back; Quintero dummied a pass, leaving Arias in acres of space on the right to play a first-time pass to Juan Cuadrado in the area, whose shot was well-blocked by Chancellor’s partner Wilker Ángel; a minute later from a deep position, Quintero and Radamel Falcao were one step ahead of their opponents, as the former’s incisive pass to the latter left Júnior Moreno playing catch-up, although the Monaco striker’s effort from an acute position went into the side-netting.

Venezuela did make some further first-half in-roads into the Colombian half but struggled to have any command over the ball; instead, Quintero continued running the show. In the 33rd minute, from a centre-right position, he curled a left-footed ball that Cuadrado was more alert to than González, but the Juventus attacker was ultimately denied by the ever-attentive Faríñez, who knocked it out for a corner. Almost ten minutes later, the Millonarios goalkeeper was again very much awake, this time to a deceptive, curling free-kick by Quintero from near the right touchline; it was curling towards the back of the net, before being punched over the bar.

However, before the half-time whistle went, Venezuela gave their opponents a reminder of the sudden, unanticipated threat that lurked. Some rather improvised passing inside the final third between Rincón, Rondón and Machís ended with the captain turning in his tracks to play a pass to the edge of the area to the goalscorer. He, in turn, struck first-time with his right, curling barely a yard wide of Ospina’s far post.

For a fleeting moment, the 1-0 lead of Rafael Dudamel’s men did not feel quite so precarious, though they were to struggle to build upon this in the second half.

The pattern of play of the opening five minutes after the restart was very familiar, with last-ditch blocks and interceptions required to quell the Colombian threat. That is, until the 51st minute when a goal seemed on the cards, as an exquisite touch by Quintero generated a one-on-one opportunity for Falcao. However, his shot from little more than ten yards lacked direction as Faríñez stayed strong to dramatically block. Not to be outdone, Colombia’s all-time top-scorer would soon make up for this lack of composure.

Indeed, shortly after Machís cut over from the left to feed Sergio Córdova for a long-range effort that was easy work for Ospina, Colombia returned to their hunting ground and found a 55th-minute equaliser. Here, the Colombian strike-force were able to demonstrate high-level intuitive, cut-throat abilities against a Russia-based centre-back pairing. Upon making a run to receive a pass from Quintero, Villarreal’s Bacca – who played club football in Venezuela a decade ago – only needed two touches to gain space from Ángel and then poke the ball to the central Falcao, who also took two touches: first to open up the opportunity away from Chancellor and the second, killer, one to strike the ball home into the bottom corner.

The goal was undoubtedly deserved and nine minutes later, they could have taken the lead were it not for Faríñez. This time, Quintero’s attempt to cut open the defence was only partially thwarted, with the ball falling very invitingly for the central Uribe, whose side-footed effort would have crept into the far corner were it not for the low glove of the ex-Caracas FC stopper.

Although after the goal Colombia continued to give the opposition defence the jitters, Dudamel’s men were able to offer some glimpses of offensive threat. On the hour-mark, Machís was on hand to intercept a pass and play through Martínez, who suddenly had a one-on-one which was struck at Ospina – albeit after the play had been called back for a debatable offside.

Just before this moment, the rather ineffective Córdova was replaced on the right side of midfield by the more dynamic Luis “Cariaco” González, who appeared to relish playing against the country in which he now earns his living. Indeed, in his half-hour cameo, the Tolima winger gained space for himself and played in several balls that caused concern for Ospina and his centre-backs. Rondón managed to meet one of these in the 68th-minute but, perhaps owing to the defender on his back, was unable to make a telling connection. With a bit of work in training, this could potentially become a useful creative outlet for Dudamel. Elsewhere in the Venezuelan ranks, Rincón showed once again that his particular understanding with the ex-West Brom striker still holds some currency. Indeed, six minutes later, his lofted ball into the area was chested by the centre-forward, before the strike was blocked by Davinson Sánchez for a corner.

All that being said, the most positive attacking performance for Venezuela undoubtedly came from Serie A new-boy Machís. Out of nothing from 25 yards out in the 79th minute, he further underlined this by taking a stepover and firing a feisty left-footed strike that demanded a spectacular one-handed tip-over from Ospina.

Nevertheless, ultimately it was to be Colombia’s day and in the final ten minutes, with both teams semi-transformed due to the number of substitutes, they re-asserted their superiority. In the 83rd minute, they should really have had the winner, but Glasgow Rangers’ international debutant Alfredo Morelos was unable to adjust his footing; with the vacant goal gaping following a goalmouth pass from impressive fellow substitute Sebastián Villa, he instead knocked the ball into the hands of the grateful Faríñez. Despite this gaffe, one way or another, Morelos had a very memorable quarter-of-an-hour. Just two minutes later he received a pass from Luis Muriel on the edge of area, swivelling rapidly to strike low and only marginally missing the near post. Then, in the final minute of regulation time, though he knew little about it, he was involved in the winning goal.

Here, Villa played a one-two with Muriel on the right inside the area and dinked a ball past the – possibly misjudged – onrushing Faríñez, which defenders attempted to knock away but could only clear as far as Atlético Mineiro’s Yimmi Chará. Comically, his first attempt was blocked by the horizontal Morelos – who had instinctively decided to duck-and-cover on the goal-line – but he made sure from the rebound, giving interim manager Arturo Reyes the result that his side’s play had merited.

Overall then, in so many ways, Venezuela’s rusty performance should have come as little surprise, playing as they did in a similar manner to how they ended the qualifers, albeit with somewhat less verve and success. A few players, most notably Machís, offered optimism for the long-term future but the team lacked match sharpness and were often unable to keep up with a more advanced footballing nation. They were unable to hold onto the ball in the centre of the pitch, with attacking avenues largely coming from crosses and – mostly thwarted – rapid transitions, rather than patient build-up play. This absence of possession and the concomitant cautious camping meant that they often packed the centre of their considerable rearguard with bodies, seemingly in an implicit acknowledgement that the flanks were going to leak problems that necessitated reinforcements. As Dudamel said pre-game, the left-side in particular is a “headache” and thus it proved, both with Feltscher on the pitch as well as with his 62nd-minute replacement, debutant Luis Mago. With the Carabobo FC man scheduled to start against Panama on Tuesday, many Vinotinto fans will be hoping that he can provide a surprising solution and develop a better relationship with those around him.

Dudamel has indicated that several other hitherto unused players will see action in Panama City, in what is likely to be a considerable challenge against a side that Venezuela have not managed to beat in their last seven attempts – even if the last two games were draws.

Although we are unlikely to witness any dramatic changes in playing style, this may turn out to be a more inviting test and with the new cycle having only just begun, for everyone involved, there really is everything to play for.

Team Selections

Colombia (4-3-1-2): D. Ospina; S. Arias (H. Palacios, 90+2′), D. Sánchez, W. Tesillo, C. Borja; J. Cuadrado (Y. Chará, 75′), W. Barrios (J. Campuzano, 81′), M. Uribe; J. Quintero (S. Villa, 75′); C. Bacca (L. Muriel, 68′) & R. Falcao (A. Morelos, 77′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; A. González, J. Chancellor (Y. Osorio, 87′), W. Ángel, R. Feltscher (L. Mago, 62′); S. Córdova (L. González, 59′), T. Rincón (J. Savarino, 81′), J. Moreno, D. Machís (R. Otero, 81′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Lucena, 68′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – September 2018 Preview

After an international hiatus of nearly ten months, Venezuela’s senior team are finally returning to action with a friendly double-header. Still coming to terms with this impending reality, @DarrenSpherical fills in some gaps and takes a look at the state-of-play within La Vinotinto’s 24-man squad.

International Friendlies

Friday 7 September 2018 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA.

Colombia vs Venezuela

Tuesday 11 September 2018 – Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama.

Panama vs Venezuela

hardrockstadium

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida – the site of La Vinotinto‘s return

Time To Start Putting the Pieces Together

Last October, as the prematurely-doomed Russia 2018 qualifying campaign was ending with a post-Under 20 World Cup upswing of fortunes (three draws and a final-day victory), La Vinotinto coach Rafael Dudamel revealed that he had asked for “at least five friendlies for 2018“. With four now scheduled and possibly one or two more in the pipeline, it now looks as if his rather modest request may ultimately be granted.

Also this year – a World Cup year, no less – the match-shy Venezuela have defied all logic and managed to ascend from 52nd to 31st in the FIFA rankings. Thus, taking a very partial-sighted view of things, it could be said that Venezuela appear to be well-poised to crack on with unburdening themselves of being branded the “Cinderella” of CONMEBOL.

Perhaps, but throughout the near-300 days since last November that the senior national side has gone without playing – during which an astonishing 17 of the 24 players in the current squad have switched club sides – there has been no shortage of concern over the perceived lack of activity. In response, the FVF (Federación Venezolana de Fútbol) have repeatedly stated what should come as no surprise to anyone with a passing interest in the country’s economic situation: there is simply not enough money. Friendlies come at unfriendly prices and plenty of proposals have had to be declined. Thus, regardless of whether or not some pleading phonecalls were made, it makes considerable sense to see that the first two encounters that have been belatedly set in stone come against countries very close to home.

Nevertheless, for a football association who invited the nation’s media to a presentation in July titled “Qatar 2022. The Objective of Everyone” and whose social media channels regularly repeat the slogan that “We are World [Cup] Class“, tests against two recent World Cup-qualifiers are an apt reintroduction into the international fold.

Furthermore, despite all the frustrations from fans who fear that the country is losing ground, Rafael Dudamel has undoubtedly been a busy man in the intervening lull, pursuing the stated strategy of investing in the young. Indeed, he, along with his coaching staff have not only held a dozen or so training modules with primarily local talent, but they have also led into several tournaments the new generation of Under-20s as well as some prospects from the previous history-making cycle. Ironically, two clear beneficiaries of one of these campaigns have been two eligible overage players: left-back Luis Mago (Carabobo FC, 24 this month) and holding midfielder Agnel Flores (Monagas SC, 29). Barely a month ago, this pair helped a mostly Under-21 squad reach the final of the 2018 Central American & Caribbean Games, where they were runners-up to hosts Colombia.

Concerning youth though, another two members of that particular squad also called to the current Selección are centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay) and midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira). These are two of the four players present – along with attacking midfielder Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany) and goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) – who were runners-up last year in South Korea and in whom considerable hope is indeed invested.

Initially, there were in fact six players from the silver crop in this squad, but within the past week right-back Ronald Hernández and jinking Yeferson Soteldo have had to be replaced, along with the marginally more experienced Jhon Murillo (22). Visa problems being the official reason disclosed by the FVF. Were it not for a long-term injury, midfielder and erstwhile Under-20 captain Yangel Herrera would have received a call and a stronger recent run of form as well as a UK work permit would have also surely helped the cause of fellow absentee Adalberto Peñaranda. More than a handful of others from their generation are also considered potential future call-ups, further reinforcing the sense that if the senior side is to seriously threaten their continental rivals in the next four years, the integration of youth with more established figures will be key.

This thus begs the question, who out of the current crop are considered likely first-teamers? Right now, all would agree that the fast-tracked Fariñez undoubtedly receives the No. 1 shirt and that the pivotal role in front of the back-four of captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) is not up for debate. Forwards Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) and Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) are also leading figures. However, questions have been asked as to whether or not the pair can combine effectively and, should Dudamel opt for a lone striker, if the latter’s phenomenal MLS goalscoring exploits could one day rather soon lead to him usurping the Magpie as the focal point of the attack. Either way, such is the gulf in stature that even if one has to make way for the other in the line-up, the two other forwards named in this squad will have a considerable battle on their hands just to receive further call-ups, let alone gain a starting berth off one of the aforementioned pair.

After these names, things start to become a little more precarious. Regarding the rearguard, one of Dudamel’s great achievements last year at both Under-20 level as well as in the final stretch of the qualifiers was the tightening up at the back, resulting in an admirably low number of goals conceded. However, there lurks the feeling that these were feats of a more collective, well-disciplined and systematic nature, rather than owing to a combination of individual brilliance. Thus, though the Russian-based pair of Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny) and Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala) currently have the strongest claims to the centre-back positions, it will be well worth looking at the 19-year-old Ferraresi as well as Yordan Osorio, who currently finds himself on loan at Vitória Guimarães, after a January transfer to Portuguese giants Porto.

Regarding the defensive flanks, they were repeatedly exploited by opponents in the qualifiers and Dudamel himself has admitted that the left-back position is a problem. As Rolf Feltscher‘s form at LA Galaxy – where, owing to the competition of Ashley Cole, he is usually deployed on the right – does not inspire confidence, opportunity surely beckons for the uncapped Mago. On the right, Hernández’s late omission is definitely a setback for personal, as well as collective, development. His replacement Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), a 27-year-old with less than a handful of caps who spent some of the past year playing in Gibraltar, does not appear to be one for the long run. Thus, the door is still very much open to Alexander González (Elche, Spain), a healthily-capped individual whose optimum position seems to lay somewhere curiously between that of a right-back and a right-sided midfielder, joining in with attacks but occasionally leaving himself exposed.

Just in front, though Flores or Lucena may well receive a chance to partner Rincón, with the absence of Herrera, Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) can really stake a claim to challenge his fellow MLS-dwelling compatriot for that coveted first-team spot. Aided by the arrival of Wayne Rooney, the 25-year-old is enjoying a good spell at club level, off the back of making his international debut last year, from which he went on to start in the heart of the Vinotinto midfield in the draws against Uruguay and Argentina.

Regarding the more attack-minded midfield positions, whether Dudamel opts for one on each flank or an attacking line of three, he still has the customary, welcome selection issue. Venezuela have had a relatively impressive amount of success with the development of players in this broad area and new candidates for the limited number of roles frequently emerge. Indeed, the right-sided Córdova rapidly transitioned from his country’s Under-20 World Cup topscorer to a regular in the Vinotinto line-up, starting all four of the remaining qualifying matches. However, with no starts yet this season in the Bundesliga, he will know more than anyone that nothing can be taken for granted. The visa-less Murillo was also making headway in the final qualifying stretch along with, to perhaps a lesser extent, Rómulo Otero, who has since raised eyebrows by swapping being a one-man highlight reel in Brazil for a loan spell in Saudi Arabia.

If there is to be a reordering in the pecking order, there are two men in particular who are primed to capitalise. Firstly, Darwin Machís, who can be deployed on either side of an attacking midfield and who also gained a start against Colombia last August. Since then, the tenacious late-bloomer of 25 years has enjoyed a sensational, golazo-laden season with Granada, justifying their faith in him and earning himself a move to Udinese, where he has already started the first three Serie A games of the season. Secondly, there is the right-sided Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), whose inclusion only came at the eleventh hour following the omissions of Murillo and Soteldo. Perhaps this will prove to be a blessing in disguise as, after initially being overlooked, the ex-Zulia man – only a mere several months older than the much-hyped Soteldo – has gone on a spectacular run of form, to the point where he now seems like a permanent fixture of the MLS’s official Team of the Week.

Machís and Savarino undoubtedly have the higher-profiles, but many will also be hoping to see some contributions from two other players in fine form: the uncapped Eduard Bello, who has netted 8 times in 21 league games since his move to Chile with Deportes Antofagasta and  Luis “Cariaco” González, the other beneficiary of the Murillo/Soteldo withdrawals. The latter has recently turned up at Colombian title-winners Deportes Tolima, assisting an impressive number of times in the same side as compatriot Yohandry Orozco (who, in turn, despite being one of the three overage players at the Central American and Caribbean Games, where he contributed three goals in five games, has not been selected here).

So, overall then, aside from perhaps four starting positions, there is certainly all to play for, with no shortage of competition inside and outside of the current squad. Tactically, Dudamel has spoken of experiments with the youth sides – in particular, playing with three at the back – though there is no indication yet as to whether this will be carried over to the seniors. What does remain likely, however, is that the side will continue with a compact defensive rearguard and will seek to break with rapid transitions on the counter. If, in time, they can also add some consistency in the starting personnel – particularly amongst the attacking midfield positions – and generate some more positive, front-foot play, this will certainly feel like team progress.

Although they are merely friendlies and the Copa América is not for another nine months, all Vinotinto fans will be hoping, perhaps with hearts rather than heads, that their representatives have not lost too much momentum since last year’s promising end. Results may not be the priority, but there is reason for optimism, not least because the national side does possess a respectable recent record against Colombia and have drawn their last two games against Panama (with the rain-soaked September 2015 encounter actually proving to be Juan Arango’s final appearance for his country).

There are, of course, far more important things for Venezuelans to be preoccupied with.

In April of this year, the life of 30-year-old Jesús Guacarán – physiotherapist for La Vinotinto who was part of the Under-20 national team’s success – was taken, shot dead whilst out shopping in Barquisimeto, thus depriving his wife of not only her husband but of a father for their then-unborn child. This is but one of countless tragedies that have occurred in a nation contending with unimaginable economic and social turmoil, though it is one of the more acutely-felt incidents for the Selección. Plenty of high-profile individuals conveyed their sadness on social media and it can only be speculated how the everyday uncertainties and hardships of their family members, friends and other loved ones impact upon the mindsets of the players and coaches of the national side.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Salomón Rondón offered this insight into the team’s perspective going into games: “My responsibility is to make Venezuelan people proud. When we play for the national team we try to make them forget the bad things, just for those 90 minutes.”

Though this may be impossible for some, here’s hoping that the long-awaited return of La Vinotinto can at least raise a few extra smiles, however fleeting, and inspire many in the face of adversity.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintosept2018

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Alexander González (Elche, Spain), Luis Mago (Carabobo FC) & Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal),

Midfielders

Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Agnel Flores (Monagas SC), Luis González (Deportes Tolima, Colombia), Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela, on loan from Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Deportivo La Coruña, Spain).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

USA 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (3 June 2017)

Somewhat overshadowed by events in South Korea, Venezuela’s senior national side have begun their two-stop American tour…

International Friendly

Saturday 3 June 2017 – Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

USA 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of USA 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 3 June 2017 (YouTube)

Youthful Venezuela Maintain Composure To Earn A Draw

As younger representatives of the two nations were preparing to face one another shortly afterwards at the Under-20 World Cup, the seniors of Venezuela and the USA played to a draw that the South Americans may come away happier with.

Indeed, fielding an XI featuring just two or three players who, based on recent encounters, could be described as regulars, they initially found themselves on the backfoot. In these opening exchanges, they were content to sit back and wait for potential counter-attacking opportunities as the Americans got forward. However, their CONCACAF opponents, in turn, were unable to really test goalkeeper José Contreras, instead only being able to cause some mild fright amongst the backline. To give the first of a few examples, in the 14th minute the creative Fabian Johnson appeared to have an opening on the edge of the area and thus played a neat through-ball towards Clint Dempsey, though this narrowly evaded the Seattle Sounders striker. Three minutes later, from a similarly promising position inside the area, Dempsey was unable to finish off a decent chipped forward ball, with centre-back Sema Velázquez instead getting in a foot to divert the ball towards Contreras. Then, shortly afterwards in the 19th minute, wonderboy Christian Pulisic received a cut back on the inside-left of the area, though his shot was always rising and went a few yards over.

Throughout all of this, Venezuela managed to get forward a couple of times, Darwin Machís’ 10th-minute stepover and blasted low cross being perhaps their most significant moment. That said, when they scored in the 29th minute, it was certainly against the run of play. This goal came as Junior Moreno’s corner was knocked back out towards him only for his header to send the ball straight back into the goalmouth where centre-back Velázquez instinctively stretched out a high leg to hi-yah the ball home for 1-0.

Subsequently, Venezuela had a couple more opportunities with impressive international debutant Moreno involved in both. The 23-year-old Zulia midfielder has some footballing pedigree as his father Carlos Horacio Moreno briefly managed the national side in 1989 (and was also sadly caught up in the nation’s seemingly never-ending cycle of violence late last year when he was shot – albeit thankfully not fatally). Here, in the 33rd minute, Moreno Jr. did well to find some space and strike a fine swerving right-footed shot from 30 yards, which required a good low save from goalkeeper Tim Howard. From the subsequent corner, Moreno’s ball was headed on and reached left-back Rubert Quijada, whose nodded effort was well-gloved by Howard onto the post.

Upon half-time, the USA – who wore shirts with rainbow-coloured numbers to show their support for the LBGTQ community – had to confront the fact that for all their early possession, they had encountered a well-organised makeshift Venezuela and would need to find more effective ways of breaking them down.

Three minutes after the restart, they had a half-chance when Dempsey rose well to a cross from the left, yet headed slightly wide of the near post. Up the other end in the 55th minute, Christian Santos was to curl an effort not too far over from the edge of the area, though six minutes later, his side were to be pegged back. Indeed, just after the hour-mark, Borussia Dortmund starlet Pulisic did well to evade a challenge on the inside-left before striking low with his left boot across goal and past the despairing dive of Contreras. 1-1.

The remaining half-hour was rather short on clear opportunities and/or any real rhythm as both teams struck a blow against competitive action by making six substitutions each. One of these, Venezuela’s Jefferson Savarino, was making his debut in front of the fans of his new club Real Salt Lake and, in the 74th minute just two minutes after coming on, impressively roamed into space. He got into a good position on the inside-right and played a decent chipped ball forward, though the otherwise quiet Salomón Rondón was unable to control this.

The USA, on the other hand, caused a minor scare when Michael Bradley’s 80th-minute low ball upfield had to be cleared by the onrushing Contreras and, at the death, had another moment of note when Omar González headed a couple of yards wide from a corner.

Overall, acting manager Marcos Mathías as well as the South Korea-residing Rafael Dudamel must be pleased with this outcome, particularly the defensive solidity and organisation that their men displayed, not to mention the attacking threat of Moreno. Unsurprisingly given the nature of the match, its timing as well as the mutual unfamiliarity of so many in the Vinotinto shirts, it was far from a classic, but if they can put in a similar shift on Thursday, then it will surely be considered a worthwhile journey.

Team Selections

USA (4-1-3-2): T. Howard; D. Yedlin (G. Zusi, 90+1′), G. Cameron (O. González, 46′), J. Brooks (M. Hedges, 56′), J. Villafaña; M. Bradley; F. Johnson (T. Ream, 63′), C. Pulisic, D. Nagbe (J. Morris, 70′); B. Wood, C. Dempsey (K. Acosta, 63′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): J. Contreras; P. Camacho, S. Velázquez (Y. Osorio, 56′), M. Villanueva, R. Quijada; J. Murillo (J. Vargas, 89′), J. Moreno (F. La Mantía, 83′), F. Flores, D. Machís (A. Romero, 67′);  S. Rondón (A. Ponce, 90+3′) & C. Santos (J. Savarino, 72′).

The second game of Venezuela’s American trip is on Thursday 8 June 2017 against Ecuador. For live updates on this match, please follow @DarrenSpherical and, for a full report with video highlights, do consider returning to Hispanospherical.com a day or so after the full-time whistle.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical