Tag Archives: Deportivo Táchira

Venezuela 7-0 Vanuatu (Group B, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 23 May 2017)

Venezuela’s second Group B game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them slaughter Oceania’s Vanuatu. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

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(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results, fixtures and standings)

Venezuela 7-0 Vanuatu

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group B, 23 May 2017 (YouTube)

Despite Vanuatu managing to give Mexico a scare in their opening game, they were easily routed by Rafael Dudamel’s men who, following the draw in the other Group B match, have now already booked their place in the knock-out stages.

Venezuela were close to going in front within a minute, but instead had to wait until the half-hour mark to get things underway when, from a well-worked free-kick, Adalberto Peñaranda crossed to the back post for Williams Velásquez to head home. The second came 12 minutes later when, following a defender’s header into his direction, Sergio Córdova nodded into the net from close range. His goal had initially been ruled offside but after some video-assisted double-checking, he was allowed to belatedly reel away in celebration.

Less than a minute after the restart, slim hopes of another Vanuatu comeback attempt were all but eradicated as the dazzling Peñaranda struck a low effort in to make it 3-0. Ten minutes later, Venezuela won a penalty and, of all people, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez – who again didn’t have a save of note to make all game – stepped up to make it four. Things were indeed rather comfortable for La Vinotinto‘s youngsters, leading Dudamel to gradually make alterations, which allowed some of his top performers a spot of rest. This didn’t change the complexion of the game and thus the fifth goal arrived after 73 minutes when Ronaldo Lucena’s fine chipped ball was controlled and struck home by Córdova, who notched his third of the competition. Then, some nine minutes later, two substitutes combined as Yeferson Soteldo jinked into the area from the left, before pulling the ball back for 17-year-old Jan Hurtado to knock in for sixth. Lastly, shortly before the referee showed mercy on the Pacific Islanders, Venezuela scored the seventh after Eduin Quero’s low ball was dummied by Hurtado in the centre and then tapped in by the final substitute, Samuel Sosa. All in all, it was a comprehensive drubbing and one which may allow at least a few of this talented group of players to conserve some energy before the do-or-die phase gets underway.

Talent Tracking

venezuelaflag Venezuela

For the second successive game, right-sided attacker Sergio Córdova (No. 19, Caracas FC) was undoubtedly a man of the match contender, with his two goals now making him the tournament’s outright topscorer with three. For the time being at least, his performances have elevated him into the top echelon of the most important players in La Vinotinto‘s Under-20 set-up, something that in qualifying he was perhaps more on the fringes of. His first goal here was a decent, alert, close-range header after a corner was first nodded into a cluster of players, before one defender diverted it into the direction of the Caracas man. His effort may have initially been ruled out but, despite being made to wait at least a minute for the referee to change his decision via the aid of video technology, that could not stop him from celebrating plane-like as if there had been no delay in proceedings. His second, which came in the 73rd minute just after he had struck the outside of the post, was particularly well-taken, with a dinked ball finding him in the area – this he controlled and then poked home with aplomb.

Otherwise, Córdova was often involved in his side’s attacks and, had some of his team-mates shown more composure, could well have also had at least a couple of assists to his name. Indeed, shortly before his second goal, he played in Ronaldo Chacón (No. 11, Caracas FC), but despite the latter – who was never far away from the action himself but may be a little disappointed not to have got on the scoresheet – being virtually one-on-one, his shot was too close to the goalkeeper.

Furthermore, much earlier than this with just a minute on the clock, Córdova also did well to win some space on the right before firing a fine low cross into the area, yet the chance that he created was sliced badly wide by Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas Atlético). Regarding the latter, his heroics against Germany aside, here he was to display more evidence that he is better off providing support, rather than rounding off moves. Indeed, as well as this miss, later on in the early stages of the second half, he also had a one-on-one of his own yet, like Chacón would later do, gifted the goalkeeper a comfortable save. On the plus side, however, just before this, he sprayed a fine pass forward with the outside of his right boot for a team-mate to get the third goal.

This was, of course, the man who had actually set up Peña for his second notable miss: Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford). He finished this off with a clinical left-footed strike inside the area and, overall, was to rival Córdova as the leading attacking threat. This occurred at the beginning of the 15 minutes following the restart, during which he often looked almost unplayable as he ran the show dribbling infield from the left. As well as scoring in this period, he also caused plenty of other problems, such as provoking a low save as well as teeing up some team-mates – one of whom hit the bar from the edge of the area. Upon the hour-mark, Dudamel opted to end his reign of terror over the Vanuatu back-line, some of whom had also been bamboozled by him in the first half, when he ran into space on the left, before crossing for centre-back Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) to head home at the back post.

Also receiving some credit for this goal has to be Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) who, from a free-kick on the left, initially colluded with Peñaranda, passing the ball upfield to him past some static defenders. The left-footed deep-lying midfielder was also the man who later received the Málaga-loanee’s ball and struck the top of the crossbar; he too was to be one of his side’s most influential players. Indeed, his crosses into the area – particularly from set-pieces – were a frequent threat; to list them all here would perhaps belabour the point, though suffice to say, they often left the Vanuatan defence jostling and scrambling with the Venezuelan attackers. Perhaps his most notable one was the corner which, after a few headers, led to Córdova’s first goal, though his greatest contribution overall was the beautiful chipped ball from open play on the inside-left for Córdova’s second.

His colleague in the centre of midfield, captain Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) also had a solid game. He played a key role in ensuring that the back four had very little to do and was often responsible for initiating forward forays from his deep position. To give two examples: when he headed the ball onwards to Peña which ultimately led to Peñaranda’s goal, followed soon after by his pass forward for the subsequent chance missed by Peña. He also headed the ball back into the area to be diverted towards Córdova for the latter’s first goal as well as earlier stabbed an effort of his own from roughly ten yards out – this, the goalkeeper instinctively blocked for a corner.

One other attacking contribution of his was a 63rd-minute pass to Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) who, from a promising position just inside the area, shot too close to the goalkeeper. This occurred just after the ex-Zamora man had come off the bench, replacing Peñaranda in a swap that would surely dishearten many other more experienced under-siege defences.  His absence from the line-up may have been a bit of a surprise, but he was also initially left out of an early qualifying game against Bolivia and it’s quite possible that Dudamel simply wanted to keep him as fresh as possible for later encounters. Regardless, though he only had half an hour, he showcased his eye-catching dribbling abilities on two particular occasions: firstly, in the 72nd minute when he waltzed over towards the dee area, where he passed to Córdova who hit the post. Secondly, ten minutes later, when he danced along the left byline, before pulling it back for a team-mate to score the sixth.

This was Jan Hurtado (No. 13, Deportivo Táchira), who netted three goals at the CONMEBOL Under-17 tournament earlier this year and who also had a minor role in the final goal. Indeed, he dummied a low cross from left-back Eduin Quero (No. 3, Deportivo Táchira) to allow a tap-in by another 17-year-old – albeit, one who wasn’t part of either the Under-17 or the Under-20 qualifying campaigns – Samuel Sosa (No. 15, Deportivo Táchira).

Last but by no means least, congratulations are in order for Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) upon achieving the rare feat of becoming a goalscoring goalkeeper (even if – whisper it – his 56th-minute penalty was worryingly close to his opposite number who dived over it). Like his defence, he had virtually nothing to do up his own end and yet, as one of the most hyped players at the tournament in his position, the boy’s got to find some way to get noticed. Cue his inner striker – a role he previously played in at a younger level.

In the other Group B game played today, Germany drew 0-0 with Mexico, who will be Venezuela’s final group opponents on Friday 26 May 2017.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news on the South American nations at South Korea 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match-by-match talent-tracking articles.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – September 2015 Preview

International Friendlies 

Friday 4 September 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State.

Venezuela vs Honduras 

Tuesday 8 September 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State.

Venezuela vs Panama

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Estadio Cachamay in Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State (Wikimedia).

Getting the Gang Back Together to Prepare for the Greatest Challenge

We meet again. Casually resented by great swathes of European fans who are spoilt-for-choice domestically, yet eagerly anticipated by many in the talent-exporting Latin American nations, an international break is once again upon us.

Venezuelans, for whom the national team inspires infinitely more passion amongst the general population than the neglected local fare, are amongst those in the region readying themselves for two further opportunities to run the rule over their representatives. Indeed, it may have been a mere two-and-a-half months ago that La Vinotinto’s Copa América campaign ended in dejection almost as soon as it had been inaugurated by unexpected euphoria, but with World Cup qualifying commencing next month, there really is little time or appetite to be absorbed by self-pity and scapegoating. After all, as mainstream football coverage of the nation rarely misses the opportunity to point out, Venezuela remains the only CONMEBOL country yet to feature at a World Cup.

Thus, warm feelings and intrepid eyes greet the bulk of this 26-man squad of players derived from four continents, 13 countries and 15 distinct leagues. Such diversity means that the attempts of even the most caffeine-addled, antisocial and aspiration-free fanatics in tracking every movement of the individuals in with a shot of a selección call-up will be hopelessly thwarted. Instead, those who are so inclined tend to resign themselves each weekend to an overseas game or two featuring one or more of their pioneering compatriots, supplemented by some online highlights of several other cracks – if, that is, they can find them.

The inadequacies and skewered view of the team intrinsic to this particular footballing consumption should be apparent. It is, after all, not often one comes acoss much visual material  of merit featuring the players who are fielded in less headline-grabbing and highlight-friendly positions, such as defence and defensive midfield. Moreover, newcomers to football in this corner of the world will be unsurprised to learn that the disparity in the locations of the players’ clubs is often matched in the wide differences of opinions held amongst fans, with certain favourites being held in high esteem by some for feats observed in YouTube videos and vines, yet achieved in the distant past.

One can only wonder how coach Noel Sanvicente and his staff manage to keep tabs on their potential history-makers. Some repeatedly ignored players, such as Yonathan Del Valle who announced his retirement from the international game in May a couple of weeks shy of his 25th birthday, doubtless think that they have grave difficulties coping with their workload.

Nevertheless, for both the fans and the serial-winner leader they call Chita, this all conspires to make the scant amount of time the players have together golden. With the symbol to inspire and unify the sometimes suppressed footballing passions of this nation reactivated once again, most of the men who take to the pitch in the upcoming days know that irrespective of what they have achieved recently at club level, what they do for their country will carry most weight in the minds of those in the stands as well as in the dugout.

‘Don’t I Know You From…?’ Familiar Faces in the Central American Opposition

Honduras and Panama, though undeniably substantial opponents, may lack the star power to entice a full house to Estadio Cachamay, but the atmosphere inside Mineros de Guayana’s home ground could still take a few by surprise. Indeed, for various logistical and administrative reasons, opportunities to fly the flag have been at a premium recently, with only one game having been played on home soil in Sanvicente’s near-14-month reign – a 2-1 win in February, also against Honduras.

This result marked the conclusion a double-header between the two nations and also the second Venezuelan win, as the preceding week in San Pedro Sula a 3-2 defeat was inflicted upon Jorge Luis Pinto in what was his debut game in charge of Los Catrachos. While the Colombian mastermind behind Costa Rica’s run to the quarter-finals of last year’s World Cup has continued his poor start, exiting July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup at the group stage, he has seemed in good spirits upon his arrival in Venezuela. Indeed, no doubt partly alluding to his 2010/11 title-winning tenure at the helm of Deportivo Táchira, he remarked to the local press in Puerto Ordaz that the country holds ‘very fond memories’ for him. As the encounters earlier this year were contested mainly by home-based players (plus a few MLS-dwellers on the Honduran side), in more ways than one, he will be hoping for an altogether different match on 4 September.

By contrast, Panama have won their last two internationals with Venezuela. While both games did occur back in 2010 and the Vinotinto line-up contained a mixture of fringe players alongside first-teamers, Los Canaleros have consistently shown, through their admirable, if similarly unlucky, 2014 World Cup Qualifying and 2015 Gold Cup campaigns, that they are more than capable of a third consecutive win. Furthermore, due in part to the country’s relative proximity to their opponents, a fair few Panamanians have enjoyed considerable recent success on Venezuelan soil playing in the domestic league, such as last season’s leading goalscorer, Edwin Aguilar of Deportivo Anzoátegui. He is not in the current squad but Marcos Sánchez, a midfielder for the 2014/15 champions Deportivo Táchira, is.

Squad Overview: Defence Less Tight for Friendies but the Core is Seemingly Settled 

How much weight Sanvicente puts on getting results, irrespective of the performances, from these two friendlies is debatable, though several in the Venezuelan set-up have spoken of the necessity of a strong home record to help keep them at least within touching distance throughout the two-year qualifying campaign. Given the contrast between the woeful, defensively porous displays in the games leading into Copa América and the resolute, compact performance in the surprise 1-0 group win over Colombia, many could be forgiven for questioning the merits of such internationals. Indeed, while La Vinotinto may have lost their subsequent two group games – 1-0 against Peru, 2-1 versus Brazil – their defensive record for the tournament still stood at an ostensibly admirable three conceded in three games – quite an improvement on the 18 (19 officially) that were knocked into their net by largely weaker opposition in eight warm-up games. Then again, as Group C at Chile 2015 was rather low-scoring, with a mere nine goals in total, more considered verdicts on the defence may have to wait until at least a few qualifying games have been played.

Nevertheless, what can be said with some certainty is that while Sanvicente has been a little coy on his line-up plans for these friendlies, nothing has occurred to suggest a dramatic change of personnel regarding the majority of his first-choice picks, particularly at the back. Barring injuries/suspensions/colossal mishaps, between the sticks next month for the qualifiers with Paraguay and Brazil will be Alain Baroja who, after winning a last-minute battle to be the national no. 1 in June has since left Caracas FC and has played the opening two league games of the season for AEK Athens. At right-back will be Málaga’s tenacious Roberto Rosales, with the centre-back pairing comprising of the towering, dependable Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Buriram United’s Thai-based GladiadorAndrés Túñez. All of these men were amongst their clubs’ most consistent and reliable performers last season and also played the entirety of their country’s three games at Copa América. If there is to be any experimentation in this area, Deportivo Táchira’s 22-year-old centre-back Wílker Ángel, who is already very much part of his club’s folkore, may be given a run out. He sat on the bench in Chile and may well find himself in future competitive line-ups, but there has been no suggestion that he is on the cusp of a breakthrough just yet.

Owing to Fernando Amorebieta’s tournament-turning red card against Peru and subsequent suspension, the front-runner to occupy the left-back berth for at least the Paraguay game next month is the man who filled in for him after his dismissal and against Brazil, Gabriel Cichero. Now back at Swiss side Sion after a year on loan in his native country, he will be looking forward to Europa League games against, amongst others, Liverpool and also to proving Sanvicente that he was wrong to ditch him so late on, after he had started all but one of the warm-up games in the year preceding Copa América. The only competition he has in the current squad is from Caracas’ Francisco Carabalí, but while he has been an integral part of his club’s miserly defence, having not been included in the Copa América squad, he currently stands less chance than Ángel of starting a competitive fixture.

So then, barring misfortune and/or catastrophe, all these positions for at least the first October qualifier seem fairly predictable and, as of this moment, so are the two spots in front of them. Indeed, Genoa-based roaming midfield warrior Tomás Rincón will undoubtedly start, with much of the team’s success dependent on the levels of commitment, organisation and belief he can help instil and inspire in those around him. His partner-in-crime in June was Santa Fe’s Luis Manuel Seijas, a more graceful midfielder capable of some stunning strikes and creative passes, but who is also not averse to mucking in. His most likely competition in current squad comes from Franklin Lucena, who has recently joined him in Colombia on loan at Once Caldas. However, at 34, he may be feeling uncertain as to whether Sanvicente fancies him in the long run for a position that demands zero lapses in concentration and, ideally, optimum levels of energy to meet head-on what can be frequent onslaughts. He may nevertheless take to the field in the upcoming days, as may 24-year-old Franco Signorelli, whose last two – also his first two – brief appearances for his country came last year. Having recently agreed to a loan from Serie A Empoli to Serie B Ternana, he will undeniably be seeking to make the most of his rare time with Sanvicente, as who knows how much the boss will see of his club outings this season.

Ultimately, while Sanvicente is likely to opt for a more open approach against Honduras and Panama, which may well afford their opponents more opportunities than the likes of Colombia, Peru and even Brazil could muster, he can allow himself a considerable degree of confidence regarding his defence-minded players in competitive games. After all, despite the two defeats endured in June, they never embarrassed themselves, nor were they ever far from gaining a result – that is, had their attacking players been able to link up more effectively, more frequently and create more goalscoring opportunities.

Squad Overview: Better Teamwork and More Target Practice Needed for Attackers 

Indeed, while Venezuela surprised their Colombian neighbours by having the better of the chances in the first hour or so (and, should any football-fatigued soul have forgotten, scored the match-winning goal), this proved to be something of a false dawn. Exiting the tournament with a mere two goals from three games just compounded the already meagre returns under Sanvicente, whose overall record now stands at 14 goals scored (though 12 officially) from 11 games. Thus, with his defensive personnel and tactics having largely been proven to aid the cause, Chita must surely place far greater emphasis in these two warm-up games towards finding the net more often.

As in all three of the group cames in Chile, he started with the same three players in the attacking midfield positions as well as the same striker up front, it is tempting to think that they are all likely to retain their spots next month. Transfer record-breaking striker Salomón Rondón undoubtedly will and the three behind him all have strong claims for places as well. After all, Atlético Nacional’s Alejandro Guerra on the left repeatedly linked up well with Rondón, gaining an assist for the goal against Colombia and could well have notched more had Venezuela’s chief marksman maintained his composure in front of the framework. In the centre, Juan Arango, despite persistent speculation that his age (35) renders almost every game as ‘quite possibly his last’, nevertheless managed to play some key, elegant passes and had a vital role in both tournament goals. On the right, the resurgent Ronald Vargas impressed so much against Colombia with his abilities to beat his marker, hold the ball up as well as link and switch with his team-mates, that he had the Athens-based press salivating over what he would be bringing to his new owners AEK. He was, however, less visible in the subsequent two games and though he has since scored on his debut for his Greek paymasters, as was the case in the summer, he is still unable to complete a full 90 minutes. If it is fitness which ultimately sees him sidelined in the future, for Guerra the most likely factor would be his inconsistency and tendency to give the ball away, whereas for Arango it would probably be his comparative lack of tracking back, as he was often left in a high, free role in Chile.

Thus, while these men collectively may all be currently in pole position to get the nod next month, they will not be feeling as secure of this as the defensive players surely are. The Venezuelan attacking midfield has long been the most competitive area of the pitch and, with at least ten versatile players of note capable of filling any of the three roles, there are almost as many players outside of the current squad as are within it who could receive a spot in the line-up within the next two years.

Indeed, for one, there is 22-year-old Rómulo Otero, who was ruled out of Copa América with injury and is currently again sidelined, frustrating his new owners Huachipato, for whom he got off to an explosive start in early August. He has long been considered an international star-in-waiting and had been linked to teams in countries such as Portugal and France, so when his long-anticipated move away from Caracas took him instead to a fairly unprestigious Chilean outfit, many were bemused. Similarly high hopes have been expressed for 20-year-old Jhon Murillo, who scored the winning goal against Honduras on his international debut earlier this year and was called up to the Copa América squad. He was eagerly snapped up just before the tournament by Benfica on a five-year-deal and is now a regular starter on loan at fellow Primeira Liga side Tondela. Sanvicente has stated that the speedy, if volatile, winger is one for the future but has been left out as he knows what he can do and instead wants to allow him to settle in with his new club, while he takes a closer look at other players. No explanation has been forthcoming regarding the absence of 21-year-old Juanpi of Málaga, though it is most likely that a lack of first-team experience in La Liga is the cause. However, with a recent exodus of midfield talent having occurred at the Andalusian club, he has come off the bench in both league encounters this season. Having already been granted a lengthy contract extension, this could prove to be his breakthrough year and will hopefully go some way to determining which of the positions he has hitherto occupied is best suited for him: in the hole, on either flank of an attacking midfield trident or, further back in a deep-lying playmaker role.

Regarding those in the actual squad, Torino’s Josef Martínez is currently the strongest challenger for a starting berth. Indeed, it surprised many that he was not in any line-up in June, yet when he did come on, he showed glimpses of his abilities to unsettle defenders and make things happen. Had fellow substitute Miku either been born a few inches taller or jumped a similar distance higher (the jury is still out on that one), then he would have been able to convert Martínez’s whipped cross in the dying moments of the Brazil game and thus secured Venezuela’s progress. Alternatively, there is Christian Santos, who Sanvicente has said he wants to take a closer look at and is likely to feature in at least one of the warm-up games. After confirming his eligibility to represent the country of his birth, there was much fanfare for the Germany-raised attacker when he made his international debut earlier this year. However, having lasted only an hour of a dismal friendly loss against Jamaica and subsequently missing out on Chile 2015, fans will this time be hoping to see him replicate some of last season’s phenomenal goal-scoring club form which helped NEC Nijmegen’s charge into the Dutch top-flight. Elsewhere, Mario  Rondón, the most surprising omission from the Copa América squad, has earned a recall and rather than being consumed by bitterness is instead seemingly filled with determination to ensure he is regularly in Sanvicente’s plans for at least the next two years. Indeed, a February move from Portugal to China may not have entirely helped his personal cause as beforehand he had been one of the most common names on Sanvicente’s teamsheets, yet come late May when the final cut was made, alleged justifications for his exclusion included his supposedly inferior fitness levels and lack of unique qualities in relation to his rivals. As he will be 30 next March and has earned roughly half of his caps under Sanvicente, he knows that the upcoming qualification cycle is likely to be his last chance to shine for his country. Another man in contention who has also earned a recall is Juan Falcón, who owes much to his international manager for converting him from a midfielder to a striker when the pair won the Venezuelan title twice together with Zamora (2012-14). He subsequently moved to Metz in Ligue 1 where he started in strong goalscoring form, yet succumbed to a long-term injury and struggled to regain his place in the side, who ultimately slipped down to the second tier. Nevertheless, with less than a handful of caps to his name and a strong personal association with the boss, this is a vital opportunity to remind everyone what he is capable of. However, if he is given a chance, it will more likely be as one of the attacking midfield three, possibly playing off Salomón Rondón.

With all this competition over three spots on the pitch, it seems counter-intuitive to many that Venezuela have struggled so much to find the net in recent times. There was seemingly some progress made in the three games in June as beforehand, the team often struggled to put together more than a handful of effective forward passes and were largely reliant on long-range efforts, set-pieces and defensive errors for goals. Still, Sanvicente knows that he is yet to stumble upon the right formula in this area. While he will doubtless trial at least a couple of the aforementioned individuals in the upcoming days, it remains to be seen whether a change of personnel is required.

Saviour or Historical Footnote? The Wildcard on the Wing 

If it is, however, then there are plenty of Venezuelans hoping that one individual in particular can constitute a large proportion of the solution. This man, hitherto unnamed but who is predicted to feature in at least one of the friendlies, is precisely the kind of player whose reputation owes much to on-field achievements that occurred in what can at times feel like the distant past. An attacking winger, born in the town of San Félix in Ciudad Guayana, he has played with and won trophies alongside some of the greatest names in global football and also scored in one of the most famous club games of the 21st century. Indeed, Salomón Rondón may now be the leading Venezuelan in most people’s eyes but, despite playing in the most-watched league in the world and being serenaded with his own personalised infectious ditty, even he can only claim a mere one-third of the number of Twitter followers this purported man of the hour has. Despite this, the wide-man who some are hoping can rapidly enhance the West Brom striker’s goal tally has never yet actually played for the country of his birth and a considerable number of his compatriots feel he should not be allowed to.

Readers who already know who the player in question is may feel this build-up is unmerited; time may very well prove that to be the case. For those still in the dark yet seeking enlightenment, click here to find out just who the mystery man is. The rest of you: enjoy the games and feel free to come back here in the upcoming days to find out whether there has been a Second Coming or not.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers: Alaín Baroja (AEK Athens), José David Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC).

Defenders: Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Francisco Carabalí (Caracas FC), Gabriel Cichero (Sion), Alexander González (Young Boys), Grenddy Perozo (Zulia FC), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), Andrés Túñez (Buriram United), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders: Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana), César González (Deportivo Táchira), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, on loan from Mineros de Guayana), Franklin Lucena (Once Caldas, on loan from Deportivo La Guaira), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fé), Franco Signorelli (Ternana, on loan from Empoli), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen), Jeffrén Suárez (KAS Eupen), Ronald Vargas (AEK Athens).

Forwards: Juan Falcón (Metz), Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor (Rayo Vallecano), Josef Martínez (Torino), Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Deportivo Táchira Defeat Trujillanos to be Crowned the 2014/15 Champions of Venezuela

2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final Second Leg

Sunday 17 May 2015 – Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira State

Deportivo Táchira 1-0 Trujillanos (Deportivo Táchira win 1-0 on aggregate)

Video Highlights of Deportivo Táchira 1-0 Trujillanos, 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final Second Leg, 17 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Veteran Rojas Wins for Deportivo Táchira their Eighth Venezuelan League Championship 

In front of a domestic season-high attendance of 37,365, 37-year-old Jorge Rojas converted a penalty with 15 minutes left on the clock, thus claiming the 2014/15 Venezuelan championship for Deportivo Táchira – their eighth in their 41-year history.

Though they certainly rode their luck at times and may be considering deifying the woodwork that dramatically saved them at the death, they did edge proceedings here, at times dominating the play – no more so than in the first half.

Indeed, Trujillanos did not really seem in the game to begin with, as most of the running was made by Táchira, the highest-scoring team in the league who were welcoming back to their line-up Rojas and top-scorer Gelmin Rivas. Just three minutes in, centre-back Wilker Ángel found himself in acres of space just outside the area, where he received a cross-field pass from Yohandry Orozco but, perhaps a bit too casually, struck the ball a few yards over. While the hosts – and particularly Orozco – continued to threaten, with the winger later striking a shot that went just a couple of yards wide, it was Rivas who had the next real chance of significance. Indeed, after 26 minutes, he gained some space just inside the area and shot low, which goalkeeper Leandro Díaz did well to stop and, following a somewhat fortuitous ricochet, smother away from attackers looking to pounce.

However, despite being on the receiving end of this early pressure, it was actually Trujillanos who had the best opportunity to score in the half. Out of the blue, a cross came in from the right and Alfredo Padilla rose, unmarked and in space, but headed agonisingly wide of the far post. A gilt-edged chance, make no mistake, though by the time the final whistle was blown, it was not to be the only one that the visitors’ would regret not taking.

When the first period was brought to an end, though fans had endured 135 minutes of goalless action in this tie, there was no question that this game was significantly more enthralling than the first leg in Valera. Indeed, while the roars of the large crowd – almost three times as high as last week’s attendance – as well as the decisive nature of the game certainly helped, there were also far more attempts created.

The first of note in the second half came after 57 minutes, when Orozco’s corner was met in space by the incoming Javier López but, despite his advantageous position, he was to head a couple of yards wide. Although Orozco also attempted a decent half-volley a few minutes later, the home side were soon to wonder if they were going to be made to rue their misses as, somewhat surprisingly, Trujillanos grew into the game and rattled Táchira with their forward forays. Firstly, in the 64th minute on a counter-attack, Padilla found himself in plenty of space roaming infield from the right flank yet, though he had the option to play in a team-mate or have a shot at goal, he was evidently caught in two minds as he wasted the opportunity by weakly chipping the ball into the grateful hands of goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind. Just a couple of minutes later, Liebeskind was to be properly tested as Colombian Jarol Herrera suddenly struck a shot from over 25 yards that caused a spectacular, acrobatic save from the goalkeeper. However, drowning out the applause for this stop were the murmurs and cries of discontent from the home fans who were beginning to sense they may just lose the game that they were heavy favourites to win.

Although there was a response of sorts as, up the other end, promising youngster Carlos Cermeño hit a decent shot just a yard or two over from 25 yards, Trujillanos were to continue to threaten up until the final whistle. Indeed, in the 72nd minute, just before the match turned against them, another 20-plus-yard effort was parried out low by Liebeskind. Soon afterwards though, Táchira made their breakthrough as star playmaker César González was upended in the area and his side were awarded a penalty. Jorge Rojas, with over 80 international caps and with a high success rate from the spot since his January move from Metropolitanos, was never likely to crumble under the pressure and thus, having given Díaz the eyes, he rolled the ball into the back of the net.

To the surprise of no-one who has watched Táchira this season, manager Daniel Farías’ response to his side taking the lead was a cautious one, making a defensive substitution, removing arguably his leading attacking threat, Orozco. Subsequently, the vistors had the better of the closing stages and, with just two minutes remaining, came breathtakingly close to scoring. A blocked Trujillanos free-kick was to ricochet to a team-mate who shot low from just outside the area, evading Liebeskind’s dive, rebounding off the post to Luiryi Erazo whose close-range shot remarkably hit the opposite post, despite having virtually an open goal to aim at. Two times the woodwork saved the hosts, though the chaos in the area did not stop there as there was a scramble for the ball which saw two further shots blocked by the defence, before it was cleared.

After this miss, the home fans no doubt sensed it was destined to be their year and when the whistle blew, many ran onto the field, delaying the lifting of the trophy for some time afterwards. Ultimately, though this outcome was predicted even if it did not quite follow the anticipated script, Táchira are worthy champions, having put in a remarkable performance to snatch the Torneo Clausura at the death. Both they and Torneo Apertura winners Trujillanos will thus qualify directly for the 2016 Copa Libertadores group stage, with Caracas FC – who ranked highest in the Aggregate Table – having to go through the playoff route.

Serie Pre-Sudamericana

Results from the first legs of the final games on this mini post-season tournament (also played on 17 May):

Mineros de Guayana 2-3 Zamora

Carabobo 1-0 Deportivo Lara

The second legs will be played on 20 May and the winners will both gain entry to the 2015 Copa Sudamericana, which begins later in the year. Check back to this article for updates on these ties.

UPDATE

Results of the decisive second legs played on 20 May:

Zamora 3-2 Mineros de Guayana (Zamora won 6-4 on aggregate)

Deportivo Lara 1-0 Carabobo (1-1 on aggregate; Carabobo won 3-1 on penalties)

Consequently, Zamora and Carabobo will join Deportivo La Guaira and Deportivo Anzoátegui in the 2015 Copa Sudamericana, which will commence in August.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira – 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg (10 May 2015) (Plus Serie Pre-Sudamericana Updates & the Aquiles Ocanto incident)

2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg

Sunday 10 May 2015 – Estadio José Alberto Pérez, Valera, Trujillo State

Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira

Video Highlights of Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira, 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg, 10 May 2015 (courtesy of Youtube account Highlights Venezuela)

Bore Draw At Least Ensures a Competitive Venezuelan Finale 

Whether it was due to the 33 degrees heat, the attacking limitations of the hosts and/or the defensive approach of the visitors, Trujillanos and Táchira served up a forgettable encounter unbefitting of this showpiece occasion.

Pre-game, there were fears that the home side would expose themselves as being out of their depth, having endured a considerable fall from grace since winning the Torneo Apertura in December, losing some key players as they limped to a 11th-placed finish in the Clausura. However, though they failed to make a breakthrough in this game, they did dominate the majority of play, with the Clausura-winning visitors having largely been set up to contain and frustrate them. As Táchira possess the best attack in the league (64 goals in their 34 games this season), this was a somewhat unanticipated approach and one that could not be said to have been forced upon manager Daniel Farías. Indeed, his side may have had three first-team regulars out suspended following an accumulation of yellow cards – Gerzon Chacón, Wilker Ángel and Jorge Rojas – but only the latter of these plays in a forward position. Instead, the 33-year-old boss was very much the architect of his side’s reserved tactics, even benching 20-goal top-scorer Gelmin Rivas. Seemingly, this move was to help facilitate counter-attacks for the more mobile Yohandry Orozco and José Alí Meza to run onto and spearhead – something that never really occurred.

Thus, Trujillanos were to enjoy more of the ball in opposition territory though, to give Farías credit, the Táchira rearguard was largely successful in repeatedly blocking off key passes and not allowing their opponents many clear opportunities. Arguably the best chance Los Guerreros de la Montaña were to have was their first of note, which came after just seven minutes. Alfredo Padilla’s cross from the right was met by Sergio Álvarez, who flicked on a header at the near post that the visitors’ goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind did well to block at close range. This was a rare instance of one of Padilla’s many crosses in the game actually being connected with – had his side managed to keep ahold of strikers James Cabezas and Freddys Arrieta after the Apertura win, one wonders if Trujillanos would have had more joy from this mode of attack.

Up the other end, Táchira only really had two moments of note in this half yet as one was a low cross that evaded everyone and the other was a passing move that fell apart before a shot could even be struck, one would not wish to overstate the threat of these. Indeed, the only other chance of significance in the opening period came from Trujillanos in stoppage-time as Maurice Cova curled a fine free-kick from 25 yards that Liebeskind did well to tip over for a corner.

Regarding the second-half, while a lack of information provided on this period in a match report is often symptomatic of the writer having to make sacrifices in order to get an on-the-whistle article finished on time, readers can be assured that in this case it is simply because little of note occurred. Indeed, to succinctly summarise: Trujillanos dominated but continued to be thwarted in the final third, having even fewer opportunities than in the first half and Táchira barely mustered an attack worth mentioning, with Rivas’ introduction 20 minutes from time predictably changing nothing. Nevertheless, whether the away fans were pleased with their team’s tactical display, celebrating the Clausura title win or were simply amusing themselves, they were to see out the game by repeatedly jumping up and down while emitting something approaching euphoria

Hopefully, both sets of players will take some of this spirit with them into the decisive leg in San Cristóbal next weekend as, if there is anything positive to say about this match, it is that both teams will still feel that they have a strong chance of claiming the championship. Indeed, though Táchira will feel happier with this result and will go into the final game as strong favourites with a more attacking approach, the scoreline ensures that Trujillanos still retain some hope of causing what would be considered an upset.

To find out how the finale to the Venezuelan season pans out, keep checking back here and, if you are not already, please follow the Twitter account @DarrenSpherical.

Serie Pre-Sudamericana

Starting at the same time as the Gran Final, there is also a post-season tournament to determine the two remaining Venezuelan entrants into the 2015 Copa Sudamericana. Eight teams are participating and following the next round, all will have been decided. For more information on how the competition works, check out the bottom of this article, but in the meantime, here are the results of the first legs of the first round of games (also played on 10 May):

Tucanes de Amazonas 0-0 Mineros de Guayana

Estudiantes de Mérida 1-2 Zamora

Carabobo 1-0 Aragua

Atlético Venezuela 1-0 Deportivo Lara

UPDATE:

On Wednesday 13 May, the second legs of these games were played. Here are the results:

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Tucanes de Amazonas (Mineros de Guayana won 3-0 on aggregate)

Zamora 4-2 Estudiantes de Mérida (Zamora won 6-3 on aggregate)

Aragua 0-0 Carabobo (Carabobo won 1-0 on aggregate)

Deportivo Lara 2-0 Atlético Venezuela (Deportivo Lara won 2-1 on aggregate)

Consequently, the two Copa Sudamericana places will be decided in two separate games over two legs played on 17 and 20 May. Mineros de Guayana will face Zamora and Carabobo will play against Deportivo Lara.

Carabobo’s Aquiles Ocanto Savagely Attacked on Pitch By Rival Fan

Before signing off, one feels obliged to briefly mention a rather unsavoury incident that occurred after the game between Aragua and Carabobo – two rival teams from neighbouring states. Aquiles Ocanto, the visitors’ top scorer in the league and whose goal in the first leg ultimately decided this tie, was the victim of a vicious assault by a fan after the game. Indeed, Ocanto was being interviewed live by a TeleAragua presenter on the pitch when suddenly an intruder ran up behind him and jumped, knees first, into the player’s back, savagely knocking him to the ground.

Video of Pitch Invader’s Assault of Aquiles Ocanto after Aragua 0-0 Carabobo, Serie Pre-Sudamericana (Venezuela), 13 May 2015 (courtesy of TeleAragua).

The offender has since allegedly been identified online and Ocanto, who made his international debut against Honduras in February, is reportedly fine with no serious injuries. Unsurprisingly this incident has made the news far outside of Venezuela’s borders with, amongst others, the websites of The Guardian and The Metro – two British publications – picking up the story. While this was certainly newsworthy, it is a pity that leagues off the radar of the average European fan only tend to be of interest to editors and journalists when something disgraceful or bizarre that has little to do with football occurs. Such is the way of the world. Nevertheless, in a humble attempt to go some way towards rectifying this, it is politely recommended that any readers who came to this website off the back of this story check out how the final day of the Venezuelan Torneo Clausura ended – who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Review of Venezuela’s 2015 Torneo Clausura Title Race

The second part of Venezuela’s Liga Movistar recently came to a close as the 2015 Torneo Clausura was won in the most dramatic of circumstances by Deportivo Táchira. What follows is a look back at their campaign as well as that of their rivals Caracas and what is still left to play for…

Video Highlights of Caracas FC 2-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Venezuelan Torneo Clausura, 3 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Deportivo Táchira Break Caracas Hearts at the Death

In a refreshing instance of a highly-anticipated match living up to its billing, the Clausura-deciding clásico del fútbol venezolano ended with Táchira snatching a sensational title win on the final day away to Caracas in the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time.

Puncturing the atmosphere and permanently scarring the home fans in the capital, Wilker Ángel’s header at the death gave the game its final twist, making it 2-2 and denying Caracas the win they needed to lift the Clausura trophy. It was all too much for the hosts to accept. They had been elated to take the lead for the first time as the game was entering its closing stages in the 80th minute, reversing the scoreline at long last, having initially gone behind with less than 15 minutes on the clock. Understandably, stunned silence mixed with sadness was the only way for their fans to respond an outcome that will be difficult to stomach for some time yet. To read more detail about this unforgettable match, click here.

As with the Apertura, the relatively short duration of the 17-game Clausura tournament often allows for much jostling for the top spot and this year was no different, as at times at least a handful of teams appeared to be in the running to claim the crown. However, though the likes of Zamora and Deportivo Anzoátegui certainly put in strong performances (with the former only ruled out of the title picture on the penultimate weekend), the race ultimately came down to the two most decorated teams in Venezuelan football history. Thus, what follows in this article is a look back at the impressive title-winning campaign of Táchira, followed by an overview of the respectable showing of Los Rojos del Ávila and then ending with a succinct round-up of what else is left to play for until the season is officially brought to a close.

deportivotachira

Deportivo Táchira
2015 Torneo Clausura Winners

Although there was more than a hint of good fortune to Táchira’s last-gasp triumph, there can be no doubting that overall, they earned this Clausura victory. Indeed, being alone amongst the three Venezuelan Copa Libertadores teams in having to go through a two-legged play-off tie to earn their group stage spot, they were actually to play more competitive games than any other top-flight side since the turn of the year – eight more than most, including Caracas. Their participation in the continent’s premier competition also led to the inconvenient rearrangement of many domestic fixtures, with games often being played in rapid succession to help accommodate Libertadores matches as well as the team’s preparation for them. For example, from the end of January to the beginning of March, they went five weeks without a league fixture. For the majority of the Clausura, such alterations caused Los Aurinegros to regularly find themselves two to three games behind the other pace-makers and thus, barring a fleeting early spell in January at the top, it was not until they went into the decisive last-day clásico that they were to occupy pole position. The manner in which Táchira were to stay within touching distance of their rivals and ultimately take advantage of their games in hand is worthy of significant praise and speaks volumes of the character and quality that exists within their ranks. The team manager, the youthful Daniel Farías, deserves much credit for his role at the helm and a rather bright future for him on the touchline may well be on the cards. Yet, back in early January, things seemed altogether more bleak for the 33 year old.

Indeed, Táchira, the side with the all-time second-highest number of championships (seven to Caracas’ eleven), have high ambitions every season and midway through this one, Farías had been falling well short of such expectations. Much discontent was being voiced in San Cristóbal following an Apertura in which, having been top of the table, they were to fail to win in their final eight games, picking up just three additional points and finishing a woeful 11th. When they opened up the Clausura by throwing away a lead and ultimately losing to a stoppage-time goal against lowly Atlético Venezuela – one of several capital-based sides living very much in the shadow of Caracas FC – Farías’ days appeared to be numbered.

The subsequent game at home to Aragua, a decent side who finished just five points off top in the Apertura, certainly would not have been particularly appealing to a manager under pressure. However, perhaps benefiting from a lack of official crowd to spread tensions around Pueblo Nuevo (owing to trouble in the stands towards the end of the preceding campaign), Táchira impressively recorded their first win for over three months in a 3-1 victory. This sudden reversal of fortunes appeared to galvanise them as they were to follow this up with a 4-1 thumping at home against Llaneros de Guanare and a 3-1 victory away to Portuguesa; that they also briefly went top during this late-January period certainly did Farías little harm either. In these matches, experienced international César González impressed, as did new recruits such as Alan Liebeskind (who saved two penalties and was to save more in the following months) and the veteran Jorge Rojas (scorer of three consecutive penalties). One man in particular fans were delighted to see return to form was striker Gelmin Rivas who, after a goal-drought towards the end of the Apertura, rediscovered his shooting boots. Nevertheless, as two (Llaneros de Guanare and Portuguesa) of the three teams that these players excelled against in this period were to finish in the bottom two positions in the Aggregate Table, many maintained their scepticism regarding talk of a Táchira turnaround. However, following the club’s next two encounters, temporarily at least, critics were to be compelled to drop their reservations.

Indeed, following a 2-1 home victory and a 2-2 away draw against Paraguayans Cerro Porteño, Táchira became the first Venezuelan side in the current format (est. 2005) of the Copa Libertadores, to successfully negotiate the qualifying stage and progress to the group stage. With these games coinciding with the first two victories of the national team under new coach Noel Sanvicente since he took over in July 2014, much optimism was expressed regarding the footballing future of Venezuela.

This was not to last long. On the first day of the group stage, they were emphatically thrashed 5-0 at home by Argentine champions Racing. Subsequently, though they stole a 1-1 draw in their second game away to Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal, they followed this up by being on the receiving end of another thumping, this time 5-2 in Asunción against Guaraní. Things got little better during their campaign, as Farías as well as, on occasion, the team became targets of the boo-boys, with Táchira ultimately finishing with a dismal record of three defeats, three draws and no victories.

However, though on the continental stage they were floundering, domestically they were flourishing, albeit while playing catch-up to their rivals. Indeed, one particular highlight during this period was a mid-March 5-2 thrashing over fellow Libertadores qualifiers Mineros de Guayana in which Rivas found the net four times – remarkably, this came just a few days after their own 5-2 defeat in Paraguay. When their group stage commitments ended on 14 April following an unfortunate 3-2 reversal against Racing in Buenos Aires (during which they were leading 2-0 at one point), they could at least then focus on salvaging something significant from the season.

At this point, while they were just four points behind Caracas with two games in hand, Farías’ history of falling away at the end of the previous campaign, combined with the number of games to be played in a relatively short period as well as the quality of these upcoming opponents, counted against Táchira somewhat. Indeed, the remaining five matches they were to play over the final 16 days of the Clausura could scarcely have been tougher, rendering their ultimate accomplishment altogether more impressive. Displaying considerable stamina and character, they won the first four of these, starting with a 2-1 away victory against Deportivo La Guaira (who finished 7th, but were narrow runners-up in the Apertura, as well as winners of the Copa Venezuela in early December). They followed this up with three consecutive home wins watched by significantly more people than were showing up earlier in the campaign. Indeed, a mere 2,699 had attended the 5-2 Mineros mauling, yet with the title in their sights, 12,223 saw them defeat Deportivo Anzoátegui (who finished 4th) 2-1 on 22 April. Then, on the penultimate weekend of the Clausura, the overall champions of the last two seasons, Zamora, were finally knocked out of the race (and were to finish 3rd), courtesy of a 17-second Jorge Rojas goal in front of a season-high 22,367 attendance. Subsequently, just over 20,000 believers turned up for the 3-0 midweek victory against Deportivo Lara (finished 5th), the game which finally put them ahead of Caracas and thus in the driving seat for the Clausura-deciding clásico.

They travelled to the capital’s Estadio Olímpico de la UCV – which, exempting the conspicuous security arrangements that left at least one section empty, was virtually full to the brim – needing just a draw in what was easily one of the most eagerly anticipated regular season games in Venezuelan football history. As related earlier, while their early lead was ruled out and then, with ten minutes remaining, reversed, they were to snatch an equalising goal and the title with what was the last meaningful touch of the match. As stunning as this was to witness, statistics show that the last 15 minutes of matches are when Táchira are most deadly in front of goal and they had already won two games with stoppage-time goals – though even if Caracas were fully aware of this, it would not have made much difference.

Consequently, they attained the point they needed and pulled off a remarkable feat, winning the Torneo Clausura by finishing with 41 points, having won 13, drawn 2 and lost 2. While their defence certainly contributed to their achievement (conceding 17, the 5th lowest amount in the league), it was their attack that deserved the most plaudits, scoring 40 goals, placing them comfortably first in this department. Gelmin Rivas was the main man here, netting 13 times (adding to the 7 he scored in the Apertura), possibly having been buoyed by the attention he reportedly received from two top-tier Belgian sides just before the campaign got underway. Now 26 years of age, if he is keen on a move abroad, now would appear to be the most opportune time. As a natural marksman, finishing from close range either with his feet or, rather frequently, his head, he was often reliant on the crosses and through-balls of his team-mates, especially César González. The 32-year-old’s set-pieces were regular sources of goals and he even managed to chip in with an impressive haul of seven himself – form which earned him a recall to the international set-up in late March. Another prolific purveyor of opportunities was 24-year-old winger Yohandry Orozco, who also impressed sporadically in a few Libertadores matches. Although another move to a team of the calibre of Wolfsburg – where he spent a rather subdued spell between 2011-2013 – is certainly not on the cards, a move to a bigger side on the same continent does not seem out of question. José Miguel Reyes, a similar player who likes to roam down the wings as well as cut infield, also had a decent season, scoring five goals along the way. Lastly, 37-year-old Jorge Rojas certainly had a campaign to remember as, following his inter-season move from lowly Metropolitanos, he was to score seven league goals. His phenomenal strike in the first leg of the Libertadores play-off against Cerro Porteño will surely be recalled with affection for some time yet.

Of the remainder of the squad, while there were certainly some impressive performances, the player with the most chance of a move abroad in the upcoming future is surely the hero of the final day, Wilker Ángel. The 22-year-old made his international debut in November (and scored with the faintest of touches) and has been allegedly attracting interest from elsewhere in South America as well as Europe within the past year. However, as his primary function is to keep out goals rather than score them, one wonders whether his side’s porous showing in the Libertadores (15 conceded) has adversely affected his chances of a foreign move.

On a somewhat related note, one can not help but fear that the fine form Táchira showed in the Clausura will again fail to translate on the continental stage when they compete in next year’s Copa Libertadores. As well as holding on to their top players and the essential retention of manager Farías, some reinforcements will surely be needed by the time next February rolls around.

For the time being however, their focus will be on claiming the Venezuelan Liga Movistar championship outright. Having lost a few key players, their opponents in the Gran Final, Trujillanos, are a shadow of the side that won the Apertura in December, finishing 11th in the Clausura and so will be the underdogs going into this two-legged affair. The first game of this decisive tie will be the away fixture for Táchira in Valera on 10 May, with the reverse fixture on 17 May. Those unable to tune into these matches can expect reports on this website.

caracasfcfc
Caracas FC
2015 Torneo Clausura Runners-up

So unfortunate were Los Rojos del Ávila to not be crowned Clausura champions, having sat in pole position for the majority of the second half of the campaign. Having put in a decent showing in the Apertura (finishing 3rd with 31 points) and topping the Aggregate Table with 70 points to Táchira’s 64, it is hard to envisage there being any severe repercussions for manager Eduard Saragó and his charges.

Indeed, Caracas began the Clausura well, taking 11 points from a possible opening 15. However, in the last of these games, a 0-0 draw away to Aragua on 8 February, their star playmaker and literal as well as figurative ‘number 10’, 22-year-old Rómulo Otero, had to be withdrawn due to injury. He did return briefly in the following month, making two substitute appearances before starting against Deportivo Anzoátegui on 18 March, though he lasted no more than 54 minutes before going off hurt, never to return. The absence of Otero, arguably the brightest Venezuelan prospect plying his trade in his homeland, certainly diminished their attacking options in the remainder of the Clausura, having a noticeable effect on how they appraoched the opposition goal as well as the amount of times they scored.

Indeed, from being the highest scorers in the Apertura with 33 goals, they were to finish in the Clausura with two other teams as joint-sixth in this department, netting just 23 times. In Otero’s absence, new recruits Diomar Díaz (a Venezuelan turfed out of New York Cosmos following Raúl’s arrival) and Argentine Fabián Bordagaray (who arrived from Greece, having had spells with San Lorenzo and River Plate, amongst others) can not be said to have risen to the plate, with only the latter managing to find the net (and just the once). Thus, with so few goals in the side, 10 of their 12 victories were to be achieved by a mere one-goal margin (with the other two being by two), with the majority of their attacks emanating from the flanks for someone in the centre – usually Edder Farías, who got 11 goals – to finish off.

To maintain such a high position with such forward-line deficiencies, they required a well-organised defence as well as a top goalkeeper, both of which they certainly possessed. Indeed, they conceded the lowest number of goals in the Clausura – 11 – and shot-stopper Alain Baroja, who during this campaign firmly established himself as the national team’s second choice, repeatedly saved them with a string of spectacular highlight-friendly saves.

Despite many doubts being expressed regarding their ability to mount a significant title challenge following Otero’s injury, Caracas’ unglamorous approach was largely effective. After they took over Zamora at the top of the table just after the midway point, they were to become the favourites for many as uncertainties remained regarding Táchira’s ability to make up the ground that had been lost due to their Libertadores encounters.

As we now know, such doubts were proven to be unfounded. The ‘fine margins’ managers and pundits alike often cite certainly came to the fore in the dying seconds at the Estadio Olímpico de la UCV on 3 May. Indeed, had a hoofed clearance not been hooked instinctively for Wilker Ángel to nod in, it is rather likely that many of the post-game headlines and plaudits would have instead been given to Baroja, who had pulled off a few crucial saves that appeared to have won it for Caracas.

Nevertheless, the country’s most successful club (11 championships) will have to regroup. Given their success over the course of both the Apertura and Clausura, it is unlikely that manager Saragó will want to make too many changes, though he may have his hand forced in this area. Indeed, Caracas have a reputation for developing and then selling their top young players and there are at least four in this squad who could be leaving for foreign shores either in the next few months or within the next year or two. Baroja would certainly be one, having earned so many plaudits this season – his third as Caracas’ number one choice – and being a good age for a player of his position – 25 – to make a move. Otero is definitely another player Saragó will do well to keep ahold of, having been linked with teams in Brazil, USA, Portugal, Switzerland and France in the past two years – in this regard, the length and nature of his foot injury will be important. According to his agent at least, also attracting interest from abroad is Jhonder Cádiz, a 19-year-old attacker who scored six times in 32 games in his first full season with the side, having been brought in from fellow capital side Deportivo Petare in early 2013. Lastly of this youthful crop, though there have been no stories suggesting interest from overseas, 20-year-old roaming right-back Jefre Vargas had a very encouraging season, contributing the most assists (7) in his 21 appearances and representing his country at the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament in January.

Although they had an impressive Clausura, due largely to their ages, the rest of the Caracas defence are less likely to be snapped up by foreign suitors looking for long-term investments. Nevertheless, 27-year-old centre-back Andrés Sánchez must be given credit for his form, which was even noted by national boss Sanvicente, who gave him two starts against Honduras in a domestic-players-only set of friendlies in February. Another member of the backline to impress was left-back Rubert Quijada, 26, though to the dismay of some, despite being called up for Sanvicente’s first squad in September, he has since repeatedly been overlooked by the national team.

Elsewhere in the side, 34-year-old defence-minded midfielder and captain Miguel Mea Vitali is unlikely to be leaving the capital – indeed, he has recently signed a new contract – but with 6 goals and 6 assists over the course of the entire season, he has had a year to be proud of. Last but by no means least, 27-year-old striker Edder Farías had the best goalscoring year of his career, netting 17 times altogether, with 11 coming in the Clausura and thus essential to the title push. As he has failed to get into double figures in the league in his previous two years with Caracas, it is unlikely that any foreign suitor will take a chance on him – something that his current fans will be delighted about.

Overall, Caracas definitely had a good season but will obviously be devastated for some time yet to have missed out on the Clausura title. As the best-placed side in the Aggregate Table. they will be hoping early next year that they can still show the continent what they are capable of when they play in a two-legged playoff in order to qualify for the group stage of the 2016 Copa Libertadores.

Tables

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2015 Venezuela Liga Movistar Torneo Clausura Table (courtesy of Soccerway)

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2014/15 Venezuela Liga Movistar Aggregate Table (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Still to be Determined: Copa Sudamericana Places

Caracas may have to go through the play-off round, but Trujillanos and Deportivo Táchira have both already qualified for the 2016 Copa Libertadores group stage by virtue of winning, respectively, the Apertura and Clausura. They will now duke it out to see who will be the overall Venezuelan champions of 2014/15. However, this is not the only matter yet to be decided as on the day of their first leg, the mini post-season tournament – known as the Serie Pre-Sudamericana – to determine who gains the two remaining spots for this year’s Copa Sudamericana also begins.

Indeed, in all, four spots were available for this competition (the continent’s very loose equivalent to Europe’s Europa League), but two have already been taken. The first was won by Deportivo La Guaira after they won the Copa Venezuela back in December and the second has been earned by Deportivo Anzoátegui who, after finishing fourth in the Aggregate Table, are the highest ranked team available to claim the spot. Thus, in the upcoming competition the two remaining places will be contested by eight teams, these being the highest-ranked in the Aggregate Table who have not already qualified for a continental competition (in other words, 5th to 13th, excluding 6th-placed Apertura champions Trujillanos).

The first four knock-out games will be played over two legs on 10 & 13 May with the subsequent two matches contested on 17 & 20 May – the winners of these games will claim the last two 2015 Copa Sudamericana spots. Here are the first legs of the opening knock-out round to be played on 10 May:

Tucanes de Amazonas vs Mineros de Guayana

Estudiantes de Mérida vs Zamora

(The two winners of these two games will face each other for a Sudamericana spot on 17 & 20 May)

Carabobo vs Aragua

Atlético Venezuela vs Deportivo Lara

(The two winners of these two games will face each other for a Sudamericana spot on 17 & 20 May)

Lastly, just to serve as a final reminder and to sign off on the highest possible note, here are the fixtures and dates for the decisive two-legged Gran Final to determine the 2014/15 Liga Movistar winners:

Trujillanos vs Deportivo Táchira (10 May, Valera, Trujillo State)

Deportivo Táchira vs Trujillanos (17 May, San Cristóbal, Táchira)

For any updates on these matches, you can either follow @DarrenSpherical and/or return to this website where there will be reports and round-ups of all the action.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Wilker is Táchira’s Ángel as the Clausura-deciding Clásico Ends In Sensational Fashion

2015 Venezuelan Torneo Clausura (Final Day)

Sunday 3 May 2015 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas

 Caracas FC 2-2 Deportivo Táchira 

Video Highlights of Caracas FC 2-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Venezuelan Torneo Clausura, 3 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Ángel is the Clásico Saviour at the Death for Clausura Champions Táchira 

What began as one of the most highly anticipated matches in Venezuelan football history ended as one of the most memorable as with virtually the last touch Wilker Ángel silenced the raucous Caracas hordes to snatch a sensational Torneo Clausura title win for the hosts’ bitter clásico rivals, Deportivo Táchira. 

Click Here to Watch a Fan’s Eye View of Wilker Ángel’s Last-Gasp Goal.

The 22-year-old centre-back was far from the most predictable hero yet, having reportedly attracted interest from teams elsewhere in South America as well as Europe, whatever his future holds, he can be assured of a place in the folklore of Los Aurinegros. Only seconds before his last-gasp deed, the majority of the full-capacity Estadio Olímpico de la UCV had been booming out rhythmic chants of ‘Dale Ro’ (a contraction which in full would translate as ‘Come on, Reds’), anticipating Los Rojos del Ávila to be soon parading the Clausura trophy around the pitch following this final-day encounter. They had, after all, come into the game with 38 points to Táchira’s 40 and thus needed a win in order to lift the silverware – something they appeared to have achieved following top-scorer Edder Farías’ 80th-minute strike that put them in front for the first time in the game.

However, all of the euphoria that greeted this goal and then continued for the following 13 minutes was to be abruptly quashed in the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time. After one of several late, desperate Táchira attacks broke down, the ball was immediately hoisted from their half all the way back downfield. Bouncing into the Caracas area kindly for Yuber Mosquera, the Colombian remarkably hooked it over to his fellow defensive team-mate Ángel, who benefited from some lax tracking to head the ball in what seemed like slow motion past the frozen Alain Baroja. The home fans’ sudden loss of voice – with the exception of some stray horrified screams – was in stark contrast to the uncontainable roars of joy that could be heard in the distance at the opposite end of the ground. Like a magnetic force comprising of Táchira’s collective spirit, they were to attract Ángel, who dashed all the way back to his own half before falling onto his knees in front of them, raising out his arms Christ-like to embrace the acclaim befitting such a saviour. To no avail, one member of the Táchira backroom staff – who just seconds before was celebrating with arguably even fewer inhibitions – soon rushed onto the pitch to urge him back up and to ensure he maintained focus. Indeed, Ángel, smiling from ear to ear, was physically and mentally in dreamland. With the final whistle blowing almost as soon as the restart, his giddy lack of composure mattered not a jot as he and his team-mates were suddenly free to savour their breathtaking accomplishment on enemy territory.

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Wilker Ángel celebrating his Clausura-winning goal for Deportivo Táchira (Imagery courtesy of DirecTV)

Considered as a whole, it was a fair result but that made it no less crushing for Caracas and particularly their goalkeeper, Alain Baroja. Indeed, having recently solidified his place as the national team’s second choice, he has been making strong claims throughout the campaign to become the future number one. Here, though he had no chance with Yohandry Orozco’s close-range volley in the 70th minute that rattled off the bar, he did particularly well in the 83rd minute to keep his side’s title dream alive. Firstly, he made a spectacular save from Jorge Rojas’ curler from the edge of the area and then made a dramatic double-stop from the resulting corner, initially blocking a header and then smothering Javier López’s rebound. Alas, as soon as Ángel’s header agonisingly bypassed him into the vacant opposite corner he knew that the game was up and could do little more than cover his crestfallen face with his shirt. Though he missed out on being the designated hero of the day by the tightest of margins, Baroja can at least be assured that his reputation has been further bolstered following this outing.

With the propensity for top South American talent to be snapped up after the earliest signs of promise, quite what the future holds for the likes of Baroja and his talented team-mates remains to be seen. The capital’s finest, with 11 overall championships to their name and a strong record of producing quality exports, are the most successful side in Venezuelan history and, irrespective of the final outcome, had a season to be proud of. Indeed, while they finished 2nd in the Clausura and 3rd in the Apertura, they accumulated the highest amount of points overall (70, to Táchira’s 64).

Nevertheless, while some – particularly those accustomed to European league formats – may quibble with the domestic structures that mean Caracas will finish the season empty-handed (barring a Copa Libertadores Qualifying Round berth), there can be little doubt that Táchira earned this Clausura title. Indeed, unlike Caracas, they were fighting on two fronts throughout, having to first qualify for the Copa Libertadores over two legs against Paraguayans Cerro Porteño and then play six, often demoralising, group games. These eight additional matches caused significant disruptions to their schedule as up until the closing stages of the campaign, they were to regularly find themselves two to three games behind their domestic rivals. This made their run-in comparatively onerous as before the 18/19 April weekend of league fixtures, they were four points behind Caracas with two games in hand and yet the five remaining matches they were to play over the final 16 days of the Clausura could scarcely have been tougher. However, with considerable stamina and character, they won the first four of these, starting with a 2-1 away victory at Deportivo La Guaira (who finished 7th, but were narrow runners-up in the Apertura as well as Copa Venezuela winners), then 2-1 at home to Deportivo Anzoátegui (finished 4th), a narrow 1-0 at home to last year’s champions Zamora (finished 3rd) and then a relatively comfortable 3-0 home defeat of Deportivo Lara (finished 5th).

With this final win in this remarkable string of results, they finally overtook Caracas and led them by two points going into the final encounter. As has been relayed, despite the manner in which the draw was ultimately achieved, they were far from unworthy of the result and were to approach the game with few visible signs of exhaustion. Indeed, capitalising on a misdirected header from Jhonder Cádiz, César González blasted them into the lead with less than a quarter of an hour gone and was to have no qualms about celebrating against the club he represented from 2005-07. Following this, although Félix Cásseres was to strike the hosts level midway through the first half with a pearl of a shot and Edder Farías put them ahead late on, Táchira more than held their own in terms of chances created and, were it not for the crossbar and Baroja, could have wrapped up the title in far less dramatic circumstances. Thus, Ángel’s goal, as heartbreaking for Caracas and unexpected for everyone else as it may have been, ultimately topped off a thoroughly well-fought campaign.

When all was said and done, from a neutral’s standpoint, this clásico del fútbol venezolano certainly lived up to the billing and was a fine advertisement for domestic football in this often overlooked South American nation. Not just on the pitch, but also in the stands as, barring the empty section to help effectively segregate these rival fans, the ground was full of spectactors and noise from the first whistle to the last. Barring a bottle that connected with the head of José Miguel Reyes on his side’s victory lap, the behaviour was also significantly better than was feared (according to the latest reports, at least, although quite a few knives were allegedly seized by police). No doubt this was aided by the many individuals who were reportedly on hand to keep a vigilant look-out for trouble: 600 members of the Policía Nacional Bolivariana (and their canines), 270 private security personnel, 150 members of the Guardia Nacional, the fire brigade and countless more.

Given that this derby once infamously ended with the Caracas team bus being commandeered onto the pitch and then set alight in flames, many who want to see the nation’s domestic game flourish will be cautiously optimistic following how events transpired this time around. This was in marked contrast to how the finale of the Torneo Apertura ended in the same stadium, when fellow tenants Deportivo Petare had their game abandoned after 52 minutes against eventual title-winners Trujillanos due to a lack of security to deal with some youths who were throwing objects from outside the perimeter gates and issuing threats.

Whether Venezuelan domestic football has really moved on in this area may take years to determine but nevertheless, next on the agenda for Táchira will be the two-legged Gran Final against Trujillanos, the winner of which will be crowned the overall 2014/15 season champions. The first leg will be the away encounter for Táchira in Valera on Sunday 10 May with the return game being played on home soil in San Cristóbal on 17 May. As their more modest opposition have lost a few key players since their December triumph, Táchira will be hot favourites to add another estrella to their crest and claim their eighth league championship.

To find out how they get on as well as to read a more broad look back at the Torneo Clausura please keep checking back to this site in the near future and, if you are not already, consider following this site’s affiliated Twitter account, @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Participation in the 2015 Copa Libertadores – Review

With the three Venezuelan teams, Zamora, Deportivo Táchira and Mineros de Guayana, having recently completed their Copa Libertadores campaigns, Hispanospherical.com inhales deeply and looks in detail at what was a largely dispiriting experience for all concerned.

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Bright Start: Following a sensational goal in their opening game, Zamora’s Arles Flores leads a well-choreographed celebration that received attention far outside of South America. Sadly, such Venezuelan joy was rarely to be seen in the remainder of the group stage (Imagery courtesy of the Metro and the Daily Mirror from this video).

Copa Libertadores 2015: Review of the Venezuelan Participants

18 games, 13 defeats, 4 draws and, following the very last match whose outcome will have thwarted the pre-planned narratives of obituary writers everywhere, 1 win. That was the record in this year’s Copa Libertadores group stage of the three Venezuelans sides, Zamora, Mineros de Guayana and Deportivo Táchira. A derisory performance even for the representatives of this nation of perennial outsiders and one that certainly stakes a claim to be their worst in the current format of the competition. Indeed, while the average number of points gained per match this year (0.3888) was marginally superior to 2012 (0.3333) and 2010 (0.25), the scale of their collective failure is unrivalled in recent history. This was, after all, the first time in eleven attempts that the team in the qualifying round (in this case, Táchira) successfully negotiated their way into the group stage, thus bringing the Venezuelan contingent to a dizzying three. Yet, having another six games to endure only appeared to prolong the misery as not only was it clear before the halfway point that none of the teams were likely to progress but that, between them, they ended up conceding a jarring 46 goals.

It was all a far cry from, say, 2007 when Caracas FC won at home and away against River Plate or, more significantly, 2009 when they and long-standing rivals Táchira gained 19 points between them, with the capital’s finest ultimately unfortunate to go out to Grêmio in the quarter-finals on away goals. Back then, while Venezuela’s footballing reputation was in the ascendancy, a far greater number of its talents remained at domestic clubs with some foreign suitors still maintaining their scepticism regarding their adaptability – something that has been decreasingly the case in recent years. Indeed, as with most successful sides in South America, their key personnel is always in the shop window, a factor that particularly disadvantaged the 2013/14 champions Zamora this time around. Given the well-documented problems of improving the competitiveness and quality of a league outside of the European elite, one can not help but fear that this year’s poor results – not entirely dissimilar to those in 2012 and 2010, albeit with an additional team – are part of a trend that is set to continue.

Nevertheless, what follows are summaries of the campaigns and most noteworthy performers of the three Venezuelans clubs who competed in this year’s Copa Libertadores, starting with the side most affected by the aforementioned issues. (Please note: to read match reports and view video highlights of every single game, click here or on the relevant links in the text below)

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El Blanquinegro, from Hugo Chávez’s home state of Barinas, came into the tournament as reigning two-time champions and were also leading the Torneo Clausura which, with just over a week to go, they still have a slight chance of winning (*Update: they did following their Libertadores exit but that is no longer the case – see footnote at the bottom for an update on the domestic situation). However, their second successive championship win in May 2014 was to swiftly be met with the departures of key individuals which were to have a significant impact on their showing in the Libertadores. Indeed, playmaker Pedro Ramírez – nicknamed by some as the ‘Venezuelan Messi’ largely for a mazy dribbled goal – joined Switzerland’s FC Sion, leading goalscorer Juan Falcón signed for Ligue 1’s FC Metz and defender Jonathan España opted to try his luck with Cyprus’ AEL Limassol. Other players, particularly those crucial to the rearguard, were to leave (more on them later) but the most keenly felt loss of all was undoubtedly that of manager Noel Sanvicente to the national side.

‘Chita’, to give him his affectionate moniker, not only won both titles with this club, but also brought home five championships between 2002 and 2010 for Caracas FC, where he also led their impressive Libertadores campaigns. His successor Juvencio Betancourt was to last just six league games and things were to get worse before they could get better under his replacement Julio Quintero, who was to take his charges to the foot of the Torneo Apertura in October before turning things around for a 12th-placed finish. Yet, while he has done well domestically in this year’s Clausura, with his side having been rarely out of the top three, he has achieved this largely with the remnants of last year’s squad along with one or two new faces who are simply not of the calibre of their predecessors.

Thus, to match last year’s respectable showing of seven Libertadores points was always going to be a tall order though, having been drawn into a group with Boca Juniors, Montevideo Wanderers and Palestino, the possibility of sneaking second spot behind the Argentines did not seem out of question. However, Zamora were to be all but ruled out of contention after just two games.

Indeed, they kicked things off with an opening-day visit to the Uruguayan capital in a game that was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the group stage, yielding five goals, five red cards and a memorable bowling-themed celebration that featured on news outlets based all over the globe. Things began promisingly with 19-year-old starlet Jhon Murillo firing the then ten-man visitors 1-0 up on the counter and even with 15 minutes left on the clock, they were leading 2-1 on what at that point had become a level playing field. However, the dream start was not to be as Panamanian international Luis Ovalle received his marching orders after conceding a penalty that was duly converted which, in turn, was swiftly followed up with what proved to be the winner.

Losing was a bitter enough pill to swallow but Murillo’s injury-time dismissal (two-game suspension) as well as those of two defenders (one-game suspension each) gave lollipop-licking Quintero future selection issues that he struggled to negotiate. The largely full Estadio Agustín Tovar crowd nevertheless carried into the Palestino game some optimism which was to be dashed as 17-year-old Yeferson Soteldo was to both impress and frustrate by missing a hat-trick’s worth of chances (hitting the woodwork twice) in a 1-0 loss. Even at this early stage, the Venezuelan champions looked to be heading out as not only did they have no points but their next two games were against the unanimous group favourites, Boca Juniors.

Expectations were matched, as both encounters were unmitigated disasters. The trip to La Bombonera ended 5-0, a scoreline that could have been easily doubled had the Argentines took all of their chances, with Dani Osvaldo, a man in thrall to the concept of flamboyance, particularly wasteful. That the Southampton-loanee was afforded such space to repeatedly attempt to score the kind of goal that would be permanently etched into the retinas of every bostero spoke volumes about Zamora’s defensive performance. This was to be little better in the reverse fixture despite having been ostensibly aided by the Argentines’ decision to leave several top stars, including Osvaldo, in Buenos Aires. Indeed, though the returning Murillo was to give the Venezuelans a surprise first-half lead, the Xeneizes swiftly shifted out of first gear after the interval and were to leave 5-1 winners and with their 100 per cent record in tact. Zamora captain Luis Vargas added to his side’s woes by being their fourth player to be red-carded in the competition, which was compounded by Montevideo Wanderers earning a draw in Chile, thus bringing their tally to seven points and eliminating the Venezuelans.

Their two remaining group games were played with a weary sense of obligation, as they were thrashed 4-0 at the hands of a driven Palestino, before being dispatched 3-0 at home by Wanderers in a lacklustre encounter that saw the Uruguayans snatch a knock-out spot. Judging by the paltry crowd at this final match – believed to be well under 1000 – there was little desire amongst the fans of La Furia Llanera to see their side restore some pride in either of these reverse fixtures by demonstrating that their two opening losses were not entirely fair reflections on the overall play.

When all was said and done, Zamora had lost every one of their six games – the worst record of any Venezuelan side to have participated in the current format of the competition. Particularly galling was their goal difference of -18, having shipped 21 goals that were only offset by a mere 3 strikes at the other end. This was in stark contrast to last year’s more even statistics, when 6 goals were both scored and conceded, from what was a markedly more difficult group, comprising of then-holders Atlético Mineiro of Brazil, Colombia’s Santa Fe and Nacional of the Paraguayan variety. A brief comparison of the positive results they achieved in this group serves to highlight the deficiences that were witnessed this year. Indeed, not only were they led by serial winner Sanvicente but the departed Juan Falcón also scored all four of his goals in these games, netting the decisive goal in the 2-1 home win over Santa Fe, as well as both in the 2-2 draw in Colombia and the opener in the 2-0 victory in Barinas over Nacional. This year, Zamora did not possess an adequate replacement for their erstwhile marksman, with the only striker brought in being January-recruit Santiago Bello from the Uruguayan second-tier, who was to feature in four games in this edition – three times from the bench – without finding the net.

Last year, Pedro Ramírez also chipped in with a goal and some creativity, something that was also noticeably lacking this time around. However, arguably the most significant change from the previous campaign was to be found at the back, as the majority of those who featured regularly in 2014 left at the end of the season. Indeed, goalkeeper Yáñez Angulo as well as the defenders Hugo Soto, Javier López, Layneker Safra and Jonathan España have all since moved on, with most, if not all, of those filling their boots this year evidently not up to scratch. Having two defenders sent off in the first game – including Ovalle, who actually played five times in last year’s group stage – and the subsequent suspensions certainly did not help either.

Ultimately, if anything positive can be extracted from this season’s experience it will soon again be taken away from them. Jhon Murillo, the temperamental, dribbling winger who often drifts into more central positions, scored twice in his four appearances and has long been linked with a move abroad, with Torino and Celta Vigo the most recently touted destinations. Yeferson Soteldo, at just 17, could well follow suit in the not-too-distant future as though he may not have taken the chances that came his way, he was a lively presence and has become a regular starter in the league. That he has done so may instead prove in the long run to be further evidence of his club’s lack of depth at this particular time and given their rather humble means, fans must be wondering whether the good times enjoyed under Sanvicente will even be able to return anytime soon.

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Much enthusiasm from both domestic scribes as well as casual observers from afar greeted Táchira’s history-making 4-3 aggregate win against Paraguay’s six-time semi-finalists Cerro Porteño. For the first time since the current format was introduced in 2005, there were to be three, not two, Venezuelan sides to follow in the Copa Libertadores group stage. Drawn into a group containing another Paraguayan side, Guaraní, as well as Peruvians Sporting Cristal, a Round of 16 berth appeared eminently attainable. Seemingly bolstering their chances was the retention of the vast majority of the side that finished third in the 2014 aggregate table coupled with some useful additions, such as goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind and veteran international Jorge Rojas – the latter of whom scored a bona fide golazo in the first leg against Cerro.

The first game soon punctured this optimism, as a full-capacity Pueblo Nuevo was to witness a comprehensive 5-0 thrashing led by the superb partnership of Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou for Argentine champions Racing, the undisputed top dogs in the group. Immediately following this rude awakening, doubts that before the Cerro games had been regularly expressed resurfaced and at a higher volume. Indeed, in the Torneo Apertura, Táchira had contrived to throw away a commanding mid-point lead, not winning in their final eight games and finishing 11th, rendering manager Daniel Farías virtually a dead man walking. Furthermore, even the most partisan follower of Los Aurinegros would have to confess that their side rode their luck in the second leg against Cerro. Thus, in light of the car-crash performance against Racing, their response would be crucial.

For their second game, they travelled to Lima to face Sporting Cristal. Few lessons appeared to have been learned as the Peruvian champions took a first-half lead and were to comfortably dominate the play. However, with under five minutes remaining, they were made to pay for their profligacy as César González stepped up to curl a 25-yard free-kick into the back of the net. Grippingly for the neutral, there was to be further drama, though not a twist, as Renzo Sheput stepped up deep into stoppage-time to take a penalty but was to be spectacularly denied by Liebeskind as the Venezuelans held on.

Perhaps not the most deserved of points, but Táchira at least exhibited some backbone, essential ahead of their journey back to Asunción where this time they faced then-Apertura leaders Guaraní. Initially, despite conceding an early goal things appeared promising as ‘Maestrico’ González scored again to level up the score at 1-1 after just 17 minutes. However, they were to be blitzed by three goals in six first-half minutes and were to ultimately walk away smarting from a 5-2 defeat. Subsequently, the following week Zamora were to receive their second five-goal bashing from Boca and these games, along with Táchira’s comparable experiences here in Paraguay and against Racing, were to do sizeable damage to the reputation of Venezuelan domestic football on the continent.

Pessimism thus returned to the side representing the Colombia-bordering state of the same name. Progression began to feel like a fantasy from another age and next up was more potential embarrassment in the home fixture against Guaraní. However, to the relief of many, Farías’ men were to put in a far more respectable showing and could well have won it. A 21st-minute penalty was converted by experienced international González, thus providing him with his third goal in four matches. Lady Fortune appeared to be on their side when, after 32 minutes, Federico Santander’s spot-kick was saved by Liebskind which, at that point, was remarkably his fourth penalty stop since joining the club from Portuguesa just two months prior. However, nine minutes later, he was unable to improve on this statistic as Julián Benítez took command of a similar situation and buried the ball from the 12-yard spot. Despite being pegged back, Táchira were to have the better of the second half, though with just over 15 minutes to go Farías was to unintentionally abdicate any chance of winning the game by replacing his side’s most consistent threat, winger Yohandry Orozco. Consequently, ‘Fuera  Farías’ and ‘Farías hijo de puta’ were just two of the chants that were to be voiced by the home support and clearly captured for home-viewing around the continent up until the final whistle confirmed a 1-1 draw. As if to vindicate the angry hordes, the awarding of the Man of the Match prize indeed went to Orozco, a diminutive individual who just a few years ago was considered the next big thing of Venezuelan football.

At this point, Táchira were all-but-out and a 0-0 home draw against Cristal removed the miniscule and unvoiced doubt. Though overall it was as enthralling an encounter as it sounds and played in front of a ground well under half full, the hosts did have chances to pick up their first win. Indeed, firstly at the beginning of the second half, Orozco curled a fine free-kick against the post that was converted on the rebound by Uruguayan forward Pablo Olivera from an offside position (where he was to lurk wth frustrating frequency). Not long afterwards, Olivera was to receive a gilt-edged opportunity from a low cross by Orozco, yet from little more than six yards out he was to somehow direct it wide.

With their final game being away to Racing, the opportunity to give their fans at least something to smile about appeared to have been missed. Yet, remarkably, with 50 minutes on the clock, José Alí Meza, a regular impact substitute who was starting only his second Libertadores game this year, was to put Táchira into a shock 2-0 lead. Irrespective of the caveats involved, this was shaping up to be one of the most impressive results in the history of Venezuelan participation in this competition. Alas, it was not to be as, with twenty minutes remaining, the Argentine champions were back on level terms. In response, Farías, having already withdrawn Meza on the hour-mark, was to further enhance his reputation for unambitious substitutions with the removal of González and Orozco in the closing stages. Yet, with the score still at 2-2 when regulation time was up,  this was still shaping up to be a credible point. However, seconds into stoppage-time, 20-year-old goalkeeper José Contreras (who had played in the previous match as well), committed a calamitous error that may just haunt him for the rest of his career, as he let a relatively tame effort from Brian Fernández slip under him and inch over the line.

A gutting loss, every bit as soul-destroying as the reverse fixture was humiliating. Although their overall record may not have told the full story, Táchira had nevertheless failed to win, picking up as many draws as defeats and conceding 15 goals along the way. Aside from having scored two more goals this time around, this record was otherwise identical to the last time they reached the group stage – 2012 – not to mention a marginal improvement on the two points gained the previous year. However, it was a far cry from the nine-point haul of 2009, not to mention the remarkable undefeated group stage performance and run to the quarter-finals in 2004, a year that had a slightly different format that granted Venezuela three automatic entries.

If the Libertadores is considered to be a platform to advertise a player’s talents, quite where such a disappointing campaign leaves Táchira’s leading lights is difficult to surmise. Wilker Ángel, a 22-year-old centre-back who last year made his international debut and was rumoured to be interesting teams in South America and Europe, will not have done himself any favours by being on the field in both five-goal reversals. Yohandry Orozco, 24, had his creative moments and unsettled at least some of the defenders he ran at, yet while a move to another side on the continent does not seem out of the question, one does not anticipate another European side of note to be clamouring for his signature after his forgettable two-year spell at Wolfsburg. Gelmin Rivas, the club’s top scorer whose two goals in Asunción ensured their advancement to the competition proper, had been attracting attention from Belgium but, though he has 20 league goals, he could not find the net once in his three group game starts. Two of the most impressive performers, César González and, with some qualifications given the number of goals conceded, Alan Liebeskind, are both in their thirties and unlikely to be top of the lists of those looking for long-term value.

Ultimately, although this campaign was no worse than the last two occasions they reached this phase, Táchira will surely still be rather disappointed at the two hidings that they endured as well as not getting more out of at least two of the three games that they drew. Nevertheless, they must now dust themselves off as, with the Clausura ending on 3 May, they retain a significant chance of winning the title and thus securing another opportunity to right some wrongs in next year’s Libertadores.*

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Comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league going into this competition, Mineros were to end their Libertadores campaign with the most respectable results, the most points and, at the very last opportunity, the only win. This, despite never reaching the group stage in the present format (two qualifying round losses in 2005 and 2008 were the closest that they had come), sacking a second manager of the season during the competition and ending their participation as still comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league. Indeed, though Richard Páez, former national team manager (2001-07) led them to finish top of the 2013 Torneo Apertura and the 2013/14 Aggregate Table as well as end up as the overall runners-up, he was out of the door by late September. His first six games of the season had been deemed unsatisfactory, but his replacement Marcos Mathías had little joy attempting to return his charges to their former level. Instead, they finished the Apertura in 6th and commenced their participation in the Libertadores while occupying a mediocre mid-table position in the Torneo Clausura.

It has been something of a quandary attempting to decipher what precisely is wrong in Puerto Ordaz as while they did lose a star from last season in the form of international midfielder Alejandro Guerra (more on him later), that alone can not account for their slump. Indeed, they had also brought in some quality players at the beginning of the Apertura, such as first-choice international left-back Gabriel Cichero. At the start of the Clausura, they also added two key members of Trujillanos’ Apertura title-winning team, defender Edixon Cuevas and striker James Cabezas.

Nevertheless, given their underwhelming form, they entered their first game away to Argentina’s Huracán as firm underdogs. Yet, though they were on the backfoot for at least two-thirds of the match, some of the considerable experience in their ranks came to the fore as they frustrated the Copa Argentina winners before ultimately coming within a minute of emerging victorious. Indeed, against the run of play, Colombian forward Zamir Valoyes gave them a 22nd-minute lead from a free-kick and though they were pegged back, come the final thirty minutes, their absorption of Argentine attacks had appeared to exhaust the hosts of ideas. Subsequently, they started to make a go for it and, remarkably, after some close scrapes, Valoyes netted again from a penalty (of admittedly dubious origin). Alas, not for the only time in this year’s competition, a Venezuelan side was to shoot themselves in the foot as a last-minute spot-kick was conceded and then converted as the honours ended even.

Even so, a point in Buenos Aires can never be sniffed at and so going into their home game against Club Universitario de Sucre – champions of Bolivia, whose teams are not renowned for travelling well – there were ample reasons to anticipate victory. Instead, what transpired was a largely dreary, horror show of tedium that was short on chances, enlivened only by an appalling fumble by Mineros goalkeeper Rafael Romo that gifted the visitors the only goal and the first Bolivian Libertadores win in Venezuela since 1994. Having also made a rather glaring error in the Huracán game, as well as some recent miscalculations in the league, the home supporters were in an unforgiving mood and proceeded to boo the international’s every touch until the end of the match. To make matters worse, several minutes later, the preceding week’s two-goal hero Valoyes was given a straight red card for an excruciating midfield challenge, ruling himself out of the next game. Capping off a tension-filled night, when the final whistle was blown there were plenty of calls for the head of manager Mathías. While the fans did not get their wish immediately, two weeks later following a mid-March 5-2 domestic thrashing by Táchira, they did, with assistant Tony Franco instead handed an opportunity until the end of the season.

His first task a couple of days after taking the reins could hardly have been greater. A home match against Brazilian champions Cruzeiro would be daunting for almost any side yet, though they were to ultimately lose 2-0, they actually acquitted themselves rather admirably and could come away with their dignity in tact. After Leandro Damião opened the scoring in the 12th minute, Mineros immediately fought back and created many opportunities throughout the game, looking like they may sneak a draw until Marquinhos sealed the win with seven minutes remaining. The reverse fixture in Belo Horizonte was to reflect not quite so favourably on the Venezuelans as two superb goals early on from Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Damião opened up the possibility of a trouncing of the magnitude Táchira and Zamora both twice endured. However, though Henrique got a third in the 73rd minute, Mineros can perhaps feel some contentment in their relative resilience – something their compatriots could perhaps learn from in preparation for future Libertadores clashes.

Despite these credible performances, they were nevertheless losses and their fifth game, away to Club Universitario in the high altitude of Sucre, is where their already faint hopes of making it out of the group evaporated. In a game somewhat more entertaining than the reverse fixture, a goal at the end of each half gave the Bolivians the victory and put them in with a strong chance of qualifying from the group. However, on the final matchday they were to face a trip to Brazil, whereas another of their rivals, Huracán, travelled to Venezuela, with the Bolivians knowing that if they lost and the Argentines won, they would be eliminated.

Yet, though they were to succumb to Cruzeiro 2-0, they were to owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mineros de Guayana who, in the very last group game contested by a Venezuelan side this year, surprised some by claiming the first – and only – victory for their nation. Indeed, as in Buenos Aires, while Huracán were to enjoy plenty of time on the ball, they were to struggle to create clear-cut chances with the Mineros defence largely blocking them off. Valoyes was to repeat his Argentine feats here by scoring another two goals – this time both before the half-time whistle – with international midfielder Rafael Acosta getting a third in the second half. Huracán’s players and coaching staff as well as many in the international media were visibly stunned at this 3-0 reversal, yet one can not help but feel their opponents were unjustly underestimated. While Mineros were playing without four or five first-team regulars and were already out of the competition, they did nevertheless achieve a 2-2 draw in February against the Argentines, who in turn, should perhaps be considered a second-tier Argentine side, given they sit 25th in the bloated 30-team domestic top-flight. Indeed, that all of Mineros’ five goals and four points came against Huracán should cause the men from Parque Patricios to pause to ponder in order to avoid heading back to the second division they were playing in last season.

Given the standard of this opposition, Mineros’ status as the best-performing Venezuelan side can easily be criticised. Indeed, even with their relatively respectable results against Cruzeiro, one has to bear in mind that the Brazilian giants have only scored more than three goals in any competitive game once since last August (and that occurred against Mineiro State Championship side Villa Nova who, nationally, compete in Série D). Nevertheless, it could be that the experience many players in this team possess of playing in the Libertadores as underdogs in the past for other Venezuelan sides facilitated their occasional strategic recognition of their shortcomings and defensive approaches. Indeed, at the back, the thirtysomethings Gabriel Cichero, Julio Machado and Edixon Cuevas as well as 41-year-old Luis Vallenilla all brought considerable know-how to this area of the pitch. Highly decorated Edgar Jiménez, who played for Caracas FC from 2003-2012, also certainly knew his way through such games while, in his case, sitting in front of the back four. Thus, while their goal difference was nothing to celebrate, their concession of a comparatively respectable ten goals was considerably better than the defences of Zamora and Táchira fared and may owe something to their experience and organisation of these players.

However, most of these individuals will not be anticipating life-changing foreign transfers as, like 29-year-old top scorer Valoyes, age is not really on their side. For the Colombian striker, a minor move at some point to his homeland to the west may not be entirely out of the question, but if any major scouts witnessed his side’s games, their attention may have instead been directed towards two of his younger team-mates. Indeed, Ángelo Peña, 25, whose jinking runs, diagonal balls and incisive passes often caught the eye, has already played in Brazil and Portugal and if he can be more consistent in his form then he may well depart for a third overseas adventure. In the long-term, 18-year-old left-sided midfielder Luis Guerra may well prove to have the brightest future, though it is difficult to tell at this early stage. Currently in his debut season, he only really came to prominence in the final game against Huracán – his first Libertadores start – but he put in a noteworthy performance, particularly with his role in the second goal which involved a run up the flank that bypassed three players.

Whether he turns out to be yet another winger of the week remains to be seen but as much as the fans will have gained some confidence from his side’s final game, this has been a season to forget for Mineros. Their fall from grace has been rather depressing to witness and despite having gained this rare opportunity to show the continent what they are capable of, their domestic position ensures that they will not be granted a second bite at the cherry next year. If there is a saving grace, however, it is that they possess a higher budget than most of their rivals. Indeed, despite their poor Apertura showing, they were still able to snap up Cabezas and Cuevas, two of the star men of the winners, Trujillanos. Though such purchases can not be said to have been a success thus far, the agitated Mineros fans will be hoping, if not demanding, that their resources are utilised with more acumen ahead of next season.

Down But Not Entirely Out: Venezuelans Abroad Flying the Flag 

Although all three Venezuelan teams have been eliminated, there still remains a Venezuelan interest in the tournament as attention will now solely be on their compatriots at two teams from their westerly neighbours, Colombia. Indeed, starting with the 2014 Finalización winners Santa Fe, left-sided international midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas currently plies his trade here and is often a first-team regular. Unfortunately, he has recently had problems with injuries and so could only make two brief appearances in his side’s group games – both of which were victories over Atlas of Mexico. However, though Santa Fe lost both of their games against Atlético Mineiro, they twice defeated Chilean champions Colo-Colo to end up winners of Group 1 with 12 points. Through to the Round of 16, they – and hopefully a fully fit Seijas – will now face Argentina’s Estudiantes de La Plata, with the first leg taking place in the Buenos Aires Province on 5 May and the reverse fixture in Bogotá on 12 May.

Also through to the knock-out stage is Alejandro Guerra, who may be able to pass his Vinotinto team-mate some notes as his side Atlético Nacional (2014 Apertura champions) finished top of Group 7, ahead of Estudiantes. In all, he featured in five games – only missing the 2-2 opening matchday draw away to Paraguay’s Libertad – and made his most notable contribution as an acrobatic goalscoring substitute in a 2-1 win away in Guayaquil against Barcelona. While he also started in an entertaining 3-2 home reversal inflicted upon them by the Ecuadorians, he had more positive experiences in a 1-0 away win and a 1-1 home draw against Estudiantes, as well as a 4-0 home thumping over Libertad, which sealed their progression. Furthermore, Jonathan Copete, a Colombian by birth but who has played at length in Venezuela and has been in talks to represent the nation, scored the last goal in this game. Both he and Guerra now look forward to a two-legged tie with Barcelona’s Clásico del Astillero rivals Emelec, returning to Guayaquil for the first leg on 7 May before taking the Ecuadorians back to Medellín on 14 May.

Drawn in eminently winnable match-ups, Venezuelans will be hoping that their leading representatives on the continent will be able to continue to fly the flag in this premier competition for some time yet.

*Torneo Clausura Update (17 May 2014): As this article was written when most domestic teams had 2-3 games remaining, hopefully readers will find an update on the league situation helpful. After a breathtakingly dramatic climax, Táchira claimed the title, with Caracas a very narrow 2nd and Zamora in 3rd. Subsequently, Táchira beat Trujillanos in the Gran Final to be crowned the overall 2014/15 champions of Venezuela. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical