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Venezuela – Summary of Top Talents at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup

Following a tournament overview of Venezuela’s sensational performance at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of most of the squad members. Those seeking further information on the majority of these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification.

 Venezuela celebrating reaching the U-20 World Cup Final (@VinotintoSub20)

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Venezuela

Tournament Overview

Coming into the tournament off the back of an impressive qualifying campaign, Rafael Dudamel’s trailblazers instantly put paid to fears that they would be too lightweight on the global stage, rapidly transforming from dark horses to genuine contenders before ultimately succumbing at the final hurdle.

They kicked of the competition’s opening game with an emphatic statement, overcoming a shaky first half to defeat – an admittedly sub-par – Germany 2-0. They followed this up with an emphatic 7-0 win against Pacific Islanders Vanuatu, who were billed by some as “no mugs”, on the basis of their narrow 3-2 defeat against Mexico, a scoreline that was later replicated against Germany. La Mini-Vinotinto, however, certainly made them look it, in the process booking their place in the next round. Subsequently, following a 1-0 win over Mexico, they confirmed themselves as winners of Group B, achieving in only their second Under-20 World Cup what regional heavyweights Brazil never have: a “perfect” record of three straight wins with no goals conceded. They could even boast the tournament’s topscorer at this stage, with the hitherto unstoppable Sergio Córdova having bagged four goals.

As one would expect, they were tested more in the knock-out stage, with Round of 16 opponents Japan rattling Venezuela’s crossbar from a free-kick as well as putting them on the back foot more than any of their previous opponents managed. However, the South Americans later re-asserted themselves and, though it took an additional 30 minutes to do so, eventually emerged victorious thanks to a towering Yangel Herrera header.

Next up in the Quarter-finals were the USA. However, though they agonisingly missed a golden opportunity in stoppage-time, the CONCACAF representatives largely turned in a less than imperial performance. That said, despite Venezuela greatly dominating the play and opportunities, it looked as if their profligacy in front of goal could cost them. Thus, extra-time was again needed and, to their relief and elation, Adalberto Peñaranda broke the deadlock in the 97th minute, with Nahuel Ferraresi adding a second. The States caused a late scare by pulling one back to become the first side to score in the tournament against Venezuela, but Dudamel’s darlings hung on.

They progressed to an all-South American Semi-final with Uruguay who, following a disputed penalty decision at the beginning of the second half, became the first side to take the lead against Venezuela. Subsequently, things did not look too promising for the burgundy boys. However, in the first minute of stoppage-time, 17-year-old Samuel Sosa came to the rescue, surprising almost everyone with a sensational free-kick into the top corner that will live long in the memory. Ultimately, his side were to edge Fabián Coito’s men out of the tournament, with two fine Wuilker Faríñez saves in the penalty shootout advancing them through to ascend to the most astounding, sublime, vertigo-inducing heights yet. Such was the fervour and focus on the nation that, post-game, coach Dudamel felt emboldened to take the opportunity to call upon the under-fire President Nicolás Maduro to “put down the weapons” and end the seemingly neverending armed conflicts that are ravaging the homeland.

Back to the football, having taken at least 120 minutes to achieve the admirable feat of seeing off the regional champions from the AFC, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, Venezuela reached the Final to meet a European side who also had to pinch themselves upon arrival. In the opening thirty minutes of their opening Group A game against Argentina, England looked as if they were going to receive a comprehensive going-over, yet emerged 3-0 winners. They were to grow in confidence throughout the tournament, delivering some impressive results on their journey to become the first English side at any level to reach a Final since…well, honestly, who can recall the precise year? Against Venezuela on Sunday 11 June 2017, they often looked formidable and deservedly took a first-half lead, courtesy of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. However, Dudamel’s charges saw more of the ball after the break and won a penalty in the 74th minute, yet, in a moment that defied the trajectory of Venezuela’s entire campaign, Peñaranda saw his spot-kick saved. Thus, when the final whistle later blew, his nation had to settle for runners-up medals.

Though it is a struggle not to contemplate “What could have been?” – and that many will is, of course, partly a testament to how readily they were accepted as viable contenders – it should go without saying what a phenomenal achievement this second-place finish represents. Plaudits of course go to Rafael Dudamel and particularly the way in which he organised his well-drilled side who rarely looked overrun, conceding just three goals in their seven games – even tighter than the record of seven goals let in during nine qualification matches. Further upfield, though the goals were more infrequent during the knock-out phase where set-pieces came to the fore, they did nevertheless finish the tournament as topscorers with 14. Certainly, the Vanuatu game greatly bolstered this tally but, as they were not really reliant upon a conventional striker, they demonstrated that there is a considerable amount of attacking talent to be located throughout their ranks.

With such a promising batch of players, expectations for La Vinotinto‘s seniors in the upcoming decade have suddenly escalated. Given that they currently sit bottom and are already out of the running of CONMEBOL qualifying with just six points from a possible 42, when they embark on the road to Qatar 2022, up really is the only way they can go. That Dudamel is also their coach, with his 14-month reign yielding results little better than those of his predecessor Noel Sanvicente, should cause a mixture of both caution as well as optimism amongst the level-headed. Indeed, caution because there are already plenty of talented individuals in the senior set-up, yet whether due to the volatile situation in the country, internal politics within the squad as well as the footballing authorities and/or some questionable tactical/selection choices, they have been underperforming. However, no doubt currently overriding these misgivings are the visions of imminent prosperity which Dudamel seems best-placed to oversee. Indeed, for all the individual talents within this Under-20 squad, their collective qualities were paramount and the boss, an ex-international goalkeeper, will want to integrate as many players from this crop as he can in order to perpetuate and fine-tune his footballing creed. Who knows, perhaps the disparity in results at the two levels can partly be understood as a case of these wide-eyed and eager youngsters simply being more receptive to his ideas.

Who knows, indeed. Who knows just how many of these heroes will go on to enjoy careers that at least equal those of their peers at club level, let alone at international? If lucky, history suggests maybe 3-5. Thus, as plenty is still very much up in the air regarding their fates, what follows is a summary of the majority of the squad members who made it onto the pitch during this record-breaking, inspirational South Korean campaign.

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(Group B table and knock-out stage results courtesy of Wikipedia; to read about and view highlights of each game, click here and scroll down)

Talents

Yangel Herrera (Midfielder, No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City)

Captain Fantastic, this athletic, assured midfielder continued where he left off at the qualifiers, providing leadership, one solid half of the two-man protective shield in front of the back four as well as some significant contributions to attacks. Indeed, the ex-Atlético Venezuela man played every single minute of the tournament and rarely looked flustered, instead regularly displaying morale-lifting composure and intent that helped both define and enhance his team’s play. Occasionally looking to cut open defences from deep, he demonstrated his impressive range of passes as well as often sought to get his head on the end of set-pieces – most unforgettably doing so in extra-time against Japan, when he nodded home the winning goal. Thus, though this man who has already turned some heads in his brief MLS career is primarily fielded for his defensive play, he is rather nimble on the ball and enjoys a forward foray or two. As with three other members of this squad, he has already been capped at senior level and, right now, his long-term international prospects are quite possibly the brightest. A consistent starting place as Tomás Rincón’s more attack-minded side-kick seemingly beckons for the man awarded the Bronze Ball by FIFA, as he was adjudged to be the tournament’s third best player. For this site, he was Venezuela’s top player.

Adalberto Peñaranda (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford)

The only regular starter who was not part of the qualifying campaign, this creative attacker nevertheless slotted in rather well, ultimately proving to be his side’s main threat from open play. Indeed, the most high-profile Venezuelan in the squad, this dangerous dribbler often set up team-mates, gaining three assists: a drive infield followed by a short pass to Sergio Córdova for the second against Germany, a cross for Velásquez to head home in the vanquishing of Vanuatu and, in the marginal win over Mexico, a well-weighted dinked central ball for Córdova’s winner. He also scored twice: a clinical low strike against Vanuatu and a slid finish to finally break the deadlock in the Quarter-final against the USA. Such returns should silence the naysayers who claim he has “no end product” – likes a spot of showboating, you see, does ol’ Penny – though, admittedly, he did frustrate at times, particularly in the latter stages. It should not go unremarked that this senior international also won the penalty in the Final, yet some English bandwagon-jumpers may only take away from the tournament his subsequent saved spot-kick. This may burden him for a fair while, though as he is set to return to parent club Watford, if – and, judging by the loan rumours and some work permit issues, it is a big “if” – Hertfordshire’s finest field him one day, perhaps he will be able to alter some perceptions first-hand.

Ronaldo Lucena (Midfielder, No. 16, Zamora FC)

Herrera’s ever-present partner-in-crime also responsible for some crucial tackles and reinforcing the back four. Like the captain, the – much – younger brother of 36-year-old ex-international Franklin also participated in many attacking moves, possessing an even greater range of passes, especially from deep positions. This, he most notably demonstrated against Vanuatu with an exquisite chipped ball that Córdova brilliantly controlled and finished off for his second of the game. However, undoubtedly his – and, arguably, Venezuela’s – greatest weapon was his pinpoint set-pieces, with one corner of his setting up Herrera’s goal against Japan and another providing Nahuel Ferraresi with a header to double the lead against the USA. Had some of his team-mates shown more composure, he could well have outshone Peñaranda with the quantity of goals marked by his involvement. Though he himself did not score, owing to his integral play – not to mention an outrageous 45-yard free-kick that hit the post against England – his performances gained much attention and acclaim, with his value to the team having greatly increased since his impressive, if more low-key, qualifying outings.

Wuilker Fariñez (Goalkeeper, No. 1, Caracas FC)

It is becoming harder to doubt the career potential of this supremely likeable 5-feet-9-inch shot-stopper, as though here he faced some more physically imposing opponents, his performances and statistics only improved: three goals conceded in seven games, which can be favourably compared to the seven goals in nine games that saw him heralded as the best goalkeeper in qualifying. What he lacks in height, he appears to compensate for with bottomless reserves of spring and alertness. True, he was not greatly troubled in the Group Stage – so uneventful was it at times, that he even followed in that hallowed tradition of goalscoring Latin American ‘keepers by netting a spot-kick against Vanuatu – but this certainly changed in the knock-out phase. Indeed, here the 19-year-old – who was the No. 1 for La Vinotinto‘s last two World Cup qualifiers – had more shots to contend with, particularly against Uruguay, where he ultimately enhanced his reputation for astutely saving penalties, heroically thwarting two in the shootout. He can add these to his list of scalps which includes Alexis Sánchez from the March senior preliminary with Chile. With a considerable run as the nation’s first-choice seemingly on the cards, it will be intriguing to see how far in the club game he can go. Dani Hernández, the man who he appears to have usurped, is currently chasing promotion in Spain’s second tier and also already has a short stint in the top-flight under his belt. Can Fariñez defy some more odds and surpass these credentials?

The Defence

Great as the little big man was, he did not really have to face an onslaught of the kind he may become accustomed to at senior level. For this, he has Herrera and Lucena to thank, as well as, of course, the defence. Apologies to the Alan Hansens and Gary Nevilles of this world for lumping them all together in the same section, but it has felt as if this year’s consistently impressive defensive record is more of a collective achievement.

That said, certain individuals were more notable than others, in particular right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC), who played all 16 games of qualifying and the World Cup, hardly ever – if at all – putting a defensive foot wrong. Furthermore, though he did not contribute to any goals, he can certainly roam up the flank. With Roberto Rosales’ senior career surprisingly in limbo at the moment, Hernández could well be in with a chance of at least earning a senior call-up in the not-too-distant future.

The other leading member of the back four has been centre-back Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) who, were it not for an accumulation of yellows that ruled him out of the Semi-final, would have also been an ever-present. As in qualifying, he was prominent at the back, repelling almost everything that came his way in what was a very tight defensive unit; against Vanuatu, he even opened the scoring with a header at the back post.

Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira), Dudamel’s choice of partner for Velásquez throughout this tournament, initially came as a surprise, as Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC) had been more than capable during qualifying. However, though the 18-year-old Ferraresi did look a little shaky in both the Semi-final as well as the Final – in which many blamed him for allowing Calvert-Lewin to manoeuvre and score – he largely acquitted himself well. He too got on the scoresheet, doubling the lead with a header against the USA. Mejías, on the other hand, only really played the Uruguay game with Ferraresi; in this encounter, there did appear to be some shakiness at the back, though given Mejías’s impressive qualifying form, it may be a little harsh to dwell on this.

Overall, though none of these centre-backs possess an imposing stature comparable to, say, Uruguay’s Agustín Rogel or the admirable ball-playing qualities of his partner Santiago Bueno, it nevertheless seems that Dudamel is blessed with some very committed and alert individuals able to carry out his instructions to the letter.

Otherwise, José Hernández (No. 5, Caracas FC), the main occupant of the left-back role, was also effective in repelling danger, if somewhat less conspicuous than his colleague over on the other flank. Hernández managed to win the position during the tournament from erstwhile regular Eduin Quero (No. 3, Deportivo Táchira), who may have had an assist to his name following a low cross finished off by Samuel Sosa against Vanuatu, but was perhaps considered a potential liability owing to his two red cards in a mere six qualifying games.

Sergio Córdova (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 19, Caracas FC)

The team’s topscorer with four, all of which he netted during the Group Stage. At this point, the right-sided attacking midfielder who sometimes drifts infield appeared to be the side’s most improved player since the qualifiers (during which he put in some decent, energetic performances but only netted once in nine games). However, as the tournament wore on, though it was not for the want of trying, he could not add to his tally, with a potential hat-trick squandered during the USA clash – not to mention a presentable one-on-one against England. It is no exaggeration to say that he could have at least doubled his haul. However, as he often found himself in good positions, beat opponents with his pace and drive, if he can just develop greater composure in front of goal, he could become something rather formidable indeed. He demonstrated as much in the first three games with the quality and variety of his four goals: the first, against Germany, was a clinical low drive; in the subsequent victory over Vanuatu he was alert to head home and then, later, superbly control and poke home Lucena’s fine ball; lastly, against Mexico, he brilliantly took on Peñaranda’s chipped central ball, before holding off a defender, bypassing the goalkeeper and bamboozling another opponent on the line with his calculated finish. This goal was put forward by FIFA as one of the best of tournament.

Yeferson Soteldo (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, Huachipato, Chile)

The fourth and final starlet of this crop to have already been capped at senior level, perhaps owing to the inclusion of Peñaranda, Venezuela’s leading attacking threat in qualifying was surprisingly less of a presence here. Indeed, of his six appearances, only three were starts and just the one of these – the Round of 16 clash with Japan – occurred in the knock-out phase. Similar to Fariñez, one of the key questions going into the tournament was whether the five-feet-three-incher destined to be forever dubbed the “diminutive dribbler” could hack it against potentially more physical opponents (at least within his own age range). As he did not feature so much, the jury is still out, though he did make some notable contributions that suggest in time he could prove to be just fine. Indeed, against Germany, he played a role in disconcerting a defender, which ultimately paved the way for the opener and against Vanuatu, he came off the bench and jinked his way along the byline before pulling back for Jan Hurtado to score the sixth. His cameos did not always reap dividends – he will still be counting his lucky stars that his Semi-final shootout penalty off the bar did not prove fatal – but sometimes they garnered him new admirers, not least in the Final. Here, his often glue-like relationship with the ball elicited excitement in the stands and in homes across the world, particularly when he shrugged off an opponent, turned and played in Córdova, who unfortunately had his close-range shot blocked.

Ronaldo Peña (Forward, No. 9, Las Palmas Atlético)

“One goal in 16 games? That’s a full-back, not a forward.” So once boomed current Scotland manager Gordon Strachan – albeit with slightly different statistics – during a spell of television punditry, bemoaning the shifting definitions and roles of those fielded up top. However, though Peña has received some justifiable criticism for failing to convert chances laid on a plate for him – particularly in qualifying, though there were also instances of this in the World Cup – he nevertheless again made some vital supplementary contributions. Indeed, he is clearly stronger than his attacking colleagues and was often utilised well shielding the ball and holding off opponents, thus creating space and making life much easier for his chums. He was also regularly the target of balls pumped upfield and, with flick-ons and passes, was sometimes able to put team-mates in advanced positions, such as when he recorded an assist with the outside of his boot for Peñaranda’s goal against Vanuatu. Also, though the floodgates did not subsequently open, he did at least get Venezuela off and running with their first goal of the tournament, a very well-taken effort against Germany, in which he bypassed both a defender and the goalkeeper before knocking home.

Best of the Rest

There were several other players granted minutes, with 17-year-old Samuel Sosa (Midfielder, No. 15, Deportivo Táchira) undoubtedly the most significant. He was not involved with either the Under-20 or the Under-17 qualifying stages earlier this year, but has already notched up a respectable number of domestic league appearances (22). Here, he came off the bench five times to rack up a mere two hours of action, yet given his age and his contributions-per-minute ratio, he is surely one to keep an eye on. Indeed, he scored from a low Quero cross in the Vanuatu rout, then later against the USA helped Peñaranda finally break the deadlock in extra-time with a fine low ball in from left. However, the moment he will long be fondly recalled for came in the first minute of stoppage-time of the Semi-final against Uruguay. Here, he struck a spectacular left-footed free-kick into the top corner, rescuing his nation from near defeat and taking the game into an additional thirty minutes.

Following some trickery at the very end of this additional period, he also set up fellow 17-year-old Jan Hurtado (Striker, No. 13, Deportivo Táchira), who was thwarted by the post. Like his club team-mate Sosa, Hurtado has also impressed in the domestic league, netting five times already in his brief career. Unlike the midfielder, however, he did play at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-17 qualifying tournament, netting three times in nine games. Here, he gave a glimpse of what he can do, tapping home Soteldo’s cross to score against Vanuatu.

Lastly, as he failed to score in any of his six appearances (four as a starter) and found himself on the end of moves far less frequently than Córdova, Ronaldo Chacón (Forward, No. 11, Caracas FC) will surely wish he had made more of a mark. Nevertheless, given that two years ago he scored three times in four Under-17 qualification games and, earlier this year at the Under-20 preliminary tournament, netted twice in seven matches (five starts), one feels he may have more to offer in another set of circumstances.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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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 2-0 Germany (Group B, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 20 May 2017)

Venezuela’s opening Group B game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them sensationally see off European heavyweights Germany. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSphericals armchair talent-tracking… 

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

Venezuela 2-0 Germany

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

Rafael Dudamel’s much-admired generation of youngsters kick-started South Korea 2017 in memorable, expectation-defying fashion, defeating Germany with a relative degree of comfort. Indeed, though Guido Streichsbier’s men arguably had the upper hand during the first half, their superiority was ever so slight and consisted of little more than having the likes of Philipp Ochs aim a few extra shots from range that either missed the target or were easily stopped.

Things soon changed decisively after the break. Indeed, barely had the second period began when Venezuela had crafted the hitherto best chance of the game, which was soon followed by the opening goal in the 51st minute, scored by Ronaldo Peña. He capitalised on some defensive uncertainty on the flank before confidently waltzing with the ball past goalkeeper Dominik Reimann. Just three minutes later, the lead was emphatically doubled by Sergio Córdova, who was played into a little space on the right side within the area, before firing home low into the back of the net. Subsequently, the Europeans evidently had the wind knocked out of their sails and, as a contest, the game somewhat petered out in the final half-hour or so.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this extraordinary result for Venezuela is that both the players as well as the fans know that they can in fact play much better than this. Therefore, if to some they didn’t already, then now especially, the possibilities for this crop of cracks suddenly seem limitless.

Talent Tracking

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Though the hordes of fastidious tactics bloggers may wish to disagree, to these eyes, the best compliment that could be paid to the defence that kept this clean sheet is that, well, they weren’t very prominent. Indeed, with the exception of maybe one centre-back foot that needed to be instinctively put in to stop the ball rolling towards the wrong feet for a sudden close-range opportunity, La Vinotinto were never seriously tested. There were no last-ditch challenges, no heroic recoveries after having given away possession in the final third, no goalmouth clearances and no goalkeeping acrobatics. There didn’t need to be – and not just because the opposition were somewhat lacking as an attacking threat. Though in the initial stages, there was some midfield carelessness that allowed the Germans to roam towards the edge of the area, generally the team as a whole – and, of course, the back four, in particular – maintained their focus, kept their vigilance and tracked their rivals, rarely granting them an inch in meaningful positions.

Regarding the outfield rearguard, 18-year-old Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira) was the one notable surprise on the team-sheet, as during qualifying it was the bench-dwelling Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC) who formed one half of a much-admired centre-back partnership with Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas). However, the defensive record – the best in that tournament – that was achieved back then also involved a few personnel alterations necessitated largely by suspensions. Thus, it would appear that, not only did Ferraresi acquit himself well, but also that Dudamel has an impressive pool of defence-minded individuals at his disposal who are receptive to the system that has been instilled.

Furthermore in this area, left-back Eduin Quero (No. 3, Deportivo Táchira), who received two red cards in his six qualifying matches, also got booked here early on but did well to keep his cool and quell any trouble on his side. His colleague over on the right-flank, Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC) was again the more adventurous of the pair, having Venezuela’s only real attempt on target in the first half, shooting from 25-30 yards out on the inside-right in the 24th minute, though his, admittedly ambitious, effort was comfortably saved. He did, however, also combine very well on the overlap on the right on the half-hour mark, with his nifty bit of skill ultimately leading to a lay-off to a certain individual in a good position inside the area who – to the surprise of few – skied the ball over.

This would be attacker and target man, Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas), who earned the ire of many fans during qualifying for his profligacy in front of goal. However, shortly after the interval, he rose to prominence, first receiving a pass from defensive-midfielder and captain Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) and nudging the ball past a defender to give Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) a clear, albeit brief, sight of goal. His strike was blocked by the goalkeeper but four minutes later, the diminutive dribbler – who was to later grow in confidence, enjoying short bursts with the ball – played a role in the opening goal, forcing a defender into a poor backwards header over on the right flank. This was seized upon by Peña, who gave his compatriots the gift they could scarcely have ever dreamed of as he exhibited some fine footwork, first taking the ball past another defender, then the goalkeeper, before sliding into the empty net. Cue elation.

The man who had combined well with Hernández for Peña’s first-half opportunity was right-sided attacker Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC) and, just a few minutes after the Las Palmas youngster made it 1-0, it was he who doubled the lead. He had also struck a minor opportunity off-target in the first half and his 54th-minute goal came about following some fine work by the left-sided Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford). The dynamic forward who played in the 2015 CONMEBOL tournament but not the 2017 edition, showed that he can slot into this side rather neatly indeed as he dribbled from the inside-left into the dee, before sliding the ball inside the area for Córdova. The Caracas FC man thus took one touch before firing home at the near post. Cue euphoria. Overall, he showed considerable determination and ability from his right flank, impressing many back home who, in one notable online poll, overwhelmingly voted him the man of the match.

Otherwise, as is custom, midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) sprayed some good passes and put in a few notable deliveries, the best coming after 14 minutes from a set-piece which centre-back Velásquez stretched for, but couldn’t quite connect with.

Ultimately, this was a performance to serve notice to the global footballing fraternity not yet up-to-speed with the very promising developments in Venezuela. It’s especially exciting given that all Vinotinto fans know there is much more to come from their fresh-faced representatives, not least highly-rated goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC), who was never seriously troubled today. Given the organisers’ generosity of allowing 16 of the 24 group teams to qualify through to the second round, it is hard not to feel as if Venezuela already have one foot in the knock-out stage.

In the other Group B game played today, Mexico nabbed a 3-2 win at the death against Vanuatu, who will be Venezuela’s next opponents on Tuesday 23 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

 

 

 

 

 

Brazil 1-0 Venezuela (Hexagonal Group Stage, Matchday 3, 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20, 5 February 2017)

The first game which took place on Hexagonal Matchday 3 of the 2017 U-20 South American Youth Championship saw Brazil play Venezuela. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting… 

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(Source: Wikipedia)

Brazil 1-0 Venezuela

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Hexagonal Group Stage, 5 February 2017 (YouTube)

A game that was heading towards a 0-0 draw was enlivened by a last-minute golazo and some subsequent, contentious events. Indeed, it was a somewhat lethargic game of few chances, with the closest to a goal in the first half being Brazil’s Richarlison heading a 19th-minute corner onto the crossbar. In the second period, it was Venezuela’s turn to hit the woodwork, as Yangel Herrera struck a low 30-yard effort in the 68th minute against the post. However, with a goalless draw long seeming likely, Felipe Vizeu had other ideas as he picked up the ball and then thunderously struck home into the top corner from 25 yards out. It was a great goal, though some claim there was a foul in the build-up and not long afterwards, tempers began to flare. Indeed, Brazil’s David Neres clearly punched Josua Mejías, though this went unpunished with instead Venezuela’s Heber García soon receiving his marching orders. After the final whistle, presumably for his protestations, left-back Eduin Quero was also given a red card and manager Rafael Dudamel was seen fuming, as the match officials required protection from the heavily-shielded police.

Talent Spotting

brazilflag Brazil

Felipe Vizeu (No. 9, Flamengo) won Brazil the game with an 89th-minute golazo. Centrally, he gained space from Herrera (by illegal means, according to Tim Vickery) before lashing the ball into the top corner from 25 yards. Previously in the 80th minute, Vizeu had managed to squeeze in a low shot that was comfortably saved and in the 55th minute, he chased a good through-ball from the inside-left, though the goalkeeper got out just about in time to clear.

The person who came close to playing him in here was Richarlison (No. 18, Fluminense), who had Brazil’s best other chance, heading the 19th-minute corner of Matheus Sávio (No. 20, Flamengo) straight against the bar.

Otherwise, the game was hardly choc-a-bloc with chances, with the best other two opportunities Brazil could muster barely worthy of a mention: After 23 minutes, a left-sided cross found Gabriel (No. 14, Lille, France) but his header went hopelessly wide and in the 65th minute, a free-kick from Maycon (No. 17, Corinthians) went over the wall but also safely into the goalkeeper’s hands.

Lastly, David Neres (No. 11, Ajax) was less of a jinking, attacking threat in this game, with his most memorable contribution instead being a late punch that gave Josua Mejías a nosebleed. This went unpunished, with Venezuelans instead soon getting in trouble with the referee, though one wonders what Neres’ new owners Ajax made of this behaviour from their €15 million acquisition.

venezuelaflag Venezuela

Venezuela were perhaps also suffering from some mid-Hexagonal fatigue, though their defence maintained their impressive form and they had looked on course for a very useful point that would have bolstered their qualification hopes for the Under-20 World Cup.

Though neither gave vintage performances, Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile) and Yangel Herrera (No. 8, Manchester City) again showed glimpses of why they are Venezuela’s most highly-rated outfield players. However, as nobody really stood head and shoulders above their team-mates, what follows instead is a list of their team’s best chances:

After five minutes, Soteldo curled in a free-kick from the right that Herrera glanced a header from, though this went straight to the goalkeeper. A couple of minutes later, Soteldo did well on the left to gain some space before sliding a good ball over to the right inside the area; from here, Sergio Córdova (No. 23, Caracas FC) struck a low effort that deflected to the goalkeeper. Seven minutes later, Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas, Spain) impressively beat Gabriel for pace on the right, before rolling the ball to Ronaldo Chacón (No. 11, Caracas FC); from a central position, side-on from the goal, he struck a decent shot, though it was directly at the goalkeeper. Much later in the 68th minute came Venezuela’s best chance when Herrera picked up the ball some 30 yards out and struck a fine, low, right-footed effort that hit the base of the post before rolling across the goalmouth. Lastly, in the fifth minute of stoppage-time, the boys in burgundy had one last throw of the dice when Soteldo’s free-kick was headed out to a central position 30 yards out; from here, right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC) struck a low, testing drive with the outside of his right boot which only went about a yard wide.

Alas, they could not find a way through and succumbed to their first defeat of the tournament. As much as they were right to feel aggrieved about some refereeing decisions, one wonders if the looming first loss also caused some tempers to boil and led to the red cards to Heber García (No. 14, Sud América, Uruguay) and Eduin Quero (No. 3, Deportivo Táchira) – not to mention the post-match fury of manager Rafael Dudamel.

The two other games played on Hexagonal Matchday 3 were Uruguay vs Colombia and Ecuador vs Argentina – talent-spotting articles have now been published for both of these matches. 

Otherwise, Matchday 4 of the Hexagonal will be on 8 February 2017 and the games shall be Ecuador vs Colombia, Uruguay vs Venezuela and Brazil vs Argentina – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical