We all know things are far from what they could be and how we’ve landed in this situation. No doubt you’ve all got far more important things to worry about and it’s certainly understandable if you’ve lost interest. Nevertheless, some ambitious folk have been summoned to dream on a global scale — let’s hope we can all be able to do the same sooner rather than later.
Conmebol Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2022
Friday 9 October 2020 — Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez, Barranquilla.
Colombia vs Venezuela
Tuesday 13 October 2020 — Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida.
Venezuela vs Paraguay
“This game is not between Peseiro and Queiroz; it is between Venezuela and Colombia” — tell that to this blogger, José.Quote from AS; image from Marca.
Come On Then, If We Must
In common with all other Conmebol nations, Venezuela belatedly begin their Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign after nearly 11 months of inaction.
Such a lengthy gap between matches is certainly not without precedent for La Vinotinto; after all, it was only two years ago that they returned from a 10-month hiatus to face the same country that they will first encounter this time around: neighbours Colombia. They’re also definitely not strangers to shambolic preparations, which, given all the hurdles the c-word has thrown at them in the run-up, is just as well.
Still, pity the new manager.
New manager? Ah yes, a bit of background may be in order: Rafael Dudamel, the man who led the under-20 side to second place at the 2017 World Cup, finally had enough. No more federation politics and restrictions to navigate for him, as he was instead lured away at the turn of the year by Brazilian giants Atlético Mineiro. There, he lasted less than two months, getting the boot after prematurely exiting the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa do Brasil. He was then promptly replaced at Mineirão by former Argentina, Chile and Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli, which brings us back to Dudamel’s successor at international level.
Well, it’s not Sampaoli, is it? No, but in early February many fans thought it was going to be as talks were reported to have reached a very advanced stage. In a swift and hazy turn of events, however, José Peseiro was instead announced as the new man at the Venezuela helm. Despite the Portuguese 60-year-old having previously managed the likes of Sporting Clube de Portugal and Porto, it would be fair to say his reception was underwhelming, with many confessing to have never heard of him. Perhaps they could be forgiven, as not only has he struggled to pick up much silverware but also in recent years he has rarely stayed anywhere long enough to be remembered: his last six appointments have each lasted a mere matter of months. This does not bode well for the long-term project he has landed himself, even if the pandemic has already allowed him to boost his longevity credentials.
Despite these reservations, maybe he’ll be able to command a greater level of authority within the dressing room, owing in part to having trained players of the highest calibre. Indeed, in a curious — he may prefer the word “irrelevant” — subplot, not only has he led top teams within his homeland, but during the 2003/04 season he was also the assistant manager at Galácticos-era Real Madrid. Who was he second in command to? Oh, only his compatriot and current Colombia coach, Carlos Queiroz.
Although many of the Venezuelan players may have also scratched their heads upon his appointment, he’s certainly had plenty of time to familiarise himself with them: pre-lockdown he got Josef Martínez back on board, embarked on a tour to meet various talents and then named a 40-man preliminary squad in March for the qualifiers that we’re now catching up with. Since then, he’s been in touch with many of the chaps and has no doubt watched countless videos. Despite this, he hasn’t had much time with them on the training ground, so he’s not expected to implement any radically new tactical schemes just yet.
Of the 29 players he has in his squad, all of them play their club football outside of their homeland — this is probably for the best, not least because the domestic league has yet to restart (scheduled return date: 14 October). Even so, although it is a strong crop, Peseiro will have to contend without several key individuals: talismanic striker Salomón Rondón and midfielder Júnior Moreno have both been prevented from joining up by their clubs and the country’s most high-profile defender, Parma new-boy Yordan Osorio, is also missing.
Facilitated by this latter absence, a starting position at centre-back had been on the cards for Mikel Villanueva (who has been enjoying a new lease of life in the Portuguese top flight), but injury the day before the opener has ruled him out. It’s too early to say whether he’ll recover in time to face Paraguay. Yeferson Soteldo and Fernando Aristeguieta are also currently in Colombia and had reportedly been part of Peseiro’s plan A, but their respective difficulties entering the country mean they are unlikely to be kicking off in Barranquilla.
With Aristeguieta probably exhausted, Rondón virtually incarcerated in a Chinese hotel and Josef Martínez nursing a long-term injury, it is set to be a big moment for Germany-based Sergio Córdova, who has been used as the sole striker in training.
Since this time last year, over half of the players in this squad have moved clubs. Goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez is one, having joined newly promoted Ligue 1 side Lens. However, as he has yet to play, there have been some calls to instead give the No. 1 shirt to his fellow U20 World Cup teammate Joel Graterol, who has been chalking up league and Libertadores appearances at Colombian side América de Cali. That said, for now at least, it’s still Faríñez who will be between the sticks.
Another player who has embarked on a new club life in 2020 is Jefferson Savarino, having been snapped up by Atlético Mineiro during Dudamel’s brief tenure; the attacking midfielder’s since put in some good performances and has won the state championships.
He is predicted to start behind Córdova in the line of three alongside Jhon Murillo and Darwin Machís. Regarding the latter, he and his Granada teammate Yangel Herrera (who is set to be in a holding midfield duo with captain Tomás Rincón) are arguably their nation’s top-performing players at the moment, having finished seventh in La Liga last season and recently qualified for the group stage of the Europa League.
Elsewhere, there are also some fresh faces in the squad, such as three of the four-man MLS contingent who will be hoping for their first caps, but the likely line-up is, once all caveats have been taken into account, very familiar. According to a reliable source, Peseiro will set up his men in a 4-2-3-1:
W. Faríñez; R. Hernández, W. Ángel, J. Chancellor, R. Rosales; T. Rincón, Y. Herrera; J. Murillo, J. Savarino, D. Machís; S. Córdova.
Venezuela haven’t actually beaten Colombia for five years, but when they do play them, the result is usually close. As for Paraguay, the last time the two nations squared off was a memorable encounter three years ago on the final matchday of the last qualifying campaign: a goal by 19-year-old Yangel Herrera in Asunción simultaneously ended the hosts’ dreams, while allowing the youthful visitors to envisage a much more prosperous future.
The circumstances may not be ideal, but the time has come for them to start delivering on their promise.
Wuilker Faríñez (Lens, France, on loan from Millonarios, Colombia), Alain Baroja (Delfín, Ecuador) & Joel Graterol (América de Cali, Colombia).
Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain), Alexander González (Dinamo București, Romania), Mikel Villanueva (Santa Clara, Portugal), Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Ronald Hernández (Aberdeen, Scotland), Luis Mago (Universidad de Chile, Chile) & Miguel Navarro (Chicago Fire, USA).
Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Rómulo Otero (Corinthians, Brazil, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Juan Pablo Añor (No club, recently released by Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil), Jefferson Savarino (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Bernaldo Manzano (Atlético Bucaramanga, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara, Venezuela), Eduard Bello (Antofagasta, Chile), Cristian Cásseres Jr. (New York Red Bulls, USA), Arquímedes Figuera (César Vallejo, Peru, on loan from Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela) & José Andrés Martínez (Philadelphia Union, USA).
Fernando Aristeguieta (Mazatlán, Mexico), Sergio Córdova (Arminia Bielefeld, Germany, on loan from Augsburg, Germany), Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) & Eric Ramírez (DAC Dunajská Streda, Slovakia).