Tag Archives: Fernando Amorebieta

Reflections on Venezuela’s March 2015 Internationals

Summary of Venezuela’s March 2015 Internationals Against Jamaica and Peru

With an eye towards the 2015 Copa América, Venezuela recently played two fellow entrants in the form of invitees Jamaica and long-term South American rivals Peru (who have been drawn in the same group as La Vinotinto, along with Brazil and Colombia). Against the Reggae Boyz, Noel Sanvicente’s charges put in a limp performance largely devoid of chances, cohesion and often basic organisation, losing 2-1 in the Caribbean. Given Jamaica were ranked the lowest amongst all the teams at the time of the draw for the Chile-hosted tournament, this was a particularly rude awakening. Some pride and morale was salvaged in Fort Lauderdale against Los Incas, however, as promising Torino forward Josef Martínez netted the only goal in a game that saw a significantly higher number of goalscoring opportunities and mercifully fewer defensive errors.

To get a better impression of the Jamaica and Peru games as well as the state of play before the two matches, please take some time to read a preview and a detailed analysis of the squad selection as well as the two match reports. If, however, you saw both matches then feel free to read on here as what follows are some brief reflections:

Key Points

Alain Baroja put in an assured performance in his opportunity between the sticks against Peru and, vitally for a goalkeeper, pulled off a memorable save. This will hopefully ensure that Tenerife’s Dani Hernández does not get too complacent as the current number one. The clean sheet that was kept – the first in all eight of Sanvicente’s games – will not have done Baroja’s case any harm either.

Andrés Túñez put in a superior shift at centre-back against Peru than Fernando Amorebieta did against Jamaica. Whether this was more due to the opposition than their respective abilities is difficult to say but Amorebieta, now on loan at Middlesbrough, must be hoping to be able to put in a few performances at club level that show that he is not only a solid unit but also in possession of basic match fitness as otherwise he could very well lose out to his Thai-based rival. Amorebieta was switched over to left-back for the Peru game, with the injured Gabriel Cichero missing his first game in all of Sanvicente’s reign, but one would have thought the Mineros de Guayana man is a safer bet for a starting berth here. The defence as a whole looked woeful against Jamaica, yet while far from flawless against Peru, not conceding a goal for the first time in two years should aid the collective confidence.

Alejandro Guerra and Josef Martínez were, over the course of the two games, the leading attacking threats for La Vinotinto. They were involved in the two main goalscoring chances in the second half against Jamaica and subsequently tested the Peruvian back-line from the very first minute, with Martínez scoring the winning goal. In the hotly contested attacking area behind Salomón Rondón, the Torino forward seems a near cert to start at the Copa América, whereas the Atlético Nacional man may have more of a battle on his hands. Whether or not he makes the line-up for the opening game against Colombia, he will still remain a key squad player and should appear more than once in the tournament.

Furthermore, continuing with this line of three behind the Zenit forward, Mario Rondón must be unsure where these games leave him. Indeed, having been arguably the brightest attacking player in the early phase of Sanvicente’s reign, this time around he only played an unremarkable, if volatile, half against Jamaica followed by a very brief cameo as a timewasting substitute in the dying stages of the Peru match. Similarly, Christian Santos, who made his much-anticipated debut against Jamaica before being withdrawn after an hour, did not even feature against Peru and must be wondering if he will receive another call-up in the next few months.

With more certainty it can be stated assertively that it would take a severe and sustained loss of form at club level for the likes of Roberto Rosales (right-back), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (centre-back), Tomás Rincón (defensive-midfielder) and Salomón Rondón (striker) to lose their first-choice statuses. One can not be so sure about the legendary Juan Arango but, despite his misses against Peru, so long as he keeps up his fine club form and maintains his ability to perform well in various midfield positions, he should be okay.

Finally, with a squad of 23 players – 20 of whom got onto the pitch – and at least a handful who missed out but will be hopeful of being on the flight to Chile, there are understandably many more issues that could be explored. Rather than dissecting them now, it may be better to wait until the next – and final – game(s) before Copa América are due to be played in May (at the moment, only an encounter late in the month with Bolivia appears to be on the cards). However, if any readers seek any more information on how things currently stand regarding the likely squad, perusing the two latest match reports in conjunction with this lengthy analysis of the March selection, may well help to inform.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Peru 0-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (31 March 2015)

International Friendly

Tuesday 31 March 2015 – Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Peru 0-1 Venezuela

Match Highlights of Peru 0-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 31 March 2015 (Courtesy of YouTube user Claudio Navarro Vargas)

La Vinotinto Bounce Back as Starlet Martínez Restores Optimism

Team Selections

Peru (4-2-3-1): Gallese; Advíncula, Zambrano, Ramos, Céspedes; Ballón, Tapia; Carrillo (Benavente, 71′), Deza (Cueva, 30′), Hurtado (Gonzáles, 84′); Ávila (Ruidíaz, 71′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Túñez, Amorebieta; Rincón, Seijas (Lucena, 68′); Guerra (A. González, 90+2′), Martínez (Arango, 64′), C. González (Vargas, 78′); S. Rondón (M. Rondón, 90+3′).

Match Report

In what was an open and often fiercely contested international, Torino forward Josef Martínez’s strike on the hour-mark was enough to give La Vinotinto a morale-boosting win against their Copa América Group C rivals. 

As Brazil and Colombia are also in this group, the encounter on 18 June between these two nations may prove decisive in determining whether either can qualify for the knock-out stage as one of the two best-peforming third-placed sides. Venezuela, having just four days prior been defeated by Jamaica – another side with marginal hopes of reaching the second phase of this competition – will be pleased, not to mention relieved, to have gone some way to getting back on track with this victory. Had they not, the pessimism that has occasionally been expressed in the national media in the first eight months of Noel Sanvicente’s reign possibly would have permeated throughout the squad before a Copa ball had even been kicked.

This Vinotinto performance, though far from flawless, was nevertheless an improvement, with the side linking up more effectively in attacking positions, creating far more chances and conceding less ground in defensive areas. The more frequent forward forays can partly be attributed to three changes, namely the use of Luis Manuel Seijas as a deep-lying playmaker and, more significantly further upfield, Alejandro Guerra and Josef Martínez – both of whom had provided rare offensive optimism after they came on at half-time against Jamaica.

Here at the Lockhart Stadium – home to NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers, whose pitch is evidently also used for American Football games – this attacking prowess was to be mostly demonstrated in the second half, with the first being a more even, albeit spirited, affair.

Indeed, Venezuela – in their blindingly luminous new away kit – began promisingly, with Martínez gaining some space on the inside-right within the first minute, though perhaps twisted one too many times in the area, thus allowing the defender to recover and block out any potential shot. Ten minutes later, the Serie A striker was to link up with Atlético Nacional’s Guerra on the inside-right, gaining space and putting in a low cross that rolled into space but was nevertheless dealt with. It was to be the Colombia-based Guerra who created La Vinotinto‘s best chance of the half when, on 26 minutes, he dinked in a ball from the right byline that went over goalkeeper Pedro Gallese but just evaded the agonising stretch of Zenit forward Salomón Rondón at the back post.

However, it was not to be all one-way traffic, with the Peruvians – who were missing top exports such as Paolo Guerrero, Jefferson Farfán, Claudio Pizarro and Juan Manuel Vargas – also exploiting space on the right in what was a rather even half. With what proved to be the only real efforts on goal in this period, both of Peru’s best chances came around the midway point and each fell to Jean Deza, currently plying his trade with Alianza Lima on loan from Ligue 1 outfit Montpellier. First, on 21 minutes, Luis Advíncula nudged the ball though to Deza in a central position and he gained some space before hitting a deflected shot that was comfortable for Alain Baroja. Six minutes later, the Caracas FC goalkeeper was again not to have too much trouble saving another effort that went into his arms from the edge of the area from Deza. Unfortunately for the Peruvian, despite looking like his side’s most likely scorer, this was to be his last contribution to the game as he was hurt by an incoming challenge and had to be withdrawn.

Though the first half was rather open and contested with a spirit that was refreshing for a friendly – possibly influenced by the buoyant expatriates in the crowd – this was to be turned up an extra notch or two after the interval, with both sides having more chances to score. Adherents to certain psychological methods may feel Venezuela coach Sanvicente helped to precipitate this by sending his charges out a few minutes before Los Incas. If so, it was to pay nearly instant dividends when a free-kick from a deep position was lofted into the area, then headed across by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo to Salomón Rondón who, under some defensive pressure, leant back slightly to scoop an attempt just over. On another day, he may well have been able to wrestle himself into some space before getting a snap-shot away.

Ten minutes into the new half, it was looking as if the game may boil over with three players – André Carrillo, Roberto Rosales and Josef Martínez – receiving yellow cards in quick succession, bringing the total number of players on a yellow card up to five. However, while the scrapes and skirmishes did not halt at this point, the cards did, with instead the real action – and what proved to be the pivotal moment – occurring soon afterwards.

Indeed, just before the hour-mark, the Peruvians were to suddenly gain some space on right, with a subsequent cross put into the area where it was met by Sporting Cristal marksman Irven Ávila. However, despite being in acres of room and being granted an age to direct his header, he could only nod it against the ground for it to clip off the top of the bar and over. The fact that the offside flag had gone up did little to spare his blushes.

However, little time was available to dwell on his poor finishing as immediately from Baroja’s pumped upfield clearance, Salomón Rondón flicked on the ball with Martínez taking it into his stride before unleashing a clinical right-footed shot from inside the area past Gallese. The versatile Torino forward, still a mere 21 years old, had given Venezuela the breakthrough. Yet, in a move that may have been planned before the goal, this highly promising starlet was almost immediately replaced by the undisputed icon of the past decade, Juan Arango.

Several minutes later it looked as if Sanvicente was looking to preserve this lead rather than extend it, as he took off Seijas, the attack-minded deep-lying playmaker, and replaced him with the more reserved, holding midfielder, Franklin Lucena. Yet if this was this intention, it was certainly not how the remaining 22 minutes panned out.

Indeed, La Vinotinto were to have several strong opportunities to increase the score as the Peruvians increasingly conceded possession and space. In the 76th minute, Arango burst forward slightly to the right-of-centre 30 yards out but, with only one defender separating him and Rondón, his pass went slightly askew, forcing the Zenit man into a wide position from where he could only win a corner. A couple of minutes later, Rondón attempted to turn provider when a poor clearance was rapidly headed into his path on the right, which he quickly released into the area but his intended target, César González, was in a difficult position and was unable to direct it goalwards. Another two minutes passed and Rondón again nearly set up a goal as he flicked on a ball centrally for Arango who, just inside the area, momentarily had a clear sight of goal, but a defender was ultimately to catch up and put him off making a meaningful connection with the ball.

Three minutes after this Arango was to have another, arguably better, chance to score as a cross sprayed from the right by Guerra drifted over two players tangling in the centre all the way to the Xolos de Tijuana man on the left of the area. Blessed with considerable time to shape up and shoot with only a defender’s desperate lunge separating him and the goalkeeper, he nevertheless dragged his shot wide of the far post.

With just three minutes remaining, Arango nearly managed to go some way towards making up for these wasted opportunities when, from the left inside the area, he slid the ball through to Guerra. Yet, from a mere seven yards out, ‘El Lobo’ was to sidefoot a very presentable opportunity straight at the chest of Gallese who managed to parry it out.

From then on, in stoppage-time Venezuela were to have one final opportunity to extend the lead. Following some rapid – and, in contrast to the majority of previous games, effective – short passing play, substitute Ronald Vargas curled in a fine cross from the left that Rondón ran onto but, perhaps due to a slight mis-timing of his run, headed over from just outside the six-yard box.

Though Venezuela had all these chances to record a more impressive victory, they could have also conceded on more than one occasion. Indeed, while the Peruvians were ultimately second-best in this half, they did continue to threaten, having a couple of penalty shouts turned down as well as, in addition to Ávila’s header against the bar, two opportunities that on another day could well have gone in. The most notable of the two came on 82 minutes when Paços de Ferreira’s Paolo Hurtado played an exquisite return pass to Alianza Lima’s Christian Cueva who, from eight yards out, volleyed a strike that seemed destined to go in but which Baroja did very well to parry out wide. This was a close shave, as was, more literally, Christofer Gonzáles’s shot a few minutes later. The Universitario substitute played a quick one-two from a free-kick then, 35 yards out, hit a fine effort that dipped only marginally over the crossbar.

Ultimately, La Vinotinto were to hold on, attaining what many will feel was the country’s first real victory under manager Noel Sanvicente, due to the other two against Honduras being in games contested solely by home-based players. While nobody should be getting too carried away given that the opposition were not at full strength and were experimenting in Ricardo Gareca’s first game in charge, it was nevertheless a boost following the dispiriting performance against Jamaica.

Quite where this all leaves the hopes of some of the players not entirely sure of their ticket to Chile in June is another matter, but several things taken from these two friendly matches can nevertheless be asserted. For some reflections on the Jamaica and Peru games, click here.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Jamaica 2-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (27 March 2015)

International Friendly

Friday 27 March 2015 – Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Jamaica 2-1 Venezuela

(To read a detailed look at the 23 players in this current Venezuela squad, please click here)

Goals Highlights of Jamaica 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 27 March 2015, (Video courtesy of YouTube user Super Soccer 27). To watch the game in its near-entirety, click here.

Familiar Failings as Venezuelan Hope is Docked at the Bay

Team Selections

Jamaica (4-4-2): Kerr; Mariappa, Morgan, Taylor (Gordon, 61′), Lawrence; Watson, Austin (Gray, 78′), McAnuff, McCleary (Parkes, 90+2′); Mattocks (Grant, 66′), Barnes (Williams, 84′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Hernández; Rosales (A. González, 82′), Vizcarrondo, Amorebieta, Cichero; Rincón, Lucena (Martínez, 46′); M. Rondón (Guerra, 46′), Arango, Santos (Vargas, 60′); S. Rondón (Blanco, 88′).

Match Report

Despite having a rare fully fit cadre of cracks to call upon, Venezuela showed no signs of improvement as they were again lacking in creativity, composure and basic coordination, unable to stop a pacy Jamaican side overpowering them.

From the perspective of La Vintotinto‘s attack at least, the opening exchanges were to be a microcosm of the majority of what was to follow, with little being created, very few moves opening up space in the final third and set-pieces repeatedly wasted. Yet, they were to open the scoring after 13 minutes when left-back Gabriel Cichero received a pass centrally 35 yards out and curled a beautiful strike into the top corner past Duwayne Kerr. Bona fide golazo it most certainly was and, coupled with his goal against Japan in September from a similar position, he is now the joint-top scorer of manager Noel Sanvicente’s reign.

However, a team is rarely more vulnerable than when they have sudden shots of serotonin coursing through their bodies and so, adhering to the cliché, Jamaica equalised almost immediately. Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, normally a pillar of solidity at club level with Nantes, gave the ball away with a forward pass that was cut out around 40 yards from goal. This was then rapidly released to Giles Barnes, who burst centrally towards goal, evading a desperate recovery challenge from Vizcarrondo and then striking home from the edge of the area. 26-year-old Barnes, who now plies his trade in the MLS with Houston Dynamo following an English upbringing that included spells at Derby, West Brom and Doncaster, was actually making his debut for the Reggae Boyz. Thus, he marked his shift of international allegiance memorably.

Subsequently, the hosts were to look the more likely to score before the interval with one man, Darren Mattocks, having two glorious chances to extend their lead in a matter of three minutes. Midway through the half, his side capitalised on a wasted opposition corner, swiftly releasing the ball up the right channel, before a cross was put on a plate for the Vancouver Whitecaps striker, but his stabbed effort from a mere six yards rose to hit the tip of the crossbar. A gilt-edged chance, no doubt, and the opportunity he was unable to convert a couple minutes later reflected little better on him.

This originated in some more careless play from Venezuela’s backline as, on the right flank, the pass of Málaga’s Roberto Rosales that was intended to go innocuously back to Oswaldo Vizcarrondo instead went hopelessly askew and Mattocks beat the Nantes man to the chase. Dribbling into the area at an angle to the left of the goal, he nearly managed to slide the ball between the legs of Dani Hernández, but fortunately the deflection off the goalkeeper’s inner leg slowed the ball’s pace down and allowed Rosales to sprint back to clear from the goalmouth. To witness two of the national team’s most reliable and high-profile players involved in such amateurish play was, for Venezuela fans, disconcerting to say the least.

From the defensive side of things, the visitors were to continue to see crosses lofted into their area not dealt with entirely convincingly but otherwise, in terms of shots on goals in the rest of the half, their hosts were largely consigned to long-range efforts. Nevertheless, this was more than what Venezuela were able to muster at the other end, with barely a shot threatening the Jamaica goal and Juan Arango repeatedly wasting set-pieces.

Come half-time, Sanvicente made a couple of changes, first removing the booked Mario Rondón from the right of the attack to be replaced by Atlético Nacional’s Alejandro Guerra. Second to be withdrawn was defence-minded midfielder Franklin Lucena, with Torino’s highly promising 21-year-old forward Josef Martínez coming on. Consequently, Arango switched places with Martínez and drifted back to partner Tomás Rincón in front of the back four, a position his 34-year-old legs have become increasingly accustomed to in Liga MX, to great acclaim. Overall, while these two substitutes were to show more attacking impetus in the second period, this half went little better for the visitors.

Indeed, just four minutes in, more poor defending allowed Mattocks to miss his third big opportunity of the game. A ball was knocked towards the edge of the Venezuela area, where Fernando Amorebieta – playing his first international in nearly 18 months and only his second senior game in four months – misjudged his leap, with the ball falling to Mattocks. He ran into the area where he was one-on-one with Hernández but instead of lifting it over the Tenerife goalkeeper, he was to hit it low into his anatomy.

However, how much of the MLS striker’s wastefulness the home fans will actually choose to recall in their post-match recollections is open to debate as around ten minutes later he was to make amends by getting the game-winning goal. Once again, it arose from a needless defensive error. Various Jamaicans pressed the Venezuelans as they were passing the ball around in their own half when it came to Amorebieta, whose lack of game-time was reflected by his poor alertness, as a brief dawdle was enough to allow Mattocks to dispossess him. The 24-year-old striker then ran into the area to comfortably slot the ball low into the corner for his seventh international goal.

Venezuela responded by replacing the much-anticipated debutant Christian Santos with erstwhile golden boy Ronald Vargas, now 28, who was making his first appearance in over two years, having gone some way to rejuvenate his injury-plagued career this year in Turkey. However, it was left to some other substitutes to provide the visitors with their best chances of getting back into the game.

Indeed, in the 68th minute, from a central position, Guerra dinked a ball into the area which Martínez exquisitely lashed home on the volley, though the celebrations had no time to get underway, as he was instantly adjudged to be offside. Later, with time ticking away, Alexander González, who had come on for Rosales, played a low ball through to Martínez, which the Torino marksman greeted with a characteristic turn that allowed him to get away a quickly executed shot that was saved low by Kerr for a corner.

Yet, these were really the only clear sights of goal for the visitors in this half and they were certainly not alone in the attacking stakes. Indeed, Jamaica’s pacey pouncers could well have extended their lead when, after 76 minutes, Crystal Palace’s Adrian Mariappa whipped in one of his many testing crosses that the attacker in the middle somehow failed to connect with. Seven minutes later, in what for Sanvicente must have been an infuriatingly frequent occurrence, Arango was carelessly dispossessd by Mariappa on the Venezuelan’s left. The Premier League right-back sprinted forward but fortunately for the Venezuelan captain, his blushes were spared by the fine recovery work of Gonzalez who ran over from his right-back position to intercept.

La Vinotinto survived that scare but they could not avoid the outcome. When the final whistle blew, they were confronted with the fact that they had been second-best to the side that, at the time of the Copa América, were seeded last of the twelve competing teams. Where does this leave Venezuela standing?

Next up on Tuesday they will face Group C rivals Peru, whose squad features 13 home-based players and no Jefferson Farfán, Claudio Pizarro, Juan Manuel Vargas or Paolo Guerrero. A win seems essential for morale, yet on the back of a drearily familiar performance, one can not help but feel apprehensive. Against Jamaica, as with most matches of the Sanvicente era, they struggled to put three meaningful passes together, create much from open play and were also guilty of numerous defensive errors, for which even an amateur side would be roundly ridiculed. Given the quality of many of these players and the strong showings they regularly put in at club level, one can not help but feel that the problem is not so much with the standard of personnel, per se. Instead, perhaps their interpretation of the coach’s ideas, the team’s preparation and/or other off-field matters which the average fan is not privy to are the source of the team’s dismal displays.

Nevertheless, they must regroup after they journey back to their base in Miami in order to be ready for their Peruvian test on Tuesday 31 March in Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium, a game which will be covered in similar depth on this website and on @DarrenSpherical. Anyone wishing to watch a stream of this game can do so on the website of TeleAragua.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – In-Depth Look at March’s Squad

With Venezuela set to face Jamaica and Peru in international friendly matches, what follows is an in-depth look at their squad and likely starting XI for the first clash. It is politely recommended that before reading this article, visitors take a look at this preview of the two clashes which helps to put the following into context.

Friday 27 March 2015 – Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Jamaica vs Venezuela

Tuesday 31 March 2015 – Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Peru vs Venezuela

For those wanting to watch either of these games, both are scheduled to be broadcast on TeleAragua

venezuelavsjamaicapredictedtean

Venezuela’s predicted line-up against Jamaica (created by Twitter user @vitomartinez_ and posted on the account @FutbolVen1)

This graphic, based on how the players have been organised in training this week, is believed to be Venezuela’s probable line-up in their first game, which is away to Jamaica. The subsequent analysis and information regarding the squad is thus structured according to this predicted XI.

UPDATE: Just under an hour to kick-off until the Jamaica game, the starting line-ups have been announced and Venezuela’s had two changes to the above graphic, with the more defensive Franklin Lucena playing in front of the back four instead of Luis Manuel Seijas and  Mario Rondón starting on the right instead of Josef Martínez. The two Rondóns thus get the opportunity to link up again. Irrespective of these changes, the article below remains unaltered as it was only ever intended as a broad, if detailed, guide to the players. Hispanospherical.com has enormous – perhaps misplaced – faith in its readership to engage their brains when encountering the two discrepancies as there is more than enough information provided to assist with filling in the necessary ‘gaps’. So, whether you are coming to this article before, during or after the game, feel free to read on if you would like to know more about the leading Venezuelan players currently in contention for those vital Copa América squad places.

Brief Background

These will be the seventh and eighth games of manager Noel Sanvicente’s reign since taking over in July 2014. A brief summary of their first six matches can be found in the preview article and all the match reports with highlights can be found in this section, but here is a quick recap: In September on a tour to Asia, they lost 3-1 to South Korea, then drew 2-2 with Japan which, due to the fielding of an ineligible player, was later reversed to a 3-0 win in the hosts’ favour. November’s depleted squad, which had no fewer than eight regulars ruled out, suffered predictably disastrous results: a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Chile and a 3-2 loss away to Bolivia. In February, La Vinotinto notched their first two victories – both against Honduras, 3-2 away and 2-1 at home – though as these two games were contested solely by players based in the domestic league, they can be viewed as B internationals. Thus, the current crop of players is undoubtedly the strongest yet that manager Noel Sanvicente has had the fortune to work with. Please read on to find out more about them and their respective places within the squad.

The Formation

Though manager Noel Sanvicente has largely preferred to kick-off games with a 4-2-3-1 formation, it has at times appeared to morph into a 4-4-2 (or, to be more specific, a 4-4-1-1, utilising a support-striker). Nevertheless, based on how they have lined up in training this week (see graphic at the top of the page), it is believed that against Jamaica at least, he will go with a 4-2-3-1.

The Squad

Goalkeeper

Dani Hernández is the first-choice between the sticks and though it is unlikely that he will be usurped, he should not be feeling too comfortable just yet. His performances in the four international games he played in September and November were marked by several unconvincing moments, as he did little to inspire reassurance with his often faulty positioning, dubious handling and poor clearances. Sanvicente has commented upon this but believes that Hernández being second-choice at that time for his then-club, Real Valladolid, may have affected his confidence. Having since moved to fellow Spanish second-tier side Tenerife in January and played in ten consecutive games  – conceding nine goals, as opposed to the 24 in the preceding 20 matches – it is hoped that this time around he will serve as a more assertive last line of defence.

His understudy, 25-year-old Alain Baroja of Caracas FC, only received his first two caps in the pair of games contested solely by home-based players against Honduras in February but it was notable that he played all 180 minutes of these. Indeed, his rival Rafael Romo was somewhat surprisingly not granted a solitary second on the field and has since gone on to make some costly blunders for his side Mineros de Guayana in the Copa Libertadores. Thus, Baroja’s status as the new number two appears assured and though he is not anticipated to start against Jamaica, he may well see some action against Peru.

Defence

It is beyond doubt that Sanvicente will start with a conventional four at the back. Given how porous his side has been in previous encounters – officially, 17 goals have been conceded in his six games in charge, with not one clean sheet – some different personnel and defensive relationships are surely needed and that appears to be what he has decided upon.

Centre-backs

First-choice centre-back, the towering Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, has been a beacon of reliable consistency for Nantes this season, playing almost every minute of every game. It can not be said that this form has been replicated at international level where goals have leaked in abundance, though to pin this squarely on him would be unfair. His partner for all four games that he played, Grenddy Perozo – who, at club level is in danger of enduring a second successive relegation with Ligue 2’s Ajaccio – has been more culpable, something Sanvicente appears to have recognised as he has not called him up this time around.

Instead, he has sought a future partner for Big Viz and his quest for a replacement has taken him to the not-so-distant past, with the call-ups of Fernando Amorebieta and Andrés Túñez. The former is rumoured to be starting against Jamaica though his level of fitness as well as his ability to rekindle his past form and partnership with Vizcarrondo raise more than a few doubts. Indeed, he has only played seven games this season in the Championship, having first been frozen out by then-manager Felix Magath and then, after he had won a spot in the line-up, suffering two spells out with injury, the second of which lasted four months. When he returned to action earlier this month in a 5-1 home defeat against title-challenging Bournemouth, he was played in his less-favoured left-back position and looked horrendously off-the-pace and out of position, with his dismal night ending in a 69th-minute dismissal. If he is unable to do the job then Túñez, who in November won the Thai league title and has recently been playing in the AFC Champions League with Buriram United, stands a considerable chance of being more than a mere back-up. Furthermore, Sanvicente has spoken of his desire to try out different options at the back, though where this leaves 35-year-old Juan Fuenmayor of Deportivo Anzoátegui – a surprise call-up even in last month’s domestic squad – remains to be seen.

Left-back

Gabriel Cichero appears to have this position sewn up. The experienced Mineros de Guayana lateral is the only player to have played every single minute of Sanvicente’s reign, though his early performances did see him upbraided in various quarters. Indeed, though after each of the first four games almost all seven players in defence-minded positions (goalkeeper, four defenders and the two defensive-midfielders) came in for criticism, the opprobrium levelled at Cichero was especially severe. In the hammering meted out by Chile, in particular, he struggled to deal with attacks down his flank, granting opponents more than their fair share of space. However, since then he has enjoyed two rather composed games against Honduras (even having a hand in one of the goals) and, domestically, though his club side have been underperforming all season, he has managed to chip in with three fine goals since the start of 2015. As it is more his defensive game that he is going to be judged upon, if he can carry his performances from last month’s domestic-players-only friendlies into these two more illustrious affairs, the calls to find a replacement will surely go on mute. That said, he appears to face no current threat from inside the current squad, even if both Amorebieta and Fuenmayor have experience of playing in this position (and may well be given a run out here).

Right-back

FC Thun’s Alexander González played here for three of the first four games, yet it is looking like Roberto Rosales will instead start against Jamaica and thus reclaim what many feel is rightfully – and naturally – his. Indeed, despite the Málaga star being, by trade, a right-back, he was placed in a defensive-midfield partnership with Tomás Rincón in Sanvicente’s second game against Japan – partly as a measure to avoid getting as easily overran in midfield as they did against South Korea. It seemed as if this arrangement would continue in November’s friendlies but as both men were ruled out through injury, it never had a chance to come to fruition. Now several months on, it appears as if Rosales’ exemplary form in his debut season in Spain has influenced Sanvicente’s decision-making. What no doubt would have swayed the boss was Rosales’ fine performance in February at Camp Nou, where he kept Neymar quiet all game in a surprise 1-0 victory – the second occasion he had helped his side keep a clean sheet against Barcelona – which no doubt also influenced the La Liga panel that voted him into the league’s official Team of the Month. Given that González tends to play in a more advanced position in Swiss domestic action and, more pertinently, Rosales will again be facing the Brazilian lead man in June, reverting the Málaga man back to his natural position seems almost a non-brainer.

Midfield

Due to Rosales’ alleged shift, it appears that, rather than using two defence-minded players to cover the back four, Sanvicente will instead first be experimenting with two contrasting individuals in a doble pivot of sorts. Whether this will seem quite as appealing against the likes of Brazil is a question for another day. (UPDATE: see the update at the top of the article regarding a late change in this area).

Doble Pivot

Defence-minded ball-winner

Tomás Rincón is the vice-captain of the side and will be greeted back into the line-up with open arms, having only previously featured in the first two games in Asia. At club level, he has enjoyed a broadly positive debut season thus far with Genoa, featuring in approximately two-thirds of their league games, helping them defy various odds to sit in the top half of the table. His ability to roam around the middle third, breaking up play with key interceptions and tackles should add some bite and composure that has thus far been sorely lacking, particular in November’s embarrassing 5-0 loss against Chile.

Indeed, the Mineros duo Édgar Jiménez and Rafael Acosta started that day and, not for the first time in Sanvicente’s reign, were widely panned. As they do not feature in this squad, they appear to have played their way out of the coach’s plans, with the fortunes of another home-based player, Deportivo La Guaira’s Franklin Lucena, seemingly moving in the other direction. The now 34-year-old may well have initially been considered too old for a new qualifying cycle but, having been granted his first start against Bolivia following the Chile debacle and then playing every minute of the friendlies against Honduras, he seems to have earned his place as the number one reserve to Rincón. If Sanvicente scraps the doble pivot idea at any point and instead goes for a more defensive arrangement here, Lucena would surely be in line for a start.

Another player who will hope to be considered for this position also plies his trade in the domestic league and is a club team-mate of Lucena’s. 26-year-old Arquímedes Figuera received a rare call-up for the Honduras games and even scored a similarly rare goal, though he must be considered as no more than an outside bet to be included in the final Copa America squad. However, one factor counting in his favour is Sanvicente’s apparent fondness for selecting home-based players who play on a regular basis as opposed to those who spend large periods of time on foreign benches, such as Empoli’s Franco Signorelli, who has been overlooked this time around.

Deep-lying Playmaker

According to the reports, Independiente Santa Fe’s Luis Manuel Seijas has been earmarked for this position. Although this reigning Colombian champion tends to play further upfield, this role should not be out of his realm of experience and abilities. Formerly of Standard Liège and with over 50 caps to his name, Seijas is one of the most familiar faces at international level of the current crop and is more than capable of spraying searching long-range passes with his cultured left foot. It will be interesting to see what effect this supposed new arrangement in this area has on the team’s play.

If Sanvicente wishes to try someone else in this position, the similarly versatile Alejandro Guerra – who also plays in Colombia, albeit for Atlético Nacional – seems a reasonable bet, as does even the veteran Juan Arango, though more on these two later. One man who could very well be a long-term fixture in this position is 21-year-old Juan Pablo Añor, or Juanpi, as he is more commonly known. Having this season made his debut for Málaga, he has inspired much excitement with his confident, somewhat balletic, poise on the ball, which he utilised to sensational effect when he scored his first goal, a superb left-footed strike into the top corner against Levante. He has often featured in a deep-lying playmaker role for his club, though, not too dissimilar to the two aforementioned players, he is also capable of playing further upfield, which he demonstrated impressively in his youth career, scoring at a rate of one in every two games. However, while he is a definite talent, those clamouring for him to be fast-tracked into the line-up must acknowledge that it may be a case of too much too soon for a player who has a mere nine senior club appearances to his name (three of these as a substitute). Nevertheless, having been called up to this squad as a late replacement for home-based starlet Rómulo Otero, he will understandably take any opportunity, no matter how it comes to him.

Attacking Midfielders

This area of the field is undoubtedly the strongest and most competitive, providing Sanvicente with regular selection headaches that ultimately involve having to leave out at least a couple of seemingly deserving candidates who play their domestic football at a respectable level. While the Venezuelan game may well just have a knack of producing a relatively high number of such players it is also possible that the contemporary trend to play with one up front means that there is an excess of attackers who have learned to adapt their game out of necessity, thus adding to the competition for these three places. Indeed, as will later be expanded upon, there is really only one player officially listed as a forward in this squad who would not also be in contention for a role in this area. Nevertheless, despite all this talent, La Vinotinto have not shown a great deal of attacking cohesion and fluency under Sanvicente – will these two games provide a turning point?

Left-sided Attacking Midfielder

Of all the rumoured starters in this line-up, the anticipated occupant of this position will be of keen interest to many, being as it will be his international debut. Naturally, with this incursion someone has had to make way and this appears to have been Luis Manuel Seijas who, as noted, has been redeployed elsewhere.

Furthermore, given the versatility of many of the players in this area, the number of players who could also be tested on this side at some point in these two games is high. César González, Juanpi and even Juan Arango are all viable possibilities, as is the erstwhile golden boy, Ronald Vargas, though, like González,  he would admittedly be more at home on the opposite side. However, while he is more naturally right-footed, he has been known to cut inside from the left and vice versa. Given Chita‘s propensity to play people in positions different to where they feature at club level, coupled with the contemporary fondness for inverted wingers, an appearance at some point on either flank seems probable for the Balıkesirspor wideman.

Nevertheless, regarding the debutant golden boy in this position, Christian Santos, his noted aerial prowess certainly gives him an additional dimension over most of his rivals and all La Vinotinto fans will be eagle-eyed to see if his scintillating club form translates to the international stage. With Nijmegen’s N.E.C. in the Dutch second tier he has shown himself to be a prolific scorer as well as a creator of goals and, on paper at least, he would appear to have a strong chance of worming his way into a regular first-choice XI. However, given his ability to play anywhere across the attacking midfield area as well as in a more forward role, it is certainly not inconceivable that he and one of his supposed competitors – perhaps Seijas, possibly Juanpi – may well end up lining up within the same team in the future.

 Central Attacking Midfielder

Predicted to be in the centre is creative veteran, undisputed free-kick master and icon of Venezuelan football for the past decade, Juan Arango. Leaving the Bundesliga in May 2014, he returned to a previous club of his, Mexico’s Xolos de Tijuana, yet only since the turn of the year has his season really taken off there. Indeed, after his side endured a rather disappointing Apertura campaign, he has been at the forefront of a remarkable turnaround that now sees them top of the Clausura, with the Venezuelan having contributed 5 goals and 2 assists. However, though his neat interplay and particularly his long balls, efforts from distance and crosses are still valued weapons, with his 35th birthday less than two months away it may be that his international future lies a little further back in midfield. Indeed, this is how his club manager Daniel Guzman has fielded him in order to precipitate such fine form and it is something that Sanvicente has expressed his admiration of.

Again, when it comes to potential alternatives in this area, there are at least a few possibilities, with these including Josef Martínez, Mario Rondón and Christian Santos, among others. Yet, had he not been ruled out by a late injury, then Caracas’ Rómulo Otero would have possibly been in line for a substitute appearance in this position, though he does also work the flanks.

Right-sided Attacking Midfielder

(UPDATE: see the update at the top of the article regarding a late change in this position).

According to the alleged line-up, Torino’s Josef Martínez is likely to start on the right of this triumvirate. Still not 22 until May, he has, on occasion, demonstrated what an energetic livewire and clinical finisher he can be with the Serie A side, albeit usually while playing as a striker or support-striker. He possesses just over a dozen international caps and though he has not yet managed to claim any regular spot in the line-up as his own, he has enough raw talent for most fans to believe that if he can just channel it to his advantage then he will be a regular fixture in this side for at least several years to come.

Martínez’s most likely competitor for this spot on the right is Alejandro Guerra, who started the two games in Asia before injury ruled him out of the November clashes. He, like Arango, has had a promising start to 2015, scoring four goals in five league games for Atlético Nacional, as well as a fine scissor-kick in the Copa Libertadores. Nevertheless, given that both he and Martínez can play in more than one position, Guerra’s spell on the sidelines may only prove to be a temporary displacement and fans can be sure that he will get at least one opportunity on the field over these two games.

Not quite so much certainty can be attached to the predicament of César González. The 32-year-old Deportivo Táchira winger – who has been known to play on either flank – has not featured in any of Sanvicente’s squads so far, though with over 50 caps to his name, he is no stranger to the international fold. His last call-up came in late 2013, yet despite his age it appears that the coach could not resist him in his current form, as he has netted 6 goals in his last 7 matches (including 2 in the Libertadores), not to mention providing several assists from dead-ball situations.

With this latter quality in mind, it may be better to use González as a potential replacement for Arango – who has often been withdrawn when displaying signs of fatigue after 60-70 minutes at club level – as his set-pieces would be warmly greeted by the head of the man who is scheduled to make his first start on the opposite flank – not to mention a certain gentleman up front.

Forward

As already noted, there are several players who can play in this position but only really one who is considered a pure striker. That man is Zenit St. Petersburg’s Salomón Rondón, the current joint-top scorer in the Russian Premier League and the undisputed focal-point for his country. After a lengthy barren spell at club level provoked whispers that he may be on the way out, he has recently returned to something approaching his clinical best, having scored twice against PSV Eindhoven in the Europa League and netting a domestic hat-trick at home to FC Ural. Though some doubts over his consistency and future may persist in St. Petersburg, at international level he can be assured of his status as Venezuela’s top man.

This week, however, there have been some rumours leading up to the Jamaica game that he has been nursing some kind of injury and that his namesake Mario Rondón would instead be starting. Though this now appears not to be the case, spectators can expect to see at some point the man who has recently swapped Portugal’s Nacional for China’s Shijiazhuang Ever Bright. Indeed, he played in all four of the previous games open to overseas-based players and, in the first two in particular, was many observers’ stand-out player, contributing two goals. Previously, he had not received many chances under the former managerial incumbent César Farías (2008-2013) and at 29, still possesses fewer than 10 caps, yet in the two Asia-based games was able to show some signs of a promising future partnership with the Zenit hotshot. As he tends to play more of a supplementary role to the striker, often featuring in a deeper position and/or working the channels, it is very much possible that fans will once again see the two Rondóns link up for their country. Whether or not it will be in this international week remains to be seen.

Regarding the very last person in this squad, Richard Blanco of Mineros de Guayana, it is hard not to feel that, despite scoring a tap-in in one of last month’s friendlies, he is largely here to make up the numbers. His domestic goalscoring record – 7 in 22 games – is nothing to shout about and vastly inferior to the 18-goal tally of Deportivo Táchira’s Gelmin Rivas, who has not received a call-up. Quite what he can offer that several others can not in a supporting role is not readily apparent either. Thus, come late May, when the players are waiting with bated breath for the final Copa América squad to be announced, one would expect forwards such as Juan Falcón (Metz), Miku (Rayo Vallecano) and Fernando Aristeguieta (Philadelphia Union, on loan from Nantes) to find themselves in with a far greater chance of inclusion.

Nevertheless, it is Salomón Rondón who is the likely starter up front. Having so far only featured in two games of the Sanvicente era without managing to score, a first goal from him, as well as any other signals that all the big names are back in the fold – an Arango free-kick, perhaps? – would be received very warmly by many a Venezuelan.

venezuela23squadformarch

Graphic of Venezuela Squad for March Friendlies (created by @GolesVinotinto). Please note: not all the positions are accurate – e.g. Figuera’s actually a central midfielder – and almost all the players are more versatile that can be conveyed in such an image. Still, it helps to put some faces to names.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – March 2015 Preview

Friday 27 March 2015 – Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Jamaica vs Venezuela

Tuesday 31 March 2015 – Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Peru vs Venezuela

For those wanting to watch either of these games, both are scheduled to be broadcast on TeleAragua

(For a detailed position-by-position look at all the players Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente has selected, as well as a peek at the probable line-up for the first game against Jamaica, please take a look at this article)

Expectations Mount as Sanvicente Sources a Rare Embarrassment of Riches

With the 2015 Copa América a mere 80 or so days away, these internationals can comfortably be billed as the most vital yet of the Noel Sanvicente era. Not only do they, the seventh and eighth of his reign, include a preliminary test against one of their tournament opponents, Peru, but they will also be potentially pivotal in determining who will be boarding the aeroplane to Chile. Most significant of all, however, is the available pool of players that Chita has been able to call upon – on paper at least, the strongest since he took over in July 2014.

Indeed, for his first two games – which occurred on September’s Asian tour and consisted of a 3-1 defeat against South Korea and a 2-2 draw with Japan (later officially overruled as a 3-0 loss; see here for more details) –  veteran icon Juan Arango omitted himself and a few other hitherto first-teamers were missing. October’s scheduled matches were cancelled and replaced by hastily arranged training sessions in Madrid that were almost exclusively attended by overseas-based players. Any tactical plans for the subsequent set of matches in November were undermined by the absences of 8-10 key players (mainly due to injury), which led to predictably disastrous results: a 5-0 thumping from Chile and a 3-2 defeat against Bolivia. Then early last month, it was left to domestic league players to contest two matches – a double-header against Honduras – which, in light of the fact that only seven home-based individuals have made it into the latest squad, can be considered  B-level encounters.

You Can’t Please Them All: Notable Absentees

Having endured this inauspicious start, La Vinotinto fans are no doubt mostly delighted – and rather relieved – that Sanvicente has this time been able to take with him to the Florida training base almost any player he desires. Though some may haved wished that he had selected the likes of the recently nationalised Jeffrén Suárez (Real Valladolid, ex-Barcelona) and Yonathan Del Valle (last seen scoring a stoppage-time winner for Rio Ave against Benfica), not to mention Fernando Aristeguieta and Miku (both of whom have received call-ups from Sanvicente but have been inactive at club level for much of this season, particularly the latter), he has only been denied two players this time around. Both had originally been included in this squad but succumbed to injuries. The first of whom, Metz striker Juan Falcón, Sanvicente knows well from his double title-winning spell at Zamora. The other is Caracas’ Rómulo Otero, the most promising attacking talent currently plying his trade in Venezuela. This 22-year-old set-piece maestro will be especially disappointed to miss out at this critical stage, rendering him unable to build on last month’s momentum when he was widely lauded as the catalyst in the first victory against Honduras.

Nevertheless, as neither of these two players has staked a durable claim for a regular starting berth, Sanvicente does have at his disposal the players to name in at least one of these games what could potentially be his first-choice XI come the opening Copa América clash against Colombia on 14 June. However, this is unlikely as, owing to the noted problems that he has so far faced, several places in the line-up are still up for grabs and he has already indicated that there will be some experimentation in these two games. Nevertheless, upon their conclusion, whatever transpires in Jamaica and the USA, some much-needed clarity should be added to the coach’s thoughts.

The Squad: Collective Aims and Key Call-Ups

A cursory glance of the list of players (see bottom of the page) called up to this 23-man squad should give everyone an idea of one of the key issues Sanvicente needs to resolve. While plenty have experience of playing together under previous regimes at club and international level, this group are nevertheless a disparate collection of individuals who play their domestic football in 13 different countries while representing 21 separate clubs. One of the noticeable characteristics of the games played so far in this new era has been a lack of attacking cohesion and fluency, something that could well be further complicated in these fixtures as it is anticipated that the manager will introduce new players and arrangements in the forward positions. Another glaring issue that requires urgent attention is the number of goals that have thus far been conceded in the six games played: 16 or, officially, 17, given FIFA’s retrospective decision pertaining to the game against Japan. With this in mind and moving on to the list of players announced this time around, Sanvicente will be hoping that two individuals in particular will be able to shore up his back-line.

Indeed, regarding the playing personnel (who are discussed in much greater depth in this article), the headlines when this squad was initially announced largely went to four players who have yet to play a single minute of the Sanvicente era. Two of these are primarily central defenders, the first of whom being Fernando Amorebieta, who just this week has completed a loan switch from Fulham to title-challenging Middlesbrough in the English second tier. During a two-year spell starting in late 2011, he was often Oswaldo Vizcarrondo’s partner at the back before injuries and a lack of game-time thwarted further call-ups. He has not played for his country since October 2013 whereas another returnee, erstwhile first-choice back-up Andrés Túñezwho has enjoyed much success with Thailand’s Buriram United after being forced out the door of his boyhood club Celta Vigo – has not featured since June of the same year.

One man who has gone even longer without a look-in is Ronald Vargas who, several years ago, was tipped by some to be the long-term successor to the majestic Juan Arango. Considerable excitement – albeit of the kind that is partially tempered by the pitfalls that experience knows are always lurking – has greeted the return of this winger/attacking midfielder, offering many a chance to recall his promising early career. Indeed, he made his international debut in February 2008 and not long afterwards in June scored the second goal in his nation’s first ever victory over Brazil (who on that day started with, amongst others, Robinho, Adriano, Dani Alves and Gilberto Silva). He continued to play for his country throughout this calendar year and shortly after his history-making exploits, he made his debut in Belgium for Club Brugge. Although not everything ran smoothly for him here, his performances gradually gained in consistency and following a superb third season in which he scored a remarkable 15 goals in 23 league games, he earned a move to the more prestigious Anderlecht. However, the three years he spent here were plagued by recurring injuries – as indeed, to a lesser extent, were the three seasons with his former club – which thus hindered his playing time and hampered his international career. Consequently, a transfer that could have solidified his place in the selección and bolstered his reputation in Europe ended on a sad note as he was released when his contract expired at the end of the 2013/14 season. Somewhat stigmatised as an injury-prone liability and having made barely a handful of international appearances since late 2008, he was subsequently picked up by Turkish Süper Lig new-boys Balıkesirspor. Although they currently prop up the division, looking well on course to head back from whence they came, the now 28-year-old Vargas has had a relatively prosperous time, scoring six goals in 21 league appearances and, perhaps most crucially, not suffering any serious injury setbacks. Five of these goals were bagged following the turn of the year and he will be hoping that not only will such form ensure that he is not condemned to follow his club down a level, but also that it will enable him to make a surprise late entry into Sanvicente’s Copa América plans.

In stark contrast to these three players, the last inclusion of note, Christian Santos, has never before played for his country. Indeed, the Venezuela-born 27-year-old was raised from a young age in Germany and has only recently acquired the relevant documentation that allows him to represent the country of his birth. This man, whose looks have drawn comparisons to those of none other than David Beckham, can play up front or anywhere across the supporting line of attackers, particularly towards the flanks as either an inside-forward or winger. He comes into the squad off the back of the season of his life in the Dutch second tier with Nijmegen’s NEC who, being 21 points clear with 7 games to spare, are virtually already promoted. The team has scored a staggering 87 goals, with Santos netting a highly commendable 18 of these in his 28 league appearances (21 of these starts). A significant proportion of his tally were headers which, with set-pieces being a regular source of goals for La Vinotinto, could well aid his case for future call-ups. Sanvicente spoke of his desire to try him out back in November and though logistical issues were to thwart these plans, it looks like this time around he will have his way.

Morale on the Line: Two Winnable Games

Old or new, stalwarts or relative whippersnappers, this group of players will be facing two nations who will also be contesting this year’s Copa América with their most realistic route of advancing from their respective groups being as one of the two best-performing third-placed sides.

Indeed, CONCACAF guests Jamaica have been allocated an unenviable group that includes Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. With this in mind, the Reggae Boyz will need all the preparation they can get and will follow up hosting La Vinotinto with another match at the Montego Bay Sports Complex against Cuba. Given that along with five players from their domestic league, their squad is largely comprised of representatives from the two highest divisions in USA/Canada (nine – eight from the MLS) and the three highest in England (six – two from each of the top three leagues), two wins does not seem out of reach for them.

This would certainly sow some seeds of doubt in the minds of all Venezuelans, though it is debatable if this would be more dispiriting for morale than a loss against CONMEBOL rivals Peru. Indeed, La Blanquirroja have recently appointed a new manager, Argentine Ricardo Gareca, whose first moves suggest he may be looking to the future with his relatively inexperienced squad that features 13 players from the domestic league. Regarding their exports, while Sporting’s André Carrillo is included, the majority of their most famous ambassadors are not: Fiorentina’s Juan Manuel Vargas, Schalke’s Jefferson Farfán (who is reportedly nursing a minor injury), Corinthians’ Paolo Guerrero (suspended) and Bayern Munich’s Claudio Pizarro (originally called up, but succumbed to an injury).

While the seemingly understrength nature of this squad would normally be reason enough for Venezuelans to expect a victory, another additional factor is the Copa América draw, which has pitted the two nations together in the rather daunting Group C alongside Brazil and Colombia. Though gaining a result against either of these teams is certainly not out of the question for Venezuela and Peru, the likeliest scenario sees the game on 18 June between the two nations having the most significant bearing on whether or not either can progress to the next stage.

As only the two best-performing third-placed teams can reach the knock-out stage, Venezuelans will be hoping here not only for a win but a much-improved defensive display in both games, as goal difference could well prove decisive in June.

Ultimately, though two victories in the upcoming days seems eminently attainable, there is the ever-weary possibility that these friendlies may descend into training match-level farces brought about by high numbers of substitutions. Nevertheless, though such games can never be relied upon to act as the most accurate barometers of a team’s progress and quality, all Venezuelan football fans will be excited to see what feels like the closest to a first-choice squad Sanvicente has had at his disposal since his appointment.

For a detailed position-by-position look at all the players Sanvicente has selected, as well as a peek at the probable line-up for the first game against Jamaica, please take a look at this article

Venezuela Squad for the Friendly Internationals Against Jamaica (27 March 2015) and Peru (31 March 2015)

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Caracas FC)

Dani Hernández (Tenerife)

Defenders

Fernando Amorebieta (Middlesbrough, on loan from Fulham)

Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana)

Juan Fuenmayor (Deportivo Anzoátegui)

Alexander González (FC Thun)

Roberto Rosales (Málaga)

Andrés Túñez (Buriram United)

Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes)

Midfielders

Juan ‘Juanpi’ Pablo Añor (Málaga)

Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana)

Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira)

César González (Deportivo Táchira)

Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, on loan from Mineros de Guayana)

Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira)

Tomás Rincón (Genoa)

Christian Santos (N.E.C. Nijmegen)

Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe)

Ronald Vargas (Balıkesirspor)

Forwards

Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana)

Josef Martínez (Torino)

Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright)

Salomón Rondón (Zenit St. Petersburg)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Chile 5-0 Venezuela – International Friendly (14 November 2014)

Friday 14 November 2014

International Friendly

Chile 5-0 Venezuela

Estadio CAP, Talcahuano

Goal Highlights of Chile 5-0 Venezuela (YouTube user: Pasión Por La Roja)

Team Selections

Chile (4-3-1-2): Bravo; Isla, Medel, Lichnovsky, Mena; Vidal (Millar, 76′), Díaz (Carmona, 81′), Aránguiz; Valdivia (Hernández, 76′); Vargas (Orellana, 76′), Sánchez (Pinilla, 85′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Hernández; González, Vizcarrondo, Perozo, Cichero; Jiménez (Signorelli, 86′), Acosta (Lucena, 57′); M. Rondón, Arango (Otero, 62′), F. Feltscher (Juanpi, 57′); Miku (Aristeguieta, 66′).

Match Report

Noel Sanvicente’s depleted side were repeatedly out-ran and out-thought as Jorge Valdivia returned to the Chile squad for the first time since announcing his international retirement in July to put in a triumphant performance for La Roja

Chile fielded a virtually full-strength team with the debatable exception of Porto B youngster Igor Lichnovsky who, at 6 feet 2 inches, brought some much-needed height to Jorge Sampaoli’s diminutive side which should stand him in good stead with regards to future call-ups.

Conversely, largely due to injuries as well as a couple of documentation issues and a suspension, Venezuela were unable to call upon ten players for this match, including several regular starters. Most notable amongst these were star striker Salomón Rondón, centre-back Fernando Amorebieta and, most crucially, Sanvicente’s favoured defensive-midfield partnership of converted right-back Roberto Rosales and newly appointed captain Tomás Rincón.

Indeed, even with Juan Arango returning to skipper the side after a year-long absence, La Vinotinto were made to look rather lightweight, slack and porous, with attack after attack easily bypassing Rosales and Rincón’s stand-ins, domestic league team-mates Édgar Jiménez and Rafael Acosta.

With regards to these two men, it is sometimes said that the contribution of those who play directly in front of the back four often goes unnoticed as it is not an area on the field likely to yield many headlines, with the players not anticipated to be major goal-scorers, goal-providers or even serve as the last heroic line of defence.

What the two Mineros de Guayana midfielders would have given for such anonymity.

Instead, they were very much conspicuous by their absence as any kind of effective shield for the back four as the likes of Jorge Valdivia, Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal, Charles Aránguiz and Eduardo Vargas were to have much joy playing rapid short passes around and through them. This did not aid the stability and organisation of the defenders as the two full-backs, Alexander González and Gabriel Cichero, often felt compelled to provide reinforcement by coming further infield, movements that regularly resulted in space becoming available on the flanks for Chile to exploit instead. However, increasing the defensive frailties, these two men also consistently had problems largely of their own making as they struggled to effectively track the overlapping runs from their opposite numbers, Eugenio Mena and Mauricio Isla, with Cichero in particular having a torrid time against the latter.

First Half

Extensive First-Half Highlights (Youtube user:  Deporte Luis TV)

As can often be said in hindsight following a hiding, the team on the receiving end of the outcome started the game promisingly. In the first ten minutes, Venezuela asserted themselves with some high pressing led by Arango, Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor and Mario Rondón, the latter of whom also had the best chance in the opening stages when he intercepted a poor backwards pass on the halfway line, nudging it past a defender and then dribbling it into the area before seeing his low shot saved with the feet of Claudio Bravo.

However, by the 15th minute, both González and Cichero had been exposed on their respective sides as moves that began with Valdivia and Sánchez culminated with Mena and Isla putting in crosses that, while not leading to clear attempts on goal, nevertheless offered the home side much encouragement.

Indeed, Sampaoli’s men must have been aware of Venezuela’s problematic left-back position and it was from an attack on Cichero’s side that led to the opening goal just two minutes later. Some customary rapid midfield interplay disorientated the visitors before a ball was gratefully received in space on the right byline by Vidal, who dinked it over to the far post where it was hooked back by Mena and headed in from a yard out by Sánchez, who clashed heads with Gary Medel in the process.

Four minutes later, Sánchez was to head wide from a cross from the Chilean left, but just a minute afterwards Venezuela were to be denied a clear penalty. Once again, a midfield mix-up was seized upon by Rondón who ran up the inside-right into the area where, on the turn, he was clipped by Medel, yet despite the incontrovertible evidence in the form of television replays and even Chilean commentators shouting ‘¡es penal!’, nothing was given.

A short while afterwards, just as La Roja were looking composed and enjoying some confident midfield possession play, one sloppy pass near the halfway line again caused some unnecessary trouble. This time it occurred on the opposite flank as Miku picked up the ball and drove forward in considerable space yet when he encountered a defender on the edge of the area, he opted to shoot and watched it drift over by several yards.

For the rest of the first period, Venezuela’s closest opportunities were to come from Arango’s corners that, while never once leading to an attempt on goal, were rarely dealt with comfortably by the defending side. The best one of these occurred after 41 minutes when Cichero leapt for a ball that evaded Bravo, with it instead floating just a yard over the Mineros man’s head and out to the other side.

However, such half-chances were merely infrequent interludes to what was being created with greater consistency from open play at the other end as Chile continued to have success putting in testing balls from the flanks, which is also where their second goal came from, albeit in unconventional circumstances. Indeed, this came in stoppage-time following a weak low clearance from goalkeeper Dani Hernández that fell to the feet of Aránguiz 40 yards out on the Chilean left. He nudged it to Valdivia and immediately ran forward several yards where he received a return pass and dribbled to the left edge of the area where two players came to thwart his progress. While doing so, neither of these defenders picked up the direct run of Valdivia who met Aránguiz’s pass and then, from an extremely acute angle near the left byline, hit what must have been intended as a cross but which, from a Chilean perspective at least, was very much a golazo. Indeed, Hernández must have been anticipating a lofted pass to a colleague in the centre as he dived outwards but was instead a stranded observer as the ball squeezed in between the near post and his outstretched body, rebounding off the far post and trickling over the line.

Second Half

Extensive Second-Half Highlights (Youtube user:  Deporte Luis TV)

Venezuela thus went into the second half with a task made doubly hard and soon found themselves having to fend off further trouble as within five minutes of the restart Sánchez’s free-kick brought a decent save from Hernández, as the ball curled towards the top corner. Soon after, following some quick exchanges between the Arsenal man, Valdivia and finally Vidal, the Juventus playmaker took aim from a central position 20 yards out and hit the inside of the post with a fine strike.

Despite being on the ropes, a minute later Sanvicente’s charges also hit the post as Arango’s corner was headed on by Rondón to Oswaldo Vizcarrondo who, at short notice, guided the ball onto the woodwork, watching it rebound to Rondón who forced a low save from Bravo.

However, any optimism gained quickly evaporated as, little more than a minute later, Chile scored their third. Valdivia picked up the ball centrally in space 40 yards out and played a wonderfully incisive turf-shaving low ball to Isla, who ran in behind the sluggish Cichero and unselfishly cut it back in the centre for Vargas to tap home.

3-0 and the 35 minutes left on the clock seemed like an eternity. Following the goal, the first two of a total of five Venezuelan substitutions occurred with Málaga’s Juan Pablo Añor replacing Frank Feltscher for his international debut and Deportivo La Guaira’s Franklin Lucena putting to an end Rafael Acosta’s misery.

Unfortunately for La Vinotinto, these introductions did little to stem the Roja tide with Vargas having two good opportunities, the first of which occurred after the Queens Park Rangers forward capitalised on a Vizcarrondo miskick from a Medel clearance and then dribbled into the area before dropping a shoulder to hit a right-footed effort narrowly wide. Later, in the 72nd minute, the ball was played out from the Chilean defence to Valdivia who, in acres of space 45 yards out, just rolled the ball forward to Vargas who fired a shot from inside the area that came off the outside of the post. Soon afterwards, Venezuela were to have their last meaningful attack of the game, as Rondón’s low ball from the left into the goalmouth towards substitute Fernando Aristeguieta – sporting a retro moustache of the seediest order – was desperately blocked out by Bravo.

With 76 minutes on the clock and the outcome long since decided, Chile took off Vargas, Valdivia and Vidal and replaced them with Fabián Orellana, Pablo Hernández and Rodrigo Millar. Any hopes that this would coincide in a respite for Venezuela were soon crushed as Millar scored the fourth within a couple of minutes of coming on. This goal came following some tenacious work by Aránguiz who held off Lucena on the left touchline 40 yards out and then ran forward, passing it to Millar on the edge of the area who then played in Sánchez whose shot from close range was blocked by the leg of Hernández, only to rebound into the path of Millar.

The last ten minutes felt at least twice as long to the Venezuelan players, who at one point had to endure the home fans oléing every one of their team’s passes. Chile’s final goal came in stoppage-time as Orellana’s corner was only palmed out by Hernández to Isla on the right side of the area who played a quick one-two with Millar and then crossed for another substitute, Pablo Hernández, to run forward unmarked and score with an accomplished diving header.

Recovering for Bolivia

Thus completed the humiliation for Noel Sanvicente’s who may well feel things could have been somewhat different if Rondón has scored early on and been rightfully awarded a penalty. However, their defensive shortcomings would have still let them down and one can not help but feel that were this a World Cup Qualifying game in which Venezuela were playing for nothing but pride and Chile needed 8 or 9 goals, then they could well have got them. Indeed, La Roja soon realised that they had this makeshift La Vinotinto for the taking and if anything, relented somewhat once the score reached 3-0, with the introduction of the three substitutes who came on with 15 minutes left being necessary in order to reinvigorate the side to some degree.

Venezuela now go into their next friendly against Bolivia with their confidence having taken a strong bashing and still with a rather threadbare squad, even if they will now be able to call upon midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas. The altitude of La Paz poses some perennial questions regarding preparation and Sanvicente is reportedly dealing with it this time by travelling with his side into the city just two hours before kick-off, rather than attempting to acclimatise days in advance.

Whether this pays off remains to be seen though any superstitious fans fearing the worst against the lowest-ranked team in CONMEBOL may be gratified to hear that La Vinotinto have not lost to La Verde since March 2005.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – November 2014 Preview

14 November 2014 – Estadio CAP, Talcahuano.

Chile vs Venezuela

18 November 2014 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz.

Bolivia vs Venezuela 

How the Teams Rank

FifaRankings

FIFA Rankings Comparison Graph for October 2013-October 2014 (FIFA.com)

Venezuela come into this friendly double-header having been demoted in the FIFA rankings from August’s record-high 29th to a lowly 85th in the space of a mere two months. During this period, they played away in September to two Asian nations that featured at the World Cup, losing 3-1 to South Korea and drawing 2-2 with Japan.* A largely overseas-based contingent then spent October’s break at the Ciudad del Fútbol de Las Roza training complex in Madrid, after a total of four friendly matches had been scheduled and then cancelled for varying reasons (though presumed to be primarily financial in nature).

Given the lack of games played by the national side, it is certainly tempting to dismiss the rankings. Indeed, some Venezuelans – not least Noel Sanvicente, the new coach installed in July – may even glance at them with a wry smile, acknowledging that the historical placing of 29th was somewhat dubious, given that two months prior they were 40th and had only played one game in the entire year – a 2-1 away loss to Honduras.

Yet, however misrepresentative these rankings may be, they can not be ignored as the current placements were recently used to determine the seeding of the sides competing for next summer’s Copa América ahead of the upcoming draw. Venezuela, despite finishing 4th in 2011’s tournament and 6th out of the nine CONMEBOL sides in the 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign, found themselves ranked 10th out of 12 sides, thus consigning them to the fourth and lowest-seeded pot with Bolivia and CONCACAF-invitees, Jamaica. Consequently, a slightly more difficult group than may have been anticipated looks to be on the cards for La Vinotinto.

Defensive bulwark Oswaldo Vizcarrondo as well as Sanvicente himself have both publicly criticised these organisational methods and their raw sense of injustice may well be harnessed by El Chita to instil a siege mentality into his troops ahead of their upcoming games against Chile and Bolivia.

Squad News: Absentees and Opportunities

Playing to, and galvanising, the emotions of his squad may be necessary for Sanvicente as much of his long-term tactical plans have been adversely affected by a long list of absentees, all of whom play outside of Venezuela and thus, it is not too disrepectful to say, are amongst their most important players.

Two key individuals to have succumbed to injuries are converted right-back Roberto Rosales (Málaga) and new captain Tomás Rincón (Genoa), both components of Sanvicente’s planned defensive-midfield pairing that was first given its debut against Japan. Also sidelined are Fernando Amorebieta (Fulham), Vizcarrondo’s regular partner in central defence under former coach César Farías, as well as Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional). Furthermore, though Guerra’s fellow Colombia-based midfield colleague Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe) will be reporting for duty, he is unlikely to play in the Chile game, having played less than 48 hours prior in his side’s Copa Colombia final defeat to Deportes Tolima.

Another player not making the trip is forward Juan Falcón (Metz) who has had a promising start in Ligue 1 (4 goals in 8 games) and would have hoped to quickly establish himself as a more common fixture of the national side with his former Zamora manager now at the helm. Following on with the problems in attack, perhaps the most internationally renowned player not joining up with his compariots is striker Salomón Rondón (Zenit St. Petersburg), who is suspended following a straight red card he received while on the bench against South Korea. In his absence, young prospect Darwin Machís (Granada), who has had several chances with the first team in La Liga this season, will unfortunately not be able to demonstrate what he can do up front, having picked up a lengthy injury in October that will likely rule him out until next year. Sanvicente’s attempts to find someone to partner Mario Rondón (C.D. Nacional) have been further thwarted as Germany-raised Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen), the man the coach said he wanted to trial in this role, has been temporarily unable to join up with the national side due to documentation issues. Indeed, this is a similar situation former Barcelona and Spain Under-21 international Jeffrén Suárez (Real Valladolid) finds himself in, having finally agreed to commit himself to La Vinotinto last month.

With so many players unavaible, Sanvicente has called up a squad that while not lacking in quality, features more players from the domestic league than would ideally be the case (9 out of 23) as well as several who have been languishing on the bench of overseas clubs (i.e. of the five forwards, only Mario Rondón can be said to be a regular starter for his club). However, one morale-boosting inclusion is the return of the iconic Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana) who had asked not to be called up for Sanvicente’s first two squads as he attempted to settle in Mexico’s Liga MX.

Nevertheless, with several regular starters missing and a coach still attempting to implement his ideas on the squad, Venezuela can certainly expect some tough encounters against a largely full-strength Chile, followed by Bolivia and the altitude of La Paz. Thus, what is detailed next are several things to look out for from a Venezuelan perspective in these two games.

What to Look Out For

How the Team Copes Defensively

Early reports suggest that the probable starting line-up for the Chile game will feature five out of the seven defence-minded players (goalkeeper, four defenders and two defensive-midfielders) who began against South Korea. In this 3-1 reversal, La Vinotinto at times looked porous, being repeatedly overran in the middle with their left side also offering weak resistance and the organisation in the middle often disintegrating into chaos (as can be witnessed on the third goal).

Édgar Jiménez (Mineros de Guayana), who made a rare start partnering Rincón in front of the defence, came in for some criticism for allowing the likes of Son Heung-Min to routinely bypass him and was one of only two players to be dropped for the Japan game. Given the noted injuries in this position, he is said to be likely to be paired with club team-mate Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana) and both men, along with the defence behind them, will surely have their work cut out in the first game against the direct, rapid attacks of Sánchez, Aránguiz, Vargas, Vidal and the Venezuela-born Valdivia. Indeed, they may well be best advised to try to force them wide at all opportunities and goalkeeper Dani Hernández (Real Valladolid) – another player to come in for some criticism, largely due to some questionable handling and decision-making – will be anticipating a busy night. Time will tell how he copes with such activity, following a season largely playing second fiddle in Spain’s Segunda División. Ultimately, the defence will want to come out of this game having conceded fewer than the five goals that South Korea and Japan collectively managed to get past them.

The Role of Juan Arango

It was noted last month that he has sometimes been allocated a less advanced role for Xolos in the centre, as opposed to the position he is more accustomed to further upfield either in the middle or, more commonly, on the left. It will be interesting to see if the 34 year-old will still be able to impose himself with as much attacking threat as he used to as, with the noted absences in the forward line, many will be counting on his his set-pieces, defence-splitting passes and/or long-range screamers. Given his advanced years (in footballing terms, at least) it is also common for him to complete less than 70 minutes for his club so he may well be withdrawn after a similar amount of time in these two games. If this proves to be the case, expect to see an injection of youthful pace and creativity from the likes of either Yohandry Orozco (Deportivo Táchira) or Rómulo Otero (Caracas FC), the latter of whom will be especially eager to take over set-piece duties.

The Role of Mario Rondón

Having not featured a great deal under César Farías, Mario Rondón was unquestionably the most notable performer on September’s Asian tour, having scored two goals and showing some potential in a future forward partnership with Salomón Rondón. Now the only Rondón in the side, he will be in the curious position of either playing in an attacking partnership with someone he is unlikely to feature regularly alongside in a competitive match or being moved back to one of the flanks, where he sometimes plays at club level. Either way, as his goals came from first a goalkeeping error (though was rather well-taken) and then a penalty, he will want to prove that he can be just as effective in regular open play and maintain the momentum he has built up.

Injuries

All Venezuelans will be hoping to avoid witnessing any more of these!

Surprises?

Ultimately, there will doubtless be plenty more aspects in these two games to look out for and yet with all the pessimism that has certainly prevailed in many quarters, this is just the right backdrop for La Vinotinto to spring a surprise or two. Indeed, irrespective of the Chile result, expect changes in the Bolivia game as this is still very much an experimental phase in the Sanvicente reign and with so many players receiving unexpected chances who knows what these new on-field partnerships and combinations will bring?

Whatever happens, Sanvicente will be eager for his Venezuela side to show the entire continent of South America that they can compete with the likes of Chile and have also moved on from being lumped in with the likes of Bolivia, regardless of what the rankings currently say.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

Dani Hernández (Real Valladolid) & Rafael Romo (Mineros de Guayana).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Francisco Carabalí (Caracas FC), Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana), Alexander González (FC Thun), Grenddy Perozo (Ajaccio) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders

Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga), Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana), Frank Feltscher (Aarau), Édgar Jiménez (Mineros de Guayana), Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira), Yohandry Orozco (Deportivo Táchira), Rómulo Otero (Caracas FC), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe) & Franco Signorelli (Empoli).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Nantes), Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor (Al-Gharafa), Josef Martínez (Torino), Emilio Rentería (San Marcos de Arica) & Mario Rondón (C.D. Nacional).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

*UPDATE: 15 November 2014 – The 2-2 friendly draw with Japan has since been changed by FIFA to a 3-0 victory for Japan due to Venezuela illegally fielding Salomón Rondón, despite having been sent off in the previous game. This fact went completely unreported in the Venezuelan media and was actually first reported on this site’s Twitter account.