Tag Archives: Fernando Aristeguieta

Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Preview

It’s here! Nothing else matters, least of all your sanity or “career”! The rest of civilisation can take a running jump because the Copa América is set to kick-off! Below, @DarrenSpherical provides an overview of Venezuela’s build-up as well as which players to look out for.

Copa América 2019

Saturday 15 June 2019 – Arena do Grêmio, Porto Alegre.

Peru vs Venezuela

Tuesday 18 June 2019 – Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador.

Brazil vs Venezuela

Saturday 22 June 2019 – Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte.

Bolivia vs Venezuela

groupacopa2019

Who Are You Kidding Getting Dressed This Morning? TV. Now.

Venezuela head into the 46th edition of South America’s flagship international tournament with a better build-up than in the past two competitions.

That is not saying a great deal and nor can it be taken as an indicator of anything.

You’re welcome and hello. After all, in 2015 the selección then managed by Noel Sanvicente arrived in Chile with nine months of largely forgettable displays and no friendlies in the weeks leading up to kick-off. This did not prevent them from beating neighbours Colombia 1-0 in a passionate-yet-disciplined performance. However, they followed that up by crashing out at the first hurdle after losses in their two other group games. Subsequently, less than ten months later, languishing bottom of the World Cup Qualifying table, Sanvicente was out of a job and in came his replacement, Rafael Dudamel.

Prior to 2016’s Copa América Centenario, the ex-international goalkeeper failed to win in any of his four tightly-scheduled pre-tournament warm-ups, yet managed to turn heads by vanquishing both Jamaica and Uruguay before emerging from the group undefeated after a draw against Mexico. Acclaim soon turned to derision for the burgundy boys, however, when Argentina hammered them 4-1 in the quarter-finals and, in the eyes of some, equilibrium was restored to the natural footballing order.

Over the following 16 months, amidst ever-worsening domestic problems, Dudamel proved unable to lift La Vinotinto from last place in the Russia 2018 qualifying standings. However, speculation that the FVF may look elsewhere died down after the coach led the Under-20s to the extraordinary feat of becoming World Cup runners-up in 2017. Bolstered by a new, exciting generation, he was then able to say with considerable justification that the senior side was planning for the future and backed this up by seeing out the remaining four qualifiers without defeat. Yet of course, no momentum could be allowed to just organically build obstacle-free. Thus, after playing a solitary friendly in November 2017, financial difficulties was the stated FVF explanation behind the national team going on international hiatus and not contesting another game until September of last year. Little was helped by this except the team’s official FIFA ranking, which counter-intuitively rose from 52nd to 31st in the barren ten-month period.

However, credit where it is due: since returning to action in September 2018 they have made use of every single FIFA-designated date (as well as one that wasn’t). In all, they have faced 11, often weighty, opponents: three each from their own confederation, CONCACAF and Asia as well as two non-recognised sides stuffed full of La Liga talent.

Results have been better than in the run-ups to 2015 and 2016, if somewhat mixed: four wins, four defeats and three draws. Most spectacular of the victories was March’s 3-1 humbling of Argentina at the Wanda Metropolitano. Yet casual observers who project from this that Venezuela are therefore serious contenders for the Copa may wish to temper their prognostications by first reviewing three of the reversals: the 2-1 against Catalonia just three days after mauling Messi’s mob, the 4-2 versus Basque Country last October and, most pertinently of all, the 3-1 education meted out by a star-lite Mexico against a full-strength Venezuela barely a week ago.

Dudamel himself has been somewhat sheepish about his team’s prospects, instead placing more emphasis on the tournament serving as good build-up for the true goal: qualification to Qatar 2022. Perhaps he has been chastened from earlier this year when, after many from the Venezuelan camp proclaimed their desire to win the Under-20 South American Championship, his 2019 crop failed to even qualify for the soon-to-be-concluded World Cup.

All that being said, most would back Venezuela to achieve the minimum expectation at Brazil 2019: qualifying from Group A. The opening game against Peru is largely justified as being billed as crucial, even if losing to Los Incas plus the hosts – who La Vinotinto have never beaten in a competitive game – yet pulverising atrocious-travellers Bolivia could theoretically still be enough to see them advance as one of the two best third-place teams.

Not that anyone wishes to be cornered into such a scenario. If the team does progress to the quarter-finals then, in a tournament with a healthy history of surprises – not least Venezuela’s record-best run to the semi-finals in 2011 – they could be forgiven for daydreaming about extending their stay.

After all, what the preceding nine months have produced is a relatively settled way of playing. Indeed, Dudamel evidently intends to utilise a 4-3-2-1 formation, with the defence being covered by a midfield trio of ball-winners and the striker supported by rapid transitions, particularly from the two attackers in tow. Furthermore, regarding the personnel, even if the three recent warm-up friendlies have caused some slight re-thinks – mostly in the defence – there are not likely to be any significant line-ups surprises for Saturday’s opener.

Of those nailed-on to be fielded, four players stand out as being fundamental to Venezuela’s campaign: Fledgling Faríñez and the Three R’s of Experience.

A teenager on the bench in the last two Copas, the 21-year-old sprightly shot-stopper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) has a big chance to further enhance his already glowing reputation and will doubtless be called upon to make up for the defence’s shortcomings. In front, whether on the left or his more-favoured right side, will be the rejuvenated Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain), who last October was brought back into the fold following a curious two-year absence and will be vitally important tenaciously tracking opponents and contributing to attacks. As ever, captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) will also endeavour to be assiduous in his primary task of closing down attackers and reinforcing the defence, as well kickstarting and sometimes contributing to the forward play. Lastly, at the very top of the pitch will be recently-crowned all-time leading goalscorer Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England), who has also netted at all three Copas he’s been involved in and will be on the prowl to wound defenders’ egos with his muscular hold-up play, supreme leaping and wearying workrate.

Some of the individuals he is likely to combine with the most are amongst a secondary group of five within the squad. These are talented players with less-celebrated reputations who nevertheless possess the potential to assert themselves as indispensable assets during the tournament. In this batch are included three fleet-footed attacking-midfielders: Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), a near-certain starter against Peru who is likely to be paired with either Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy) or Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA). The former appeared to have the nod up until the Mexico friendly but after being dropped from the subsequent line-up, the latter, having flourished in the 3-0 win over the USA last Sunday, has more than an outside chance. Either way, both will undoubtedly see action in Brazil.

The two other players who could rise to prominence are the pair pencilled in to aid Rincón in front of the back four: Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) and Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England). If only due to his greater propensity to get forward, the latter has perhaps a higher chance of garnering attention, but both will certainly be wholly absorbed in their largely unglamorous roles.

Herrera, as well as Faríñez, are the two definite starters out of the five players from 2017’s Under-20 squad who have also been convened here. However, moving onto the dubious defence, if Dudamel opts to place Rosales at left-back then, with Alexander González having been omitted, the 21-year-old apprentice Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway) could make that three by taking up the right-back mantle. Alternatively, if Rosales is placed in his natural position – as he was against the USA – then Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile) would appear to be the front-runner for the left flank. That said, as Mago is far from an established fixture, he is vulnerable to being overlooked in favour of the versatile Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), who has not played in the warm-ups owing to a minor injury.

As for the centre-backs, Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain) and Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal) seem the likeliest initial partnership, what with the former playing the final two friendlies and the latter having enjoyed an encouraging club season. However, this is not a niche bet that anyone would place with confidence as Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar) was instead selected after Osorio’s poor showing against Mexico and he also started in the first warm-up against Ecuador.

So, to summarise the Venezuelan defensive quagmire succinctly: there is every chance that all seven defenders will make it onto the pitch during the tournament.

Still, despite this uncertainty as well as their tendency to get exposed, Vinotinto defences, in tandem with the midfielders, have, over the years, also occasionally shown themselves to be capable of collectively rising to be greater than the sum of their parts. This happened in the opening game of Copa América 2015, in virtually all of 2016’s group stage and also in the final four games of World Cup qualification in 2017. Admittedly, they can also ride their luck a little, although at least they now possess a highly-rated goalkeeper to save them from themselves.

Lastly, some MLS-watchers may be wondering where hotshot Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) fits into the scheme of things. Well, although a partnership with Rondón is not completely out of the question as it was deployed at the 2016 Copa and may be used if Venezuela are chasing a game late on, it was never tried in any of the most recent friendlies. Instead, with Dudamel preferring a lone forward, Martínez is more likely to make regular appearances from the bench, whether as a replacement for Rondón or, quite plausibly, in one of the two attacking positions behind. However, for these spots he will not only be competing with Murillo, Machís and Savarino, but also with pint-sized Class of ’17 graduate Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil). The dribbler extraordinaire beloved of many talent-spotters has only played 26 minutes for the national team since last September but he has been called up as an eleventh-hour replacement for the injured Adalberto Peñaranda. His initial omission – allegedly due to a problem processing his visa for the warm-up tour in the USA – as well as that of Rómulo Otero was not greeted favourably by a considerable number of fans, but now, having met up with the side in the country where he plies his trade, he’s good to go.

As, mercifully, is yours truly. ¡Vamos chamos!

To keep track of how things pan out, please keep checking back to this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad for Copa América 2019

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Note: Owing to an injury, Yeferson Soteldo has replaced Adalberto Peñaranda.

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia) & Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Mexico 3-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (5 June 2019)

Venezuela’s Copa América preparations are now two-thirds complete, but the team appears far from ready to set the tournament alight. Below, @DarrenSpherical recounts their encounter with El Tri.

International Friendly

Wednesday 5 June 2019 – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Mexico 3-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Mexico 3-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 5 June 2019 (YouTube)

La Vinotinto Vanquished By Martino’s Mexico

Despite taking the lead, a virtually first-choice Venezuela were comfortably swept aside by an under-strength Mexico. 

With all the Copa América players now present in the USA, Rafael Dudamel was able to field his big guns, yet they were nevertheless outplayed by Tata Martino’s Gold Cup-hunting squad which does not include the likes of Javier Hernández, Carlos Vela, Hirving Lozano and Héctor Herrera.

Early on though, it was Venezuela’s Jhon Murillo who surprised everyone – including himself – when, in the 18th minute, he sensationally struck the ball into the back of the net. Possibly caught in two minds as he shaped up on the right to whip in a cross, his ball into the area spectactularly swerved inwards and over goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco to give the South Americans a 1-0 advantage.

The largely pro-Mexico crowd were taken aback, but they soon returned to generating a frenetic atmosphere that was frequently reflected on the pitch.

Cruz Azul youngster Roberto Alvarado boosted their spirits when, in the 25th minute, he was not far off with a curled left-footed effort that went just wide of the target. Then, seven minutes later, he restored parity and drove Venezuelan defensive coaches to insanity. He made it 1-1 after a cross swung in from the right was poorly dealt with and dawdling centre-back Yordan Osorio was robbed of the ball by Rodolfo Pizarro, who nudged it to Alvarado to fire home.

For the remainder of the half, there was no lack of endeavour but both sides struggled to create clear chances. That is, until a couple of minutes before the break when Dudamel’s men nearly stunned the crowd for a second time. This time, Júnior Moreno’s corner was nodded against the post by Yangel Herrera; striker Salomón Rondón immediately lunged for the rebound, but alas, was unable to connect properly.

That was to be the last contribution of note of the Newcastle United Player of the Year as he was substituted off at half time for Josef Martínez, who received a proud ovation from the Atlanta locals who he performs in front of every other week. He arrived onto the pitch with Real Salt Lake’s Jefferson Savarino, though ultimately, the two MLS stars were to have little impact on the outcome.

Indeed, less than ten minutes after the restart, their nation fell behind. Defensive frailties were once again exposed as, on the left, Jésus Gallardo was afforded a little too much space, at the second attempt firing in a low cross that Osorio was beaten to by Pizarro. The latter’s nonchalant finish deservedly made it 2-1.

Later, in the 63rd minute, it looked as if the CONCACAF nation’s lead had been increased when, after Héctor Moreno and Raúl Jiménez had forced Wuilker Faríñez into a breathtaking double save, Diego Reyes struck third time lucky. However, owing to some dangerous, high-footed play from Wolves’ striker Jiménez, this was ruled out.

Shortly afterwards, Savarino created for himself a rare Venezuelan half-chance, but his strike from outside the area went at least a few yards wide. A better opportunity was presented in the 72nd minute after captain Tomás Rincón slid a ball into the area to Juanpi, but the shot of the La Liga midfielder lacked direction and was gratefully received by the gloves of Orozco.

Some four minutes later, the game was put beyond the reach of Venezuela. Again, fatal defensive disorganisation played a part, as on the Mexican right, substitute Carlos Antuna was afforded too much room and thus swung across a low ball that found fellow recent-arrival Andrés Guardado. Also benefitting from slack tracking, on the left side of the area he was able to strike low with aplomb to sentence the game at 3-1.

In all, given the strength of the Vinotinto line-up, it was an underwhelming performance. Perhaps adding to the concerns, at the post-game press conference, coach Dudamel claimed his team are currently at “40-50 per cent of our collective level” and also spoke of the possibility of utilising Rolf Feltscher and Luis Mago in various defensive positions.

The attacking players can not be feeling too comfortable or satisfied either, having netted just one fortuitous goal from open play in the two warm-up matches (wing-back Roberto Rosales having also scored a penalty against Ecuador). One man who will not be contributing anything more to their campaign is Adalberto Peñaranda, who was substituted off against Mexico less than ten minutes after coming on. The prognosis for him did not look good in the immediate aftermath and, today (8 June 2019), he has been officially ruled out of Copa América. To the delight of many fans, Santos-based jinking dribbler Yeferson Soteldo has been called up in his place and, in a few days, should meet up with the squad in Brazil.

Before that rendezvous, however, the national team will be travelling to Cincinnati where they have one last pre-tournament test to play against another CONCACAF Gold Cup challenger. The USA shall provide a stern test and, although friendlies may not be all about results, La Vinotinto will surely be hoping to deliver a performance that can instil belief in themselves and their committed faithful ahead of their flight to Porto Alegre.

To keep up-to-date with how things transpire in this final pre-Copa América international as well as the tournament itself, please keep checking back here as well as pay a visit to @DarrenSpherical.

Team Selections

Mexico (4-1-2-2-1): J. Orozco; F. Navarro (J. Sánchez, 68′), D. Reyes, N. Araujo, J. Gallardo; E. Álvarez (H. Moreno. 30′); C. Rodríguez, E. Gutiérrez (A. Guardado, 68′); R. Alvarado (C. Antuna, 68′), R. Pizarro (O. Pineda, 55′); R. Jiménez (A. Vega, 82′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, Y. Herrera (J. Añor, 60′), T. Rincón; J. Murillo (A. Peñaranda, 76′) (F. Aristeguieta, 85′), D. Machís (J. Savarino, 46′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 46′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – June 2019 Preview

With Copa América 2019 on the horizon, the official 23-man squad has been announced, although not everyone is currently in the USA for the three-match warm-up tour. To become more familiar with the Venezuelan orbit, @DarrenSpherical provides an update on the current state-of-play.

International Friendlies

Saturday 1 June 2019 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA

Ecuador vs Venezuela

Wednesday 5 June 2019 – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Mexico vs Venezuela

Sunday 9 June 2019 – Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

USA vs Venezuela

Peñaranda

Adalberto Peñaranda has some doubters to win over. (FVF)

Mixed Response to Squad Announcement Ahead of Testing Friendlies

Rómulo Otero, Yeferson Soteldo, Jan Hurtado and Alexander González head a list of considerable Venezuelan talents who will not be present in Brazil at the upcoming 46th edition of Copa América.

Ahead of a three-game warm-up tour of the USA, these names and more were omitted from Rafael Dudamel’s final 23-man squad. They were culled from an initial 40-man convocatoria that had been announced on 10 May – despite many players on that list never having been afforded the opportunity to physically be part of the set-up.

It thus appears that Dudamel – whose position was in doubt two months ago but who has since been ratified to continue – had largely made up his mind a while ago and, as is to be expected, not all of his choices have been greeted with unanimous approval. In particular, some were not convinced by the coach’s comments ostensibly justifying the exclusion of Santos No. 10 Soteldo on the inability to secure for him a US visa in time, thus rendering him absent for the build-up. Flimsy pretext or not, those following La Vinotinto over the past year should have not been too surprised, as the diminutive dribbler has, for a variety of reasons, missed call-ups and only played for less than half an hour. That said, one of his positional rivals who avoided the chop, Adalberto Peñaranda, has played even less and, more disconcertingly, only chalked up two FA Cup appearances last season for his club side, Watford. However, it appears that Dudamel is a big believer in the peroxide-blonde attacker. This is, after all, not the first time that he has held out an olive branch to the player who outshone Soteldo – as well as most of his team-mates – as part of 2017’s history-making Under-20 Silver Generation.

No explanations have yet been articulated regarding the other omissions. However, in the case of the eye-grabbing Otero, rightly or wrongly, it is possible that Dudamel was not convinced that his individualistic tendencies could be effectively harnessed within his system. Yet, with his swirling long-range strikes and occasional set-piece brilliance, to some it feels that a potential game-changer has been left behind.

As for Hurtado, since his return to club football eight months ago following an acrimonious hiatus, the striker has rose in stature. However, as well as strong competition from the in-form Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), his non-inclusion may be owing to his inexperience (he is still only 19), questionable discipline (two red cards with the Under-20s earlier this year) and relatively low goals tally.

Yet sespite this momentary setback, one feels that Hurtado’s time shall come – quite possibly as early as next year at 2020’s Argentina/Colombia co-hosted extravaganza. For now, however, he does have at least one more chance to show his boss what he is going be missing. Indeed, he is one of eight young/fringe players currently based in Miami who won’t be going to Brazil but who are nevertheless part of the 23-man squad set to play Ecuador on the first day of June. According to the FVF’s press releases, the other seven are: Pablo Bonilla (Portuguesa), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Erickson Gallardo (Zamora FC), Bernaldo Manzano (Deportivo Lara), Samuel Sosa (Talleres de Córdoba, Argentina), Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA) and Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal).

This curious situation is due to this game being played on a non-FIFA date. Afterwards, however, despite some of their club seasons still being contested, the likes of Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy) and Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) should gradually show their faces.

With two subsequent warm-up games lined up against Gold Cup-eyeing Mexico and USA, Venezuela have quite the competitive friendly guantlet to navigate their way through. As things stand, the consensus is that only one or two of the starting places are up for grabs. Indeed, based on the friendlies played since last September, with everyone available Dudamel would ideally opt to field his charges in a flexible 4-3-2-1 formation. In this system, Faríñez undoubtedly wears the gloves and the left-back is odds-on to be right-footed Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain), with one of the two central defenders being Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal). As Wilker Ángel is injured, Osorio is likely to be partnered by either Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar) or Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain), although surprise inclusion Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA) has an outside shot, given that Dudamel has praised the experienced Swiss-born player’s “versatility“. That said, with no González to vye with, he perhaps has a greater chance of dislodging 21-year-old Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), seemingly the current front-runner to start at right-back.

Further up the park, things appear more concrete: a tight midfield three is predicted to consist of captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), along with Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England) and Moreno. Ahead of them are likely to be the defence-terrorisers Machís and Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal) who, in turn, should be just behind Newcastle United’s 2018/19 Player of the Season, Salomón Rondón.

Yet, three games can be a long time in football and with the potential for injuries as well as high-calibre talents such as Martínez and Savarino lurking in the wings, more than a few purported certainties could well appear misplaced come mid-June.

To keep track of how things develop, please keep checking back to this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad for Copa América 2019

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(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA) & Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

 

Venezuela Squad for Friendly against Ecuador

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Goalkeepers

Joel Graterol (Zamora FC) & Rafael Romo (APOEL FC, Cyprus).

Defenders

Pablo Bonilla (Portuguesa), Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Erickson Gallardo (Zamora FC), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Bernaldo Manzano (Deportivo Lara), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia), Samuel Sosa (Talleres de Córdoba, Argentina) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal), Jan Carlos Hurtado (Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Argentina), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Catalonia 2-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (25 March 2019)

La Vinotinto departed the Spanish capital to head north to a very proud and rebellious autonomous region. Here, @DarrenSpherical recalls the events of an atmospheric night in Girona…

International Friendly

Monday 25 March 2019 – Estadi Montilivi, Girona, Catalonia, Spain

Catalonia 2-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Catalonia 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 25 March 2019 (YouTube)

Vinotinto Denied at the Death

In what could well turn out to be Rafael Dudamel’s last game in charge, a Venezuelan national team that featured several changes from the glorious 3-1 victory over Argentina was ultimately undone by a late Catalonian winner.

Salomón Rondón was one of four players replaced in the line-up, though particularly in the first half, La Vinotinto performed very much on a similar level to their well-experienced opponents.

In front of a boisterous crowd, the game started at a healthy pace, with the first moments of note coming in the ninth minute when Sevilla’s Aleix Vidal put in a couple of testing crosses that were both narrowly thwarted in the area.

Five minutes later, Venezuela came alive in the final third when Yeferson Soteldo – here, given the nod ahead of Darwin Machís – cut inside and fired a rapid right-footed strike that goalkeeper Edgar Badía parried low. Immediately afterwards, Roberto Rosales picked up the rebound, knocking it across the goalmouth where it only just evaded Rondón’s replacement Josef Martínez in the middle. However, it instead fell on the right in the area to Jhon Murillo, who lashed a fearsome effort that crashed back off the crossbar.

Murillo often sought to make things happen and later in the 24th minute he did also fashion himself another, albeit considerably softer, chance, as his effort from the edge of the area floated into the goalkeeper’s arms.

A few minutes later back up the other end, the hosts were not far from taking the lead when a cross fell to Joan Jordán, whose low drive fortuitously ricocheted off a ground-bound Jhon Chancellor and trickled out for a corner.

Barely a minute later, it was again Venezuela’s turn to go close. This time, Murillo bustled past an opponent on the right to play a fine cross into the centre where Rosales, five yards out and odds-on to score, saw his strike hit the inside of the post and go back in Murillo’s direction.

In the 36th minute, the hosts themselves got involved with the woodwork action as captain Gerard Piqué curled a fine free-kick that clipped the crossbar. Not to be outdone, five minutes later fellow La Liga defender Rosales again beat the goalkeeper but not his apparatus by also connecting with the top beam from a long-range set-piece effort.

Thus, when the two sides withdrew for the break, although the scoreboard read 0-0, with regard to the goal framework, Venezuela were 3-1 up on hits.

The restart heralded the beginning of many personnel changes, with Catalonia ultimately going on to replace their entire team and Venezuela making a total of seven changes.

A few minutes into the second half, Soteldo dinked a ball to Alexander González who, in turn, crossed the ball low for Josef Martínez. Yet, the Atlanta forward could not quite pull the trigger in time as Oriol Romeu intervened for a corner.

However, in the 53rd minute, the South Americans found themselves chasing the game. Here, hot Barcelona prospect Riqui Puig played an incisive ball into the area and no Venezuelan picked up the run of Brighton’s Martín Montoya. Thus, he rounded substitute goalkeeper Rafael Romo, with fellow Camp Nou-graduate-turned-British-resident Bojan Krkić finishing the move off.

It was not the first time the Catalans had displayed some impressive fast-paced passing and movement abilities, but it was the first time that it had paid off. However, barely five minutes later they were prevented from pushing on as a defensive mix-up gifted Venezuela an equaliser. Indeed, an innocuous ball forward was weakly headed by Montoya back towards his area, but before second-half goalkeeper Isaac Becerra could receive it, Rosales was there to pounce and nutmeg him to make it 1-1.

For the remaining half-hour or so, the game suffered somewhat due to the number of substitutions. Two of these conjured up Venezuela’s best chance of a winner in this period as Juanpi’s 62nd-minute pass into the middle was almost diverted goalwards by Fernando Aristeguieta, but the Colombia-based striker struggled to make the right connection.

In turn, Venezuelan shot-stopper Romo was on cue to parry a couple of home efforts, such as that of Javi Puado in the 68th minute and then Marc Cardona’s in the 77th.

However, there was little that the APOEL goalkeeper could do in the 88th minute. With the clock close to expiring a ball was played over from the right byline and defender Ronald Hernández stretched but could not deal with it as it fell to Puado, who maintained his composure within the area and struck home.

For the majority of elated fans, it seemed an apt end to proceedings. For Venezuela, however, while they should not be too downheartened by the result and certainly not by their overall on-field experiences in Spain, their future currently seems surprisingly precarious.

Indeed, post-game it was assistant coach Marcos Mathías who attended to the press, with Rafael Dudamel reportedly being due to meet with the football association (FVF) in order to discuss whether or not he shall continue in the role. This follows in the wake of Friday’s publicised meeting with representatives of one of the two political factions currently locked in a dispute over the running of the country, which led to the coach offering his resignation. Currently, it is unclear as to what the outcome is likely to be and, although his second-in-command instead speaking to the media feels somewhat ominous, it is possible that Dudamel merely wished to avoid the inevitable interrogation. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but right now it feels as if, on-field at least, Venezuela are onto something and, with no obvious candidate to take over, nobody wants to see any momentum squandered.

Team Selections

Catalonia (4-4-2): E. Badía (I. Becerra, 46′); A. Vidal (J. Puado, 62′), G. Piqué (R. Puig, 52′), M. Bartra (M. Montoya, 46′), D. Vilá (O. Romeu, 46′); J. Jordán (A. García, 46′), P. Pons (M. Cucurella, 46′), Á. Granell (V. Sánchez, 46′), Ó. Melendo (M. Muniesa, 46′); B. Krkic (M. Cardona, 62′) & S. García (P. Milla, 37′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Faríñez (R. Romo, 46′); A. González (R. Hernández, 78′), Y. Osorio, J. Chancellor, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, T. Rincón (L. Seijas, 46′), Y. Herrera; J. Murillo (D. Machís, 61′), Y. Soteldo (Juanpi, 61′) (J. Cádiz, 81′); J. Martínez (F. Aristeguieta, 61′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – March 2019 Preview

Four months after a pair of Asian draws, Rafael Dudamel has convened his latest squad who once again find themselves in Spain to confront a challenging friendly double-header. Here, with the Copa América already less than three months away, @DarrenSpherical has a look at the current batch hoping to stay within the manager’s plans.

International Friendly

Friday 22 March 2019 – Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain

Argentina vs Venezuela

Unofficial International Friendly

Monday 25 March 2019 – Estadi Montilivi, Girona, Catalonia, Spain

Catalonia vs Venezuela

wandametropolitano

View of the Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid. (Wikipedia)

Considerable Clashes Await Copa-eyeing Vinotinto

Perhaps not the most exciting, but certainly the most eye-catching name on manager Rafael Dudamel’s 25-man squad list is that of 32-year-old veteran Luis Manuel Seijas.

With an emphasis on youthful potential being nurtured and developed very much the order of the day, the international career of the Colombia-based Santa Fe midfielder had long seemed over. Indeed, even before the Under-20s reached the final of the 2017 World Cup, Seijas appeared to have parted ways with the national set-up, following talks with Dudamel. These statements came hot on the heels of his last and most infamous appearance in a Vinotinto shirt: 18 June 2016, Quarter-final of the Copa América Centenario. On this day against Argentina in Foxborough, Massachusetts, he made himself the object of global ridicule when his weak, sub-Panenka chipped penalty was easily caught by goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Given this unforgettable embarrassment, many people – if they gave him any further thought at all – came to assume that he had been excommunicated indefinitely. Evidently not. Nearly three years on, where will he fit in? Although he can play on the left of midfield, a role in front of the defensive line seems more likely; alternatively, owing to the ongoing uncertainties at left-back, an experiment there does not seem entirely out of question either. All this being said, it is hard to envisage him being much more than a back-up in any of these positions but, at the very least, his 67 caps of experience could provide a mental boost in the changing room.

Elsewhere in the squad, creative midfielder Juanpi – currently loaned out by Spanish second division side Málaga to top-flight strugglers Huesca, where he plays alongside Yangel Herrera – is also set to put on the burgundy shirt for the first time in a while. November 2017 against Iran was the 25-year-old’s last outing and he will be seeking to re-establish himself as part of the long-term plans, thus delivering on the potential that some of his early club and country outings indicated.

Although cultivating the abilities of youngsters is going to be key with regard to the underlying aim of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, only one player from the most recent crop of Under-20 talents makes it into this squad. Perhaps this is due to their ultimately unsuccessful qualifying campaign earlier this year or maybe it is simply not yet their moment. Either way, Jan Carlos Hurtado (Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Argentina) could well soon become a useful squad member. Indeed, the striker – who was actually also a part of the 2017 Under-20 World Cup squad – gained many plaudits at Chile 2019, due to his bustling runs, forward play and, especially, his two goals in the 2-0 win over Brazil. Although Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) is the undisputed leading man – with Atlanta United hotshot Josef Martínez sometimes, but not always, joining him in attack – Hurtado could well develop into a more-than-capable deputy. Another man vying for this status within the current squad is the more experienced Fernando Aristeguieta, who is having a superb season in Colombia with América de Cali, so far netting 9 goals in 10 league games.

Regarding the other six, more involved, members of the 2017 silver generation squad who are present here, diminutive dribbler Yeferson Soteldo is the most noteworthy inclusion, having not played internationally for 16 months. This has not been due to any dip in form – even if he did divide opinion at Universidad de Chile, he now wears the hallowed No. 10 shirt at Santos in Brazil – but instead a combination of visa and family issues which prevented him from joining up with the most recent squads. With Adalberto Peñaranda, Romúlo Otero and Jefferson Savarino all having been omitted, he, along with Sergio Cordóva (Augsburg, Germany), will be looking to regain one of the ever-competitive attacking-midfield positions.

Their erstwhile youth-level team-mates who have also received call-ups are: versatile midfielder Yangel Herrera, right-back Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay) and undisputed first-choice goalkeeper, Wuilker Fariñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia).

The coaching staff will be hoping that these young players as well as the many others who are in their early-to-mid twenties will gel effectively with the more experienced internationals, such as Rondón, captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) and right-back Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain). Perhaps it bodes well for the team that all three of these individuals are currently enjoying above-average goalscoring seasons with their respective clubs.

In press comments made on the eve of the first game, Dudamel curiously stated that “We are not experimenting at all. [That] stage has already passed”. Possibly he was referring to tactical systems (with a three-man midfield having been his most notable trial last year), although it is also true that the vast majority of players in this current squad also received call-ups in 2018. Thus it seems that the coach has an ever-crystallising conviction as to who will make the cut in June, albeit one that does not preclude a few latecomers from staking a claim.

Whoever gets picked and whoever ultimately shines, Venezuela have two significant confrontations on the horizon, the first of which comes on Friday when they face Lionel Messi and co. at the majestic home of Atlético Madrid. Argentina are never an inconsiderable proposition, although perhaps their dubious World Cup displays as well as the pair of draws that Venezuela achieved against them in the Russia 2018 qualification phase will offer La Vinotinto some encouragement. Then, on Monday, they will be at the home of Girona to face the non-FIFA-affiliated Catalan national side, who can count Xavi, Gerard Piqué and a host of primarily La Liga players in their ranks. With a 4-2 defeat against another autonomous region of Spain – the Basque Country, in October 2018 – still fresh in the memory, Dudamel’s men will be striving to use their superior collective preparation to their advantage. That’s certainly not something that can be said often.

Venezuela Squad

venezuelamarch2019squad

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Alexander González (Elche, Spain), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg FC, Germany), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia) & Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal), Jan Carlos Hurtado (Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Argentina), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA),  Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – September 2018 Preview

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

International Friendlies

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

Colombia vs Venezuela

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

Panama vs Venezuela

hardrockstadium

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

Time To Start Putting the Pieces Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venezuela Squad

vinotintosept2018

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

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

Midfielders

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

Forwards

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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