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Venezuela 0-3 Honduras – International Friendly (4 September 2015)

International Friendly

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

Venezuela 0-3 Honduras

(To read a preview of both of Venezuela’s September 2015 friendlies, click here)

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-3 Honduras, International Friendly, 4 September 2015 (YouTube)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Túñez (A. González, 90′), Cichero; Guerra (Arango, 46′), Rincón (Signorelli, 78′), Seijas (C. González, 68′), R. Vargas (M. Rondón, 61′); Martínez (Miku, 69′), S. Rondón. (The formation was nominally a 4-4-2 though often looked like the usual 4-2-3-1, with Martínez slightly behind S. Rondón).

Honduras (4-4-2): Lopez; Beckeles, Velásquez, Figueroa, Izaguirre (Oseguera, 90+2′); Andino (Méndez, 87′), A. Mejía (Garrido, 78′), Acosta, B. García (E. Hernández, 80′); Bengtson (Castillo, 71′), J. Mejía (Discua, 65′).

Match Report

Uncreative Venezuela Humbled at Home By Honduras 

Plans for Venezuela to overcome the shortcomings of their premature Copa América exit and instead gain a morale boost on home soil ahead of their World Cup qualifying campaign took a backwards step as they were undone by three second-half goals.

Possibly in a bid to improve his side’s poor goalscoring stats, coach Noel Sanvicente started with the same players that were named for the final Group C game with Brazil in June, albeit with one key change. Experienced icon Juan Arango was replaced with Torino prospect Josef Martínez, who from the off was perhaps the chief instigator of a more direct approach, often seeking to play in close tandem with star striker Salomón Rondón.

Indeed, though Venezuela certainly attempted many attacks on the flanks throughout the game, it was often the central approach that yielded the best results, particularly in the first half when they were the better side, playing at a tempo not witnessed in the Chile-hosted tournament.

That said, their first moment of note came from the right wing in the 10th minute when right-back Roberto Rosales, who was a frequent intruder into opposition territory, glided in a challenging cross. Rondón jumped for it with a defender, who just about beat the West Brom striker to the ball at the back post and goalkeeper Luis Lopez rose up to collect. However, just a couple of minutes later, Honduras were to give the hosts the first taste of what could happen if they fail to take advantage of their more frequent forward forays. The internationally prolific Jerry Bengtson – who has recently moved to Iran to play for Persepolis –  did well to take a long ball up the inside-left in his stride and suddenly had some space on the left within the area. However, centre-back Andrés Túñez’s presence may have just about served its purpose, as the shot was fired comfortably over.

Undeterred, Venezuela continued with their pressing and were to enjoy the next few chances of note. Just after the quarter-hour mark, the strike partnership haphazardly displayed some promise as a series of central knock-ons, intentional or otherwise, from opposition defender Maynor Figueroa as well as Martínez and Rondón led to the latter almost poking the ball in, though he was narrowly beaten to it by the fleet-footed Lopez. A few minutes later, a corner from Ronald Vargas – whose success rate of finding a team-mate from a set-piece was otherwise largely abysmal – was glanced wide by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Had the Nantes centre-back arrived a fraction of a second earlier to meet the ball, he could well have bullet-headed it into the back of the net. AEK winger Vargas was involved in the next opportunity in the 24th minute as, from the inside-right position, he slid the ball forward to give Rondón a chance at goal. However, though he could have squeezed a shot between the defender and Lopez towards the far corner, he instead hit a low strike straight at the goalkeeper.

Overall, Rondón was to have a rather mediocre game, not only failing to convert the chances that came his way but also giving away the ball several times when involved in quick-paced direct passing moves, though his efforts in such exchanges were not entirely without merit. Much of this was in evidence in the last moment of note in the first half. Indeed, in the 44th minute, Martínez bustled through the middle, played a rapid one-two with Rondón before being adjudged to have been fouled in the area. Up stepped Rondón but his penalty was struck barely halfway between the centre and left post of the goal-frame and thus, having guessed correctly, Lopez pulled off what was a fairly comfortable save.

Venezuela returned for the second half with the ineffectual Guerra having been replaced by Arango and were to again have the first chance of note. The roaming Rosales once more reached the right edge of the Honduran area, where this time he cut inside and curled a left-footed effort goalwards, though his accuracy was unfortunately off by several yards.

However, a minute later when the clock struck 50′, the tide was to begin to turn against the hosts. All of a sudden, they found themselves stretched at the back as the youthful Bryan Acosta was to beat the ageing Vizcarrondo to the chase and dinked the ball over the onrushing Alain Baroja but also a yard or two above the goalkeeper’s bar. Under-fire visiting manager Jorge Luis Pinto, who has had a relatively poor start to his reign in charge, shook his head on the touchline as if to query the footballing Gods as towhen exactly he is finally going to get a break.

Fortunately for him, the answer to that was very shortly. Indeed, a few minutes after Vizcarrondo almost got outpaced again, Erick Andino struck a bona fide golazo that really did come out of nowhere. Controlling a ball 25 yards out just to the right of the centre of the park, he hoisted a dipping half-volley towards the far top corner which Baroja could only help on its way into the net.

Momentarily at least, a hush of seemingly silent admiration appeared to spread amongst the Puerto Ordaz crowd. However, they soon had reason to regain their voices as immediately following the goal, another direct Venezuelan attack nearly reaped dividends. This time, from the edge of the area, Martínez flicked on with Cantona-esque panache a return-ball for Rondón, who stabbed a volley from inside the area that Lopez did well to instinctively tip over at point-blank range. From the resulting corner, Vargas’ second and final dead-ball delivery of note was met by the towering Túñez at the back post, but though Lopez was caught in a difficult position, the header was off target.

From that moment onwards, Venezuela struggled to get a clear sight of the Honduran goal as familiar problems came to the fore and were magnified by the scoreline. An absence of effective team-work and incisive passing marked most forward forays as La Vinotinto seemed short on ideas to find ways through or around the opposition. In the 70th minute, Rosales’ frustrations appeared to almost get the better of him after one of his many bursts up the right resulted in his infield pass to substitute Miku being wasted by the Rayo Vallecano striker, who attempted a hopelessly wayward return-ball. Subsequently, the Málaga right-back wore an expression of exasperation, quite possibly weary of several of his team-mates who were rarely capable of adequately complementing his charges up the right.

Unsurprisingly, such sullenness did not do much to aid his own performance. Just a few minutes later from Rosales’ side, Celtic left-back Emilio Izaguirre swung in a fine, elegant cross that recent substitute Román Castillo of Motagua beat his marker to and nodded home to double the lead. The out-manoeuvred defender in question was Túñez who also came in for some criticism against Brazil in June when he was similarly beaten to the ball for the two Seleção goals.

If Rosales’ culpability for the second goal was masked by the positioning of his team-mate in the centre, then there was no hiding for the third. This came in the 83rd minute when goalscorer Andino cut back from the byline inside the area where he was upended by the Venezuela right-back’s left leg. Some felt this was a soft call but, nevertheless, Izaguirre made no mistake from the spot, blasting down the centre to complete the rout.

With a minute remaining, there was a final chance for a consolation goal, though this was squandered. With a spacious area to aim his cross into, Rondón chipped the ball from the left edge towards the right-hand side near the back post where it was nodded down by Miku for substitute César González. However, what looked like being an inevitable close-range headed goal instead turned into an embarrassing miss that went well wide of the target, almost in a parallel trajectory to the goal line. Perhaps on second viewing, the Deportivo Táchira midfielder had a little trouble adjusting his body in time and the ball was a little behind him, though few fans will be willing to argue the toss over that one.

When the final whistle blew, the scoreline was emphatically not what the admirably vocal crowd had expected at the start of the game and at no point during the first 45 minutes did it seem likely either. Alas, Venezuela’s familiar failings came to the fore once again and they were made to pay, suffering the ignominy of what is, according to the revered statistician Mister Chip, their worst ever defeat at home to a Central American opponent. Owing to manager Noel Sanvicente’s success at club level, criticism during his reign has so far been less severe than it perhaps would have been for a foreign manager who had overseen similar results. Yet, with World Cup qualifying on the horizon, the underlying belief shared by many that things will eventually come together has taken another battering. Indeed, although the Puerto Ordaz crowd were consistently supportive during this game, a similar scoreline against Panama on Tuesday may well provoke a response from the stands that reverberates in the national press for some time before the Russia 2018 campaign kicks off against Paraguay.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – September 2015 Preview

International Friendlies 

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

Venezuela vs Honduras 

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

Venezuela vs Panama

estadiocachamay

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

Getting the Gang Back Together to Prepare for the Greatest Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saviour or Historical Footnote? The Wildcard on the Wing 

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

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

Venezuela Squad

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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.

Venezuelans Abroad in Italy – Recap of Round 2 in Serie A

Italy

Italy

Goals certainly went in last weekend in Serie A but sadly only one of these was to be found in a game featuring a Venezuelan. Furthermore, collectively the three representatives of La Vinotinto did not see as much game-time as would normally be expected, which is largely believed to be due to them having travelled such long distances to, in and from Asia for their international matches the previous week.

Saturday 13 September 2014 

Serie A

Empoli 0-1 Roma

For Video Highlights, click here.

Match Summary

The newly promoted hosts were forced to resort to shots from distance as their opponents, with an eye on their midweek Champions League clash, were able to rest several players including Francesco Totti and Gervinho and still pick up a narrow victory courtesy of an own goal that many wiill prefer to see credited to the impressive Belgian international, Radja Nainggolan.

Not long before the goal, Nainggolan also played a driving role in sponsor-less Roma’s other most notable attack, which occurred in the 41st minute. After winning a crunching tackle in midfield, he came forward and crossed a well-weighted ball in from the right that Alessandro Florenzi headed diagonally across the goalmouth that Maicon ran onto but somehow hooked against the back post when the goal was gaping. From the rebound, the ball fell to the onrushing Miralem Pjanić who blasted a shot that was blocked by a desperate-yet-determined combination of Lorenzo Tonelli and Vincent Laurini; the Bosnian international claimed that he was fouled in the ensuing skirmish but Empoli were to remain on level terms for at least several minutes longer.

That was until first-half stoppage-time when Pjanić played a short cross-field pass to Nainggolan 25 yards out and he struck a low drive that came off the foot of the post, only to hit the back of goalkeeper Luigi Sepe’s head and rebound into the net. 1-0 to the capital’s leading club and, considered alongside his goal and assist on the opening day against Fiorentina, a great start to Nainggolan’s season following the formalisation of his summer move from Cagliari.

Empoli’s optimistic long-range efforts came mainly from Francesco Tavano in a game which Franco Signorelli observed from the bench. The Venezuelan was doubtless on a high following his recent international debut, though travel may well have taken its toll. He will be more likely to feature this coming weekend when his side will feel they have a good chance to get off the bottom of the table when they travel to fellow recent arrivals, Cesena.

Sunday 14 September 2014 

Serie A

Sampdoria 2-0 Torino

For Video Highlights, click here.

Image Source: StopAndGoal

Match Summary

Two impressive goals, one coming in each half from Italians Manolo Gabbiadini and Stefano Okaka, ensured Siniša Mihajlović’s Sampdoria got off to a winning start at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. This no doubt pleased their visionary movie producer-president Massimo Ferrero, whose deal with a film distribution company led to Sin City 3D being promoted on his team’s shirts.

Gabbiadini’s goal came on 34 minutes from a free-kick that was curled from the dee around the wall low into the bottom left-hand corner and later on in the match he was to smash the crossbar with another powerfully hit set-piece.

Though second-best, Torino were nevertheless in the game with Fabio Quagliarella and Marcelo Larrondo leading the attack, yet when they made an attacking substitution just after the hour, it was the Brazil-born recipient of a solitary Italian cap, Amauri, who was first brought on to make his debut, with Larrondo coming off. The 34 year-old former Juventus man was signed just before the transfer window closed, though given his age Josef Martínez should try not to be too concerned and instead see this as an opportunity to learn from an experienced pro in a league that not so long ago was notorious for frustrating strikers.

Martínez patiently waited his turn and was later substituted on for Quagliarella in the 77th to make his Serie A debut, yet any dreams of becoming an instant hero were soon dashed when Sampdoria scored their second two minutes later. Indeed, Okaka turned into space on the right-flank and easily took the ball past Polish defender Kamil Glik – who may well have been struggling to mentally re-adjust himself after playing in a 7-0 thrashing of Gibraltar in midweek – and then fired home from an angled position to seal the 2-0 victory. 

Sunday 14 September 2014 

Serie A

Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa

For Video Highlights, click here.

Match Summary

With 8 shots on target (from a total of 18) to their opponents’ 1 (from 5), Fiorentina had the bulk of the opportunities but were unable to make the breakthrough, as Genoa managed to hold on and get a point when defeat often seemed a formality. That it remained goalless was all the more surprising when one takes into account the 3-3 draw that occurred in this fixture last season, not to mention the 5-2 Fiorentina victory enjoyed at Genoa’s ground nearly a year ago.

Alberto Aquilani, Borja Valero, Khouma Babacar and especially Juan Cuadrado were all a frequent menace to the Genoa defensive lines, regularly running directly through the midfield with ease and creating numerous chances throughout the game. Their best of the first half came after 15 minutes when Aquilani – who, incidentally, was the only Italian in the home side’s line-up – put in a graceful cross from the right that dipped kindly six yards out for Mario Gómez. However, the injury-hit German was unable to make meaningful contact with the ball as it instead hit a combination of his chin and chest before going tamely wide.

Little was seen of Genoa as an attacking threat in the opening half as they were preoccuppied with repelling attacks. Due to being frequently overrun in midfield, manager Gian Piero Gasperini took off the yellow-carded Andre Bertolacci at half-time and replaced him with ‘Gattuso 2.0’, Tomás Rincón, who was most likely omitted from the line-up due to the travel involved with the preceding week’s international duty. However, though the visitors did get a little more into the game, the onslaught, if anything, increased with Cuadrado continuing to shine as goalkeeper Mattero Perin was required to put in a man of the match performance to thwart the Viola. Rincón, like Bertolacci, was to find himself regularly on the back foot struggling to halt Cuadrado’s trickery, unpredictable runs and movements, as he picked up a booking in the 78th minute for tripping the Colombian on the turn just outside the area. Just over five minutes prior, another South American, Rincón’s team-mate, the Argentine defender Facundo Roncaglia, also had great difficulties dealing with Cuadrado. He was penalised for holding him back near the halfway line, thus receiving his second yellow card and walking off to a smattering of applause from fans of the home team who actually hold his registration.

Despite Fiorentina’s dominance, Gasperini’s men did nearly score after 64 minutes when Edenilson robbed Cuadrado and Valero in his own half and ran down the right side, playing a one-two before crossing in for Mauricio Pinilla whose acrobatic scissor-kick bounced before going narrowly over the crossbar. The Chilean forward can be praised for this effort but was to spend the majority of this match in isolation, disappointed by the dearth of service from the flanks, which was in marked contrast to the season’s opener against Napoli.

Ultimately though, despite these frustrations, Genoa will be more than pleased with the point they earned and it was largely Perin who they have to thank for this. Indeed, his heroics were especially required in stoppage time when, in quick succession from two corners, he tipped over Gonzalo Rodriguez’s rasping shot from the edge of the area and, subsequently, gratefully clung on to a header from debutant Filippo Bernardeschi that was powerful yet lacking in direction. Thus, Genoa travel back north with a point some will feel they did not deserve and will continue their difficult start to the season with a home game this weekend against Lazio.

Japan 2-2 Venezuela – International Friendly (9 September 2014)

Tuesday 9 September 2014

International Friendly

Japan 2-2 Venezuela

Although defensive shortcomings still creeped into view, Noel Sanvicente will have been buoyed by the improved attacking display he saw in Yokohoma’s Nissan Stadium as his side ended their Asian tour by twice coming from behind to finish with a respectable 2-2 draw.

Team Selection

(4-2-3-1): Hernández; González, Perozo, Vizcarrondo, Cichero; Rosales, Rincón (c); M. Rondón, Guerra, Seijas; S. Rondón.

Substitutions: Miku for Guerra (’66), Signorelli for Seijas (’76), Martínez for S. Rondón (’80) & Falcón for M. Rondón (’89).

The changes from last Friday’s game were Luis Manuel Seijas starting ahead of Josef Martínez and, in an attempt to avoid being overrun so frequently, Rosales surprisingly being moved forward to partner Rincón instead of Jiménez, with the right-back berth being given to the similarly versatile González. Franco Signorelli, as promised in the press by Sanvicente, made his international debut as a second-half substitute.

Further details of the two teams can be found here.

Match Report

First Half

Though they found themselves immediately on the back foot from the kick-off, Sanvicente’s men recovered and, for the second game running, had a golden chance to take the lead within three minutes, as Seijas’s left-footed ball from the right found Vizcarrondo completely unmarked but the Nantes man directed his header wide from close-range. A let-off for the hosts who certainly were not granted as much space as the Koreans and were given a further glimpse of the Venezuelan threat when, on 11 minutes, Rosales struck a curling left-footed shot from just outside the area that Kawashima palmed out for corner.

Javier Aguirre’s men, with the likes of Honda and Kakitani in their side, gradually showed more of the attacking options they had at their disposal, yet while they did cause some nervy moments, it was evident that the South Americans had learned from the first game, often appearing more organised with more men behind the ball, doubling up on attackers and conceding less space.

Venezuela had several chances in the first half, with both Seijas and Guerra getting decent shots away but it was the partnership of the two Rondóns that offered the most potential,  as they linked up to create the away side’s best chance of the first half after 29 minutes. Indeed, following some considerable pressing – a common feature of Venezuela’s display – the Japanese back line lost control of the ball 35 yards out and Salomón poked it forward to Mario who, on the edge of the area, turned Southampton’s Yoshida to find himself one-on-one against Kawashima. However, he could not quite shape his body enough to place it to the right of the goalkeeper, whose left shin saved his side as the ball went out for a corner.

The two Rondóns continued to create chances between them, yet one of their efforts in the 38th minute was sandwiched by two Japanese chances, the first of which was their best of the half as Kakitani ran onto a defence-splitting pass that Hernández was alert to, with his left leg blocking the Basel striker’s poke. The Valladolid goalkeeper saved the following attempt comfortably, bringing some composure to a hesitant area and overall, though he did indulge in at least one unnecessary punched clearance, he enjoyed a more assured performance than he did on Friday.

Second Half

Despite all of the improvements, the two goals Venezuela conceded exposed some weaknesses that had been highlighted in the South Korea game. The first one came after 51 minutes following an attempted clearance from Perozo, whose header from the edge of his area was gratefully picked up by the youngster Muto just inside opposition territory and, with three defenders standing off him, he was allowed to charge forward, shape to shoot and then bury a left-footed shot from 20 yards out.

Deflating as this must have been, little more than five minutes had passed when Guerra intercepted a loose ball in his own half and embarked on an exuberant run all the way up the inside-right channel and into the Japanese area, where his left leg was taken away from him by Mizumoto to earn a penalty. Mario Rondón stepped up to level from the spot with a low shot straight down the middle that was identical to the one he scored in his last league match and ensured that his contribution to the team will be remembered as one of the highlights of this tour.

Although the experienced Venezuelan back line knows not to get complacent following a moment of elation, this did not stop them looking rather porous in the aftermath as just a few minutes later, a right-footed cross from the left by Inter’s Nagatomo was swung into the area where two players were completely unmarked, with Okazaki’s stabbed volley going just wide of the far post. A let-off, but not for long, as in the 66th minute with González out of position, Japan countered down the left with Okazaki speeding away just inside the area and crossing for the wide-open Shibasaki to arrive late and confidently strike home a half-volley on his international debut.

Four minutes later, Japan, ranked 44th in the world to Venezuela’s 29th, nearly matched 57th-placed South Korea’s scoreline when Honda’s low curling free-kick swerved around the wall but, mercifully for the beaten Hernández, hit the post and came out.

However, out of nowhere and with Venezuelans fearing that their back line may succumb to their opponents’ increased confidence, Cichero popped up a minute later on the inside-left with a strike from over 30 yards out that should have been bread and butter for Kawashima. However, the experienced Standard Liège goalkeeper failed to catch the ball, instead embarrassing himself with a hot potato routine and fumbling it over the line to cap off a fairly poor exhibition of goalkeeping that has been on display in the two tour matches.

With Japan temporarily humiliated and their momentum abruptly halted, Venezuela found themselves back on level terms and were not to yield from this position for the rest of the game as a few changes that inevitably took something out of the game were made, the most notable of which was Empoli’s Signorelli making his international debut in the 76th minute. Thus, Sanvicente’s team looked assured as they held on for a creditable draw against World Cup opposition, salvaging some pride when a repeat of their Korean encounter loomed and providing fans with some optimism – most notably, the integration of Mario Rondón into the set-up and his link-up play with Salomón – ahead of next summer’s Copa América.

*UPDATE: 15 November 2014 – This 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.

Venezuelans Abroad in Italy – Recap of Week 1 in Serie A

Italy

Serie A got underway last weekend and here, somewhat behind schedule, is what occurred from a Vinotinted perspective:

Sunday 31 August 2014

Serie A

Genoa 1-2 Napoli 

Running out to Gerry and the Pacemakers ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, Tomas Rincón made his league debut for Il Vecchio Balordo in a lively encounter that was not settled until the fifth minute of stoppage time. Rafael Benitez’s high-scoring Napoli started where they left off as after less than three minutes, the fruitful partnership of Gonzalo Higuaín and José Callejón again combined with the Argentine floating a ball across from the left to the Spaniard who, in acres of space inside the area, struck home a well-executed volley. However, for the rest of the first half Genoa had the majority of the chances with new Chilean signing Mauricio Pinilla the target man for crosses from the right by new Argentine acquisition Diego Perotti and Udinese-loanee Edenilson. Pinilla was very lively all game, eager to please his new fans and he gave them significant cause for optimism when, in the 39th minute, another cross was sent into the area – this time from the left – by Giovanni Marchese onto which the Chilean leapt high to nod home and put his side on equal terms at half-time.

In the early stages of the second-half, Rincón was involved in some midfield tussles, first with the young Brazilian Jorginho, from whom he received a high boot and a free-kick and then, in a rare instance of a skirmish between two number 88s, with Swiss international Gökhan Inler, who retaliated to Rincón aggressively holding him off and conceded another free-kick. Despite these minor midfield victories, Napoli certainly got back into the game in this half, with Higuain as well as French defender Kalidou Koulibaly having chances, but the most gilt-edged one fell to Lorenzo Insigne who was played clean through on goal in the 83rd minute by Belgian substitute Dries Mertens but shot straight at Mattia Perin. Despite this waste, Napoli ploughed on, giving Genoa no respite and must have been delighted to see five minutes of stoppage time go up on the electronic boards. Within the first additional minute, Mertens found some space inside the area on the left and hit a shot across the goalmouth, yet Napoli came closer three minutes later as Mertens again came forward on the left, striking a low shot that Perin got fingertips to which Higuain on the right then hooked back across goal, but no one was there to tap the ball in as it went agonisingly over to the other side. Naturally, most people inside the ground felt that the onslaught had been repelled, including most of Genoa’s back line it seems, as moments later they stood off debutant Jonathan de Guzmán as he received a cross from the left and was granted considerable time to giddily get the ball out of his feet and smash home a close-range winner at the very death. Numerous Genoa players including Rincón instinctively put their hands up for an offside call that was never going to come, but despite this cruel defeat they can certainly take heart from the performance they put in against last year’s third-placed side when they continue their tough opening to the season away to Fiorentina on 14 September. 

 

Sunday 31 August 2014

Serie A

Udinese 2-0 Empoli 

As the Stadio Fruili’s is still yet to be completed, just under 8000 fans watched Udinese defeat Empoli 2-0, thanks to two goals from Empoli youth-product and erstwhile goalscoring hero, Antonio Di Natale. Overall, the home side had the better of the chances with the skilful Colombian Luis Muriel – a man of much promise but who missed out on his nation’s impressive displays this summer – a creative catalyst and attacking threat throughout. His most notable first-half contribution occurred in the 13th minute when the Brazilian debutant Guilherme passed a short ball to him that, with a deadly instinctive dink, he rapidly chipped over the defence for Guilherme to run onto and volley low at the goalkeeper, Luigi Sepe, who stood up strong to the challenge. However, Empoli were certainly more in the game in the first half and had two close chances. The first of these came in the 37th minute and fell to Uruguayan Matías Vecino – yet another number 88 on show this weekend – who was afforded far too much space on the inside-right and shaped up for a left-footed strike that went just over, possibly grazing the bar along the way. Empoli’s second opportunity came just over five minutes later when Vecino crossed in a ball from the right that the 35 year-old Francesco Tavano will know he should have buried, but alas, his header went just wide from no more than six yards out. 

Five minutes into the second period, the evasive Muriel continued to create opportunities and played a great ball into the area from the right with the outside of his right boot that swerved towards Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, though the Ghanaian international could not quite get enough of his head onto the end of it to make it meaningful. However, in the 57th minute, the ever-reliable Di Natale – who had already had a goal ruled out for offside – gave Muriel’s work the end-product it deserved, as he received a subtle reverse-ball that nutmegged defender Lorenzo Tonelli and then steered it past Sepe. Five minutes later, no nuanced defence-splitting balls were necessary as, despite being under no pressure, French right-back Vincent Laurini played a suicidal pass back straight into the path of Di Natale on the edge of the area, who easily slotted it home for Udinese’s second. After this, the home side took their collective foot off the pedal somewhat, though their lead rarely looked to be under serious threat. Coming on for Vecino in the 70th minute, midfielder Franco Signorelli – who has recently earned his first call-up to the national side – joined the action and though he was often involved in the thick of the action on the park, this was usually while in the middle, and not the final, third. 

Sunday 31 August 2014

Serie A

Torino 0-0 Inter Milan

For match highlights, click here.

Josef Martínez did not make it off the bench in this goalless draw as Nemanja Vidić had a debut to forget for Inter Milan, first conceding a penalty and then later being red-carded, yet he was not alone in being bemused by both decisions. The penalty came after 20 minutes courtesy of what the referee Daniele Doveri must have adjudged to be a pull by the Serbian on the arm of Fabio Quagliarella – returning after nine years to the team he began his career with – though replays struggled to show any significant contact between the pair. The Argentine Marcelo Larrondo stepped up but his spot-kick was too close to the centre as Slovenian international goalkeeper Samir Handanovič lounged to an easy save to mark what was his 17th Serie A penalty save from the 56 he has faced. This spurned chance actually turned out to be the only shot on target in the first half as both teams struggled to create clear chances in a game that became increasingly ill-tempered as it wore on, with new-arrival Gary Medel responsible for a particularly bad – yet unpunished – foul from behind on Quagliarella after 39 minutes. 

There were no more than five additional shots on target in the second-half, yet neither side could make a breakthrough. Torino’s best opportunities came within five minutes of the restart as firstly Quagliarella played a fine through-ball 30 yards out to Larrondo whose attempted nudge was blocked by Handanovič and then two minutes later, Larrondo nodded down a cross from Matteo Darmian that Quagliarella hit on the turn with an instinctive snap-shot that went less than a yard wide. However, barring the penalty, Inter had the best opportunity to win the match when, after 68 minutes, the Brazilian Hernanes played through Southampton-loanee Dani Osvaldo whose close-range shot was blocked by goalkeeper Daniele Padelli yet would have rebounded to Medel had it not been for a great robust tackle from Alessandro Gazzi, who denied the Chilean a debut league goal. However, a game that only came to life in short bursts was to end without a winner, though it certainly finished with some controversy that began when, one minute into stoppage time, Vidić and Quagliarella chased a ball in the Inter half that ultimately went out for a goal-kick. As the ball crossed the line, the Italian appeared to push Vidić over but the pair soon shook hands afterwards, yet the ex-Manchester United player could then be seen sarcastically applauding the referee – most likely for not penalising the push, though it is unclear – and was duly sent off. Having not previously been yellow-carded, this was a straight red-card that was quite possibly for the perceived double-offence of both the applause and the doubtlessly critical words he shouted in the referee’s direction. Nevertheless, regardless of how the referee reached his decision, the Serbian is unsurprisingly fuming with how his debut for I Nerazzurri transpired.  

Venezuelans Abroad – 26 Aug 2014 Weekend Round-up (Europe)

Much as this column is attempting to be dedicated to shorter and more timely updates there is not a great deal that can be done to avoid lengthy articles when a near-full programme of fixtures is played in numerous time zones over a weekend. As always, following Hispanospherical on Twitter will give you fresher news on our disparate band of Venezuelans (and much more, including coverage of the Spanish leagues that kicked-off this weekend) but for those who prefer a more extensive article to read, please allow 10-15 minutes to wade through the weekend action from Europe (a second Rest of the World article for the Venezuelans playing elsewhere will soon appear on this page):

Europe

Spain

The Primera and Segunda Divisiones were inaugurated this weekend, with the very first match in the top-flight to be played coming at La Rosaleda with an incident-filled victory for Málaga at home to Athletic Bilbao. While youth-team graduate Juan Pablo Añor will have to wait a little longer to feature in a match-day squad, right-back Roberto Rosales made his competitive debut for Los Boquerones following his summer move from FC Twente. Málaga won a penalty in the 35th minute following an error from the usually dependable Gurpegi, who misjudged the flight of a ball he should have headed away, allowing Roque Santa Cruz to run onto it and then draw a foul from the onrushing goalkeeper, Gorka Iraizoz. Liverpool-loanee Luis Alberto stepped up, shooting slightly left-of-centre which drew a comfortable parry from Iraizoz but only straight back to Alberto who tapped it home to give his side the lead. Both teams continued to attack amidst a lively atmosphere but it was in the last several minutes that the game really commanded the spectators’ attention with a succession of incidents. Firstly, Málaga’s resident hot-head, the veteran Duda, came off the bench in the 70th minute only to be sent off 18 minutes later for ludicrously attempting to blast the ball at Bilbao’s Iker Muniain (who had just been fouled) and then pushing him over in full-sight of the referee. Two minutes later, Vitorino Antunes, left-back and Portuguese compatriot of Duda, cynically hacked down an opposition player who looked to be making a breakthrough in midfield, thus reducing the home side to nine men. Six minutes of stoppage time were played and Málaga as well as every Spanish football fan appears to still be unsure as to how they managed to survive without conceding as Bilbao’s goalkeeper Iraizoz sensationally headed home a magnificent bullet-header from a free-kick and yet, for reasons unknown, saw it chalked off by the referee. Soon after at the death, the Basque side were further incensed when Málaga’s Cameroonian goalkeeper Carlos Kameni – receiving the nod over Mexico’s World Cup hero Guillermo Ochoa – appeared to haul down Aritz Aduriz amidst a frantic goalmouth scramble. Nevertheless, Málaga held on for what was a rather impressive victory, though how they will cope with two suspended players and less fortuitous refereeing decisions remains to be seen. Although Roberto Rosales should gain some satisfaction over the clean sheet his team somehow kept, he was not tested a great deal down his right-hand side, though did sometimes stand off players, thus allowing them to put crosses in. From this game and the friendly matches he has played in, it does seem that while he possesses pace and certainly likes to get forward, he can be rather impulsive and to his side’s detriment when doing so, as his instinctive rapid passes regularly get intercepted and leave his team-mates on the back foot. We will see over the course of the season if this is merely due to a lack of collective cohesiveness in the side as well as a personal combination of hesitancy and eagerness to impress brought about by the professional step-up that he needs to get accustomed to.

Staying in Andalusia but moving over to Los Cármenes, Darwin Machís will have been delighted to have played the full 90 minutes for Granada in their 2-1 win over the returning Deportivo La Coruna. Overall, the Nazaríes put in an impressive performance that will give them hope that the end to their season will not be as tense as it was last year, but due to a goalkeeping error it was they who conceded first. Indeed, Depor’s new signing from Benfica, Ivan Carvaleiro, bustled his way into space on the right side within the area and his shot was embarrassingly fumbled over the line by Stole Dimitrievski. Fans of trivia for trivia’s sake will be posting on message boards left, right and centre upon learning that the last competitive game that these two 20 year-olds played in also saw them on opposite sides as Macedonia faced Portugal in an Under-21 European Championships Qualifier back in May. It is unknown whether Granada’s players were aware that Dimitrievski lost that match 1-0, but in the unlikely case that there are some fatalistic doom-mongers in their ranks, there were not any tinfoil hats on show upon their re-emergence for the second half as they instead composed themselves to reverse the scoreline. The fightback began on 54 minutes when former Blackburn player Rubén Rochina drove through the middle and, aided by the space granted to him by Youssef El-Arabi blocking off a defender, lashed a low worm-murdering firecracker into the bottom left-hand corner. The winner followed just over 20 minutes later when, in a move that replicated an earlier attempt with more success, Fran Rico curled a 45-yard free-kick on the left into the area and, in considerable space back-to-goal, Martinique international Jean-Sylvain Babin flicked a memorable header on his debut over Germán Lux. Machís was a sporadic attacking threat throughout this victory and though he did not manage any clear shots on goal, he should nevertheless feel confident of keeping his place next weekend away to Elche.

Moving on swiftly to the second-tier, relegated Real Valladolid began their promotion push with a 2-1 victory at home to Mallorca, thanks in no small part to two corners by Jeffrén Suárez. The first of these after 24 minutes was back-flicked into his own net by Mallorca’s Pau Cendrós in a manner that most fancy Dans (and Gianfrancos)  would have been proud of. The second was an inswinger after 52 minutes that was headed/shouldered by Roger Marti on to the post and rebounded for Óscar to knock home. Just over ten minutes later, unintentional trickster Cendrós scored at the right end after making a late run in the box to volley home a cross; in response, Suárez was withdrawn to be replaced by defender Johan Mojica in what appeared to be a tactical switch that ultimately just about paid off as Valladolid held on to victory. International goalkeeper Dani Hernández was between the sticks for the home side, though this could well prove to be his last league appearance for the club as earlier this week marked the long-awaited arrival of Sevilla’s Javi Varas.

Elsewhere, Josmar Zambrano came on to play the last 15 minutes of Recreativo Huelva’s eventful 0-0 draw at home to Real Zaragoza which, due to injury setbacks and loan spells, was actually his first appearance for the team despite joining over 18 months ago. Julio Álvarez is still out injured and so missed Numancia struggling to hold on to a lead with ten men and ultimately conceding two late goals in the last seven minutes to lose 2-1 at home to Sporting Gijón.

France

Nantes played at home to last year’s big-spenders Monaco who, before the game, were rooted at the bottom of the table, undergoing a period of transition following the arrival of the Venezuela-born manager Leonardo Jardim and the loss of James Rodríguez as well as attempting to deal with the ongoing instability caused by the daily speculation over the future of the latter’s compatriot, Radamel Falcao. However, the Principality boys recorded their first win at the Stade de la Beaujoire, thanks to a header late in the first half from the Colombian hitman that was actually his side’s first attempt on target in what was, for the majority of the game, a rather drab encounter lacking in clear chances. Oswaldo Vizcarrondo played all of the game and can not be faulted for the space granted to Falcao for his header but his fellow Venezuelan Fernando Aristeguieta was left out, with opening-day sensation Yacine Bammou instead starting up front. Bammou is certainly staking a strong claim to regularly keep Aristeguieta warming the bench and it was he who earned a penalty for Nantes halfway into the first half after drawing a foul from Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subašić. However, Serge Gakpé could not convert as Subašić redeemed himself with a low save to his right that resulted in a bit of goalmouth ping-ball as the ball was rapidly fizzed back-and-forth between the six-yard box and the left byline several times before going out of play. That was Nantes’ first attempt of the game but they did have a few more from open play towards the latter stages of the second half, Bammou again having one of the more notable opportunities with a snatched shot that swerved just wide of the post in the 80th minute. Immediately afterwards he was substituted off for Aristeguieta who, as has been the case so far this season, found himself in the midst of promising attacks without really being on the end of anything, with Kian Hansen providing the closest Nantes chance – a close-range volley from a corner that rattled off the crossbar. Thus it ended 1-0 to the away side, leaving Nantes with a record of one win, one draw and one defeat this season and next up for them will be a home game against Montpellier; Aristeguieta and Vizcarrondo may well learn a thing or two about their opposition from a certain compatriot of theirs.

Indeed, Juan Falcón played all of Metz’s 2-0 away defeat at Montpellier this weekend. The outcome could have been different, however, if his side had managed in the first half to convert their second penalty in as many games. In contrast to the game against Nantes, Kevin Lejeune rather than Yeni N’Gbakoto took the spot-kick – despite both men having been on the field at the same time in both games – and his shot cannoned off the post, coming straight back for him to chest and then strike on the volley but this was well-saved by the goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren. Subsequently, Montpellier’s two goals came from a Siaka Tiéné free-kick at the end of the first half and fellow African Souleymane Camara made sure of the three points by heading home at the end of the second half. Falcón did have one notable half-chance in the second half as a corner was whipped into the box and flicked on just in front of his path; the Venezuelan thrust his body towards the ball but could only make rather tame contact with the top of his thigh and his effort was cleared off the line by Morgan Sanson. Falcón will be hoping to open his account this upcoming weekend against Lyon to help Metz move up the league and out of the relegation zone.

Down a notch in Ligue 2, Grenddy Perozo has many reasons to be walking about town with a spring in his step. Not only was he recently called up to the national side, but his club Ajaccio built on last Monday’s derby victory to record their second win in four days, this time with an impressive 1-0 victory against Tours, thanks to a 73rd-minute goal by former France international Benoit Pedretti. As an indication of how poor Ajaccio were last season when they were relegated from Ligue 1, this result marked the first time since February 2013 that they have won two consecutive games and – perhaps more pleasingly for Perozo – the first time since last August that they have kept two consecutive clean sheets. The Corsican club now sits 5th, level on points with cross-commune rivals Gazélec Ajaccio, who have a marginally superior goal difference. Both sides are 3 points behind Troyes, the side Perozo – or at least some of his team-mates, given that promotion is the team’s primary focus – will be facing today (26 August) in the Coupe de la Ligue.

Portugal

While the young defender Victor García was not in Porto’s squad for their 1-0 away victory against Paços de Ferreira, both of the more established Venezuelans in the Primeira Liga who lost in midweek Europa League action continued their disappointing starts to the season, albeit for rather contrasting reasons. By rights, Yonathan Del Valle should feel elated that his side Rio Ave top the league after two matches but as he has been subbed off in both before any of their seven goals have been scored, he may not entirely share some of his team-mates’ feelings. In fairness, he will be the first to point out that he was most likely substituted at half-time in last week’s 2-0 victory over Vitória Setúbal for tactical reasons to compensate for his side’s man disadvantage and this weekend it was hardly his fault that he picked up an injury after 33 minutes in the 5-1 thrashing away to Estoril. Here, the goals began to fly in five minutes afterwards with the Egyptian Ahmed Hassan Koka going on to equal his tally for the whole of last season by getting a hat-trick; the other two came from Pedro Moreira.

Del Valle’s compatriot Mario Rondón has been getting significantly more game time for Nacional, playing all 90 minutes of their last three competitive games. That these matches have all ended in defeat is more likely to cause unrest than introspection as Rondón has spoken in public more than a few times about his desire to move on from Nacional and join one of Europe’s bigger leagues. His latest outing involved a spell captaining the side as they were defeated 3-1 away to Belenenses (who had Englishman Matthew Jones in goal). As observed in the last column, Rondón looked a little frustrated in last week’s Europa League tie and he did not look much happier in this game, particularly after being adjudged to be offside after 30 minutes, thus ruling out a potential equaliser for his side and then having to watch Belenenses go up the other end two minutes later to make it 2-0. Nacional did pull one back through a Marco Matias penalty but the Angolan Freddy scored a cracking curler that went in on the underside of the crossbar to ensure victory and a 100 per cent record for the home side.

Russia 

Zenit St. Petersburg also maintained their 100 per cent league record with a 2-0 victory against Amkar Perm, with Shatov and Hulk getting the goals early in the first half as the ban on home fans in the Petrovsky Stadium was lifted for the first time this season. Salomón Rondón kept his place in this side, starting over Kerzhakov who replaced him for a mere 11 minutes at the end and it seems more than likely that André Villas-Boas will stick with Rondón for Zenit’s crucial second leg of their Champions League play-off against Standard Liège. Zenit have a 1-0 lead from the away leg and so are favourites to go through but Rondón will be especially keen to get on the scoresheet as he came in for some criticism after the first match for being perceived to be somewhat off the pace, with his first touch consistently letting him down.

Italy

The Coppa Italia Third Round was contested over the weekend, the stage at which sides from Serie A who have not qualified for European football enter. Tomas Rincón made his debut for Genoa as they defeated Serie B’s Virtus Lanciano 1-0 away from home via a goal from new signing, the Chilean World Cup nearly-man Mauricio Pinilla, in a game played at a good tempo that was not short of chances.  Franco Signorelli‘s Empoli comfortably defeated third-tier L’Aquila 3-0 at home, with all three goals coming from veteran striker Francesco Tavano, though the Venezuelan himself was left on the bench. However, Signorelli, like Rincón, will surely feature in his side’s opening match of the league season this weekend and, more pertinently, the pair will actually meet each other in the Fourth Round of the Coppa Italia, though that will not be played until 2 December.

Switzerland

Cup action as well north of the Alps, with Thun defeating plucky third-tier Breitenrain 3-2 away from home as Venezuela’s Alexander González got off the mark for the season with two goals (no jokes about him ‘finding his level’, please…). With the score 0-0 at half-time, Breitenrain really did put up a strong test, taking the lead on two occasions, with both goals being cancelled out by González (his first a cracking volley from a long diagonal ball), who also had a hand in the winner, which was knocked in by Nelson Ferreira. Elsewhere, Pedro Ramírez continued his lacklustre start to his European career as he was subbed off after 45 minutes as his side were trailing 1-0 to fifth tier La Chaux-de-Fonds, a game Sion would eventually turnaround to win 3-1. Finally, Frank Feltscher is still injured so missed Aarau’s 7-1 away thrashing against Taverne.

Germany

Rolf Feltscher made his debut for Duisburg as an 81st-minute substitute away to early high-flyers Chemnitzer in a 0-0 draw, leaving his side 11th in the league with 6 points.

Cyprus

AEL Limassol’s rather multicultural team won 2-0 in their first league game away to NEA Salamis, but both Jonathan España and Jaime Moreno were left on the bench.

England

Finally, Fernando Amorebieta again was not part of the Fulham match-day squad as they lost their fourth league game on the trot. His departure, most likely to Granada, seems imminent.

Mercifully for us all, that concludes the round-up of the weekend’s European action involving Venezuelans but if you have any further questions about events discussed or any players that have been neglected, please leave a comment below and you can be sure to get a relatively swift response!

Part 2: Rest of the World should be posted on this site soon – keep checking back!