Tag Archives: Friendly

Preview for Venezuela’s February 2016 Friendly with Costa Rica

International Friendly 

Tuesday 2 February 2016 – Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas.

Venezuela vs Costa Rica

Trouble Abounds, Though Not In These Surrounds

lettervenezuela

Letter sent via Twitter by 15 leading Venezuelan players (source: numerous Twitter accounts)

On the evening of 30 November 2015, an open letter was simultaneously tweeted by several Twitter accounts that was to put the immediate future of Venezuelan football in serious jeopardy. Signed by 15 of the most senior and high-profile internationals – including Tomás Rincón, Salomón Rondón and Roberto Rosales – and later endorsed by many more in the national set-up, its stated grievances were chiefly with the country’s football association (FVF). The players were incandescent at accusations that they were conspiring to get their manager and his coaching staff the sack; instead, they said, it was their paymasters on high that they would like to see replaced and some new leadership installed. Coming as it did in the week preceding the ruling chavista factions’ biggest electoral setback in their 17 years of power, this digital missive certainly chimed with anti-establishment currents in the air.

However, despite the players’ collective denial, national boss Noel Sanvicente and his off-field team had little reason to feel any more content about the situation. Indeed, the letter did also express disappointment at their silence and seeming lack of support for the players after the charges were first levelled several days prior by FVF President Laureano González. As around the same time the experienced defender Fernando Amorebieta had announced his resignation from the international stage, citing differences with Sanvicente and co. along the way, speculation has been rife that player-coach relations are at their lowest this century. Some voices in the domestic media have suggested that some, if not all, of the signatories will never play under Sanvicente again, while others have hit the nuclear button entirely and called for coaches and FVF directors alike to wash their hands with the current generation and instead plan for Qatar 2022. Regarding this last point, with four consecutive defeats having inaugurated the preliminary road to Russia 2018, making long-term future planning paramount is a pressing concern that certainly pre-dates the letter’s publication.

Nevertheless, in a seeming admission that bridges behind the scenes need to be mended, if not re-built entirely, Sanvicente has been proactive in improving the situation. Firstly, within a day of the original letter, he issued his own lengthy response in which, amongst other things, he offered himself up as a mediator of sorts between players and directors and, crucially, stated that he had no reason to believe that they were plotting to oust him. He also acknowledged that on-field performances need vast improvement and that he accepts ultimate responsbility. Part two of his salvage operation began in early January as he travelled to Europe to meet up with some of the most high-profile players. Little of substance is known about what was said in these discussions but he did also have time to meet and get his photograph taken with the likes of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique. Unintentionally or otherwise, calling upon his contacts in this way may have provided something of a rebuff to critics who have called for this derided provincial, who has never worked outside his homeland, to be replaced with a foreign, and therefore supposedly more tactically sophisticated, manager. Ultimately, observers will probably have to wait until the next World Cup Qualifiers in late March to see if any progress has been made and a full-scale rebellion averted.

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Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente with Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola (Source: @SeleVinotinto)

Dissent Unlikely Here: The Current Squad

Indeed, as though in the meantime a friendly has been arranged, as it falls outside of official FIFA dates and clubs are not obliged to released their players, none of the 15 signatories feature in the crop to face Costa Rica in Barinas. Thus, rather than having to negotiate his way through cagey training sessions with wary, politicking professionals, Sanvicente’s squad is instead largely stocked with eager-to-impress domestic players (plus a couple of youngsters from abroad).  A fine opportunity for these upstarts to bolster the claims of those who want ridding of the supposedly traitorous seniors, some might say. However, this must be tempered by the fact that numerous Venezuelans who exhibit the faintest glimmer of future star potential are now snapped up by overseas clubs every single year. Indeed, eight of the home-based players called up for last year’s friendy double-header with Honduras have since moved abroad. These include the likes of Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Huachipato, Chile) and Manuel Arteaga (Palermo, Italy) – precisely the kind of individuals who are in a strong position to become regulars in the upcoming years. This is without mentioning goalkeeper Alain Baroja (then at Caracas FC, now in Greece with AEK Athens), who made his debut in the first of these games and is now his nation’s number-one choice. At last count, several dozen players who have received international call-ups already ply their trade abroad, many of whom are barely in their twenties, so the current products of the nation’s ransacked domestic game are not necessarily the first people to look at when envisaging a brave new era.

Consequently, in the current squad there are a fair few journeymen, nearly men and youngsters for whom this call-up will probably count as a career highlight. Furthermore, Sanvicente can not call upon any players from Caracas FC – easily the country’s leading exporter of talent – as their players are set to play the first leg of a crucial Copa Libertadores playoff tie. Nevertheless, promise can still be found amidst their ranks.

20-year-old midfielder Carlos Cermeño has now had a couple of years of regular action for 2014/15 champions Deportivo Táchira and some anticipate that he will eventually bring some more composure and support for both defence and attack. Perhaps more exciting to the average spectator is attacker Yeferson Soteldo, who made his professional debut at 16 and really burst to prominence in 2015, scoring 12 goals in 21 games of Zamora’s Torneo Adecuación championship-winning season (this was a short transitional tournament to pave the way for a restructured domestic league). Still only 18, this fleet-footed, persistent finisher has already scored in 2016’s opening domestic fixture and has recently received recognition in British magazine Four Four Two. Arguably possessing the most potential of the lot – and who has, unsurprisingly, already been prised away from Venezuela – is 19-year-old striker Andrés Ponce. Having first excited preying eyes when netting seven goals at 2013’s South American Under-17s Championship (where his nation only narrowly finished second to Argentina on goal difference), he is now causing excitement in Italy. Indeed, possessing attributes not entirely dissimilar to those of one Salomón Rondón, his 16 goals in 2015/16 mean he is currently top-scorer in Italy’s Torneo Primavera, the country’s top youth division.

A Respite From Reality?

The plucky faithful of Estadio Agustín Tovar, home of Zamora, will be keen to see both Ponce and their very own Soteldo mark their international bows with goals, though the reception they reserve for their ex-manager may be of greatest interest. Indeed, Sanvicente led them to two consecutive championships between 2012 and 2014 and received a hero’s welcome – banners et al – this time last year for the second friendly against Honduras. Based on online opinion polls taken back in November, a substantial majority of Venezuelans think Sanvicente should go, but fans of his former clubs (particularly Caracas FC) have been amongst the most keen to defend him. Who knows, in the short run this friendly of seemingly spurious consequence may give him a much-needed morale boost and go some way to building bridges with fans, if not the players he will most likely be calling upon next month against Peru and Chile.

In the long run however, particularly with regard to on-field matters, coercing the domestic public – let alone neutral observers – into perceiving some significance in this encounter is a challenge that even most television subscription services would struggle to rise to. Facing a Costa Rica side also devoid of familiar names, this is not adequate preparation towards salvaging some pride in the World Cup qualifying campaign. Sanvicente – once again thwarted by the resources and, perhaps, the organisation of the FVF – would have preferred two friendlies like last year, but has had to settle with the one. Although a second clash with Los Ticos has provisionally been agreed, this will not take place until May (or not at all, if the two sides draw each other at the Copa América Centenario). Even so, two games with players drawn mainly from the depleted national league would surely have done little more than made several extra players aware of his methods – methods which, with each setback, lose the considerable clout they once possessed.

Ultimately, everyone, not least Sanvicente, knows the real work recommences in March. For now, the orders of the day are public relations, running the rule over some prospects and raising spirits – internally, if not externally.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers: José David Contreras (Deportivo Táchira) and Luis Rojas (Deportivo La Guaira).

Defenders: Daniel Benítez (Deportivo La Guaira), Diego Melean (Zulia FC), Edwin Peraza (Zamora FC), Jhon Chancellor (Mineros de Guayana), Ángel Faría (Zamora), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño), Óscar González (Deportivo La Guaira) and Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira).

Midfielders: Carlos Cermeño (Dvo Táchira), Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Luis González (Mineros de Guayana), Angelo Peña (Mineros de Guayana), Carlos Suárez (Carabobo FC), Javier García (Deportivo La Guaira), Arles Flores (Zamora FC), Johan Moreno (Zamora FC) and Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora FC).

Forwards: Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana), Andrés Ponce (Sampdoria) and Jesús Lugo (Aragua FC).

*Note: All teams for players correct at time of the squad’s announcement.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

International Friendly

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

Jamaica 2-1 Venezuela

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

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

Familiar Failings as Venezuelan Hope is Docked at the Bay

Team Selections

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

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

Match Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-1 Honduras – International Friendly (11 February 2015) & Assessment

Wednesday 11 February 2015 

International Friendly

Venezuela 2-1 Honduras

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas 

Match Highlights of Venezuela 2-1 Honduras (YouTube channel: Deportes Hn)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Baroja; Carabalí, Fuenmayor (Vargas, 46′), Sánchez, Cichero; Lucena (c), Figuera (Acosta, 58′); Gómez (Murillo, 56′), Farías (Arteaga, 64′), Lugo (L. González, 46′); Blanco (Ocanto, 82′).

Honduras (4-3-3): Valladares; Crisanto, Figueroa, Leverón, Sánchez (Palacios, 69′); Peralta (Delgado, 76′), Claros, Martínez (Cardona, 82′); Quioto (Discua, 62′), Lozano (Tejeda, 75′), Castillo (Acosta, 36′).

Match Report

Following last week’s 3-2 away victory, Venezuela picked up their second consecutive win against Honduras in the two nations’ friendly double-header, with local debutant Jhon Murillo ensuring that his former club manager Noel Sanvicente enjoyed a triumphant return to his erstwhile stomping ground.

The Estadio Agustín Tovar, built in anticipation of Venezuela’s hosting of Copa América 2007, is the home of Zamora FC, the current leaders of the Torneo Clausura and the reigning two-time champions of Venezuela. Before taking the national job last July, it was Sanvicente who managed this club to these two titles – the only two in their modest history – and appropriately, in what was La Vinotinto‘s first home game under his guidance, he received a hero’s welcome upon his return.

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Banner Tribute to Noel Sanvicente, expressing the fans’ support and belief that he will fulfil the nation’s dreams by qualifying for the 2018 World Cup (Image: Bet365 match feed).

The game itself was contested by home-based players plus one MLS-based Honduran who lasted little more than half an hour – more on this later. Whereas Jorge Luis Pinto, mastermind behind Costa Rica’s World Cup run, opted to experiment with his new squad by making seven changes from last week’s encounter, Sanvicente only made one alteration – one which was forced upon him. Indeed, Rómulo Otero – the pivotal figure who played a crucial role in all three of Venezuela’s goals – was injured in club action for Caracas FC at the weekend and was replaced in the line-up by club colleague, Edder FaríasThat the majority of the Venezuelan players were also in domestic action at the same time as Otero was a factor that their Honduran counterparts did not have to contend with and may have had some effect on this game’s dynamics (or lack, thereof). The play was, for the most part, sluggish and devoid of any sustained rhythm or fluidity, something that the players’ relative unfamiliarity with one another was no doubt also partly responsible for.

However, the opening exchanges were rather lively, with Farías driving a loose ball at Honduras’ returning World Cup goalkeeper, Noel Valladares, and within 17 minutes the two sides were level. The visitors looked to be relishing their role as potential homecoming saboteurs when, with 9 minutes on the clock, Rubilio Castillo’s decent low long-range effort was parried by Alain Baroja, only to be rapidly chipped back into the area from the left by Romell Quioto for Anthony Lozano to powerfully head in.

The hosts responded 8 minutes later from a free-kick just outside the right edge of the area. Argenis Gómez – who played a role in two of the goals in last week’s encounter – swung in a fine left-footed ball that was met by left-back Gabriel Cichero, whose header into the goalmouth found the trailing left leg of captain Franklin Lucena. Though Jorge Claros managed to hook it away, the linesman flagged that it had already crossed the line – parity had been restored.

One recurring theme of the first game between this pair was the high number of petulant fouls committed, a feature that was to recur to a slightly lesser extent in the subsequent phase of play. Within no more than two minutes of play, both Honduras’ Castillo and Venezuela’s Juan Fuenmayor were booked for offences on each other, though the likelihood of their tussles resulting in a red card or two was abruptly averted when Castillo went off injured after 36 minutes.

Before the match reached this point, however, two notable incidents had occurred. Firstly, after 22 minutes, from the free-kick conceded by Fuenmayor on Castillo, Mario Martínez  lined up a free-kick from the right flank 35 yards out. Struck with his left peg, his curled ball was met on the volley by Lozano’s outstretched right boot and his effort caused a few jitters but went narrowly wide into the side-netting. However, any Honduran hopes of regaining the lead were dealt a blow by the second incident worthy of comment in this period: Jorge Claros, arguably the most high-profile player in this line-up owing to his performances with Sporting Kansas City, receiving his marching orders for a wild high-foot challenge in midfield, some 5-6 feet off the ground.

Yet with ten men, the visitors certainly did not crumble and were to have at least a few more chances worthy of comment in the game, the closest one coming on 37 minutes, just several minutes after the dismissal. An exquisite left-footed diagonal ball by Martínez on the turn from the half-way line was taken adeptly in the stride of Quioto who, from inside the area on the left lashed a low shot that was to come off the inside of the post and agonisingly trickle back across the goalmouth. Whether or not Baroja got any of his left glove on this is open to debate, though if he did, as the margins involved here were so thin, this contact surely stopped the ball from crossing the line.

Though this reminded Sanvicente of the threat Honduras could pose even with the numerical disadvantage, he opted to make some attack-minded substitutes at the break. Off came centre-back Fuenmayor and attacking midfielder Jesús Lugo to be replaced by Luis Vargas, who appeared to operate in a deep-lying playmaker role, and debutant Luis ‘Cariaco’ González, who was largely to be found in advanced positions on the left.

The second half, perhaps partly due to it consisting of one side with many players who were contesting their third game in eight days up against a team trying to compensate for being a man down, was rather short on chances. However, when the first of note came after 57 minutes, it resulted in the winning goal. This was scored by Venezuela’s third substitute, local hot prospect – and hot-head – Jhon Murillo, a remarkable 37 seconds after arriving on the pitch. The Zamora winger as well as the unused José Marrufo were both not in the original squad but were called up on the strength of their performances at the recent South American Youth Championship.

He replaced Gómez on the field and was soon found on the right side of the area by the long searching ball of club team-mate Vargas. Murillo won an aerial duel to guide the ball into the area, where defender Johnny Leverón – back home after a season with Vancouver Whitecaps – horribly miscued an attempted clearance. Under no real pressure around his own six-yard box, he acrobatically hit the ball over goalkeeper Valladares – who had come out to claim it – and Murillo, with predatory anticipation, burst forward to chest the descending ball in from little more than a yard out – a dream debut for the substitute. It was certainly not a bad moment for Sanvicente either, with the move beginning with one former charge of his at club level and then finished off by another in what is their present, and his former, home ground – an ideal winning scenario.

In the rest of the half, after Cichero, González and Vargas all hit shots either wide or over from rather optimistic positions, Venezuela had their only other concrete chance. This came from another substitute, Manuel Arteaga, who capitalised on a poor midfield pass to rob a defender but then, from the edge of the area, shot far too close to Valladares.

Up the other end, the visitors mildly threatened first with a cross that was well-headed away for a corner and then a subsequent effort from outside the area that went comfortably wide. Their best chance, however, came with what proved to be the last kicks of the game, as Bryan Acosta’s free-kick was flicked on by Ángel Tejeda, which Baroja did well to see at a late stage and dive down low to parry out to the left.

Not long after, the whistle sounded and Noel Sanvicente had attained his second consecutive victory over his Central American opponents – also the second win of his reign, following defeats in his opening four games.

A Worthwhile Pair of Games?

Quite what the coach will draw from both games is difficult to ascertain as the constitution of the teams bore very little – if any – resemblance to the sides he is likely to select when Venezuela play competitive fixtures and the full overseas contingent is called up.

Left-back Gabriel Cichero is the only player likely to retain his place in future line-ups and he will be pleased to have had little to trouble him on his side of the pitch, as well as notching an assist.

Defensive-midfielder Franklin Lucena will surely have been buoyed at starting, being named as captain for both games and scoring a goal – he is surely now back ahead of Rafael Acosta and Édgar Jiménez (the latter of whom was not in the squad) in the pecking order. However, he is unlikely to receive a first-team place ahead of the supposed preferred pairing of converted right-back Roberto Rosales and official captain Tomás Rincón. Furthermore, with his 34th birthday coming up within a week, it remains to be seen how much of an international future the Deportivo La Guaira man has.

Alain Baroja, though he is very unlikely to replace Tenerife’s Dani Hernández as number one goalkeeper, will nevertheless be delighted to have played both games and surely consolidate his position as second-choice ahead of Rafael Romo. Regarding the defence as a whole, though their performance certainly improved and was more assured, that they still failed to provide Sanvicente with his first clean sheet will be a lingering concern.

Further upfield, both Argenis Gómez and, to a greater extentRómulo Otero did much to enhance their claims for a regular squad place. Though the attacking midfield slots are the most competitive positions at present, Otero’s absence from the second game arguably only helps to preserve the perception of his star performance in the first game and bolster his personal cause.

Finally, in the forward positions, though both Edder Farías and Richard Blanco scored in the first game, to see either in a future squad for a competitive game would be a surprise. Not only are there plenty of overseas-based rivals in this area but there is also competition from the top-scoring home-based Venezuelan who was unable to join this squad as he was busy enhancing the domestic league’s reputation in sensational fashion.

Indeed, immediately after the second national game had ended, Gelmin Rivas fired Deportivo Táchira through to the Copa Libertadores group stage, getting both goals away to Paraguayan giants Cerro Porteño as his side’s 2-2 draw ensured a 4-3 aggregate victory. To have three sides involved in this phase of the continent’s premier competition is very rare and this, along with the two national victories, marked a much-needed morale-booster for Venezuelan football.

It will be curious to see whether Rivas can maintain his form and earn what would be a somewhat unanticipated call-up to the senior side for their two friendlies in late March against Peru and an as-yet-unconfirmed opponent. These two games are currently the last scheduled chances to alter Sanvicente’s plans ahead of Copa América, so whoever ends up in the squad will be best-advised to make the most of their opportunity. With the coach having always been at least a few key players short in his squads up until this point, those that do receive a call-up will be acutely aware that there are certainly some places still yet to be determined.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical 

Honduras 2-3 Venezuela – International Friendly (4 February 2015)

Wednesday 4 February 2015

International Friendly

Honduras 2-3 Venezuela 

Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula

Match Highlights of Honduras 2-3 Venezuela (YouTube channel: Futbol Hondureño)

Team Selections

Honduras (4-4-2): Escober; Peralta (Crisanto, 61′), Montes, Velásquez, Palacios; García (Quioto, 73′), Garrido (Acosta, 66′), Méndez (Claros, 46′), Martínez; Castillo (Tejeda, 61′), Lozano.

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Baroja; Carabalí, Fuenmayor, Sánchez, Cichero; Lucena (c), Figuera; Gómez (Farías, 66′), Otero, Lugo (Acosta, 66′); Blanco (Vargas, 89′).

Match Report

At the fifth attempt, Noel Sanvicente achieved his first victory since taking charge of La Vinotinto – and the nation’s first since September 2013 – as Rómulo Otero enhanced his claims for a regular place by playing a prominent role in all three goals.

Though this game, the first in a double-header between the two nations, was contested by sides consisting of home-based players (plus three MLS-dwellers in the case of Honduras), it was nevertheless a much-needed morale-booster for Venezuela.

Sanvicente’s opposite number here was Jorge Luis Pinto, taking control of his first Los Catrachos match, having had some time to recharge his batteries following his exceptional World Cup quarter-final run with Costa Rica. With his considerable experience in both Central and South America, he no doubt was unsurprised to witness a first half in which his new charges, as well as their opponents, committed fouls at a rate of nearly one per minute. As the nature of these offences could rarely be defined as anything more than petulant or calculated, only four players ended up in the book.

Something that was also anticipated before kick-off that came into being was the inability of the relatively unacquainted players on both sides to build effective moves and engage in interplay for any sustained period of time. Nevertheless, Honduras saw more of the ball in the opening stages, often looking to attack down the right flank, but their crosses were either blocked or effectively dealt with in the centre.

When Venezuela scored in the 21st minute, it came very much against the run of play and was the visitors’ first shot on goal. Indeed, though La Vinotinto were to struggle throughout the game with any build-up play that involved lengthy possession, on three separate occasions they made rapid use of the ball in the final third to create goals out of nothing.

The first of these came from a move that began from a loose ball just outside the right edge of the Honduran area, where right-back Francisco Carabalí nudged the ball to Argenis Gómez. The sole representative of Apertura champions Trujillanos caught the defenders off-guard by swiftly playing an incisive ball into the area to Rómulo Otero who immediately passed it across the goalmouth for Richard Blanco to tap in. Quite what an international future the 33-year-old striker has beyond these two matches is unclear, but this will no doubt go down as a memorable goal for him and he will be hoping to enjoy similar moments in the upcoming Copa Libertadores group stage with Mineros de Guayana.

As an attacking threat, Venezuela were not to be greatly feared for the remainder of the half as instead the majority of the play consisted of the hosts’ quest for an equaliser. However, with the exception of a well-struck free-kick being deflected a couple of yards over and a soft shot in a promising position from Román Castillo, Honduras did not really threaten their opponents’ goal. Instead, aside from debutant goalkeeper Alain Baroja’s rather hasty advancements off his line to thwart attacks – which on one occasion saw him drop the ball that consequently trickled goalwards – the Venezuelan defence looked rather assured dealing with the attacks down the flanks and the crosses that drifted into the area.

Soon after the second half got underway, Honduras registered another shot on target, as Olimpia striker Anthony Lozano – who, in 2013, earned some online notoriety for this glaring miss at club level – received a low cross and got away a decent effort that was nevertheless comfortably, if acrobatically, caught by Baroja. However, barely a minute afterwards, the visitors were to provide the second sucker punch. This time it began with a Gabriel Cichero throw-in on the left, which bounced through to Gómez who passed it to Otero on the edge of the area who, with two deft touches and a turn, played it back to his onrushing team-mate. From inside the area, Gómez collected it and slid it over to Arquímedes Figuera to gently chip in for his first international goal.

In response, Honduras continued their fruitless quest for a goal, but though they sometimes advanced into good positions, their crosses were again either blocked or not met with enough intent/direction and their shots were of little concern to Baroja. In this period, the Caracas FC goalkeeper again only really encountered trouble from his own, seemingly nervy, desire to impress, as evidenced when he mishandled a comfortable catch from a header.

In the 76th minute, Venezuela were to deliver to the hosts what, at that point, was surely almost an anticipated blow. Otero’s role was again crucial as the 22-year-old starlet – a club team-mate of Baroja’s – picked up the ball on the inside-right, beat a man, then got the better of another inside the area, before playing the ball into the six-yard box. Here, another Caracas colleague – substitute Edder Farías – scored a cheeky effort sideways-to-goal with his trailing right foot to put the result beyond doubt.

Or at least that is how it seemed until a nervy climax emerged following two home goals, the first of which was as fortituous as it was an instinctive finish. It came on 80 minutes as a corner by Mario Martínez – formerly of the Seattle Sounders – was headed out only to be hit straight back into a crowded area for Anthony Lozano to divert past Baroja. The second came in the final minute of regulation time as Martínez swung in another corner from the opposite side that bounced through the crowd and was knocked in by incoming 2014 World Cup squad member, Juan Montes. The error that always seemed a possibility for Baroja had occurred as he was caught in no man’s land when the cross he came out to claim evaded him, though the failure of any of the outfield players to pick up the run of Montes must also be highlighted.

Despite these late lapses, Venezuela’s saw out the four additional minutes to attain their first victory of the Sanvicente era. ‘Chita’ can be proud of the improved defensive performance, with Carabalí, and especially his fellow often-maligned full-back Cichero, doing well to thwart many of the attempted crosses. Those that did make it into the area were largely dealt with effectively by Andrés Sánchez and the 35-year-old Juan Fuenmayor, neither of whom shirked from the frequent pressure they were put under.

Further upfield, though La Vinotinto were unable to put together many forward passes, engage in much possession play or even create a great deal of chances within the final third, the three that mattered were executed swiftly and clinically. Rómulo Otero, with two assists and a pivotal role on the other goal, has to be the man of the match and though the constitution of the side means that even a star performance like this can not guarantee a spot for him in future squads, it will nevertheless be of great benefit to his personal cause.

Before the game kicked off, gaining at least one victory from these two games seemed a necessity for Sanvicente in order to keep some of his impatient critics at bay. Having already achieved this away from home, expectations have increased and a solid win in his former stomping ground of Estadio Agustín Tovar – home of the reigning champions Zamora FC, whom he led to two successive titles – now seems the order of the day. Whether this has any bearing on his undoubted desire to use this rare opportunity to experiment ahead of the 2015 Copa América will remain unclear until the game kicks off next Wednesday.

Darren Spherical 

@DarrenSpherical

Preview for Venezuela’s February 2015 Friendly Double-Header with Honduras

Friendly International Double-Header

4 February 2015

Honduras vs Venezuela

Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula 

11 February 2015 

Venezuela vs Honduras

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas 

Less Prestigious Than Friendlies?

This international double-header between two nations represented by players from their respective domestic leagues (plus three MLS stars, in the case of Honduras) would be more accurately defined as a pair of ‘B’ internationals. Indeed, approximately three-quarters of a typical, fully fit Venezuela squad tends to consist of players based overseas. Even from the pool of home players, coach Noel Sanvicente has been partially thwarted in his attempt to watch the best local talent at close-quarters as the dates of these two matches coincide with Deportivo Táchira’s two Copa Libertadores play-off games against Paraguayan giants Cerro Porteño. From the side from San Cristóbal, he would have likely called up young centre-back Wilker Ángel (who scored on his debut against Bolivia in November), jinking midfielder Yohandry Orozco (who also featured against El Verde), as well as Gelmin Rivas (the highest scoring Venezuelan in the domestic league). Consequently, as these games are going to be contested by players who are largely unlikely to even feature again on the same field together for their country, it is a struggle, at least from tactical and team-building perspectives, to justify their arrangement.

The Managers:

Any Preparation Time is Invaluable

It may well prove that what the respective managers gain from proceedings will not be readily discernible to the majority of spectactors, as this may consist of learning who they feel they can trust, who are most receptive to their ideas and/or who shows the most potential in training.

For Honduras, these will be the first two games under the stewardship of Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto, last seen in the dugout by a mass audience guiding Costa Rica to a remarkable Quarter-Final finish in the 2014 World Cup. It remains to be seen whether he opts for the defence-minded counter-attacking approach that he utilised with Los Ticos when leading this particular Central American nation who generated some headlines of their own in Brazil – though largely for their rather physical play on and off the ball. With both squads mostly containing home-based players he does, arguably, have an advantage over his opposite number as he possesses some first-hand insights into Venezuelan football. Indeed, for almost a year and a half prior to taking the Costa Rica job, he was the coach of Deportivo Táchira and ended his reign with great success by winning the 2010-11 championship. Thus, as neither nation has called upon any of their emerging prospects from their U20 contingents – both of which having been recently preoccupied with their respective regional tournaments – he should have some familiarity with the majority of the Venezuelan side.

That is not to say his counterpart Sanvicente is completely in the dark regarding his opponents, as eight of the World Cup squad remain, including the MLS trio of Luis Garrido, Jorge Claros and Óscar Boniek García. Although attaining positive results may not be the primary purpose of such games, he will, however, surely be looking to gain at least one victory from the double-header. The man they call ‘Chita’ may have received much goodwill upon taking the job in July but, even though he has encountered some bad luck with injuries, having lost all four of the games he has overseen* he has certainly not been without criticism. A win then, irrespective of the personnel and methods used to achieve it, would give him some breathing space and surely boost morale amongst both the playing and coaching staff.

Venezuela’s Players

A Rare Opportunity for the Majority

In all, Venezuela have officially lost their last five games, with the first in this dismal sequence coming last March against Honduras in the same ground the first game will be played this time around. From this 2-1 defeat that featured many squad regulars, only Rómulo Otero – who started and scored a fine free-kick – and Arquímedes Figuera – who came on for little more than five minutes –  have been selected in the current crop.

Thus, it seems that Venezuela’s players, at least, will be very unfamiliar with their Honduran counterparts (and, depending on how much insight Pinto can impart, vice versa), not to mention somewhat unacquainted with one another. Indeed, this 20-man, largely makeshift, squad has been chosen from 10 different teams and the majority of these players have only really been together for a three-day series of training modules (from 19-21 January). Unless several players have an abnormal telepathic understanding, one thing that should not be expected from the Venezuelan players is free-flowing passing movements and creativity.

Nevertheless, while in this squad there are players who have little hope of a call-up to June’s Copa América squad and others who are frankly making up the numbers, approximately one-third have been previously selected at some point in the Sanvicente era. The majority of these are not regular starters but will most probably find themselves in the line-up next to players who they are unlikely to ever begin a competitive international with. Though their interplay and partnerships with most of their team-mates will not be utilised in future matches, they will nevertheless be under scrutiny with regards to their performances and how faithfully they carry out the coach’s instructions.

Thus, with all these caveats out of the way, what follows is a brief look at some aspects of La Vinotinto‘s side to look out for in these two games:

What to Look out for in the Venezuelan Side

How the Goalkeepers Perform

With Rafael Romo and Alain Baroja in the squad, both will likely feature at some point and, quite probably, receive 90 minutes each. With number one choice Dani Hernández having recently moved from the Real Valladolid substitutes’ bench to the Tenerife first team, seemingly only a severe loss of form on his part could see either of these men take his place between the sticks on a regular basis. However, it is not entirely clear who is the favoured stand-in, as neither have played in this new era. Although Romo – unlike Baroja – received a call-up to the last squad in November, he has been known to make the odd glaring error (as most recently witnessed at the weekend for his club side, Mineros de Guayana). His rival from Caracas FC perhaps benefits from playing for a more in-form club though he has himself made some impressive saves lately, yet in terms of goals conceded this season, there is little to separate the two men. The argument is unlikely to be settled by these two games, though they may go some way to suppressing it for the foreseeable future.

How the Defence Copes

This consideration may well be included in every Venezuela preview until at least when the upcoming World Cup Qualifying campaign ends. While Romo and/or Baroja will do well to avoid making any of the handling and positioning errors of Hernández, it is more the back four and the defensive-midfield partnerships that have been at fault in recent matches.

In Sanvicente’s four games as manager, his side have conceded 13 goals (*14 officially – see footnote), being frequently bypassed with ease in midfield and slow, not to mention disorganised, when dealing with through-balls and crosses. Left-back Gabriel Cichero – who is the only player in this squad to have faced Costa Rica under Pinto in a 2-0 loss back in December 2011 – has the unfortunate distinction of having started all of these games. He was not alone in his errors, but many fans did reserve for him their sternest opprobrium. Yet Sanvicente may well find his experience and know-how at this level invaluable, as he will likely be lining up with three other defenders who have little chance of playing much competitive international football. One possible defensive colleague, Juan Fuenmayor, who can operate at either left-back or in central defence, may have a couple-dozen caps to his name but the last of these came as a last-minute substitute four years ago and, more to the point, at 35 years old, age is not on his side. Cichero’s organisational and leadership capacities may be especially required when, as is likely, he finds himself in a back-line with Francisco CarabalíAndrés Sánchez and/or Jhon Chancellor who, between them, have a mixture of little and no senior international experience.

In front of the back four, when everyone is fit and available, Sanvicente appears to favour a defensive-midfield partnership of converted Málaga right-back, Roberto Rosales, and new captain, Tomás Rincón of Genoa. Although he has only ever been able to field this pairing once, when both men are available, the players in the current set-up have no chance of dislodging them. Indeed, when two players from the domestic league – Édgar Jiménez and Rafael Acosta – began the 5-0 thrashing meted out by Chile in November, both were hopelessly and repeatedly left for dead, unable to cope with the pace and movement of players from vastly superior leagues. Acosta also started but was to fare little better in the subsequent 3-2 defeat by Bolivia and so it was readily apparent, if it was not already, that the players who are used to competing in Europe’s top leagues were far better suited to these positions. Nevertheless, Acosta survives to live another day and is in this squad, though rather than looking to push for a regular first-team place, he should be more concerned with preserving his status as a fringe player in the squad. Franklin Lucena, who came on as a substitute for Acosta against Chile and replaced Jiménez in the line-up for the Bolivia game, would appear to be his most likely competitor from this pool of players to be first-choice stand-by, though again, turning 34 later this month, he does not appear to have much of a long-term future.

Rómulo Otero’s Role as an Attacking Threat

In the Sanvicente era, a recurring theme has been the inability of the attacking players to effectively and consistently link up and create chances. While this may be partly explained away by the changes in personnel that have occurred from game-to-game in these positions, it is nevertheless a concern. From their overseas contingent, Venezuela do not lack players of considerable talent who can play in the line behind the forward(s), with talents at their disposal including Luis Manuel Seijas, Juan Arango, Alejandro Guerra, rising star Juanpi and even, if required, Mario Rondón (who has been more accustomed to playing further forward). Thus again, the players in the current squad have quite a job on their hands with regards to attempting to gain a first-team place, though if anyone can do it, Rómulo Otero is surely the man. The Caracas FC starlet made substitute appearances against Chile and Bolivia, impressively assisting Alexander González’s goal against the latter with a swiftly executed lofted diagonal ball. With teams from abroad interested in him for some time now, and at the age of just 22 being the most internationally experienced attacking midfielder in this particular side, there should be some onus on him to impose himself in the games and be the catalyst going forward.

Elsewhere in this area, it will be interesting to see what Luis Vargas can offer, having played a key role in Zamora FC’s resurgence in form and subsequent ascent to the top of the Torneo Clausura.

How the Forwards Fare

At the very top of the field, not one of the forwards called up in previous match squads has come from the domestic league and the highest-scoring Venezuelan at home – Gelmin Rivas – is not even available for this clash. So what hope do this crop have of even being in with a chance of a place in a future squad for a competitive match?

Some focus will be on Jesús Lugo, a one-club man of only 23, who has been impressive creating and scoring chances in Aragua FC’s ascent to the outskirts of the title race and has U20 international experience. Despite being classified as a forward, he does tend to play a deeper role, offering support for the main goalscorer(s) and often finding himself in more of an attacking midfield position – an already highly competitive area in the selección, as noted.

When it comes to more traditional goal-getters, though Caracas FC’s Edder Farías has a respectable scoring record, he will turn 27 in the spring and yet has less than ten caps to his name. More long-term potential may come from taking a chance on Manuel Arteaga, a 20-year-old who has already scored twice in the Clausura for his new club Zulia FC, demonstrating strong composure when presented with one-on-one opportunities. He has previously had trials with Liverpool and Fiorentina, as well as a non-playing stint with Parma, so if his good form continues at club level, he may well earn a move abroad and find himself more in contention for future call-ups.

Ultimately, with the likes of Salomón Rondón, Mario Rondón, Josef Martínez, Miku and Juan Falcón all playing in strong European leagues, it will not be easy for any domestic forwards to find a spot in the first-choice squad, an issue faced by most players in this crop, irrespective of position. With so many reserves (and reserves to the reserves) on display, it is undeniable that these two meetings have the feel of being of less significance than even regular friendly games are generaly perceived. Nevertheless, as the games were hastily arranged at short-notice to give the managers some much-needed preparation time ahead of their respective continent-wide tournaments in June/July, it can be safely assumed that Sanvicente and Pinto view them as far from pointless.

20-man Venezuela Squad for the double-header against Honduras

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Caracas FC)

Rafael Romo (Mineros de Guayana)

Defenders

Francisco Carabalí (Caracas FC)

Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo Lara)

Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana)

Juan Fuenmayor (Deportivo Anzoátegui)

Andrés Sánchez (Caracas FC)

Midfielders

Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana)

Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira)

Argenis Gómez (Trujillanos FC)

Luis González (Deportivo La Guaira)

Óscar González (Deportivo La Guaira)

Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira)

Rómulo Otero (Caracas FC)

Luis Vargas (Zamora FC)

Forwards 

Manuel Arteaga (Zulia FC)

Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana)

Edder Farías (Caracas FC)

Jesús Lugo (Aragua FC)

Aquiles Ocanto (Carabobo FC)

*Venezuela’s match with Japan on 9 September 2014 ended 2-2 on the day but was later awarded as a 3-0 victory to Japan. Read more about it here.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical