Tag Archives: Gelmin Rivas

Venezuela – Copa América 2015 Player Profiles

What follows is a detailed guide to all 23 players in Venezuela’s 2015 Copa América squad, their manager Noel Sanvicente and how he is likely to set up his team. This is intended both as a reference guide if any of the players catch the eye of viewers during the tournament and also as a complementary article to the main team preview. As the other piece provides context for much of what follows below, including details on how the team’s warm-up games have gone over the past year, it is recommended that readers first have a browse of that before delving into this one.

Copa América 2015 Profiles of All 23 Venezuela Squad Players & the Coach

Possible opening day line-up (1)

vencolpossibleteam

Possible line-up for Venezuela’s opening Copa América game against Colombia on Sunday 14 June 2015 (Reported on 8 June 2015; Image courtesy of @MisterVinotinto).

Please note: this starting XI is not confirmed and is based on media reports of how the side has been lining up in training in the week or so before the start of the tournament. While it may not be entirely accurate in terms of personnel and/or positioning, it does nevertheless serve as a useful way to help structure the information below. Although many individuals are capable of playing in more than one role, the profiles have largely been organised according to where the players appear to be most likely to play. Hispanospherical.com has enormous, possibly misplaced, faith in the abilities of its readers to engage their brains when confronted with information that comes to conflict with how reality pans out.

Possible opening day line-up (2) – UPDATE: Official line-up vs Colombia

venezuelanewlineup

Another possible line-up for Venezuela’s opening Copa América game against Colombia on Sunday 14 June 2015 (Reported on 13 June 2015; Image courtesy of @MisterVinotinto).

Update (13 June 2015): According to the slightly altered line-up above, which is based on new reports from the training ground on the eve of the opening game, there may be two personnel changes to the XI initially observed. These are noted in updates in the sections on the three positions affected: Goalkeepers, Deep-Lying Playmakers and Left-sided Attacking Midfielders. Further updates will appear here as the line-ups for each game are announced. Update (14 June 2015): This is the official line-up vs Colombia, albeit with Guerra and Arango switching positions.

Venezuela’s Friendly Results in the Sanvicente Era 

As noted, the team preview article contains details on the side’s preparations coming into this tournament and, consequently, what their likely aims will be. While it is highly recommended readers at least have a browse at how La Vinotinto have fared in warm-up games since new boss Noel Sanvicente took over in July 2014, a brief listing of their results nevertheless follows below (click on the links if you wish to read match reports and/or watch video highlights).

September 2014

South Korea 3-1 Venezuela

Japan 3-0 Venezuela

(Note: this match actually finished 2-2 but due to the fielding of an ineligible player, FIFA later credited this as a 3-0 Japan win by forfeit. See here for details)

November 2014

Chile 5-0 Venezuela

Bolivia 3-2 Venezuela

February 2015

Honduras 2-3 Venezuela

Venezuela 2-1 Honduras

(Note: only home-based players from Venezuela were called up for this double-header)

March 2015

Jamaica 2-1 Venezuela

Peru 0-1 Venezuela

(Note: the Peru game was played in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA)

The Manager

sanvicentearticlepic

Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente (Image courtesy of Foto Prensa FVF)

A former Venezuelan international in his playing days and a seven-time championship winner in his homeland as a manager, 50-year-old Noel ‘Chita’ Sanvicente was a popular choice upon his appointment in July 2014. His achievements were – and still are – very much fresh in the minds of all domestic football followers, having at the time just been crowned champion with Zamora – the second time in consecutive years and the only two title wins in the history of this modest club from Barinas. Before this, while he had a short spell with Real Esppor (now Deportivo La Guaira), it was his eight-year association with Caracas FC (2002-10) where he made his name on the touchline. Here, he not only won the league five times but also enjoyed some impressive scalps in the Copa Libertadores, most notably two group stage wins against River Plate in 2007 and then negotiating his side’s progress to the Quarter-Finals of 2009’s competition. Consequently, not only is he a proven winner and accustomed to relatively high-pressure situations, but he has also long been personally familiar with approximately half of the players in the current squad, having managed them at club level.

Thus, though the first eleven months of his reign have been somewhat lacklustre, there is plenty of belief amongst the players, fans and the FVF (Federación Venezolana de Fútbol) that eventually, things will fall into place. He has been working towards altering the collective mindset and approach of the team, attempting to transplant his predecessor César Farías’ rather successful counter-attacking set-up with more forward-orientated, high-pressing tactics. Unfortunately, on his watch, not only has the team shipped an abundance of goals but the attacking players have often looked like strangers, struggling to combine effectively and failing to replicate their club form for their country. Unless by some mysterious alchemy Sanvicente has managed to integrate everyone into his desired system in the past few weeks – despite not playing a single official warm-up game in the lead-up and, due to club commitments, rarely having his full squad to work with – it is difficult to see how Venezuela will make much of an impression this month. Indeed, drawn in Group C with Colombia, Peru and Brazil, it seems the result of the second match against Los Incas, as well as the points tallies of the third-placed teams in the other two groups, will determine their chances of progressing. Sanvicente has recently commented that he sees his job more to qualify for the World Cup rather than to win Copa América – no doubt true, but possibly also an admission that his team is not entirely ready just yet to emulate the history-making achievements of the past decade.

The Formation

While at times in a few games of Sanvicente’s reign a transient 4-4-2 has seemingly formed, with Mario Rondón typically linking up with his namesake Salomón, as the former has surprisingly been excluded from the final squad, a more standard 4-2-3-1 is likely to be consistently employed. Given the flexibility of this formation and the calibre of opponents, it can be expected that this arrangement may look more like a 4-5-1 when, as may frequently be the case, Venezuela are on the back foot. Nevertheless, the only real question about this system is whether, instead of two defence-minded players in front of the back four, a partnership combining a roaming battle-hardened tough-tackler with a more graceful deep-lying playmaker may be preferred. The former has generally been the norm in friendlies over the past year but in the days leading up to the tournament, it has been reported that the latter has been regularly experimented with in training.

Official 23-man Venezuela Squad for the 2015 Copa América

The Players

venezuelasquadcopanumbers

The official 23-man Venezuela squad for the 2015 Copa América

(This image as well as all the subsequent ones are courtesy of Copa América)

Goalkeepers

danihernandez

Dani Hernández (29 years old), the joint-second tallest player in this competition (1.97m), inspires much respect for his career trajectory, having worked his way up from the third and fourth tiers in Spain, before managing to experience a season in the top-flight with Real Valladolid back in 2012-13. As 2014-15 began in the Segunda, he soon found himself playing second fiddle to the new arrival Javi Varas and so made a January switch to Tenerife where, though he only narrowly avoided relegation, he achieved impressive statistics for a goalkeeper mired in such a plight (19 goals conceded in 20 games). Internationally, he has been the first choice for his country over the past year, having played all but one of the internationals under Sanvicente that have been open to overseas players. However, given that he has just 20 caps to his name and has a propensity to spread uncertainty with not only his positioning but also his often erratic scrambling for crosses and his frequent tendency to parry shots straight back into the danger zone, a long-term occupation between the sticks can not be guaranteed.

alainbaroja

Indeed, while in the lead-up to the tournament Hernández has maintained his position in training, Chita appears to be keeping fans second-guessing his intentions as he has allocated rival Alain Baroja the number one shirt. The Caracas goalkeeper has had a sublime domestic season, making a string of sensational, acrobatic saves which, given his team-mates’ goal-shy displays, were crucial to his side coming hauntingly close to winning the Torneo Clausura in May. Internationally, while it may be a mere coincidence and the standard of opposition has to be taken into account, all three wins of the Sanvicente era have come with the Caraqueño in goal. At just 25 years of age, a move abroad seems almost a matter-of-course and, despite only making his international debut back in February, establishing himself as his country’s number one in the foreseeable future is very much within his grasp – time will tell if this occurs this month.

Update (13 June 2015): Sanvicente is indeed maintaining the intrigue until the very last moment before the Colombia game, as in a slightly altered line-up tried in training and reported on the eve of the match, it is Baroja and not Hernández who is allegedly starting. Big tournament for the Caracas man if so. 

wuilkerfarinez

Lastly, Baroja’s club team-mate Wuilker Fariñez is undoubtedly third in line as well as the biggest – if, most likely, inconsequential in the short-term – surprise in the squad. At just 17 years of age and with little more than a Copa Venezuela appearance as well as four displays in March’s Sudamericano Sub-17 tournament on his CV, he is the youngest player in the whole tournament. In overlooking several more established shot-stoppers, Sanvicente is evidently not anticipating simultaneous spells on the sidelines for Hernández and Baroja. Instead, he has stated that he views Fariñez’s inclusion as a long-term investment with the experience gained hopefully standing him in good stead for future international engagements.

Defenders

Left-backs

gabrielcicheronew

Having started his professional career in Uruguay with Montevideo Wanderers back in 2003, Gabriel Cichero (31) has managed to intersperse three spells in his homeland with stints of varying success in Italy, Bulgaria, USA, Argentina, France and Switzerland, never staying anywhere for more than two years. In the past year at international level, he has played seven of Sanvicente’s eight games at left-back, only missing the Peru game in March due to injury. Now officially registered with Swiss side Sion but on loan at Mineros de Guayana in the season just gone, Cichero was a frequent target of scorn from fans following the first four friendly matches of the nera era. Though he was not alone in this respect, age appeared to be catching up with this 2011 regular, with the 5-0 thumping meted out by Chile, during which he struggled to keep pace with the opposition’s dynamic wing-play, the definite nadir. However, since the turn of the year, while his club continued to underperform, from an attacking perspective at least, he has shown a marked improvement, scoring four goals in the league as well as a golazo for the national side against Jamaica. While not likely to take on an opposition winger down the flank, he likes to come forward, often taking a strike from range and/or making his presence felt at set-pieces.

fernandoamorebieta

Nevertheless, if the way La Vinotinto have lined up in training recently is anything to go by, Cichero may surprisingly lose his starting place to the man who stood in for him against Peru, Fernando Amorebieta (30). The Fulham defender began the last campaign at club level out of favour in west London and ended it sitting on the bench at Wembley on loan at Middlesbrough in the Teessiders’ ultimately unsuccessful Championship play-off final match. In between, he did little to restore his declining reputation back to his Athletic Bilbao heyday, rarely being at full fitness in an injury-hit season and, most pertinently, looking woefully out of position when he did appear – usually on the left. Indeed, not a man blessed with pace, he looked clumsy and had great difficulties keeping track with jinking wingers craftily cutting inside. Not entirely dissimilar to Cichero, he had a little more joy going forward, putting in crosses from the wing and being a threat from set-pieces. However, his favoured position is at centre-back so if he does get the nod on the flank, it would not be a surprise to see him later moved across or, if Colombia’s Juan Cuadrado gives him a particularly tortuous time in the opening game, unceremoniously excluded altogether.

Centre-backs

oswaldovizcarrondo

Although Nantes stalwart Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (31) can be assured of a starting place, having played in all six Sanvicente-era games as well as performing regularly and consistently at the highest club level of anyone in this position, his partner is less clear. There are four other options in this department and, given the noted issues at the back, it could very well transpire that Vizca ends the tournament having played alongside more than one of them. Thus, the leadership, organisational and renowned communication skills of this imposing, committed individual will be vital to the entire team’s chances.

A towering presence in the air at both ends of the pitch, though he is far from alone amongst the back line in lacking in speed, he can nevertheless be a beacon of solidity and persistent marking – just some of the traits which saw him placed in many Best XI features after the 2011 Copa América. That he is performing so well in Europe and even regularly captaining his Ligue 1 side is all the more impressive when it is noted that it was not until 2013 at the age of 29 that he made the leap over to the Old Continent. Indeed, previously he had racked up a colourfully respectable list of Latin American clubs: Caracas (Venezuela, two spells), Rosario Central (Argentina), Olimpia (Paraguay), Once Caldas (Colombia), Deportivo Anzoátegui (Venezuela), Olimpo (Argentina), América (Mexico) and Lanús (Argentina).

andrestunez

Regarding Vizcarrondo’s most likely fellow-starter, Fernando Amorebieta had seemed like the leading candidate, having resumed his old 2011-13 partnership with Vizcarrondo against Jamaica in late March following an international absence of 17 months. However, if the latest training ground reports are anything to go by, it would appear that Sanvicente is more swayed by the defensive line-up that played four days later against Peru that secured his first clean sheet, favouring Amorebieta on the left and Andrés Túñez (28) instead in the centre. This has been the only international appearance in the present era for the Buriram United man who, having left his boyhood club Celta Vigo in 2014, won the championship in his first season in Thailand, becoming a masked cult hero along the way.

While he is another who would not stand a chance in the 100m sprint, he is nevertheless a mobile, aerial presence who often emits a calm demeanour. Perhaps crucially in his bid to get the nod, having played well recently in the AFC Champions League, he possesses current fitness levels that Amorebieta has rarely displayed this year at club level. If, however, neither of these men start, Sanvicente has two further options.

grenddyperozo

In contrast to all of the players discussed so far, the first of the additional back-ups is the somewhat diminutive and comparatively pacy Grenddy Perozo (29), who was Vizcarrondo’s partner throughout the 2011 tournament. However, though he was named in the early – and defensively woeful – line-ups chosen by Sanvicente, his international career appears to have regressed somewhat. Indeed, he was not called up to the March squad and coupled with his underwhelming form at club level – Ajaccio, relegated in 2013-14 to France’s Ligue 2 only narrowly avoided a consecutive relegation in 2014-15 by a mere point – a return to favour does not appear to be on the horizon any time soon.

wilkerangel123

A man seemingly with a brighter future than Perozo and perhaps more likely to stand in if a bit of youth is required, is Deportivo Táchira’s Wilker Ángel (22). It is unclear whether, over a month on, the smile has been wiped from his face following his final-day header in the fourth minute of stoppage-time that breathtakingly snatched away the Clausura title from Caracas, devastating Vinotinto colleague Baroja in the process. He has within the past year been linked with a move abroad and made his international debut back in November, scoring a header with the faintest of touches against Bolivia, in what is still his only national team appearance. Having not been called up for any subsequent squads until the present one, it is tempting to think that his Clausura-winning goal, with all the elation and hyperbole that greeted it, aided his selection.

Nevertheless, though he will have a battle on his hands to get any playing time, he is one of only a very small number of players in this group who have a realistic chance of leaving their homeland for pastures new after the tournament’s conclusion. That is not a criticism of the quality of this squad; on the contrary, a mere glance at where all the players are currently based instead makes apparent just how far the nation has come in the past decade or so.

Right-back

robertorosales

Following Alexander González’s omission from the final squad due to injury, not only have commentators been deprived of regaling viewers with the story of him proposing to his girlfriend on the pitch, but Sanvicente now only has one natural right-back to choose from. However, as this is first-choice Roberto Rosales (26) – who has just completed a fine debut season in La Liga with Málaga – so long as he does not get sidelined, there should not be too much to concern in this patch of the field.

Since making the step up last year from FC Twente, he has proved to be more than capable of maintaining his close-tracking and tenacious tackling approach in his top-half Spanish side. Though the nature of his club’s style and the forwards at their disposal may be why his regular, pacy forays up the flank have only yielded three assists (which, nevertheless, put him third overall for the season just gone), in open play at least, he certainly provides more than his international defensive colleagues do in this department.

More pertinently to the group stage, in both league games against Barcelona, he was able to keep Brazil’s golden boy Neymar quiet, firstly in a 0-0 home draw and, most impressively, a 1-0 away win at Camp Nou. Largely influenced by this second performance, he was subsequently named in La Liga’s February Team of the Month. Quite how he will fare in a markedly different back line is less certain, particularly as none of the likely starters who have impressed at club level have been able to replicate their form internationally under Sanvicente.

Midfielders

Defensive Midfielders

tomasrincon

Playing in a role few schoolboys tend to daydream about emulating, defensive midfielder Tomás Rincón (27) is nevertheless the most important player in this squad. Although some other previews on Venezuela have picked out striker Salomón Rondón or ageing icon Juan Arango as their key man, El General will surely be playing the lead role in determining La Vinotinto‘s fortunes. Indeed, as if to confirm this status, in the run-up to the tournament, he was officially allocated the captain’s armband, taking over from the long-serving Arango.

Update (14 June 2015): Despite it being widely reported in late May that Rincón would be the new permanent captain, there are lots of claims that Arango will instead retain the armband for this tournament. Nevertheless, as Rincón has been the vice-captain for some time and Arango tends not to last the distance often, even if the latter ultimately officially keeps the armband, expect to see the former wear it during the tournament and eventually take over full-time in the future. 

To ensure the side is not overran in the central area and to also provide additional cover for the vulnerable back four, the Genoa midfielder’s leadership and organisational qualities will be integral. While renowned more for assiduous tracking and tough tackling than searching forward passes – or, for that matter, getting anywhere near the opposition goal – he will also need to release the ball quickly for the attack to prosper.

Following over five years with Hamburg, he has enjoyed a largely successful debut season in Serie A, finishing sixth with unfashionable Genoa and has been linked with a big move to La Liga or a return to the Bundesliga. Valencia is the strongest rumour of the several currently doing the rounds and though a repeat of 2011, when he was named the Adidas Player of the Tournament, seems a big ask, an impressive showing will certainly do him no harm.

franklinlucena

Rincón’s defensive midfield partner four years ago was Franklin Lucena (34) and if Sanvicente ultimately errs on the side of caution, particularly for the Colombia and Brazil games, the experienced Deportivo La Guaira man would be in a shoo-in to reprise this role.

However, as is the case for a few of Venezuela’s most impressive performers from 2011, age is not really on the side of El Paky (a nickname one suspects British broadcasters of the tournament will not be using). Indeed, Lucena’s advancing years were presumably a concern of the coach as he did not appear in the first matchday squad back in September. While he featured in the two November losses, it was not until February’s line-ups of home-based players for the games against Honduras that it could be said that he made a claim for a starting place. Here, he captained the side, flicked in a goal and was generally a vital pillar of assurance while playing in his customary no-frills holding role. He then continued in this position for the following month’s clash with Jamaica, though he was withdrawn at half-time as Sanvicente experimented with a more attack-minded player next to Rincón, as he also did in the subsequent game with Peru from the off. Ultimately, whether Lucena starts or comes on to shore things up, one expects to see him on the pitch at some stage in the upcoming weeks.

rafaelacosta

This, however, can not be said with any confidence about the other player in the squad whose attributes are closest to those of the two aforementioned men: Mineros de Guayana’s Rafael Acosta (26). Indeed, it was Acosta who Lucena replaced during the latter’s first outing under Sanvicente in the 5-0 loss to Chile, as the former’s almost ghost-like presence in the middle of the park repeatedly allowed the opposition to stride through. While Acosta started the following game against Bolivia alongside Lucena, he was no more than a second-half substitute in the two domestic XI clashes with Honduras and was then omitted completely from the March friendlies. Given this fall from grace and an underwhelming club season, the inclusion of this relatively internationally inexperienced individual certainly was not news to everyone’s ears. While he perhaps offers something slightly different, being more inclined than the other two to get forward, of all the outfield players, he is the one with seemingly the least chance of making it onto the field.

Deep-Lying Playmakers

juanarango

A role which may or may not be utilised, it was nevertheless experimented with in March’s two friendlies as well as, more pertinently, in training sessions leading up to the tournament. Juan Arango, now 35 and understandably slowing down, is the most likely candidate if this position is ultimately given the green light. Indeed, though the free-kick maestro and scorer of almost exclusively sensational goals made his name in Spain and Germany with more of an attacking licence – centrally as well as on the left – he became accustomed to this role at club level in the season that has just passed.

Having returned last year to Mexico where he played before he made the transition to Europe back in 2004, while his current club Xolos de Tijuana had an underwhelming campaign, he gradually came to flourish in this less energy-sapping placement, particularly in the league’s second half (the Torneo Clausura). Overall in Liga MX, he scored nine goals and officially received credit for six assists, though his inviting crosses, corners and free-kicks certainly played a prominent role in at least a few more.

Playing in his sixth Copa América, though he may not be the same player who spearheaded the history-making 2007 Quarter-Final finish and who was later named in most observers’ 2011 Best XI of the Tournament pieces, his pin-point long-range passes could still be vital this time around. Although a place in the line-up can not be entirely guaranteed, he has played in all four games that he has been available for under Sanvicente (starting three and making a strong impression when he came on against Peru). If he starts but in another position, reprising a more forward role behind the striker or on the left are certainly possibilities.

Update (13 June 2015): On the eve of the opening game, it has been reported that in a slightly altered team that has been practising in training which has two personnel changes to the one previously observed, Arango has been playing as the left-sided attacker, with Luis Manuel Seijas instead as the deep-lying playmaker. If Arango does start off the tournament on the left (or, according to some alternative interpretations, in the middle), there is nevertheless a strong chance that he may drift back to beside Rincón at some point. It will be of possibly painful intrigue to see if his legs are still up to a more forward position.

Lastly, while it may not have made as many headlines as a certain incident involving Luis Suárez, Arango was guilty of biting an opponent at the end of a Mexican league match in early April, for which he was merely banned for two domestic encounters. Should Venezuela meet Uruguay in the latter stages – a possible, if not the likeliest, scenario – expect to hear more about this.

If Sanvicente does opt for this role, but situates Arango elsewhere, two candidates in with a strong shout are a certain pair who have recently been playing in the Copa Libertadores with Colombian sides. Firstly, Luis Manuel Seijas, more accustomed to playing on the left of attack both internationally and for Independiente Santa Fe, found himself in this position from the start against Peru in March. While it can not have been said to have been an unqualified success, its usage in a victory against a group stage rival may well have influenced the manager’s thinking. Update (13 June 2015): As noted above, Seijas may well start in this position.

If, however, the ex-Standard Liège man is overlooked, Alejandro Guerra, who has been on loan to Atlético Nacional from Mineros de Guayana for the past year, could find himself here, though it seems more likely in his case that a more advanced position is in the offing. Similarly, while there is a slight chance that Deportivo Táchira’s César González could do a job here from the bench, his natural place is further forward on the flank. More on these three individuals below.

Attacking Midfielders

The three attacking positions behind the striker are easily the most competitive in the squad. The likes of Sanvicente-regular Mario Rondón (who perhaps did himself few favours moving from Portugal to China in February), Christian Santos (23 league goals in NEC Nijmegen’s phenomenal promotion to the Eredivisie) and Yohandry Orozco (four years ago, arguably the country’s brightest prospect) failed to make the final 23, having been cut from the 30-man preliminary squad. Furthermore, Rio Ave’s Yonathan Del Valle, who last season scored some fine goals in the Europa League as well as a dramatic late domestic winner against Benfica, has barely even been considered, a situation that has led to him ‘resigning’ from the national team at the age of 25.

Given the contemporary tendency of fielding inverted wingers, with an individual who is predominantly right-footed ending up cutting inside from the left (and vice versa), as well as the versatility of those who have made it into the final squad – not to mention the inconsistency of Sanvicente’s selections – these positions are somewhat difficult to predict. Consequently, the bulk of information pertaining to certain players may be located underneath a position they ultimately do not play in.

Left-sided Attacking Midfielders

luismanuelseijas

As noted earlier in the Deep-Lying Playmakers section, Independiente Santa Fe’s Luis Manuel Seijas (29 on 23 June) is more at home in this position and has played here twice (against Japan and Bolivia) in his four appearances in the past year. Though far from Usain Bolt, he nevertheless possesses some pace as well as being capable of swinging in testing crosses and is certainly not afraid to shoot from range. If he is on the pitch and Arango – another player who could certainly perform in this role – is not, expect him to take charge of set-pieces. An experienced international with over 50 caps, whether or not he starts either here or a little further back, expect to see this 2014 Torneo Finalización champion at some point.

Update (13 June 2015): As noted elsewhere, according to reports on the eve of the opening game, there is a strong chance that against Colombia Seijas will play as the deep-lying playmaker with Arango instead starting in this position on the left.

josefmartinezca

If, as is being suggested by reports, neither Seijas nor Arango is fielded in this left-sided spot to begin with, there are several other contenders in the frame. According to how the team has been training, Torino’s Josef Martínez (22) appears to be the likeliest candidate to start, despite being more regularly deployed at club level just behind the striker. Indeed, he can also play as the front man and if there are any problems with Salomón Rondón up top, he could well be pushed forward to step in.

Update (13 June 2015): According to a new line-up tried in training with two changes to the one at the top of the page, he may not start after all. While there are some suggestions that he may still start in an attacking position, see the sections on Seijas and/or Arango for more details.

Although, following a two-and-a-half year spell in Switzerland and a debut year in Turin, he now has a full Serie A season as well as Europa League experience with two different clubs under his belt, he still just about qualifies as being off the radar of most fans of top-level European football. With this being his first Copa América, he has the opportunity to showcase his abilities to new and larger audiences. Wherever he ends up playing on the pitch, in contrast to Jhon Murillo – who has been designated in several preview articles as Venezuela’s top young prospect despite only ever making one substitute appearance for his country – he has significantly more chance of starting at least one game. For this reason more than any other, he must be considered as his nation’s leading young player to look out for.

However, if he does shine, rather than gaining a bigger move, it is more likely to be beneficial for his chances at club level as while in 2014-15 he featured in 26 league, one cup and 13 European clashes – scoring seven goals along the way – he did not last the course in over half of these. Internationally, he is far from alone under Sanvicente in not having the most glorious of times in the past year but he did look particularly sharp when coming on as a substitute against Jamaica and, subsequently, scoring the winner against Peru. As a very mobile player, capable of rapid movements and turns, as well as clinical and long-range strikes, who can also provide support to other attackers, he has much to offer the team.

Other contenders in this area include the aforementioned Murillo and González as well as the returning Ronald Vargas but more on these three predominantly right-footed players in the Right-sided Attacking Midfielders section further down.

Central Attacking Midfielders

alejandroguerra

Given his role at Torino and the excitement which his potential elicits, Martínez would be many fans’ favourite to start in this position, though according to reports, Alejandro Guerra (29) may well get the nod here – at least for the Colombia game. Indeed, though a spot on the flank could certainly also be suited to the latter, as Martínez has more ability to take on his man, whereas Guerra tends to worm his way into key central positions, take shots from around the edge of the area and be rather direct in his approach, this reported arrangement could well work out. In a slightly different formation, both men linked up well after coming off the bench against Jamaica back in March and one would expect to see the pair get at least one start each in the tournament, possibly far more.

Update (13 June 2015): While Guerra keeps his proposed place in a slightly altered line-up reported on the eve of the opening game, Martínez does not feature in this new possible XI. See the section on Arango, his possible replacement, for more information.

Possessing similar international experience to Seijas, Guerra has played some part in all four of the games in the past year that he has been available for, starting all but the Jamaica game. At club level over the past year, while not always initially named on the pitch with Atlético Nacional in the league, playing roughly half of their games, he did manage to score five goals. More prominently, he did play over half of the first leg of December’s Copa Sudamericana final against River Plate and, more recently, featured in six Copa Libertadores matches, memorably coming off the bench against Barcelona (de Guayaquil) to score this acrobatic effort. As it appears that he will be returning to his parent club, Mineros de Guayana, this competition offers him an opportunity to continue playing his football at a higher level than Venezuela can offer – something that, when he finally made the move abroad at 28 to Nacional last year, he said he had long craved.

Otherwise, if neither of these two players end up here or if an alternative is sought, then Arango could well reprise his glory days at some point. Murillo and, especially Vargas, are also possibilities, but more on these two below.

Right-sided Attacking Midfielders

ronaldvargas

Both Martínez and Guerra are certainly in with a shout for this position as well but, in perhaps the most curious inclusion in the alleged opening-day line-up, Ronald Vargas (28) may well start off the competition here. Curious because in all of Sanvicente’s time in charge, the only matchday squads he has been part of were the two in March, where he played just half an hour against Jamaica and less than 15 minutes in the Peru win.

However, Vargas has had what must cautiously be considered a rejuvenation or sorts, having played regularly in the past year for Turkish side Balıkesirspor, scoring six league goals and setting up several more. That, barring an early scare, he went through the season without any major injuries is ample cause for many Venezuelans to celebrate. Indeed, when he first moved to Europe in 2008, he was considered by many as the country’s brightest prospect and, on occasion, he has gone some way to demonstrating why – most notably in the 2010-11 league campaign for Club Brugge when he scored 15 goals in 23 games. This earned him a move to Anderlecht, yet three injury-plagued seasons and 25 league appearances (nine starts) later, it was to end on a limp note, as he was released on a free. Last August, not long after he had been given a chance to rehabilitate himself in Turkey an article was published in the Venezuelan media stating that in all he has missed well over a year of his career to injury in his then-six-and-a-half year European career. It is a sorry fact that in all this time, he has never played more than 26 league games in any one season. Concurrently, his international career stalled, with his early exploits – such as his goal in his nation’s first ever win against Brazil in a 2008 friendly – a distant memory and he has picked up less than 20 caps overall.

Nevertheless, following his year in Turkey as well as two goals in Venezuela’s late-May practice game against Godoy Cruz youths, he appears to have done enough to earn Sanvicente’s trust and favour, especially as he has been handed the much sought-after number 10 shirt – a position some feel is his strongest. Given that he has also recently agreed a move to the more prestigious AEK Athens, one can only imagine the high spirits he must currently be in after having endured so many setbacks.

jhonmurillo

Though he is not likely to start in the opening game, Jhon Murillo, who must be on cloud nine having recently turned 20 and signed for Benfica from Zamora, stands a fair chance of entering the fray at some point – if only as an impact substitute. Presumably due to this potentially life-changing move as well as there being no other young attacking player in the squad who has not already played for a European club, he has been singled out in many preview features as Venezuela’s hot prospect to watch. Maybe. He has, after all, reportedly impressed Arango in training, knows Sanvicente well from when the coach was at Zamora (2012-14) and, given the chance, will delight in aggressively running at defenders and pouncing on any hesitancy. However, with so much competition in this area and the fact that he has only previously been called up for one game – the second against Honduras in February in which, due to a defensive mix-up, he capitalised to score 37 seconds into his debut – one wonders if it is all a bit too much, too soon. Indeed, he has done remarkably well in his early club career, making his Zamora debut under Chita at the end of the 2012-13 campaign, before scoring an impressive 19 goals in 54 league games (all starts) in the subsequent two seasons while playing on the wing as well as, at times, more centrally. He was also his now ex-club’s leading threat this year in their otherwise dismal Libertadores campaign, scoring twice in four games.

However, he was also red-carded in the opening game, seemingly for comments made towards – or at least in front of – the referee and it is this worrisome temperament of his that could well hold him back in the long run. Indeed, while he was also the Venezuela U20 side’s best attacking player in January’s Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament, his antics at the very end of the final group game are further testimony to his volatile nature. Against hosts Uruguay, following a relentless verbal and even physical reprimanding of the referee, he played a leading role in getting the official – who, it must be noted, had riot police at his disposal – to reverse his decision on a legitimate opposition goal, securing for Venezuela the 1-0 win. Not entirely for his appearance and haircut then has he been nicknamed ‘Balotelli’ (though, in fairness, the Venezuelan is at least significantly more consistent on the pitch). Furthermore, while he will not be regretting it now, it is believed that his attitude during a trial at Basel in 2014 cost him a move to the Swiss giants. Ultimately, whether or not he gets many opportunities in the next month, one can only hope that the experience of being around long-standing high calibre professionals will inject a little more humility and maturity into this otherwise exciting prospect.

cesargonzalez

One last player who regularly plays in this position at club level and also did at the last Copa América is Deportivo Táchira’s César González. The 32-year-old is not lacking in experience though with so many pacy rivals on this flank, one wonders where this more reserved, calculating player will fit in. As noted, a holding position further back is not entirely out of the question, though not anticipated.

His inclusion in the final squad, while not a shock, did raise a few eyebrows simply because, in contrast to some of the players who were ultimately discarded, he has barely played during the Sanvicente era. Indeed, though he knows the coach well from his spell at Caracas between 2005-07, his only call-up for the international side in the past year came in March, when he ended up starting against Peru. It should be said, it is likely that he would have featured in the previous month’s friendlies against Honduras but, like his Táchira team-mates, was unable to join his home-based colleagues due to playing in the ultimately successful Libertadores qualifying play-offs against Paraguay’s Cerro Porteño. Subsequently, he was a regular in the Libertadores group stage and while his side had a fairly forgettable campaign, he did manage to bag three goals in these six matches.

On a related note, while he is more of a playmaker, typically playing through balls to be finished off and swinging in free-kicks to be headed home, he did manage a very impressive goalscoring return last season, netting 13 goals in 31 games. No doubt this form – one of his best campaigns in a career that has included stints at four Argentine clubs – in Táchira’s dramatic championship-winning season contributed heavily to him winning a spot in the squad. Although he may not get on the pitch, his tournament experience should come in handy.

Strikers

salomonrondon23232

Salomón Rondón (25), the most expensive Venezuelan of all time, is considered by many as the team’s main man. Understandable, given that in the season just gone he played in both major European club competitions and ended it as champion and joint-second top-scorer of the Russian Premier League.

However, internationally, his success is largely dependent on the service provided by those behind him – something that has been frustratingly lacking in the past year, as he has not managed to score in any of his four outings, often appearing anonymous. When he has received chances, he has at times lacked composure and direction. Furthermore, though he may have only been 21 four years ago at Copa América 2011, he did come into the tournament with a domestic scoring rate of one in two in his debut season at Málaga and subsequently featured in all six of his country’s games (three starts), scoring just the once. While he does have an important role to play and will be looking to use his height to spring onto the end of balls coming into the area as well as be on his toes finish off chances, it can be easy to overstate his significance to this team.

Indeed, as he is more of a penalty-box predator who usually plays little role in the build-up, it is the players behind him who will be particularly crucial if he is to prosper. If he receives the requisite supply – and it is a big if, given the noted issues the attacking midfield players have had linking up effectively – then it should be a morale booster for the team. All the same, expect any goals that may or may not be scored to be spread around the side, rather than gobbled up by one individual.

The tournament could potentially be a great opportunity for Rondón to put himself in the shop window, as the talk emanating out of Zenit St Petersburg for the past several months has been that manager André Villas-Boas is seeking to offload him. Further fuelling the rumours, the player has commented more than once that he fancies trying his luck in England or Germany, though would not be averse to a return to Spain either. Media reports have dutifully obliged, with stories published linking him to, among others, Tottenham, Liverpool, Wolfsburg and Sevilla. While he may struggle to shine in such a tough group when Venezuela may often be on the back foot, the presence of such a relatively high calibre marksman up top ensures that those behind know, that if they can just play the right ball forward, the team will always have a chance.

mikufootball

As mentioned, if Rondón is sidelined for whatever reason, there is a strong chance that Martínez will be pushed forward. However, in such a scenario, if Sanvicente elects to keep the Torino livewire behind the lead man, then the likelihood would be that Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor (29) will instead step in. The inclusion of the Rayo Vallecano forward has not gone down entirely well with some, seemingly due to his lack of game-time this season, combined with the perception that the best years of his career have already been and passed. Sanvicente, on the other hand, appears to have more faith in the man of Hungarian extraction (‘Miku’ is short for ‘Miklós’). Indeed, while he did not call him up for any friendlies this year, Miku did feature in the first four games of his reign, albeit only once as a starter.

It is likely that a change of clubs around two-thirds into the season has aided his return to the fold. He started off the 2014-15 campaign at Qatari side Al-Gharafa, who he had joined at the end of September 2013 from Getafe where, having worked his way up the Spanish pyramid, he enjoyed his most prosperous professional period. However, in Qatar, he was to find his first-team opportunities gradually diminishing and became a regular fixture on the bench, scoring only one goal there last season. When Vallecano came in for him, he jumped at the chance to return to the country that he started off his career in as a teenager, though he had to wait until early April to make his debut. Ultimately, he was to make seven appearances (two as a starter) for the overachieving club from Vallecas, scoring twice – one effectively a tap-in, the other a clinical strike on the turn. Thus, having proved he still has something to offer at a high level, if he is called upon in this tournament, the striker who played in all six of the games in 2011 should not feel overwhelmed by the occasion.

gelminrivas23

Lastly, there is Gelmin Rivas (26) who, somewhat remarkably, is the only outfield player in the entire squad to have not been called up for a single matchday grouping in the Sanvicente era. It should be noted though, that given his domestic form with eventual champions Táchira (20 goals in 31 games, the second-highest in the league), he most likely would have been called up to the February squad had he not been otherwise engaged. Indeed, while his home-based compatriots were twice defeating Honduras, he was spearheading his club’s entry into the Copa Libertadores group stage, scoring two crucial goals in the decisive leg of the play-off with Cerro Porteño. All the same, no call-up was forthcoming in March, though he did make May’s 30-man preliminary squad and evidently Sanvicente liked what he saw.

In terms of attributes, perhaps at a level or two below, he shares much in common with the other two main strikers, getting the majority of his goals from close-range finishes and headers. Having had a couple of Belgian sides allegedly sniffing around him at the turn of the year, he will definitely be wanting to put himself in the shop window. However, given the competition for this solitary position, he will have quite the task on his hands to see any minutes in this year’s tournament.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela – Copa América 2015 Team Preview

As Venezuela get set to kick-off their 2015 Copa América campaign, Hispanospherical.com takes a look at how they may fare in Chile. Following on from a general overview, there is a more detailed summary of how the past 11 months have gone under new manager Noel Sanvicente as well as profiles on several players who could be crucial to the team’s chances. For more information on the representatives of La Vinotinto, click here for profiles on every single player in the 23-man squad as well as the coach and how he intends to set up his team. 

Venezuela

Copa América 2015 Team Preview

venezuelasquadcopanumbers

The official 23-man Venezuela squad for the 2015 Copa América

(Image courtesy of Copa América. See bottom of page for details on the clubs of the players)

venezuelagroupfixtures

Overview of Venezuela’s Chances:

Under-prepared Team in Transition Facing a Daunting Challenge

With Brazil, Colombia and Peru accompanying La Vinotinto in Group C, it is tempting to think that their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stages are largely contingent on getting a win against Los Incas and then praying for that to be enough to claim one of the two best third-placed-side spots. Indeed, while they may have finished fourth last time around and then challenged until the death for a World Cup berth, the team has struggled to gel under new manager Noel Sanvicente and appear to be under-prepared for the tournament. With the exception of Jamaica, who seem to be treating their Chilean experience as their warm-up for July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, Venezuela are the only team not to play at least one official match in the weeks leading up to the competition.

Their planned late-May friendly against Bolivia was the fifth in the past year to be cancelled and, considered in light of the recent FIFA shenanigans that implicated Venezuela FA (FVF) President Rafael Esquivel, organisational and administrative issues both on and off the field have certainly impacted upon Sanvicente’s plans. Chita (yes, cheetah), to give him his popular moniker, has overseen eight games in his 11 months in charge, yet despite also holding several training modules with home-based players, he has struggled to successfully instil his approach into his players. Indeed, the attempt to transition the side from one that soaked up pressure and then struck on counters, to a more confident, controlling team who press their opponents from the off has yet to reap dividends. Not only has the attack shown little cohesion with the team instead dependent on set-pieces, long range efforts and defensive errors for the goals they have scored (12, though 10 officially), but they have looked porous in the middle of the park as well as at the back, conceding 18 (19 officially). Furthermore, the three wins they have achieved – and in which they got 6 of their 10 official goals – have been of dubious merit, with two coming against Honduras in games contested solely by domestic players (only one or two of whom are likely to feature in a starting line-up this month) and the other occurring in a 1-0 win over an understrength Peru in the debut match of their new boss Ricardo Gareca.

Watching so many players who ply their trade at relatively high club levels – including La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 – struggle to replicate their weekly form within Sanvicente’s system has been disheartening for the nation’s ever-growing number of football fans. The obstacles that have thwarted Chita in regularly calling up every player he would have liked for friendlies as well as the sheer diversity of leagues in which the members of the 23-man squad played last season (12, in 10 different countries and four distinct continents) may well be partly to blame for the lack of fluidity and disjointed forward forays. Nevertheless, many fans instinctively retain hope; understandable given the memories of 2011’s semi-final run as well as some of the players Sanvicente has at his disposal.

Indeed, though the defence is arguably the area where the disparity between performances at club and international level has been most evident, it will nevertheless feature two of the most high-profile players in the squad. Firstly, towering centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, who played the most minutes of anyone at Nantes last year as well as regularly captaining the side and secondly, right-back Roberto Rosales, Málaga’s most used outfield player who kept group stage-rival Neymar quiet in both league encounters. Ahead of them will be arguably the team’s key man, defensive midfielder Tomás Rincón who, in his debut season since moving from Hamburg, helped play a central role in Genoa’s impressive sixth-placed finish. If Sanvicente errs on the side of caution against the likes of Brazil and Colombia, it is likely that Deportivo La Guaira’s experienced Franklin Lucena will renew the partnership with El General that was so effective in 2011. If however, he instead deploys a deep-lying playmaker – as he did for varying periods of time in both of March’s friendlies – Juan Arango, arguably the greatest Venezuelan player of all time, could well occupy this spot. Indeed, now 35 and winding down his career in Mexico with Xolos de Tijuana, it is not entirely clear if he will start but, having been moved back from a more advanced area into this position at club level, Sanvicente has also experimented recently with him here in training, so the possibility is very much there. Whoever ultimately plays alongside Rincón, likely to be in front of them in some capacity are the mobile legs of 22-year-old Josef Martínez, who showed glimpses of his clinical finishing and rapid movement in his first season for Torino. While he can play up front, he is likely to be used either slightly behind or on one of the flanks as the sole striker up top will undoubtedly be the team’s most valuable player (monetary-wise, at least). Salomón Rondón, who has recently won the Russian Premier League with Zenit St. Petersburg, may be yet to find the net in the Sanvicente era, but his height, physical power and finishing always provide fans and team-mates alike with ample reasons to feel confident when in the final third.

Ultimately, Rondón and co. will all need to regain some form and hastily generate some on-field chemistry and solidity if they are to achieve anything other than squabbling with Peru like two bald men fighting over a comb.

There are other players of note in the squad who could prove to be more influential than these established cracks – not least Alejandro Guerra, the returning Ronald Vargas, Luis Manuel Seijas and, possibly if he gets a chance or two, 20-year-old winger Jhon Murillo, who has recently been snapped up by Benfica. Along with every other player in the squad, they are all featured in this extensive reference guide of player profiles, some of which are relayed in the Key Players section below. However, should you choose to read on, before these, there is a more thorough overview of how The Sanvicente Era has so far panned out, starting with a reminder of the situation that the coach inherited.

The Sanvicente Era:

How to Follow Farías?

Four years ago in the unpredictable, online gambler-infuriating Argentina-hosted edition of this tournament, La Vinotinto were one of the leading sides to defy expectations as, enthusiastically cheered on by then-President Hugo Chávez, they embarked on a rollercoaster ride to the Semi-Finals. Although their performances had markedly improved in the preceding decade, with the Quarter-Final finish in 2007 at the time their best showing, their traditional reputation was nevertheless such that, for example, a Brazilian advertisment could still blithely mock their supposed lack of footballing prowess.

However, such flippant scorn was to rebound on these particular devotees of the Seleção, as Venezuela claimed a creditable opening-day draw off them, before beating Ecuador and then, following two dramatic goals at the death against Paraguay in a 3-3 draw, securing their place in the knock-out stage. In the Quarter-Finals, Chile, who finished ahead of eventual winners Uruguay in their group, came undone against César Farías’ men, whose swashbuckling run, in turn, ended in the most heartbreaking circumstances on penalties against Paraguay. A history-making fourth placed finish was thus confirmed following a play-off loss against Peru.

The boys in burgundy had done wonders to further increase the profile and popularity of football in their baseball-reared culture and were to continue to achieve some impressive results in qualifying for World Cup 2014, being in with a chance of claiming the fifth-place play-off-spot until their final matchday.

sanvicentearticlepic

Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente (Image courtesy of Foto Prensa FVF)

However, this sixth-placed finish in late 2013 marked the end of the Farías era and it was not until July 2014 – and just one game later – that a permanent replacement was appointed, in the form of seven-time domestic champion, Noel Sanvicente. The five-time Caracas and two-time Zamora title-winner, who also has international caps from his playing days to his name, had been interviewed for the role back in 2007 and was a popular choice this time around, in spite of Diego Maradona tenuously linking himself to the job. However, as noted, Chita has struggled to implement some attack-minded tactical changes and has had his attempts to do so regularly undermined by games being cancelled as well as rarely having all the players he would have liked at his disposal. Nevertheless, what follows is a succinct overview of the matches he has overseen:

He had a decent selection of players for his first two games, which occurred on September’s Asian tour and consisted of a 3-1 defeat against South Korea and a 2-2 draw with Japan (later officially overruled as a 3-0 loss; see here for more details). However, due to wanting time to bed in with his new club in Mexico, veteran icon Juan Arango omitted himself, a few other hitherto first-teamers were missing and several who have ultimately received the Copa call were quite far off a squad place back then. Following on from this, the two scheduled matches that were originally planned for October were cancelled, then rashly replaced by two more fixtures which, in turn, were then also called off. In lieu of any competitive action, some hastily arranged training sessions took place in Madrid that were almost exclusively attended by overseas-based players (goalkeeper Alain Baroja being the exception). Any tactical plans for the subsequent set of matches in November were undermined by the absences of 8-10 key players (including Venezuela’s very own three R’s: Rincón, Rondón and Rosales), which led to predictably disastrous results: a 5-0 thumping from Chile, in which Venezuela were easily overran and outflanked, then a 3-2 defeat against Bolivia, providing El Verde their first win in 21 months.

Early February brought some qualified joy, as a squad consisting entirely of domestic league players chalked up two victories in a double-header against Honduras, though in light of the fact that only one or two of the starters are likely to maintain this status in Chile, these have to be considered B-level encounters. Nevertheless, with the first wins of the new era under their belt, considerable enthusiasm greeted the two late March friendlies as Sanvicente was able to call upon arguably his strongest pool of players to date. Yet, morale was to fall to a new nadir as La Vinotinto were overpowered and outpaced in a 2-1 loss away to Jamaica who, at the time of the Copa América draw in late 2014, were the lowest seeded team. The subsequent 1-0 victory against group rivals Peru went some way to restoring hope that the team would not be entirely humiliated in Chile. However, it has to be acknowledged that it was manager Ricardo Gareca’s first game at the helm and, unlike then, for the tournament he will have Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich) Jefferson Farfán (Schalke 04), Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo, recently signed from Corinthians) and Juan Manuel Vargas (Fiorentina) at his disposal.

All the same, it was the side’s first win under Sanvicente in a game featuring the overseas contingent, as well as the first clean sheet and, particularly in the latter stages, saw them create far more chances than they had previously. Yet, the boss was to be largely denied the possibility of building upon this as firstly, for reasons known only to the FVF, a May home game was unable to be arranged. Then, amidst, and allegedly affected by, the FBI raid on FIFA that implicated FVF President Rafael Esquivel, a friendly against Bolivia in Mendoza, Argentina, was cancelled. Thus, since the Peru win, the closest thing Venezuela have had to a competitive test was a practice match against the youth team of Argentine side Godoy Cruz, which at least ended in a reassuring 5-0 bogwashing.

Collectively then, the representatives of La Vinotinto go into this competition relatively under-prepared and still struggling to be accommodated effectively in Sanvicente’s bold new system. Additional training modules have been held at various points throughout the past year largely in order to indoctrinate home-based players – many of whom never had a prayer of making the final squad – into the coach’s way of thinking, but as yet, the jury is still out. Thus, with results underwhelming, the defence porous and shaky, the midfield timid and the attack playing like strangers incapable of more than a few consecutive passes, if Venezuela manage to get out of the group, it has to be considered a success. Although Sanvicente may have received much goodwill upon taking the job, if his side crashes out at the first stage and his methods still yield little discernible results several games into the upcoming World Cup Qualifying campaign, he may find himself warily looking over his shoulder. However, such dystopian scenarios are doubtless far from the players’ minds as, with at least half of the 2011 regulars likely to also start here, they will retain the conviction that being the underdog and proving people wrong are part-and-parcel of being a Venezuelan footballer in the 21st century.

Key Players 

Below are several profiles on some of the leading names in Venezuela’s 23-man squad, as well as a couple of youngsters who could well make their mark. These profiles come from this extensive article which provides similar information on every single player in the squad as well as manager Noel Sanvicente and how he intends to set up his side.

The Spine of the Squad

tomasrincon

Hispanospherical.com Key Man

Playing in a role few schoolboys tend to daydream about emulating, defensive midfielder Tomás Rincón (27 years old) is nevertheless the most important player in this squad. Although some other previews on Venezuela have picked out striker Salomón Rondón or ageing icon Juan Arango as their key man, El General will surely be playing the lead role in determining La Vinotinto‘s fortunes. Indeed, as if to confirm this status, in the run-up to the tournament, he was officially allocated the captain’s armband, taking over from the long-serving Arango.

Update (14 June 2015): Despite it being widely reported in late May that Rincón would be the new permanent captain, there are lots of claims that Arango will instead retain the armband for this tournament. Nevertheless, as Rincón has been the vice-captain for some time and Arango tends not to last the distance often, even if the latter ultimately officially keeps the armband, expect to see the former wear it during the tournament and eventually take over full-time in the future. 

To ensure the side is not overran in the central area and to also provide additional cover for the vulnerable back four, the Genoa midfielder’s leadership and organisational qualities will be integral. While renowned more for assiduous tracking and tough tackling than searching forward passes – or, for that matter, getting anywhere near the opposition goal – he will also need to release the ball quickly for the attack to prosper.

Following over five years with Hamburg, he has recently enjoyed a largely successful debut season in Serie A, finishing sixth with unfashionable Genoa and has been linked with a big move to La Liga or a return to the Bundesliga. Valencia is the strongest rumour of the several currently doing the rounds and though a repeat of 2011, when he was named the Adidas Player of the Tournament, seems a big ask, an impressive showing will certainly do him no harm.

oswaldovizcarrondo

Though Nantes stalwart Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (31) can be assured of a starting place, having played in all six Sanvicente-era games he was eligible for as well as performing regularly and consistently at the highest club level of anyone at centre-back, his partner is less clear. There are four other options in this department and, given the noted issues at the back, it could very well transpire that Vizca ends the tournament having played alongside more than one of them. Thus, the leadership, organisational and renowned communication skills of this imposing, committed individual will be vital to the entire team’s chances.

A towering presence in the air at both ends of the pitch, though he is far from alone amongst the back line in lacking in speed, he can nevertheless be a beacon of solidity and persistent marking – just some of the traits which saw him placed in many Best XI features after the 2011 Copa América. That he is performing so well in Europe and even regularly captaining his Ligue 1 side is all the more impressive when it is noted that it was not until 2013 at the age of 29 that he made the leap over to the Old Continent. Indeed, previously he had racked up a colourfully respectable list of Latin American clubs: Caracas (Venezuela, two spells), Rosario Central (Argentina), Olimpia (Paraguay), Once Caldas (Colombia), Deportivo Anzoátegui (Venezuela), Olimpo (Argentina), América (Mexico) and Lanús (Argentina).

robertorosales

Following Alexander González’s omission from the final squad due to injury, not only have commentators been deprived of regaling viewers with the story of him proposing to his girlfriend on the pitch, but Sanvicente now only has one natural right-back to choose from. However, as this is first-choice Roberto Rosales (26) – who has just completed a fine debut season in La Liga with Málaga – so long as he does not get sidelined, there should not be too much to concern in this patch of the field.

Since making the step up last year from FC Twente, he has proved to be more than capable of maintaining his close-tracking and tenacious tackling approach in his top-half Spanish side. Though the nature of his club’s style and the forwards at their disposal may be why his regular, pacy forays up the flank have only yielded three assists (which, nevertheless, put him third overall for the season just gone), in open play at least, he certainly adds more than his international defensive colleagues do in this department.

More pertinently to the group stage, in both league games against Barcelona, he was able to keep Brazil’s golden boy Neymar quiet, firstly in a 0-0 home draw and, most impressively, a 1-0 away win at Camp Nou. Largely influenced by this second performance, he was subsequently named in La Liga’s February Team of the Month. Quite how he will fare in a markedly different back line is less certain, particularly as none of the likely starters who have impressed at club level have been able to replicate their form internationally under Sanvicente.

juanarango

A role which may or may not be utilised, a deep-lying playmaker was nevertheless experimented with in March’s two friendlies as well as, more pertinently, in training sessions leading up to the tournament. Juan Arango, now 35 and understandably slowing down, is the most likely candidate if this position is ultimately given the green light. Indeed, though the free-kick maestro and scorer of almost exclusively sensational goals made his name in Spain and Germany with more of an attacking licence – centrally as well as on the left – he became accustomed to this role at club level in the season that has just passed.

Having returned last year to Mexico where he played before he made the transition to Europe back in 2004, while his current club Xolos de Tijuana had an underwhelming campaign, he gradually came to flourish in this less energy-sapping placement, particularly in the league’s second half (the Torneo Clausura). Overall in Liga MX, he scored nine goals and officially received credit for six assists, though his inviting crosses, corners and free-kicks certainly played a prominent role in at least a few more. Playing in his sixth Copa América, though he may not be the same player who spearheaded the history-making 2007 Quarter-Final finish and who was later named in most observers’ 2011 Best XI of the Tournament pieces, his pin-point long-range passes could still be vital this time around. Although a place in the line-up can not be entirely guaranteed, he has played in all four games that he has been available for under Sanvicente (starting three and making a strong impression when he came on against Peru). If he starts but in another position, reprising a more forward role behind the striker or on the left are certainly possibilities.

Update (13 June 2015): On the eve of the opening game, it has been reported that in a slightly altered team that has been practising in training which has two personnel changes to the one previously observed, Arango has been playing as the left-sided attacker, with Luis Manuel Seijas instead as the deep-lying playmaker. If Arango does start off the tournament on the left, there is nevertheless a strong chance that he may drift back to beside Rincón at some point. It will be of possibly painful intrigue to see if his legs are still up to a more forward position.

Lastly, while it may not have made as many headlines as a certain incident involving Luis Suárez, Arango was guilty of biting an opponent at the end of a Mexican league match in early April, for which he was merely banned for two domestic encounters. Should Venezuela meet Uruguay in the latter stages – a possible, if not the likeliest, scenario – expect to hear more about this.

salomonrondon23232

Salomón Rondón (25), the most expensive Venezuelan of all time, is considered by many as the team’s main man up top. Understandable, given that in the season just gone he played in both major European club competitions and ended it as champion and joint-second top-scorer of the Russian Premier League.

However, internationally, his success is largely dependent on the service provided by those behind him – something that has been frustratingly lacking in the past year, as he has not managed to score in any of his four outings, often appearing anonymous. When he has received chances, he has at times lacked composure and direction. Furthermore, though he may have only been 21 four years ago at Copa América 2011, he did come into the tournament with a domestic scoring rate of one in two in his debut season at Málaga and so subsequently featured in all six of his country’s games (three starts), but scored just the once. While he does have an important role to play and will be looking to use his height to spring onto the end of balls coming into the area as well as be on his toes finish off chances, it can be easy to overstate his significance to this team.

Indeed, as he is more of a penalty-box predator who usually plays little role in the build-up, it is the players behind him who will be particularly crucial if he is to prosper. If he receives the requisite supply – and it is a big if, given the noted issues the attacking midfield players have had linking up effectively – then it should be a morale booster for the team. All the same, expect any goals that may or may not be scored to be spread around the side, rather than gobbled up by one individual.

The tournament could potentially be a great opportunity for Rondón to put himself in the shop window, as the talk emanating out of Zenit St Petersburg for the past several months has been that manager André Villas-Boas is seeking to offload him. Further fuelling the rumours, the player has commented more than once that he fancies trying his luck in England or Germany, though would not be averse to a return to Spain either. Media reports have dutifully obliged, with stories published linking him to, among others, Tottenham, Liverpool, Wolfsburg and Sevilla. While he may struggle to shine in such a tough group when Venezuela may often be on the back foot, the presence of such a relatively high calibre striker up top ensures that those behind know, that if they can just play the right ball forward, the team will always have a chance.

Rising Stars

josefmartinezca

If, as is being suggested by reports, neither Luis Manuel Seijas nor Juan Arango is fielded on the left of midfield in the opening game, there are several other contenders in the frame. According to how the side has been training, Torino’s Josef Martínez (22) appears to be the likeliest candidate to start, despite being more regularly deployed at club level just behind the striker. Indeed, he can also play as the front man and if there are any problems with Salomón Rondón up top, he could well be pushed forward to step in.

Update (13 June 2015): As noted in the Arango profile, according to a new, slightly altered line-up tried in training, Arango may instead start on the left against Colombia. Whatever transpires, expect to see Martínez at some point in the tournament.

Although, following a two-and-a-half year spell in Switzerland and a debut year in Turin, he now has a full Serie A season as well as Europa League experience with two different clubs under his belt, he still just about qualifies as being off the radar of most fans of top-level European football. With this being his first Copa América, he has the opportunity to showcase his abilities to new and larger audiences. Wherever he ends up playing on the pitch, in contrast to Jhon Murillo – who has been designated in several preview articles as Venezuela’s top young prospect despite only ever making one substitute appearance for his country – he has significantly more chance of starting at least one game. For this reason more than any other, he must be considered as his nation’s leading young player to look out for.

However, if he does shine, rather than gaining a bigger move, it is more likely to be beneficial for his chances at club level as while in 2014-15 he featured in 26 league, one cup and 13 European clashes – scoring seven goals along the way – he did not last the course in over half of these. Internationally, he is far from alone under Sanvicente in not having the most glorious of times in the past year but he did look particularly sharp when coming on as a substitute against Jamaica and, subsequently, scoring the winner against Peru. As a very mobile player, capable of rapid movements and turns, as well as clinical and long-range strikes, who can also provide support to other attackers, he has much to offer the team.

jhonmurillo

Though he is not likely to start in the opening game, Jhon Murillo, who must be on cloud nine having recently turned 20 and signed for Benfica from Zamora, stands a fair chance of entering the fray at some point – if only as an impact substitute. Presumably due to this potentially life-changing move as well as there being no other young attacking player in the squad who has not already played for a European club, he has been singled out in many preview features as Venezuela’s hot prospect to watch. Maybe. He has, after all, reportedly impressed Arango in training, knows Sanvicente well from when the coach was at Zamora (2012-14) and, given the chance, will delight in aggressively running at defenders and pouncing on any hesitancy. However, with so much competition in the attacking midfield positions and the fact that he has only previously been called up for one game – the second against Honduras in February in which, due to a defensive mix-up, he capitalised to score 37 seconds into his debut – one wonders if it is all a bit too much, too soon. Indeed, he has done remarkably well in his early club career, making his Zamora debut under Chita at the end of the 2012-13 campaign, before scoring an impressive 19 goals in 54 league games (all starts) in the subsequent two seasons while playing on the right wing as well as, at times, more centrally. He was also his now ex-club’s leading threat this year in their otherwise dismal Libertadores campaign, scoring twice in four games.

However, he was also red-carded in the opening game, seemingly for comments made towards – or at least in front of – the referee and it is this worrisome temperament of his that could well hold him back in the long run. Indeed, while he was also the Venezuela U20 side’s best attacking player in January’s Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament, his antics at the very end of the final group game are further testimony to his volatile nature. Against hosts Uruguay, following a relentless verbal and even physical reprimanding of the referee, he played a leading role in getting the official – who, it must be noted, had riot police at his disposal – to reverse his decision on a legitimate opposition goal, securing for Venezuela the 1-0 win. Not entirely for his appearance and haircut then has he been nicknamed ‘Balotelli’ (though, in fairness, the Venezuelan is at least significantly more consistent on the pitch). Furthermore, while he will not be regretting it now, it is believed that his attitude during a trial at Basel in 2014 cost him a move to the Swiss giants. Ultimately, whether or not he gets many opportunities in the next month, one can only hope that the experience of being around long-standing high calibre professionals will inject a little more humility and maturity into this otherwise exciting prospect.

As noted above, to read similar profiles about the entire squad, click here.

Venezuela’s 23-man squad for Copa América 2015

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Caracas FC), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) & Dani Hernández (Tenerife).

Defenders

Fernando Amorebieta (Fulham, ended season on loan to Middlesbrough), Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Gabriel Cichero (FC Sion, ended season on loan to Mineros de Guayana), Grenddy Perozo (Ajaccio), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), Andrés Túñez (Buriram United) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders

Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana), César González (Deportivo Táchira), Alejandro Guerra (Mineros de Guayana, ended season on loan to Atlético Nacional), Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira), Jhon Murillo (Benfica, signed recently from Zamora FC), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe) & Ronald Vargas (AEK Athens, signed recently from Balıkesirspor).

Forwards

Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor (Rayo Vallecano), Josef Martínez (Torino), Gelmin Rivas (Deportivo Táchira) & Salomón Rondón (Zenit St. Petersburg).

One last time, to find out more about these players and to get a more precise idea of where and how they play, please take a look at this detailed set of profiles of all 23 members of the squad. Otherwise, thank you for reading and stay tuned for more Copa América coverage in the upcoming weeks on Hispanospherical.com.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Deportivo Táchira Defeat Trujillanos to be Crowned the 2014/15 Champions of Venezuela

2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final Second Leg

Sunday 17 May 2015 – Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira State

Deportivo Táchira 1-0 Trujillanos (Deportivo Táchira win 1-0 on aggregate)

Video Highlights of Deportivo Táchira 1-0 Trujillanos, 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final Second Leg, 17 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Veteran Rojas Wins for Deportivo Táchira their Eighth Venezuelan League Championship 

In front of a domestic season-high attendance of 37,365, 37-year-old Jorge Rojas converted a penalty with 15 minutes left on the clock, thus claiming the 2014/15 Venezuelan championship for Deportivo Táchira – their eighth in their 41-year history.

Though they certainly rode their luck at times and may be considering deifying the woodwork that dramatically saved them at the death, they did edge proceedings here, at times dominating the play – no more so than in the first half.

Indeed, Trujillanos did not really seem in the game to begin with, as most of the running was made by Táchira, the highest-scoring team in the league who were welcoming back to their line-up Rojas and top-scorer Gelmin Rivas. Just three minutes in, centre-back Wilker Ángel found himself in acres of space just outside the area, where he received a cross-field pass from Yohandry Orozco but, perhaps a bit too casually, struck the ball a few yards over. While the hosts – and particularly Orozco – continued to threaten, with the winger later striking a shot that went just a couple of yards wide, it was Rivas who had the next real chance of significance. Indeed, after 26 minutes, he gained some space just inside the area and shot low, which goalkeeper Leandro Díaz did well to stop and, following a somewhat fortuitous ricochet, smother away from attackers looking to pounce.

However, despite being on the receiving end of this early pressure, it was actually Trujillanos who had the best opportunity to score in the half. Out of the blue, a cross came in from the right and Alfredo Padilla rose, unmarked and in space, but headed agonisingly wide of the far post. A gilt-edged chance, make no mistake, though by the time the final whistle was blown, it was not to be the only one that the visitors’ would regret not taking.

When the first period was brought to an end, though fans had endured 135 minutes of goalless action in this tie, there was no question that this game was significantly more enthralling than the first leg in Valera. Indeed, while the roars of the large crowd – almost three times as high as last week’s attendance – as well as the decisive nature of the game certainly helped, there were also far more attempts created.

The first of note in the second half came after 57 minutes, when Orozco’s corner was met in space by the incoming Javier López but, despite his advantageous position, he was to head a couple of yards wide. Although Orozco also attempted a decent half-volley a few minutes later, the home side were soon to wonder if they were going to be made to rue their misses as, somewhat surprisingly, Trujillanos grew into the game and rattled Táchira with their forward forays. Firstly, in the 64th minute on a counter-attack, Padilla found himself in plenty of space roaming infield from the right flank yet, though he had the option to play in a team-mate or have a shot at goal, he was evidently caught in two minds as he wasted the opportunity by weakly chipping the ball into the grateful hands of goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind. Just a couple of minutes later, Liebeskind was to be properly tested as Colombian Jarol Herrera suddenly struck a shot from over 25 yards that caused a spectacular, acrobatic save from the goalkeeper. However, drowning out the applause for this stop were the murmurs and cries of discontent from the home fans who were beginning to sense they may just lose the game that they were heavy favourites to win.

Although there was a response of sorts as, up the other end, promising youngster Carlos Cermeño hit a decent shot just a yard or two over from 25 yards, Trujillanos were to continue to threaten up until the final whistle. Indeed, in the 72nd minute, just before the match turned against them, another 20-plus-yard effort was parried out low by Liebeskind. Soon afterwards though, Táchira made their breakthrough as star playmaker César González was upended in the area and his side were awarded a penalty. Jorge Rojas, with over 80 international caps and with a high success rate from the spot since his January move from Metropolitanos, was never likely to crumble under the pressure and thus, having given Díaz the eyes, he rolled the ball into the back of the net.

To the surprise of no-one who has watched Táchira this season, manager Daniel Farías’ response to his side taking the lead was a cautious one, making a defensive substitution, removing arguably his leading attacking threat, Orozco. Subsequently, the vistors had the better of the closing stages and, with just two minutes remaining, came breathtakingly close to scoring. A blocked Trujillanos free-kick was to ricochet to a team-mate who shot low from just outside the area, evading Liebeskind’s dive, rebounding off the post to Luiryi Erazo whose close-range shot remarkably hit the opposite post, despite having virtually an open goal to aim at. Two times the woodwork saved the hosts, though the chaos in the area did not stop there as there was a scramble for the ball which saw two further shots blocked by the defence, before it was cleared.

After this miss, the home fans no doubt sensed it was destined to be their year and when the whistle blew, many ran onto the field, delaying the lifting of the trophy for some time afterwards. Ultimately, though this outcome was predicted even if it did not quite follow the anticipated script, Táchira are worthy champions, having put in a remarkable performance to snatch the Torneo Clausura at the death. Both they and Torneo Apertura winners Trujillanos will thus qualify directly for the 2016 Copa Libertadores group stage, with Caracas FC – who ranked highest in the Aggregate Table – having to go through the playoff route.

Serie Pre-Sudamericana

Results from the first legs of the final games on this mini post-season tournament (also played on 17 May):

Mineros de Guayana 2-3 Zamora

Carabobo 1-0 Deportivo Lara

The second legs will be played on 20 May and the winners will both gain entry to the 2015 Copa Sudamericana, which begins later in the year. Check back to this article for updates on these ties.

UPDATE

Results of the decisive second legs played on 20 May:

Zamora 3-2 Mineros de Guayana (Zamora won 6-4 on aggregate)

Deportivo Lara 1-0 Carabobo (1-1 on aggregate; Carabobo won 3-1 on penalties)

Consequently, Zamora and Carabobo will join Deportivo La Guaira and Deportivo Anzoátegui in the 2015 Copa Sudamericana, which will commence in August.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Review of Venezuela’s 2015 Torneo Clausura Title Race

The second part of Venezuela’s Liga Movistar recently came to a close as the 2015 Torneo Clausura was won in the most dramatic of circumstances by Deportivo Táchira. What follows is a look back at their campaign as well as that of their rivals Caracas and what is still left to play for…

Video Highlights of Caracas FC 2-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Venezuelan Torneo Clausura, 3 May 2015 (Video courtesy of Highlights Venezuela)

Deportivo Táchira Break Caracas Hearts at the Death

In a refreshing instance of a highly-anticipated match living up to its billing, the Clausura-deciding clásico del fútbol venezolano ended with Táchira snatching a sensational title win on the final day away to Caracas in the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time.

Puncturing the atmosphere and permanently scarring the home fans in the capital, Wilker Ángel’s header at the death gave the game its final twist, making it 2-2 and denying Caracas the win they needed to lift the Clausura trophy. It was all too much for the hosts to accept. They had been elated to take the lead for the first time as the game was entering its closing stages in the 80th minute, reversing the scoreline at long last, having initially gone behind with less than 15 minutes on the clock. Understandably, stunned silence mixed with sadness was the only way for their fans to respond an outcome that will be difficult to stomach for some time yet. To read more detail about this unforgettable match, click here.

As with the Apertura, the relatively short duration of the 17-game Clausura tournament often allows for much jostling for the top spot and this year was no different, as at times at least a handful of teams appeared to be in the running to claim the crown. However, though the likes of Zamora and Deportivo Anzoátegui certainly put in strong performances (with the former only ruled out of the title picture on the penultimate weekend), the race ultimately came down to the two most decorated teams in Venezuelan football history. Thus, what follows in this article is a look back at the impressive title-winning campaign of Táchira, followed by an overview of the respectable showing of Los Rojos del Ávila and then ending with a succinct round-up of what else is left to play for until the season is officially brought to a close.

deportivotachira

Deportivo Táchira
2015 Torneo Clausura Winners

Although there was more than a hint of good fortune to Táchira’s last-gasp triumph, there can be no doubting that overall, they earned this Clausura victory. Indeed, being alone amongst the three Venezuelan Copa Libertadores teams in having to go through a two-legged play-off tie to earn their group stage spot, they were actually to play more competitive games than any other top-flight side since the turn of the year – eight more than most, including Caracas. Their participation in the continent’s premier competition also led to the inconvenient rearrangement of many domestic fixtures, with games often being played in rapid succession to help accommodate Libertadores matches as well as the team’s preparation for them. For example, from the end of January to the beginning of March, they went five weeks without a league fixture. For the majority of the Clausura, such alterations caused Los Aurinegros to regularly find themselves two to three games behind the other pace-makers and thus, barring a fleeting early spell in January at the top, it was not until they went into the decisive last-day clásico that they were to occupy pole position. The manner in which Táchira were to stay within touching distance of their rivals and ultimately take advantage of their games in hand is worthy of significant praise and speaks volumes of the character and quality that exists within their ranks. The team manager, the youthful Daniel Farías, deserves much credit for his role at the helm and a rather bright future for him on the touchline may well be on the cards. Yet, back in early January, things seemed altogether more bleak for the 33 year old.

Indeed, Táchira, the side with the all-time second-highest number of championships (seven to Caracas’ eleven), have high ambitions every season and midway through this one, Farías had been falling well short of such expectations. Much discontent was being voiced in San Cristóbal following an Apertura in which, having been top of the table, they were to fail to win in their final eight games, picking up just three additional points and finishing a woeful 11th. When they opened up the Clausura by throwing away a lead and ultimately losing to a stoppage-time goal against lowly Atlético Venezuela – one of several capital-based sides living very much in the shadow of Caracas FC – Farías’ days appeared to be numbered.

The subsequent game at home to Aragua, a decent side who finished just five points off top in the Apertura, certainly would not have been particularly appealing to a manager under pressure. However, perhaps benefiting from a lack of official crowd to spread tensions around Pueblo Nuevo (owing to trouble in the stands towards the end of the preceding campaign), Táchira impressively recorded their first win for over three months in a 3-1 victory. This sudden reversal of fortunes appeared to galvanise them as they were to follow this up with a 4-1 thumping at home against Llaneros de Guanare and a 3-1 victory away to Portuguesa; that they also briefly went top during this late-January period certainly did Farías little harm either. In these matches, experienced international César González impressed, as did new recruits such as Alan Liebeskind (who saved two penalties and was to save more in the following months) and the veteran Jorge Rojas (scorer of three consecutive penalties). One man in particular fans were delighted to see return to form was striker Gelmin Rivas who, after a goal-drought towards the end of the Apertura, rediscovered his shooting boots. Nevertheless, as two (Llaneros de Guanare and Portuguesa) of the three teams that these players excelled against in this period were to finish in the bottom two positions in the Aggregate Table, many maintained their scepticism regarding talk of a Táchira turnaround. However, following the club’s next two encounters, temporarily at least, critics were to be compelled to drop their reservations.

Indeed, following a 2-1 home victory and a 2-2 away draw against Paraguayans Cerro Porteño, Táchira became the first Venezuelan side in the current format (est. 2005) of the Copa Libertadores, to successfully negotiate the qualifying stage and progress to the group stage. With these games coinciding with the first two victories of the national team under new coach Noel Sanvicente since he took over in July 2014, much optimism was expressed regarding the footballing future of Venezuela.

This was not to last long. On the first day of the group stage, they were emphatically thrashed 5-0 at home by Argentine champions Racing. Subsequently, though they stole a 1-1 draw in their second game away to Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal, they followed this up by being on the receiving end of another thumping, this time 5-2 in Asunción against Guaraní. Things got little better during their campaign, as Farías as well as, on occasion, the team became targets of the boo-boys, with Táchira ultimately finishing with a dismal record of three defeats, three draws and no victories.

However, though on the continental stage they were floundering, domestically they were flourishing, albeit while playing catch-up to their rivals. Indeed, one particular highlight during this period was a mid-March 5-2 thrashing over fellow Libertadores qualifiers Mineros de Guayana in which Rivas found the net four times – remarkably, this came just a few days after their own 5-2 defeat in Paraguay. When their group stage commitments ended on 14 April following an unfortunate 3-2 reversal against Racing in Buenos Aires (during which they were leading 2-0 at one point), they could at least then focus on salvaging something significant from the season.

At this point, while they were just four points behind Caracas with two games in hand, Farías’ history of falling away at the end of the previous campaign, combined with the number of games to be played in a relatively short period as well as the quality of these upcoming opponents, counted against Táchira somewhat. Indeed, the remaining five matches they were to play over the final 16 days of the Clausura could scarcely have been tougher, rendering their ultimate accomplishment altogether more impressive. Displaying considerable stamina and character, they won the first four of these, starting with a 2-1 away victory against Deportivo La Guaira (who finished 7th, but were narrow runners-up in the Apertura, as well as winners of the Copa Venezuela in early December). They followed this up with three consecutive home wins watched by significantly more people than were showing up earlier in the campaign. Indeed, a mere 2,699 had attended the 5-2 Mineros mauling, yet with the title in their sights, 12,223 saw them defeat Deportivo Anzoátegui (who finished 4th) 2-1 on 22 April. Then, on the penultimate weekend of the Clausura, the overall champions of the last two seasons, Zamora, were finally knocked out of the race (and were to finish 3rd), courtesy of a 17-second Jorge Rojas goal in front of a season-high 22,367 attendance. Subsequently, just over 20,000 believers turned up for the 3-0 midweek victory against Deportivo Lara (finished 5th), the game which finally put them ahead of Caracas and thus in the driving seat for the Clausura-deciding clásico.

They travelled to the capital’s Estadio Olímpico de la UCV – which, exempting the conspicuous security arrangements that left at least one section empty, was virtually full to the brim – needing just a draw in what was easily one of the most eagerly anticipated regular season games in Venezuelan football history. As related earlier, while their early lead was ruled out and then, with ten minutes remaining, reversed, they were to snatch an equalising goal and the title with what was the last meaningful touch of the match. As stunning as this was to witness, statistics show that the last 15 minutes of matches are when Táchira are most deadly in front of goal and they had already won two games with stoppage-time goals – though even if Caracas were fully aware of this, it would not have made much difference.

Consequently, they attained the point they needed and pulled off a remarkable feat, winning the Torneo Clausura by finishing with 41 points, having won 13, drawn 2 and lost 2. While their defence certainly contributed to their achievement (conceding 17, the 5th lowest amount in the league), it was their attack that deserved the most plaudits, scoring 40 goals, placing them comfortably first in this department. Gelmin Rivas was the main man here, netting 13 times (adding to the 7 he scored in the Apertura), possibly having been buoyed by the attention he reportedly received from two top-tier Belgian sides just before the campaign got underway. Now 26 years of age, if he is keen on a move abroad, now would appear to be the most opportune time. As a natural marksman, finishing from close range either with his feet or, rather frequently, his head, he was often reliant on the crosses and through-balls of his team-mates, especially César González. The 32-year-old’s set-pieces were regular sources of goals and he even managed to chip in with an impressive haul of seven himself – form which earned him a recall to the international set-up in late March. Another prolific purveyor of opportunities was 24-year-old winger Yohandry Orozco, who also impressed sporadically in a few Libertadores matches. Although another move to a team of the calibre of Wolfsburg – where he spent a rather subdued spell between 2011-2013 – is certainly not on the cards, a move to a bigger side on the same continent does not seem out of question. José Miguel Reyes, a similar player who likes to roam down the wings as well as cut infield, also had a decent season, scoring five goals along the way. Lastly, 37-year-old Jorge Rojas certainly had a campaign to remember as, following his inter-season move from lowly Metropolitanos, he was to score seven league goals. His phenomenal strike in the first leg of the Libertadores play-off against Cerro Porteño will surely be recalled with affection for some time yet.

Of the remainder of the squad, while there were certainly some impressive performances, the player with the most chance of a move abroad in the upcoming future is surely the hero of the final day, Wilker Ángel. The 22-year-old made his international debut in November (and scored with the faintest of touches) and has been allegedly attracting interest from elsewhere in South America as well as Europe within the past year. However, as his primary function is to keep out goals rather than score them, one wonders whether his side’s porous showing in the Libertadores (15 conceded) has adversely affected his chances of a foreign move.

On a somewhat related note, one can not help but fear that the fine form Táchira showed in the Clausura will again fail to translate on the continental stage when they compete in next year’s Copa Libertadores. As well as holding on to their top players and the essential retention of manager Farías, some reinforcements will surely be needed by the time next February rolls around.

For the time being however, their focus will be on claiming the Venezuelan Liga Movistar championship outright. Having lost a few key players, their opponents in the Gran Final, Trujillanos, are a shadow of the side that won the Apertura in December, finishing 11th in the Clausura and so will be the underdogs going into this two-legged affair. The first game of this decisive tie will be the away fixture for Táchira in Valera on 10 May, with the reverse fixture on 17 May. Those unable to tune into these matches can expect reports on this website.

caracasfcfc
Caracas FC
2015 Torneo Clausura Runners-up

So unfortunate were Los Rojos del Ávila to not be crowned Clausura champions, having sat in pole position for the majority of the second half of the campaign. Having put in a decent showing in the Apertura (finishing 3rd with 31 points) and topping the Aggregate Table with 70 points to Táchira’s 64, it is hard to envisage there being any severe repercussions for manager Eduard Saragó and his charges.

Indeed, Caracas began the Clausura well, taking 11 points from a possible opening 15. However, in the last of these games, a 0-0 draw away to Aragua on 8 February, their star playmaker and literal as well as figurative ‘number 10’, 22-year-old Rómulo Otero, had to be withdrawn due to injury. He did return briefly in the following month, making two substitute appearances before starting against Deportivo Anzoátegui on 18 March, though he lasted no more than 54 minutes before going off hurt, never to return. The absence of Otero, arguably the brightest Venezuelan prospect plying his trade in his homeland, certainly diminished their attacking options in the remainder of the Clausura, having a noticeable effect on how they appraoched the opposition goal as well as the amount of times they scored.

Indeed, from being the highest scorers in the Apertura with 33 goals, they were to finish in the Clausura with two other teams as joint-sixth in this department, netting just 23 times. In Otero’s absence, new recruits Diomar Díaz (a Venezuelan turfed out of New York Cosmos following Raúl’s arrival) and Argentine Fabián Bordagaray (who arrived from Greece, having had spells with San Lorenzo and River Plate, amongst others) can not be said to have risen to the plate, with only the latter managing to find the net (and just the once). Thus, with so few goals in the side, 10 of their 12 victories were to be achieved by a mere one-goal margin (with the other two being by two), with the majority of their attacks emanating from the flanks for someone in the centre – usually Edder Farías, who got 11 goals – to finish off.

To maintain such a high position with such forward-line deficiencies, they required a well-organised defence as well as a top goalkeeper, both of which they certainly possessed. Indeed, they conceded the lowest number of goals in the Clausura – 11 – and shot-stopper Alain Baroja, who during this campaign firmly established himself as the national team’s second choice, repeatedly saved them with a string of spectacular highlight-friendly saves.

Despite many doubts being expressed regarding their ability to mount a significant title challenge following Otero’s injury, Caracas’ unglamorous approach was largely effective. After they took over Zamora at the top of the table just after the midway point, they were to become the favourites for many as uncertainties remained regarding Táchira’s ability to make up the ground that had been lost due to their Libertadores encounters.

As we now know, such doubts were proven to be unfounded. The ‘fine margins’ managers and pundits alike often cite certainly came to the fore in the dying seconds at the Estadio Olímpico de la UCV on 3 May. Indeed, had a hoofed clearance not been hooked instinctively for Wilker Ángel to nod in, it is rather likely that many of the post-game headlines and plaudits would have instead been given to Baroja, who had pulled off a few crucial saves that appeared to have won it for Caracas.

Nevertheless, the country’s most successful club (11 championships) will have to regroup. Given their success over the course of both the Apertura and Clausura, it is unlikely that manager Saragó will want to make too many changes, though he may have his hand forced in this area. Indeed, Caracas have a reputation for developing and then selling their top young players and there are at least four in this squad who could be leaving for foreign shores either in the next few months or within the next year or two. Baroja would certainly be one, having earned so many plaudits this season – his third as Caracas’ number one choice – and being a good age for a player of his position – 25 – to make a move. Otero is definitely another player Saragó will do well to keep ahold of, having been linked with teams in Brazil, USA, Portugal, Switzerland and France in the past two years – in this regard, the length and nature of his foot injury will be important. According to his agent at least, also attracting interest from abroad is Jhonder Cádiz, a 19-year-old attacker who scored six times in 32 games in his first full season with the side, having been brought in from fellow capital side Deportivo Petare in early 2013. Lastly of this youthful crop, though there have been no stories suggesting interest from overseas, 20-year-old roaming right-back Jefre Vargas had a very encouraging season, contributing the most assists (7) in his 21 appearances and representing his country at the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament in January.

Although they had an impressive Clausura, due largely to their ages, the rest of the Caracas defence are less likely to be snapped up by foreign suitors looking for long-term investments. Nevertheless, 27-year-old centre-back Andrés Sánchez must be given credit for his form, which was even noted by national boss Sanvicente, who gave him two starts against Honduras in a domestic-players-only set of friendlies in February. Another member of the backline to impress was left-back Rubert Quijada, 26, though to the dismay of some, despite being called up for Sanvicente’s first squad in September, he has since repeatedly been overlooked by the national team.

Elsewhere in the side, 34-year-old defence-minded midfielder and captain Miguel Mea Vitali is unlikely to be leaving the capital – indeed, he has recently signed a new contract – but with 6 goals and 6 assists over the course of the entire season, he has had a year to be proud of. Last but by no means least, 27-year-old striker Edder Farías had the best goalscoring year of his career, netting 17 times altogether, with 11 coming in the Clausura and thus essential to the title push. As he has failed to get into double figures in the league in his previous two years with Caracas, it is unlikely that any foreign suitor will take a chance on him – something that his current fans will be delighted about.

Overall, Caracas definitely had a good season but will obviously be devastated for some time yet to have missed out on the Clausura title. As the best-placed side in the Aggregate Table. they will be hoping early next year that they can still show the continent what they are capable of when they play in a two-legged playoff in order to qualify for the group stage of the 2016 Copa Libertadores.

Tables

clausurasoccerway

2015 Venezuela Liga Movistar Torneo Clausura Table (courtesy of Soccerway)

aggregatetable2015

2014/15 Venezuela Liga Movistar Aggregate Table (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Still to be Determined: Copa Sudamericana Places

Caracas may have to go through the play-off round, but Trujillanos and Deportivo Táchira have both already qualified for the 2016 Copa Libertadores group stage by virtue of winning, respectively, the Apertura and Clausura. They will now duke it out to see who will be the overall Venezuelan champions of 2014/15. However, this is not the only matter yet to be decided as on the day of their first leg, the mini post-season tournament – known as the Serie Pre-Sudamericana – to determine who gains the two remaining spots for this year’s Copa Sudamericana also begins.

Indeed, in all, four spots were available for this competition (the continent’s very loose equivalent to Europe’s Europa League), but two have already been taken. The first was won by Deportivo La Guaira after they won the Copa Venezuela back in December and the second has been earned by Deportivo Anzoátegui who, after finishing fourth in the Aggregate Table, are the highest ranked team available to claim the spot. Thus, in the upcoming competition the two remaining places will be contested by eight teams, these being the highest-ranked in the Aggregate Table who have not already qualified for a continental competition (in other words, 5th to 13th, excluding 6th-placed Apertura champions Trujillanos).

The first four knock-out games will be played over two legs on 10 & 13 May with the subsequent two matches contested on 17 & 20 May – the winners of these games will claim the last two 2015 Copa Sudamericana spots. Here are the first legs of the opening knock-out round to be played on 10 May:

Tucanes de Amazonas vs Mineros de Guayana

Estudiantes de Mérida vs Zamora

(The two winners of these two games will face each other for a Sudamericana spot on 17 & 20 May)

Carabobo vs Aragua

Atlético Venezuela vs Deportivo Lara

(The two winners of these two games will face each other for a Sudamericana spot on 17 & 20 May)

Lastly, just to serve as a final reminder and to sign off on the highest possible note, here are the fixtures and dates for the decisive two-legged Gran Final to determine the 2014/15 Liga Movistar winners:

Trujillanos vs Deportivo Táchira (10 May, Valera, Trujillo State)

Deportivo Táchira vs Trujillanos (17 May, San Cristóbal, Táchira)

For any updates on these matches, you can either follow @DarrenSpherical and/or return to this website where there will be reports and round-ups of all the action.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Participation in the 2015 Copa Libertadores – Review

With the three Venezuelan teams, Zamora, Deportivo Táchira and Mineros de Guayana, having recently completed their Copa Libertadores campaigns, Hispanospherical.com inhales deeply and looks in detail at what was a largely dispiriting experience for all concerned.

zamoraflores

Bright Start: Following a sensational goal in their opening game, Zamora’s Arles Flores leads a well-choreographed celebration that received attention far outside of South America. Sadly, such Venezuelan joy was rarely to be seen in the remainder of the group stage (Imagery courtesy of the Metro and the Daily Mirror from this video).

Copa Libertadores 2015: Review of the Venezuelan Participants

18 games, 13 defeats, 4 draws and, following the very last match whose outcome will have thwarted the pre-planned narratives of obituary writers everywhere, 1 win. That was the record in this year’s Copa Libertadores group stage of the three Venezuelans sides, Zamora, Mineros de Guayana and Deportivo Táchira. A derisory performance even for the representatives of this nation of perennial outsiders and one that certainly stakes a claim to be their worst in the current format of the competition. Indeed, while the average number of points gained per match this year (0.3888) was marginally superior to 2012 (0.3333) and 2010 (0.25), the scale of their collective failure is unrivalled in recent history. This was, after all, the first time in eleven attempts that the team in the qualifying round (in this case, Táchira) successfully negotiated their way into the group stage, thus bringing the Venezuelan contingent to a dizzying three. Yet, having another six games to endure only appeared to prolong the misery as not only was it clear before the halfway point that none of the teams were likely to progress but that, between them, they ended up conceding a jarring 46 goals.

It was all a far cry from, say, 2007 when Caracas FC won at home and away against River Plate or, more significantly, 2009 when they and long-standing rivals Táchira gained 19 points between them, with the capital’s finest ultimately unfortunate to go out to Grêmio in the quarter-finals on away goals. Back then, while Venezuela’s footballing reputation was in the ascendancy, a far greater number of its talents remained at domestic clubs with some foreign suitors still maintaining their scepticism regarding their adaptability – something that has been decreasingly the case in recent years. Indeed, as with most successful sides in South America, their key personnel is always in the shop window, a factor that particularly disadvantaged the 2013/14 champions Zamora this time around. Given the well-documented problems of improving the competitiveness and quality of a league outside of the European elite, one can not help but fear that this year’s poor results – not entirely dissimilar to those in 2012 and 2010, albeit with an additional team – are part of a trend that is set to continue.

Nevertheless, what follows are summaries of the campaigns and most noteworthy performers of the three Venezuelans clubs who competed in this year’s Copa Libertadores, starting with the side most affected by the aforementioned issues. (Please note: to read match reports and view video highlights of every single game, click here or on the relevant links in the text below)

zamoralibertadoregraphic2

El Blanquinegro, from Hugo Chávez’s home state of Barinas, came into the tournament as reigning two-time champions and were also leading the Torneo Clausura which, with just over a week to go, they still have a slight chance of winning (*Update: they did following their Libertadores exit but that is no longer the case – see footnote at the bottom for an update on the domestic situation). However, their second successive championship win in May 2014 was to swiftly be met with the departures of key individuals which were to have a significant impact on their showing in the Libertadores. Indeed, playmaker Pedro Ramírez – nicknamed by some as the ‘Venezuelan Messi’ largely for a mazy dribbled goal – joined Switzerland’s FC Sion, leading goalscorer Juan Falcón signed for Ligue 1’s FC Metz and defender Jonathan España opted to try his luck with Cyprus’ AEL Limassol. Other players, particularly those crucial to the rearguard, were to leave (more on them later) but the most keenly felt loss of all was undoubtedly that of manager Noel Sanvicente to the national side.

‘Chita’, to give him his affectionate moniker, not only won both titles with this club, but also brought home five championships between 2002 and 2010 for Caracas FC, where he also led their impressive Libertadores campaigns. His successor Juvencio Betancourt was to last just six league games and things were to get worse before they could get better under his replacement Julio Quintero, who was to take his charges to the foot of the Torneo Apertura in October before turning things around for a 12th-placed finish. Yet, while he has done well domestically in this year’s Clausura, with his side having been rarely out of the top three, he has achieved this largely with the remnants of last year’s squad along with one or two new faces who are simply not of the calibre of their predecessors.

Thus, to match last year’s respectable showing of seven Libertadores points was always going to be a tall order though, having been drawn into a group with Boca Juniors, Montevideo Wanderers and Palestino, the possibility of sneaking second spot behind the Argentines did not seem out of question. However, Zamora were to be all but ruled out of contention after just two games.

Indeed, they kicked things off with an opening-day visit to the Uruguayan capital in a game that was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the group stage, yielding five goals, five red cards and a memorable bowling-themed celebration that featured on news outlets based all over the globe. Things began promisingly with 19-year-old starlet Jhon Murillo firing the then ten-man visitors 1-0 up on the counter and even with 15 minutes left on the clock, they were leading 2-1 on what at that point had become a level playing field. However, the dream start was not to be as Panamanian international Luis Ovalle received his marching orders after conceding a penalty that was duly converted which, in turn, was swiftly followed up with what proved to be the winner.

Losing was a bitter enough pill to swallow but Murillo’s injury-time dismissal (two-game suspension) as well as those of two defenders (one-game suspension each) gave lollipop-licking Quintero future selection issues that he struggled to negotiate. The largely full Estadio Agustín Tovar crowd nevertheless carried into the Palestino game some optimism which was to be dashed as 17-year-old Yeferson Soteldo was to both impress and frustrate by missing a hat-trick’s worth of chances (hitting the woodwork twice) in a 1-0 loss. Even at this early stage, the Venezuelan champions looked to be heading out as not only did they have no points but their next two games were against the unanimous group favourites, Boca Juniors.

Expectations were matched, as both encounters were unmitigated disasters. The trip to La Bombonera ended 5-0, a scoreline that could have been easily doubled had the Argentines took all of their chances, with Dani Osvaldo, a man in thrall to the concept of flamboyance, particularly wasteful. That the Southampton-loanee was afforded such space to repeatedly attempt to score the kind of goal that would be permanently etched into the retinas of every bostero spoke volumes about Zamora’s defensive performance. This was to be little better in the reverse fixture despite having been ostensibly aided by the Argentines’ decision to leave several top stars, including Osvaldo, in Buenos Aires. Indeed, though the returning Murillo was to give the Venezuelans a surprise first-half lead, the Xeneizes swiftly shifted out of first gear after the interval and were to leave 5-1 winners and with their 100 per cent record in tact. Zamora captain Luis Vargas added to his side’s woes by being their fourth player to be red-carded in the competition, which was compounded by Montevideo Wanderers earning a draw in Chile, thus bringing their tally to seven points and eliminating the Venezuelans.

Their two remaining group games were played with a weary sense of obligation, as they were thrashed 4-0 at the hands of a driven Palestino, before being dispatched 3-0 at home by Wanderers in a lacklustre encounter that saw the Uruguayans snatch a knock-out spot. Judging by the paltry crowd at this final match – believed to be well under 1000 – there was little desire amongst the fans of La Furia Llanera to see their side restore some pride in either of these reverse fixtures by demonstrating that their two opening losses were not entirely fair reflections on the overall play.

When all was said and done, Zamora had lost every one of their six games – the worst record of any Venezuelan side to have participated in the current format of the competition. Particularly galling was their goal difference of -18, having shipped 21 goals that were only offset by a mere 3 strikes at the other end. This was in stark contrast to last year’s more even statistics, when 6 goals were both scored and conceded, from what was a markedly more difficult group, comprising of then-holders Atlético Mineiro of Brazil, Colombia’s Santa Fe and Nacional of the Paraguayan variety. A brief comparison of the positive results they achieved in this group serves to highlight the deficiences that were witnessed this year. Indeed, not only were they led by serial winner Sanvicente but the departed Juan Falcón also scored all four of his goals in these games, netting the decisive goal in the 2-1 home win over Santa Fe, as well as both in the 2-2 draw in Colombia and the opener in the 2-0 victory in Barinas over Nacional. This year, Zamora did not possess an adequate replacement for their erstwhile marksman, with the only striker brought in being January-recruit Santiago Bello from the Uruguayan second-tier, who was to feature in four games in this edition – three times from the bench – without finding the net.

Last year, Pedro Ramírez also chipped in with a goal and some creativity, something that was also noticeably lacking this time around. However, arguably the most significant change from the previous campaign was to be found at the back, as the majority of those who featured regularly in 2014 left at the end of the season. Indeed, goalkeeper Yáñez Angulo as well as the defenders Hugo Soto, Javier López, Layneker Safra and Jonathan España have all since moved on, with most, if not all, of those filling their boots this year evidently not up to scratch. Having two defenders sent off in the first game – including Ovalle, who actually played five times in last year’s group stage – and the subsequent suspensions certainly did not help either.

Ultimately, if anything positive can be extracted from this season’s experience it will soon again be taken away from them. Jhon Murillo, the temperamental, dribbling winger who often drifts into more central positions, scored twice in his four appearances and has long been linked with a move abroad, with Torino and Celta Vigo the most recently touted destinations. Yeferson Soteldo, at just 17, could well follow suit in the not-too-distant future as though he may not have taken the chances that came his way, he was a lively presence and has become a regular starter in the league. That he has done so may instead prove in the long run to be further evidence of his club’s lack of depth at this particular time and given their rather humble means, fans must be wondering whether the good times enjoyed under Sanvicente will even be able to return anytime soon.

tachiralibertadoresgraphic

Much enthusiasm from both domestic scribes as well as casual observers from afar greeted Táchira’s history-making 4-3 aggregate win against Paraguay’s six-time semi-finalists Cerro Porteño. For the first time since the current format was introduced in 2005, there were to be three, not two, Venezuelan sides to follow in the Copa Libertadores group stage. Drawn into a group containing another Paraguayan side, Guaraní, as well as Peruvians Sporting Cristal, a Round of 16 berth appeared eminently attainable. Seemingly bolstering their chances was the retention of the vast majority of the side that finished third in the 2014 aggregate table coupled with some useful additions, such as goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind and veteran international Jorge Rojas – the latter of whom scored a bona fide golazo in the first leg against Cerro.

The first game soon punctured this optimism, as a full-capacity Pueblo Nuevo was to witness a comprehensive 5-0 thrashing led by the superb partnership of Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou for Argentine champions Racing, the undisputed top dogs in the group. Immediately following this rude awakening, doubts that before the Cerro games had been regularly expressed resurfaced and at a higher volume. Indeed, in the Torneo Apertura, Táchira had contrived to throw away a commanding mid-point lead, not winning in their final eight games and finishing 11th, rendering manager Daniel Farías virtually a dead man walking. Furthermore, even the most partisan follower of Los Aurinegros would have to confess that their side rode their luck in the second leg against Cerro. Thus, in light of the car-crash performance against Racing, their response would be crucial.

For their second game, they travelled to Lima to face Sporting Cristal. Few lessons appeared to have been learned as the Peruvian champions took a first-half lead and were to comfortably dominate the play. However, with under five minutes remaining, they were made to pay for their profligacy as César González stepped up to curl a 25-yard free-kick into the back of the net. Grippingly for the neutral, there was to be further drama, though not a twist, as Renzo Sheput stepped up deep into stoppage-time to take a penalty but was to be spectacularly denied by Liebeskind as the Venezuelans held on.

Perhaps not the most deserved of points, but Táchira at least exhibited some backbone, essential ahead of their journey back to Asunción where this time they faced then-Apertura leaders Guaraní. Initially, despite conceding an early goal things appeared promising as ‘Maestrico’ González scored again to level up the score at 1-1 after just 17 minutes. However, they were to be blitzed by three goals in six first-half minutes and were to ultimately walk away smarting from a 5-2 defeat. Subsequently, the following week Zamora were to receive their second five-goal bashing from Boca and these games, along with Táchira’s comparable experiences here in Paraguay and against Racing, were to do sizeable damage to the reputation of Venezuelan domestic football on the continent.

Pessimism thus returned to the side representing the Colombia-bordering state of the same name. Progression began to feel like a fantasy from another age and next up was more potential embarrassment in the home fixture against Guaraní. However, to the relief of many, Farías’ men were to put in a far more respectable showing and could well have won it. A 21st-minute penalty was converted by experienced international González, thus providing him with his third goal in four matches. Lady Fortune appeared to be on their side when, after 32 minutes, Federico Santander’s spot-kick was saved by Liebskind which, at that point, was remarkably his fourth penalty stop since joining the club from Portuguesa just two months prior. However, nine minutes later, he was unable to improve on this statistic as Julián Benítez took command of a similar situation and buried the ball from the 12-yard spot. Despite being pegged back, Táchira were to have the better of the second half, though with just over 15 minutes to go Farías was to unintentionally abdicate any chance of winning the game by replacing his side’s most consistent threat, winger Yohandry Orozco. Consequently, ‘Fuera  Farías’ and ‘Farías hijo de puta’ were just two of the chants that were to be voiced by the home support and clearly captured for home-viewing around the continent up until the final whistle confirmed a 1-1 draw. As if to vindicate the angry hordes, the awarding of the Man of the Match prize indeed went to Orozco, a diminutive individual who just a few years ago was considered the next big thing of Venezuelan football.

At this point, Táchira were all-but-out and a 0-0 home draw against Cristal removed the miniscule and unvoiced doubt. Though overall it was as enthralling an encounter as it sounds and played in front of a ground well under half full, the hosts did have chances to pick up their first win. Indeed, firstly at the beginning of the second half, Orozco curled a fine free-kick against the post that was converted on the rebound by Uruguayan forward Pablo Olivera from an offside position (where he was to lurk wth frustrating frequency). Not long afterwards, Olivera was to receive a gilt-edged opportunity from a low cross by Orozco, yet from little more than six yards out he was to somehow direct it wide.

With their final game being away to Racing, the opportunity to give their fans at least something to smile about appeared to have been missed. Yet, remarkably, with 50 minutes on the clock, José Alí Meza, a regular impact substitute who was starting only his second Libertadores game this year, was to put Táchira into a shock 2-0 lead. Irrespective of the caveats involved, this was shaping up to be one of the most impressive results in the history of Venezuelan participation in this competition. Alas, it was not to be as, with twenty minutes remaining, the Argentine champions were back on level terms. In response, Farías, having already withdrawn Meza on the hour-mark, was to further enhance his reputation for unambitious substitutions with the removal of González and Orozco in the closing stages. Yet, with the score still at 2-2 when regulation time was up,  this was still shaping up to be a credible point. However, seconds into stoppage-time, 20-year-old goalkeeper José Contreras (who had played in the previous match as well), committed a calamitous error that may just haunt him for the rest of his career, as he let a relatively tame effort from Brian Fernández slip under him and inch over the line.

A gutting loss, every bit as soul-destroying as the reverse fixture was humiliating. Although their overall record may not have told the full story, Táchira had nevertheless failed to win, picking up as many draws as defeats and conceding 15 goals along the way. Aside from having scored two more goals this time around, this record was otherwise identical to the last time they reached the group stage – 2012 – not to mention a marginal improvement on the two points gained the previous year. However, it was a far cry from the nine-point haul of 2009, not to mention the remarkable undefeated group stage performance and run to the quarter-finals in 2004, a year that had a slightly different format that granted Venezuela three automatic entries.

If the Libertadores is considered to be a platform to advertise a player’s talents, quite where such a disappointing campaign leaves Táchira’s leading lights is difficult to surmise. Wilker Ángel, a 22-year-old centre-back who last year made his international debut and was rumoured to be interesting teams in South America and Europe, will not have done himself any favours by being on the field in both five-goal reversals. Yohandry Orozco, 24, had his creative moments and unsettled at least some of the defenders he ran at, yet while a move to another side on the continent does not seem out of the question, one does not anticipate another European side of note to be clamouring for his signature after his forgettable two-year spell at Wolfsburg. Gelmin Rivas, the club’s top scorer whose two goals in Asunción ensured their advancement to the competition proper, had been attracting attention from Belgium but, though he has 20 league goals, he could not find the net once in his three group game starts. Two of the most impressive performers, César González and, with some qualifications given the number of goals conceded, Alan Liebeskind, are both in their thirties and unlikely to be top of the lists of those looking for long-term value.

Ultimately, although this campaign was no worse than the last two occasions they reached this phase, Táchira will surely still be rather disappointed at the two hidings that they endured as well as not getting more out of at least two of the three games that they drew. Nevertheless, they must now dust themselves off as, with the Clausura ending on 3 May, they retain a significant chance of winning the title and thus securing another opportunity to right some wrongs in next year’s Libertadores.*

  minerospage2

Comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league going into this competition, Mineros were to end their Libertadores campaign with the most respectable results, the most points and, at the very last opportunity, the only win. This, despite never reaching the group stage in the present format (two qualifying round losses in 2005 and 2008 were the closest that they had come), sacking a second manager of the season during the competition and ending their participation as still comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league. Indeed, though Richard Páez, former national team manager (2001-07) led them to finish top of the 2013 Torneo Apertura and the 2013/14 Aggregate Table as well as end up as the overall runners-up, he was out of the door by late September. His first six games of the season had been deemed unsatisfactory, but his replacement Marcos Mathías had little joy attempting to return his charges to their former level. Instead, they finished the Apertura in 6th and commenced their participation in the Libertadores while occupying a mediocre mid-table position in the Torneo Clausura.

It has been something of a quandary attempting to decipher what precisely is wrong in Puerto Ordaz as while they did lose a star from last season in the form of international midfielder Alejandro Guerra (more on him later), that alone can not account for their slump. Indeed, they had also brought in some quality players at the beginning of the Apertura, such as first-choice international left-back Gabriel Cichero. At the start of the Clausura, they also added two key members of Trujillanos’ Apertura title-winning team, defender Edixon Cuevas and striker James Cabezas.

Nevertheless, given their underwhelming form, they entered their first game away to Argentina’s Huracán as firm underdogs. Yet, though they were on the backfoot for at least two-thirds of the match, some of the considerable experience in their ranks came to the fore as they frustrated the Copa Argentina winners before ultimately coming within a minute of emerging victorious. Indeed, against the run of play, Colombian forward Zamir Valoyes gave them a 22nd-minute lead from a free-kick and though they were pegged back, come the final thirty minutes, their absorption of Argentine attacks had appeared to exhaust the hosts of ideas. Subsequently, they started to make a go for it and, remarkably, after some close scrapes, Valoyes netted again from a penalty (of admittedly dubious origin). Alas, not for the only time in this year’s competition, a Venezuelan side was to shoot themselves in the foot as a last-minute spot-kick was conceded and then converted as the honours ended even.

Even so, a point in Buenos Aires can never be sniffed at and so going into their home game against Club Universitario de Sucre – champions of Bolivia, whose teams are not renowned for travelling well – there were ample reasons to anticipate victory. Instead, what transpired was a largely dreary, horror show of tedium that was short on chances, enlivened only by an appalling fumble by Mineros goalkeeper Rafael Romo that gifted the visitors the only goal and the first Bolivian Libertadores win in Venezuela since 1994. Having also made a rather glaring error in the Huracán game, as well as some recent miscalculations in the league, the home supporters were in an unforgiving mood and proceeded to boo the international’s every touch until the end of the match. To make matters worse, several minutes later, the preceding week’s two-goal hero Valoyes was given a straight red card for an excruciating midfield challenge, ruling himself out of the next game. Capping off a tension-filled night, when the final whistle was blown there were plenty of calls for the head of manager Mathías. While the fans did not get their wish immediately, two weeks later following a mid-March 5-2 domestic thrashing by Táchira, they did, with assistant Tony Franco instead handed an opportunity until the end of the season.

His first task a couple of days after taking the reins could hardly have been greater. A home match against Brazilian champions Cruzeiro would be daunting for almost any side yet, though they were to ultimately lose 2-0, they actually acquitted themselves rather admirably and could come away with their dignity in tact. After Leandro Damião opened the scoring in the 12th minute, Mineros immediately fought back and created many opportunities throughout the game, looking like they may sneak a draw until Marquinhos sealed the win with seven minutes remaining. The reverse fixture in Belo Horizonte was to reflect not quite so favourably on the Venezuelans as two superb goals early on from Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Damião opened up the possibility of a trouncing of the magnitude Táchira and Zamora both twice endured. However, though Henrique got a third in the 73rd minute, Mineros can perhaps feel some contentment in their relative resilience – something their compatriots could perhaps learn from in preparation for future Libertadores clashes.

Despite these credible performances, they were nevertheless losses and their fifth game, away to Club Universitario in the high altitude of Sucre, is where their already faint hopes of making it out of the group evaporated. In a game somewhat more entertaining than the reverse fixture, a goal at the end of each half gave the Bolivians the victory and put them in with a strong chance of qualifying from the group. However, on the final matchday they were to face a trip to Brazil, whereas another of their rivals, Huracán, travelled to Venezuela, with the Bolivians knowing that if they lost and the Argentines won, they would be eliminated.

Yet, though they were to succumb to Cruzeiro 2-0, they were to owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mineros de Guayana who, in the very last group game contested by a Venezuelan side this year, surprised some by claiming the first – and only – victory for their nation. Indeed, as in Buenos Aires, while Huracán were to enjoy plenty of time on the ball, they were to struggle to create clear-cut chances with the Mineros defence largely blocking them off. Valoyes was to repeat his Argentine feats here by scoring another two goals – this time both before the half-time whistle – with international midfielder Rafael Acosta getting a third in the second half. Huracán’s players and coaching staff as well as many in the international media were visibly stunned at this 3-0 reversal, yet one can not help but feel their opponents were unjustly underestimated. While Mineros were playing without four or five first-team regulars and were already out of the competition, they did nevertheless achieve a 2-2 draw in February against the Argentines, who in turn, should perhaps be considered a second-tier Argentine side, given they sit 25th in the bloated 30-team domestic top-flight. Indeed, that all of Mineros’ five goals and four points came against Huracán should cause the men from Parque Patricios to pause to ponder in order to avoid heading back to the second division they were playing in last season.

Given the standard of this opposition, Mineros’ status as the best-performing Venezuelan side can easily be criticised. Indeed, even with their relatively respectable results against Cruzeiro, one has to bear in mind that the Brazilian giants have only scored more than three goals in any competitive game once since last August (and that occurred against Mineiro State Championship side Villa Nova who, nationally, compete in Série D). Nevertheless, it could be that the experience many players in this team possess of playing in the Libertadores as underdogs in the past for other Venezuelan sides facilitated their occasional strategic recognition of their shortcomings and defensive approaches. Indeed, at the back, the thirtysomethings Gabriel Cichero, Julio Machado and Edixon Cuevas as well as 41-year-old Luis Vallenilla all brought considerable know-how to this area of the pitch. Highly decorated Edgar Jiménez, who played for Caracas FC from 2003-2012, also certainly knew his way through such games while, in his case, sitting in front of the back four. Thus, while their goal difference was nothing to celebrate, their concession of a comparatively respectable ten goals was considerably better than the defences of Zamora and Táchira fared and may owe something to their experience and organisation of these players.

However, most of these individuals will not be anticipating life-changing foreign transfers as, like 29-year-old top scorer Valoyes, age is not really on their side. For the Colombian striker, a minor move at some point to his homeland to the west may not be entirely out of the question, but if any major scouts witnessed his side’s games, their attention may have instead been directed towards two of his younger team-mates. Indeed, Ángelo Peña, 25, whose jinking runs, diagonal balls and incisive passes often caught the eye, has already played in Brazil and Portugal and if he can be more consistent in his form then he may well depart for a third overseas adventure. In the long-term, 18-year-old left-sided midfielder Luis Guerra may well prove to have the brightest future, though it is difficult to tell at this early stage. Currently in his debut season, he only really came to prominence in the final game against Huracán – his first Libertadores start – but he put in a noteworthy performance, particularly with his role in the second goal which involved a run up the flank that bypassed three players.

Whether he turns out to be yet another winger of the week remains to be seen but as much as the fans will have gained some confidence from his side’s final game, this has been a season to forget for Mineros. Their fall from grace has been rather depressing to witness and despite having gained this rare opportunity to show the continent what they are capable of, their domestic position ensures that they will not be granted a second bite at the cherry next year. If there is a saving grace, however, it is that they possess a higher budget than most of their rivals. Indeed, despite their poor Apertura showing, they were still able to snap up Cabezas and Cuevas, two of the star men of the winners, Trujillanos. Though such purchases can not be said to have been a success thus far, the agitated Mineros fans will be hoping, if not demanding, that their resources are utilised with more acumen ahead of next season.

Down But Not Entirely Out: Venezuelans Abroad Flying the Flag 

Although all three Venezuelan teams have been eliminated, there still remains a Venezuelan interest in the tournament as attention will now solely be on their compatriots at two teams from their westerly neighbours, Colombia. Indeed, starting with the 2014 Finalización winners Santa Fe, left-sided international midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas currently plies his trade here and is often a first-team regular. Unfortunately, he has recently had problems with injuries and so could only make two brief appearances in his side’s group games – both of which were victories over Atlas of Mexico. However, though Santa Fe lost both of their games against Atlético Mineiro, they twice defeated Chilean champions Colo-Colo to end up winners of Group 1 with 12 points. Through to the Round of 16, they – and hopefully a fully fit Seijas – will now face Argentina’s Estudiantes de La Plata, with the first leg taking place in the Buenos Aires Province on 5 May and the reverse fixture in Bogotá on 12 May.

Also through to the knock-out stage is Alejandro Guerra, who may be able to pass his Vinotinto team-mate some notes as his side Atlético Nacional (2014 Apertura champions) finished top of Group 7, ahead of Estudiantes. In all, he featured in five games – only missing the 2-2 opening matchday draw away to Paraguay’s Libertad – and made his most notable contribution as an acrobatic goalscoring substitute in a 2-1 win away in Guayaquil against Barcelona. While he also started in an entertaining 3-2 home reversal inflicted upon them by the Ecuadorians, he had more positive experiences in a 1-0 away win and a 1-1 home draw against Estudiantes, as well as a 4-0 home thumping over Libertad, which sealed their progression. Furthermore, Jonathan Copete, a Colombian by birth but who has played at length in Venezuela and has been in talks to represent the nation, scored the last goal in this game. Both he and Guerra now look forward to a two-legged tie with Barcelona’s Clásico del Astillero rivals Emelec, returning to Guayaquil for the first leg on 7 May before taking the Ecuadorians back to Medellín on 14 May.

Drawn in eminently winnable match-ups, Venezuelans will be hoping that their leading representatives on the continent will be able to continue to fly the flag in this premier competition for some time yet.

*Torneo Clausura Update (17 May 2014): As this article was written when most domestic teams had 2-3 games remaining, hopefully readers will find an update on the league situation helpful. After a breathtakingly dramatic climax, Táchira claimed the title, with Caracas a very narrow 2nd and Zamora in 3rd. Subsequently, Táchira beat Trujillanos in the Gran Final to be crowned the overall 2014/15 champions of Venezuela. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (14 April 2015)

Tuesday 14 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira

 Estadio Presidente Juan Domingo Perón, Avellaneda, Buenos Aires

Goal Highlights of Racing de Avellaneda 3-2 Deportivo Táchira, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 14 April 2015 (courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Rare Venezuelan Optimism Cruelly Dashed Following Late Blunder

Despite already being out of this year’s Copa Libertadores, Venezuela’s Deportivo Táchira nearly pulled off a shock victory against the Argentine champions but were to ultimately be denied by a comeback painfully completed at the death.

Given the significance of seeding in the draw for the knock-out phase and the fact that the hosts had yet to confirm their position at the top of group, they certainly had good reason to go for victory here in their final group game. However, perhaps their 5-0 demolition of their opponents in San Cristóbal back in February was a little too fresh in their memories as while they enjoyed much of the ball in the first half, clear chances were in short supply. Indeed, although Iván Pillud on the right and, more centrally, the likes of Washington Camacho, Óscar Romero, Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou, played the ball around a lot in the final third, they tended to either lack the killer pass or were blocked off by a wall-cum-gauntlet of Táchira players. The closest they came in the first half-hour was when the competition’s top-scorer Bou was played through on 18 minutes but goalkeeper José Contreras raced out to block him off. He was, in any event, offside.

Despite the general flow favouring the group leaders, the humble visitors still managed to make their presence known in the early stages, gaining free-kicks in promising positions and enjoying attacks down the flanks led by Yohandry Orozco and José Alí Meza. It was to be the latter, who has started less than half of his side’s league games and is more often used as an impact substitute, who opened the scoring after 30 minutes. To everyone’s surprise, not least that of the player who had hitherto only managed to find the net in the Copa Venezuela, he profited from some slack marking around the halfway line. He gained some space, dribbled down the inside-right channel while holding off two defenders, before completing what amounted to a 360-degree turn and striking home from the edge of the area.

This most certainly was not in the script. Though it should have served as a wake-up call for the hosts, little changed in the immediate aftermath. Their first real chance to get back in the game occurred in the 37th minute when a cross from Romero on the right reached Milito on the stretch at the back post but he was in such an acute position that he could only head into the side-netting. Their next effort of note was their best of the half and occurred just before the break. Bou received a pass on the right within the area and slapped a fine shot low across goal that Contreras did well to tip onto the far post. The ball rebounded out, narrowly avoiding an attacker, with the Venezuelans just about escaping and heading into the break with their unanticipated lead in tact.

While half-time for both sides must have involved drastically contrasting team-talks, these no doubt required rapid re-thinks less than five minutes after the restart. Incredibly, following on from a pass by César González, Meza managed to find the net again, nimbly evading a challenge before striking home a low effort at Saja’s near post to make it 2-0. Even though Táchira were effectively playing for nothing and Racing’s position in the group made their attitude towards the game questionable, the Venezuelans were nevertheless in dreamland. Leading the full-strength Argentine champions by two goals on their own turf is certainly not to be sniffed at and even taking into account the caveats, this was shaping up to be one of the finest Venezuelan moments in the Copa Libertadores.

Alas, it was not to be. The fightback began in the 58th minute when the widely admired strike-force of Gustavo Bou and Diego Milito combined, with the former receiving a diagonal ball then hitting a cross into the goalmouth for the ex-Inter Milan marksman to tap in.

With their lead halved, manager Daniel Farías soon made changes, the first of which was the surprising replacement of Meza with the less mobile Uruguayan forward Pablo Olivera. Not only had Meza scored twice in what was arguably the game of his life, but by chasing long-range balls and dribbling at the opposition’s back line, he was often playing a leading role in relieving the strain on the defence. With his withdrawal went such moments.

Instead, Racing ramped up the pressure, pitching their tents in the Venezuelan half. In the 67th minute substitute Brian Fernández must have rattled some nerves as much as he shattered the crossbar with a ferocious strike from 25 yards that was hit with such velocity that it rebounded well over 30 yards away from the goal. Denied, but not for long as three minutes later Bou drew his team level. A combination of opposing players headed on a corner to the competition’s top scorer and following a low strike at the near post, he increased his tally to seven goals in six matches.

With twenty minutes still left on the clock and the momentum with the hosts, Táchira were to offer very little going forward, content instead to aim for the reduced glory of a draw. As time wore on, Farías enhanced his reputation for unadventurous and unpopular substitutions, firstly taking off César González, who played the crucial passes that led to both goals and replaced him with 37-year-old Jorge Rojas. Then, with a couple of minutes left, top scorer Gelmin Rivas came on for pacey Yohandry Orozco, who had been playing a role not entirely dissimilar to that of Meza and who was also taken off in an earlier Libertadores game with Club Guaraní to widespread dismay.

Nevertheless, when the 90-minute mark was reached, the game was still 2-2 and owing to a combination of the resilience of the visitors and the lack of urgency of the hosts, Racing had not done much to further threaten the opposition goal. However, just seconds later, disaster struck. On the edge of the area, Fernández dipped a shoulder and quickly got a shot away that should have been comfortable for Contreras. However, to what will be the goalkeeper’s eternal horror, he did not get enough of his body behind the ball and it went under him, trickling agonisingly over the line. Racing, in little over half an hour, had completed the turnaround whereas Táchira, having done so well to confound expectations, ultimately were to go away empty handed and, particularly in the case of Contreras, permanently scarred.

Thus ended the 2015 Copa Libertadores campaign of Deportivo Táchira. Despite impressively qualifying for the competition following an aggregate win over solid Paraguayan outfit Cerro Porteño, they were to underwhelm in the group stage, gaining just three draws and no victories from their six games. Quite where this leaves Daniel Farías remains to be seen as, despite being under pressure after a dreadful 11th-placed finish in the Torneo Apertura, they are currently second in the Torneo Clausura and, with a handful of games left, could well emerge victorious.

A more thorough look at Táchira’s shortcomings should appear on this website soon after all three Venezuelan sides have completed their group matches so be sure to either check back here and/or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter to find out about that and much more.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Deportivo Táchira 1-1 Club Guaraní – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8 (18 March 2015)

Wednesday 18 March 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8

Deportivo Táchira 1-1 Club Guaraní

Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal

Highlights of Deportivo Táchira 1-1 Club Guaraní, 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 8, 18 March 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user MXFS Venezuela)

Orozco Impresses but Improved Táchira Fail to Capitalise in Game of Penalties

Having been dispatched 5-2 last week in Asunción, Deportivo Táchira put in a much-improved performance though will ultimately feel an opportunity to get back into the qualification hunt was missed. 

From the off, the Venezuelans sought to take it to their Paraguayan opponents, frequently gaining some space on the flanks, putting in crosses and trying their luck from range. After five minutes, Guaraní received the first clear message that this encounter would be unlike last week’s as Táchira captain César González, possibly unintentionally, hit the top of the crossbar with a long-range free-kick from the right. Four minutes later, dimunitive winger Yohandry Orozco – whose runs, both on the flanks and further infield, were to cause problems all night – curled a low left-footed free-kick just wide from the edge of the area.

It was to be these two players who were involved in the opening goal as, in the 19th minute, Orozco ran from the inside-right into the area where, following an entanglement with Luis Cabral which sent both men to the ground, a penalty was awarded. Replays struggled to pinpoint exactly what the offence was, but nevertheless González stepped up and confidently converted the spot-kick into the bottom left-hand corner for his fourth goal in consecutive games and his third in four Libertadores group matches.

The Venezuelans continued to attack but the first half as a whole was a rather even affair with the Paraguayans also regularly getting forwards and testing the Táchira rearguard with crosses and long-range shots. They were afforded an opportunity back into the game on the half-hour mark as a free-kick from the edge of the area hit the arm of a player in the wall and was adjudged, somewhat harshly, to have been an intentional handball. However, Federico Santander, a 23-year-old forward who has been capped at international level and who has had loan spells in both France and Argentina, was unable to score from the 12-yard spot. Instead, goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind guessed correctly to pull off what remarkably was his fourth penalty save since joining Táchira at the beginning of the year.

However, the visitors continued their drive to get back into the game and five minutes after Julián Benítez hit a fine long-range shot just wide of the post, he was to get an opportunity to level from the spot. Indeed, in the 41st minute, Argentine centre-back Javier López was penalised in the area for holding back Santander as both men awaited a cross. Thus, the third penalty of the game was awarded, with this time Benítez taking control of the situation and burying the ball into the back of the net to even up the score at half-time.

The second half, though certainly not a one-sided affair, largely belonged to Táchira and yet they were ultimately unable to take advantage of the situation. Eight minutes after the restart they thought they had taken the lead as González, from a similar position to last week’s assist for López’s goal, crossed a free-kick into the area for full-back Yuber Mosquera to head in off the bar. However, his celebrations were quickly cut short by an offside flag.

On the hour-mark, it was Orozco’s turn to come close as a deflected shot from outside the area took a wicked deflection and rebounded off the crossbar, causing goalkeeper Alfredo Aguilar to flail around largely oblivious to the ball’s whereabouts. The next big moment for the hosts came after 72 minutes and was again the work of Orozco as he skilfully took on his man inside the area, before putting a low ball across for González in space sideways-on. Unfortunately for the experienced international who has recently earned a recall to the national side, he was unable to orientate himself quickly enough and his shot was deflected for a corner.

However, despite earning plaudits from the fans for this piece of creativity and generally for his role as the leading attacking threat, Orozco was surprisingly taken off soon afterwards to be replaced by Ángel Osorio. This decision caused uproar amongst the home faithful whose booing and abuse towards manager Daniel Farías – ‘Fuera  Farías’ and ‘Farías hijo de puta’ were amongst the ditties heard – continued with varying degrees of venom until the final whistle. For a manager who many were surprised did not receive the sack following his side’s poor showing in the 2014 Torneo Apertura, this was not the wisest of moves.

In the remaining moments of the game, the hosts nevertheless continued to lead the play and were not too far from winning it when González’s free-kick cross was narrowly missed in the centre – much to the captain’s annoyance. However, a shadow had been cast over the game following Orozco’s removal and when the final whistle was blown, the discontented hordes will have felt vindicated when their man was duly awarded the official man of the match prize.

While Orozco can feel justly aggrieved by his manager’s decision, the outrage on his behalf that followed certainly will not do his reputation any harm. This is something that he has sought to rebuild since returning from Wolfsburg just under two years ago, a move which somewhat dented his status as his nation’s ‘Next Big Thing’.

Whether or not he could have inspired his side to victory on the night can never be known but their failure to pick up three points has surely sealed their fate in Group 8. Whereas a win would have put them just one point off second place, they instead trail by three points and, with a trip to Argentine champions Racing as one of their last two group games, it seems very unlikely that they will progress to the knock-out stage.

Nevertheless, Táchira came close to attaining the first Venezuelan victory of the group stage and will fancy their chances of achieving this in their next game, a home encounter with Peru’s Sporting Cristal. This match, as well their final encounter and all the remaining games of the other two Venezuelan sides – Mineros de Guayana and Zamora FC – will be featured on this site as well as on @DarrenSpherical, so feel free to return to both for further updates.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical