La Vinotinto departed the Spanish capital to head north to a very proud and rebellious autonomous region. Here, @DarrenSpherical recalls the events of an atmospheric night in Girona…
Monday 25 March 2019 – Estadi Montilivi, Girona, Catalonia, Spain
Catalonia 2-1 Venezuela
Video Highlights of Catalonia 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 25 March 2019 (YouTube)
Vinotinto Denied at the Death
In what could well turn out to be Rafael Dudamel’s last game in charge, a Venezuelan national team that featured several changes from the glorious 3-1 victory over Argentina was ultimately undone by a late Catalonian winner.
Salomón Rondón was one of four players replaced in the line-up, though particularly in the first half, La Vinotinto performed very much on a similar level to their well-experienced opponents.
In front of a boisterous crowd, the game started at a healthy pace, with the first moments of note coming in the ninth minute when Sevilla’s Aleix Vidal put in a couple of testing crosses that were both narrowly thwarted in the area.
Five minutes later, Venezuela came alive in the final third when Yeferson Soteldo – here, given the nod ahead of Darwin Machís – cut inside and fired a rapid right-footed strike that goalkeeper Edgar Badía parried low. Immediately afterwards, Roberto Rosales picked up the rebound, knocking it across the goalmouth where it only just evaded Rondón’s replacement Josef Martínez in the middle. However, it instead fell on the right in the area to Jhon Murillo, who lashed a fearsome effort that crashed back off the crossbar.
Murillo often sought to make things happen and later in the 24th minute he did also fashion himself another, albeit considerably softer, chance, as his effort from the edge of the area floated into the goalkeeper’s arms.
A few minutes later back up the other end, the hosts were not far from taking the lead when a cross fell to Joan Jordán, whose low drive fortuitously ricocheted off a ground-bound Jhon Chancellor and trickled out for a corner.
Barely a minute later, it was again Venezuela’s turn to go close. This time, Murillo bustled past an opponent on the right to play a fine cross into the centre where Rosales, five yards out and odds-on to score, saw his strike hit the inside of the post and go back in Murillo’s direction.
In the 36th minute, the hosts themselves got involved with the woodwork action as captain Gerard Piqué curled a fine free-kick that clipped the crossbar. Not to be outdone, five minutes later fellow La Liga defender Rosales again beat the goalkeeper but not his apparatus by also connecting with the top beam from a long-range set-piece effort.
Thus, when the two sides withdrew for the break, although the scoreboard read 0-0, with regard to the goal framework, Venezuela were 3-1 up on hits.
The restart heralded the beginning of many personnel changes, with Catalonia ultimately going on to replace their entire team and Venezuela making a total of seven changes.
A few minutes into the second half, Soteldo dinked a ball to Alexander González who, in turn, crossed the ball low for Josef Martínez. Yet, the Atlanta forward could not quite pull the trigger in time as Oriol Romeu intervened for a corner.
However, in the 53rd minute, the South Americans found themselves chasing the game. Here, hot Barcelona prospect Riqui Puig played an incisive ball into the area and no Venezuelan picked up the run of Brighton’s Martín Montoya. Thus, he rounded substitute goalkeeper Rafael Romo, with fellow Camp Nou-graduate-turned-British-resident Bojan Krkić finishing the move off.
It was not the first time the Catalans had displayed some impressive fast-paced passing and movement abilities, but it was the first time that it had paid off. However, barely five minutes later they were prevented from pushing on as a defensive mix-up gifted Venezuela an equaliser. Indeed, an innocuous ball forward was weakly headed by Montoya back towards his area, but before second-half goalkeeper Isaac Becerra could receive it, Rosales was there to pounce and nutmeg him to make it 1-1.
For the remaining half-hour or so, the game suffered somewhat due to the number of substitutions. Two of these conjured up Venezuela’s best chance of a winner in this period as Juanpi’s 62nd-minute pass into the middle was almost diverted goalwards by Fernando Aristeguieta, but the Colombia-based striker struggled to make the right connection.
In turn, Venezuelan shot-stopper Romo was on cue to parry a couple of home efforts, such as that of Javi Puado in the 68th minute and then Marc Cardona’s in the 77th.
However, there was little that the APOEL goalkeeper could do in the 88th minute. With the clock close to expiring a ball was played over from the right byline and defender Ronald Hernández stretched but could not deal with it as it fell to Puado, who maintained his composure within the area and struck home.
For the majority of elated fans, it seemed an apt end to proceedings. For Venezuela, however, while they should not be too downheartened by the result and certainly not by their overall on-field experiences in Spain, their future currently seems surprisingly precarious.
Indeed, post-game it was assistant coach Marcos Mathías who attended to the press, with Rafael Dudamel reportedly being due to meet with the football association (FVF) in order to discuss whether or not he shall continue in the role. This follows in the wake of Friday’s publicised meeting with representatives of one of the two political factions currently locked in a dispute over the running of the country, which led to the coach offering his resignation. Currently, it is unclear as to what the outcome is likely to be and, although his second-in-command instead speaking to the media feels somewhat ominous, it is possible that Dudamel merely wished to avoid the inevitable interrogation. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but right now it feels as if, on-field at least, Venezuela are onto something and, with no obvious candidate to take over, nobody wants to see any momentum squandered.
Catalonia (4-4-2): E. Badía (I. Becerra, 46′); A. Vidal (J. Puado, 62′), G. Piqué (R. Puig, 52′), M. Bartra (M. Montoya, 46′), D. Vilá (O. Romeu, 46′); J. Jordán (A. García, 46′), P. Pons (M. Cucurella, 46′), Á. Granell (V. Sánchez, 46′), Ó. Melendo (M. Muniesa, 46′); B. Krkic (M. Cardona, 62′) & S. García (P. Milla, 37′).
Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Faríñez (R. Romo, 46′); A. González (R. Hernández, 78′), Y. Osorio, J. Chancellor, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, T. Rincón (L. Seijas, 46′), Y. Herrera; J. Murillo (D. Machís, 61′), Y. Soteldo (Juanpi, 61′) (J. Cádiz, 81′); J. Martínez (F. Aristeguieta, 61′).