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Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – September 2015 Preview

International Friendlies 

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

Venezuela vs Honduras 

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

Venezuela vs Panama

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

Getting the Gang Back Together to Prepare for the Greatest Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saviour or Historical Footnote? The Wildcard on the Wing 

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

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

Venezuela Squad

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela – 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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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)

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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.

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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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – November 2014 Preview

14 November 2014 – Estadio CAP, Talcahuano.

Chile vs Venezuela

18 November 2014 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz.

Bolivia vs Venezuela 

How the Teams Rank

FifaRankings

FIFA Rankings Comparison Graph for October 2013-October 2014 (FIFA.com)

Venezuela come into this friendly double-header having been demoted in the FIFA rankings from August’s record-high 29th to a lowly 85th in the space of a mere two months. During this period, they played away in September to two Asian nations that featured at the World Cup, losing 3-1 to South Korea and drawing 2-2 with Japan.* A largely overseas-based contingent then spent October’s break at the Ciudad del Fútbol de Las Roza training complex in Madrid, after a total of four friendly matches had been scheduled and then cancelled for varying reasons (though presumed to be primarily financial in nature).

Given the lack of games played by the national side, it is certainly tempting to dismiss the rankings. Indeed, some Venezuelans – not least Noel Sanvicente, the new coach installed in July – may even glance at them with a wry smile, acknowledging that the historical placing of 29th was somewhat dubious, given that two months prior they were 40th and had only played one game in the entire year – a 2-1 away loss to Honduras.

Yet, however misrepresentative these rankings may be, they can not be ignored as the current placements were recently used to determine the seeding of the sides competing for next summer’s Copa América ahead of the upcoming draw. Venezuela, despite finishing 4th in 2011’s tournament and 6th out of the nine CONMEBOL sides in the 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign, found themselves ranked 10th out of 12 sides, thus consigning them to the fourth and lowest-seeded pot with Bolivia and CONCACAF-invitees, Jamaica. Consequently, a slightly more difficult group than may have been anticipated looks to be on the cards for La Vinotinto.

Defensive bulwark Oswaldo Vizcarrondo as well as Sanvicente himself have both publicly criticised these organisational methods and their raw sense of injustice may well be harnessed by El Chita to instil a siege mentality into his troops ahead of their upcoming games against Chile and Bolivia.

Squad News: Absentees and Opportunities

Playing to, and galvanising, the emotions of his squad may be necessary for Sanvicente as much of his long-term tactical plans have been adversely affected by a long list of absentees, all of whom play outside of Venezuela and thus, it is not too disrepectful to say, are amongst their most important players.

Two key individuals to have succumbed to injuries are converted right-back Roberto Rosales (Málaga) and new captain Tomás Rincón (Genoa), both components of Sanvicente’s planned defensive-midfield pairing that was first given its debut against Japan. Also sidelined are Fernando Amorebieta (Fulham), Vizcarrondo’s regular partner in central defence under former coach César Farías, as well as Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional). Furthermore, though Guerra’s fellow Colombia-based midfield colleague Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe) will be reporting for duty, he is unlikely to play in the Chile game, having played less than 48 hours prior in his side’s Copa Colombia final defeat to Deportes Tolima.

Another player not making the trip is forward Juan Falcón (Metz) who has had a promising start in Ligue 1 (4 goals in 8 games) and would have hoped to quickly establish himself as a more common fixture of the national side with his former Zamora manager now at the helm. Following on with the problems in attack, perhaps the most internationally renowned player not joining up with his compariots is striker Salomón Rondón (Zenit St. Petersburg), who is suspended following a straight red card he received while on the bench against South Korea. In his absence, young prospect Darwin Machís (Granada), who has had several chances with the first team in La Liga this season, will unfortunately not be able to demonstrate what he can do up front, having picked up a lengthy injury in October that will likely rule him out until next year. Sanvicente’s attempts to find someone to partner Mario Rondón (C.D. Nacional) have been further thwarted as Germany-raised Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen), the man the coach said he wanted to trial in this role, has been temporarily unable to join up with the national side due to documentation issues. Indeed, this is a similar situation former Barcelona and Spain Under-21 international Jeffrén Suárez (Real Valladolid) finds himself in, having finally agreed to commit himself to La Vinotinto last month.

With so many players unavaible, Sanvicente has called up a squad that while not lacking in quality, features more players from the domestic league than would ideally be the case (9 out of 23) as well as several who have been languishing on the bench of overseas clubs (i.e. of the five forwards, only Mario Rondón can be said to be a regular starter for his club). However, one morale-boosting inclusion is the return of the iconic Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana) who had asked not to be called up for Sanvicente’s first two squads as he attempted to settle in Mexico’s Liga MX.

Nevertheless, with several regular starters missing and a coach still attempting to implement his ideas on the squad, Venezuela can certainly expect some tough encounters against a largely full-strength Chile, followed by Bolivia and the altitude of La Paz. Thus, what is detailed next are several things to look out for from a Venezuelan perspective in these two games.

What to Look Out For

How the Team Copes Defensively

Early reports suggest that the probable starting line-up for the Chile game will feature five out of the seven defence-minded players (goalkeeper, four defenders and two defensive-midfielders) who began against South Korea. In this 3-1 reversal, La Vinotinto at times looked porous, being repeatedly overran in the middle with their left side also offering weak resistance and the organisation in the middle often disintegrating into chaos (as can be witnessed on the third goal).

Édgar Jiménez (Mineros de Guayana), who made a rare start partnering Rincón in front of the defence, came in for some criticism for allowing the likes of Son Heung-Min to routinely bypass him and was one of only two players to be dropped for the Japan game. Given the noted injuries in this position, he is said to be likely to be paired with club team-mate Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana) and both men, along with the defence behind them, will surely have their work cut out in the first game against the direct, rapid attacks of Sánchez, Aránguiz, Vargas, Vidal and the Venezuela-born Valdivia. Indeed, they may well be best advised to try to force them wide at all opportunities and goalkeeper Dani Hernández (Real Valladolid) – another player to come in for some criticism, largely due to some questionable handling and decision-making – will be anticipating a busy night. Time will tell how he copes with such activity, following a season largely playing second fiddle in Spain’s Segunda División. Ultimately, the defence will want to come out of this game having conceded fewer than the five goals that South Korea and Japan collectively managed to get past them.

The Role of Juan Arango

It was noted last month that he has sometimes been allocated a less advanced role for Xolos in the centre, as opposed to the position he is more accustomed to further upfield either in the middle or, more commonly, on the left. It will be interesting to see if the 34 year-old will still be able to impose himself with as much attacking threat as he used to as, with the noted absences in the forward line, many will be counting on his his set-pieces, defence-splitting passes and/or long-range screamers. Given his advanced years (in footballing terms, at least) it is also common for him to complete less than 70 minutes for his club so he may well be withdrawn after a similar amount of time in these two games. If this proves to be the case, expect to see an injection of youthful pace and creativity from the likes of either Yohandry Orozco (Deportivo Táchira) or Rómulo Otero (Caracas FC), the latter of whom will be especially eager to take over set-piece duties.

The Role of Mario Rondón

Having not featured a great deal under César Farías, Mario Rondón was unquestionably the most notable performer on September’s Asian tour, having scored two goals and showing some potential in a future forward partnership with Salomón Rondón. Now the only Rondón in the side, he will be in the curious position of either playing in an attacking partnership with someone he is unlikely to feature regularly alongside in a competitive match or being moved back to one of the flanks, where he sometimes plays at club level. Either way, as his goals came from first a goalkeeping error (though was rather well-taken) and then a penalty, he will want to prove that he can be just as effective in regular open play and maintain the momentum he has built up.

Injuries

All Venezuelans will be hoping to avoid witnessing any more of these!

Surprises?

Ultimately, there will doubtless be plenty more aspects in these two games to look out for and yet with all the pessimism that has certainly prevailed in many quarters, this is just the right backdrop for La Vinotinto to spring a surprise or two. Indeed, irrespective of the Chile result, expect changes in the Bolivia game as this is still very much an experimental phase in the Sanvicente reign and with so many players receiving unexpected chances who knows what these new on-field partnerships and combinations will bring?

Whatever happens, Sanvicente will be eager for his Venezuela side to show the entire continent of South America that they can compete with the likes of Chile and have also moved on from being lumped in with the likes of Bolivia, regardless of what the rankings currently say.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

Dani Hernández (Real Valladolid) & Rafael Romo (Mineros de Guayana).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Francisco Carabalí (Caracas FC), Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana), Alexander González (FC Thun), Grenddy Perozo (Ajaccio) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders

Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga), Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana), Frank Feltscher (Aarau), Édgar Jiménez (Mineros de Guayana), Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira), Yohandry Orozco (Deportivo Táchira), Rómulo Otero (Caracas FC), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe) & Franco Signorelli (Empoli).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Nantes), Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor (Al-Gharafa), Josef Martínez (Torino), Emilio Rentería (San Marcos de Arica) & Mario Rondón (C.D. Nacional).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

*UPDATE: 15 November 2014 – The 2-2 friendly draw with Japan has since been changed by FIFA to a 3-0 victory for Japan due to Venezuela illegally fielding Salomón Rondón, despite having been sent off in the previous game. This fact went completely unreported in the Venezuelan media and was actually first reported on this site’s Twitter account.

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

Tuesday 9 September 2014

International Friendly

Japan 2-2 Venezuela

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

Team Selection

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

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

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

Further details of the two teams can be found here.

Match Report

First Half

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

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

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

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

Second Half

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

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

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

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

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

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

*UPDATE: 15 November 2014 – This 2-2 friendly draw with Japan has since been changed by FIFA to a 3-0 victory for Japan due to Venezuela illegally fielding Salomón Rondón, despite having been sent off in the previous game. This fact went completely unreported in the Venezuelan media and was actually first reported on this site’s Twitter account.

South Korea 3-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (5 September 2014)

Friday 5 September 2014

International Friendly

South Korea 3-1 Venezuela

The Noel Sanvicente era began in Bucheon with defeat as a line-up consisting mainly of regulars from the Farías reign plus a couple who were overlooked and one discombobulating absence were gradually overran by a Korean side keen to avoid any more toffees being lobbed at them, with the crowd of over 30,000 similarly eager to see their representatives compensate for a dire World Cup campaign.

The Team

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

Substitutes: Falcón for Martínez (’56), Seijas for Jiménez (’62), Miku for M. Rondón (69′) and González for S. Rondón (’74). 

(For additional information, such as the South Korea line-up and the unused substitutes, click here.)

Arranging his side in a formation resembling the in-vogue 4-2-3-1, the new boss, affectionately known as ‘El Chita’, unsurprisingly opted for Real Valladolid’s Dani Hernández in goal, with Málaga new-boy Roberto Rosales at right-back and Nantes’s reliable Oswaldo Vizcarrondo as one of the centre-backs. However, finding Vizcarrondo a partner provided the former Zamora coach with some problems as both Fulham’s ostracised Basque, Fernando Amorebieta (club and possibly personal issues), and Buriram United colossus, Andrés Túñez (injury), could not be called upon. Instead, Sanvicente opted for Ajaccio’s experienced Grenddy Perozo, who has recently returned from injury, with Gabriel Cichero, currently back from Europe on loan at Mineros de Guayana, playing on the left side of the back line.

Playing in front of this back four, Tomás Rincón’s inclusion was never in doubt and he will have surely been honoured to have been awarded the captain’s armband, recently vacated by the veteran icon Juan Arango, who had asked not to be included in this squad but may return once he feels he has settled at his new club in Mexico. Yet there was some unexpected drama regarding Rincón’s partner-in-crime, as Rafael Acosta was originally pencilled in to play but suffered a strained right calf in a run on the morning of the match and was summarily replaced by his Mineros team-mate Édgar Jiménez who, despite nearing the age of thirty, has now been capped for the sixth time.

The attacking three in front of this line consisted of two players who had regularly featured in the line-ups of Farías, Torino’s emerging talent Josef Martínez (playing on one of the flanks) and Atlético Nacional’s Alejandro ‘Lobo’ Guerra (playing more centrally), who were joined by Mario Rondón who, despite regularly starring for Portuguese side Nacional, has no more than a handful of caps to his name. He was afforded a rare opportunity to show what he can do from the start and was to link up regularly with the lone striker and undisputed biggest name in the side, Salomón Rondón, who has been firing in the goals at a formidable rate for Zenit St. Petersburg since his arrival in January.

Match Report

First Half

For extensive highlights of the first half, click here.

It is unfortunate that Sanvicente’s reign is likely to begin with a decline from their, arguably undeserved, record-high FIFA ranking of 29th in the world (South Korea are currently 57th) but things could well have been different had Salomón Rondón managed to convert a gilt-edged opportunity with less than three minutes on the clock. Indeed, at a time when many Venezuelans, lacking any live domestic television coverage, were still attempting to connect to shady online streams, a low pass across the area from the right found the Zenit goal-machine unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box. Yet, perhaps due to a lack of concentration and/or a casual instinctive assumption that there would be plenty more opportunities to come – as is often the case in Russia – his attempted tap-in was blocked by the goalkeeper, leaving Rondón with a stunned expression on his face.

It was a rather open game in the first quarter, though Korea did gradually come to enjoy more of the ball in the final third, with Son Heung-Min, who exposed many defensive frailties throughout the match, letting Venezuela’s back line know what they were up against from an early stage. After 11 minutes, the Bayer Leverkusen forward craftily evaded two challenges, nearly winning a penalty following a collision with Vizcarrondo and just a few minutes later, he struck a pacey 25-yard drive at Hernández, who parried the shot a little too close to his goalmouth for comfort. The Valladolid goalkeeper was to look vulnerable on several occasions throughout the match yet it was his opposite number, Kim Jin-hyeon, who was to make the most egregious howler of the evening, gifting Venezuela the lead against the run of play after 21 minutes. What should have been a routine clearance was hit low and consequently blocked and chipped speedily with sublime grace by Mario Rondón from nearly 40 yards, providing his compatriots with a moment to savour that came out of nothing and, of course, aiding his personal cause for more starts in the future.

Korea attempted to get an immediate response and were able to gain some space down the right flank to put in some testing crosses though Cichero, the man primarily responsible for shielding this area, did manage to get forward on his left in the 29th minute to put in a cross that Mario Rondón attempted to nod back into the path of his namesake Salomón, though could not quite guide it towards him. Nevertheless, Korea were having more success exploiting the holes, slow tracking and general disorganisation that was a hallmark of Venezuelan defence throughout the game and in the 33rd minute they found themselves on level terms. The goal came following a forward pass from the halfway line to Son Heung-min on the inside-left, who caused disarray as he bombed forward towards the edge of the area, turning when surrounded, to slide in the onrushing Lee Chung-yong on the edge of the dee. He ran into the area and attempted a low cross from an acute position on the left side of the six-yard box which was blocked by a defender but fell to Lee-Myung-joo – another Korean not short of space – who controlled the ball, then curled a wonderful shot into the far corner of the net.

In the remainder of the half, the closest Venezuela came to restoring their lead was an attempted acrobatic effort from Perozo that did not really connect with the flick-on from Vizcarrondo but it was up the other end where the most dangerous attacks occurred, as Sanvicente’s boys were regularly found desperately scrambling around, attempting to block shots and keep up with attackers.

Second Half 

For extensive highlights of the second half, click here.

Just over a minute into the second-half, Hernández needlessly punched out a harmless cross, an act that was not only highlighted several times in replays but which was also one of at least a few instances of his poor decision-making, which could not have helped the confidence of the already hesitant back line. Shortly after in the 52nd minute he was picking the ball out of his net as Lee Dong-Gook, recalled at the age of 35 to earn his 100th cap, rose high to head home a corner that hit the underside of the bar before crossing the line to put South Korea 2-1 up.

Afterwards, Venezuela struggled to really get back into an increasingly dirty game, with a Vizcarrondo header from a corner that sailed well over the bar the best chance they had before Lee Dong-Gook turned up again to score his second and Korea’s third in the 63nd minute. This goal, far more than the other two, really highlighted Venezuela’s defensive disarray as, after Cichero was easily beaten for pace on his left, the ball was briefly recovered until Seijas (the replacement for Jiménez) was dispossessed and a cross was sent in that was closer to both Vizcarrondo and Rosales than any attacker, yet both men failed to deal with it. It is debatable as to who the main culprit is, as though Rosales looked absolutely hapless, facing the wrong way as the ball bounced off his back and into the path of Lee Dong-Gook, he was not helped by Vizcarrondo’s air-jump that may have made minor contact with the ball, thus diverting it away from the head of Rosales and towards his back.

Less than ten minutes after the goal, little had been learned as Son Heung-Min easily out-jumped the diminutive Rosales to get onto another cross from the Venezuelan left and headed just over. Soon after and again from the left, Son Heung-Min was played into acres of space within the area but Hernández blocked his shot from an acute angle, yet barely a minute afterwards the goalkeeper nearly emulated his opposite number’s first-half embarrassment, when his clearance was almost blocked by an opponent. However, luckily for the Valladolid man, the Korean could not quite get a strong enough leg in the way to stop the ball and cause further embarrassment to Venezuela.

For the remainder of the game, Korea had a few more dangerous attacks and the closest the South Americans could get to another goal came courtesy of some half-chances that were often started by space-opening passes to the flanks from Rincón that substitutes Alexander González, Juan Falcón and Miku could not quite finish off. With five minutes left on the clock, a rather downbeat new dawn was capped off by Salomón Rondón, now sitting on the bench having been substituted, receiving a red card. Although there has been no official word on why he was sent off, it was most likely for vociferously protesting at match officials, as some rather strong challenges had gone unpunished throughout the game and particularly in the second half.

Nevertheless, as it was a friendly match, he will not be missing the next test against Japan later on today and though for this Sanvicente will want to improve the organisation and confidence of the back line as well as create a system that facilitates more clear shooting opportunities, as this was his first match, it is perhaps not worth drawing too many conclusions from it. What we can say is, though there were a few changes, the majority of this team were regulars under the previous incumbent yet have only played together once previously in the preceding 11 months, which may explain some of the disorganisation, disarray and general ring-rustiness.

The line-up for the Japan game has already been announced and includes a few intriguing experimental changes from this first match and, depending on the performance, may well offer some clues as to the direction Sanvicente wishes to pursue. If you are up and about at 11:20am GMT, please join Hispanospherical on Twitter, where the game will be covered in more detail than anyone ever asked for. Look forward to hearing from you.

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

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

Europe

Spain

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

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

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

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

France

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

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

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

Portugal

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

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

Russia 

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

Italy

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

Switzerland

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

Germany

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

Cyprus

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

England

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

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

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