Tag Archives: International Friendly

Iran 1-0 Venezuela – International Friendly (13 November 2017)

10am in Caracas, 3pm in Nijmegen, 5:30pm in Tehran. On a Monday. For those who were otherwise occupied, here is what happened…

International Friendly

Monday 13 November 2017 – Goffertstadion, Nijmegen, Gelderland, Netherlands

Iran 1-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Iran 1-0 Venezuela, International Friendly, 13 November 2017 (YouTube)

Goalkeeping Error Leads to Marginal Defeat for Spirited Venezuela

Due to a second-half goalkeeping error, Venezuela’s six-game unbeaten run came to an end in what was otherwise a decent run-out for Rafael Dudamel’s youthful side.

Though it was reported as being played behind closed doors, some pockets of Iranian fans were present in the largely empty Goffertstadion, home of Dutch side N.E.C. Nijmegen. No Venezuelan spectators could be spotted, with instead the miniscule number of domestic followers with an interest in this friendly watching an Iranian broadcast online, Venezuelan television channels having opted not to transmit the clash.

In the opening exchanges, it was the supporters of the Middle Eastern World Cup qualifiers – some of whom displayed an image of manager Carlos Queiroz – who were given more to cheer about. Within a minute, their side nearly scored as a cross bounced in from the right, but Reza Ghoochannejhad’s touch lacked the requisite deftness and instead the ball sailed over from close range. Subsequently, the Iranians saw more of the leather sphere and looked sharper, playing in testing crosses and hitting shots that admittedly, if they did creep through the crowded area, caused no real difficulty for goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez.

Though on the backfoot to begin with, Venezuela did gradually come into the game and fashioned several attempts of their own. Firstly, in the 13th minute, Málaga midfielder Juanpi – playing his first international game since October 2016 and who was his side’s leading threat in the first half – knocked a ball forward to captain-for-the-day Salomón Rondón. The West Brom forward then spun on the edge of the area but his left-footed strike comfortably cleared the bar. Two minutes later, Yangel Herrera slid the ball to Juanpi outside the area, who fired a decent shot that the goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand saved low. Midway through the first half, Juanpi had another opportunity when he struck a left-footed effort from just outside the area on the inside-left. However, though it was well-hit, it went a few yards wide of the far post.

Later on in the 31st minute, Salomón Rondón caused some sudden panic when, from some 30 yards out on the inside-right, he whacked an impressive left-footed shot a mere yard over the woodwork. Then, five minutes later, Venezuela came the closest to scoring that they would in the entire game. Here, Juanpi’s long-distance free-kick was poorly punched by the goalkeeper, leading to the ball being knocked into the path of left-back Rubert Quijada. Despite the inviting scenario, his instinctive first-time strike arrowed directly at the head of defender Morteza Pouraliganji, who cleared off the goal-line.

Though La Vinotinto occasionally asserted themselves in this manner, Iran still saw plenty of the ball and had a few further moments of note. In particular, in the 25th minute, a cross came over from the right and Ashkan Dejagah struck a fine left-footed cross-shot which narrowly evaded a team-mate in the goalmouth as well as the far post. Also, a couple of minutes before the interval, Ramin Rezaeian put in a very dangerous ball from the right. Had Vahid Amiri attempted to make decisive contact first-time, instead of taking an awkward touch on his chest which gifted the ball to Fariñez, he could well have scored.

To begin with at least, perhaps due in part to five substitutes being made at half-time (two for Venezuela, three for Iran), the opening minutes of the second half were a little more reserved. Darwin Machís’ run and low saved shot for La Vinotinto was the only real effort before a series of efforts up the other end, the goal-frame of which was now being occupied by José Contreras.

Indeed, first, in the 55th minute, he pulled off a sensational save when a corner was headed down from close range and he was able to instinctively turn the bouncing ball over his own crossbar. Then, within a minute of this, a nodded effort from Ghoochannejhad did bypass him, though this was ruled out for offside. However, soon afterwards in the 57th minute, his own head must have deserted him as he manically ran out of the area on the inside-right in order to intercept a through-ball. To his embarrassment, he was beaten by Amiri who passed it into the centre where Alireza Jahanbakhsh was able to tap the ball into an unguarded net. 1-0 to Iran.

Dudamel’s largely cautious approach of absorbing pressure, seeking to counter on the break as well as generally wear down the wherewithal of their opponents often looks and feels a little precarious. Today, with their otherwise commendable rearguard breached, the onus was suddenly on them to make the running up the other end. At first, they struggled, with the next chance of note falling to the Iranians as a long ball found substitute Sardar Azmoun just outside the area on the inside-left; though his shot dipped into the side-netting, it was a mark of his confidence that he attempted such a strike in the first place.

However, ultimately, though they also had to fend off some crosses and block various attempts, Venezuela were to see out the last 20-25 minutes with more moments of note than their opponents. The man primarily responsible for this shift in complexion was Juanpi’s 58th-minute replacement, Yeferson Soteldo, one of five 2017 Under-20 World Cup finalists to participate in the match. The Chile-based dribbler often galvanised his team-mates and spearheaded moves with his jinking runs. Ten minutes after his introduction, he weaved some magic on the left before crossing into the area, though Rondón’s header, from an awkward position, went harmlessly wide. In the 83rd minute, Soteldo had his best moment of the game, when he went on a central rampage, played a one-two with Rondón and then struck low from just outside the area, which required a good low stretched parry from substitute goalkeeper Mohammad Mazaheri, earning a corner. Later on, with a minute remaining, he also did well to cut onto his right foot on the edge of the area and force a low save.

Amidst these opportunities, Soteldo and his fellow attacking-midfielders Machís and Jhon Murillo were also involved in some moves which culminated in crosses narrowly evading meaningful contact in the goalmouth. That said, Venezuela’s best other chance came courtesy of Soteldo’s erstwhile Under-20 colleague Ronaldo Lucena, whose 86th-minute deceptively swerving free-kick was well-saved by the goalkeeper, who did well to track the trajectory of the ball and tip over.

Throughout all of this, Iran’s attacking threat was always lurking and they could well have doubled their lead in the 84th minute when Azmoun found himself in some space within the area. However, his low strike was well-blocked by the legs of Contreras.

Alas, when the final whistle blew in the eastern Netherlands, Dudamel’s squad again had to taste defeat, albeit for the first time at senior level in seven-and-a-half months. Still, better here than in a competitive match, they will surely reason. With a few familiar faces missing and the next friendly encounter not likely to take place until over four months from now, perhaps reading too much into any outcome was always going to be somewhat futile. Performances and the adaptation to the coach’s methods are surely what is paramount and, with some of the next generation impressing and the defeat against World Cup-calibre opponents occurring due to a hasty error by a back-up goalkeeper, Dudamel can not be too disappointed with his Dutch day out.

Team Selections

Iran (4-3-2-1): A. Beiranvand (M. Mazaheri, 46′); R. Rezaeian, M. Pouraliganji, J. Hosseini (O. Ebrahimi, 61′), E. Hajsafi; S. Ezatolahi (A. Imani, 46′), Ali Karimi, A. Dejagah (S. Ghoddos, 46′); A. Jahanbakhsh (K. Rezaei, 61′), V. Amiri; R. Ghoochannejhad (S. Azmoun, 61′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Fariñez (J. Contreras, 46′); R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, W. Ángel, R. Quijada; Y. Herrera (A. Blondell, 87′), A. Figuera (A. Romero, 46′); J. Murillo, Juanpi (Y. Soteldo, 58′), D. Machís (R. Lucena, 75′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly International – November 2017 Preview

Seeking to build on the momentum gained in recent months, a friendly with Russia 2018-bound competition has been cobbled together. Here, @DarrenSpherical takes a brief look at the La Vinotinto squad currently preparing in the Netherlands…

International Friendly

Monday 13 November 2017 – Goffertstadion, Nijmegen, Gelderland, Netherlands

Iran vs Venezuela

juanpipic

Juanpi, celebrating a spectacular goal against Argentina, has earned a recall (Marca).

Every Opportunity Counts

This curious encounter between two nations whose relationship has long raised eyebrows in the White House sees Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel hoping to capitalise on the strides made in the second half of 2017.

Perhaps in part due to its timing – announced less than three weeks ago, just after a qualification cycle had ended and over 18 months before the next competitive match – Venezuelan media coverage of this friendly has been almost non-existent. That it is taking place in the Netherlands may also be a factor: Arnhem was originally scheduled to be the host city, but the match has since been moved to Nijmegen, where it will be played behind closed doors at the home of the local second-tier side.

For this single game, Dudamel has called up a reduced 20-man squad. Following on from the relative success he has overseen in the final four World Cup qualifiers played over September and October – three draws and a win – he has selected seven players who were Under-20 World Cup runners-up back in June. Many of these players have already made important senior contributions and this squad provides an opportunity for highly-touted attacker Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, on loan from Watford) to be reintegrated with the fold, injury having ruled him out of previous call-ups.

With Dudamel now signed up for the long run, there should be many more call-ups for these individuals as well as other members of this silver generation, not least Sergio Córdova (Augsburg), who has featured regularly for the seniors but is currently sidelined, having picked up a knock last month in the win against Paraguay.

Otherwise, though Dudamel’s intentions have not been elaborated upon in great detail, it is apparent that he wishes to try out a few new things. Indeed, though this selection includes many familiar faces from recent games, notably absent are captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, on loan from Juventus), MLS hotshot Josef Martínez (Atlanta United) and Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro). All three men are likely to play crucial roles in the assault on Qatar 2022, but one man who may profit from their strategic omissions is versatile midfielder Juanpi (Málaga). His exclusion from last month’s monster 31-man squad was a surprise, yet though the door has not re-opened for club team-mate Roberto Rosales, many will be hoping that this 23-year-old will be able to re-assert himself as a key player for the future. Whilst a deep-lying position is possible, a more attacking role is likelier.

Iran, who have been led to their second consecutive World Cup by Carlos Queiroz, will certainly pose a test. They beat La Vinotinto 1-0 in the two nations’ solitary previous encounter some 15 years ago and come into the game having defeated fellow Russia 2018 qualifiers Panama on Thursday. In this game – also played on European soil – the Central Americans’ goal was netted by one Gabriel Torres, a striker who has enjoyed two high-scoring spells at Venezuelan side Zamora FC.

Though there won’t be much of an atmosphere at this upcoming clash and it seems unlikely to attract much of an audience back home, Dudamel has long set his sights on Qatar 2022 and will seek to make the most of every opportunity that can help his side make progress. Of course extending the seniors’ six-match unbeaten streak would be great, but more players adapting well to his system, irrespective of the result, will surely be of overriding importance in Nijmegen.

Venezuela Squad

venezuelairansquad

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira) & Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC)

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães, Portugal), José Hernández (Caracas FC), Ronald Hernández (Stabæk, Norway), Rubert Quijada (Al Gharafa, Qatar, on loan from Caracas FC) & Mikel Villanueva (Cádiz, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Ronaldo Lucena (Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, Spain, on loan from Watford, England), Aristóteles Romero (Crotone, Italy) & Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile).

Forwards

Anthony Blondell (Monagas S.C.) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (8 June 2017)

Again somewhat overshadowed by events in South Korea, Venezuela’s makeshift senior national side have nevertheless just concluded their two-stop American tour…

International Friendly

Thursday 8 June 2017 – FAU Stadium, Boca Ratón, Florida, USA

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 8 June 2017 (YouTube)

Moreno’s Magic Ends Things All-Square In Florida

Venezuela’s brief American tour ended with Júnior Moreno’s first-half goal earning them a second consecutive draw in a game which began fairly lively though petered out in the last half-hour.

Both sides had their moments in the early exchanges, with Venezuelan right-back Alexander González striking the top of the crossbar with a phenomenal 12th-minute strike from over 30 yards out on the inside-right.

However, the pacy and powerful Ecuadorians combined with more success during this period and were to enjoy the better of the opportunities. Indeed, in the 5th minute, Cristian Ramírez dinked in a cross from the left which Marcos Caicedo headed with great intent but too close to goalkeeper José Contreras who nevertheless did well to pull off a crucial close-range block. In the 20th minute, there were two moments of note: first, Caicedo ran forward before passing to Enner Valencia in a promising position on the left, yet his low ball into the rather spacious box was knocked away. Soon afterwards, a team-mate struck an effort from outside the area which Contreras comfortably got down to.

Then, three minutes later Ecuador had the ball in the back of the net after some fine flank-work from Caicedo on the left, following which he drilled in a low ball that Valencia stabbed home – only to be flagged offside. However, La Tricolor were not to be denied for long as, in the 28th minute, another low cross in from Caicedo ended up in the back of the net – that is, after being unfortunately converted by Venezuelan centre-back Mikel Villanueva for an own goal. 1-0.

Following this opener, Ecuador had a couple more half-chances, though Venezuela gradually got upfield more frequently, though most of their forays involved crosses, particularly from Rómulo Otero, which evading those in the middle by a whisker. Nevertheless, they managed to return affairs to level terms in the 42nd minute after another cross without contact went over to the right, where Arquímedes Figuera then passed to Júnior Moreno. From an inside-right position just outside of the area, the Zulia man impressed for his second successive Vinotinto game, by striking a fantastic right-footed effort that went in off the far post to make it 1-1.

Following the interval, most of the – rather limited – action was confined to the opening fifteen minutes or so. From the Venezuelan side of things, Salomón Rondón fluffed his lines a few times, thus continuing his rather underwhelming form in 2017 – just the one goal at international level plus another for West Brom so far. First in the 50th minute, after a fine run by Jhon Murillo down the right into the area which saw the Tondela loanee bypass a couple of opponents along the way, the ball was played back for Rondón in an inviting central position, but his shot was badly screwed wide. Similarly, five minutes later, the striker was found via a fine deep pass from González, yet somehow was unable to make a connection with the ball. Later on in the 61st minute, Rondón was again played through and had a partial sight of goal within the area. However, once more, he misdirected his effort wide.

In between as well as after this trio of chances, Venezuela goalkeeper Alain Baroja – who was substituted on at half-time, thus heralding his international return following an exile of over 14 months – made some decent contributions. First, in the 53rd minute, Valencia did well to nutmeg Villanueva on the left before coming into the area, one-on-one, yet his shot was blocked by the trailing arm/right-side of Baroja; Venezuela thus narrowly dealt with the resulting corner. Then, some seven minutes later, the goalkeeper did well to race out and beat an attacker who was threatening to reach the forward ball.

Otherwise, in the remaining 30 minutes, little of note occurred aside from the minor matter of Venezuela’s Andrés Ponce being slid through on the inside-right in the 72nd minute and taking a surprise shot that whistled a yard or so wide of the target.

Overall, whilst neither this nor the previous game with the USA will live long in the mind of any fan, perhaps acting manager Marcos Mathías and Under-20 World Cup finalist Rafael Dudamel, will have learned a thing or two. Indeed, with eyes very much on the future consideration of qualification for Qatar 2022, the international credentials of 23-year-old Júnior Moreno, in particular, have surely been bolstered.

Team Selections

Ecuador (4-2-3-1): E. Dreer; P. Velasco, D. Aimar, G. Achilier, C. Ramírez; P. Quiñónez, M. Oyola (F. Gaibor, 46′); Á. Mena (A. Preciado, 72′), J. Cazares (G. Cortéz, 79′), M. Caicedo; E. Valencia (J. Cifuentes, 88′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): J. Contreras (A. Baroja, 46′); A. González, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva (Y. Osorio, 68′), R. Feltscher (R. Quijada, 84′); J. Murillo, J. Moreno (F. Flores, 63′), A. Figuera, J. Kouffaty (A. Ponce, 55′); S. Rondón & R. Otero (D. Machís, 77′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

USA 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (3 June 2017)

Somewhat overshadowed by events in South Korea, Venezuela’s senior national side have begun their two-stop American tour…

International Friendly

Saturday 3 June 2017 – Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

USA 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of USA 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 3 June 2017 (YouTube)

Youthful Venezuela Maintain Composure To Earn A Draw

As younger representatives of the two nations were preparing to face one another shortly afterwards at the Under-20 World Cup, the seniors of Venezuela and the USA played to a draw that the South Americans may come away happier with.

Indeed, fielding an XI featuring just two or three players who, based on recent encounters, could be described as regulars, they initially found themselves on the backfoot. In these opening exchanges, they were content to sit back and wait for potential counter-attacking opportunities as the Americans got forward. However, their CONCACAF opponents, in turn, were unable to really test goalkeeper José Contreras, instead only being able to cause some mild fright amongst the backline. To give the first of a few examples, in the 14th minute the creative Fabian Johnson appeared to have an opening on the edge of the area and thus played a neat through-ball towards Clint Dempsey, though this narrowly evaded the Seattle Sounders striker. Three minutes later, from a similarly promising position inside the area, Dempsey was unable to finish off a decent chipped forward ball, with centre-back Sema Velázquez instead getting in a foot to divert the ball towards Contreras. Then, shortly afterwards in the 19th minute, wonderboy Christian Pulisic received a cut back on the inside-left of the area, though his shot was always rising and went a few yards over.

Throughout all of this, Venezuela managed to get forward a couple of times, Darwin Machís’ 10th-minute stepover and blasted low cross being perhaps their most significant moment. That said, when they scored in the 29th minute, it was certainly against the run of play. This goal came as Junior Moreno’s corner was knocked back out towards him only for his header to send the ball straight back into the goalmouth where centre-back Velázquez instinctively stretched out a high leg to hi-yah the ball home for 1-0.

Subsequently, Venezuela had a couple more opportunities with impressive international debutant Moreno involved in both. The 23-year-old Zulia midfielder has some footballing pedigree as his father Carlos Horacio Moreno briefly managed the national side in 1989 (and was also sadly caught up in the nation’s seemingly never-ending cycle of violence late last year when he was shot – albeit thankfully not fatally). Here, in the 33rd minute, Moreno Jr. did well to find some space and strike a fine swerving right-footed shot from 30 yards, which required a good low save from goalkeeper Tim Howard. From the subsequent corner, Moreno’s ball was headed on and reached left-back Rubert Quijada, whose nodded effort was well-gloved by Howard onto the post.

Upon half-time, the USA – who wore shirts with rainbow-coloured numbers to show their support for the LBGTQ community – had to confront the fact that for all their early possession, they had encountered a well-organised makeshift Venezuela and would need to find more effective ways of breaking them down.

Three minutes after the restart, they had a half-chance when Dempsey rose well to a cross from the left, yet headed slightly wide of the near post. Up the other end in the 55th minute, Christian Santos was to curl an effort not too far over from the edge of the area, though six minutes later, his side were to be pegged back. Indeed, just after the hour-mark, Borussia Dortmund starlet Pulisic did well to evade a challenge on the inside-left before striking low with his left boot across goal and past the despairing dive of Contreras. 1-1.

The remaining half-hour was rather short on clear opportunities and/or any real rhythm as both teams struck a blow against competitive action by making six substitutions each. One of these, Venezuela’s Jefferson Savarino, was making his debut in front of the fans of his new club Real Salt Lake and, in the 74th minute just two minutes after coming on, impressively roamed into space. He got into a good position on the inside-right and played a decent chipped ball forward, though the otherwise quiet Salomón Rondón was unable to control this.

The USA, on the other hand, caused a minor scare when Michael Bradley’s 80th-minute low ball upfield had to be cleared by the onrushing Contreras and, at the death, had another moment of note when Omar González headed a couple of yards wide from a corner.

Overall, acting manager Marcos Mathías as well as the South Korea-residing Rafael Dudamel must be pleased with this outcome, particularly the defensive solidity and organisation that their men displayed, not to mention the attacking threat of Moreno. Unsurprisingly given the nature of the match, its timing as well as the mutual unfamiliarity of so many in the Vinotinto shirts, it was far from a classic, but if they can put in a similar shift on Thursday, then it will surely be considered a worthwhile journey.

Team Selections

USA (4-1-3-2): T. Howard; D. Yedlin (G. Zusi, 90+1′), G. Cameron (O. González, 46′), J. Brooks (M. Hedges, 56′), J. Villafaña; M. Bradley; F. Johnson (T. Ream, 63′), C. Pulisic, D. Nagbe (J. Morris, 70′); B. Wood, C. Dempsey (K. Acosta, 63′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): J. Contreras; P. Camacho, S. Velázquez (Y. Osorio, 56′), M. Villanueva, R. Quijada; J. Murillo (J. Vargas, 89′), J. Moreno (F. La Mantía, 83′), F. Flores, D. Machís (A. Romero, 67′);  S. Rondón (A. Ponce, 90+3′) & C. Santos (J. Savarino, 72′).

The second game of Venezuela’s American trip is on Thursday 8 June 2017 against Ecuador. For live updates on this match, please follow @DarrenSpherical and, for a full report with video highlights, do consider returning to Hispanospherical.com a day or so after the full-time whistle.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Guatemala 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (1 June 2016)

International Friendly

Wednesday 1 June 2016 – Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Guatemala 1-1 Venezuela

Highlights of Guatemala 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 1 June 2016 (YouTube – quality of video suspiciously superior to what was available during the match)

‘Where Were You For Guatemala ’16?’ 

Although Salomón Rondón’s second goal in consecutive games earned Venezuela a draw, many fans will be disappointed that Rafael Dudamel was unable to gain his first win as manager. 

Indeed, he now heads into Sunday’s  Copa América opener with Jamaica with a record that reads: Played 4, Won 0, Drew 3, Lost 1. Furthermore, whilst the concession of four goals does hint at some improvement, scoring just three does little to raise expectations even if Venezuela are historically low-scorers.

However, the main thing most fans will take from this game was the viewing experience itself. With no official live transmission on either television or any online outlet (betting sites and the like), many will have assumed there was no way of watching and thus opted to sit it out or, perhaps, listen to the radio and/or follow text updates. Yet, those au fait with certain social media sites were to stumble across at least a couple of curious live feeds from the stadium, seemingly transmitted from fans’ state-of-the-art mobile devices.

Thus, to begin with, at least a couple of thousand clicked to squint at events from deepest darkest Fort Lauderdale which, initially, were provided by an individual whose vantage point rendered him/her unable to actually fit either goal-net into his frame. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. As there was little sound, many fans also opted to supplement the pictures with commentary from Internet radio, which was not in sync. Although some rather high-end everyday modern technology was in use here, the experience was somewhat of a throwback, akin to watching a bootleg film recorded on a shaky old video-camera, with someone on hand to explain any of the action one may have missed.

However, just when this rogue reporter was all set to go down in Vinotinto folklore as the Periscope Pirate, their operations were stopped by security in the 13th minute and they were told to put their phone away. Disaster. The fans were to be thwarted after all.

Or so it seemed for about five minutes, anyway. Following some frantic social media searches, those who were so inclined gradually cottoned on to the existence of another hand-held hero who had in fact also been broadcasting since the beginning of the game and was to do so until the very end. This feed was coming from a slightly higher position in the centre of the stands, yet somehow nobody in security picked up on this. Needless to say, the audience rapidly ascended and reached a peak of nearly 5,000 in the second half.

Nevertheless, though those responsible for the footage can rightly bask in the acclaim that their services to national morale merits, the viewing figures hardly suggest a football-mad nation. Thus, one can not help but feel that this match has served, in part, as a test of commitment and those who saw it live will trade on it for decades to come, as some kind of perverse badge of honour. Indeed, perhaps one day when La Vinotinto are at least threatening to qualify for a World Cup, there will be a somewhat chippy subculture of fans who, whether they actually saw the game or not, will become notorious for sniffily asking the Jhonny-Come-Latelys they encounter, ‘Where were you for Guatemala ’16?’

Lord knows what those who actually attended the game in person will say.

For now though, let us return to the present day. What, at long last, follows is a relatively succinct match report that is compiled from a mixture of watching the live feeds, listening to the radio and reading text updates.

In the early stages, Guatemala had the upper hand, pressing forward, winning free-kicks and shooting from range. Dani Hernández, playing his first Venezuela game between the goalposts for over a year, certainly had to be alert upon his return. Nevertheless, Venezuela were still a presence, with Guerra striking wide, Rondón hitting an attempt a little too close to the goalkeeper and Juanpi having a free-kick deflected wide. Although Seijas also managed a couple of shots, as the halfway point of the first half approached, the consensus was that Guatemala had enjoyed the better of the play.

Still, Venezuela had a good opportunity to take the lead just before the half-hour mark. Juanpi, who again was offering his country some more direct, central attacking options, found Rondón with a through-ball, but the West Brom forward struck too close to the goalkeeper.

However, if the first half was edged by Guatemala, Venezuela certainly stepped up a gear at the beginning of the second. The half was less than five minutes old when Juanpi curled a graceful free-kick just wide of the post, which on first viewing looked as if it hit the woodwork. Later on, just before the 70th minute, Rondón controlled a long diagonal ball ten or so yards from the right edge of the area then, after taking a stride or two, struck low and hard at goalkeeper Ricardo Jérez, who blocked and then gathered the ball.

Yet, despite these attempts, it was actually La Azul y Blanco who took the lead and when they did, it took many Vinotinto fans by surprise. The goal came following a long diagonal ball that bounced into the path of Gerson Tinoco who, with some space separating him and the two defenders, hit it first time from the edge of the area across the goal and past the despairing Hernández.

Venezuela, facing a very disappointing loss taking them into a major tournament, responded with some urgency, forcing a couple moments of uncertainty in the opposition area before the equaliser eventually arrived. Indeed, when it came, it certainly was not pretty nor, for that matter, is it particularly worth tracking down if you were in the overwhelming majority who missed the game. Nevertheless, they all count and we just about have the video footage to prove. The goal came from a corner that was flicked along into the middle where Rondón, with a little too much space for the most high-profile player in the team, hooked it in.

1-1 it ended. Underwhelming, it certainly was and hardly likely to provide much concern to their opening-day opponents Jamaica who, in marked contrast, beat holders Chile 2-1 in their last warm-up game. Nevertheless, at least Dudamel has had four matches to run the rule over his charges. Last year, Noel Sanvicente had zero in the weeks preceding the tournament yet still managed to pull off a surprise 1-0 win against the much-fancied Colombia. With fairly fresh facts still at the forefront of the minds of the fans, one can not help but still wonder, what awaits La Vinotinto this time around?

Team Selections

Guatemala (4-3-3): R. Jérez; L. Cardona, H. López, C. Jiménez, G. Arias; R. Saravia, M. Hernández, J. Contreras (J. Priego, 73′); L. Martínez, G. Tinoco (J. Pinto Samayoa, 82′), C. Ruíz (M. Castellanos, 90+3′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): D. Hernández; R. Rosales (A. González, 75′), W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo, M. Villanueva; A. Figuera (R. Otero, 63′), T. Rincón; A. Guerra (A. Peñaranda, 85′), L. Seijas, Juanpi (J. Martínez, 71′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Costa Rica 2-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (27 May 2016)

International Friendly

Friday 27 May 2016 – Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, La Sabana Metropolitan Park, San José, Costa Rica

Costa Rica 2-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Costa Rica 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 27 May 2016 (YouTube)

First Half Provides Rare Light Despite Loss

Despite a positive start that saw them take the lead, a strong Venezuela line-up suffered their first defeat under Rafael Dudamel. 

In what was his third game in charge, the new manager was able to give minutes to Tomás Rincón and Salomón Rondón for the first time. These two men, the most high-profile pair of the current crop, started alongside other top players who had already received varying amounts of game-time in the new era, such as Juanpi, Rómulo Otero and Josef Martínez. Also given a chance from the off were Rolf Feltscher at left-back, who was making his first international appearance for three years and goalkeeper José Contreras, who had an opportunity to bolster his claim for the No.1 shirt.

The match began at a very promising pace with both sides stretching opposition defences, putting in a number of crosses as well as winning a similar amount of corners. Most of these balls into each box caused nerves rather than actual saves, though one exception was Otero’s 11th-minute ball that centre-back Wilker Ángel met with a strong header, albeit one that went straight at goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton.

Alas, in the opening 25 minutes there were more jitters generated than shots on goal. For example, in the 19th minute, a Costa Rican corner was knocked down awkwardly by a Venezuelan defender, causing a ricochet and then a collision between outfield player and goalkeeper as, after the ball was frantically cleared, Contreras was left momentarily down for the count. A few minutes later, Rincón broke up an attack in midfield and charged forward, supplying Otero on the left who put in a low ball that eventually fell to Martínez, who managed to turn but had his shot blocked. Shortly afterwards, a mix-up between Pemberton and a defender 35 yards from goal briefly gifted the ball to Rondón, but the West Bromwich Albion striker was unable to adjust his feet and positioning in time to capitalise on the error.

A moment of greater substance occurred not long afterwards when, in the 28th minute, a Costa Rican cross from the right was greeted by the left foot of Ronald Matarrita, whose wicked diagonal volley went just wide of the far post.

A minute later the hosts nearly made some headway when a through-ball was only narrowly cut out. However, just as they thought they were gaining momentum, they fell behind. Indeed, in a rapid turnaround, in the 29th minute Contreras rolled the ball out to Rincón, who passed short to Juanpi near the halfway mark. Seemingly with his next move already plotted in his head, the Málaga youngster turned and coolly slid the ball between the centre-backs to Martínez, who quickly squared the ball to Rondón to knock home from the edge of the area. It was a fine team goal, a rare direct team move and provides much optimism that future games will feature more of this creative, cutting attack play.

Eight minutes later, the lead was close to being doubled as an attack up the inside-left came infield, with the ball eventually slid through to Juanpi who turned and swerved a low shot just wide of the far post. Alas, it was to be the hosts who got the second goal of the game and, just like the first, it came from a West Brom player.

Also not entirely dissimilar from the first, it took many in the ground by surprise. Indeed, being at least 35 yards out, right-back Cristian Gamboa seemed a little ambitious to be sizing up for a strike at goal. However, his low, skimming shot somehow managed to find its way past Contreras, who appeared to have ample time to manoeuvre himself over to keep the ball out. Yet again, a Venezuelan goalkeeper struggles to confidently seize his opportunity between the posts.

The hosts could have actually gone into the break ahead as, on the stroke of half time, they were denied a legitimate goal. A fine diagonal long ball by Cristian Bolaños was controlled and knocked over Contreras to be headed in but – incorrectly – the offside flag was raised.

However, they were not to be denied for too long. Four minutes after the restart, substitute Ariel Rodríguez gained some space from Vizcarrondo on the left edge of the area. Facing away from goal he then hooked a fine strike that seemed to float over Contreras and into the top corner.

Venezuela were thus back in a familiar position. However, just before the hour-mark they really should have been on equal terms. Indeed, Juanpi again played a fine direct through-ball to Martinez who this time dinked it over Pemberton and into the back of the net. Yet, despite being at least level with the last defender, the linesman perhaps got him confused with the nearby Rondón and raised his flag for offside.

For the remainder of the game, neither side created much of note as the game gradually petered out, with the excessive number of substitutes inevitably taking their toll on proceedings.

Nevertheless, when the final whistle blew, though disappointed by the outcome, the first-half performance gave many Venezuelans considerable reasons to feel encouraged by the new era.  They had played at a tempo rarely seen in the past couple of years and, especially due to the inclusion of Juanpi and Otero, displayed a variety of attacking options not often at their disposal. Ultimately undone by a goalkeeping error and a fine golazo, the defence should not feel too downhearted by their performance as they again put in a relatively solid shift.

Ultimately, while one should try not to read too much into these three friendlies, the signs have been quietly encouraging. Win away to Guatemala on Wednesday (1 June) and expectations will be raised that La Vinotinto will actually be able to make a fist of qualifying out of Copa América Group C.

Team Selections

Costa Rica (5-1-3-1): P. Pemberton (L. Moreira, 46′); C. Gamboa, K. Watson, Ó. Duarte (F. Calvo, 51′), J. Acosta, R. Matarrita; C. Borges (Y, Tejeda, 63′); J. Campbell, B. Ruiz, C. Bolaños (J. Venegas, 60′); Á. Saborío (A. Rodríguez, 46′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): J. Contreras; A. González (V. García, 53′), W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo (S. Velázquez, 77′), R. Feltscher (M. Villanueva, 77′); Juanpi, A. Figuera (C. Santos, 74′), T. Rincón, R. Otero (A. Guerra, 53′); J. Martínez & S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Panama 0-0 Venezuela – International Friendly (24 May 2016)

International Friendly

Tuesday 24 May 2016 – Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama

Panama 0-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Panama 0-0 Venezuela, International Friendly, 24 May 2016 (YouTube)

Makeshift Venezuela Put in Solid Shift

Rafael Dudamel maintained his unbeaten start to life in the Venezuelan dugout as his side chalked up their second successive draw.

Although he did not have all of his cracks available, it was nevertheless a curious choice to start with five players who have already been told they are not travelling to the USA for Copa América. If he had any doubts regarding his final 23-man selection, this game may have added some more as two of the rejected – Jacobo Koufatti and Andrés Ponce – were arguably amongst the most eye-catching performers.

It was in fact a curious spectacle in general as the hosts lined up in shirts not too dissimilar in hue to Venezuela’s renowned burgundy, whereas the stands had more than their fair share of Vinotinto followers.

The atmosphere itself, however, was for the most part a little muted and it took just over 20 minutes for the first chance of note to occur. Sampdoria youngster Ponce, having already looked rather alert with his positioning, nearly connected with a fine cross on the turn by Christian Santos. Alas, his grazed header went wide of the far post.

Several minutes later up the other end, Porto youngster Ismael Diaz unsettled the Venezuelan defence as he ran onto a knock-on into the area, but goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez raced out to thwart him.

The next moment of note in this well-contested, if opportunity-lite, friendly came in the 40th minute when the visitors won a free-kick following good work by Ponce, whose through-ball was stopped by a hand. Koufatti lined up 25 yards out near the centre of the pitch and drove the ball low, which went narrowly wide off the post, having perhaps taken a slight touch off goalkeeper Jaime Penedo’s hand.

Just before the players went in for the break, there were a few tasty challenges and scuffles in quick succession that caused many from each side to size one another up, as things threatened to turn ugly. There had already been rumblings of this and it was not to be the last instance before the ninety minutes were up.

Six minutes after the restart, a combination of first Abdiel Arroyo and then, after his charge was bluntly halted, fellow substitute Roberto Nurse, tried to force their way into the Venezuela box but the latter collided with a defender and the momentum was lost. This attack came after Arroyo opportunistically robbed the ball off centre-back Sema Velázquez, a rare occasion when the visitors’ defence looked genuinely vulnerable – something that could rarely be said during recent Venezuelan displays.

A few minutes later, former Spain Under-21 attacker Jeffrén Suárez – now representing the country of his birth, though not included in Dudamel’s final 23 – hit a dipping free-kick that hit the roof of the net – alas the wrong side of it. This was the closest the visitors were to come for the remainder of the game.

Again though, the middle-third of the pitch was always there to compensate for the shortcomings of both final-thirds. On the hour-mark, there was another coming together, as Santos took exception to the way he was backed into by his opponent and appeared to kick out in response. Whether on the advice of the officials or members of the coaching staff, the NEC Nijmegen striker was substituted off straight afterwards, to be replaced by midfield magician Rómulo Otero.

Though it would be a stretch to say the Panamanians were dominant in the final half-hour, they did nevertheless have the better of the chances. Indeed, perhaps the best opportunity came after 65 minutes when Arroyo crossed in low for Nurse who beat his marker to stab the ball just wide of the near post. Later, with less than ten minutes remaining, following some good work from Adolfo Machado on the right, his low ball in was only just cut out by the defender.

By contrast, the closest the Venezuelans came to the target were some uncharacteristically wayward free-kicks from Otero, as the game finally ended the way it had long been heading: goalless.

Alas, though the significance of such a match can always be called into question, this was the second time the two nations have finished level in a non-competitive match in the past year. Undeniably the coaches will have got far more out of this game than either set of fans. Nevertheless, though Venezuelan fans may feel a little in the dark as to who exactly will be lining up against Jamaica on 5 June, there is some comfort in the fact that both of Dudamel’s games have ended level and there are still two games left for experimentation. Next stop, Costa Rica.

Team Selections

Panama (4-4-2): J. Penedo (J. Calderón, 46′); F. Baloy, R. Miller (F. Escobar, 78′), A. Machado, L. Henríquez; G. Gómez, A. Henríquez, A. Cooper (M. Camargo, 46′), V. Pimentel (A. Arroyo, 37′); R. Buitrago, I. Diaz (R. Nurse, 46′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Faríñez; V. García, W. Ángel, S. Velázquez, M. Villanueva (A. González, 90′); J. Suárez (Juanpi, 73′), A. Flores,  C. Suárez (A. Figuera, 68′), J. Kouffati (J. Martínez, 79′); C. Santos (R. Otero, 60′) & A. Ponce.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical