Tag Archives: Jamaica

Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela – Copa América Centenario Group C (Sunday 5 June 2016)

Another Sunday in June, another Venezuela Copa América Group C opening-day victory by a solitary goal. Hispanospherical.com heartily welcomes this expectation-defying tradition…

Copa América Centenario Group C

Sunday 5 June 2016 – Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario Group C, 5 June 2016 (YouTube).

Josef’s the Man as Venezuela Announce Themselves as Group C Contenders

Venezuela turned more than a few heads as they got off to a winning start in Group C, courtesy of Josef Martínez’s well-worked winner.

Despite playing in front of a crowd that was only a fraction of the 60,000-plus capacity, the two sides certainly put on an entertaining spectacle of frequently fast-paced and end-to-end action.

Rafael Dudamel’s first victory as manager of La Vinotinto at the fifth attempt came as a slight surprise not only because of uninspiring recent results, but also due to the fact that he fielded a line-up somewhat different to the anticipated one. Indeed, to the disappointment of many who were hoping to see a brave new era of attacking play, the exciting creative midfielders Rómulo Otero and Juanpi were both consigned to the bench. Also not in the starting line-up were Sema Velázquez, usurped by the more youthful Wilker Ángel, and Mikel Villanueva, who in the last several months seemed to have become the clear frontrunner for the left-back spot but who ultimately lost out to Rolf Feltscher. Drawing fewer raised eyebrows but nevertheless noteworthy was José Contreras being pipped by Dani Hernández as the man between the goalposts, despite the former being handed the no.1 squad number and the latter not being trusted in a competitive game since October 2013.

The Tenerife goalkeeper certainly had to be alert throughout these 90 minutes though, as Jamaica edged the early proceedings in what was a rather energetic, knockabout affair. From the off, they caused some jitters with snapshots of what they are capable of, such as in the fourth minute when a long ball headed on to Clayton Donaldson in space led to the Birmingham City striker being clumsily nudged over in the area by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Fortunately for the Nantes centre-back, the offside flag had already been raised.

However, seven minutes later, if they were not already awake to task in front of them, Venezuela received a fresh, wet double-slap of reality from their Caribbean opponents. Firstly, Vizcarrondo was again caught out, as he missed a long ball which was instead headed on to Donaldson, who managed to get away a fine strike from the edge of the area which Hernández tipped over. Then, from the corner that was swung towards the far post, New England Revolution midfielder Je-Vaugh Watson powered a header against the crossbar.

Rattled, Venezuela most certainly were. Thus, while they did get forward themselves in the opening 15 minutes, it was nevertheless somewhat against the run of the play when they took the lead. This goal arrived when Feltscher cut out a lazy forward pass some 35-40 yards out on the inside-left channel and put into motion a very quick-paced passing move. He knocked it short to Luis Manuel Seijas, who helped it on to Salomón Rondón. The West Brom striker gave it to Alejandro Guerra in a more central position and with a deft touch, the Atlético Nacional man set up Torino striker Josef Martínez who slid it under the goalkeeper.

Momentarily at least, the goal appeared to take the wind out of Jamaica’s previously rather powerful sails, as they were to threaten far less in the ten minutes that followed. Then, in the 24th minute, came another sign that it may just be Venezuela’s day after all. Lunging for a loose ball with Tomás Rincón, Brøndby midfielder Rudolph Austin caught the Vinotinto captain from behind and the referee deemed it to be reckless enough for him to immediately brandish a straight red card.

However, despite the man-disadvantage, Jamaica were far from out of it and rallied together to regularly put their opponents ill-at-ease with their ability to create space and stretch play via their direct, powerful moves.

Nevertheless, there were moments in the remainder of the first half when the inequality in numbers was apparent and Venezuela made the most of the situation. For example in the 29th minute, when right-back Roberto Rosales was able to collect the ball in a very advanced position and jink his way infield past a player or two before forcing a low save from his left-footed shot. In the next few minutes his side continued to burst forward and could well have got a second goal in the 33rd minute. Indeed, not for the only time in this game, Jamaica’s marking deserted them, as Guerra’s corner found Ángel in acres of space, but the lofty centre-back badly headed well over, when he had time to get the ball down and possibly get a shot in.

Sensing that his side may effectively be on their way out of the tournament before it had even really started, Jamaica manager Winfried Schäfer appeared to hit the nuclear button. Indeed, with just 40 minutes on the clock, he took off Kemar Lawrence, replacing him with Leicester City captain Wes Morgan – a man he had been hoping to rest after his domestic heroics with the Premier League champions. However, it has since emerged that Lawrence was suffering from a groin injury that will rule him out of the rest of the competition. Nevertheless, with their next two games being against Mexico and Uruguay, Jamaica’s prospects were not looking bright.

For the remainder of the half, the CONCACAF side increased the pressure on the leaders, causing much uncertainty from set-pieces and crosses – albeit without seriously threatening the goal. Just before the half-time whistle, Venezuela midfielder Arquímedes Figuera was booked for a foul not entirely dissimilar to that of the dismissed Austin. When the teams emerged for the second half, coach Schäfer was to be found watching it from the stands as, one suspects, his complaints to the referee over incidents such as this led to him receiving a red card.

Nevertheless, for his own sake, one hopes he had a good view of his side’s considerable efforts to get back into the game after the restart. Indeed, within four minutes, they were nearly level. On the left edge of the area, the ball fell into the path of Michael Hector who curled a fine strike that swerved off the far post. A narrow escape for Dudamel’s men.

While Venezuela could be on the backfoot, they also certainly got forward themselves. On the hour-mark, Martínez and Rondón gave further evidence of their potential as a regular partnership. Two minutes after one move broke down, the West Brom striker had more success, controlling a pass, then sliding it forward to the Torino striker in the area, though just before he pulled the trigger his shot was blocked for a corner.

With around 20 minutes remaining, their best chance to double the lead presented itself. The Jamaican marking from a corner once again was non-existent as Guerra’s set-piece found Angel in the middle who powered a very strong low diving header from which the goalkeeper Andre Blake pulled off a sensational save. The rebound fell slightly unkindly to Rondón, who could only blaze the ball over.

Just a couple of minutes later up the other end, Venezuela were nearly made to rue such moments. Here, from a throw into the area, Rincón’s defensive header only went to Watson, who was afforded enough space for a spine-chilling run-up, yet his strike was blazed well over the crossbar.

The last ten minutes of the game did not have too much in the way of clear chances, with the closest Jamaica came being Adrian Mariappa’s header from a corner that was saved somewhat theatrically by Hernández. Nevertheless, they caused Venezuela some further jitters while also opening themselves up to potential counter-attacks.

Ultimately, however, the boys in burgundy were able to see out the game to record a memorable victory. Having historically being the whipping-boys of South America, they are now unbeaten in their last four opening-day Copa América matches. Last year in Chile, they began their tournament with a euphoric victory against neighbours Colombia, yet despite overcoming this considerable hurdle, lost their next two games against Peru and Brazil and were out. This time around, they know that – on paper at least – with Uruguay and Mexico on the horizon, Jamaica are not likely to have provided the sternest test in this group. Nevertheless, though many fans would take a draw, the fact remains that if, as seems likely, the Reggae Boyz fail to beat El Tri, then a victory against La Celeste would take La Vinotinto through.

Still, while this blog can be rather ponderous at times, it is certainly not one to spend too much time day-dreaming about getting what one’s heart actually desires. Thus, that will be all for now, but if you are not able to watch the Uruguay match – or, conversely, are, but simply enjoy revisiting what you are familiar with – then feel free to check back on this site and/or @DarrenSpherical in the upcoming days. Who knows what terrifyingly upbeat tones and adjectives may await.

Team Selections

Jamaica (4-4-2): A. Blake; J. Watson (M. Binns, 88′), A. Mariappa, J. Taylor, K. Lawrence (W. Morgan, 40′); G. McCleary, R. Austin, M. Hector (L. Williamson, 77′), J. McAnuff; G. Barnes & C. Donaldson.

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra (A. González, 90+1′), T. Rincón, A. Figuera, L. Seijas (R. Otero, 86′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (A. Peñaranda, 77′).

Darren Spherical 

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela Team Preview for Copa América Centenario

As Venezuela get set to kick-off their Copa América Centenario campaign, Hispanospherical.com takes a look at how they may fare in this USA-hosted 16-team competition. Following on from a general overview that lays out the state La Vinotinto currently find themselves in, there are profiles of some of the key players, which also touch upon their team-mates most likely to see action this June.

Venezuela

Copa América Centenario Preview

venezuela23

The official 23-man Venezuela squad for Copa América Centenario (FVF).

(See bottom of page for clearer details on the clubs of the players)

venezuelasgroup

Rock-bottom of CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying and with a manager barely two months into the job, this is not ideal preparation ahead of a challenging group containing Mexico, Uruguay and Jamaica.

Then again, compared to the norm for Venezuela, can it really be considered bad? Last year, with Noel Sanvicente at the helm, the players had been gradually mentally worn down by a year of lacklustre performances, FIFA/FVF scandals and played no warm-up games, yet still managed to make headlines across the world with a surprise opening day win against Colombia. This time around, they have played an eyebrow-raising four games in the fortnight preceding kick-off and the changes made to the coaching staff are still fresh enough for the players not to have become too jaded. So, swings and roundabouts. While an exit at the group stage seems probable, one can not help but feel that will be far from the full story in the USA.

What is more, while many of the starters will be familiar, only ten players remain from last year’s squad in what is the selección with the youngest average age in the entire tournament (in fact, three of the ten youngest players are Venezuelans). Thus, although inexperience could be a problem, there will also be several high-profile players along with plenty of fresh faces looking to impress and make their mark on a big stage.

Who then, is this new manager who has hitherto been alluded to? Rafael Dudamel’s the name and, for the time being at least, ‘Latino Loco Goalscoring Goalkeeper’ will be how he is caricatured. Indeed, in common with the likes of José Luis Chilavert and Rogério Ceni, the 43-year-old spent his playing career not only thwarting goal attempts but scoring them as well. In total, he scored well over 20 goals at club level in Venezuela and particularly in Colombia, but he also notched a phenomenal free-kick for his country back in a 1996 World Cup qualifier against Argentina. At the moment, his heroics in this department may be of more interest to broadcasters with broad audiences but, make no mistake, this is a man of substance who already has a strong idea of the task he has inherited.

The youthfulness of his squad is no doubt, in part, due to his work in recent years as head of the Under-17 and Under-20 national sides (the latter of whom, he will retain his role with). The nation’s football authorities – who have suggested they would have preferred a foreign manager had they the cash – will nevertheless be hoping Dudamel will be able to unite the seniors in more ways than one. As well as assimilating the newcomers with the well-travelled, they will be hoping he can act as an effective mediator between the federation and the players. Indeed, back in late November, an open letter voicing serious grievances with the FVF that largely concerned poor conditions and a lack of respect was signed by 15 senior players (with several more subsequently offering support). In the immediate aftermath, there was a public war of words and then-boss Sanvicente travelled to meet some of the players but there does not appear to have been a resolution (if one can even be found – this is, after all, partly a clashing of personalities). Problems still linger then and if little cohesion is to be found on the pitch in the USA, rest assured there will also be speculation about the lack of it off-field.

The four recent friendlies will have surely given the new manager some food for thought, although results were not very encouraging and performances were – barring the promising first-half attacking display against Costa Rica – similarly uninspiring. Indeed, unsurprisingly, Venezuela are hardly set to take their group by storm after a 1-1 draw with the largely La Liga-based representatives of Galicia, a dull 0-0 draw with Panama, a mixed-bag of a 2-1 defeat against Costa Rica and a curious 1-1 draw with Guatemala. Given how this rather high number of warm-up games all occurred away from home soil, one can not help but wonder if they will have taken some toll on the players who joined up with the squad at the start of this friendly-frenzy. In Group C, La Vinotinto will be travelling over 3,000 miles to predominantly NFL stadiums in Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston – how many starters against Jamaica will finish the closer (and possible decider) with Mexico?

If it is a low number, then there could well instead be footballing reasons for this as it is unlikely that Dudamel’s first-choice XI is set in stone and fans can expect to see changes throughout the tournament. Nevertheless, his selections in the friendly games certainly gave a few indications as to who will be lining up against Jamaica. For those who last watched Venezuela at the 2015 tournament, expect to see many new faces in midfield and defence – some of which may already be familiar from their club exploits.

Before detailing some of these men, it should first be noted that there will also be a different goalkeeper from last year. Indeed, after some high-profile errors in World Cup Qualifying, Alain Baroja, who received the nod at the last-minute ahead of 2015’s opener with Colombia and subsequently went on to receive acclaim as well as a move to AEK Athens, has surprisingly been left out the squad. Thus, the experienced Tenerife shot-stopper Dani Hernández will compete with José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira) for this position though, as the number one shirt has already been given to the latter, the decision may have already been made. However, Contreras made a glaring error when he played against Costa Rica and it would not be a surprise to see the former (who is also far from innocent in the blunder department) make an appearance at some stage.

Nevertheless, despite the huge importance of this position, whoever plays there can hardly be considered to be one of the leading players for Rafael Dudamel (even if, as a former occupant between the posts, the role must play on his mind a lot). Instead, the new entrenador will be counting more on the individuals listed below to both make their mark and galvanise their compatriots towards an unlikely progression to the knock-out stage.

Thus, what follows is an overview of the most likely stand-out Venezuelan performers, which also touches upon their team-mates who will either take to the field near them or be pushing hard to supplant them should anything go awry.

Key Players in Context

Roberto Rosales (Málaga)

Defence (Right-back)

Over the past two years at Málaga, 27-year-old right-back Rosales has been one of the most consistent players, in terms of both performances as well as appearances. He has been a vital part of the defence that, last season, conceded the joint-fourth fewest goals in La Liga, behind only the big three of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. Yet with the Andalusians being very much a selling club that has recently caused even promising manager Javi Gracia to depart, one must wonder if the diminutive bargain-buy from FC Twente will be the next out the door.

An energetic presence on the flank, he likes to get forward and help create chances. While his crossing could be more accurate, he is nevertheless responsible for an above-average number of assists at club level and possesses the tenacity and wherewithal to chase back if caught out of position.

There has, however, been repeated criticisms that his international performances of late have not matched those for his club – an assessment that, in fairness, could apply to most high-profile players in the squad. For the first game at least, he is likely to be joined at the back by left-back Mikel Villanueva, who will know him well as he plays for Málaga’s reserve side, Atlético Malagueño. He is a relative newcomer to the national side, having only debuted earlier this year towards the end of Sanvicente’s reign; his competition for a place will come from the returning Rolf Feltscher (Duisburg). There is also a slight chance that the right-footed Alexander González (Huesca) may be a back-up for this position, but he will primarily be the understudy to Rosales or, perhaps, the right side of midfield.

The very experienced Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes) cannot be said to have been up to his 2011 vintage (when he was one of the stars of the entire tournament) but he is still a likely starter at centre-back. He will have a different partner from last year; most likely it will be Sema Velázquez, a towering presence who helped Arouca to a 5th-placed finish in the Portuguese top-flight. However, it would be of little surprise if Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira) gets the nod at some point.

Tomás Rincón (Genoa)
Midfield (Defensive Midfielder)

The captain whose leadership, organisational and communication skills will be integral if his nation is to have any success. Venezuela are not renowned goalscorers so the tackling, harrying and interceptions of El General and those around him will be essential to allow the attackers to escape away up the other end. A defensive midfielder, he does not tend to get too far forward himself, preferring instead to limit his forward forays to occasionally driving the ball upfield to feed his more attack-minded team-mates. However, perhaps at the somewhat late age of 28, things may be changing in this area as last season he went some way to compensating for his relative goal-drought in Europe. Indeed, before 2015/16 kicked off, he had not scored once since moving to Hamburg in early 2009. Yet in what was his second season at Italy side Genoa (2014-), he managed to bury three of the beauties in the space of four months. One does not expect him to break his duck for La Vinotinto in what is often cautious tournament football, but with over 70 goalless games to his name, it would be a pleasant surprise.

Joining him in stemming the tide in front of the back four could well be Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), who has played there in some recent friendlies. However, he faces strong competition from Luis Manuel Seijas, one of the stand-out players at Colombian side Independiente Santa Fe last season who has recently joined Brazilian giants Internacional. An experienced international of 29 who has played in Belgium for Standard Liège, he partnered Rincón last year as well as in many qualifiers. With such pedigree, he will definitely get on the pitch at some point, whether in a protective position of further upfield in an attacking role.

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga)
Midfield (Attacking Midfielder – left, right or centre)

Juanpi has been known on occasion to play in front of the back four in a deep-lying playmaker position but will probably be fielded further up the pitch in the line behind the forward(s). Having previously been overlooked during much of Sanvicente’s reign  -presumably due to his inexperience as well as the cautious approach of Chita – the 22-year-old has somewhat belatedly made his way into the senior set-up and has a strong chance of starting. His personal cause was undoubtedly aided by an impressive second season for Málaga, during which he emerged to become a regular in the line-up and scored four league goals along the way. Three of these came in consecutive weeks (with one being against Barcelona), which really raised his profile.

A graceful, creative player who often exudes much confidence and poise on the ball wherever he plays, he was granted a starting position in Sanvicente’s last two qualifiers in March and has continued to be named in line-ups under Dudamel. He is a fine left-footed set-piece taker and offers something different in attacks by playing through-balls from central positions as well as instigating some more intricate passing moves. He has already set up some goals in his brief international career and also possesses the capacity to force himself forward to score. A player of tantalising potential.

Rómulo Otero (Huachipato)
Midfield (Attacking Midfielder – left, right or centre)

Perhaps even more so than Juanpi, attacking midfielder Otero could well be the Venezuelan on most neutrals’ lips after this tournament. Indeed, the 23-year-old has turned many heads in Chile with Huachipato in his debut season outside of his homeland and many of his compatriots feel that, quite frankly, he could do a lot better. Injury ruled him out of last year’s Copa América as well as much of Sanvicente’s reign, but like Juanpi, he did feature in the last two qualifiers (scoring a sensational free-kick against Chile) and has since appeared in some of Dudamel’s friendlies.

While not identical to Juanpi in that he has a propensity to run at defenders more and, so far at least, tends to score more goals, they do both share strong abilities from dead-ball situations and are rather versatile in the attacking midfield positions. Perhaps for more than any other player in the squad, this tournament serves as an opportunity to impress the scouts.

Although both Otero and Juanpi appear likely to start the first game, it is not guaranteed and, as always, there is much competition and inconsistency in the attacking positions. Should Dudamel opt for a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1), they could find themselves on either wing, but both in these formations as well as in a 4-2-3-1, there are plenty of players who are eager to nab their places.

One of these who has already been mentioned is Seijas, who can also play as a left-sided attacker, but there is also the similarly experienced Alejandro Guerra. He was a regular during last year’s tournament and this season for Colombian giants Atlético Nacional has scored at a rate of one in every two games, being a key player in their run to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores, where they will meet São Paulo in July.

Another player of note who could well make a mark in these positions is one of the youngest in the tournament and who has already made quite a name for himself: Adalberto Peñaranda. The then-18-year-old burst onto the La Liga scene with Granada last season and immediately grabbed headlines and broke records, both setting up and scoring goals that ultimately aided his club’s survival. Despite speculation that some of Europe’s biggest clubs would snap him up, he eventually signed a deal with ‘sister’ club Watford, who loaned him back to Andalusia where he finished the season.

However, though he has had a meteoric rise in the European game, at international level he only has three recent substitute appearances to his name and this is where he is likely to start the tournament. Nevertheless, given his abilities, at some point he will surely receive an opportunity from the bench to run at defenders and cause havoc.

There are some other players who could potentially play in attacking midfield/supplementary forward roles, but these are mentioned in the following profile.

Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion)
Attack (Striker)

The most famous current Venezuela international, Rondón will be integral to his nation’s chances of progressing and will undoubtedly start up front. It has been a big year for this talismanic figure, as he swapped Champions League football at Zenit St. Petersburg for a more stressful – if, potentially, career-enhancing – life at West Bromwich Albion. While many feel that, owing to his stature and attributes, he was born and bred to play in the Premier League, a more glamorous move had been desired and throughout his debut campaign quite a few of his compatriots have criticised how he has been used by manager Tony Pulis – a man who, incidentally, seems unaware that he was signing a South American international given that his complaints are as predictable as clockwork whenever his top-scorer is called up.

On the other hand, in his early outings in particular, many West Brom and Premier League followers felt he could be wasteful – something he has since accepted himself – but as the season progressed, he grew in importance to his team. When all was said and done, he had scored ten goals in all competitions, including the winning goal in five different matches, including the 1-0 win away to Everton and, most notably, the 1-0 home victory against Manchester United. Many doubters were won over.

While he may not take all his chances, he certainly works hard and comes deep to join in with some of the build-up play, although his primary strength is probably as a target man, to knock down and head in balls.

There is a chance that he may have a partner in attack. If so, the most likely candidate is Josef Martínez (Torino), who has played alongside him both under Dudamel and Sanvicente – albeit, usually in friendly encounters. Perhaps more so than any other player not granted the honour of an individual profile in this article, he could well emerge as one of the leading Venezuelan players in this tournament. What prevents one from confidently stating his importance to the team is that, despite his undeniable talents, he often gets overlooked as a starter, instead often being used in competitive games as an impact substitute.

Nevertheless, when given opportunities, he often displays a promising understanding with Rondón and is good at running at defenders as well as playing a key role in more direct attacks. He could also be used in an attacking midfield role though what, in the long run, could enhance his national team prospects is a move away from Torino, where he has also been used primarily as a substitute.

Otherwise, Christian Santos could be given a chance in a similar manner to that suggested for Martínez – albeit utilising different characteristics. Indeed, while he can also play as a striker, he has frequently been used at club level in a deeper role and possesses considerable abilities in the air. A late-bloomer at 28, who only decided to play for the country of his birth last year, he has been a phenomenal goalscorer for NEC Nijmegen over the past two years, scoring, on average, well above one in every two games. A move to La Liga has been strongly rumoured – perhaps this tournament will determine where precisely he ends up.

Venezuela’s tournament may well hinge on the very first game on 5 June against Jamaica – stern opponents but on paper, their weakest in Group C. For the sake of this niche blog – if not the author’s social and profressional life when the games from the USA are being played concurrently with those from Euro 2016 – one hopes that they can prolong the guessing game somewhat longer. To keep up-to-date with La Vinotinto’s progress, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back on this website for match reports, highlights and who knows what else. 

Venezuela’s 23-man squad for Copa América Centenario

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas, Venezuela) & Dani Hernández (Tenerife, Spain).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Rolf Feltscher (Duisburg, Germany), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Roberto Rosales (Málaga, Spain), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño, Spain) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes, France).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Rómulo Otero (Huachipato, Chile), Adalberto Peñaranda (Granada, Spain on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy), Luis Manuel Seijas (Internacional, Brazil) & Carlos Suárez (Carabobo, Venezuela).

Forwards

Yonathan Del Valle (Kasımpaşa, Turkey on loan from Rio Ave, Portugal), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen, Netherlands) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Reflections on Venezuela’s March 2015 Internationals

Summary of Venezuela’s March 2015 Internationals Against Jamaica and Peru

With an eye towards the 2015 Copa América, Venezuela recently played two fellow entrants in the form of invitees Jamaica and long-term South American rivals Peru (who have been drawn in the same group as La Vinotinto, along with Brazil and Colombia). Against the Reggae Boyz, Noel Sanvicente’s charges put in a limp performance largely devoid of chances, cohesion and often basic organisation, losing 2-1 in the Caribbean. Given Jamaica were ranked the lowest amongst all the teams at the time of the draw for the Chile-hosted tournament, this was a particularly rude awakening. Some pride and morale was salvaged in Fort Lauderdale against Los Incas, however, as promising Torino forward Josef Martínez netted the only goal in a game that saw a significantly higher number of goalscoring opportunities and mercifully fewer defensive errors.

To get a better impression of the Jamaica and Peru games as well as the state of play before the two matches, please take some time to read a preview and a detailed analysis of the squad selection as well as the two match reports. If, however, you saw both matches then feel free to read on here as what follows are some brief reflections:

Key Points

Alain Baroja put in an assured performance in his opportunity between the sticks against Peru and, vitally for a goalkeeper, pulled off a memorable save. This will hopefully ensure that Tenerife’s Dani Hernández does not get too complacent as the current number one. The clean sheet that was kept – the first in all eight of Sanvicente’s games – will not have done Baroja’s case any harm either.

Andrés Túñez put in a superior shift at centre-back against Peru than Fernando Amorebieta did against Jamaica. Whether this was more due to the opposition than their respective abilities is difficult to say but Amorebieta, now on loan at Middlesbrough, must be hoping to be able to put in a few performances at club level that show that he is not only a solid unit but also in possession of basic match fitness as otherwise he could very well lose out to his Thai-based rival. Amorebieta was switched over to left-back for the Peru game, with the injured Gabriel Cichero missing his first game in all of Sanvicente’s reign, but one would have thought the Mineros de Guayana man is a safer bet for a starting berth here. The defence as a whole looked woeful against Jamaica, yet while far from flawless against Peru, not conceding a goal for the first time in two years should aid the collective confidence.

Alejandro Guerra and Josef Martínez were, over the course of the two games, the leading attacking threats for La Vinotinto. They were involved in the two main goalscoring chances in the second half against Jamaica and subsequently tested the Peruvian back-line from the very first minute, with Martínez scoring the winning goal. In the hotly contested attacking area behind Salomón Rondón, the Torino forward seems a near cert to start at the Copa América, whereas the Atlético Nacional man may have more of a battle on his hands. Whether or not he makes the line-up for the opening game against Colombia, he will still remain a key squad player and should appear more than once in the tournament.

Furthermore, continuing with this line of three behind the Zenit forward, Mario Rondón must be unsure where these games leave him. Indeed, having been arguably the brightest attacking player in the early phase of Sanvicente’s reign, this time around he only played an unremarkable, if volatile, half against Jamaica followed by a very brief cameo as a timewasting substitute in the dying stages of the Peru match. Similarly, Christian Santos, who made his much-anticipated debut against Jamaica before being withdrawn after an hour, did not even feature against Peru and must be wondering if he will receive another call-up in the next few months.

With more certainty it can be stated assertively that it would take a severe and sustained loss of form at club level for the likes of Roberto Rosales (right-back), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (centre-back), Tomás Rincón (defensive-midfielder) and Salomón Rondón (striker) to lose their first-choice statuses. One can not be so sure about the legendary Juan Arango but, despite his misses against Peru, so long as he keeps up his fine club form and maintains his ability to perform well in various midfield positions, he should be okay.

Finally, with a squad of 23 players – 20 of whom got onto the pitch – and at least a handful who missed out but will be hopeful of being on the flight to Chile, there are understandably many more issues that could be explored. Rather than dissecting them now, it may be better to wait until the next – and final – game(s) before Copa América are due to be played in May (at the moment, only an encounter late in the month with Bolivia appears to be on the cards). However, if any readers seek any more information on how things currently stand regarding the likely squad, perusing the two latest match reports in conjunction with this lengthy analysis of the March selection, may well help to inform.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

International Friendly

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

Jamaica 2-1 Venezuela

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

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

Familiar Failings as Venezuelan Hope is Docked at the Bay

Team Selections

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

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

Match Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – In-Depth Look at March’s Squad

With Venezuela set to face Jamaica and Peru in international friendly matches, what follows is an in-depth look at their squad and likely starting XI for the first clash. It is politely recommended that before reading this article, visitors take a look at this preview of the two clashes which helps to put the following into context.

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

Jamaica vs Venezuela

Tuesday 31 March 2015 – Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Peru vs Venezuela

For those wanting to watch either of these games, both are scheduled to be broadcast on TeleAragua

venezuelavsjamaicapredictedtean

Venezuela’s predicted line-up against Jamaica (created by Twitter user @vitomartinez_ and posted on the account @FutbolVen1)

This graphic, based on how the players have been organised in training this week, is believed to be Venezuela’s probable line-up in their first game, which is away to Jamaica. The subsequent analysis and information regarding the squad is thus structured according to this predicted XI.

UPDATE: Just under an hour to kick-off until the Jamaica game, the starting line-ups have been announced and Venezuela’s had two changes to the above graphic, with the more defensive Franklin Lucena playing in front of the back four instead of Luis Manuel Seijas and  Mario Rondón starting on the right instead of Josef Martínez. The two Rondóns thus get the opportunity to link up again. Irrespective of these changes, the article below remains unaltered as it was only ever intended as a broad, if detailed, guide to the players. Hispanospherical.com has enormous – perhaps misplaced – faith in its readership to engage their brains when encountering the two discrepancies as there is more than enough information provided to assist with filling in the necessary ‘gaps’. So, whether you are coming to this article before, during or after the game, feel free to read on if you would like to know more about the leading Venezuelan players currently in contention for those vital Copa América squad places.

Brief Background

These will be the seventh and eighth games of manager Noel Sanvicente’s reign since taking over in July 2014. A brief summary of their first six matches can be found in the preview article and all the match reports with highlights can be found in this section, but here is a quick recap: In September on a tour to Asia, they lost 3-1 to South Korea, then drew 2-2 with Japan which, due to the fielding of an ineligible player, was later reversed to a 3-0 win in the hosts’ favour. November’s depleted squad, which had no fewer than eight regulars ruled out, suffered predictably disastrous results: a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Chile and a 3-2 loss away to Bolivia. In February, La Vinotinto notched their first two victories – both against Honduras, 3-2 away and 2-1 at home – though as these two games were contested solely by players based in the domestic league, they can be viewed as B internationals. Thus, the current crop of players is undoubtedly the strongest yet that manager Noel Sanvicente has had the fortune to work with. Please read on to find out more about them and their respective places within the squad.

The Formation

Though manager Noel Sanvicente has largely preferred to kick-off games with a 4-2-3-1 formation, it has at times appeared to morph into a 4-4-2 (or, to be more specific, a 4-4-1-1, utilising a support-striker). Nevertheless, based on how they have lined up in training this week (see graphic at the top of the page), it is believed that against Jamaica at least, he will go with a 4-2-3-1.

The Squad

Goalkeeper

Dani Hernández is the first-choice between the sticks and though it is unlikely that he will be usurped, he should not be feeling too comfortable just yet. His performances in the four international games he played in September and November were marked by several unconvincing moments, as he did little to inspire reassurance with his often faulty positioning, dubious handling and poor clearances. Sanvicente has commented upon this but believes that Hernández being second-choice at that time for his then-club, Real Valladolid, may have affected his confidence. Having since moved to fellow Spanish second-tier side Tenerife in January and played in ten consecutive games  – conceding nine goals, as opposed to the 24 in the preceding 20 matches – it is hoped that this time around he will serve as a more assertive last line of defence.

His understudy, 25-year-old Alain Baroja of Caracas FC, only received his first two caps in the pair of games contested solely by home-based players against Honduras in February but it was notable that he played all 180 minutes of these. Indeed, his rival Rafael Romo was somewhat surprisingly not granted a solitary second on the field and has since gone on to make some costly blunders for his side Mineros de Guayana in the Copa Libertadores. Thus, Baroja’s status as the new number two appears assured and though he is not anticipated to start against Jamaica, he may well see some action against Peru.

Defence

It is beyond doubt that Sanvicente will start with a conventional four at the back. Given how porous his side has been in previous encounters – officially, 17 goals have been conceded in his six games in charge, with not one clean sheet – some different personnel and defensive relationships are surely needed and that appears to be what he has decided upon.

Centre-backs

First-choice centre-back, the towering Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, has been a beacon of reliable consistency for Nantes this season, playing almost every minute of every game. It can not be said that this form has been replicated at international level where goals have leaked in abundance, though to pin this squarely on him would be unfair. His partner for all four games that he played, Grenddy Perozo – who, at club level is in danger of enduring a second successive relegation with Ligue 2’s Ajaccio – has been more culpable, something Sanvicente appears to have recognised as he has not called him up this time around.

Instead, he has sought a future partner for Big Viz and his quest for a replacement has taken him to the not-so-distant past, with the call-ups of Fernando Amorebieta and Andrés Túñez. The former is rumoured to be starting against Jamaica though his level of fitness as well as his ability to rekindle his past form and partnership with Vizcarrondo raise more than a few doubts. Indeed, he has only played seven games this season in the Championship, having first been frozen out by then-manager Felix Magath and then, after he had won a spot in the line-up, suffering two spells out with injury, the second of which lasted four months. When he returned to action earlier this month in a 5-1 home defeat against title-challenging Bournemouth, he was played in his less-favoured left-back position and looked horrendously off-the-pace and out of position, with his dismal night ending in a 69th-minute dismissal. If he is unable to do the job then Túñez, who in November won the Thai league title and has recently been playing in the AFC Champions League with Buriram United, stands a considerable chance of being more than a mere back-up. Furthermore, Sanvicente has spoken of his desire to try out different options at the back, though where this leaves 35-year-old Juan Fuenmayor of Deportivo Anzoátegui – a surprise call-up even in last month’s domestic squad – remains to be seen.

Left-back

Gabriel Cichero appears to have this position sewn up. The experienced Mineros de Guayana lateral is the only player to have played every single minute of Sanvicente’s reign, though his early performances did see him upbraided in various quarters. Indeed, though after each of the first four games almost all seven players in defence-minded positions (goalkeeper, four defenders and the two defensive-midfielders) came in for criticism, the opprobrium levelled at Cichero was especially severe. In the hammering meted out by Chile, in particular, he struggled to deal with attacks down his flank, granting opponents more than their fair share of space. However, since then he has enjoyed two rather composed games against Honduras (even having a hand in one of the goals) and, domestically, though his club side have been underperforming all season, he has managed to chip in with three fine goals since the start of 2015. As it is more his defensive game that he is going to be judged upon, if he can carry his performances from last month’s domestic-players-only friendlies into these two more illustrious affairs, the calls to find a replacement will surely go on mute. That said, he appears to face no current threat from inside the current squad, even if both Amorebieta and Fuenmayor have experience of playing in this position (and may well be given a run out here).

Right-back

FC Thun’s Alexander González played here for three of the first four games, yet it is looking like Roberto Rosales will instead start against Jamaica and thus reclaim what many feel is rightfully – and naturally – his. Indeed, despite the Málaga star being, by trade, a right-back, he was placed in a defensive-midfield partnership with Tomás Rincón in Sanvicente’s second game against Japan – partly as a measure to avoid getting as easily overran in midfield as they did against South Korea. It seemed as if this arrangement would continue in November’s friendlies but as both men were ruled out through injury, it never had a chance to come to fruition. Now several months on, it appears as if Rosales’ exemplary form in his debut season in Spain has influenced Sanvicente’s decision-making. What no doubt would have swayed the boss was Rosales’ fine performance in February at Camp Nou, where he kept Neymar quiet all game in a surprise 1-0 victory – the second occasion he had helped his side keep a clean sheet against Barcelona – which no doubt also influenced the La Liga panel that voted him into the league’s official Team of the Month. Given that González tends to play in a more advanced position in Swiss domestic action and, more pertinently, Rosales will again be facing the Brazilian lead man in June, reverting the Málaga man back to his natural position seems almost a non-brainer.

Midfield

Due to Rosales’ alleged shift, it appears that, rather than using two defence-minded players to cover the back four, Sanvicente will instead first be experimenting with two contrasting individuals in a doble pivot of sorts. Whether this will seem quite as appealing against the likes of Brazil is a question for another day. (UPDATE: see the update at the top of the article regarding a late change in this area).

Doble Pivot

Defence-minded ball-winner

Tomás Rincón is the vice-captain of the side and will be greeted back into the line-up with open arms, having only previously featured in the first two games in Asia. At club level, he has enjoyed a broadly positive debut season thus far with Genoa, featuring in approximately two-thirds of their league games, helping them defy various odds to sit in the top half of the table. His ability to roam around the middle third, breaking up play with key interceptions and tackles should add some bite and composure that has thus far been sorely lacking, particular in November’s embarrassing 5-0 loss against Chile.

Indeed, the Mineros duo Édgar Jiménez and Rafael Acosta started that day and, not for the first time in Sanvicente’s reign, were widely panned. As they do not feature in this squad, they appear to have played their way out of the coach’s plans, with the fortunes of another home-based player, Deportivo La Guaira’s Franklin Lucena, seemingly moving in the other direction. The now 34-year-old may well have initially been considered too old for a new qualifying cycle but, having been granted his first start against Bolivia following the Chile debacle and then playing every minute of the friendlies against Honduras, he seems to have earned his place as the number one reserve to Rincón. If Sanvicente scraps the doble pivot idea at any point and instead goes for a more defensive arrangement here, Lucena would surely be in line for a start.

Another player who will hope to be considered for this position also plies his trade in the domestic league and is a club team-mate of Lucena’s. 26-year-old Arquímedes Figuera received a rare call-up for the Honduras games and even scored a similarly rare goal, though he must be considered as no more than an outside bet to be included in the final Copa America squad. However, one factor counting in his favour is Sanvicente’s apparent fondness for selecting home-based players who play on a regular basis as opposed to those who spend large periods of time on foreign benches, such as Empoli’s Franco Signorelli, who has been overlooked this time around.

Deep-lying Playmaker

According to the reports, Independiente Santa Fe’s Luis Manuel Seijas has been earmarked for this position. Although this reigning Colombian champion tends to play further upfield, this role should not be out of his realm of experience and abilities. Formerly of Standard Liège and with over 50 caps to his name, Seijas is one of the most familiar faces at international level of the current crop and is more than capable of spraying searching long-range passes with his cultured left foot. It will be interesting to see what effect this supposed new arrangement in this area has on the team’s play.

If Sanvicente wishes to try someone else in this position, the similarly versatile Alejandro Guerra – who also plays in Colombia, albeit for Atlético Nacional – seems a reasonable bet, as does even the veteran Juan Arango, though more on these two later. One man who could very well be a long-term fixture in this position is 21-year-old Juan Pablo Añor, or Juanpi, as he is more commonly known. Having this season made his debut for Málaga, he has inspired much excitement with his confident, somewhat balletic, poise on the ball, which he utilised to sensational effect when he scored his first goal, a superb left-footed strike into the top corner against Levante. He has often featured in a deep-lying playmaker role for his club, though, not too dissimilar to the two aforementioned players, he is also capable of playing further upfield, which he demonstrated impressively in his youth career, scoring at a rate of one in every two games. However, while he is a definite talent, those clamouring for him to be fast-tracked into the line-up must acknowledge that it may be a case of too much too soon for a player who has a mere nine senior club appearances to his name (three of these as a substitute). Nevertheless, having been called up to this squad as a late replacement for home-based starlet Rómulo Otero, he will understandably take any opportunity, no matter how it comes to him.

Attacking Midfielders

This area of the field is undoubtedly the strongest and most competitive, providing Sanvicente with regular selection headaches that ultimately involve having to leave out at least a couple of seemingly deserving candidates who play their domestic football at a respectable level. While the Venezuelan game may well just have a knack of producing a relatively high number of such players it is also possible that the contemporary trend to play with one up front means that there is an excess of attackers who have learned to adapt their game out of necessity, thus adding to the competition for these three places. Indeed, as will later be expanded upon, there is really only one player officially listed as a forward in this squad who would not also be in contention for a role in this area. Nevertheless, despite all this talent, La Vinotinto have not shown a great deal of attacking cohesion and fluency under Sanvicente – will these two games provide a turning point?

Left-sided Attacking Midfielder

Of all the rumoured starters in this line-up, the anticipated occupant of this position will be of keen interest to many, being as it will be his international debut. Naturally, with this incursion someone has had to make way and this appears to have been Luis Manuel Seijas who, as noted, has been redeployed elsewhere.

Furthermore, given the versatility of many of the players in this area, the number of players who could also be tested on this side at some point in these two games is high. César González, Juanpi and even Juan Arango are all viable possibilities, as is the erstwhile golden boy, Ronald Vargas, though, like González,  he would admittedly be more at home on the opposite side. However, while he is more naturally right-footed, he has been known to cut inside from the left and vice versa. Given Chita‘s propensity to play people in positions different to where they feature at club level, coupled with the contemporary fondness for inverted wingers, an appearance at some point on either flank seems probable for the Balıkesirspor wideman.

Nevertheless, regarding the debutant golden boy in this position, Christian Santos, his noted aerial prowess certainly gives him an additional dimension over most of his rivals and all La Vinotinto fans will be eagle-eyed to see if his scintillating club form translates to the international stage. With Nijmegen’s N.E.C. in the Dutch second tier he has shown himself to be a prolific scorer as well as a creator of goals and, on paper at least, he would appear to have a strong chance of worming his way into a regular first-choice XI. However, given his ability to play anywhere across the attacking midfield area as well as in a more forward role, it is certainly not inconceivable that he and one of his supposed competitors – perhaps Seijas, possibly Juanpi – may well end up lining up within the same team in the future.

 Central Attacking Midfielder

Predicted to be in the centre is creative veteran, undisputed free-kick master and icon of Venezuelan football for the past decade, Juan Arango. Leaving the Bundesliga in May 2014, he returned to a previous club of his, Mexico’s Xolos de Tijuana, yet only since the turn of the year has his season really taken off there. Indeed, after his side endured a rather disappointing Apertura campaign, he has been at the forefront of a remarkable turnaround that now sees them top of the Clausura, with the Venezuelan having contributed 5 goals and 2 assists. However, though his neat interplay and particularly his long balls, efforts from distance and crosses are still valued weapons, with his 35th birthday less than two months away it may be that his international future lies a little further back in midfield. Indeed, this is how his club manager Daniel Guzman has fielded him in order to precipitate such fine form and it is something that Sanvicente has expressed his admiration of.

Again, when it comes to potential alternatives in this area, there are at least a few possibilities, with these including Josef Martínez, Mario Rondón and Christian Santos, among others. Yet, had he not been ruled out by a late injury, then Caracas’ Rómulo Otero would have possibly been in line for a substitute appearance in this position, though he does also work the flanks.

Right-sided Attacking Midfielder

(UPDATE: see the update at the top of the article regarding a late change in this position).

According to the alleged line-up, Torino’s Josef Martínez is likely to start on the right of this triumvirate. Still not 22 until May, he has, on occasion, demonstrated what an energetic livewire and clinical finisher he can be with the Serie A side, albeit usually while playing as a striker or support-striker. He possesses just over a dozen international caps and though he has not yet managed to claim any regular spot in the line-up as his own, he has enough raw talent for most fans to believe that if he can just channel it to his advantage then he will be a regular fixture in this side for at least several years to come.

Martínez’s most likely competitor for this spot on the right is Alejandro Guerra, who started the two games in Asia before injury ruled him out of the November clashes. He, like Arango, has had a promising start to 2015, scoring four goals in five league games for Atlético Nacional, as well as a fine scissor-kick in the Copa Libertadores. Nevertheless, given that both he and Martínez can play in more than one position, Guerra’s spell on the sidelines may only prove to be a temporary displacement and fans can be sure that he will get at least one opportunity on the field over these two games.

Not quite so much certainty can be attached to the predicament of César González. The 32-year-old Deportivo Táchira winger – who has been known to play on either flank – has not featured in any of Sanvicente’s squads so far, though with over 50 caps to his name, he is no stranger to the international fold. His last call-up came in late 2013, yet despite his age it appears that the coach could not resist him in his current form, as he has netted 6 goals in his last 7 matches (including 2 in the Libertadores), not to mention providing several assists from dead-ball situations.

With this latter quality in mind, it may be better to use González as a potential replacement for Arango – who has often been withdrawn when displaying signs of fatigue after 60-70 minutes at club level – as his set-pieces would be warmly greeted by the head of the man who is scheduled to make his first start on the opposite flank – not to mention a certain gentleman up front.

Forward

As already noted, there are several players who can play in this position but only really one who is considered a pure striker. That man is Zenit St. Petersburg’s Salomón Rondón, the current joint-top scorer in the Russian Premier League and the undisputed focal-point for his country. After a lengthy barren spell at club level provoked whispers that he may be on the way out, he has recently returned to something approaching his clinical best, having scored twice against PSV Eindhoven in the Europa League and netting a domestic hat-trick at home to FC Ural. Though some doubts over his consistency and future may persist in St. Petersburg, at international level he can be assured of his status as Venezuela’s top man.

This week, however, there have been some rumours leading up to the Jamaica game that he has been nursing some kind of injury and that his namesake Mario Rondón would instead be starting. Though this now appears not to be the case, spectators can expect to see at some point the man who has recently swapped Portugal’s Nacional for China’s Shijiazhuang Ever Bright. Indeed, he played in all four of the previous games open to overseas-based players and, in the first two in particular, was many observers’ stand-out player, contributing two goals. Previously, he had not received many chances under the former managerial incumbent César Farías (2008-2013) and at 29, still possesses fewer than 10 caps, yet in the two Asia-based games was able to show some signs of a promising future partnership with the Zenit hotshot. As he tends to play more of a supplementary role to the striker, often featuring in a deeper position and/or working the channels, it is very much possible that fans will once again see the two Rondóns link up for their country. Whether or not it will be in this international week remains to be seen.

Regarding the very last person in this squad, Richard Blanco of Mineros de Guayana, it is hard not to feel that, despite scoring a tap-in in one of last month’s friendlies, he is largely here to make up the numbers. His domestic goalscoring record – 7 in 22 games – is nothing to shout about and vastly inferior to the 18-goal tally of Deportivo Táchira’s Gelmin Rivas, who has not received a call-up. Quite what he can offer that several others can not in a supporting role is not readily apparent either. Thus, come late May, when the players are waiting with bated breath for the final Copa América squad to be announced, one would expect forwards such as Juan Falcón (Metz), Miku (Rayo Vallecano) and Fernando Aristeguieta (Philadelphia Union, on loan from Nantes) to find themselves in with a far greater chance of inclusion.

Nevertheless, it is Salomón Rondón who is the likely starter up front. Having so far only featured in two games of the Sanvicente era without managing to score, a first goal from him, as well as any other signals that all the big names are back in the fold – an Arango free-kick, perhaps? – would be received very warmly by many a Venezuelan.

venezuela23squadformarch

Graphic of Venezuela Squad for March Friendlies (created by @GolesVinotinto). Please note: not all the positions are accurate – e.g. Figuera’s actually a central midfielder – and almost all the players are more versatile that can be conveyed in such an image. Still, it helps to put some faces to names.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – March 2015 Preview

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

Jamaica vs Venezuela

Tuesday 31 March 2015 – Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Peru vs Venezuela

For those wanting to watch either of these games, both are scheduled to be broadcast on TeleAragua

(For a detailed position-by-position look at all the players Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente has selected, as well as a peek at the probable line-up for the first game against Jamaica, please take a look at this article)

Expectations Mount as Sanvicente Sources a Rare Embarrassment of Riches

With the 2015 Copa América a mere 80 or so days away, these internationals can comfortably be billed as the most vital yet of the Noel Sanvicente era. Not only do they, the seventh and eighth of his reign, include a preliminary test against one of their tournament opponents, Peru, but they will also be potentially pivotal in determining who will be boarding the aeroplane to Chile. Most significant of all, however, is the available pool of players that Chita has been able to call upon – on paper at least, the strongest since he took over in July 2014.

Indeed, 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) –  veteran icon Juan Arango omitted himself and a few other hitherto first-teamers were missing. October’s scheduled matches were cancelled and replaced by hastily arranged training sessions in Madrid that were almost exclusively attended by overseas-based players. Any tactical plans for the subsequent set of matches in November were undermined by the absences of 8-10 key players (mainly due to injury), which led to predictably disastrous results: a 5-0 thumping from Chile and a 3-2 defeat against Bolivia. Then early last month, it was left to domestic league players to contest two matches – a double-header against Honduras – which, in light of the fact that only seven home-based individuals have made it into the latest squad, can be considered  B-level encounters.

You Can’t Please Them All: Notable Absentees

Having endured this inauspicious start, La Vinotinto fans are no doubt mostly delighted – and rather relieved – that Sanvicente has this time been able to take with him to the Florida training base almost any player he desires. Though some may haved wished that he had selected the likes of the recently nationalised Jeffrén Suárez (Real Valladolid, ex-Barcelona) and Yonathan Del Valle (last seen scoring a stoppage-time winner for Rio Ave against Benfica), not to mention Fernando Aristeguieta and Miku (both of whom have received call-ups from Sanvicente but have been inactive at club level for much of this season, particularly the latter), he has only been denied two players this time around. Both had originally been included in this squad but succumbed to injuries. The first of whom, Metz striker Juan Falcón, Sanvicente knows well from his double title-winning spell at Zamora. The other is Caracas’ Rómulo Otero, the most promising attacking talent currently plying his trade in Venezuela. This 22-year-old set-piece maestro will be especially disappointed to miss out at this critical stage, rendering him unable to build on last month’s momentum when he was widely lauded as the catalyst in the first victory against Honduras.

Nevertheless, as neither of these two players has staked a durable claim for a regular starting berth, Sanvicente does have at his disposal the players to name in at least one of these games what could potentially be his first-choice XI come the opening Copa América clash against Colombia on 14 June. However, this is unlikely as, owing to the noted problems that he has so far faced, several places in the line-up are still up for grabs and he has already indicated that there will be some experimentation in these two games. Nevertheless, upon their conclusion, whatever transpires in Jamaica and the USA, some much-needed clarity should be added to the coach’s thoughts.

The Squad: Collective Aims and Key Call-Ups

A cursory glance of the list of players (see bottom of the page) called up to this 23-man squad should give everyone an idea of one of the key issues Sanvicente needs to resolve. While plenty have experience of playing together under previous regimes at club and international level, this group are nevertheless a disparate collection of individuals who play their domestic football in 13 different countries while representing 21 separate clubs. One of the noticeable characteristics of the games played so far in this new era has been a lack of attacking cohesion and fluency, something that could well be further complicated in these fixtures as it is anticipated that the manager will introduce new players and arrangements in the forward positions. Another glaring issue that requires urgent attention is the number of goals that have thus far been conceded in the six games played: 16 or, officially, 17, given FIFA’s retrospective decision pertaining to the game against Japan. With this in mind and moving on to the list of players announced this time around, Sanvicente will be hoping that two individuals in particular will be able to shore up his back-line.

Indeed, regarding the playing personnel (who are discussed in much greater depth in this article), the headlines when this squad was initially announced largely went to four players who have yet to play a single minute of the Sanvicente era. Two of these are primarily central defenders, the first of whom being Fernando Amorebieta, who just this week has completed a loan switch from Fulham to title-challenging Middlesbrough in the English second tier. During a two-year spell starting in late 2011, he was often Oswaldo Vizcarrondo’s partner at the back before injuries and a lack of game-time thwarted further call-ups. He has not played for his country since October 2013 whereas another returnee, erstwhile first-choice back-up Andrés Túñezwho has enjoyed much success with Thailand’s Buriram United after being forced out the door of his boyhood club Celta Vigo – has not featured since June of the same year.

One man who has gone even longer without a look-in is Ronald Vargas who, several years ago, was tipped by some to be the long-term successor to the majestic Juan Arango. Considerable excitement – albeit of the kind that is partially tempered by the pitfalls that experience knows are always lurking – has greeted the return of this winger/attacking midfielder, offering many a chance to recall his promising early career. Indeed, he made his international debut in February 2008 and not long afterwards in June scored the second goal in his nation’s first ever victory over Brazil (who on that day started with, amongst others, Robinho, Adriano, Dani Alves and Gilberto Silva). He continued to play for his country throughout this calendar year and shortly after his history-making exploits, he made his debut in Belgium for Club Brugge. Although not everything ran smoothly for him here, his performances gradually gained in consistency and following a superb third season in which he scored a remarkable 15 goals in 23 league games, he earned a move to the more prestigious Anderlecht. However, the three years he spent here were plagued by recurring injuries – as indeed, to a lesser extent, were the three seasons with his former club – which thus hindered his playing time and hampered his international career. Consequently, a transfer that could have solidified his place in the selección and bolstered his reputation in Europe ended on a sad note as he was released when his contract expired at the end of the 2013/14 season. Somewhat stigmatised as an injury-prone liability and having made barely a handful of international appearances since late 2008, he was subsequently picked up by Turkish Süper Lig new-boys Balıkesirspor. Although they currently prop up the division, looking well on course to head back from whence they came, the now 28-year-old Vargas has had a relatively prosperous time, scoring six goals in 21 league appearances and, perhaps most crucially, not suffering any serious injury setbacks. Five of these goals were bagged following the turn of the year and he will be hoping that not only will such form ensure that he is not condemned to follow his club down a level, but also that it will enable him to make a surprise late entry into Sanvicente’s Copa América plans.

In stark contrast to these three players, the last inclusion of note, Christian Santos, has never before played for his country. Indeed, the Venezuela-born 27-year-old was raised from a young age in Germany and has only recently acquired the relevant documentation that allows him to represent the country of his birth. This man, whose looks have drawn comparisons to those of none other than David Beckham, can play up front or anywhere across the supporting line of attackers, particularly towards the flanks as either an inside-forward or winger. He comes into the squad off the back of the season of his life in the Dutch second tier with Nijmegen’s NEC who, being 21 points clear with 7 games to spare, are virtually already promoted. The team has scored a staggering 87 goals, with Santos netting a highly commendable 18 of these in his 28 league appearances (21 of these starts). A significant proportion of his tally were headers which, with set-pieces being a regular source of goals for La Vinotinto, could well aid his case for future call-ups. Sanvicente spoke of his desire to try him out back in November and though logistical issues were to thwart these plans, it looks like this time around he will have his way.

Morale on the Line: Two Winnable Games

Old or new, stalwarts or relative whippersnappers, this group of players will be facing two nations who will also be contesting this year’s Copa América with their most realistic route of advancing from their respective groups being as one of the two best-performing third-placed sides.

Indeed, CONCACAF guests Jamaica have been allocated an unenviable group that includes Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. With this in mind, the Reggae Boyz will need all the preparation they can get and will follow up hosting La Vinotinto with another match at the Montego Bay Sports Complex against Cuba. Given that along with five players from their domestic league, their squad is largely comprised of representatives from the two highest divisions in USA/Canada (nine – eight from the MLS) and the three highest in England (six – two from each of the top three leagues), two wins does not seem out of reach for them.

This would certainly sow some seeds of doubt in the minds of all Venezuelans, though it is debatable if this would be more dispiriting for morale than a loss against CONMEBOL rivals Peru. Indeed, La Blanquirroja have recently appointed a new manager, Argentine Ricardo Gareca, whose first moves suggest he may be looking to the future with his relatively inexperienced squad that features 13 players from the domestic league. Regarding their exports, while Sporting’s André Carrillo is included, the majority of their most famous ambassadors are not: Fiorentina’s Juan Manuel Vargas, Schalke’s Jefferson Farfán (who is reportedly nursing a minor injury), Corinthians’ Paolo Guerrero (suspended) and Bayern Munich’s Claudio Pizarro (originally called up, but succumbed to an injury).

While the seemingly understrength nature of this squad would normally be reason enough for Venezuelans to expect a victory, another additional factor is the Copa América draw, which has pitted the two nations together in the rather daunting Group C alongside Brazil and Colombia. Though gaining a result against either of these teams is certainly not out of the question for Venezuela and Peru, the likeliest scenario sees the game on 18 June between the two nations having the most significant bearing on whether or not either can progress to the next stage.

As only the two best-performing third-placed teams can reach the knock-out stage, Venezuelans will be hoping here not only for a win but a much-improved defensive display in both games, as goal difference could well prove decisive in June.

Ultimately, though two victories in the upcoming days seems eminently attainable, there is the ever-weary possibility that these friendlies may descend into training match-level farces brought about by high numbers of substitutions. Nevertheless, though such games can never be relied upon to act as the most accurate barometers of a team’s progress and quality, all Venezuelan football fans will be excited to see what feels like the closest to a first-choice squad Sanvicente has had at his disposal since his appointment.

For a detailed position-by-position look at all the players Sanvicente has selected, as well as a peek at the probable line-up for the first game against Jamaica, please take a look at this article

Venezuela Squad for the Friendly Internationals Against Jamaica (27 March 2015) and Peru (31 March 2015)

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Caracas FC)

Dani Hernández (Tenerife)

Defenders

Fernando Amorebieta (Middlesbrough, on loan from Fulham)

Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana)

Juan Fuenmayor (Deportivo Anzoátegui)

Alexander González (FC Thun)

Roberto Rosales (Málaga)

Andrés Túñez (Buriram United)

Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes)

Midfielders

Juan ‘Juanpi’ Pablo Añor (Málaga)

Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana)

Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira)

César González (Deportivo Táchira)

Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, on loan from Mineros de Guayana)

Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira)

Tomás Rincón (Genoa)

Christian Santos (N.E.C. Nijmegen)

Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe)

Ronald Vargas (Balıkesirspor)

Forwards

Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana)

Josef Martínez (Torino)

Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright)

Salomón Rondón (Zenit St. Petersburg)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical