Tag Archives: Jeffrén Suárez

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – November 2015 Preview

With Venezuela having lost their opening two World Cup Qualifying fixtures, Hispanospherical.com looks at the situation facing manager Noel Sanvicente, his team’s preparations for their visit to high-altitude La Paz to face Bolivia as well as the notable call-ups for this game and the subsequent home encounter with Ecuador.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 12 November 2015 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department

Bolivia vs Venezuela

Tuesday 17 November 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State

Venezuela vs Ecuador
Sanvicente Urgently Needs to Give Fans Something to Cheer About

Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department, Bolivia, where Venezuela play on 12 November 2015. (Photo courtesy of David Freeman who travelled to 67 football matches across Latin America. Read more about his adventures here

‘I am not a coward, I won’t resign’. So proclaimed Venezuela boss Noel Sanvicente last month at a lengthy press conference shortly after his nation’s Russia 2018 qualifying campaign had been inaugurated with two straight defeats. The 3-1 loss away to Brazil may have been largely anticipated, but the embarrassing late defensive mix-up that caused a 1-0 reversal in the opener in Puerto Ordaz at home to Paraguay certainly irked fans, greatly lowering morale at the first hurdle. Coming off the back of poor friendly performances and the failure to reach the knock-out stages of Copa América 2015, many fans ran out of patience with Chita.

The ex-Caracas and Zamora director técnico has lost considerable goodwill in his 16 months in charge. Results have not met expectations, displays have been lacklustre and most players have struggled to replicate their club form. Regarding this last point, given the tactical incoherence repeatedly exhibited as well as the high number of attackers fielded with similarly incohesive results, many point the finger of blame at Sanvicente as his intentions continue to puzzle and bewilder.

In further comments to the media, while he acknowledged some of the criticism and accepted responsibility, he seemed unwilling to consider a fundamental shift in his approach. Instead, amongst other things, he lamented the ‘accident’ involving Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Alain Baroja that gifted the win to La Albirroja and also remarked upon the superior club levels that many of his country’s opponents play at – an observation that ‘you don’t have to be Harry Potter to see’.

Before Sanvicente categorically stated that the thought of ‘resigning doesn’t go through my head’, he also reiterated that ‘my thing is work, work and more work’. Weary words for many Vinotinto fans as ‘all work and no play’ would certainly be a succinctly apt assessment of his goal-shy reign to date.

Under pressure, currently point-less and in charge of the lowest ranked nation in CONMEBOL (83rd), Sanvicente knows that all this much-vaunted labour must be converted into positive results as soon as possible. This month’s challenges from fellow strugglers Bolivia as well as injury-hit high-flyers Ecuador, while certainly substantial and seemingly with the potential to send Chita scurrying out of a job, do also offer opportunities to reinvigorate the cause. However, though he has claimed his methods will not be changing any time soon, the personnel definitely will be – more so than at any other point since he took up the post.

Venezuelan Preparations: Bumper-sized Squad to Help Cope With High Altitude  

Indeed, Thursday’s trip to La Paz’s Estadio Hernando Siles – over 3,600 metres (nearly 12,000 feet) above sea-level – serves up all kinds of logistical issues that South American nations have attempted to counteract in differing ways. Sanvicente has opted to call up an enlarged squad of 33 players, with 20 of them making the journey to Bolivia; these comprise of an equal mixture of ten home-based individuals and ten, largely more established, legionarios who ply their trade abroad. Several of the latter possess experience of playing at high altitude at club and/or international level but it is those currently featuring in the transitory Torneo Adecuación who have undergone the greatest preparation ahead of this game.

For the past three weeks or so, they have been training at La Vinotinto‘s National Centre of High Performance (CNAR) facility on the northerly Isla de Margarita. Ideally, physical trainer Rodolfo Paladini said he would have liked 17 consecutive days with the players but due to club commitments for some – though not all – this was somewhat problematic. Nevertheless, when available, this domestic crop have been spending time in hyperbaric chambers which are intended to help users experience and acclimatise to simulated high-altitude conditions.

In the few days preceding the game, the overseas-based contingent have gradually been joining up with them at CNAR and today, Wednesday 11th, the 20-strong group flew to Bolivia. However, rather than travel straight to La Paz, they are instead staying in the relatively low-altitude Santa Cruz de la Sierra (416 metres above sea-level). Tomorrow on matchday, they will embark on a get-in-and-get-out strategy as they shall enter the city of the fixture no more than two hours before kick-off; some Bolivia-based portable chambers have been hired to assist any breathing problems they may experience. Almost as soon as the game is concluded, the squad will then take an aeroplane back to the national training centre.

A calculated risk, no doubt, though far from the first time something like this has been deployed by a South American nation. The altitude issue has been a bone of contention for decades and FIFA resolutions have been passed more than once (notably in 1995 and 2007) to ban international games in La Paz, though these were subsequently repealed. It is undeniable that even if not all of Bolivia’s players are accustomed to high-altitude conditions, they have more than enough who are and this has been a partial factor in many victories over some of the continent’s heavyweights. Anyone resistant to this argument may wish to briefly peruse the nation’s woeful record away from home – their Copa América win against Ecuador in June was their first competitive victory on foreign soil since 1995.

Nevertheless, though their home advantage has attained near-mythical status over the years and casual observers may consider a visit from CONMEBOL’s lowest-ranking team as a banker win for La Verde, this is far from assured. Indeed, in the past two visits during World Cup Qualifying campaigns Venezuela have attained a 1-1 draw (in 2013, when Juan Arango’s last international goal was cancelled out with four minutes left) and a 1-0 win (in 2009 via an own goal; this was during the same qualification cycle in which Bolivia beat Argentina 6-1 and Brazil 2-1).

If, however, they are unable to get a result, the pressure will be on to get one against Ecuador – no mean feat as La Tricolor are riding high following two consecutive wins, the first of which being a sensational 2-0 away triumph against under-fire Tata Martino’s Argentina. Though they will be missing key-man Antonio Valencia, they have strength in depth and will fancy their chances as last month’s heroics came without Enner Valencia, Michael Arroyo or Renato Ibarra on the pitch (and who are all injured this time around). The likes of Jefferson Montero and Felipe Caicedo promise to offer the Venezuelan backline a consistent threat throughout the game.

Again though, La Vinotinto have a strong recent qualifying record in this particular fixture, drawing the last encounter 1-1 and winning the preceding two 3-1. Post-La Paz, after the full Venezuela squad reconvenes at CNAR, they will head over to Puerto Ordaz for this game looking to give the Estadio Cachamay public something to cheer about. Indeed, not only did the 1-0 debacle against Paraguay occur at this ground but in September it was also the site of two dreadful displays: a 3-0 reversal meted out by Honduras which was followed by a 1-1 draw with Panama on a bog of a pitch. An on-field apology of sorts is very much in order.

Predicting who will line-up for this second fixture is only marginally more problematic than that of the Bolivia game. Nevertheless, what follows is a brief overview of some players to look out for in the upcoming week, starting with the La Paz trip.

venezuelabolivia

20-man Venezuela squad for the trip to face Bolivia in La Paz (photo: @SeleVinotinto)

Players to Keep an Eye Out For

‘The following are the matches of our lives. We have to go out with impetus. [We] can not give away more points.’ Experienced Franklin Lucena understands the significance of these two games and will more than likely start in La Paz, either as a central defender or a holding midfielder. This is owing to his club outings this season at Colombia’s Once Caldas who play home matches at over 2,000 metres above sea-level and who are accustomed to similar levels of altitude in certain away matches. For similar reasons, Luis Manuel Seijas of Colombia’s Independiente Santa Fe has also been touted for a place in the line-up. If both men start, then Lucena will be more than likely at the back with Seijas partnering captain Tomás Rincón in defensive midfield – that is, if El General of Genoa has recovered from his injury.

First-team spots have also been rumoured for the versatile right-back/wide-man Alexander González (Young Boys) and centre-back Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), who both scored the last time Venezuela played in La Paz in a 3-2 defeat in November 2014. So long as he has shaken off his minor injury then first-choice goalkeeper Alain Baroja (AEK Athens) will be between the sticks. Once again, the attacking positions are the hardest to predict though, if utilised effectively, there is certainly talent in the 20-man squad: Josef Martínez (Torino), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Juan Falcón (Metz) and Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright) may all be granted a chance to wangle their respective ways into the long-term thinking of Chita.

Regarding potential starters from the home-based crop, aside from Ángel, few strong rumours exist though Sanvicente has said he is keen on giving youth a chance. If he follows through on this, many fans will be keen to see international debuts granted to 20-year-olds Carlos Cermeño, a highly rated defence-minded player at Táchira, and Caracas’ attacking full-back, Jefre Vargas. However, one youngster who will not be featuring is the league’s top-scorer, 21-year-old Manuel Arteaga who, despite intiially being called up to the full squad, was the victim of some kind of communication failure between his club and country and so was unable to make the trip. On a more experienced note, midfielder Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira) can not be too far away from a starting berth, having featured as a substitute against Brazil.

Who from this group will be in a state to play against Ecuador is anyone’s guess though it can be said with the closest thing to certainty that the following cracks will start in Puerto Ordaz: right-back Roberto Rosales (Málaga), centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes) and striker Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion).

The locals as well as most fans will also be keen to see Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez, two men born in the state but who were raised in other countries and who have only in the past year acquired the relevant citizenship documentation to represent La Vinotinto. The former in particular has been in eye-catching form, banging in 9 goals in 12 games for NEC Nijmegen in his debut season in the Dutch Eredivisie. The latter has also shown promising form as he seeks to revitalise his career with KAS Eupen, who currently reside at the top of the Belgian second tier. One other individual who, due to injury troubles, is featuring in his first international squad since he ran the show away to Honduras in February is 23-year-old Rómulo Otero (Huachipato). For some, a possible successor to Juan Arango, this Chile-based playmaker has long been tipped for a long-term spell in the first team.

Alas, this is all largely educated conjecture at this stage. On matchdays, Sanvicente’s line-ups tend to be revealed in advance to the press, so those interested in being in the know at least a couple of hours before kick-off should either return to this page for a short update or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. Otherwise, enjoy the games and feel free to return for some thoughts on them in the upcoming week.

UPDATE (12 November): This, courtesy of @SoccerDataVEN, is the Venezuela line-up that will face Bolivia:

venezuelavsbolivialineup

Full Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers: Alain Baroja (AEK Athens), José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira) and Wuilker Faríñez (Caracas FC).

Defenders: Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Francisco Carabalí (Mineros de Guayana), Carlos Cermeño (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Mineros de Guayana), Gabriel Cichero (Sion), Alexander González (Young Boys), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), Jefre Vargas (Caracas FC), José Manuel Velásquez (Arouca) and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders: Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), César González (Deportivo Táchira), Jacobo Kouffati (Deportivo Lara), Franklin Lucena (Once Caldas, on loan from Deportivo La Guaira), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Rómulo Otero (Huachipato), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe) and Ronald Vargas (AEK Athens).

Forwards: Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana), Juan Falcón (Metz), Josef Martínez (Torino), Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen) and Jeffren Suárez (KAS Eupen),

Notes: Fernando Amorebieta (Middlesbrough, on loan from Fulham) and Juan Pablo Añor (Málaga) were initially called up to the 33-man squad but have since been ruled out due to injury.

Also, Manuel Arteaga (Zulia) was also in the initial squad but has been unable to join up with the group following a communication problem between his club and the Venezuelan football association (FVF).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Brazil 3-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (13 October 2015)

Matchday 2 of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign brought the second loss to Noel Sanvicente’s charges. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 13 October 2015 –  Estádio Plácido Aderaldo Castelo, Fortaleza, Ceará.

Brazil 3-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Brazil 3-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 13 October 2015 (YouTube).

Seleção’s Superiority Self-Evident as Venezuela Leave Opening Round Point-Less

Match Report

The night may have begun with boos for Seleção boss Dunga but come the final whistle it was his opposite number Noel Sanvicente whose position had become the more precarious. Brazil, coming off the back of a 2-0 reversal against red-hot Chile, wasted little time trying to get back into their fans’ good books, asserting their superiority with less than 40 seconds on the clock. Luis Gustavo dispossessed Alejandro Guerra in the middle of the park, feeding Chelsea’s Willian who was granted plenty of time to drive into the area and then strike with evidently too much venom for Alain Baroja.

Venezuela initially responded well to this setback, getting forward and gaining some space in opposition territory. However, their hosts were to find that they could afford occasional minor defensive lapses as the visitors offered little from open play, something that could not be said of the likes of Willian, Douglas Costa and Oscar, as well as the wing-backs Dani Alves and Filipe Luis.

For the majority of the half, these players, as well as 35-year-old striker Ricardo Oliveira, largely tested the nerves of the Venezuelan backline more than the actual goal. However, they were to get their reward and go into the break with a scoreline that did justice to their dominance, as Willian doubled the lead in the 42nd minute. This time, Luis jinked past both Ronald Vargas and Roberto Rosales on the left, before pulling the ball back towards the edge of the area; Oscar dummied over it and the incoming Willian blasted home.

The ease with which they maintained the ball – tiring the visitors as they sprayed it about – continued into the second half. Often, the hosts gave the impression that they possessed an extra gear and could shift into it and score more if they really needed to. Costa’s 53rd-minute cross-cum-shot that hit the underside of the bar nearly sealed the win. However, though Venezuela were still a distant second in this half, their set-pieces increasingly improved in quality; one provided unexpected hope. Indeed, Luis Manuel Seijas’ 64th-minute corner was headed by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo to the back post and knocked in by the thigh of Christian Santos in what was his first ever competitive international. Just like that, Venezuela had halved the deficit.

Though the Castelão crowd were momentarily silenced – even the TVes Venezuelan commentators were taken aback – the goal did not significantly alter the game’s complexion; ten minutes later, it was over. Costa’s whipped cross from the left bounced before defender Fernando Amorebieta who opted to use his left boot on the turn to try to clear the ball. Unfortunately for his pride, he swung and failed to make any meaningful contact, with Ricardo Oliveira instead profiting; the Santos striker needed no invitation to score on what was his first start for his national side in over ten years.

Brazil comfortably saw out of the remainder of the game, doing so with Kaká and then later, Hulk, on the field – much to the delight of the squealing females in attendance. While the heat is still very much on coach Dunga, for the next few weeks at least, he will surely be sleeping far more soundly than his Venezuelan counterpart.

What follows are some thoughts on the Venezuelan display. 

Venezuela’s Defence Lacking the Necessary Resilience of the Recent Past 

Against Paraguay, aside from the late gift Baroja and Vizcarrondo delivered to Derlis González – which, considered alone, could be dismissed as an aberration – Venezuela’s defence largely put in a respectable performance. Alas, against vastly superior Seleção opponents, nobody could be said to have emerged favourably.

Goalkeeper Baroja failed to get a strong pair of hands behind Willian’s early goal and was unconvincing with a few of his attempted claims and stops. Right-back Rosales (who can not always replicate his impressive club form for his country), along with left-back Gabriel Cichero, often struggled with the flank attacks of Willian, Costa, Alves and Luis – the second and third goals came from Rosales’ side and Cichero was hoodwinked by Oscar’s dummy on the second. Centre-back Amorebieta stood off Willian for the first, allowing him to strike and was especially embarrassed on the third with his unnecessary air-kick. His partner Vizcarrondo did not play as prominent a role in the concession of goals – conversely, he assisted Venezuela’s solitary effort – but he could have done:  in the 14th minute, he was manfully shrugged off a long ball by Oliveira who ran towards goal in considerable space but shot too close to Baroja.

Collectively, they were regularly given the runaround, struggling to maintain their shape and organisation. Such a performance, considered alongside many other unconvincing displays, increasingly makes the disciplined 1-0 win over Colombia at Copa América look like a curious anomaly. Venezuela’s impressive showing in the last qualification cycle was built upon a relatively strong defence, yet this has rarely been witnessed in Sanvicente’s 15-month tenure. While wholesale changes are not required in this area, greater concentration and organisation levels plus two or three new competitive faces would not go amiss. Alas, regarding the latter, there does not currently appear to be anyone in a good position to fill at least one of those vacancies.

Plenty of Attackers, Few Ideas

Of course, a shaky defence could always be masked by a rampant attack – not two words one expects to put together in a sincere sentence with ‘Venezuela’ any time soon. Indeed, against Paraguay, Salomón Rondón was partnered in attack with Juan Manuel Falcón, with César González and Jeffrén Suárez on the flanks; Guerra, Josef Martínez, and Jhon Murillo were all brought on as second-half substitutes. In Fortaleza, Rondón, nominally at least, was receiving support from three different starting attackers: Santos behind him, with the returning Guerra and Vargas in wide positions. These latter two lasted 45 minutes before being replaced by Murillo and the less offence-minded Arquímedes Figuera; with under 10 minutes to go, Alexander González also came on, replacing the deeper-lying Seijas, a move which required some further positional adjustments.

In all, over these two games, nine different attacking players were used in conjunction with Rondón. Did anything that can be built on actually occur? It seems customary for many Venezuelan fans and media figures to highlight and overstate the quality of any minor piece of skill or invention displayed; to these distant eyes, nothing of note happened that was not done multiple times and with greater panache by many of their Brazilian counterparts.

Perhaps Santos’ goal will have aided his personal cause but for the most part the match was the wearily tedious tale of a group of attackers failing to both combine effectively and create ways of penetrating the opposition rearguard. It is now 15 games into Sanvicente’s reign and virtually no on-field progress in this area has been made. Can anyone, with any genuine confidence, name even one of the players in this part of the pitch that Sanvicente considers a starter? There is, after all, almost as much competition outside of the current squad as within. Further changes are a cert next month in La Paz against Bolivia, as to deal with the high altitude Sanvicente is poised to take with him a large number of home-based players; this, when against Brazil, substitute Arquímedes Figuera was the only representative of the domestic league.

One minor positive to be noted was the standard of set-pieces delivered, mostly by Seijas. Many first-half corners and free-kicks were at least reaching testing areas; by the second period, team-mates were actually making contact and of course, Santos’ headed goal came from a dead-ball put in by the Santa Fe midfielder which, in turn, was headed on by Vizcarrondo. Given the problems from open play, this has long seemed like an area well worth dedicating considerable time towards on the training ground.

Under-Fire Sanvicente Has Little Reason to Expect a Sudden Turnaround

Unsurprisingly, many have lost patience with Sanvicente, whose impressive club-level record holds increasingly little currency these days. Immediately after the Brazil game, in an admittedly completely unscientific Twitter poll, around 75 per cent of voters felt that he should no longer continue as manager. ‘Support is gained with the results and at the moment we do not have them’, he said post-game in Fortaleza. Will he have any to speak of after next month’s qualifiers away to Bolivia and at home to Ecuador? Given that afterwards there will be a four-month gap before the subsequent round of competitive fixtures he, and any under-fire manager knows, just how crucial the November encounters will be.

While some may derive optimism from the competitive debuts of both bright new things, Jeffrén and Santos, it has undeniably been a thoroughly depressing opening to the campaign. Aside from the performances, captain Tomás Rincón was pilloried online by many of his own fans for swapping shirts on the pitch at half-time with two-goal Willian, ultimately the undoubted man of the match. Although professionals such as El General may view such acts differently, symbolically it played into the hands of Vinotinto supporters who feel the team lacks bite, self-respect and character.

Furthermore, before and after the Brazil game, Santos and Alexander González had goods stolen from their luggage at two different Venezuelan airports (UPDATE: Andrés Túñez also had similar problems). There has been some speculation that morale and the general atmosphere in the camp is rather low – such incidents are obviously not likely to help.

Given all that has occurred over the past week or so, it is going to take something rather unanticipated to improve Sanvicente’s mood before the end of the year.

Team Selections

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-1 Paraguay – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (8 October 2015)

Having witnessed La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign get off to a calamitous start against La Albirroja, Hispanospherical.com offers up some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 8 October 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State.

Venezuela 0-1 Paraguay

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-1 Paraguay, CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 8 October 2015

Late Venezuelan Embarrassment Turns Mediocre Night into Disaster
Match Report

36,650 fans turned up to a damp Estadio Cachamay seemingly willing to put their experience-derived doubts to the backs of their minds and instead provide some vocal support to help Noel Sanvicente’s men get off to the successful start the coach considered essential. Whilst the uneven and bobbly playing surface was not conducive to free-flowing football, the aficionados in attendance always knew this was going to be at a premium. The familiar unsophisticated, unimaginative and toothless Venezuela was very much on display yet as the game wore on, the volume steadily rose. In the second half, the boys in burgundy seemed the more likely to break the deadlock, even if the majority of their efforts were tame or off-target, struggling as they did open up the defence and gain clear sights of goal.

Although an underwhelming goalless draw would have still been below the boss’ expectations, a rare clean sheet – only two in the previous 13 games – is not something that can easily be passed up. Alas, with around five minutes remaining, an horrific, rank amateurish error deprived them of this and gifted the game to Ramón Díaz’s men. Thus, ground has already been ceded to one of the other outsiders seeking to defy the CONMEBOL odds.

Despite the bulk of the match being as wearily woeful as anticipated, Hispanospherical.com had already mentally – yes, in that sense of the word – signed a contract with itself to provide some thoughts on this and every Venezuela encounter for the foreseeable future. As this game exemplified many of the traits common to performances under Sanvicente since his arrival in July 2014, one will try not to labour too many points. There can, however, only be one place to start.

The Incident: Vizcarrondo/Baroja Confusion Gifts Paraguay the Win

For those hitherto residing in a state of blissful ignorance – or perhaps, having instead watched the likes of Colombia and Argentina or been sanely wrapped up in bed – here is how the game was won: In the 85th minute, a diagonal Paraguayan ball was hoisted forward, where it bounced centrally just before it reached Venezuelan defensive stalwart Oswaldo Vizcarrondo several yards outside his own area. Hauntingly, he tamely chested the ball to where he assumed goalkeeper Alain Baroja to be, only to turn to see the AEK Athens stopper suddenly scramble over to his left in vain; he had not been as central as the Nantes centre-back thought. Dynamo Kyiv’s Derlis González pounced, beating the keeper to the ball and tapping home, ultimately winning the game against the run of play.

The usually reliable ‘Vizca’ became an instant villain; social media was rife with anger, horror and mockery. There were, however, some who switched the blame over to Baroja, citing his poor positioning and/or presumed lack of communication. Upon reviewing the footage, there is some credence to this. It appears that the keeper was anticipating the ball to drift through to his grateful arms, yet had he stayed in line with Vizcarrondo, he would have been near enough to grab the ball before González’s arrival. Did he give his colleague a shout to let him know he was claiming it? Baroja said afterwards that there was no communication. On the other hand, some feel the defender could have attempted to clear the ball if he was unsure of Baroja’s whereabouts.

Post-game, public scapegoating was not on Sanvicente’s mind. ‘We continue committing the same errors of 20 years ago’, he sighed dejectedly, adding that ‘[t]here was confusion for both sides, [and thus] responsibility for both.’ Diplomatic to an extent, but largely accurate. Two days later, the ever-reflective El Estímulo was still struggling to come to terms with what had unfolded, opening an article by proclaiming that the memory of the mix-up was tormenting the minds of fans on a loop à la Groundhog Day. Elsewhere in the immediate aftermath, however, there was a fairly universal consensus over who was the culprit:

                       liderendeportesvizcarrondo   paraguayvizcarrondo

Front covers of the Venezuelan Sports Daily Líder en Deportes and Paraguay’s Diario Extra.

Otherwise, A Decent Defensive Display Against Low-Ranking Opposition

The goal aside, however, the visitors could not manage a shot on target. Indeed, while Paraguay were never likely to offer the sternest of tests, Sanvicente, if/when he unslumps his shoulders, will surely be quietly content with the efforts from his rearguard. With the exception of The Incident, there were only a handful or so of relatively minor defensive concerns.

Early on in the frenetic, composure-free exchanges, there were a couple of breaches at the back that came to nothing. The visitors were largely resigned to a few speculative off-target efforts, though late on, they did waste a gilt-edged chance that will never get the exposure it would warrant in different circumstances – not that Édgar Benítez will be complaining. Soon after taking the lead, with the Venezuelan back-line in disarray, a ball was lofted over to the Querétaro attacker who rounded Baroja only to miss what was an open goal. While some camera angles are more generous to him than others, he should certainly have done better. Alas, with the hosts failing to even up the score, there will be no tortuous mental Groundhog Day for Paraguayans.

Otherwise, there was not too much to concern Sanvicente. He could not significantly fault the two players under most threat in this area: the much-maligned left-back Gabriel Cichero and 34-year-old Franklin Lucena, more accustomed to being on defensive-midfield standby, who was preferred over Andrés Túñez to start alongside Vizcarrondo at the back. However, with Fernando Amorebieta returning from suspension for the upcoming Brazil game, a decision now has to be made. According to reports, rather than coming in for Cichero, the Championship defender is instead likely to replace Lucena at centre-back, his strongest position. Here, he can attempt to rediscover a partnership with Vizcarrondo that was regularly deployed during the last qualifying cycle.

Ultimately, despite the performance in this area, Sanvicente will be acutely aware that Paraguay, for all their merits, do not possess one of the region’s most testing attacks. Bigger challenges await around the corner; lapses in concentration can easily multiply and be punished accordingly.

New Personnel But Same Old Problems in Attack 

Nevertheless, the defensive display combined with the work of the likes of Tomás Rincón and Luis Manuel Seijas edging possession in midfield regularly put La Vinotinto marginally in pole position to nick a narrow win. Alas, to what should have been the surprise of no-one, not only did they fail but they showed little teamwork and collective understanding in the final third. They barely troubled opposition goalkeeper Antony Silva, rarely found space to run at – let alone past – defenders and often had to resort to long-ball and/or hit-and-hope tactics.

The recent retirement of Juan Arango necessitated a change in this area, though Sanvicente seemed keen on revolution over evolution. The Copa America triumvirate fielded behind Salomón Rondón consisting of Alejandro Guerra, Arango and Ronald Vargas was completely overhauled. Instead, in a 4-4-2 formation, Rondón was partnered by Juan Manuel Falcón, with the experienced César González on the left side and newcomer Jeffrén Suárez on the right. Though ‘Maestrico’ González has played many times with Rondón at international level, the other two are, in terms of experience on this stage, virtually strangers to all those around them (pre-game, Falcón possessed less than a handful of caps; Jeffrén, a mere 30 minutes gained from a forgettable friendly last month). Given these selections for this already vital game, only the eternal optimists could have had high hopes that everyone would instantly gel on-the-job.

All the same, despite not setting up any chances, often struggling to beat his man and failing to get a shot on target, ex-Barcelona man Jeffrén has since received some praise from various Venezuelan journalists. In fairness, he was not fully fit and playing his first competitive fixture, but was still able to show a few glimpses of admirable composure and willingness to make things happen. Yet the subsequent appraisals seem out-of-kilter with events on the pitch and seem to speak more of a clamouring for new heroes and positives on a night when frankly, there were slim pickings to be had.

Nevertheless, irrespective of what it says about Jeffrén and his competition, Sanvicente was implicitly taken by what he saw. Indeed, a few days after the game, he said that he would be prepared to wait ‘until the last hour’ to see whether the injury-prone KAS Eupen winger will be fit for the Brazil match. However, with several hours to go, it appears that he has conceded defeat on this front. Instead, according to the most reliable sources, in Fortaleza, there will again be wholesale changes in the area behind and to the side of Rondón: Guerra and Vargas are predicted to reprise their Copa roles on the flanks with the more central spot filled by Christian Santos, a man with a comparable amount of international experience as Jeffrén.

Curiously, none of these players were substituted on against Paraguay, with instead Josef Martínez and Jhon Murillo the two receiving minutes in the closing stages. The search for an effective offence shows little sign of going away any time soon.

Wanted: a Competent Set-Piece Taker  

Lastly, particularly in the first half on the wet pitch that was fighting a losing battle against the elements, spectators were treated to a variety of sports, though only rarely did these include the one that they had paid money to see. The challenging conditions facilitated some midfield duels and aimless forward forays that resembled some rather tedious ping-pong and head-tennis exchanges. Diving, a cynic might say, was taken as a given. Then, 25 minutes in, ‘Maestrico’ threw in a topical reference when he blazed a free-kick well over the bar. Not to be outdone, five minutes later Rondón spooned one at least 30 yards above the woodwork. To momentarily engage in a bit of Dad humour, one would like to enquire as to why Venezuela are not represented at the Rugby World Cup?

There was not a significant improvement in the majority of set-pieces in the remainder of the game. While the turf may have been partly to blame and, of course, no-one expected Juan Arango’s heir-apparent to announce himself in the first encounter following El Capi’s retirement, Sanvicente will be keen to see some progress in this area as soon as possible. Given his side’s evident shortcomings from open play, dead-ball situations could well offer a lifeline or two. Indeed, no matter how Brazil may, according to their standards, be struggling, Venezuela will need all the weapons in their armoury if they are to gain a result against the one CONMEBOL nation they are yet to beat in a competitive match.

Feel free to return to Hispanospherical.com for coverage of that particular match. 

Team Selections  

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Lucena, Cichero; J. Suárez (Murillo, 81′), Rincón, Seijas, C. González (Guerra, 62′); Falcón (Martínez, 74′), S. Rondón.

Paraguay (4-4-2): Silva; B. Valdez, Da Silva, Aguilar, Samudio; D. González, Ortigoza, Ortiz (Cáceres, 63′), Benítez; Barrios (Fabbro. 86′), Santander (Bobadilla, 72′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical 

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – October 2015 Preview

With Venezuela set to begin their latest quest to qualify for their first-ever World Cup, Hispanospherical.com looks at the burden of expectation carried by manager Noel Sanvicente, the loss of the talismanic Juan Arango and provides an overview of those likely to take to the field against Paraguay and/or Brazil.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 8 October 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State.

Venezuela vs Paraguay

Tuesday 13 October 2015 – Estádio Plácido Aderaldo Castelo, Fortaleza, Ceará.

Brazil vs Venezuela 

sanvicenteturineseVenezuela manager Noel Sanvicente speaking on the eve of the Paraguay game (Via: Humberto Turinese)

Under-Fire Sanvicente Knows What the Fans Crave 

‘I’m not here to win Copa América, I’m here to get us qualified [for the next World Cup]. If not, it’s a failure’. Back in June just days before the Chile-hosted tournament kicked off, Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente forcefully set out the terms on which he believes his tenure will be judged.

In the four months that have since passed, the rod ‘Chita’ appears to have built for his own back has only enlarged. True, there was the expectation-escalating euphoria of mugging Colombia 1-0 on that frenetic opening sunday in Rancagua, but just seven days later La Vinotinto were booking their flights home. Having been vanquished by both Peru and Brazil, Venezuela’s group-stage exit marked their worst performance in the competition since 2004. However, when the squad was reconvened last month for two home internationals, the largely identical line-ups that were fielded had the chance to vindicate the views of many fans; namely, that in June they had merely been unfortunate victims of a tough draw as well as a certain refereeing decision/one player’s moment of ill-discipline (depending on who you talk to and on which day of the week).

Such sentiments were soon to evaporate, which is more than can be said for the rain at Estadio Cachamay, home of Mineros de Guayana. Indeed, following an eyebrow-raising 3-0 trouncing meted out by Honduras, the subsequent online storm that it sparked was paralleled in the weather conditions at this deceptively photogenic ground. Subsequently the second game against Panama had to be delayed for over 20 minutes before commencing in what were rather A & E-friendly circumstances. Swashbuckling, it was not, though both teams were not short of opportunities to make a splash. Two opposition players had to be substituted off within the first 25 minutes and had Salomón Rondón not tapped in an injury-time equaliser, he and his compatriots may have opted against emerging from the swamp.

Before these encounters, Sanvicente and several others in the camp had emphasised the importance of winning their home games, given the lengthy distances and varied playing conditions they will face in CONMEBOL qualifying. This week, as well as pointing favourably to the example of Ecuador last time around, he has voiced a similar outlook ahead of his country’s opening World Cup qualifying match with Paraguay: ‘For any team, the first match is all-important. To qualify, this match must be won.’ Such comments grant him little room to manoeuvre should things have gone awry just 90 minutes into a two-year campaign. However, they do testify to both his winning mentality (seven domestic titles as coach) as well as the expectations that now come with the job.

His predecessors have a lot to answer for. The cumulative work from 1999-2013 of José Omar Pastoriza, Richard Páez and, in particular, César Farías enabled Venezuela to belatedly emerge as a force within the region, regularly attaining ever-greater heights. Under Farías, they recorded their best ever Copa América performance (4th in 2011) as well as, positionally at least, their highest finish in a World Cup qualifying campaign (6th of 9 teams for Brazil 2014).

Given this backdrop of rapid transformation, any deviation from the seemingly inevitable march of progress runs the risk of provoking the collective ire of fans. The early Copa exit, compounded by the subsequent friendly defeats, has raised significant doubts in the minds of many as well as given further ammunition to those with long-standing grievances with the team’s displays since Sanvicente took over in July 2014. Midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas acknowledged this disgruntled element after the Honduras debacle, though was evidently not keen on any kind of rapprochement: ‘We’re surely getting crucified, but let’s hope that in October, when we win in the first match, they won’t get in the victory bus with us’. Alternatively, if worst comes to worst, they should withhold their home-made torture devices for the time being and then ‘[c]rucify us in October if things don’t go well for us.’ Two straight losses against Paraguay and Brazil and the mob will not need any encouragement.

One of the consistent complaints during Sanvicente’s reign has been the lack of effective attacking play and, as a consequence, goals. Overall, just 13 (15 unofficially) have been scored in as many games. However, apologists for the current regime will be keen to recall that things were no better during Farias’ reign, with the team only managing to score 14 in the 16 games of their admirable 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. Yet, Sanvicente has got a task on his hands if he is to even match that tally, particularly as one key architect and supplier of those goals has recently confirmed that he will not be there to assist on the road to Russia 2018.

The Post-Arango Era: Replacing the Irreplaceable

Video of all but one of Juan Arango’s goals in World Cup Qualifying games (YouTube). His final one against Bolivia can be viewed here.

A 15-minute run-out at the Estadio Cachamay on the night of the Panama game was no way to end the 16-year international career of the most-capped, highest-scoring and, quite simply, greatest player in Venezuela’s football history. Alas, that  was, by choice, the end of the road for Juan Arango, the man who future generations should easily be convinced into believing inspired the cliché ‘cultured left foot’. In the next two years there will be far fewer left-footed pearlers gliding through the air, far fewer pinpoint set-pieces and far fewer nonchalant flicks and exquisite through-balls. Some doom-mongers fear there could even be none of the above; this is something no convert to the CONMEBOL cause wishes to hear.

Aside from the goals and assists, the departure of La Zurda de Oro also deprives the side of a certain confidence and appeal to outsiders that is difficult to find elsewhere in the squad. This is, after all, the man who blithely informed German newspaper Bild that he is, in fact, a better free-kick taker than Cristiano Ronaldo; an assertion backed up by many observers, including one of the most august global football sources. Appreciation for his talents is such that even the Bundesliga’s official YouTube channel temporarily removed its impartiality cap to endorse El Huracán del Caribe as their favourite player in a much-viewed video of all his goals at Borussia Mönchengladbach (2009-2014). Furthermore, earlier this year, one of his team-mates from this period, a certain Marco Reus, paid tribute to him in an interview; he is far from alone in his admiration.

Following the dismal day out at the waterpark with Panama, his Vinotinto companions joined him at a teary-eyed press conference and soon afterwards were quick to express their gratitude and respect for El Capi, at times approaching idolatry with their praise. Arango had announced that he had been mulling over retirement for a while and that, ultimately, he did not possess the motivation for another lengthy campaign and it was time to give others a chance.

Talk of the post-Arango era has steadily increased ever since his 2014 move back to Mexico with Xolos de Tijuana following a decade in Europe shared between Spain and Germany. Undoubtedly, he was slowing down, tracking back less and being less of a decisive factor in games. However, as he remained an on-field influence right up until his last competitive game, the claims that his iconic status combined with his diminishing mobility made him a hindrance to reshaping the national team’s attack still needs some visible supporting evidence – this may take some time to emerge. Indeed, though Venezuela could only manage two goals at Copa América, Arango played a major part in both. Against Colombia, it was his hooked cross on the turn that Alejandro Guerra nodded across for Rondón to head in and against Brazil it was one of his trademark free-kicks – one of only a few he was actually allowed to take – that was parried back for Miku to halve the deficit late on and cruelly get everyone’s hopes up. .

Furthermore, in the last qualification cycle, he scored three goals – including this stunner against Ecuador – and set up some other memorable ones, including Fernando Amorebieta’s history-making winner against Argentina and Rondón’s late equaliser away to Uruguay.  Who then, could possibly fill his boots?

Team Preview: In Search of an Attack

No-one, is the gut reply. Instead, it seems Sanvicente will attempt to ensure that those in the attacking positions can combine to offer something different which adds up to more than the sum of their individual parts. Guerra and Ronald Vargas were the two wide-men who flanked Arango in June, though based on Sanvicente’s press comments as well as sources close to the side, they may not be reprising their roles against Paraguay. Indeed, renowned journalist Humberto Turinese, who regularly travels with the squad, has stated that Venezuela will line-up in a 4-2-2-2 formation, Rondón being joined up front by Juan Falcón with César González and Jeffrén Suárez playing in the space behind.

While the formation may well alter during – if not before – the match, if the personnel changes are accurate then this is a wholesale supplanting of the Guerra-Arango-Vargas triumvirate that began behind Rondón in all three Copa games. Long-time followers of the national side will be aware that despite the lack of recent success in this area, it is the most competitive in the squad, yet no-one in the current crop has been able to claim a regular spot supporting the West Bromwich Albion striker for any sustained period of time. Nevertheless, for any newcomers, here is a brief overview of some of the other attackers who may feature:

Falcón, a forward at Metz who was not even in the Copa squad, won some praise for his lively display against Panama after he came on as a first half-substitute for Christian Santos, the NEC Nijmegen attacker who is also in this squad and is currently one of the top-scorers in the Eredivisie with 5 goals in 8 games. 33-year-old González, a regular under Farías who had to make do with being a substitute in June, appears to have won a start off the back of his scintillating domestic form with Deportivo Táchira – 7 goals in 8 games. Jeffrén, by contrast, only made his international debut last month just as Arango was departing. One in, one out, some might say. The 27-year-old graduate of Barcelona’s La Masia academy and erstwhile Spain youth international finally agreed to play for the country of his birth and is doing well rebuilding his career at Belgian side KAS Eupen following some injury setbacks.

Needless to say, if such an attack does emerge from the tunnel then it is quite a bold risk from Sanvicente, who has named very similar line-ups for the past five games. While Turinese is a respected figure, it must be noted that other outlets, such as the popular Twitter account Mister Vinotinto, are anticipating a different line-up. Whatever the reality, should Sanvicente opt otherwise or perhaps need to make further adjustments after the first whistle has been blown, then along with Santos, Guerra and Vargas, there are at least two other options at his disposal. For one, there’s Josef Martínez, a slippery. versatile attacker who many in his homeland feel is a definite star for the future but who has struggled to really nail down a regular place at Torino. A second possibility is another much-vaunted prospect, 20-year-old Jhon Murillo, who is on loan at Tondela in the Portuguese top-flight from Benfica. The Lisbon giants signed him on a five-year-deal following two eye-catching seasons at domestic club Zamora.

Over the course of two years, observers can expect to see at least a few different organisational and personnel changes in this area of the field. Outside of the current squad, there is a handful of other players who could well be in with a chance, with two names in particular standing out as long-term prospects. Firstly, the injured Rómulo Otero, a jinking playmaker/wide-man whose set-pieces have at times drawn comparisons with those of Arango; a few months back he made his long-awaited move away from Caracas ending up, somewhat surprisingly, at Chilean outfit Huachipato. There is also 21-year-old Juanpi who, to the chagrin of some, Sanvicente feels needs a bit more first-team club experience. Indeed, while he may not always be named in the Málaga line-up, he does already have substitute appearances at the Bernabéu and Camp Nou under his belt this season. Time will tell whether he is best-suited to an attacking-midfield or a more reserved, deep-lying role.

Team Preview: Rincón’s Role Crucial

Despite the focus on the forward problems, the defence is certainly not without its flaws, conceding at a rate of two per game under Sanvicente. However, although they have been porous in non-competitive encounters, they only let in three in as many matches at Copa América, with the clean sheet and solid, disciplined performance against Colombia earning them plaudits around the world. While there are still some debates to be had here, things are, at the moment at least, a little more settled in this area. Against Paraguay, Alain Baroja will definitely be in goal, with Málaga’s tenacious Roberto Rosales at right-back and Sion’s Gabriel Cichero at left-back (though the suspended Fernando Amorebieta could return for the Brazil game). In the centre of defence will be the towering Oswaldo Vizcarrondo of Nantes, though Thailand-based Andrés Túñez may lose his spot to 34-year-old Franklin Lucena, if Turinese’s reporting is accurate. If this is the case, Túñez may be paying for his roles in the goals of Brazil’s Thiago Silva and Roberto Firmino – both of whom, incidentally, are not in the Seleção squad – in June as well as some errors in September’s friendlies. On a related note, the defence as a whole should also be pleased that Robinho – who had a great game three-and-a-half months ago, setting up the first goal – has not been called up; Chelsea’s Willian, however, who jinked past Rosales to cross in for Firmino to tap in the second, is.

In front of the back four will surely be the usual partnership of Seijas and new captain Tomás RincónMany will be looking to El General, currently with Serie A side Genoa, to assert his character on all his colleagues and instil within them the determination and mental toughness that he has long displayed, most notably in the run to the semi-finals of 2011’s Copa América. He has worn the armband on many occasions in the past and now with the official designation, he can be proclaimed with firmer justification to be the most important player in the Venezuelan ranks. Indeed, while Rondón may ultimately grab more headlines, with goals not anticipated to fly in with any regularity, Rincón’s leading role in repelling attacks and communicating with the defence-minded players around him will be key. To have any chance of prospering in this qualifying campaign, similar tactics, work-rate and organisation to those witnessed against Colombia will surely be essential. If Rincón and co. can successfully thwart, the onus will be on Rondón and whoever is immediately behind him to capitalise.

Ultimately, to state the blindingly obvious, it is not going to be easy for Noel Sanvicente. As well as the issues raised here, he must contend with the quality of the CONMEBOL region being arguably at its strongest in living memory as well as the additional problem of having Brazil return to the qualification trail to compete for what are potentially five World Cup places.

Indeed, their south-easterly neighbours, now managed by Dunga, are the only team left in the confederation that Venezuela have never beaten in a competitive match. Only the eternal optimists are considering this record to be broken next Tuesday. For now, the attention in the camp is narrowly focused on Paraguay, against whom in the same fixture the campaign for Brazil 2014 officially ended following a frustrating 1-1 draw in westerly San Cristóbal. That occurred on Venezuela’s final matchday; if Sanvicente’s pre-game words are to be taken at face-value, a failure to beat La Albirroja this time around could mean he feels their quest for Russia 2018 is all-but-over at the first hurdle.

Such an outcome would be disastrous for morale and the pressure on the coach and players would undoubtedly increase. Still, as long-time followers of football in this continent know, if a week is supposedly a long time in football, then try two years. Players can gradually emerge, teams can belatedly gel and circumstances can change. Whatever happens this week, it is going to be quite the long-distance assault on the senses. Hispanospherical.com hopes you manage to remain in one piece and stick around to see it to its conclusion.

Venezuela Squad

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

Defenders: Fernando Amorebieta (Middlesbrough, on loan from Fulham), Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Gabriel Cichero (Sion), Alexander González (Young Boys), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), Andrés Túñez (Buriram United), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders: Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), César González (Deportivo Táchira), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, on loan from Mineros de Guayana), Franklin Lucena (Once Caldas, on loan from Deportivo La Guaira), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fé), Ronald Vargas (AEK Athens).

Forwards: Juan Falcón (Metz),  Josef Martínez (Torino),  Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen), Jeffrén Suárez (KAS Eupen).

Note: Fernando Amorebieta is suspended for the first game against Paraguay.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 1-1 Panama – International Friendly (8 September 2015)

International Friendly

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

Venezuela 1-1 Panama

(To read a preview of both of Venezuela’s September 2015 friendlies, click here)

Goal Highlights of Venezuela 1-1 Panama, International Friendly, 8 September 2015 (YouTube)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo (Carabalí, 80′), Túñez, Cichero; A. González (J. Suárez, 59′), Rincón, Seijas (C. González, 74′), Guerra (Arango, 74′); Santos (Falcón, 31′), S. Rondón.

Panama (4-4-2): Mejía; Henríquez, Torres, Parris, Machado; Gómez, Cooper, Quintero, Godoy (Macea, 24′) (Escobar, 80′); Pérez (Buitrago, 77′), Blackburn (Addles, 26′) (Calderón, 90+6′).

Match Report

Little Learned as Venezuela Sneak a Draw in Bog-Standard Conditions

On a rain-soaked pitch that would have been classified as waterlogged in other parts of the world, Salomón Rondón’s stoppage-time tap-in enabled La Vinotinto to narrowly avoid two consecutive defeats at the hands of Central American opposition.

Pre-kick-off torrential downpourings delayed the start of game by over 20 minutes and were to mire proceedings. The Panamanians, stung from a narrow 1-0 defeat against Uruguay at the weekend, initially seemed unfazed, taking the lead with barely two minutes on the clock. A central free-kick from distance was hoisted into the area where, after a knock-on, defender Gabriel Cichero uncomfortably nudged it into the path of Rolando Blackburn. Escaping from Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, the Comunicaciones forward squeezed in a fairly tame, bobbling effort from the right byline. However, goalkeeper Alain Baroja misjudged the shot’s trajectory and was caught off-balance, with the ball instead ghosting through his attempted grasp to trickle a mere inch or two over the goal line.

Certainly not the start desired in the stands by the hearty souls who shunned any sheltering from the elements. However, in terms of actual footballing action, it proved to be a false dawn. The subsequent half-hour was bereft of goal-mouth opportunities, with the teams instead seemingly trying to outdo each other in providing the referee with justifications for abandoning the match. With the soggy turf regularly halting the ball’s unpredictable movement, challenges that only the most nihilistic would not wince at frequently came flying in. Club managers watching on were doubtlessly horrified and there were to be two early victims as goalscorer Blackburn and team-mate Aníbal Godoy had to be taken off in quick succession around the 25th-minute mark.

Five minutes later, a third substitution was made, though this time it was by the hosts and not due to injury. Much online dismay greeted the removal of Christian Santos, who was making his second appearance – and home debut – for his country, having only received the green light to represent the country of his birth within the past year. Last season, the Germany-reared attacker had a spellbinding year with promotion-winning Dutch side NEC Nijmegen, yet this rare opportunity to show manager Noel Sanvicente if he could transfer his goalscoring club form to the international arena was abruptly truncated. In post-match comments, Chita claimed that this was because the conditions were not conducive to Santos’ typical style; whether true or not, few can argue that his replacement Juan Manuel Falcón thrived in the circumstances, troubling defenders with his pacy runs and dribbles, getting away several attempts at goal.

The forward, now languishing in France’s Ligue 2 with Metz but who has much experience of Venezuela’s largely substandard playing surfaces, even thought he had scored a mere four minutes after his arrival. Indeed, shortly after the hosts’ first attempt on target – an Andrés Túñez header from an Alejandro Guerra corner that was comfortably saved – Falcón anticipated a hoisted ball into the area and beat the onrushing goalkeeper Luis Mejía to nod home. Alas, within a second or two, the Venezuelan was confronted with the raised offside flag.

Aside from captain Tomás Rincón using the farcical conditions as perhaps the only time in his professional career when it will be excusable to channel his inner Lionel Messi and embark on some uncharacteristic dribbles infield, there was just one more moment of note in this half. This came in the 40th minute when left-back Cichero nearly latched on to a free-kick curled in from the left but could not quite direct a low volley on target.

Nine minutes into the second half, it was again Cichero, currently back in Switzerland with Sion, who had his side’s next chance of note.  Luis Manuel Seijas’ left-sided free-kick was met on the edge of the area by the defender, whose header was tipped just over the bar. Subsequently, the resulting corner was flicked on towards the back post where Falcón was readying himself for a tap-in; fortunately for the visitors, defender Leonel Parris just about cleared the ball away for another corner.

Offering the promise of some much-needed urgency, on the hour mark came the long-anticipated international debut of former Barcelona starlet Jeffrén Suárez. Drawing to a close a saga that lasted the best part of nine years, he has seemingly given up on his ambitions of representing the country in which he was reared – Spain, for whom he won two major trophies at youth level – and has instead accepted the long-standing offer to play for the nation of his birth. Now at Belgian second-tier side KAS Eupen, a few years ago when he was still considered an emerging name worth remembering, he may have received his Vinotinto bow on a grander stage. However, little did the sparse Cachamay crowd know at the time that while they had just seen the beginning of one international career, they were also to witness the end of another.

Indeed, at the post-match press conference attended by the entire squad, a teary-eyed Juan Arango, undoubtedly Venezuela’s greatest and most important player of all time, announced his retirement from the national team. No word yet as to whether this was to definitely be the very last of his 129 official appearances, though many fans are already clamouring for a farewell match more befitting of his achievements than a friendly cameo in a stadium only fractionally full.

He arrived onto the pitch in the 74th minute, at which point the match was beginning to look like another toothless, morale-sapping Vinotinto defeat. However, though perhaps not entirely related, his introduction was to coincide with a slight increase in tempo and urgency, as the number of chances and incidents began to rise. The first of these was arguably the most gilt-edged. On the right, Jeffrén cut inside to slide the ball to Rincón, whose finely weighted pass towards the right side of the area found Falcón. However, one-on-one with the goalkeeper, to the dismay of every home fan in the ground, he skied his shot a few yards over. Nevertheless, Jeffrén here provided a brief glimpse of his capabilities and was to be a confident and positive presence on the ball, often looking to get forward and link up from the right.

Venezuela’s forward forays continued into the last ten minutes of regulation play, serving up a host of noteworthy moments: Firstly, Rondón beat the opposition goalkeeper to one of Arango’s pinpoint long balls but was unable to get a shot away in time; Cichero went up for a corner but could not quite make effective contact from a cross; soon after, Falcón outpaced his marker on the left before passing to Jeffrén who nudged it on for fellow substitute Francisco Carabalí, before the move broke down; finally, in the 87th minute, Arango’s ball into the area was well-chested and then struck low by Falcón, whose shot was parried out to Carabalí, who could only blaze over.

Soon afterwards, the hosts’ chances of an equaliser appeared to have been ended as Carabalí received a red card, a mere ten minutes after entering the fray. The reason for his dismissal remains somewhat unclear but it is likely that he raised a hand (or two) amidst some heated altercations involving several players.

However, Venezuela were not to be deterred, continuing their attacks and, three minutes into stoppage-time, they were to get their deserved reward. From the right, César González’s corner was uncomfortable for goalkeeper Mejía, with the ball falling downwards before being nudged over towards Rondón, who instinctively struck home a fairly straightforward finish.

Immediately afterwards, Panama goalkeeper Luis Mejía evened things up, receiving a second needless yellow card in a matter of five minutes, having previously been awarded one for timewasting. Despite a total of eight stoppage-time minutes being played, this brief return to parity in the playing personnels did not lead to any further goals and thus the game ended in a draw.

Given the conditions, it is unlikely that Sanvicente will feel much was gained from this encounter or, for that matter, the preceding 3-0 loss against Honduras. Nevertheless, Venezuela went into this international week needing to improve their attacking play and goalscoring rate, but it can hardly be said that much has changed in these departments. A few players showed glimpses of what they can do, most notably Falcón and Jeffrén, as well as Josef Martínez (in combination with Rondón) in the Honduras game. Ahead of next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Paraguay and Brazil, Juan Arango’s retirement opens up an attacking berth either behind or in tandem with Rondón. However, not only is it unclear who will replace him – or if any other attackers have contrived to play their way out of the line-up during these games – but it feels as if little progress in the teamwork of the attackers has been made. Thus, while the defence – who, admittedly, hardly covered themselves in glory either – proved in Copa América that they are more than capable of doing a respectable job in big games, Venezuela’s attacking problems are set to be an ongoing issue well along the road to reach Russia 2018.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-3 Honduras – International Friendly (4 September 2015)

International Friendly

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

Venezuela 0-3 Honduras

(To read a preview of both of Venezuela’s September 2015 friendlies, click here)

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-3 Honduras, International Friendly, 4 September 2015 (YouTube)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Túñez (A. González, 90′), Cichero; Guerra (Arango, 46′), Rincón (Signorelli, 78′), Seijas (C. González, 68′), R. Vargas (M. Rondón, 61′); Martínez (Miku, 69′), S. Rondón. (The formation was nominally a 4-4-2 though often looked like the usual 4-2-3-1, with Martínez slightly behind S. Rondón).

Honduras (4-4-2): Lopez; Beckeles, Velásquez, Figueroa, Izaguirre (Oseguera, 90+2′); Andino (Méndez, 87′), A. Mejía (Garrido, 78′), Acosta, B. García (E. Hernández, 80′); Bengtson (Castillo, 71′), J. Mejía (Discua, 65′).

Match Report

Uncreative Venezuela Humbled at Home By Honduras 

Plans for Venezuela to overcome the shortcomings of their premature Copa América exit and instead gain a morale boost on home soil ahead of their World Cup qualifying campaign took a backwards step as they were undone by three second-half goals.

Possibly in a bid to improve his side’s poor goalscoring stats, coach Noel Sanvicente started with the same players that were named for the final Group C game with Brazil in June, albeit with one key change. Experienced icon Juan Arango was replaced with Torino prospect Josef Martínez, who from the off was perhaps the chief instigator of a more direct approach, often seeking to play in close tandem with star striker Salomón Rondón.

Indeed, though Venezuela certainly attempted many attacks on the flanks throughout the game, it was often the central approach that yielded the best results, particularly in the first half when they were the better side, playing at a tempo not witnessed in the Chile-hosted tournament.

That said, their first moment of note came from the right wing in the 10th minute when right-back Roberto Rosales, who was a frequent intruder into opposition territory, glided in a challenging cross. Rondón jumped for it with a defender, who just about beat the West Brom striker to the ball at the back post and goalkeeper Luis Lopez rose up to collect. However, just a couple of minutes later, Honduras were to give the hosts the first taste of what could happen if they fail to take advantage of their more frequent forward forays. The internationally prolific Jerry Bengtson – who has recently moved to Iran to play for Persepolis –  did well to take a long ball up the inside-left in his stride and suddenly had some space on the left within the area. However, centre-back Andrés Túñez’s presence may have just about served its purpose, as the shot was fired comfortably over.

Undeterred, Venezuela continued with their pressing and were to enjoy the next few chances of note. Just after the quarter-hour mark, the strike partnership haphazardly displayed some promise as a series of central knock-ons, intentional or otherwise, from opposition defender Maynor Figueroa as well as Martínez and Rondón led to the latter almost poking the ball in, though he was narrowly beaten to it by the fleet-footed Lopez. A few minutes later, a corner from Ronald Vargas – whose success rate of finding a team-mate from a set-piece was otherwise largely abysmal – was glanced wide by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Had the Nantes centre-back arrived a fraction of a second earlier to meet the ball, he could well have bullet-headed it into the back of the net. AEK winger Vargas was involved in the next opportunity in the 24th minute as, from the inside-right position, he slid the ball forward to give Rondón a chance at goal. However, though he could have squeezed a shot between the defender and Lopez towards the far corner, he instead hit a low strike straight at the goalkeeper.

Overall, Rondón was to have a rather mediocre game, not only failing to convert the chances that came his way but also giving away the ball several times when involved in quick-paced direct passing moves, though his efforts in such exchanges were not entirely without merit. Much of this was in evidence in the last moment of note in the first half. Indeed, in the 44th minute, Martínez bustled through the middle, played a rapid one-two with Rondón before being adjudged to have been fouled in the area. Up stepped Rondón but his penalty was struck barely halfway between the centre and left post of the goal-frame and thus, having guessed correctly, Lopez pulled off what was a fairly comfortable save.

Venezuela returned for the second half with the ineffectual Guerra having been replaced by Arango and were to again have the first chance of note. The roaming Rosales once more reached the right edge of the Honduran area, where this time he cut inside and curled a left-footed effort goalwards, though his accuracy was unfortunately off by several yards.

However, a minute later when the clock struck 50′, the tide was to begin to turn against the hosts. All of a sudden, they found themselves stretched at the back as the youthful Bryan Acosta was to beat the ageing Vizcarrondo to the chase and dinked the ball over the onrushing Alain Baroja but also a yard or two above the goalkeeper’s bar. Under-fire visiting manager Jorge Luis Pinto, who has had a relatively poor start to his reign in charge, shook his head on the touchline as if to query the footballing Gods as towhen exactly he is finally going to get a break.

Fortunately for him, the answer to that was very shortly. Indeed, a few minutes after Vizcarrondo almost got outpaced again, Erick Andino struck a bona fide golazo that really did come out of nowhere. Controlling a ball 25 yards out just to the right of the centre of the park, he hoisted a dipping half-volley towards the far top corner which Baroja could only help on its way into the net.

Momentarily at least, a hush of seemingly silent admiration appeared to spread amongst the Puerto Ordaz crowd. However, they soon had reason to regain their voices as immediately following the goal, another direct Venezuelan attack nearly reaped dividends. This time, from the edge of the area, Martínez flicked on with Cantona-esque panache a return-ball for Rondón, who stabbed a volley from inside the area that Lopez did well to instinctively tip over at point-blank range. From the resulting corner, Vargas’ second and final dead-ball delivery of note was met by the towering Túñez at the back post, but though Lopez was caught in a difficult position, the header was off target.

From that moment onwards, Venezuela struggled to get a clear sight of the Honduran goal as familiar problems came to the fore and were magnified by the scoreline. An absence of effective team-work and incisive passing marked most forward forays as La Vinotinto seemed short on ideas to find ways through or around the opposition. In the 70th minute, Rosales’ frustrations appeared to almost get the better of him after one of his many bursts up the right resulted in his infield pass to substitute Miku being wasted by the Rayo Vallecano striker, who attempted a hopelessly wayward return-ball. Subsequently, the Málaga right-back wore an expression of exasperation, quite possibly weary of several of his team-mates who were rarely capable of adequately complementing his charges up the right.

Unsurprisingly, such sullenness did not do much to aid his own performance. Just a few minutes later from Rosales’ side, Celtic left-back Emilio Izaguirre swung in a fine, elegant cross that recent substitute Román Castillo of Motagua beat his marker to and nodded home to double the lead. The out-manoeuvred defender in question was Túñez who also came in for some criticism against Brazil in June when he was similarly beaten to the ball for the two Seleção goals.

If Rosales’ culpability for the second goal was masked by the positioning of his team-mate in the centre, then there was no hiding for the third. This came in the 83rd minute when goalscorer Andino cut back from the byline inside the area where he was upended by the Venezuela right-back’s left leg. Some felt this was a soft call but, nevertheless, Izaguirre made no mistake from the spot, blasting down the centre to complete the rout.

With a minute remaining, there was a final chance for a consolation goal, though this was squandered. With a spacious area to aim his cross into, Rondón chipped the ball from the left edge towards the right-hand side near the back post where it was nodded down by Miku for substitute César González. However, what looked like being an inevitable close-range headed goal instead turned into an embarrassing miss that went well wide of the target, almost in a parallel trajectory to the goal line. Perhaps on second viewing, the Deportivo Táchira midfielder had a little trouble adjusting his body in time and the ball was a little behind him, though few fans will be willing to argue the toss over that one.

When the final whistle blew, the scoreline was emphatically not what the admirably vocal crowd had expected at the start of the game and at no point during the first 45 minutes did it seem likely either. Alas, Venezuela’s familiar failings came to the fore once again and they were made to pay, suffering the ignominy of what is, according to the revered statistician Mister Chip, their worst ever defeat at home to a Central American opponent. Owing to manager Noel Sanvicente’s success at club level, criticism during his reign has so far been less severe than it perhaps would have been for a foreign manager who had overseen similar results. Yet, with World Cup qualifying on the horizon, the underlying belief shared by many that things will eventually come together has taken another battering. Indeed, although the Puerto Ordaz crowd were consistently supportive during this game, a similar scoreline against Panama on Tuesday may well provoke a response from the stands that reverberates in the national press for some time before the Russia 2018 campaign kicks off against Paraguay.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Jeffrén: Venezuela’s Wildcard on the Wing

With Venezuela set to host Honduras and Panama in their last warm-up games before the qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup begins, Hispanospherical.com shines a light on a certain 27-year-old whose likely debut has divided opinion in the country of his birth…

Jeffrén: Venezuela’s Wildcard on the Wing

The Pinnacle

29 November 2010, just coming up to 10:45pm local time, Camp Nou. A feast was in full swing…

Metronomic maestro Xavi, who initiated proceedings just over an hour-and-a-half prior, walked towards the touchline to receive a rapturous reception from the stands, before being replaced by Malian international Seydou Kéita. Hot on his heels was the man who had continued the festivities shortly after the first blow to the eternal enemy had been struck: Number 17, the 23-year-old already simply known as Pedro, who had become a regular fixture on the Blaugrana flanks during the preceding victorious campaign. Taking his place was another product of the envy-inducing La Masia academy also affectionately known, as is common in Spanish-speaking football cultures, by just his forename. Bearing the number 11 shirt formerly worn in his first few seasons at the club by Brazilian magician Rivaldo, 22-year-old Jeffrén (Suárez) had at this point barely made a handful of official appearances for the first team. Venezuelan-born but raised in the Canary Islands since the age of one, he was nevertheless a familiar face to much of the faithful due in part to his feats at youth and reserve level and enthusiastically ran on to experience his brief share of this memorable triumph. Little did he know just how much he would soon be contributing to both local folklore as well as his own personal myth.

Just four minutes later the game had entered stoppage-time and the ball was suddenly nudged by Andrés Iniesta forward on the right to another home-grown star-in-waiting also more commonly known by his first name. Bojan ran into space towards the edge of the area and crossed in a low ball that narrowly evaded the stretch of the incoming 2010 World Cup final goalscorer. However, having already sensed a potential opportunity, dashing in from his designated left side of the field was Jeffrén, instantly reaching what Iniesta could not and beating Iker Casillas at his near post. If the person in charge of the electronic scoreboard was neglecting their duties in the immediate aftermath it would have been understandable, for when they came to their senses it was to read: Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid. Jeffrén rapidly reeled away and immediately darted over to Pep Guardiola and the Barcelona bench where he was mobbed by Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and all the other men absorbed in the methods that had made this the greatest team of the 21st century.

As Sid Lowe, an historian of El Clásico wrote: ‘Jeffrén Suárez’s late goal made little difference and yet it made all the difference: the fifth goal turned victory into something more historic, more emblematic: a manita, a goal for every finger.’

When Gerard Piqué detached himself from the throng, he raised five fingers to the crowd who needed no encouragement in obliging with similar gleeful celebrations of their own. When the final whistle was blown a couple of minutes later, it is unlikely that Sergio Ramos’ dismissal and subsequent petulant assaults on his La Roja team-mates Carles Puyol and Xavi immediately after the goal celebrations had fully registered with Jeffrén. He was on cloud nine and had every reason to believe that the good days would keep on coming.

The Substance

Indeed, in 2006, he had featured regularly in Spain’s victorious Under-19 European Championship side. He played in Poland alongside the likes of Juan Mata, Mario Suárez, Gerard Piqué, Javi García, Antonio Barragán, Gorka Elustondo and Esteban Granero, chipping in with the first goal that got the ball rolling in a 5-0 semi-final thrashing against Austria. He also came on as a substitute in the final in Poznań a few days later, helping to see out a 2-1 win over Scotland, courtesy of two goals by recent Porto signing Alberto Bueno.

Thus, while in 2010/11 there was congestion in the attacking berths from, most notably, Messi, Pedro, Bojan and David Villa,  Jeffrén nevertheless possessed the pedigree to strongly suggest that he was capable of remaining at a respectable top-flight level for some time yet. He was to play eight league games in total that season and went some way to further cement his credentials when he once again represented the country that had reared him at the 2011 Under-21 European Championships held in Denmark.

Born on 20 January 1988, had the then 23-year-old been born just 20 days earlier, he would not have have been eligible to participate, which is just as well for Spain as it could be argued that their eventual triumph never would have occurred without one of his contributions. Indeed, with Jeffrén having come on to replace Athletic Bilbao’s Iker Muniain with 20 minutes remaining, La Rojita were trailing Belarus 1-0 in the semi-final and this was still the score with little more than a single regulation minute left on the clock. However, following some characteristically patient and pinpoint passing play involving, amongst others, Mata, Bojan and Thiago Alcântara, Jeffrén received the ball on the right and, stretching, instantly played in a low cross that the alert Adrián reached first to knock into the back of the net. 1-1 and another much-fancied generation of Spaniards were suddenly back on track.

Extra-time therefore followed, during which the same striker (who would soon after transfer to Atlético Madrid and has since recently moved on loan to Villarreal from Porto), headed his side in front with his second of the game in the 105th minute. Just under ten minutes later, Jeffrén was once again on hand to provide the icing on the cake, cutting onto his left foot and rifling in a sensational left-footed golazo from over 20 yards. 3-1, game over. Three says later, the side also containing David de Gea, Ander Herrera, Javi Martínez and César Azpilicueta thus marched into the final in Aarhus, where they defeated Switzerland 2-0, with Jeffrén appearing as a late substitute.

spainu21

Jeffrén and his Spain team-mates winning the 2011 Under 21 European Championship (WAATP)

The Disillusion

So, maybe sometimes a bridesmaid rather than the bride, but a rather attractive one all the same. In search of regular first-team minutes, he was to depart from Catalonia just over a month later for Portuguese giants Sporting, though a testament to how highly Guardiola and his colleagues still thought of him was the buy-back clause they ensured was inserted into his contract as part of the deal.

However, despite evidently still being thought of as a potential high-level talent, his time in Lisbon was to be a huge disappointment to all, as he struggled with injuries, form and, ultimately, starting opportunities. He played in fewer than 25 league games in his two-and-a-half years there, before moving back to La Liga with Real Valladolid in February 2014. Here, the misery was to continue as a few months later the team was relegated. Subsequently, despite playing the closest he ever has to a full season, as only 19 of his 35 second-tier league appearances for 2014/15 were as a starter (of which he was substituted 12 times) and his combined number of goals and assists could be counted on one mano, this could hardly be considered a year of rejuvenation.

Thus, following their failure to regain their top-flight status after they were eliminated in the play-off semi-finals, Valladolid released Jeffrén. In the past month or so, while old rumours of a move to the English Premier League were no longer doing the rounds, there had been some speculation that he may return to the Canary Islands to join Tenerife, the side at which he had a brief association as a teenager. A far cry from where ex-colleagues Pedro and Bojan currently reside but perhaps the kind of morale boost he needs. Instead, in the past week, in what on the surface at least may appear to inaugurate the latest chapter of his downward spiral, he has signed a three-year contract with Belgian second-tier club KAS Eupen.

The Rebirth? JEFFRENidentitycard

Jeffrén posing in Venezuela colours with his new national identity card (GradaDigital)

Or is it? Eupen only narrowly missed out on promotion last season and, as of 4 September 2015, currently top their league. Moreover, a certain Christian Santos finished a two-year spell at the club a couple of seasons ago, during which he regularly found himself on the scoresheet and, excluding the injury-plagued year that followed, has since seen his career flourish. Last season, for someone often fielded on the flank he was banging in the goals at a heroic rate (23 in 34 league games), helping NEC Nijmegen steamroll their way into the Dutch top-flight. It is not yet known as to whether Jeffrén sought Santos’ advice, but given the parallels in the lives of these two men, it is certainly possible. Thus, the dual adventures that the ex-Barça man is about to embark on could well prove beneficial to providing the incentives to get him back on track.

Indeed, for as well as finding a new club, he has also found a new country. Like Santos, he was born in the Venezuelan state of Bolívar but grew up from a very young age in Europe (Germany, in the case of the NEC attacker). Within the past year, both men have acquired the necessary documentation and status in order to represent the country of their birth, with Santos having already made his international debut in March. Given Jeffrén’s impressive progress through the youth ranks of the Spanish national set-up and his La Liga appearances, playing in senior international games with Xavi, Iniesta and co. must have long seemed an attainable dream that could not be easily relinquished. Thus, in the past, he has either batted away or outright rejected calls to instead play for La Vinotinto, much to the chagrin of many from his birthland. Indeed, as a teenager he reportedly turned down calls from then-manager Richard Páez to play at the historic 2007 Venezuela-hosted Copa América. Then, three years later when César Farías was at the helm, with words that would come back to haunt and for which he has since apologised, he declared: ‘I don’t want to hear anything more about Venezuela.’

A trawl through social media sites and the Venezuelan press reveals that there are plenty currently unwilling to forgive him for these comments and the issue has certainly sparked some debate in the days leading up to his likely debut. It has, after all, only been in the last two years or so that he has publicly expressed more openness to switching allegiances. As this has coincided with his club career sliding downhill and his chances of representing La Roja evaporating, most Venezuelans do not kid themselves that they are anything but his international back-up option.

The Team-mates

However, albeit with less public rejection to apply selective amnesia to, the national side’s devotees have most certainly been in similar situations before. Most famously, it was only four years ago that defender Fernando Amorebieta – Venezuela-born but to Basque parents – gave up on his ambitions to represent Spain, having previously been part of the Under-19 European Championship-winning side of 2004 and, latterly, even receiving a call-up to Vicente Del Bosque’s senior squad for a 2008 friendly. He made his Vinotinto debut in 2011 and went a significant way to emerging victorious in the PR battle with the belligerents in October of that year by scoring the history-making winner against Argentina – Venezuela’s first-ever competitive win against their illustrious opponents.

One commentator on ForoVinotinto stated his belief that such goals aid the cause of convincing the hostile and the fence-sitters of a player’s commitment to the nation, referencing another one scored the following month as further proof. Indeed, in November 2011, Swiss-born Frank Feltscher, who spent some of his childhood in Venezuela and is a nationalised citizen, scored a late equaliser away to neighbours Colombia, gaining another vital point for what was an impressive start to the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. Curiously, while Feltscher may not be in the current squad, he is not completely out of the loop and if he receives one in the future at the same time as Jeffrén, the pair can reminisce about their experiences of the 2011 Under-21 European Championship final, when Feltscher had to endure Jeffrén and co. lifting the trophy from the Swiss bench.*

These are just two examples of many, as complex identities are nothing new for Venezuelans to have to contend with when cheering on their representatives. Indeed, in a country where baseball has traditionally held the greatest sway over the affections of sports fans, football has instead often received much innovation and development from those with what some may perceive as divided loyalities. Many of the domestic clubs were originally formed by immigrant communities, from whom plenty of the nation’s leading players have also been derived, most famously Juan Arango, the Venezuela-born son of a Colombian couple. Thus, though Jeffrén carries with him some additional self-inflicted baggage, he can take some heart from the experiences of many of his forebears. If, as seems likely, he makes it onto the field against Honduras and/or Panama for his debut, should there be any vocal hostility, he can cling to the belief that so long as he gives his all, his hard work should ultimately be appreciated. That said, a goal in a big game wouldn’t hurt either.

The Challenge

Alas, as this site’s detailed preview relates, his new international side is not short of pacy wide men, so one can not be confident of his future after these two games are over. Despite having a disproportionate number of potential providers to call upon to both assist and take some of the burden off lead man Salomón Rondón, the attackers have nevertheless struggled to combine and gel effectively. Collectively, since manager Noel Sanvicente’s arrival in July 2014, Venezuela have scored a mere 14 goals (12 officially) in 11 games. Work amongst those in the two front lines evidently needs to improve. Given that Sanvicente himself concedes that Jeffrén is not currently in the best of form, there is certainly some scepticism as to whether the player can come out of the blue to force his way into the coach’s burgundy plans.

Nevertheless, the Masia graduate’s international debut is something that many have been anticipating for years; so much so that, irrespective of the outcome of this experiment, it almost feels necessary for it to occur. Will it be the end to a protracted saga? Or perhaps the launchpad for a bright new phase in what could well be the peak years of his career? Only time will tell.

Expected to appear against at least one of the upcoming Central Americans opponents at the Estadio Cachamay in Puerto Ordaz, the boy whose family uprooted from nearby San Félix 26 years ago may feel less out-of-place than some anticipate. Indeed, in the build-up to his Vinotinto bow, he has spoken of his excitement at playing in the state where relatives of his still live. Aptly poetic or false sentimentality? With Venezuela’s latest bid to finally qualify for a World Cup starting next month, one suspects that for his detractors, his on-field actions will speak considerably louder than any of his words.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Article originally published on 4 September 2015.

*Author’s Indulgence: Over a decade ago at his English secondary school, your faithful Venezuelan football enthusiast regularly sat in German lessons next to a boy who is largely remembered for having once asked the teacher who had summoned him to the desk, if she was “‘avin’ a giraffe’. Somehow this Mockney qualified to represent Scotland and played in the final of the 2006 Under-19 European Championships, where he came up against none other than Venezuelan newboy Jeffrén – then, of course, wearing the colours of the victorious Spain. As noted in the article, the then-Barcelona man would later go on to help La Rojita lift 2011’s Under-21 European Championship trophy while his new compatriot Frank Feltscher – then donning the tracksuit of Switzerland – watched on with his defeated team-mates from the sidelines. Identities, eh…?

UPDATE: Jeffrén did not feature against Honduras (4 September 2015). As Venezuela slipped behind in the second half and ultimately lost 3-0, it was probably for the best that he was not introduced at any point on what was a fairly dismal evening. That said, the sparse crowd that did attend nevertheless maintained fairly good spirits until the final whistle so if, as is predicted, he makes it onto the pitch against Panama on Tuesday, it seems like he can expect a good reception in the state where he was born.

UPDATE 2: As Juan Arango made what he later announced to be his last ever Venezuela appearance, Jeffrén made his debut. One out, one in, some might say. He played the final 30 minutes in the rather dismal 1-1 draw against Panama. Click here to read about how he got on.