Tag Archives: Jonathan España

Venezuela’s Participation in the 2015 Copa Libertadores – Review

With the three Venezuelan teams, Zamora, Deportivo Táchira and Mineros de Guayana, having recently completed their Copa Libertadores campaigns, Hispanospherical.com inhales deeply and looks in detail at what was a largely dispiriting experience for all concerned.

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Bright Start: Following a sensational goal in their opening game, Zamora’s Arles Flores leads a well-choreographed celebration that received attention far outside of South America. Sadly, such Venezuelan joy was rarely to be seen in the remainder of the group stage (Imagery courtesy of the Metro and the Daily Mirror from this video).

Copa Libertadores 2015: Review of the Venezuelan Participants

18 games, 13 defeats, 4 draws and, following the very last match whose outcome will have thwarted the pre-planned narratives of obituary writers everywhere, 1 win. That was the record in this year’s Copa Libertadores group stage of the three Venezuelans sides, Zamora, Mineros de Guayana and Deportivo Táchira. A derisory performance even for the representatives of this nation of perennial outsiders and one that certainly stakes a claim to be their worst in the current format of the competition. Indeed, while the average number of points gained per match this year (0.3888) was marginally superior to 2012 (0.3333) and 2010 (0.25), the scale of their collective failure is unrivalled in recent history. This was, after all, the first time in eleven attempts that the team in the qualifying round (in this case, Táchira) successfully negotiated their way into the group stage, thus bringing the Venezuelan contingent to a dizzying three. Yet, having another six games to endure only appeared to prolong the misery as not only was it clear before the halfway point that none of the teams were likely to progress but that, between them, they ended up conceding a jarring 46 goals.

It was all a far cry from, say, 2007 when Caracas FC won at home and away against River Plate or, more significantly, 2009 when they and long-standing rivals Táchira gained 19 points between them, with the capital’s finest ultimately unfortunate to go out to Grêmio in the quarter-finals on away goals. Back then, while Venezuela’s footballing reputation was in the ascendancy, a far greater number of its talents remained at domestic clubs with some foreign suitors still maintaining their scepticism regarding their adaptability – something that has been decreasingly the case in recent years. Indeed, as with most successful sides in South America, their key personnel is always in the shop window, a factor that particularly disadvantaged the 2013/14 champions Zamora this time around. Given the well-documented problems of improving the competitiveness and quality of a league outside of the European elite, one can not help but fear that this year’s poor results – not entirely dissimilar to those in 2012 and 2010, albeit with an additional team – are part of a trend that is set to continue.

Nevertheless, what follows are summaries of the campaigns and most noteworthy performers of the three Venezuelans clubs who competed in this year’s Copa Libertadores, starting with the side most affected by the aforementioned issues. (Please note: to read match reports and view video highlights of every single game, click here or on the relevant links in the text below)

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El Blanquinegro, from Hugo Chávez’s home state of Barinas, came into the tournament as reigning two-time champions and were also leading the Torneo Clausura which, with just over a week to go, they still have a slight chance of winning (*Update: they did following their Libertadores exit but that is no longer the case – see footnote at the bottom for an update on the domestic situation). However, their second successive championship win in May 2014 was to swiftly be met with the departures of key individuals which were to have a significant impact on their showing in the Libertadores. Indeed, playmaker Pedro Ramírez – nicknamed by some as the ‘Venezuelan Messi’ largely for a mazy dribbled goal – joined Switzerland’s FC Sion, leading goalscorer Juan Falcón signed for Ligue 1’s FC Metz and defender Jonathan España opted to try his luck with Cyprus’ AEL Limassol. Other players, particularly those crucial to the rearguard, were to leave (more on them later) but the most keenly felt loss of all was undoubtedly that of manager Noel Sanvicente to the national side.

‘Chita’, to give him his affectionate moniker, not only won both titles with this club, but also brought home five championships between 2002 and 2010 for Caracas FC, where he also led their impressive Libertadores campaigns. His successor Juvencio Betancourt was to last just six league games and things were to get worse before they could get better under his replacement Julio Quintero, who was to take his charges to the foot of the Torneo Apertura in October before turning things around for a 12th-placed finish. Yet, while he has done well domestically in this year’s Clausura, with his side having been rarely out of the top three, he has achieved this largely with the remnants of last year’s squad along with one or two new faces who are simply not of the calibre of their predecessors.

Thus, to match last year’s respectable showing of seven Libertadores points was always going to be a tall order though, having been drawn into a group with Boca Juniors, Montevideo Wanderers and Palestino, the possibility of sneaking second spot behind the Argentines did not seem out of question. However, Zamora were to be all but ruled out of contention after just two games.

Indeed, they kicked things off with an opening-day visit to the Uruguayan capital in a game that was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the group stage, yielding five goals, five red cards and a memorable bowling-themed celebration that featured on news outlets based all over the globe. Things began promisingly with 19-year-old starlet Jhon Murillo firing the then ten-man visitors 1-0 up on the counter and even with 15 minutes left on the clock, they were leading 2-1 on what at that point had become a level playing field. However, the dream start was not to be as Panamanian international Luis Ovalle received his marching orders after conceding a penalty that was duly converted which, in turn, was swiftly followed up with what proved to be the winner.

Losing was a bitter enough pill to swallow but Murillo’s injury-time dismissal (two-game suspension) as well as those of two defenders (one-game suspension each) gave lollipop-licking Quintero future selection issues that he struggled to negotiate. The largely full Estadio Agustín Tovar crowd nevertheless carried into the Palestino game some optimism which was to be dashed as 17-year-old Yeferson Soteldo was to both impress and frustrate by missing a hat-trick’s worth of chances (hitting the woodwork twice) in a 1-0 loss. Even at this early stage, the Venezuelan champions looked to be heading out as not only did they have no points but their next two games were against the unanimous group favourites, Boca Juniors.

Expectations were matched, as both encounters were unmitigated disasters. The trip to La Bombonera ended 5-0, a scoreline that could have been easily doubled had the Argentines took all of their chances, with Dani Osvaldo, a man in thrall to the concept of flamboyance, particularly wasteful. That the Southampton-loanee was afforded such space to repeatedly attempt to score the kind of goal that would be permanently etched into the retinas of every bostero spoke volumes about Zamora’s defensive performance. This was to be little better in the reverse fixture despite having been ostensibly aided by the Argentines’ decision to leave several top stars, including Osvaldo, in Buenos Aires. Indeed, though the returning Murillo was to give the Venezuelans a surprise first-half lead, the Xeneizes swiftly shifted out of first gear after the interval and were to leave 5-1 winners and with their 100 per cent record in tact. Zamora captain Luis Vargas added to his side’s woes by being their fourth player to be red-carded in the competition, which was compounded by Montevideo Wanderers earning a draw in Chile, thus bringing their tally to seven points and eliminating the Venezuelans.

Their two remaining group games were played with a weary sense of obligation, as they were thrashed 4-0 at the hands of a driven Palestino, before being dispatched 3-0 at home by Wanderers in a lacklustre encounter that saw the Uruguayans snatch a knock-out spot. Judging by the paltry crowd at this final match – believed to be well under 1000 – there was little desire amongst the fans of La Furia Llanera to see their side restore some pride in either of these reverse fixtures by demonstrating that their two opening losses were not entirely fair reflections on the overall play.

When all was said and done, Zamora had lost every one of their six games – the worst record of any Venezuelan side to have participated in the current format of the competition. Particularly galling was their goal difference of -18, having shipped 21 goals that were only offset by a mere 3 strikes at the other end. This was in stark contrast to last year’s more even statistics, when 6 goals were both scored and conceded, from what was a markedly more difficult group, comprising of then-holders Atlético Mineiro of Brazil, Colombia’s Santa Fe and Nacional of the Paraguayan variety. A brief comparison of the positive results they achieved in this group serves to highlight the deficiences that were witnessed this year. Indeed, not only were they led by serial winner Sanvicente but the departed Juan Falcón also scored all four of his goals in these games, netting the decisive goal in the 2-1 home win over Santa Fe, as well as both in the 2-2 draw in Colombia and the opener in the 2-0 victory in Barinas over Nacional. This year, Zamora did not possess an adequate replacement for their erstwhile marksman, with the only striker brought in being January-recruit Santiago Bello from the Uruguayan second-tier, who was to feature in four games in this edition – three times from the bench – without finding the net.

Last year, Pedro Ramírez also chipped in with a goal and some creativity, something that was also noticeably lacking this time around. However, arguably the most significant change from the previous campaign was to be found at the back, as the majority of those who featured regularly in 2014 left at the end of the season. Indeed, goalkeeper Yáñez Angulo as well as the defenders Hugo Soto, Javier López, Layneker Safra and Jonathan España have all since moved on, with most, if not all, of those filling their boots this year evidently not up to scratch. Having two defenders sent off in the first game – including Ovalle, who actually played five times in last year’s group stage – and the subsequent suspensions certainly did not help either.

Ultimately, if anything positive can be extracted from this season’s experience it will soon again be taken away from them. Jhon Murillo, the temperamental, dribbling winger who often drifts into more central positions, scored twice in his four appearances and has long been linked with a move abroad, with Torino and Celta Vigo the most recently touted destinations. Yeferson Soteldo, at just 17, could well follow suit in the not-too-distant future as though he may not have taken the chances that came his way, he was a lively presence and has become a regular starter in the league. That he has done so may instead prove in the long run to be further evidence of his club’s lack of depth at this particular time and given their rather humble means, fans must be wondering whether the good times enjoyed under Sanvicente will even be able to return anytime soon.

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Much enthusiasm from both domestic scribes as well as casual observers from afar greeted Táchira’s history-making 4-3 aggregate win against Paraguay’s six-time semi-finalists Cerro Porteño. For the first time since the current format was introduced in 2005, there were to be three, not two, Venezuelan sides to follow in the Copa Libertadores group stage. Drawn into a group containing another Paraguayan side, Guaraní, as well as Peruvians Sporting Cristal, a Round of 16 berth appeared eminently attainable. Seemingly bolstering their chances was the retention of the vast majority of the side that finished third in the 2014 aggregate table coupled with some useful additions, such as goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind and veteran international Jorge Rojas – the latter of whom scored a bona fide golazo in the first leg against Cerro.

The first game soon punctured this optimism, as a full-capacity Pueblo Nuevo was to witness a comprehensive 5-0 thrashing led by the superb partnership of Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou for Argentine champions Racing, the undisputed top dogs in the group. Immediately following this rude awakening, doubts that before the Cerro games had been regularly expressed resurfaced and at a higher volume. Indeed, in the Torneo Apertura, Táchira had contrived to throw away a commanding mid-point lead, not winning in their final eight games and finishing 11th, rendering manager Daniel Farías virtually a dead man walking. Furthermore, even the most partisan follower of Los Aurinegros would have to confess that their side rode their luck in the second leg against Cerro. Thus, in light of the car-crash performance against Racing, their response would be crucial.

For their second game, they travelled to Lima to face Sporting Cristal. Few lessons appeared to have been learned as the Peruvian champions took a first-half lead and were to comfortably dominate the play. However, with under five minutes remaining, they were made to pay for their profligacy as César González stepped up to curl a 25-yard free-kick into the back of the net. Grippingly for the neutral, there was to be further drama, though not a twist, as Renzo Sheput stepped up deep into stoppage-time to take a penalty but was to be spectacularly denied by Liebeskind as the Venezuelans held on.

Perhaps not the most deserved of points, but Táchira at least exhibited some backbone, essential ahead of their journey back to Asunción where this time they faced then-Apertura leaders Guaraní. Initially, despite conceding an early goal things appeared promising as ‘Maestrico’ González scored again to level up the score at 1-1 after just 17 minutes. However, they were to be blitzed by three goals in six first-half minutes and were to ultimately walk away smarting from a 5-2 defeat. Subsequently, the following week Zamora were to receive their second five-goal bashing from Boca and these games, along with Táchira’s comparable experiences here in Paraguay and against Racing, were to do sizeable damage to the reputation of Venezuelan domestic football on the continent.

Pessimism thus returned to the side representing the Colombia-bordering state of the same name. Progression began to feel like a fantasy from another age and next up was more potential embarrassment in the home fixture against Guaraní. However, to the relief of many, Farías’ men were to put in a far more respectable showing and could well have won it. A 21st-minute penalty was converted by experienced international González, thus providing him with his third goal in four matches. Lady Fortune appeared to be on their side when, after 32 minutes, Federico Santander’s spot-kick was saved by Liebskind which, at that point, was remarkably his fourth penalty stop since joining the club from Portuguesa just two months prior. However, nine minutes later, he was unable to improve on this statistic as Julián Benítez took command of a similar situation and buried the ball from the 12-yard spot. Despite being pegged back, Táchira were to have the better of the second half, though with just over 15 minutes to go Farías was to unintentionally abdicate any chance of winning the game by replacing his side’s most consistent threat, winger Yohandry Orozco. Consequently, ‘Fuera  Farías’ and ‘Farías hijo de puta’ were just two of the chants that were to be voiced by the home support and clearly captured for home-viewing around the continent up until the final whistle confirmed a 1-1 draw. As if to vindicate the angry hordes, the awarding of the Man of the Match prize indeed went to Orozco, a diminutive individual who just a few years ago was considered the next big thing of Venezuelan football.

At this point, Táchira were all-but-out and a 0-0 home draw against Cristal removed the miniscule and unvoiced doubt. Though overall it was as enthralling an encounter as it sounds and played in front of a ground well under half full, the hosts did have chances to pick up their first win. Indeed, firstly at the beginning of the second half, Orozco curled a fine free-kick against the post that was converted on the rebound by Uruguayan forward Pablo Olivera from an offside position (where he was to lurk wth frustrating frequency). Not long afterwards, Olivera was to receive a gilt-edged opportunity from a low cross by Orozco, yet from little more than six yards out he was to somehow direct it wide.

With their final game being away to Racing, the opportunity to give their fans at least something to smile about appeared to have been missed. Yet, remarkably, with 50 minutes on the clock, José Alí Meza, a regular impact substitute who was starting only his second Libertadores game this year, was to put Táchira into a shock 2-0 lead. Irrespective of the caveats involved, this was shaping up to be one of the most impressive results in the history of Venezuelan participation in this competition. Alas, it was not to be as, with twenty minutes remaining, the Argentine champions were back on level terms. In response, Farías, having already withdrawn Meza on the hour-mark, was to further enhance his reputation for unambitious substitutions with the removal of González and Orozco in the closing stages. Yet, with the score still at 2-2 when regulation time was up,  this was still shaping up to be a credible point. However, seconds into stoppage-time, 20-year-old goalkeeper José Contreras (who had played in the previous match as well), committed a calamitous error that may just haunt him for the rest of his career, as he let a relatively tame effort from Brian Fernández slip under him and inch over the line.

A gutting loss, every bit as soul-destroying as the reverse fixture was humiliating. Although their overall record may not have told the full story, Táchira had nevertheless failed to win, picking up as many draws as defeats and conceding 15 goals along the way. Aside from having scored two more goals this time around, this record was otherwise identical to the last time they reached the group stage – 2012 – not to mention a marginal improvement on the two points gained the previous year. However, it was a far cry from the nine-point haul of 2009, not to mention the remarkable undefeated group stage performance and run to the quarter-finals in 2004, a year that had a slightly different format that granted Venezuela three automatic entries.

If the Libertadores is considered to be a platform to advertise a player’s talents, quite where such a disappointing campaign leaves Táchira’s leading lights is difficult to surmise. Wilker Ángel, a 22-year-old centre-back who last year made his international debut and was rumoured to be interesting teams in South America and Europe, will not have done himself any favours by being on the field in both five-goal reversals. Yohandry Orozco, 24, had his creative moments and unsettled at least some of the defenders he ran at, yet while a move to another side on the continent does not seem out of the question, one does not anticipate another European side of note to be clamouring for his signature after his forgettable two-year spell at Wolfsburg. Gelmin Rivas, the club’s top scorer whose two goals in Asunción ensured their advancement to the competition proper, had been attracting attention from Belgium but, though he has 20 league goals, he could not find the net once in his three group game starts. Two of the most impressive performers, César González and, with some qualifications given the number of goals conceded, Alan Liebeskind, are both in their thirties and unlikely to be top of the lists of those looking for long-term value.

Ultimately, although this campaign was no worse than the last two occasions they reached this phase, Táchira will surely still be rather disappointed at the two hidings that they endured as well as not getting more out of at least two of the three games that they drew. Nevertheless, they must now dust themselves off as, with the Clausura ending on 3 May, they retain a significant chance of winning the title and thus securing another opportunity to right some wrongs in next year’s Libertadores.*

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Comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league going into this competition, Mineros were to end their Libertadores campaign with the most respectable results, the most points and, at the very last opportunity, the only win. This, despite never reaching the group stage in the present format (two qualifying round losses in 2005 and 2008 were the closest that they had come), sacking a second manager of the season during the competition and ending their participation as still comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league. Indeed, though Richard Páez, former national team manager (2001-07) led them to finish top of the 2013 Torneo Apertura and the 2013/14 Aggregate Table as well as end up as the overall runners-up, he was out of the door by late September. His first six games of the season had been deemed unsatisfactory, but his replacement Marcos Mathías had little joy attempting to return his charges to their former level. Instead, they finished the Apertura in 6th and commenced their participation in the Libertadores while occupying a mediocre mid-table position in the Torneo Clausura.

It has been something of a quandary attempting to decipher what precisely is wrong in Puerto Ordaz as while they did lose a star from last season in the form of international midfielder Alejandro Guerra (more on him later), that alone can not account for their slump. Indeed, they had also brought in some quality players at the beginning of the Apertura, such as first-choice international left-back Gabriel Cichero. At the start of the Clausura, they also added two key members of Trujillanos’ Apertura title-winning team, defender Edixon Cuevas and striker James Cabezas.

Nevertheless, given their underwhelming form, they entered their first game away to Argentina’s Huracán as firm underdogs. Yet, though they were on the backfoot for at least two-thirds of the match, some of the considerable experience in their ranks came to the fore as they frustrated the Copa Argentina winners before ultimately coming within a minute of emerging victorious. Indeed, against the run of play, Colombian forward Zamir Valoyes gave them a 22nd-minute lead from a free-kick and though they were pegged back, come the final thirty minutes, their absorption of Argentine attacks had appeared to exhaust the hosts of ideas. Subsequently, they started to make a go for it and, remarkably, after some close scrapes, Valoyes netted again from a penalty (of admittedly dubious origin). Alas, not for the only time in this year’s competition, a Venezuelan side was to shoot themselves in the foot as a last-minute spot-kick was conceded and then converted as the honours ended even.

Even so, a point in Buenos Aires can never be sniffed at and so going into their home game against Club Universitario de Sucre – champions of Bolivia, whose teams are not renowned for travelling well – there were ample reasons to anticipate victory. Instead, what transpired was a largely dreary, horror show of tedium that was short on chances, enlivened only by an appalling fumble by Mineros goalkeeper Rafael Romo that gifted the visitors the only goal and the first Bolivian Libertadores win in Venezuela since 1994. Having also made a rather glaring error in the Huracán game, as well as some recent miscalculations in the league, the home supporters were in an unforgiving mood and proceeded to boo the international’s every touch until the end of the match. To make matters worse, several minutes later, the preceding week’s two-goal hero Valoyes was given a straight red card for an excruciating midfield challenge, ruling himself out of the next game. Capping off a tension-filled night, when the final whistle was blown there were plenty of calls for the head of manager Mathías. While the fans did not get their wish immediately, two weeks later following a mid-March 5-2 domestic thrashing by Táchira, they did, with assistant Tony Franco instead handed an opportunity until the end of the season.

His first task a couple of days after taking the reins could hardly have been greater. A home match against Brazilian champions Cruzeiro would be daunting for almost any side yet, though they were to ultimately lose 2-0, they actually acquitted themselves rather admirably and could come away with their dignity in tact. After Leandro Damião opened the scoring in the 12th minute, Mineros immediately fought back and created many opportunities throughout the game, looking like they may sneak a draw until Marquinhos sealed the win with seven minutes remaining. The reverse fixture in Belo Horizonte was to reflect not quite so favourably on the Venezuelans as two superb goals early on from Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Damião opened up the possibility of a trouncing of the magnitude Táchira and Zamora both twice endured. However, though Henrique got a third in the 73rd minute, Mineros can perhaps feel some contentment in their relative resilience – something their compatriots could perhaps learn from in preparation for future Libertadores clashes.

Despite these credible performances, they were nevertheless losses and their fifth game, away to Club Universitario in the high altitude of Sucre, is where their already faint hopes of making it out of the group evaporated. In a game somewhat more entertaining than the reverse fixture, a goal at the end of each half gave the Bolivians the victory and put them in with a strong chance of qualifying from the group. However, on the final matchday they were to face a trip to Brazil, whereas another of their rivals, Huracán, travelled to Venezuela, with the Bolivians knowing that if they lost and the Argentines won, they would be eliminated.

Yet, though they were to succumb to Cruzeiro 2-0, they were to owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mineros de Guayana who, in the very last group game contested by a Venezuelan side this year, surprised some by claiming the first – and only – victory for their nation. Indeed, as in Buenos Aires, while Huracán were to enjoy plenty of time on the ball, they were to struggle to create clear-cut chances with the Mineros defence largely blocking them off. Valoyes was to repeat his Argentine feats here by scoring another two goals – this time both before the half-time whistle – with international midfielder Rafael Acosta getting a third in the second half. Huracán’s players and coaching staff as well as many in the international media were visibly stunned at this 3-0 reversal, yet one can not help but feel their opponents were unjustly underestimated. While Mineros were playing without four or five first-team regulars and were already out of the competition, they did nevertheless achieve a 2-2 draw in February against the Argentines, who in turn, should perhaps be considered a second-tier Argentine side, given they sit 25th in the bloated 30-team domestic top-flight. Indeed, that all of Mineros’ five goals and four points came against Huracán should cause the men from Parque Patricios to pause to ponder in order to avoid heading back to the second division they were playing in last season.

Given the standard of this opposition, Mineros’ status as the best-performing Venezuelan side can easily be criticised. Indeed, even with their relatively respectable results against Cruzeiro, one has to bear in mind that the Brazilian giants have only scored more than three goals in any competitive game once since last August (and that occurred against Mineiro State Championship side Villa Nova who, nationally, compete in Série D). Nevertheless, it could be that the experience many players in this team possess of playing in the Libertadores as underdogs in the past for other Venezuelan sides facilitated their occasional strategic recognition of their shortcomings and defensive approaches. Indeed, at the back, the thirtysomethings Gabriel Cichero, Julio Machado and Edixon Cuevas as well as 41-year-old Luis Vallenilla all brought considerable know-how to this area of the pitch. Highly decorated Edgar Jiménez, who played for Caracas FC from 2003-2012, also certainly knew his way through such games while, in his case, sitting in front of the back four. Thus, while their goal difference was nothing to celebrate, their concession of a comparatively respectable ten goals was considerably better than the defences of Zamora and Táchira fared and may owe something to their experience and organisation of these players.

However, most of these individuals will not be anticipating life-changing foreign transfers as, like 29-year-old top scorer Valoyes, age is not really on their side. For the Colombian striker, a minor move at some point to his homeland to the west may not be entirely out of the question, but if any major scouts witnessed his side’s games, their attention may have instead been directed towards two of his younger team-mates. Indeed, Ángelo Peña, 25, whose jinking runs, diagonal balls and incisive passes often caught the eye, has already played in Brazil and Portugal and if he can be more consistent in his form then he may well depart for a third overseas adventure. In the long-term, 18-year-old left-sided midfielder Luis Guerra may well prove to have the brightest future, though it is difficult to tell at this early stage. Currently in his debut season, he only really came to prominence in the final game against Huracán – his first Libertadores start – but he put in a noteworthy performance, particularly with his role in the second goal which involved a run up the flank that bypassed three players.

Whether he turns out to be yet another winger of the week remains to be seen but as much as the fans will have gained some confidence from his side’s final game, this has been a season to forget for Mineros. Their fall from grace has been rather depressing to witness and despite having gained this rare opportunity to show the continent what they are capable of, their domestic position ensures that they will not be granted a second bite at the cherry next year. If there is a saving grace, however, it is that they possess a higher budget than most of their rivals. Indeed, despite their poor Apertura showing, they were still able to snap up Cabezas and Cuevas, two of the star men of the winners, Trujillanos. Though such purchases can not be said to have been a success thus far, the agitated Mineros fans will be hoping, if not demanding, that their resources are utilised with more acumen ahead of next season.

Down But Not Entirely Out: Venezuelans Abroad Flying the Flag 

Although all three Venezuelan teams have been eliminated, there still remains a Venezuelan interest in the tournament as attention will now solely be on their compatriots at two teams from their westerly neighbours, Colombia. Indeed, starting with the 2014 Finalización winners Santa Fe, left-sided international midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas currently plies his trade here and is often a first-team regular. Unfortunately, he has recently had problems with injuries and so could only make two brief appearances in his side’s group games – both of which were victories over Atlas of Mexico. However, though Santa Fe lost both of their games against Atlético Mineiro, they twice defeated Chilean champions Colo-Colo to end up winners of Group 1 with 12 points. Through to the Round of 16, they – and hopefully a fully fit Seijas – will now face Argentina’s Estudiantes de La Plata, with the first leg taking place in the Buenos Aires Province on 5 May and the reverse fixture in Bogotá on 12 May.

Also through to the knock-out stage is Alejandro Guerra, who may be able to pass his Vinotinto team-mate some notes as his side Atlético Nacional (2014 Apertura champions) finished top of Group 7, ahead of Estudiantes. In all, he featured in five games – only missing the 2-2 opening matchday draw away to Paraguay’s Libertad – and made his most notable contribution as an acrobatic goalscoring substitute in a 2-1 win away in Guayaquil against Barcelona. While he also started in an entertaining 3-2 home reversal inflicted upon them by the Ecuadorians, he had more positive experiences in a 1-0 away win and a 1-1 home draw against Estudiantes, as well as a 4-0 home thumping over Libertad, which sealed their progression. Furthermore, Jonathan Copete, a Colombian by birth but who has played at length in Venezuela and has been in talks to represent the nation, scored the last goal in this game. Both he and Guerra now look forward to a two-legged tie with Barcelona’s Clásico del Astillero rivals Emelec, returning to Guayaquil for the first leg on 7 May before taking the Ecuadorians back to Medellín on 14 May.

Drawn in eminently winnable match-ups, Venezuelans will be hoping that their leading representatives on the continent will be able to continue to fly the flag in this premier competition for some time yet.

*Torneo Clausura Update (17 May 2014): As this article was written when most domestic teams had 2-3 games remaining, hopefully readers will find an update on the league situation helpful. After a breathtakingly dramatic climax, Táchira claimed the title, with Caracas a very narrow 2nd and Zamora in 3rd. Subsequently, Táchira beat Trujillanos in the Gran Final to be crowned the overall 2014/15 champions of Venezuela. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuelans Abroad – 30 Aug 2014 Midweek Round-up (UEFA Europa League)

Thursday 28 August 2014

UEFA Europa League – Play-off Second Leg

Rio Ave 1-0 IF Elfsborg (2-2 on aggregate; Rio Ave through on away goals)

The early Portuguese pace-setters sensationally made it through to the group stage of the Europa League for the first ever time with one of the most Route One goals you will have seen since Luis Suarez’s second and – some might say, tragically – last goal in the World Cup against England. It had been a very frustrating match for the home side when, in the second minute of stoppage time, goalkeeper Cássio pumped a clearance upfield that a Swedish Steven Gerrard played into the box with a defence-splitting header which was then opportunistically poked into the net by Esmaël Gonçalves. Yonathan Del Valle was not available for this game due to injury but he will have an opportunity to star in the group phase as Rio Ave have been drawn in the tough Group J, alongside the perennially awkward Dynamo Kiev and two sides who fell at the final hurdle of Champions League qualification, Steaua Bucharest and Aalborg. 

Thursday 28 August 2014

UEFA Europa League – Play-off Second Leg

Torino 1-0 RNK Split (1-0 on aggregate)

Over 20,000 people saw Omar El Kaddouri score what proved to be the tie-winning goal from the penalty spot after 22 minutes as Torino held on against their Croatian opponents. El Kaddouri had a chance to double the lead just after the break following a goalkeeping fumble from Darmian’s cross that allowed the ball to fall invitingly into the Moroccan’s path but the goalkeeper Vuković recovered to block the shot. Josef Martínez, who scored in the second leg of the last round, came on as a substitute after 64 minutes for the Brazilian Bareto, who had started as Fabio Quagliarella’s strike partner. Although Martínez did not score, he will at least have further opportunities to do so in the group phase as his side have been drawn in Group B alongside Copenhagen, Club Brugge and HJK Helsinki, teams Torino may feel superior to but who possess significantly more European experience. 

Thursday 28 August 2014

UEFA Europa League – Play-off Second Leg

CD Nacional 2-3 Dinamo Minsk (2-5 on aggregate)

Hopes were high that Nacional could overturn a two-goal deficit from the first leg when Marco Matias converted a 30th-minute penalty but these were immediately dashed as Udodji headed home for the Belarusians, leaving their Portuguese opponents needing three goals to qualify. This proved to be an insurmountable task though aficionados of the headed goal will be pleased to know that there are four of these beauties to be enjoyed here, culminating in Udodji’s winner after 63 minutes. Mario Rondón was a prominent threat for the home side, particularly in the first half, when he set up some opportunities and nearly scored soon after the Minsk equaliser as he closed down the dithering goalkeeper, blocking a clearance that went agonisingly across the goalmouth. With his side out, it will be interesting to see if there are any transfer developments regarding Rondón in the upcoming days as he has spoken of wanting to move to a bigger league though claimed a month ago that he would be content to stay and show the rest of the continent what he can do in the Europa League.

Thursday 28 August 2014

UEFA Europa League – Play-off Second Leg

Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 AEL Limassol (5-1 on aggregate)

Jonathan España was an unused substitute and Jaime Moreno was not in the squad as the Cypriot side were comfortably defeated by North London’s second-best team. Early on in the first half, Limassol’s Moroccan goalkeeper Karim Fegrouch rushed towards the edge of the area and brought down Kyle Naughton, causing not only a penalty and a yellow card but also a severe injury and an unavoidable substitution. However, seven minutes after the foul, his Spanish replacement, Pulpo, pulled off a good save to deny Harry Kane, though the young Englishman did redeem himself by getting his side off the mark at the end of the half. Soon after the break, Paulinho made himself some space and struck home the second and the third came from the penalty spot, though not from Kane but rather his compatriot Andros Townsend.  

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

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

Europe

Spain

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

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

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

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

France

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

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

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

Portugal

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

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

Russia 

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

Italy

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

Switzerland

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

Germany

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

Cyprus

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

England

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

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

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

Venezuelans Abroad – 22 Aug 2014 Weekend and Midweek Round-up

Apologies for the delay with the delivery of this dispatch – life’s not always reassuringly straightforward, is it? With more and more leagues kicking off, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there are too many Venezuelans playing abroad for one person to adequately cover in a single article every few days. Consequently, some of you will be relieved to read that this may be the last caffeine-charged update of undergraduate essay length to be posted in this column. Instead from the next article onwards, though time-constraints may complicate matters from time to time, there should be a higher number of shorter articles that summarise the highlights no more than a day or two after they have occurred so that they still appear relatively fresh when published on this site. With the future emphasis being more on the leading players of La Vinotinto, there can be no promises that every last footballer who could legally qualify for the national side will receive the coverage here that their play merits, but if anyone feels certain players are being neglected please either contact the site by leaving a comment or follow the Twitter account (Hispanospherical), which will always feature additional and fresher news and highlights. Whether they receive a mention or not, you can be sure that their progress is being tracked.

Lastly, before the intercontinental Venezuelan rampage gets breathlessly underway, a large thank you is in order to all of you who have taken an interest in this site so far. As you all no doubt have multiple sources to aid seeking out information on these disparate players, it is hoped that by now you will be well-acquainted enough with their whereabouts (if you were not already) to know which overseas-based Venezuelans are currently in contention to earn call-ups and thus, given the availability of alternative sources, not be too disappointed should they be omitted from any future updates.

No doubt some readers will be grateful for the diminished and snappier lengths of future articles but before we get to that stage, feel free to allow one more dissertation to be inflicted upon you:

 Europe

Russia

Four wins out of four for Russian table-toppers Zenit St Petersburg who, again in a near-empty ground, defeated new-boys FC Ufa at the weekend by the slender margin of 1-0 with a penalty from Hulk after half an hour. André Villas-Boas’s men may have had a sly eye on their midweek Champions League qualifier away to Belgium’s Standard Liège, as leading target man Salomón Rondón was largely rested though did make a brief appearance with five minutes remaining to unintentionally tarnish his impressive goals-to-games scoring ratio.

On Wednesday, Rondón received the nod over Kerzhakov for the first leg in Liège, though despite Zenit’s dominance for at least two-thirds of the game giving them a crucial 1-0 victory, he may have boarded the plane back to Saint Petersburg feeling frustrated. In Zenit attacks, he was often peripheral with service to him not as forthcoming as he would have hoped, though when he did receive the ball in the final third his first touch sometimes let him down. On the one rare occasion that he was provided with a clear opportunity he could have put the tie out of sight when, at the end of the first half, he ran onto Danny’s through-ball but poked the ball against the crossbar. That particular outcome may have been a little unfortunate but it will be curious to see whether he starts this weekend’s game against Amkar Perm; if AVB instead goes with the ageing Kerzhakov and the side’s all-time top-scorer reels back the years with a magisterial performance, then a starting place in the forward line for next week’s second leg will surely be up for grabs.

France

France’s Ligue 1 hosted the weekend’s most anticipated game of Venezuelan interest as Fernando Aristeguieta and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo lined up for Nantes at home to Juan Falcón‘s Metz in a 1-1 draw.  Falcón has come in for some criticism for his roles in both goals, with some feeling that he should have been tracking Jordan Veretout who fired in a loose ball for the early Nantes opener and that he tripped himself up – unintentionally or not – to win Metz a penalty on 12 minutes that Yeni  N’Gbakoto converted. Irrespective of the merits of these claims, Falcón was certainly a more threatening figure than he was allowed to be in his side’s 0-0 draw away with Lille, providing optimism to Metz fans still coming to terms with the departure of Diafra Sakho to West Ham earlier in the week. On the home side, Fernando Aristeguieta was substituted off again two-thirds into the game for last week’s provider of football’s latest Roy of the Rovers fairytale, Yacine Bammou. However, the former Paris St. Germain club shop employee was unable to provide another match-winner and so Aristeguieta can rest assured for the time-being at least that he is the man fans will be counting on to fill the boots of Filip Đorđević. As he experienced an injury in pre-season that ruled him out for at least a couple of weeks, it is possible that he is not fully fit at the moment.

Moving briefly down to Ligue 2 for the derby match in Corsica, Grenddy Perozo‘s Ajaccio comfortably defeated Gazélec Ajaccio 2-0 away from home, keeping a rare clean sheet against the commune’s poor-relations who were playing with ten men for over an hour.  This was Ajaccio’s first win of the season though will be facing sterner opposition in the league at the weekend against second-placed Tours and next midweek in the Coupe de la Ligue away to current league-leaders Troyes.

Portugal

The Portuguese Primeira Liga was inaugurated over the weekend, with two Venezuelans in action. 1770 people on the island of Madeira turned out to watch last season’s fifth-placed side CD Nacional, featuring Mario Rondón, lose 1-0 at home to last season’s Segunda Liga winners Moreirense. Rondón played the entirety of the game but though he was involved in some attacking opportunities that were soundtracked to some Thunderbirds-esque drumming by the home fans, his side were undone by an 80th minute header by Paraguayan substitute Ramón Cardozo. Over on the north coast of the mainland, Rio Ave went some way to moving on from the disappointment of losing the previous week’s Portuguese Super Cup match on penalties to Benfica by defeating Vitória Setúbal 2-0. However, whereas last week forward Yonathan Del Valle was ordered to run his socks off for over 120 minutes and chase every frantically hoofed clearance, here he was sacrificed for midfielder Pedro Moreira at half-time as Rio Ave were reduced to ten men following Filipe’s dismissal. Despite the man disadvantage, the home side showed character and opened the scoring after 53 minutes through Diego Lopes; they were further boosted when Zequinha was sent off for the opposition on 71 minutes, who actually finished the match with nine men as Manu received two bookings in the last ten minutes – in between these two events, the Brazilian Marcelo headed home the second for Rio Ave.

Del Valle and Rondón both started their sides’ Europa League games on Thursday as they sought to gain a first-leg advantage to earn group stage spots, but the Venezuelan pair again experienced more personal disappointment. Del Valle was again withdrawn by Rio Ave at half-time in Sweden against Elfsborg, this time along with fellow-starter Pedro Moreira, as the Portuguese side were trailing 2-0; the changes arguably made some difference as the deficit was eventually halved to 2-1 with Marcelo again scoring and there were opportunities to get on level terms. As for Rondón, he again played the full 90 minutes for Nacional but they were undone in the Belarusian capital by a goal in each half in a 2-0 defeat by Dinamo Minsk. Rondón had a European experience not entirely dissimilar to his Zenit namesake in that he received the ball several times in and around the box but rarely in potentially punishing positions, instead often ending moves by blasting half-hearted shots at crowds of defenders who could then clear. It will probably be Del Valle, not Rondón, who will feel more confident going into next week’s second legs, though whether he will be permitted to play more than one half remains to be seen.

Before moving on from Portugal, one final piece of brief news: 20 year-old defender Víctor García, fresh from earning the number 50 shirt for the season, did not feature in Porto’s 2-0 opening day win over Marítimo nor their impressive midweek Champions League victory away to Lille. Still, plenty of time yet.

Switzerland

Over in the erstwhile land of passive neutrality (who said this column is out-of-date and living in the past?), Alexander González enjoyed another full 90 minutes as FC Thun came from a goal down against St. Gallen to record an impressive 3-1 win to go third in the league. As this win came against the only side to take any points – never mind beat 2-0 away – the league-leaders Basel this season, Thun can feel especially pleased with themselves. Speaking of whom, further south the league’s sole Champions League representatives won 3-2 away to Pedro Ramírez‘s Sion in a very entertaining match that was only taken out of the home side’s grasp in the last ten minutes. However, the former Zamora starlet continued his run of negligible contributions as he was only substituted on for the last few minutes of the match and so unsurprisingly was unable to demonstrate to the fans why he was purchased in the summer.

Regarding the Feltscher brothers, Frank is still injured but interesting news regarding his younger sibling Rolf who, following his summer release from Lausanne-Sport, has finally found a club to allow him to get his career back on track. Despite repeated rumours of a move to Deportivo Táchira, he has instead made the move north to the German third division to sign for MSV Duisburg. While this move has been met with some bemusement by Venezuelan commentators, it could well prove to be a rewarding move in the long run. Duisburg are down in the third-tier not due to relegation but rather problems relating to their license documents (please, no questions about this in this comments). They are a team with the resources to gain at least one promotion, having been in the Bundesliga just six years ago playing in a stadium that holds over 30,000 people (still often half full) and as an indication of their potential, just this weekend they enjoyed dumping Nürnberg out of the DFB Pokal Cup.

England

Fernando Amorebieta has continued to be frozen out of Fulham’s match-day squads, not featuring in any of their opening three defeats in the Championship as manager Felix Magath appears to be alienating fans and players alike with his team selection and general approach. However with Amorebieta, it is possible that his allegedly high wages and feelings towards playing for a second-tier team mean that his days at the club have always been numbered since relegation so his exclusion is understandable if Magath is expecting him to leave. As reported in previous columns, various sides have been linked with a move for him though in the past week there has been some new rumours. Firstly and perhaps lacking in substance is the story regarding Dynamo Kyiv’s interest, but more credible is the interest of Granada, whose sporting director has made some enquiries but admits his wages may be a stumbling block.

Italy

Torino were another team of Venezuelan interest to be vying for a place in the Europa League group stage as Josef Martínez‘s side played out a 0-0 draw away to RNK Split in Croatia. Torino will undoubtedly be favourites in next week’s leg and given the stalemate may well offer an opportunity to Martínez, who remained on the bench through the first leg.

Looking ahead, while the Serie A does not get underway until 30 August, this upcoming weekend sees the introduction of some of the top-flight teams to the Third Round of the Coppa Italia. Tomás ‘Gattuso 2.0’ Rincón‘s Genoa will be making the journey south to Serie B’s Virtus Lanciano and Franco Signorelli‘s Empoli shall host third-tier L’Aquila, who beat Bologna, recently relegated from Serie A, in the last round.

Spain

Excitingly, the Spanish leagues will be commencing this weekend and so, given the scope and name of this website, readers can look forward to some more detailed coverage from the Primera and Segunda Divisións. Málaga will kick-off the top-flight with their difficult home match against the Basque side Athletic Bilbao; Roberto Rosales is an almost definite starter at right-back for Los Boquerones despite the recent acquisition of Miguel Torres and the youngster Juan Pablo Añor will be pushing for a place in the match-day squad after being given regular chances in pre-season and handed the number 28 shirt for the season. Another player with similar circumstances – albeit with more first-team experience – and who scored some goals in pre-season is Darwin Machís; his side Granada will be looking to get off to a winning start at home against the newly promoted former league champions Deportivo La Coruña.

In the Segunda División, Real Valladolid will begin their attempt to bounce straight back to the top-flight with a home match against Mallorca. Former Barcelona man Jeffrén  Suárez, now 26 and who has been in talks with representing Venezuela for the first time, has got an opportunity to play consistently for the first time over the course of an entire season and in a league that could well prove to be beneath him. His team-mate and international goalkeeper, Dani Hernández, who seemed to be certain to exit the club in the summer, is likely to start at the weekend as he has done  so all throughout pre-season as the club have failed so far in their attempts to buy a replacement. Elsewhere, Josmar Zambrano will be in contention for Recreativo Huelva as they start their bid to improve upon narrowly missing out on a play-off place last year with a home game against Real Zaragoza. Finally, if he makes an unlikely recovery by the weekend, then the creative playmaker Julio Álvarez could feature for Numancia at home to Sporting Gijón, though don’t bank on it as he has not featured at all in pre-season.

Cyprus

AEL Limassol nearly caused an upset against Tottenham Hotspur in the home leg of their Europa League tie, taking a first-half lead only to be undone by goals from Roberto Soldado and Harry Kane in the last quarter of the game. Jonathan España sat on the bench throughout this game though as ever, the whereabouts of his compatriot Jaime Moreno is unknown.

Turkey

Though thankfully pre-season is coming to an end and coverage here has recently been kept to a minimum, it would be churlish not to mention Ronald Vargas‘s free-kick winner for Balıkesirspor at home to AEL Kallonis last weekend. He did also score in a 3-1 friendly win on Thursday against Somaspor and if footage of that becomes available, you can be sure it will be posted both here and on the Twitter page. Vargas is a man who showed a lot of promise in his early days in Europe with Club Brugge but has had countless injury setbacks that have hampered his progress. 28 in December, he will be hoping to get his career back on track as he enters what should be his prime and will begin his season on 29 August with a home game against Akhisar Belediyespor.

Asia

Thailand

Last time we were with Andrés Túñez, his impressive start to his career at Buriram United was painfully interrupted by a last-minute goal against title-challengers Chonburi, thus narrowing the race. However, instead of wilting it appears that Buriram, and Túñez in particular, have reacted impeccably to the threat. Firstly, at the weekend they kept a clean sheet and comfortably defeated relegation-threatened Air Force United 2-0 and then in midweek earned a vital victory away to opposition who, before the match at least, were very much in with a chance of winning the league. Had Muangthong United won, they would have been one point behind Buriram (who would have been level with Chonburi) but thanks to a first-half goal from Túñez himself, seven points now separate the two sides (with Chonburi three behind).  After a Muangthong corner was cleared and then picked up by a Buriram player, Túñez (now unmasked) could see that the home side had over-committed and charged forward from his own area to receive a pass and then slot it home for a moment of glorious euphoria. However, Buriram certainly did not have it all their own way, as Muangthong had a penalty saved at the end of the first half and then, following Theeraton Bunmathan’s dismissal, the away side had to repel attack after attack with ten men for over 30 minutes. If you have an opportunity to view the highlights please do as the game was a great advertisement for the league. With seven league games left and having already faced the two closest title challengers, Buriram United are definitely favourites to win the Thai Premier League.

Qatar

Later on today, Friday 22 August, Miku should be beginning his season with Al Gharafa at home to Umm Salal, a team who also finished in a mid-table position last year, albeit two points above Miku’s side. The Venezuelan hitman has been somewhat neglected so far in this column due to the lack of news from his part of the world but no doubt once the season is up and running, there will be regular reports on his goals.

North America

Mexico 

Last week’s Friday night league game of Juan Arango‘s Xolos de Tijuana was mentioned in the last update and he did not feature in his side’s midweek 0-0 away draw with Deportivo Tepic in the Copa MX, which leaves them 2nd in their group behind Guadalajara. In the league below, Giancarlo Maldonado has been scoring again, this time the second goal – a header from a cross – for Atlante in their big 4-2 away win against Mérida, which leaves them second in the table. Maldonado, along with seven of his team-mates, was not selected for the midweek cup defeat against top-tier Toluca; such changes show where Atlante’s priorities lie and, along with the strength of their group, accounts for them currently being last with just one point from three games.

United States of America

Bernardo Añor is still out with a hamstring injury and thus sadly missed Columbus Crew’s 4-1 thrashing of LA Galaxy, a side which featured both Robbie Keane and Landon Donavan. The Crew are back in the play-off positions in the Eastern Conference.

South America 

Colombia

Alejandro Guerra did not feature in Atlético Nacional’s 1-1 away draw against Deportes Tolima in the league over the weekend, but he did make the journey back home to Venezuela to play in another 1-1 away draw, this time in the Copa Sudamericana First Round against Deportivo La Guaira. Guerra played just under an hour of this first leg, with the goals coming after his departure, first for La Guaira with a bullet-header from Framber Villegas after 66 minutes and then for Nacional from an Edwin Cardona penalty with 7 minutes remaining. Remarkably, Atlético Nacional fielded a completely different squad on the same night to fulfil domestic cup obligations against Jaguares de Córdoba and achieved a 1-1 draw thanks to a stoppage-time goal from former Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Ángel. Moving on to Santa Fe, Luis Manuel Seijas‘s side lost ground in the league last weekend as they were defeated 2-0 by Deportivo Cali. Seijas played the entire game and his team now find themselves 9th in the league, albeit with a game in hand which, were they to play tomorrow and win, would put them level on points with 2nd. Santa Fe, minus Seijas and most other first-team regulars, played midweek in the cup achieving a late turnaround with two goals in the last ten minutes to beat Expreso Rojo 2-1 away. Santa Fe have already won their group with an impressive record of 8 wins in 9 games and will play their remaining game against Bogotá next week.

Chile

This weekend just gone, Emilio Rentería‘s San Marcos had to wait until the 90th minute to make the decisive breakthrough against Antofagasta, with the goal coming from a Renato González free-kick, for which Rentería was also standing over providing a decoy. This win leaves San Marcos 9th and Antofagasta last, but in the reverse midweek cup fixture, San Marcos made wholesale changes, leaving no place for Rentería and ended up on the wrong side of a 4-0 hammering. Both teams now have the most points (10) in their group, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Antofagasta now have the edge on goal difference. Despite making a rare return to first-team football last midweek in the cup, Javier González was again sidelined to the bench once the more prestigious matters of league football returned, as Ñublense were defeated 3-2 by Unión La Calera, leaving them 11th with 7 points. 

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

 

Venezuelans Abroad – 12 Aug 2014 Weekend Round-up

Another long weekend over and more competitive football is now underway, particularly in Europe. If you follow this site’s Twitter page (Hispanospherical) then you will already be aware of what our many disparate Venezuelans have been up to, but if not then here follows a substantial summary of the highlights:

Europe

Who better to start with than Salomón Rondón? He is Venezuela’s most lethal finisher, will no doubt become their all-time top scorer within the next five years and, more to the point, has been spanking in the goals again for the rampant Zenit St. Petersburg. Indeed, Zenit, having been one of four sides to win by a four-goal margin on the opening day, now enjoy some daylight over their nearest rivals at the top of the Russian Premier League following an 8-1 home steamrolling over Torpedo Moscow that was played in front of empty stands due to certain incidents that occurred late last season. In a game reminiscent of a pre-season pasting delivered to a group of fourth division amateurs in a secluded Swiss retreat, Rondón started once again and got on the scoresheet twice, as did the rampaging colossus that is Hulk as well as the Brazilian’s replacement, Alexandr Kerzhakov – Smolnikov and Shatov were responsible for the other two. Rondón scored Zenit’s second –  an acrobatic bicycle-kick that matched in quality Hulk’s preceding stepover and dinked ball from the right – as well as their fourth, a rebound that fell into his path after Shatov’s shot was parried and which was stabbed into an unguarded net. At this point, Torpedo’s defence already looked like they were reconsidering their career choices and Rondón soon helped inflict further misery with his quick return-ball to Hulk who burst into the box and rounded the keeper for the fifth. Hulk was very much the catalyst in this performance and if there were any relieved sighs in the Torpedo ranks when he was taken off just before the hour, his replacement Alexandr Kerzhakov ensured that there would be no reprieve. 

Moving on from a goalfeast to a stalemate, the first weekend of France’s Ligue 1 got underway, with Juan Falcón making his debut for Metz in a creditable goalless draw away to last season’s third-placed side, Lille. Falcón has been handed the coveted No. 9 shirt and played for 78 minutes but failed to get a clear shot on Vincent Enyeama’s goal as he was often reduced to chasing long balls and attempting to hold the ball up as Metz were largely set up to frustrate the likes of Ryan Mendes and Divock Origi. It was the Liverpool-loanee Origi who nearly put Lille 1-up in the first half with a header that was well-saved with an outstretched glove of Johann Carrasso, who certainly kept Metz within the game on more than one occasion. Next weekend, Falcón will be hoping to have more freedom to show what he can do as Metz host Nantes, a game which national team boss Noel Sanvicente will surely be watching as it will feature two more Venezuelans who also started over the weekend. Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Fernando Aristeguieta featured in the 1-0 victory for Nantes at home to Lens in a closely fought match, the outcome of which may have brought more satisfaction to the centre-back Vizcarrondo. Indeed, whereas he can be pleased with his role in his team’s clean-sheet, Aristeguieta may have mixed emotions about his team’s match-winner being scored from a close-range volley less than a minute after he was substituted in the 63rd minute by his replacement, Yacine Bammou. This hitherto unknown forward was actually making his debut, not only for Les Canaris but also as a Ligue 1 player, having not long previously been combining lower-league football with a job in Paris St. Germain’s club shop. Bammou’s rise is quite a story in itself and while it may prove to be too much too soon, he can be forgiven for having an eye on regularly replacing Aristeguieta as Nante’s lead man after Filip Đorđević’s summer departure to Lazio. The one remaining Venezuelan who played in France this weekend was Grenddy Perozo who made his first appearance of the season for Ajaccio in their second game in Ligue 2 as they were defeated 2-0 at home by another relegated side, Sochaux. A quick glance at the highlights will not allay any fears regarding their defence, which was the most porous in Ligue 1 last season, conceding at a rate of nearly two per game.  

Over in Switzerland, two of our men featured for their clubs. Firstly, starting in an advanced position behind the forward, Pedro Ramírez played 54 minutes of Sion’s 1-0 home victory against Vaduz, though in events not entirely dissimilar to those befalling Aristeguieta, his substitution also came a minute before his team scored. However, as the match-winner Vilmos Vanczák was a fellow starter, Ramírez will probably not feel that there is an instant threat to his position and may just be grateful to have started for only the second time this season for what is now the third-placed team in the league. The other Venezuelan who made it onto the pitch in the Super League was Alexander González of Thun who again played in an advanced position on the left of midfield as his side took an early lead and held on to a 1-1 draw with Young Boys for a respectable point that leaves them fourth in the league, one point behind Sion. Touching briefly upon the matter of the two Feltscher brothers, whilst Frank is still injured and has thus not been able to serve fifth-placed Aarau, unattached younger brother Rolf is being strongly linked to a move to Deportivo Táchira in Venezuela, though is believed to be hesitant about taking a perceived backwards career move. 

The last competitive match in Europe this weekend featuring one of La Vinotinto‘s finest occurred in Portugal as Yonathan Del Valle‘s Rio Ave put up a valiant fight to frustrate Champions and Cup-winners Benfica in the Portuguese Super Cup, known as the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira. Rio Ave qualified for this match by virtue of being runners-up to their opponents in May’s Taça de Portugal, a game in which Del Valle did not play. However, while on sunday his side were often on the backfoot attempting to repel attacks, there was more than one occasion when they could have caused an upset. Perhaps most significantly for this column was an unexpected chance at the end of the first-half when a ball was played back to Artur in the Benfica goal and he dithered; with the ball not under his full control, Del Valle sensed an opportunity and slid in, nearly making enough contact to embarrass the goalkeeper, who ultimately recovered. The double-winners came even closer to gifting the opposition the match after 117 minutes of a goalless – though eventful – game in which Benfica’s chances at goal outnumbered Rio Ave’s by a ratio of over 5:1, when Jardel nervously attempted to hook a ball in the box clear and ended up striking his own crossbar. Nevertheless, the game went to the limit without a goal. Thus, penalties were required and despite Rio Ave taking an early lead, Benfica did manage to recover and won the Super Cup by the narrowest of margins, 3-2 on spot-kicks.

Moving on to two Venezuelans who were not involved in their teams’ competitive games, starting in England’s second-tier with centre-back Fernando Amorebieta. The future of the former Bilbao man has been subject to speculation throughout the summer and as there has been no official word regarding an injury, his exclusion from the match-day squad for Fulham’s opening-day Championship loss to Ipswich has only reignited some old rumours, with an alleged move to Málaga being the most popular. Secondly, defender Victor García was not part of the match-day squad for Porto II’s opening day defeat at home to UD Oliveirense in the Portuguese Segunda Liga. Having featured regularly last season and in pre-season, it is likely that he was not match-fit and possibly carrying a knock.

Bringing this section to a close with some mercifully brief news on players who are still in their pre-season, this column can report that eleven players that are regularly tracked featured in friendlies these past few days. If you wish to know more about the matches involving Roberto RosalesJuan Pablo AñorJosmar ZambranoTomás Rincón, Franco SignorelliRonald Vargas Jonathan EspañaJaime MorenoJeffrén SuárezDani Hernández and/or  Darwin Machís, feel free to leave a comment and you will receive a response as soon as possible. For now, the most significant news regarding those players relates to the last two as both Hernández and Machís appear to have bolstered their positions at their respective clubs. Regarding Hernández, despite seemingly being on his way out of Real Valladolid at the beginning of the summer, Venezuela’s first-choice goalkeeper has been a consistent starter in pre-season games. While this may in part be due to his team’s lack of success in bringing in a new shot-stopper – Javi Varas of Sevilla is an ongoing target – Hernández may well find he has a future at the club even if they do. As for the young Granada forward Machís, regular readers of this column will know that at the very end of July his agent Sebastian Cano had said that he felt the following fortnight would be crucial regarding his client’s prospects of gaining a place in the first-team squad for the upcoming season. A fortnight on, he has still featured regularly in pre-season matches – the last two games coming against strong German opposition – and Granada’s Sporting Director Juan Carlos Cordero has stated that Machís will indeed be retained within the squad

Asia

Andres Túñez maintained his immaculate iconic status in Thailand and his side’s unbeaten streak as Buriram United took an early lead and ran out 2-0 winners at home to Singhtarua to extend their lead at the top of the table to four points. 

South America

In Colombia, Luis Manuel Seijas played the full 90 minutes of Santa Fe’s 2-1 victory over Independiente Medellín, which leaves them on seven points with four other teams. On five points having played a game more than Santa Fe is Alejandro Guerra‘s Atlético Nacional who gleefully romped to a 5-0 Clásico thrashing against Millonarios, scoring a cracker or two along the way. Sadly, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Guerra was not part of the squad for this pounding. 

Moving south to Chile Javier González, who has not featured since his side’s opening day 3-0 defeat, was again absent as Ñublense recorded a 2-1 home victory against Universidad Católica to increase their points tally to seven – only three other teams have more points at this early stage. Elsewhere, Emilio Rentería was unable to continue his impressive goalscoring start to this season as he played the entirety of San Marcos 1-0 defeat away to a previously pointless Barnechea, which leaves his side with a mere four points. 

North America

As the two Mexican league games of relevance were played on Friday, they were featured in the last update but feel free to revisit them if you wish to see a pearl of a free-kick by Atlante’s Giancarlo Maldonado. Furthermore, in the aftermath of Xolos de Tijuana’s draw with Morelia – leaving them with a paltry two points from four games – there have been some calls on social networks to remove Juan Arango‘s manager, former Venezuela boss César Farías, from his position. Also, regarding Arango, there has been further confirmation that he will not join the national team for their matches in Asia but national coach Sanvicente has said that the door is still open for him to return.

Lastly, up north in the USA, Bernardo Añor was again absent for Columbus Crew’s entertaining 3-2 home reversal against a Defoe-less Toronto FC, with the match-winner scored by another Englishman, Luke Moore. That narrow defeat leaves the Crew just one place off the play-off positions in the Eastern Conference. 

That concludes the round-up of the last few days of action but if you have any further questions about events discussed or any players that have been neglected, please leave a comment below and you can be sure to get a relatively swift response!

Venezuelans Abroad – 9 Aug 2014 Midweek Round-up

It has been quite an eventful and successful week for Venezuelans, particularly in European competition. With increasingly more leagues and cups being contested, this column will be compelled to become focused on competitive football and selective about which players are featured, though if there are any questions about players who have not been covered, please post a message in the Comments section below and you can be sure that you will receive a prompt response. If you follow this site’s Twitter page (Hispanospherical) or have understandably been keeping an eye out for this week’s matches, then you will be familiar with much of what is about to follow, though hopefully you find it helpful to have it all collated into an article and with a few extra details. Here goes:

Europe

The second legs of the penultimate qualifying stages of the two leading continental club competitions were played this midweek. In the Third Qualifying Round of the UEFA Champions League Salomón Rondón, building on a strong start to the Russian Premier League at the weekend, received the nod over Aleksandr Kerzhakov and scored the opening goal in Zenit St. Petersburg’s 3-0 victory over AEL Limassol of Cyprus to overturn the 1-0 reversal from last week. The Witsel-less Zenit were aided in their mission by the early bath for the Brazilian Danielzinho, who received two yellow cards in a matter of seconds after just 26 minutes, which led to an even greater attacking impetus for the home side, with Kerzhakov coming on as a half-time substitute for the defensive Igor Smolnikov. Rondón’s goal came after 55 minutes from a header from Igor Shatov’s cross from the left and he nearly became the tie-winner on more than one occasion, most notably with just two minutes to go when his header from an identical position was saved by an outstretched hand, but fell to the feet of Danny who tucked it away. Not long after, Kerzhakov converted a penalty to ensure Zenit St Petersburg’s name would be in the following day’s draw, in which they received Standard Liège of Belgium, who they will play on 20 and 26 August for a place in the group stage.

Jonathan España was an unused substitute for the opposition against Zenit and he and his compatriot Jaime Moreno may be comforted that AEL Limassol have been given a consolation prize of sorts as they were in the draw for the final Qualifying Round of the UEFA Europa League and will play Tottenham Hotspur for a place in the group stage of that tournament. Backtracking a little, the Third Qualifying Round of the Europa League was played this week, with two Venezuelans in action. Josef Martínez came off the bench after just over an hour to score a powerful header from Molinaro’s cross at the death for his first competitive goal for Torino in their 4-0 (7-0 on aggregate) home thrashing of Brommapojkarna. A great moment for Martínez, though considering the standard of the opposition was lower than much of what he faced in the Swiss Super League last season as well as the attacking options Torino have at their disposal, judgement regarding his applicability at this level will have to be withheld until Serie A gets underway. Standing in the way of a place in the group stage for Torino will be Croatia’s RNK Split. The other Venezuelan who played in the competition this week was Rio Ave’s Yonathan Del Valle, who looked threatening as he bustled his way through and had several shots in his side’s 0-0 home draw with Gothenburg, which allowed them to progress 1-0 on aggregate. Del Valle can consider this match a warm-up for this sunday’s Super Cup clash against Benfica, his team having qualified for this match due to Benfica achieving the domestic double last year and defeating Rio Ave in the  Taça de Portugal (Portuguese Cup). Regarding the draw, in the final Qualifying Round, Rio Ave will again face Swedish opposition in the form of Elfsborg and all of these Venezuelans will be joined at this stage by Mario Rondón of C.D. Nacional, whose side will enter the competition and have been drawn against Dinamo Minsk of Belarus. All of these ties should be played on the Thursdays over the same two weeks as the Champions League Qualifiers, 21 and 28 August.

Moving on to domestic action, while none that concerns us was played this midweek, there will certainly be some at the weekend as, joining those that are already underway will be France’s Ligue 1. Nantes will be starting their campaign at home to Lens and while Oswaldo Vizcarrondo will surely be in the squad, there are doubts over Fernando Aristeguieta as he has been missing from pre-season action over recent weeks with an injury. Juan Falcón, new to the league following two successful seasons at Zamora FC, will be hoping to line-up for promoted FC Metz as they face a stern trip to Lille, home to World Cup players such as Divock Origi, Salomon Kalou and, the man he will be hoping to put one or two past, Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama. Another league that will kick-off is England’s second-tier, The Championship, where it will be curious to see whether Fernando Amorebieta plays for Fulham away to Ipswich Town after much summer speculation over his future.

There will be other Venezuelans in competitive action in Europe this weekend and there have been several that have played in friendlies during this midweek, if you would like to hear more about these, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom.

South America

The latest round of the group stage of the Colombian Cup was contested in midweek, with Alejandro Guerra playing the full 90 minutes of Atlético Nacional’s dramatic 3-2 away win against Deportivo Rionegro. Luis Manuel Seijas was not part of Santa Fe’s squad as they lost their 100% record away to Llaneros in a 3-1 defeat, though with such a record they are still comfortably top of their group and Seijas’s exclusion should be considered a rest rather than a reflection of his performances, which have been receiving some acclaim.

Cup football was also played in Chile as San Marcos lost 4-1 away to Cobreloa but Emilio Rentería can not be held accountable for this as he was not part of the squad. San Marcos are still top of their group with 10 points but with Cobreloa on 9 points (albeit having played an extra game) and Antofagasta on 7, they will perhaps not be feeling as assured as Santa Fe.

North America

Over in Mexico, Juan Arango has been in action twice this week. Firstly in Cup action as he appeared as a substitute with just under 20 minutes left as Xolos were defeated 2-1 by Zacatepec (having beaten then 3-1 last week, aided by Arango’s assists) and also last night in the league. Indeed, Arango was clearly being rested in midweek as he played the full 90 minutes of a 0-0 draw away to Morelia, which gives César Farías’s side just two points from four games. Giancarlo Maldonado also played in two games this week and will be feeling the better of the two all-time joint top-scorers for La Vinotinto. In the cup in midweek, he started and may have been disappointed that his side, the second-tier Atlante, lost 3-2 at home to the mighty Pumas, having held them to a 1-1 away draw last week. However, he returned to scoring form in the league last night, curling in an 8th-minute free-kick as Atlante waited until a last-minute Paul Uscanga goal to defeat Irapuato 2-1. That victory leaves Atlante 3rd in the table with 7 points.

Briefly turning north to the USA, Bernardo Añor is rumoured to be suffering from a hamstring injury and is a doubt for Columbus Crew’s weekend MLS game against Toronto FC.

Asia

Finally, having been featured prominently in the previous column of Venezuelans Abroad, Andrés Túñez, the masked Gladiador, though no doubt stopped in the street repeatedly by his growing band of fans, has otherwise had a quiet week. However, his team, the Thai Premier League leaders Buriram United, will return to competitive action on Sunday and will be expecting a relatively comfortable victory as they host 9th-placed Singhtaura. Regarding the other player making a living within this continent, Miku, rest assured that this column has not forgotten about him, but there has not even been dribs or drabs of news regarding the Al-Gharafa striker, though this state of affairs will thankfully change when the Qatar Stars League kicks off in just under two weeks from now.

That concludes the round-up of the last few days of action but if you have any further questions about events discussed or any players that have been neglected, please leave a comment below and you can be sure to get a relatively swift response!

Venezuelans Abroad – 2/8/14 Midweek Round-up 2

Yes, another round-up. How about that, eh? From now on, there should be two each week for the Venezuelans Abroad category – one on Monday/Tuesday, the other on Friday/Saturday morning. Consider the first post an update on the past few weeks as well as an introduction to all the major players that will be featured. Future posts should be more selective, but if you are interested in any particular player who has not been mentioned, feel free to leave a comment and you should receive a quick response soon after!

So without further ado, these are the notable highlights involving Venezuelans playing outside of their homeland over the past few days:

Europe

While the likes of Arsenal and Athletic Bilbao may still be waiting another three weeks to begin their involvement in the Champions League, some of their back-room personnel may well have had an eye on the first legs of the Third Round Qualifying games that were played this week. Most significantly to us was the surprise 1-0 home victory for AEL Limassol of Cyprus over André Villas-Boas’s Zenit St. Petersburg. While the falsely billed Venezuelan Civil War never materialised (a scandal already for this site?) as neither Venezuelan played for the home side (Jonathan España was an unused substitute and Jaime Moreno was not registered to play), Salomón Rondón did get on the field for the visitors to play the final 30 minutes. Limassol’s winner came from a free-header not long after Rondón’s arrival, with what was the Cypriots’ first – and only – effort on target from a total of 3 chances (in comparison to Zenit’s 5 from 22). Shortly after, what was a manageable set-back was made somewhat more arduous as the Belgian international Axel Witsel lashed out in the 30-plus degree heat at an opponent and earned himself a red card and a suspension. Nevertheless, even without Witsel, Zenit will be the favourites going into the home leg next week, though first they must begin their league campaign

Thursday witnessed the Europa League’s Third (yes, third – keep up) Qualifying Round. Two Venezuelans were in action away to Swedish opposition, with firstly Yonathan Del Valle starting for Rio Ave and playing just over an hour in their 1-0 victory against IFK Göteborg. Fellow striker Josef Martínez also made an appearance, albeit for the last 20 minutes in Torino’s 3-0 victory against Brommapojkarna. .

Moving on to domestic league action, France’s Ligue 2 kicked off on Friday, with the Ochoa-less Ajaccio drawing 0-0 away to Arles-Avignon. Grenddy Perozo, who claims to have had offers from elsewhere but says it would take something special to tempt him away from Corsica, was an unused substitute.

Europe is still up to its eyeballs in friendlies, with teams at varying stages of their pre-season. Several of our men have been in action, starting with the French-based pair of Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (for Nantes vs. Vendée Luçon) and Juan Falcón (for FC Metz vs. Reims), who both received run-outs. Mario Rondón (CD Nacional) and, taking a break from the Swiss season, Pedro Ramírez (FC Sion) featured in higher-profile friendlies against Sunderland and Benfica, respectively. Darwin Machís gained more match-time with Granada as they drew 2-2 away to Albacete – he’s really pushing to be part of the first team set-up this year and his agent Sebastian Cano (who also represents Josef Martínez and Alexander González) believes the next fortnight will be crucial as to whether he remains in the manager’s plans. Perhaps the most significant European friendly news also came in Spain, more specifically the Madrid conurbation of Leganés where the local side have been recently promoted to the Liga Adelante. This is where Udinese’s surplus goalkeeper Rafael Romo surprisingly turned up in the past couple of days, having been the subject of speculation that he would be reunited with former national team boss Richard Páez back home. He appears to be on trial and got to work quickly, playing in a 2-0 away victory against CF Talavera. The number of Venezuelans in Spain appears to be growing at a steady rate.

Asia

The achievements of Andres Túñez need to be given more prominence this weekend. Not only has the colossus helped Buriram United go undefeated and rise to the top of the Thai Premier League but this week he also scored in the second leg of the semi-final of Thailand’s League Cup away to Ratchaburi – having already scored in the first leg. Given his achievements and the fact that in just over a month he already has three goals (with this latest one, a towering header past a hapless goalkeeper from an inswinging free-kick from the right, being nearly identical to the one in the first leg), one can not help feel that this league may be too easy for him.

North America

Copa Mexico action this week and while Giancarlo Maldonado did not feature for Atlante, Juan Arango most certainly did for Xolos de Tijuana and assisted the last two goals in a 3-1 victory against Zacatepec from the league below. The following day, Arango reportedly said that he would not be coming on the national team’s tour of Asia in September, instead wishing to settle down in Mexico for the time being. This did not sound like an official retirement from what must be Venezuela’s finest ever player but nevertheless it is clear that Sanvicente has plenty of big decisions to make in the upcoming month and these and much more will be discussed elsewhere on this site in the future. Returning to Arango’s club form, he also featured in league action, playing 78 minutes and coming close from a free-kick in last night’s 1-1 home draw against Tigres. Xolos are yet to win in the league, though whether César Farías is panicking as much as some of the fans is unclear.

South America

None of the four main players that will be tracked from this region (excluding Venezuela which will soon have its own column here) actually played. The two Colombia-based players, Alejandro Guerra and Luis Manuel Seijas, were left out of their sides’ cup matches though there is not much to be read into this as both Atlético Nacional and Santa Fe will both be confident of qualifying from their groups. There were no games in Chile of relevance to us, but the league resumes at the weekend.

That thus rounds up the action that occurred during the week that has not already been covered on this site and the next round-up should appear here on Monday or Tuesday morning.

If you have any further questions about events discussed or any players that have been missed out, please leave a comment below and you can be sure to get a relatively swift response!