Tag Archives: Juan Pablo Añor

Argentina 1-3 Venezuela – International Friendly (22 March 2019)

On a refined stage in the Spanish capital, La Vinotinto superbly displayed the potential that all followers knew was lurking somewhere. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides a match report of this breakthrough result…

International Friendly

Friday 22 March 2019 – Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain

Argentina 1-3 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Argentina 1-3 Venezuela, International Friendly, 22 March 2019 (YouTube)

Dynamic Venezuela Dazzle and Destroy

A fired-up Venezuela put in an exhilarating performance to deservedly defeat their more illustrious opponents for only the second time in their history.

To most neutrals, the game held at the home of Atlético Madrid was perceived as “Lionel Messi’s somewhat-anticipated Albiceleste comeback”, but not long after kick-off, a different, more captivating, story began to emerge.

Barely five minutes into the game, mask-wearing Roberto Rosales – situated on the left of defence, with U20 World-Cup runner-up Ronald Hernández over on his more customary right side – took the Argentine back-line by surprise with a sublime diagonal ball from the half-way line. It was received by Salomón Rondón who, with an aesthetically-pleasing blend of panache and aplomb, evaded his marker Gabriel Mercado, athletically controlling the incoming pin-point pass and striking the ball home with the outside of his right boot to give Venezuela the lead.

Behind, Lionel Scaloni’s side were spurred into action, with their no. 10 often attempting to orchestrate attacks by spraying balls to the flanks and weaving inside. However, it was never one-way traffic and for the following twenty minutes, the Argentines struggled to direct any meaningful attempts on target, with the opposition rearguard instead compact and regularly on cue to thwart. Despite this absence of genuine goalmouth action, it was nevertheless a keenly contested encounter that often required the referee to intervene: by the end of the night Venezuela would also go on to win the yellow cards battle, 6-2.

When Argentina did finally make the opposition goalkeeper work, it was worth the wait. This occurred at the half-hour mark when Messi jinked his way past three opponents before crossing a left-sided ball into the area that Lautaro Martínez powerfully headed. Many assumed that it was a certain goal but the Inter striker’s erstwhile Under-20 foe Wuilker Faríñez spectacularly managed to get a hand to it and divert the ball over.

This electrified the crowd and ushered in a chance-laden final 15 minutes of the first half. In the 35th minute, Venezuela could easily have made it two after Jhon Murillo played a ball through the middle to Darwin Machís who, virtually one-on-one with a defender scrambling over towards him, had his low effort saved by the feet of goalkeeper Franco Armani.

It was a let-off for Argentina, who two minutes later had a somewhat speculative Messi effort tipped over, but soon afterwards, their own goal was once again under threat. This time, Machís tenaciously evaded some challenges to nudge the ball to Hernández, who crossed the ball to the back post where Rondón’s header went past his marker Juan Foyth, goalkeeper Armani and, agonisingly, the back post. In the centre, Murillo voiced his displeasure at the lack of a knock-back.

However, the Tondela winger was to soon forget about that. Indeed, on the left side of the pitch just before half time, the alert Rosales quickly passed a free-kick to Murillo who, on the edge of the area, cut past Foyth and onto his right to curl an absolute pearl into the far corner. A fantastic way to cap off an eye-grabbing 45 minutes from La Vinotinto.

Following the interval, Argentina understandably resumed the game with three different players on the pitch. However, for the first 13 minutes of the second half, although Scaloni’s men won the possession stats battle, they did not give Faríñez much to do. This changed suddenly in the 59th minute when a rapid counter-attack saw Messi spray the ball to Giovani Lo Celso who, in turn, split the Venezuelan defence with a pass to Martínez, who swept the ball home.

With the deficit reduced, there was much anticipation that Argentina would at least get back on level terms. Yet, although they caused a fright soon after the goal with a knock-back across an uncertain area and there was also audible expectation whenever Messi was on the ball, they did not seriously test the goalkeeper’s gloves in the remaining thirty minutes.

Not that much more could be said for Dudamel’s men, but then, they were not the ones chasing the game. They stayed strong and defiant, never looking too flustered; they also made a couple of substitutions. It was to be these two reinforcements who were to play the leading roles in striking the knockout blow. Indeed, in the 74th minute, Yeferson Soteldo slid a ball into the area for Josef Martínez who – some may feel the forward engineered the contact – was adjudged to have been obstructed by the hapless Foyth. Subsequently, in his patented, gravity-defying manner, as seen multiple times before in the MLS, the Atlanta United hotshot stepped up to confidently dispatch.

With the game very much heading their way, in the 80th minute the thousands of Vinotinto fans present began to “olé” every pass. It was that kind of a night. Aside from two Messi free-kicks over the crossbar, there was little else for them to be concerned by. Just before the 90 minutes elapsed on this unforgettable night for Venezuelan football, another historic moment took place as recent U20 starlet Jan Carlos Hurtado made his senior debut and even found time to squeeze in one of his bustling, rampaging runs.

When the final whistle blew, although Argentina had huffed and puffed, nobody could dispute that this was a well-deserved victory for their northerly counterparts. Perhaps it was not a triumph from completely out of the blue, but given Venezuela’s mixed run late last year after ten months without any games, it was certainly not wholly anticipated either.

Many  things can and will change before June, but may this wonderful night of composed, confident and deadly effective football serve as a launchpad and clarion call for a more prosperous future. The countdown to the Copa América begins here.

Aftermath

Unfortunately, it must be briefly noted that the result has been somewhat marred by politics. Prior to kick-off a photograph was published online of Dudamel and his side being officially received by Antonio Ecarri, the ambassador to Spain for the partially-recognised – that is, by millions of citizens as well as dozens of leading nations – President Juan Guaidó. The manager has since stated that, although it has been “politicised”, for him there was nothing partisan about this meeting, highlighting the fact that in the past he has also met with ambassadors of the current Miraflores Palace-occupant, President Nicolás Maduro. Evidently frustrated at the awkward tightrope he is currently navigating, he has thus offered his resignation to the country’s football federation (FVF). He is still set to take charge of Monday’s game with Catalonia – for which, Xavi will now sadly not be available – but what happens afterwards is currently anyone’s guess.

Team Selections

Argentina (3-4-2-1): F. Armani; J. Foyth, G. Mercado (W. Kannemann, 46′), L. Martínez (D. Blanco, 46′); G. Montiel, G. Lo Celso (R. Pereyra, 78′), L. Paredes, N. Tagliafico; L. Messi, G. Martínez (M. Suárez, 46′); L. Martínez (D. Benedetto, 70′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Faríñez; R. Hernández, Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, T. Rincón, Y. Herrera (Y. Soteldo, 64′); D. Machís (J. Añor, 79′), J. Murillo (J. Hurtado, 89′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 72′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – March 2019 Preview

Four months after a pair of Asian draws, Rafael Dudamel has convened his latest squad who once again find themselves in Spain to confront a challenging friendly double-header. Here, with the Copa América already less than three months away, @DarrenSpherical has a look at the current batch hoping to stay within the manager’s plans.

International Friendly

Friday 22 March 2019 – Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain

Argentina vs Venezuela

Unofficial International Friendly

Monday 25 March 2019 – Estadi Montilivi, Girona, Catalonia, Spain

Catalonia vs Venezuela

wandametropolitano

View of the Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid. (Wikipedia)

Considerable Clashes Await Copa-eyeing Vinotinto

Perhaps not the most exciting, but certainly the most eye-catching name on manager Rafael Dudamel’s 25-man squad list is that of 32-year-old veteran Luis Manuel Seijas.

With an emphasis on youthful potential being nurtured and developed very much the order of the day, the international career of the Colombia-based Santa Fe midfielder had long seemed over. Indeed, even before the Under-20s reached the final of the 2017 World Cup, Seijas appeared to have parted ways with the national set-up, following talks with Dudamel. These statements came hot on the heels of his last and most infamous appearance in a Vinotinto shirt: 18 June 2016, Quarter-final of the Copa América Centenario. On this day against Argentina in Foxborough, Massachusetts, he made himself the object of global ridicule when his weak, sub-Panenka chipped penalty was easily caught by goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Given this unforgettable embarrassment, many people – if they gave him any further thought at all – came to assume that he had been excommunicated indefinitely. Evidently not. Nearly three years on, where will he fit in? Although he can play on the left of midfield, a role in front of the defensive line seems more likely; alternatively, owing to the ongoing uncertainties at left-back, an experiment there does not seem entirely out of question either. All this being said, it is hard to envisage him being much more than a back-up in any of these positions but, at the very least, his 67 caps of experience could provide a mental boost in the changing room.

Elsewhere in the squad, creative midfielder Juanpi – currently loaned out by Spanish second division side Málaga to top-flight strugglers Huesca, where he plays alongside Yangel Herrera – is also set to put on the burgundy shirt for the first time in a while. November 2017 against Iran was the 25-year-old’s last outing and he will be seeking to re-establish himself as part of the long-term plans, thus delivering on the potential that some of his early club and country outings indicated.

Although cultivating the abilities of youngsters is going to be key with regard to the underlying aim of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, only one player from the most recent crop of Under-20 talents makes it into this squad. Perhaps this is due to their ultimately unsuccessful qualifying campaign earlier this year or maybe it is simply not yet their moment. Either way, Jan Carlos Hurtado (Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Argentina) could well soon become a useful squad member. Indeed, the striker – who was actually also a part of the 2017 Under-20 World Cup squad – gained many plaudits at Chile 2019, due to his bustling runs, forward play and, especially, his two goals in the 2-0 win over Brazil. Although Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) is the undisputed leading man – with Atlanta United hotshot Josef Martínez sometimes, but not always, joining him in attack – Hurtado could well develop into a more-than-capable deputy. Another man vying for this status within the current squad is the more experienced Fernando Aristeguieta, who is having a superb season in Colombia with América de Cali, so far netting 9 goals in 10 league games.

Regarding the other six, more involved, members of the 2017 silver generation squad who are present here, diminutive dribbler Yeferson Soteldo is the most noteworthy inclusion, having not played internationally for 16 months. This has not been due to any dip in form – even if he did divide opinion at Universidad de Chile, he now wears the hallowed No. 10 shirt at Santos in Brazil – but instead a combination of visa and family issues which prevented him from joining up with the most recent squads. With Adalberto Peñaranda, Romúlo Otero and Jefferson Savarino all having been omitted, he, along with Sergio Cordóva (Augsburg, Germany), will be looking to regain one of the ever-competitive attacking-midfield positions.

Their erstwhile youth-level team-mates who have also received call-ups are: versatile midfielder Yangel Herrera, right-back Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay) and undisputed first-choice goalkeeper, Wuilker Fariñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia).

The coaching staff will be hoping that these young players as well as the many others who are in their early-to-mid twenties will gel effectively with the more experienced internationals, such as Rondón, captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) and right-back Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain). Perhaps it bodes well for the team that all three of these individuals are currently enjoying above-average goalscoring seasons with their respective clubs.

In press comments made on the eve of the first game, Dudamel curiously stated that “We are not experimenting at all. [That] stage has already passed”. Possibly he was referring to tactical systems (with a three-man midfield having been his most notable trial last year), although it is also true that the vast majority of players in this current squad also received call-ups in 2018. Thus it seems that the coach has an ever-crystallising conviction as to who will make the cut in June, albeit one that does not preclude a few latecomers from staking a claim.

Whoever gets picked and whoever ultimately shines, Venezuela have two significant confrontations on the horizon, the first of which comes on Friday when they face Lionel Messi and co. at the majestic home of Atlético Madrid. Argentina are never an inconsiderable proposition, although perhaps their dubious World Cup displays as well as the pair of draws that Venezuela achieved against them in the Russia 2018 qualification phase will offer La Vinotinto some encouragement. Then, on Monday, they will be at the home of Girona to face the non-FIFA-affiliated Catalan national side, who can count Xavi, Gerard Piqué and a host of primarily La Liga players in their ranks. With a 4-2 defeat against another autonomous region of Spain – the Basque Country, in October 2018 – still fresh in the memory, Dudamel’s men will be striving to use their superior collective preparation to their advantage. That’s certainly not something that can be said often.

Venezuela Squad

venezuelamarch2019squad

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (APOEL FC, Cyprus).

Defenders

Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Alexander González (Elche, Spain), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg FC, Germany), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia) & Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal), Jan Carlos Hurtado (Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Argentina), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA),  Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-2 Argentina– CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (6 September 2016)

The eighth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded one point more than anticipated yet two less than many Venezuelans felt attainable at half-time. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report plus thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 6 September 2016 – El Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida State

Venezuela 2-2 Argentina

Video Highlights of Venezuela 2-2 Argentina, 6 September 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

Mixed Emotions for Both Sides as Juanpi Announces Himself on the International Stage

Match Report

‘Bottom versus top’ could have been mistaken for ‘seventh versus eighth’ as what began as a tepid affair ended as a slugfest with Venezuela being denied a famous victory.

La Vinotinto went into the game with just one point, having just been comfortably dispatched 2-0 by neighbours Colombia, yet really needing to raise the morale of their compatriots in the Andean city of Mérida. Pace-setters Argentina were thus hardly the ideal opponents. However, the hosts were far from overawed in the opening half and with each passing period of play, the pre-game predictions of a pounding proved increasingly preposterous.

Indeed, the first threat they had to contend with – the closest Edgardo Bauza’s men came all half – occurred in the 16th minute. Inter Milan new-boy Éver Banega received a pass centrally, quickly turned and from 25 yards out struck a low drive that went just wide of the far post. Banega often appeared to be one of his side’s likeliest catalysts for a goal as at times he enjoyed plenty of midfield space in which to roam before searching for a key, incisive pass – though this latter, crucial phase largely proved elusive.

Ángel Di María, with his tormenting runs down the wing and balls into the area, was a more noticeable threat in the first period. Just after the 20th minute, he crossed in a fine ball for Lucas Pratto, but the Atlético Mineiro striker – playing in part due to the absences of several more high-profile strikers – stretched but could not make a meaningful connection. He certainly did, however, in the 32nd minute, when he met Di María’s cross but his solid header was a little too close to goalkeeper Dani Hernández, who managed to get his body behind it.

The hosts’ early chances were hardly much more threatening. Rafael Dudamel’s men sometimes resorted to pumping long balls towards star striker Salomón Rondón, but this rarely proved propitious, even if it was a cunning way of bypassing Javier Mascherano. The West Bromwich Albion forward did nevertheless have his country’s first opportunity of note when, after 21 minutes, he received the ball just outside the area. However, although some space opened up for him, it was not enough to warrant the headlines that must have been swirling in his head; he may have shaped up with intent but his tame shot trickled goalwards for goalkeeper Sergio Romero to gratefully collect.

One Venezuelan causing more problems for the Argentine back-line was Rondón’s strike-partner, Josef Martínez. He regularly beat defenders for pace, causing uncertainty as well as winning throws and corners. In the 23rd minute, he was especially of concern when he received a pass in the area and soon hit the deck, but his penalty claim was waved away.

The other leading attacking threat for the hosts in this half was the man who was to break the deadlock. The profile of Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor has been rising since he made his Málaga debut two years ago, with last season’s exploits really helping him emerge to prominence in La Liga. Aiding his cause in particular during that campaign were three goals in consecutive weeks (including one against Barcelona) and he is already off the mark for 2016/17. With the experienced Alejandro Guerra and Luis Manuel Seijas not part of this particular squad, he has been provided with opportunities to bolster his claims for a first-team spot in midfield. Overall, he has taken them.

Yet though he is capable of pinpoint accuracy from dead-ball situations, thankfully his largely wayward set-pieces throughout this half are unlikely to be used as arguments against future starts. Indeed, it is more the events in the 35th minute that shall be uppermost in most people’s minds when the line-up for the trip to Uruguay in October is being mulled over.

As befitting a largely listless half, it came almost out of nowhere. Rondón’s low cross in from the right was cut out before being immediately knocked back to the edge of the area, where it fell to the feet of Juanpi. Two players quickly tried to close him down yet somehow he bundled his way through them, before making some space for himself on the right corner of the area. Judging by the reaction of at least one Argentine defender, they did not consider him a serious threat from this position. Big mistake. Before anyone could get near enough to him, he unleashed a phenomenal strike that scorched past Romero and nearly burst the top corner of the net. The crowd erupted and the 22-year-old diminutive Málaga maestro was mobbed by his team-mates, both starters and subs alike. His first international goal, his formal arrival on this stage; aficionados of this balletic young man’s career will have been aware that it bore more than a slight resemblance to his first ever club goal against Levante in January 2015. Now, all Venezuelans know that no matter how bleak their nation’s prospects often seem, there will always be reason to keep an eye on them so long as the likes of Juanpi are in embryo.

Just four minutes later, Dudamel’s men nearly enhanced the euphoria in the ground to unprecedented levels. Rondón helped the ball on to Alexander González on the right inside the area. The Huesca right-back quickly slid the ball into the goalmouth where Josef Martínez was waiting and the goal was a-gaping, yet the Torino striker was narrowly beaten to the ball by Pablo Zabaleta, who managed to clear.

Thus, when the half-time whistle blew, the hosts had to resign themselves to being just 1-0 up against the No. 1 ranked side in the world. In the ever-bewildering and screen-throttling social media world, more than a few were quick to denigrate Venezuela’s lead by pointing out that Lionel Messi was missing and that this was a ‘depleted’ Argentine team. Risible claims, as aside from two attacking players, this was virtually a first-choice Albiceleste XI and, as no Venezuelan was staggered to observe, the hosts had problems of their own. Indeed, they made four changes from the Colombia loss, all of which were forced upon Dudamel: three of the four defenders were out (two due to suspensions, one due to injury) and one of the defensive-midfielders (suspended) was also unavailable. Such absences made their lead and hitherto ability to repel trouble all the more impressive.

Yet when the second half kicked off, the visitors returned with more intent to extricate themselves from the mire that they had slipped in. Much anticipation greeted Banega’s free-kick in the 50th minute, but when he finally took it, the ball sailed comfortably over. The hosts were nevertheless able to withstand such pressure and not long afterwards they broke free up the other end where Rondón nearly fed in Martínez, but the latter had his run abruptly blocked off.

However, shortly afterwards in the 53rd minute, the same combination sent the stands into raptures. The nation’s talisman robbed a hapless defender flailing in the Mérida rain and strode into the area, where he slipped a short pass to his Serie A-based partner who, with the visitors on the back foot, was afforded acres of space. Had he desired to, Martínez would have had time to whip out the day’s paper and read his horoscopes before pulling the trigger; regardless of what it would have said, the Torino man certainly would have felt it was his lucky day when his well-placed shot hit the back of the net. 2-0.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, the hosts celebrated their dizzying lead by going immediately on the defensive as Argentina raised their game and/or Venezuela pondered the ‘2-0 is the most dangerous lead in football’ cliché for a bit too long. Given such a change in approach, it came as little surprise when the visitors halved the deficit in the 58th minute. Here, Erik Lamela was gifted plenty of space to slide the ball through to Pratto in the area. Despite having left-back Mikel Villanueva and centre-back Sema Velázquez seemingly on his case, it seemed a little too easy for him. He nudged the ball forward and it ricocheted off Villanueva back to him in slightly more space and he simply toe-poked it goalwards past the possibly blindsided Hernández. 2-1. Game well and truly on.

Bauza’s men thus went on the hunt for an equaliser. Some more shaky goalkeeping from Hernández from a corner was to follow not long afterwards and the visitors were not too far from catching him out in the 66th minute. Here, Banega, on the inside-left just outside the area, went for a cross-shot which rebounded kindly off a defender, thus necessitating the Tenerife goalkeeper to scramble over to ensure his near post was covered. He got there just in time to block out the resultant shot that Di María fired from an acute angle from inside the area on the left.

One rare reprieve from the pressure came after 74 minutes when the much-touted 19-year-old Adalberto Peñaranda burst forward and gave a rare glimpse of why he made so many headlines at Granada last season. In a characteristically direct run, he passed through a few Argentine shirts before being cynically fouled not far from the area. This bought his nation some time, though the free-kick was duly squandered.

With the clock not ticking fast enough, Dudamel made some changes yet his second, replacing Martínez with Ecuador-based Jacobo Kouffaty, unfortunately did not reap the desired dividends. Indeed, officially he lasted no more than three minutes before succumbing to an injury and being replaced by Yonathan Del Valle in the 81st minute.

Compounding Kouffaty’s misery, as he was walking dejectedly along the sidelines, Di María whipped in a low corner which was clinically struck into the back of the net to level things up. Manchester City’s Nicolás Otamendi beat his centre-back counterpart Velázquez to the ball and restored some pride for his nation. Now, they were favourites to snatch all three points.

Ultimately, although they certainly put the jitters up their hosts, it was in fact Venezuela who came closest to emerging victorious in a five-goal thriller. First, with five minutes remaining, Juanpi curled in a free-kick from the right with his left boot which Romero went to catch but was easily beaten in the air by Rondón – unfortunately for the latter, his header also comfortably cleared the crossbar when it seemed as if with a bit more direction, he could well have won the game.

It was a let-off for the Manchester United goalkeeper and yet with a minute of regulation time left, he somehow had time to emerge relatively unscathed from an even greater howler. This time, Juanpi’s central free-kick from range bounced harmlessly through to the out-of-favour stopper, yet perhaps his rustiness affected him, as he was slow in anticipating the ball’s trajectory. Instead of catching it, the ball caught him by surprise and bounced off his chest and straight to Villanueva. The 23-year-old Atlético Malagueño left-back instinctively struck at the ball in textbook centre-forward fashion; he had Romero well beat but unfortunately his effort cannoned straight back off the near post.

Alas, the final whistle soon blew and it was greeted by both sides with a mixture of emotions. The visitors’ comeback could not mask the fact that they had once again struggled to contend with the absence of Messi and had been displaced from their perch, now finding themselves 3rd in the CONMEBOL standings. For the hosts, while it is a credible point, they will surely feel that they could have added a little more dignity to their campaign by gaining their first victory.

With Peru having beaten Ecuador 1-0, Venezuela now find themselves five points adrift at the bottom on a paltry two points. Although ten games still remain, as Dudamel’s men are 11 points away from the play-off spot (5th), sights are undoubtedly now set on Qatar 2022 and not Russia 2018. Building a new team with the likes of Juanpi at its core will be uppermost in the manager’s thoughts. After all, next month will involve a trip to Uruguay (1st) and a home clash against Brazil (2nd); Rome was indeed not built in a day.

To keep up-to-date with the Venezuelan football world, feel free to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; A. González (V. García, 71′), O. Vizcarrondo, S. Velázquez, M. Villanueva; Juanpi, T. Rincón,  A. Flores, A. Peñaranda; S. Rondón & J. Martínez (J. Kouffaty, 78′) (Y. Del Valle, 81′).

Argentina (4-2-3-1): S. Romero; P. Zabaleta, N. Otamendi, R. Funes Mori, M. Rojo (N. Gaitán, 83′); J. Mascherano, L. Biglia (L. Alario, 71′); E. Lamela (Á. Correa, 67′), É. Banega, Á. Di María; L. Pratto.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Colombia 2-0 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (1 September 2016)

Despite the impressive showing at Copa América Centenario, Rafael Dudamel’s first World Cup qualifier in charge of Venezuela yielded a familiar result.  The seventh matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign thus provided the sixth defeat. Here, Hispanospherical.com offers a match report plus a few words of resignation…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 1 September 2016 – El Metro, Barranquilla, Atlántico Department, Colombia

Colombia 2-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Colombia 2-0 Venezuela, 1 September 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

The Unthinkable is Unthinkable for a Ruddy Good Reason

Match Report

The proposed Venezuelan qualification fightback has yet to materialise as La Vinotinto were comfortably seen off in Barranquilla. 

Pre-match, Los Cafeteros manager José Pékerman complained about the poor playing surface but any fears were allayed by his own charges, who demonstrated far greater mastery of the conditions than their opponents.

Indeed, from the off, Colombia took the game to their neighbours. Frenziedly urged on by the Estadio Metropolitano crowd, they nearly took the lead within the first minute and, frequently spearheaded by James Rodríguez, were to make virtually all of the forward forays in the opening 20 minutes. Not helping the visitors’ cause in this period, goalkeeper Dani Hernández fumbled on at least a couple of occasions and centre-back Wilker Ángel could quite justifiably have been sent off for what many felt should have been a second yellow card after just 13 minutes.

Málaga youngster Juanpi, given an opportunity to make a regular starting place his own, took Venezuela’s first corner after 21 minutes but this was comfortably dealt with. The hosts soon went back up the other end and restated their dominance, with Rodríguez, Luis Muriel, Carlos Bacca and others frequently linking up in such seamless ways as to suggest that they possess a far greater shared telepathy than their opponents. In the 26th minute, they were not far off the mark when Stefan Medina put in an arcing, testing cross that Bacca could well have hit home were it not for the stretched block of Ángel.

However, despite the flow of the game, Venezuela’s first real chance was also hitherto the closest the game had to an opening goal. Perhaps it was the first-half drinks break to counter the heat that was behind a minor shift in affairs, but Venezuela did gradually come to see a little more of the ball. Juanpi, in particular, made inroads and it was he who won the 33rd-minute free-kick just several yards outside the area. A dead-ball specialist, he then stepped up and curled a fine left-footed effort over the wall; this appeared to be heading for the top corner but was ultimately denied by the tips of David Ospina’s gloves.
Subsequently, following some fine interplay, Colombia were only narrowly thwarted at the final pass stage on at least three more occasions in this half. Yet despite their supremacy, they must have known only too well from the past two Copa Américas that Venezuela do possess a considerable capacity for soaking up pressure before delivering the suckerpunch. On the 41st minute, the visitors nearly provided this. From a central position, Juanpi slyly played through the ball into the area to Josef Martínez who gained some space from his marker and stretched to take aim; Colombians inhaled but, thankfully for them, the shot was parried out by Ospina for a corner.
Barely five minutes later, home fans’ anxieties about the squandering of possession and momentum were permitted to diminish. Indeed, in a route one move, Colombia took the lead. Ospina pumped the ball upfield, where it was headed on towards Bacca, who turned on the edge of the area and teed up Rodríguez; the Real Madrid attacker thus made some room for himself before placing the ball past Hernández.
Venezuela boss Rafael Dudamel thus narrowly missed out on going into the break on level terms and, more so than before, needed to find a way of altering the course of events. Just five minutes into the second half, he acted, removing next-big-thing Adalberto Peñaranda (who, aside from his peroxide blonde hair, had been largely anonymous) for the next next-big-thing, Yeferson Soteldo. In the remaining 40 minutes, the diminutive 19-year-old Zamora attacker provided several examples of the play that have got so many people excited about him; he regularly hustled to get on the ball and get things moving, using his enviable low centre of gravity to evade challenges and maintain possession.
Nevertheless, the hosts still had the better of the half, with the pattern of fast-paced passing moves only narrowly being thwarted at a late stage continuing. On the hour, they nearly went one better as Muriel was found on the edge of the area, but his left-footed strike swished across goal to pass the far post by a few inches.
Shortly before the drinks break in 70th minute, Soteldo managed to win some space 25 yards out and take a strike at goal. Ospina comfortably got down to save this, but it was nevertheless notable for providing a rare whiff of the opposition goal for La Vinotinto.
After the Lucozade-fest, however, it was all Colombia, with Bacca spurning a few chances to double the lead. Indeed, first in the 74th minute, the AC Milan striker was played through, one-on-one with Hernández, but his shot lacked direction and was blocked by the Tenerife goalkeeper.
In the 81st minute, Bacca appeared to redeem himself by winning a penalty, having been brought down by a desperate lunge from Wilker Ángel, who, in turn, received his marching orders. However, despite assuring Rodríguez that he was fine to take the spot-kick, Bacca’s 12-yard strike was comfortably parried out and away by Hernández. Yet, unfortunately for the latter, there was little time to bask in the acclaim of his save as, within a minute, Rodríguez brilliantly slalomed down the right side of the area before shifting feet to rapidly swing in a left-footed cross towards the back post. There, Atlético Nacional’s Macnelly Torres was unmarked and on cue to knock the ball home. 2-0. Any doubts regarding the result were put to bed.
However, that was not the end of the goalmouth action. With four minutes remaining on the clock, Bacca’s replacement Roger Martínez was found by a lofted pass in the area but, somewhat akin to the man whose shoes he had briefly stepped into, he was only able to strike at Hernández. Soon afterwards, Venezuela had a rare sight of goal as again that man Soteldo forced into the area a low ball from the left which caused some uncertainty before being dealt with.
The last act of the game came in the third minute of stoppage time when the visitors conceded another penalty as well as received their second red card. This time, left-back Rolf Feltscher was given his marching orders after he clumsily upended Rodríguez. With Bacca no longer on the pitch, it was to be the former Monaco man who stepped up, yet the outcome was to be the same as Hernández guessed right again and parried out.
Thoughts: What Now? 
Thus, when the final whistle sounded, both sides had reasons to feel disappointed, yet one suspects the most westerly of the two nations will be comforted by the three points. Taking into account results from elsewhere, they have now moved up two places to third, though just one point separates them in both directions from 1st and 6th. By contrast, Venezuela are now even more rooted to the bottom, with their solitary point putting them 11 points off the play-off spot currently occupied by Brazil.
As they are no doubt all-too-aware, there really is no let-up in CONMEBOL qualifying. Next up for La Vinotinto is a home encounter with 1st-placed Argentina and then in October, they will be travelling to Uruguay (currently 2nd), before hosting Brazil (5th). Many (including, implicitly, then-manager Noel Sanvicente) had written off Venezuela’s campaign as soon as they lost their first game at home to Paraguay. With a new manager appointed ahead of June’s Copa América and the impressive showing at that tournament, some were curious to see if a mircaulous turnaround could be in motion. Alas, in light of this performance and the upcoming fixtures, there is surely no-one left who has yet to blow out their own candle of hope.
Though Lionel Messi may be out, Venezuela will be facing Argentina without the suspended Feltscher,  Ángel and defensive-midfielder Arquímedes Figuera (two cumulative yellow cards). Thus, opportunities once again open up within this rather unsettled line-up yet with just one competitive win against their upcoming opponents in their entire history, it is very difficult at this moment to envisage a radical defiance of expectations.
Team Selections
Colombia (4-2-3-1): D. Ospina; S. Medina (E. Cardona, 90′), O. Murillo, J. Murillo, F. Díaz; D. Torres & C. Sánchez; J. Rodríguez, M. Torres, L. Muriel (J. Cuadrado, 70′); C. Bacca (R. Martínez, 83′).
Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo (S. Velázquez, 82′), R. Feltscher; Juanpi (C. Santos, 67′), T. Rincón, A. Figuera, A. Peñaranda (Y. Soteldo, 50′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez.
Darren Spherical

Preview for Venezuela’s February 2015 Friendly Double-Header with Honduras

Friendly International Double-Header

4 February 2015

Honduras vs Venezuela

Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula 

11 February 2015 

Venezuela vs Honduras

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas 

Less Prestigious Than Friendlies?

This international double-header between two nations represented by players from their respective domestic leagues (plus three MLS stars, in the case of Honduras) would be more accurately defined as a pair of ‘B’ internationals. Indeed, approximately three-quarters of a typical, fully fit Venezuela squad tends to consist of players based overseas. Even from the pool of home players, coach Noel Sanvicente has been partially thwarted in his attempt to watch the best local talent at close-quarters as the dates of these two matches coincide with Deportivo Táchira’s two Copa Libertadores play-off games against Paraguayan giants Cerro Porteño. From the side from San Cristóbal, he would have likely called up young centre-back Wilker Ángel (who scored on his debut against Bolivia in November), jinking midfielder Yohandry Orozco (who also featured against El Verde), as well as Gelmin Rivas (the highest scoring Venezuelan in the domestic league). Consequently, as these games are going to be contested by players who are largely unlikely to even feature again on the same field together for their country, it is a struggle, at least from tactical and team-building perspectives, to justify their arrangement.

The Managers:

Any Preparation Time is Invaluable

It may well prove that what the respective managers gain from proceedings will not be readily discernible to the majority of spectactors, as this may consist of learning who they feel they can trust, who are most receptive to their ideas and/or who shows the most potential in training.

For Honduras, these will be the first two games under the stewardship of Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto, last seen in the dugout by a mass audience guiding Costa Rica to a remarkable Quarter-Final finish in the 2014 World Cup. It remains to be seen whether he opts for the defence-minded counter-attacking approach that he utilised with Los Ticos when leading this particular Central American nation who generated some headlines of their own in Brazil – though largely for their rather physical play on and off the ball. With both squads mostly containing home-based players he does, arguably, have an advantage over his opposite number as he possesses some first-hand insights into Venezuelan football. Indeed, for almost a year and a half prior to taking the Costa Rica job, he was the coach of Deportivo Táchira and ended his reign with great success by winning the 2010-11 championship. Thus, as neither nation has called upon any of their emerging prospects from their U20 contingents – both of which having been recently preoccupied with their respective regional tournaments – he should have some familiarity with the majority of the Venezuelan side.

That is not to say his counterpart Sanvicente is completely in the dark regarding his opponents, as eight of the World Cup squad remain, including the MLS trio of Luis Garrido, Jorge Claros and Óscar Boniek García. Although attaining positive results may not be the primary purpose of such games, he will, however, surely be looking to gain at least one victory from the double-header. The man they call ‘Chita’ may have received much goodwill upon taking the job in July but, even though he has encountered some bad luck with injuries, having lost all four of the games he has overseen* he has certainly not been without criticism. A win then, irrespective of the personnel and methods used to achieve it, would give him some breathing space and surely boost morale amongst both the playing and coaching staff.

Venezuela’s Players

A Rare Opportunity for the Majority

In all, Venezuela have officially lost their last five games, with the first in this dismal sequence coming last March against Honduras in the same ground the first game will be played this time around. From this 2-1 defeat that featured many squad regulars, only Rómulo Otero – who started and scored a fine free-kick – and Arquímedes Figuera – who came on for little more than five minutes –  have been selected in the current crop.

Thus, it seems that Venezuela’s players, at least, will be very unfamiliar with their Honduran counterparts (and, depending on how much insight Pinto can impart, vice versa), not to mention somewhat unacquainted with one another. Indeed, this 20-man, largely makeshift, squad has been chosen from 10 different teams and the majority of these players have only really been together for a three-day series of training modules (from 19-21 January). Unless several players have an abnormal telepathic understanding, one thing that should not be expected from the Venezuelan players is free-flowing passing movements and creativity.

Nevertheless, while in this squad there are players who have little hope of a call-up to June’s Copa América squad and others who are frankly making up the numbers, approximately one-third have been previously selected at some point in the Sanvicente era. The majority of these are not regular starters but will most probably find themselves in the line-up next to players who they are unlikely to ever begin a competitive international with. Though their interplay and partnerships with most of their team-mates will not be utilised in future matches, they will nevertheless be under scrutiny with regards to their performances and how faithfully they carry out the coach’s instructions.

Thus, with all these caveats out of the way, what follows is a brief look at some aspects of La Vinotinto‘s side to look out for in these two games:

What to Look out for in the Venezuelan Side

How the Goalkeepers Perform

With Rafael Romo and Alain Baroja in the squad, both will likely feature at some point and, quite probably, receive 90 minutes each. With number one choice Dani Hernández having recently moved from the Real Valladolid substitutes’ bench to the Tenerife first team, seemingly only a severe loss of form on his part could see either of these men take his place between the sticks on a regular basis. However, it is not entirely clear who is the favoured stand-in, as neither have played in this new era. Although Romo – unlike Baroja – received a call-up to the last squad in November, he has been known to make the odd glaring error (as most recently witnessed at the weekend for his club side, Mineros de Guayana). His rival from Caracas FC perhaps benefits from playing for a more in-form club though he has himself made some impressive saves lately, yet in terms of goals conceded this season, there is little to separate the two men. The argument is unlikely to be settled by these two games, though they may go some way to suppressing it for the foreseeable future.

How the Defence Copes

This consideration may well be included in every Venezuela preview until at least when the upcoming World Cup Qualifying campaign ends. While Romo and/or Baroja will do well to avoid making any of the handling and positioning errors of Hernández, it is more the back four and the defensive-midfield partnerships that have been at fault in recent matches.

In Sanvicente’s four games as manager, his side have conceded 13 goals (*14 officially – see footnote), being frequently bypassed with ease in midfield and slow, not to mention disorganised, when dealing with through-balls and crosses. Left-back Gabriel Cichero – who is the only player in this squad to have faced Costa Rica under Pinto in a 2-0 loss back in December 2011 – has the unfortunate distinction of having started all of these games. He was not alone in his errors, but many fans did reserve for him their sternest opprobrium. Yet Sanvicente may well find his experience and know-how at this level invaluable, as he will likely be lining up with three other defenders who have little chance of playing much competitive international football. One possible defensive colleague, Juan Fuenmayor, who can operate at either left-back or in central defence, may have a couple-dozen caps to his name but the last of these came as a last-minute substitute four years ago and, more to the point, at 35 years old, age is not on his side. Cichero’s organisational and leadership capacities may be especially required when, as is likely, he finds himself in a back-line with Francisco CarabalíAndrés Sánchez and/or Jhon Chancellor who, between them, have a mixture of little and no senior international experience.

In front of the back four, when everyone is fit and available, Sanvicente appears to favour a defensive-midfield partnership of converted Málaga right-back, Roberto Rosales, and new captain, Tomás Rincón of Genoa. Although he has only ever been able to field this pairing once, when both men are available, the players in the current set-up have no chance of dislodging them. Indeed, when two players from the domestic league – Édgar Jiménez and Rafael Acosta – began the 5-0 thrashing meted out by Chile in November, both were hopelessly and repeatedly left for dead, unable to cope with the pace and movement of players from vastly superior leagues. Acosta also started but was to fare little better in the subsequent 3-2 defeat by Bolivia and so it was readily apparent, if it was not already, that the players who are used to competing in Europe’s top leagues were far better suited to these positions. Nevertheless, Acosta survives to live another day and is in this squad, though rather than looking to push for a regular first-team place, he should be more concerned with preserving his status as a fringe player in the squad. Franklin Lucena, who came on as a substitute for Acosta against Chile and replaced Jiménez in the line-up for the Bolivia game, would appear to be his most likely competitor from this pool of players to be first-choice stand-by, though again, turning 34 later this month, he does not appear to have much of a long-term future.

Rómulo Otero’s Role as an Attacking Threat

In the Sanvicente era, a recurring theme has been the inability of the attacking players to effectively and consistently link up and create chances. While this may be partly explained away by the changes in personnel that have occurred from game-to-game in these positions, it is nevertheless a concern. From their overseas contingent, Venezuela do not lack players of considerable talent who can play in the line behind the forward(s), with talents at their disposal including Luis Manuel Seijas, Juan Arango, Alejandro Guerra, rising star Juanpi and even, if required, Mario Rondón (who has been more accustomed to playing further forward). Thus again, the players in the current squad have quite a job on their hands with regards to attempting to gain a first-team place, though if anyone can do it, Rómulo Otero is surely the man. The Caracas FC starlet made substitute appearances against Chile and Bolivia, impressively assisting Alexander González’s goal against the latter with a swiftly executed lofted diagonal ball. With teams from abroad interested in him for some time now, and at the age of just 22 being the most internationally experienced attacking midfielder in this particular side, there should be some onus on him to impose himself in the games and be the catalyst going forward.

Elsewhere in this area, it will be interesting to see what Luis Vargas can offer, having played a key role in Zamora FC’s resurgence in form and subsequent ascent to the top of the Torneo Clausura.

How the Forwards Fare

At the very top of the field, not one of the forwards called up in previous match squads has come from the domestic league and the highest-scoring Venezuelan at home – Gelmin Rivas – is not even available for this clash. So what hope do this crop have of even being in with a chance of a place in a future squad for a competitive match?

Some focus will be on Jesús Lugo, a one-club man of only 23, who has been impressive creating and scoring chances in Aragua FC’s ascent to the outskirts of the title race and has U20 international experience. Despite being classified as a forward, he does tend to play a deeper role, offering support for the main goalscorer(s) and often finding himself in more of an attacking midfield position – an already highly competitive area in the selección, as noted.

When it comes to more traditional goal-getters, though Caracas FC’s Edder Farías has a respectable scoring record, he will turn 27 in the spring and yet has less than ten caps to his name. More long-term potential may come from taking a chance on Manuel Arteaga, a 20-year-old who has already scored twice in the Clausura for his new club Zulia FC, demonstrating strong composure when presented with one-on-one opportunities. He has previously had trials with Liverpool and Fiorentina, as well as a non-playing stint with Parma, so if his good form continues at club level, he may well earn a move abroad and find himself more in contention for future call-ups.

Ultimately, with the likes of Salomón Rondón, Mario Rondón, Josef Martínez, Miku and Juan Falcón all playing in strong European leagues, it will not be easy for any domestic forwards to find a spot in the first-choice squad, an issue faced by most players in this crop, irrespective of position. With so many reserves (and reserves to the reserves) on display, it is undeniable that these two meetings have the feel of being of less significance than even regular friendly games are generaly perceived. Nevertheless, as the games were hastily arranged at short-notice to give the managers some much-needed preparation time ahead of their respective continent-wide tournaments in June/July, it can be safely assumed that Sanvicente and Pinto view them as far from pointless.

20-man Venezuela Squad for the double-header against Honduras

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Caracas FC)

Rafael Romo (Mineros de Guayana)

Defenders

Francisco Carabalí (Caracas FC)

Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo Lara)

Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana)

Juan Fuenmayor (Deportivo Anzoátegui)

Andrés Sánchez (Caracas FC)

Midfielders

Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana)

Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira)

Argenis Gómez (Trujillanos FC)

Luis González (Deportivo La Guaira)

Óscar González (Deportivo La Guaira)

Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira)

Rómulo Otero (Caracas FC)

Luis Vargas (Zamora FC)

Forwards 

Manuel Arteaga (Zulia FC)

Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana)

Edder Farías (Caracas FC)

Jesús Lugo (Aragua FC)

Aquiles Ocanto (Carabobo FC)

*Venezuela’s match with Japan on 9 September 2014 ended 2-2 on the day but was later awarded as a 3-0 victory to Japan. Read more about it here.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Chile 5-0 Venezuela – International Friendly (14 November 2014)

Friday 14 November 2014

International Friendly

Chile 5-0 Venezuela

Estadio CAP, Talcahuano

Goal Highlights of Chile 5-0 Venezuela (YouTube user: Pasión Por La Roja)

Team Selections

Chile (4-3-1-2): Bravo; Isla, Medel, Lichnovsky, Mena; Vidal (Millar, 76′), Díaz (Carmona, 81′), Aránguiz; Valdivia (Hernández, 76′); Vargas (Orellana, 76′), Sánchez (Pinilla, 85′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Hernández; González, Vizcarrondo, Perozo, Cichero; Jiménez (Signorelli, 86′), Acosta (Lucena, 57′); M. Rondón, Arango (Otero, 62′), F. Feltscher (Juanpi, 57′); Miku (Aristeguieta, 66′).

Match Report

Noel Sanvicente’s depleted side were repeatedly out-ran and out-thought as Jorge Valdivia returned to the Chile squad for the first time since announcing his international retirement in July to put in a triumphant performance for La Roja

Chile fielded a virtually full-strength team with the debatable exception of Porto B youngster Igor Lichnovsky who, at 6 feet 2 inches, brought some much-needed height to Jorge Sampaoli’s diminutive side which should stand him in good stead with regards to future call-ups.

Conversely, largely due to injuries as well as a couple of documentation issues and a suspension, Venezuela were unable to call upon ten players for this match, including several regular starters. Most notable amongst these were star striker Salomón Rondón, centre-back Fernando Amorebieta and, most crucially, Sanvicente’s favoured defensive-midfield partnership of converted right-back Roberto Rosales and newly appointed captain Tomás Rincón.

Indeed, even with Juan Arango returning to skipper the side after a year-long absence, La Vinotinto were made to look rather lightweight, slack and porous, with attack after attack easily bypassing Rosales and Rincón’s stand-ins, domestic league team-mates Édgar Jiménez and Rafael Acosta.

With regards to these two men, it is sometimes said that the contribution of those who play directly in front of the back four often goes unnoticed as it is not an area on the field likely to yield many headlines, with the players not anticipated to be major goal-scorers, goal-providers or even serve as the last heroic line of defence.

What the two Mineros de Guayana midfielders would have given for such anonymity.

Instead, they were very much conspicuous by their absence as any kind of effective shield for the back four as the likes of Jorge Valdivia, Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal, Charles Aránguiz and Eduardo Vargas were to have much joy playing rapid short passes around and through them. This did not aid the stability and organisation of the defenders as the two full-backs, Alexander González and Gabriel Cichero, often felt compelled to provide reinforcement by coming further infield, movements that regularly resulted in space becoming available on the flanks for Chile to exploit instead. However, increasing the defensive frailties, these two men also consistently had problems largely of their own making as they struggled to effectively track the overlapping runs from their opposite numbers, Eugenio Mena and Mauricio Isla, with Cichero in particular having a torrid time against the latter.

First Half

Extensive First-Half Highlights (Youtube user:  Deporte Luis TV)

As can often be said in hindsight following a hiding, the team on the receiving end of the outcome started the game promisingly. In the first ten minutes, Venezuela asserted themselves with some high pressing led by Arango, Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor and Mario Rondón, the latter of whom also had the best chance in the opening stages when he intercepted a poor backwards pass on the halfway line, nudging it past a defender and then dribbling it into the area before seeing his low shot saved with the feet of Claudio Bravo.

However, by the 15th minute, both González and Cichero had been exposed on their respective sides as moves that began with Valdivia and Sánchez culminated with Mena and Isla putting in crosses that, while not leading to clear attempts on goal, nevertheless offered the home side much encouragement.

Indeed, Sampaoli’s men must have been aware of Venezuela’s problematic left-back position and it was from an attack on Cichero’s side that led to the opening goal just two minutes later. Some customary rapid midfield interplay disorientated the visitors before a ball was gratefully received in space on the right byline by Vidal, who dinked it over to the far post where it was hooked back by Mena and headed in from a yard out by Sánchez, who clashed heads with Gary Medel in the process.

Four minutes later, Sánchez was to head wide from a cross from the Chilean left, but just a minute afterwards Venezuela were to be denied a clear penalty. Once again, a midfield mix-up was seized upon by Rondón who ran up the inside-right into the area where, on the turn, he was clipped by Medel, yet despite the incontrovertible evidence in the form of television replays and even Chilean commentators shouting ‘¡es penal!’, nothing was given.

A short while afterwards, just as La Roja were looking composed and enjoying some confident midfield possession play, one sloppy pass near the halfway line again caused some unnecessary trouble. This time it occurred on the opposite flank as Miku picked up the ball and drove forward in considerable space yet when he encountered a defender on the edge of the area, he opted to shoot and watched it drift over by several yards.

For the rest of the first period, Venezuela’s closest opportunities were to come from Arango’s corners that, while never once leading to an attempt on goal, were rarely dealt with comfortably by the defending side. The best one of these occurred after 41 minutes when Cichero leapt for a ball that evaded Bravo, with it instead floating just a yard over the Mineros man’s head and out to the other side.

However, such half-chances were merely infrequent interludes to what was being created with greater consistency from open play at the other end as Chile continued to have success putting in testing balls from the flanks, which is also where their second goal came from, albeit in unconventional circumstances. Indeed, this came in stoppage-time following a weak low clearance from goalkeeper Dani Hernández that fell to the feet of Aránguiz 40 yards out on the Chilean left. He nudged it to Valdivia and immediately ran forward several yards where he received a return pass and dribbled to the left edge of the area where two players came to thwart his progress. While doing so, neither of these defenders picked up the direct run of Valdivia who met Aránguiz’s pass and then, from an extremely acute angle near the left byline, hit what must have been intended as a cross but which, from a Chilean perspective at least, was very much a golazo. Indeed, Hernández must have been anticipating a lofted pass to a colleague in the centre as he dived outwards but was instead a stranded observer as the ball squeezed in between the near post and his outstretched body, rebounding off the far post and trickling over the line.

Second Half

Extensive Second-Half Highlights (Youtube user:  Deporte Luis TV)

Venezuela thus went into the second half with a task made doubly hard and soon found themselves having to fend off further trouble as within five minutes of the restart Sánchez’s free-kick brought a decent save from Hernández, as the ball curled towards the top corner. Soon after, following some quick exchanges between the Arsenal man, Valdivia and finally Vidal, the Juventus playmaker took aim from a central position 20 yards out and hit the inside of the post with a fine strike.

Despite being on the ropes, a minute later Sanvicente’s charges also hit the post as Arango’s corner was headed on by Rondón to Oswaldo Vizcarrondo who, at short notice, guided the ball onto the woodwork, watching it rebound to Rondón who forced a low save from Bravo.

However, any optimism gained quickly evaporated as, little more than a minute later, Chile scored their third. Valdivia picked up the ball centrally in space 40 yards out and played a wonderfully incisive turf-shaving low ball to Isla, who ran in behind the sluggish Cichero and unselfishly cut it back in the centre for Vargas to tap home.

3-0 and the 35 minutes left on the clock seemed like an eternity. Following the goal, the first two of a total of five Venezuelan substitutions occurred with Málaga’s Juan Pablo Añor replacing Frank Feltscher for his international debut and Deportivo La Guaira’s Franklin Lucena putting to an end Rafael Acosta’s misery.

Unfortunately for La Vinotinto, these introductions did little to stem the Roja tide with Vargas having two good opportunities, the first of which occurred after the Queens Park Rangers forward capitalised on a Vizcarrondo miskick from a Medel clearance and then dribbled into the area before dropping a shoulder to hit a right-footed effort narrowly wide. Later, in the 72nd minute, the ball was played out from the Chilean defence to Valdivia who, in acres of space 45 yards out, just rolled the ball forward to Vargas who fired a shot from inside the area that came off the outside of the post. Soon afterwards, Venezuela were to have their last meaningful attack of the game, as Rondón’s low ball from the left into the goalmouth towards substitute Fernando Aristeguieta – sporting a retro moustache of the seediest order – was desperately blocked out by Bravo.

With 76 minutes on the clock and the outcome long since decided, Chile took off Vargas, Valdivia and Vidal and replaced them with Fabián Orellana, Pablo Hernández and Rodrigo Millar. Any hopes that this would coincide in a respite for Venezuela were soon crushed as Millar scored the fourth within a couple of minutes of coming on. This goal came following some tenacious work by Aránguiz who held off Lucena on the left touchline 40 yards out and then ran forward, passing it to Millar on the edge of the area who then played in Sánchez whose shot from close range was blocked by the leg of Hernández, only to rebound into the path of Millar.

The last ten minutes felt at least twice as long to the Venezuelan players, who at one point had to endure the home fans oléing every one of their team’s passes. Chile’s final goal came in stoppage-time as Orellana’s corner was only palmed out by Hernández to Isla on the right side of the area who played a quick one-two with Millar and then crossed for another substitute, Pablo Hernández, to run forward unmarked and score with an accomplished diving header.

Recovering for Bolivia

Thus completed the humiliation for Noel Sanvicente’s who may well feel things could have been somewhat different if Rondón has scored early on and been rightfully awarded a penalty. However, their defensive shortcomings would have still let them down and one can not help but feel that were this a World Cup Qualifying game in which Venezuela were playing for nothing but pride and Chile needed 8 or 9 goals, then they could well have got them. Indeed, La Roja soon realised that they had this makeshift La Vinotinto for the taking and if anything, relented somewhat once the score reached 3-0, with the introduction of the three substitutes who came on with 15 minutes left being necessary in order to reinvigorate the side to some degree.

Venezuela now go into their next friendly against Bolivia with their confidence having taken a strong bashing and still with a rather threadbare squad, even if they will now be able to call upon midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas. The altitude of La Paz poses some perennial questions regarding preparation and Sanvicente is reportedly dealing with it this time by travelling with his side into the city just two hours before kick-off, rather than attempting to acclimatise days in advance.

Whether this pays off remains to be seen though any superstitious fans fearing the worst against the lowest-ranked team in CONMEBOL may be gratified to hear that La Vinotinto have not lost to La Verde since March 2005.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – November 2014 Preview

14 November 2014 – Estadio CAP, Talcahuano.

Chile vs Venezuela

18 November 2014 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz.

Bolivia vs Venezuela 

How the Teams Rank

FifaRankings

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

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

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

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

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

Squad News: Absentees and Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

What to Look Out For

How the Team Copes Defensively

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

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

The Role of Juan Arango

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

The Role of Mario Rondón

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

Injuries

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

Surprises?

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

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

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

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

Midfielders

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

Forwards

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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