Tag Archives: Juanpi

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

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

International Friendly

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

Iran 1-0 Venezuela

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

Goalkeeping Error Leads to Marginal Defeat for Spirited Venezuela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Selections

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly International – November 2017 Preview

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

International Friendly

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

Iran vs Venezuela

juanpipic

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

Every Opportunity Counts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venezuela Squad

venezuelairansquad

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

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

Midfielders

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

Forwards

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Uruguay 3-0 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (6 October 2016)

The ninth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign felt over after little more than 45 minutes. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 6 October 2016 – Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay

Uruguay 3-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Uruguay 3-0 Venezuela, 6 October 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

Venezuela Comfortably Seen Off by Cavani & co. in the Centenario

Match Report

Despite some early scares, Uruguay swatted aside Venezuela in Montevideo, thus maintaining their lead at the top of CONMEBOL qualifying and leaving La Vinotinto bottom without a win after nine games. 

From the first whistle, Óscar Tabárez’s men seemed determined to erase memories of June’s 1-0 reversal that sealed their fate at the Copa América Centenario; this time, on the pitch and not agitated on the bench, they also had all-time top-scorer Luis Suárez to bolster the Celeste cause. In the opening exchanges, they regularly burst forward, causing problems on the flanks, sneaking balls into the area that had to be hastily – and not always convincingly – dealt with. Yet, as with the Group C encounter four months ago, they were vulnerable to counter-attacks and it was actually Rafael Dudamel’s men who had the best chance to go ahead.

Indeed, the burgundy boys actually registered the first shot on target after two minutes. This arose when the charge of star-man Salomón Rondón was partially thwarted, but the ball was re-directed towards 22-year-old starlet, Juanpi, whose low strike from just outside the area was parried by Fernando Muslera for a corner. A few minutes later, the experienced Galatasaray goalkeeper unnerved his team-mates when his dreadful clearance went straight towards an opposition shirt, yet Venezuela were unable to capitalise.

Particularly in the first half, Adalberto Peñaranda was La Vinotinto’s most impressive player. Indeed, he was hard to miss with his bleached blond hair and often jinked his way past defenders on the flanks as well as in the centre. In the ninth minute he slalomed down the left touchline and into the area, bypassing Mathías Corujo, Carlos Sánchez and Egidio Arévalo Ríos along the way, before poking the ball back from the byline towards Juanpi. The Málaga youngster was somewhat squeezed for space in the area, yet was still able to chest the ball down and gain a little air, though was ultimately unable to hook it towards Muslera’s goal.

Yet while discerning minds will surely note Peñaranda’s overall contribution, those who prefer a good quick-click ‘lol’ may fixate upon the events of the 22nd minute. Once again, Muslera was at fault and his error really should have seen his nation go a goal behind. Following the breakdown of a free-kick move which left Uruguay exposed in the middle, Peñaranda dribbled into opposition territory; a defender put in a foot but this interception was knocked straight back towards the danger zone by the head of Rondón. It was brilliantly diverted over the heads of the defensive back-line and into the stride of Peñaranda. The Udinese loanee suddenly found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper and the odds got even better when Muslera hastily raced out of his area and completely missed the ball with his ridiculous attempt at a tackle.  Yet, confronted with an unguarded goal-frame towards which a light-blue shirt was running in vain, he dragged his shot wide of the post. Rondón was quick to chide him for his miss and, though the presence of Sánchez may have affected his concentration, the 19-year-old really should have composed himself better.

Just four minutes later, roles reversed and it was Peñaranda’s turn to be frustrated with Rondón. His nicely-weighted ball was slid through towards the West Bromwich Albion striker who, from the edge of the area, had a decent sight of goal yet dragged his shot wide of the far post.

Alas – always an ominous word in Venezuela match reports – the visitors were made to pay by their hosts. In the 29th minute, a long diagonal ball found Suárez on the left near the byline. He looked up just before he struck a first-time cross into the centre which Seattle Sounders’ Nicolás Lodeiro – not marked by either Oswaldo Vizcarrondo or Wilker Ángel – headed down and into the net. Dani Hernández got a hand to it, but the ball was just too powerful for the Tenerife goalkeeper.

In the remaining quarter-hour of the first period, when Venezuela managed to get ahold of the ball, Peñaranda still caused some problems with his runs but the goal certainly knocked some spirit out of his team-mates. Their dreadfully consistent record of going behind and then staying behind can only contribute to feelings of weariness and 15 seconds into the second half, the contest was effectively over.

Indeed, after a brief spot of head-tennis, Sánchez’s hopeful volleyed ball was hoisted in the air and, upon its fall, embarrassingly missed by Ángel on the edge of the area. The ball thus fell kindly for the man he jumped with, Edinson Cavani, who brushed an exquisite right-footed shot past the keeper and into the back of the net.

With their lead doubled, La Celeste continued to dominate proceedings, but the third quarter of the game was conspicuously marked by scrappy play and stoppages, during which Lodeiro and the visitors’ Arquímedes Figuera were both booked. In the 65th minute, a couple of minutes after a Rondón free-kick went straight into the wall, the foul play reached the conclusion many were predicting as Venezuela were reduced to ten men. Experienced centre-back Vizcarrondo was the guilty man as he earned a second yellow for upending the ravenous Suárez just outside the area.

Subsequently, the hosts were more forthcoming in expressing their superiority, with Sánchez, Suárez and Matías Vecino all having decent chances to extend the lead. In the 79th minute, Cavani achieved just that. The third goal came about after Sánchez was fed on the right; looking up, he slid the ball towards Suárez who dummied it for the incoming Paris St. Germain striker, who beat Hernández to the ball and knocked it home. Doubtless, these two goals were very pleasing for Cavani, who was rather wasteful during the 1-0 defeat against Venezuela four months ago but who is, according to some, now the most in-form top-level striker in the world.

Thus, for a change, the spotlight was taken off his strike-partner, Suárez, despite the latter’s role in the goals. However, in the final ten minutes he had a few, ultimately unsuccessful, moments in front of goal himself: in the 81st minute, he jinked down the left and past a couple of defenders before firing a ferocious shot that Hernández did well to parry over at close range; from the resulting corner, Hernández came for and missed the cross, but the ex-Liverpool striker was unable to direct his back-post header in; lastly, in the 86th minute, he was almost played in by Cavani but the goalkeeper raced out to beat him to the ball.

Aside from Rondón’s header wide from substitute Rómulo Otero’s late free-kick, Venezuela rarely threatened Muslera’s goal in the second half. Thus, when the final whistle blew and the Uruguayans celebrated the consolidation of their position at the top of CONMEBOL Qualifying, La Vinotinto were left rooted to the bottom with just two points. Next up on Tuesday? Brazil, who are not only second-placed, having freshly thrashed Bolivia 5-0, but who have also never once lost a competitive match against their northern neighbours.

Nevertheless, glass-half-fullers will be keen to note the parallels with last month’s qualifiers. Indeed, after a similarly poor defeat against Colombia, they then defied expectations to gain a point against a Messi-less Argentina. In Mérida, a rejuvented Seleção will be without suspended golden boy, Neymar. It does not feel likely at the moment, but could we be about to witness Dudamel’s revolution finally kick-starting into gear in the qualifiers?

To find out how Venezuela get on, remember to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and/or check back here for match reports and news. 

 

Team Selections

Uruguay (4-3-1-2): F. Muslera; M. Corujo, D. Godín, S. Coates, G. Silva (Á. Pereira, 89′); C. Sánchez, E. Arévalo, C. Rodríguez (D. Laxalt, 80′); N. Lodeiro (M. Vecino, 67′); L. Suárez & E. Cavani.

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): D. Hernández; A. González, O. Vizcarrondo, W. Ángel, M. Villanueva; T. Rincón,  A. Figuera (R. Otero, 81′); Juanpi (S. Velázquez, 66′), A. Guerra,  A. Peñaranda (J. Martínez, 61′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – October 2016 Preview

Jornadas 9 and 10 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are on the horizon and, with the matches not getting any easier, Venezuela are already thinking about Qatar 2022. Here, @DarrenSpherical attempts to prove that this isn’t all just a futile waste of time…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 6 October 2016 – Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay

Uruguay vs Venezuela

Tuesday 11 October 2016 – El Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida State, Venezuela.

Venezuela vs Brazil

El Centenariazo: Uruguay 0-3 Venezuela, CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying,  31 March 2004. Historic first-ever away win for Venezuela against Uruguay.

Venezuela Still Waiting for a Generation’s Bonfire to Begin 

So, this revolution, eh? All set? Just like you were in September? Ah. Still, early days and all that…

Last month, off the back of a decent showing at Copa América Centenario Rafael Dudamel took charge of his first two Russia 2018 qualifiers, seeking to revive La Vinotinto‘s fortunes. Neighbours Colombia and regional heavyweights Argentina provided the rather unpropitious opposition. In boiling Barranquilla, the burgundy boys were comfortably outplayed, finishing with nine men in a 2-0 defeat. At home in the Andean state of Mérida, however, they were in the vertiginous position of being 2-0 up against Argentina with just over half an hour remaining. Alas, the campaign comeback was postponed, with the game ultimately ending in a 2-2 draw, leaving Venezuela to merely double their points tally to an overall total of 2 from a possible 24.

Thus, whilst that is one additional point more than most neutrals predicted, stronger evidence will be required before a clear demarcation line can be drawn between the current regime and that of Noel Sanvicente (July 2014 to April 2016). Still, there were positives to be taken away – Juanpi’s performances, for one – so there is some justification in enquiring if genuine progress in the form of the first victory of the campaign is on the horizon.

‘Unlikely’, would nevertheless appear to be the response of the objective observers (betting websites, online sneerers and other reprobates). After all, awaiting them in the upcoming week are none other than the top two teams in the CONMEBOL group: a trip to the Centenario to face Uruguay (1st) and then a home clash against a rejuvenated Brazil (2nd), who have never lost to La Vinotinto in a competitive match. Dudamel – who, incidentally, recently decked someone good an’ proper and yet has not even been ‘cuffed –  could not really have been provided with a more challenging opening four qualifiers.

Nevertheless, the manager has said that he was encouraged by the performance against Argentina and feels that there is much that can be built upon. He can also take comfort from the fact that in his short reign he has already beaten Uruguay once, when sending La Celeste packing from Copa América Centenario. Regarding the Brazil encounter, if he is of a superstitious persuasion or just has a propensity to clutch at straws then the statistic that Venezuela are undefeated in all five games they have played at Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida will be something to bear in mind. That this includes three draws, including one against Canada, should not be dwelt upon.

As for his squad, Dudamel knows that he has at his disposal a very young, talented collection of individuals that has shown signs of being receptive to his ideas. Although his first-choice starting line-up is far from settled, it is likely that most, if not all, of the seven players who began both games last month will also be fielded for kick-off in Montevideo. These are: goalkeeper Dani Hernández, veteran centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, central/defensive midfielder and captain Tomás Rincón, promising wingers/attacking midfielders Juanpi and Adalberto Peñaranda and star striker Salomón Rondón and his partner/back-up, Josef Martínez. Dudamel may well opt for different personnel altogether in one or two of these positions and he certainly has a decision to make regarding the returning Copa Libertadores winner Alejandro Guerra. Some speculation suggests that the much-capped ‘Lobo’ may be granted a midfield start, with Martínez or Peñaranda most likely to be sacrificed.

Nevertheless, more concretely, Dudamel definitely has decisions to make in various other spots as he was forced into changes following the Colombia game. Indeed, against Argentina, owing to suspension, Venezuela’s Copa América discovery Rolf Feltscher was replaced at left-back by Mikel Villanueva; having also received a red card, Wilker Ángel‘s centre-back position was taken by Sema Velázquez; injury ruled out the once untouchable Roberto Rosales, whose right-back role fell to the seemingly in-favour Alexander González; lastly, Arquímedes Figuera had accumulated one too many yellow cards and so Arles Flores instead partnered Rincón in defensive-midfield. In the Venezuelan press, it is this last dilemma that appears to be of most interest selection-wise. Otherwise, though Dudamel has many other options in his 28-man squad, none of these have been rumoured to be in with a sniff of starting.

That said, if there any surprises they may come from the bench as he has thus far displayed a consistent propensity to bring on players who are either new to the national set-up or have been largely overlooked during the past few years. Domestic players Yordan Osorio and Aristóteles Romero are the freshest faces in the present crop and can not entirely rule out receiving a second-half summoning. These two men are 22 and 20 respectively and Dudamel, no doubt owing in part to his work with the Under-20s and Under-17s, has repeatedly shown faith in youth. Indeed, he took the youngest squad to the Copa América Centenario and has also shunned a handful of Sanvicente’s favoured elder statesmen – not to mention ignored Luis Manuel Seijas since his excruciatingly poor penalty in June’s quarter-final defeat against Argentina. Furthermore, the head coach has also taken the Under-20 side to Uruguay with him in order to prepare for January’s Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament with two warm-up games (the first, a 3-1 loss against Uruguay, was played on Wednesday and featured three of the first-team squad).

Though it is tempting – particularly when results are not favourable – to regularly update daydreams about who the men of tomorrow will be, there are more than a few players in the current squad who have youth on their side and points to prove. Of these in the attacking midfield positions, creative maestro and set-piece taker Juanpi has thus far done the most to be confident of a regular starting place. Adalberto Peñaranda, touted within the past year as a potential wonderkid due to his exploits with Granada, has earned some starts under Dudamel but will need to show more consistency – as well as earn more match-time at new-club Udinese – if he is to see off his competition. Rómulo Otero, still only 23 but a favourite of many, has somewhat surprisingly not started any competitive games under Dudamel yet could well dislodge Peñaranda in the not-too-distant future. Then there is 19-year-old Yeferson Soteldo, who has been linked with a move away from home club Zamora since his goalscoring exploits in 2015. Unsurprisingly, some of the impatient masses have wanted to see him line-up in a qualifier but it appears that Dudamel, for the time being at least, is instead wisely prepping him to take the Under-20 tournament by storm. After that, he may well have a more serious selection dilemma on his hands.

So, plenty of options in the attacking ranks, but at least two-thirds of the line-up for Thursday’s match at the Centenario seems assured and the remaining four or so starting spots are unlikely to take more than two guesses each. That said, if Uruguay come seeking revenge for June’s humiliation – especially with Luis Suárez back as he had to watch on in frustration from the bench in Philadelphia – perhaps some unexpected names will make it onto the subsequent teamsheet. However, armed with more than a few likely starters who have never set foot on this ground’s turf with the national team, childhood memories of the Centenariazo some 12 years ago could well inspire some more history-making.

Either way, whoever starts, they will always have another chance to make even greater names for themselves in the home game against Brazil. Too much of an ask? Perhaps, but for many, the first win of the campaign can not come soon enough. Undoubtedly, the subsequent three games against Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru provide better opportunities but what could better convince the public that there is substance behind all the talk of ‘planning for Qatar 2022’?

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Rolf Feltscher (Getafe, Spain), Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Yordan Osorio (Zamora, Venezuela), Roberto Rosales (Málaga, Spain), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño, Spain) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes, France).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Arles Flores (Deportivo La Guaira), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Udinese, Italy, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Mineros de Guayana) & Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora, Venezuela). 

Forwards

Yonathan Del Valle (Bursaspor, Turkey on loan from Rio Ave, Portugal), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy) & Salomón Rondón (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

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – September 2016 Preview

The CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign is back but is Venezuela’s magically back on track? With a customary level of ambiguity and obfuscation, @DarrenSpherical is here to provide a preview to Match-days 7 and 8. 

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Colombia vs Venezuela

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

Venezuela vs Argentina

rolffeltscher

Rolf Feltscher – Surprise star of Copa América Centenario (OvacionDeportes)

Dudamel Plotting Qualification Fightback Despite Unfavourable Fixtures

Here we are once more to do it all over again. The CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying campaign has re-activated and – those in Europe may be surprised to learn – is already one-third of the way down. Yet Venezuela are rock-bottom with just one point from a possible 18, trailing the play-off spot by nine points.  Why then, should they – or, for that matter, you, the intrepid reader/online betting addict – even bother with their remaining 12 games?

Well, anyone who saw their escapades in the Copa América Centenario may have picked up a few clues as to why – indeed, try telling the fans and players that it was little more than a US-led money-making exercise. Certainly, actual qualification is a tall order, but a few scalps and the progressive building of a new team who can be motivated to replicate their club form at international level do not seem unrealistic aims.

It is hard to imagine this change in perceptions being possible without new manager Rafael Dudamel, who took over from Noel Sanvicente in early April. Ahead of June’s tournament, his first four friendly games hardly proclaimed a revolution, but once the competitive action began, a rapid upswing was in motion. Simply beating Jamaica in the opening match would have been enough to defy expectations, but the clean sheet, tactical organisation and defensive solidity gave cause for cautious optimism. Subsequently, the defeat of Uruguay – also with a clean sheet and which effectively sent La Celeste packing – provided a welcome return to the belief that, on their day, Venezuela are a match for any team in their region. Had they managed to hold on to beat Mexico in the final group encounter – rather than concede late on and be resigned to a draw – the erstwhile unthinkable idea that they could make it to the final would have been voiced by more than a few.

Alas, they finished second and, though they narrowly failed to get back into the game on a couple of occasions, were ultimately comfortably seen off 4-1 by Argentina in the Quarter-Final.

Although some of the most abject aspects of the Sanvicente-era Venezuela were also witnessed during this match – at least two suicidal passes led to goals for La Albiceleste – it will take more than one defeat to shake the belief that a positive new era is dawning. Admittedly, it is possible that the USA adventure merely allowed the players some welcome respite and liberation from problems at home as well as the strained relations with the country’s football federation. With the return to relative normality, will they soon revert to their former selves?

In the absence of any existing evidence, optimism is permitted to prevail – at least for the time being. This feeling will certainly be tested by games away to Colombia and home to Argentina – 3rd and 1st respectively in the official FIFA rankings. That said, though La Vinotinto have only defeated the latter once in their history, they should be buoyed by the fact that they are undefeated against Los Cafeteros in their past five competitive games (four wins and a draw).

So then, aside from the usual suspects – captain Tomás Rincón, star striker Salomón Rondón and dependable right-back Roberto Rosales –  which individuals will be leading the comeback for Dudamel? Given his freshness in his role and some of his surprise choices in June, it is difficult to be confident but one can at least have an idea of who is in the manager’s good books.

Firstly, there is Wilker Ángel, the 23-year-old centre-back who was chosen to partner the veteran Oswaldo Vizcarrondo in the USA and who has recently earned a move away from his homeland to the Russian Premier League with Terek Grozny. Then there is Venezuela’s biggest surprise of the tournament, Rolf Feltscher, who was completley overlooked during Sanvicente’s reign but who impressed as the first-choice left-back; he has since transferred from Duisburg in Germany to Getafe in Spain. Also, while he will have a constant battle on his hands to be a regular, Josef Martínez has put himself in a commanding position to start up front with Rondón, as he rewarded the faith placed in him in June by getting the winner against Jamaica and often linking up well with the West Brom striker.

The aforementioned three are probable starters. With slightly less certainty, the same can be said for Dani Hernández and Arquímedes Figuera. The former was given the nod in the USA to regain the number one shirt after a year away from the fray and, for the most part, did admirably well, pulling off some eye-catching saves. He did, however, show shades of his former unreliable self against Argentina and one can not help but feel that this position is going to be under the most scrutiny for the forseeable future. Regarding the latter, though the Deportivo La Guaira midfielder made two catastrophic errors against Argentina, he did otherwise receive a lot of praise during the tournament for his work alongside Rincón. With Luis Manuel Seijas not called up this time – supposedly to make way for youth – Figuera has an opportunity to make this position his own (and perhaps earn himself an overseas move in the process).

Lastly, though there is even less certainty as to where the following three players fit in, it is likely they will feature at some point in the near future. Firstly, there is Juanpi (Málaga), the versatile midfielder whose status has been ascending for the past year in La Liga and who can get goals as well as create them with calculated passes as well as crosses. Similarly, albeit with more directness in his approach, there is Rómulo Otero, who has recently swapped Chile’s Huachipato for Brazil’s Atlético Mineiro and who has long been tipped for a regular role with his country. Both players looked set to start in June, having done so in the pre-tournament friendlies, but were instead surprisingly relegated to brief substitute appearances. Nevertheless, with no Seijas and no Alejandro Guerra (injured), their time may now have arrived. That said, one man (amongst many others) that they will be in contention with is Adalberto Peñaranda, the teenage attacker who turned heads at Granada last season and who has since been sent by the Pozzo Empire to Italy with Udinese, instead of Watford (it was the English side who formally signed him in the January window, though whether he actually ever makes an appearance for them…).

Competition is fierce in most positions and in this new era many players both inside and out of the current squad will feel they have at least a chance of wangling their way into the manager’s plans. Above, many names have been put forward as likely to be key in the upcoming fixtures, yet as with the Centenario tournament, perhaps there will be one or two others players who are given a surprise chance and rise to the fore. With a bumper 28-man squad drawn from a range of disparate leagues, there is every possibility of this.

To find out how Venezuela get on against Colombia and Argentina, make sure to come back to Hispanospherical.com and/or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Rolf Feltscher (Getafe, Spain), Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Roberto Rosales (Málaga, Spain), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño, Spain) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes, France).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Agnel Flores (Deportivo Táchira), Arles Flores (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Jacobo Kouffati (Deportivo Cuenca, Ecuador), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Udinese, Italy, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy) & Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora, Venezuela). 

Forwards

Yonathan Del Valle (Bursaspor, Turkey on loan from Rio Ave, Portugal), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy) Christian Santos (Alavés, Spain) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical