Tag Archives: La Celeste

Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (5 October 2017)

The seventeenth and penultimate jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s youthful side continue to impress with their eyes very much on a Middle East-based prize. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 5 October 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira.

Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 5 October 2017 (YouTube)

Stalemate Gives Venezuela Third Consecutive Draw Against Qualification Hopefuls

In a game short on clear attempts, Venezuela held Uruguay to a draw, postponing La Celeste‘s likely qualification celebrations until Tuesday.

Although his side’s ongoing inability to create chances will be of concern, La Vinotinto boss Rafael Dudamel will nevertheless be pleased to have earned his third consecutive point.

Not entirely dissimilarly, though his Uruguayan counterpart Óscar Tabárez may feel confident of wrapping up automatic qualification at home to Bolivia, he would have no doubt hoped his side could have posed a greater attacking threat in this game.

Indeed, their best opportunity of the first half was also their first: after three minutes, a hanging Cristian Rodríguez corner was headed, in space, by Atlético Madrid’s José Giménez, whose effort was spectacularly saved by Wuilker Fariñez. Tipping the ball wide as it headed towards the top corner, this was to be the much-hyped Caracas FC stopper’s only real save of the match.

Subsequently, both sides put in crosses and attempted efforts from distance but, one way or another, these mostly evaded their targets. The bobbly state of the Pueblo Nuevo pitch appeared to do zero favours for free-flowing, passing football, as each side hardly ever worked themselves into space within the final third. Instead, some individuals attempted relatively tame and/or wayward long-range efforts and the best prospects were evidently most likely to arise from set-pieces – thus it was from a corner in the 34th minute that Venezuela came closest. Here, Junior Moreno – standing in for the suspended Yangel Herrera (and Arquímedes Figuera) – saw one of his many dead balls headed back across goal by Mikel Villanueva, where it was met by left-back Rubert Quijada – himself playing in place of the suspended Rolf Feltscher – who nodded just over from a goalmouth position. That said, as much as this opportunity gave the home crowd some hope of a slight upset, the referee’s whistle had in fact already been blown for an infringement.

Soon after up at the other end, Luis Suaréz – who had been duking and diving without really winning much more than a corner – chipped a good ball to strike-partner Edinson Cavani. Though he was near the edge of the area, the qualification campaign’s top scorer must have considered this at least a half-chance, but his volley was ultimately quite weak, causing no difficulty for Fariñez.

Into the second half, the disjointedness of the play continued but the volume of the crowd noticeably increased as a little more initiative was displayed. In the 49th minute, La Vinotinto captain Tomás Rincón suddenly forced a low parry from Fernando Muslera with a pacey shot, then soon up the other end Cavani had a decent chance, this time turning dangerously from just inside the area on the right. He was squeezed for space, but his shot deflected off a defender and, though it was heading wide, Fariñez still felt that he had to dive low to make sure, as the ball brushed his gloves and went out for a corner.

With a little more space available to roam and buoyed on by the crowd, 20-year-old Sergio Córdova knocked in a cross that caused concern amongst the Uruguayan backline and then, just before the hour-mark, he tried his luck from range. However, as with most shots from this distance, this one troubled nobody but the ballboys.

However, deeper into the second half, though there was considerable midfield endeavour and some minor moments of intrigue, greater interest was provided by the introduction of a few players who starred in this year’s Under-20 tournaments. Indeed, Uruguay already had World Cup starlet Federico Valverde on the field and he was to be joined on the 65th minute by Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur, who was making his first ever senior appearance. On the Venezuelan side of things, Ronaldo Lucena also debuted, coming on in the 83rd minute, a few minutes after diminutive dribbler Yeferson Soteldo had also taken to the field. The latter replaced another youngster, Sergio Córdova, and, overall, with Wuilker Fariñez also in goal, Venezuela fielded four members of their Under-20 World Cup side that finished runners-up in June. With Herrera available in their final qualifier and four other youngsters in the squad, it is likely that at least one other member shall receive a run-out before this cycle is concluded.

Still, before the game itself was over, the visitors did manage to fashion two further chances to win it. Firstly, with seven minutes remaining, substitute Giorgian De Arrasceta dinked a ball over to the centre-right just inside the area, where Cavani, with a good sight of Fariñez’s goal, quickly controlled and struck. However, perhaps it was the pressure of the encroaching defenders who he had briefly stole a pace or two from or maybe it was instead a lack of composure, but either way, his shot went low and narrowly wide of the target.

It was surely his side’s best chance of the match, though their final opportunity of note was also rather presentable. This time, De Arrasceta crossed in a fine set-piece from the right towards the back post where, in space from a closer position than he was some 80-plus minutes prior, Giménez attempted to head it on the stretch. Alas, his connection lacked intent and his effort bobbled harmlessly wide.

Thus, goalless it ended. A laborious encounter in more ways than one, Venezuela will surely be the happier of the two nations, even if they do not appear to be any closer to finding any consistent attacking cohesion. Still, post-Under-20 World Cup, Dudamel has certainly managed to instil and stabilise an impressive defensive system – much-needed, even if nothing can ever entirely massage the figures in the “Goals Conceded” column.

His side’s final encounter on Tuesday sees them travel to Asunción to face qualification-chasing Paraguay, whose remarkable late win away to Colombia has given them genuine belief that they may yet nab at least the playoff berth. Against a very fired-up La Albirroja, a draw would surely constitute another credible result for La Vinotinto, but if – if – they can just build on that impressive rearguard by sneaking an unanswered goal, it really would provide a huge boost in morale.

Much of the footballing world are watching as the future of several CONMEBOL countries hangs precariously; Venezuela may be out, but they certainly have a role to play.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; V. García, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, R. Quijada; S. Córdova (Y. Soteldo, 80′), J. Moreno, T. Rincón, J. Murillo (R. Lucena, 83′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Otero, 69′).

Uruguay (4-4-2): F. Muslera; M. Pereira, J. Giménez, D. Godín, M. Cáceres; N. Nández (Á. González, 83′), F. Valverde (G. De Arrascaeta, 79′), M. Vecino, C. Rodríguez (R. Bentancur, 65′); E. Cavani & L. Suárez.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Uruguay – Top Talents at the 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship

The 2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship took place in Ecuador from 18 January until 11 February. @DarrenSpherical watched all 35 games, writing reports for each encounter that detailed all the significant moments by the most talented players that were spotted. This article focuses on the most notable starlets found in the ranks of Under-20 World Cup qualifiers Uruguay, who finished top of both the initial Group B as well as the final group stage (also known as the Hexagonal), thus winning their eighth championship. Before browsing below, it may be advisable to have a look at the final standings, results and goalscorers here and/or read the main reference guide published on this website, which features details on dozens of players, with every one of the ten participating nations represented. 

(All photographs are credited to GettyImages)

uruguayflag Uruguay

Tournament Summary

Fabián Coito’s men made a cautious start to the tournament with two draws, before a couple of wins saw them breeze their way to the top of Group B. Subsequently, three impressive consecutive wins in the Hexagonal led to them being viewed by all observers as overwhelming favourites for the title and though Venezuela emphatically delayed their crowning, they nevertheless clinched the trophy with a victory against Ecuador. Overall, they undoubtedly had the most reliable side which featured two of the tournament’s very best attacking players; they utilised their squad rather effectively and have several other players worth keeping an eye on.

To view highlights as well as read more about how Uruguay got on and who stood out in each game, click here

Top Two Talents

nicolasdelacruz

Nicolás De La Cruz (Attacking-midfielder, No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay)

Based on the consistency of his performances, this versatile right-footed attacking-midfielder was arguably the player of the tournament, featuring in all nine Uruguay games and starting eight of them.

Taking on the role of captain when Rodrigo Amaral was not on the field, De La Cruz actually began the tournament in less than auspicious fashion, embarrassingly seeing his dinked Panenka-esque penalty against Venezuela easily stopped by one unfooled glove of the virtually upright goalkeeper. Some felt his spot-kick approach was that of a youngster absorbed in his own hype, but instead of mentally crumbling he showed great character to confidently dispatch another penalty in the following 3-3 draw with Argentina. In the Hexagonal phase, he would go on to showcase his considerable shooting abilities by scoring a phenomenal swerving long-range strike in a 3-0 win against Argentina as well as once more keeping his nerve with a spot-kick in another 3-0 victory, this time against Colombia.  Aside from these three goals, De La Cruz came close from more than one free-kick, hitting the post against Brazil and also regularly looked to set up his team-mates via an admirably eclectic range of forward balls and crosses, from both set-pieces as well as open play. Had some of his team-mates displayed greater composure he could well have bagged far more than just the two assists. Nevertheless, the first of these was a delivery from a left-sided free-kick that was knocked home against Bolivia and the other was a cleverly dinked ball over the top of the defence which led to the second goal in the title-clinching match with Ecuador.

Being the younger brother of Monterrey’s Carlos Sánchez, earner of over 25 Uruguay caps and formerly of Argentina’s River Plate, De La Cruz comes from promising stock. Though a rumour that Luis Suárez advised Barcelona to sign him up has since been dismissed by the Uruguayan all-time top-scorer himself, this 19-year-old nevertheless stands in good stead to have a solid club career and perhaps even emulate his hermano.

rodrigoamaral2

Rodrigo Amaral (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Nacional)

Perhaps serving as evidence of his prodigious talent, this rampaging left-footed attacker was one of several individuals to have also played at the 2015 Under-20 tournament, when he would have been just 17 years old. Given this solid experience in what was a very disciplined and exciting Uruguay side, it was a surprise when he started on the bench against Venezuela. However, he would go on put on the captain’s armband and convince that he may just be the most naturally gifted player in the competition.

In the subsequent match against Argentina, he received a start and announced himself early on to purring talent-spotters the world over by scoring an unstoppable golazo from over 25 yards out on the inside-left. Subsequently, he found the back of the net in his next four games, with one these goals being an even more impressive long-range belter, this time coming after a turn from 30 yards out in a 2-1 win against Brazil in the Hexagonal, licking the post on the way in. His other goals were a penalty in a 2-0 victory against Peru, a close-range finish squeezed in at the near post in a 3-0 win against Bolivia and, on the first day of the Hexagonal, a low header from a cross to complete the 3-0 rout against Argentina. Ultimately, he would finish as the tournament’s joint top-scorer with five goals.

He has been compared to Wayne Rooney and it’s not hard to see why as he has a tendency to come from deep then bustle his way forward, is not afraid to shoot and is also very much capable of playing in team-mates; he’s also not bad at set-pieces, firing in several testing shots and crosses in his nine games. However, despite featuring in every Uruguay match, he only started six of these and, no doubt raising the alarm bells of many scouts, did not complete the full 90 minutes once, instead typically being on the field between 55-70 minutes. Weight and fitness issues have been consistent problems for Amaral who, despite claiming more than once during the tournament to have silenced his critics, has himself conceded that he has a tendency to over-eat and could do with losing about 3kg. Indeed, somewhat uncharitably, over the past few weeks it was common for observers, including a Venezuelan commentator moments before Amaral was set to lift the trophy, to refer to him as ‘el gordo’ (the fat one).

This may partly explain why he barely played for Nacional last season (despite regularly doing so the year before) and also why no substantial transfer rumours have been doing the rounds. However, since the tournament ended he has professed a desire to play in Italy and, very recently, moves have been made by an agent to activate his surprisingly low release clause (reportedly US$3 million). Thus, with his reputation enhanced and several new eye-grabbing highlight clips added to his portfolio, it is hard to see why many Serie A sides wouldn’t wish to take the minor risk and help him maintain an elite physique. After all, the rewards could be bountiful.

uruguayflag More Uruguayan Talents

It was very much a team effort from Uruguay, as they comfortably finished five points clear of their nearest rivals in the Hexagonal and, overall, scored the joint-highest number of goals as well as conceded the second-lowest amount. Thus, there are many candidates who could be put forward as their third most impressive player, though not a clear choice. Nevertheless, from their well-organised, sturdy defence, towering and tenacious centre-back Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional) caught the eye, even managing to knock home De La Cruz’s free-kick against Bolivia, though the five yellow cards (and thus, two suspensions) he picked up in seven games may be an aspect of his game worth working on.


It’s debatable whether the man ahead of him in a holding midfield role, Rodrigo Bentancur (No. 20, Boca Juniors, Argentina), lived up to the pre-tournament hype that stemmed from his already considerable experience at a high club level. However, though he picked up a red card in the first group stage, he also often played his part helping out the back four, notably overhead-kicking a clearance off the line in the first game against Venezuela. He formed a strong partnership with the lesser-heralded Carlos Benavidez (No. 8, Defensor Sporting) and did gradually grow into the tournament; attack-wise, he scored a cracking goal from just outside the area against Bolivia and also had a minor hand in one of the goals against Colombia. At the time of writing, he has recently been undergoing medical checks in Turin for his suitors, Juventus.


Slightly further upfield, left-sided midfielder Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) also impressed in a more low-key manner than the likes of Amaral and De La Cruz and could well prove to be a very rewarding investment for any team seeking a creative workhorse with a cultured left foot. After an opening group stage in which he often put in some useful balls, it was in the Hexagonal when he really made his mark. First, he set up the two latter goals in the 3-0 win against Argentina (the first with a pass up the left flank, the second with a cross for Amaral), then in the next game he launched the ball forward for Matías Viña (No. 17, Nacional) to score the last-gasp winner against Brazil. He even got on the scoresheet himself with the opener in the 3-0 win against Colombia, scooping an effort from the edge of the area into the back of the net.


Otherwise, striker Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid) impressed, though was slightly overshadowed by at least a few other players in his position from other nations. Nevertheless, he sometimes looked sharp and often got into good positions, scoring three goals (including clinical strikes against both Peru and, later in the Hexagonal, Colombia) and winning two penalties (not to mention a fair few free-kicks), one of which he took himself in the first group stage against Argentina and had saved, but was able to knock in at the second attempt. This prospect only turned 18 in January and, though he started his career at Montevideo’s River Plate, has already moved on to Atlético Madrid’s Under-19 side, where this season he has featured in the UEFA Youth League.


He didn’t receive as much game-time as Schiappacasse (who he is a mere day older than), but another attacker who may nevertheless be worth keeping an eye on is Joaquín Ardaiz (No. 7, Danubio). He was conspicuous in the group stage win over Bolivia, one of two games he started; he made a nuisance of himself from the off and perhaps could have put away at least one of his chances, one of which hit the post. However, he certainly made his mark when he was trusted to make his second start (from six appearances) in the crucial title-decider against Ecuador. He scored both goals in a 2-1 win, the first a capitalisation on a defensive howler and the second a confident finish from De La Cruz’s pass. A host of clubs, including Sporting Clube de Portugal, are reportedly monitoring him.


Briefly, left-back Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas) often appeared rather reliable on the ball, frequently coming forward and even got on the scoresheet in the 3-0 win against Argentina; as he has recently been bought from Nacional by an agent and held somewhat curiously at a second division halfway-house, it appears a bigger move can’t be too far away.


Lastly, a note to mention that defender Santiago Bueno (No. 2, Barcelona Juvenil A) has earned a move to Barcelona out of this tournament, though he can’t really be said to have significantly stood out; indeed, he played only four games and one of these was to cover the suspended Rogel for the 3-0 hiding dished out by Venezuela.


If you would like to read about the best talents from the other nations, then click on the following links: Ecuador, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia The Best of the Early Departees (Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia & Peru). All of this information is also contained in this mammoth Reference Guide

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

Uruguay 0-1 Venezuela -Copa América Centenario Group C (9 June 2016)

This is just what they do, the Venezuelans. Do keep up…

Copa América Centenario Group C

Thursday 9 June 2016 – Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Uruguay 0-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Uruguay 0-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario, 9 June 2016 (YouTube)

Venezuela Book Place in the Knock-Out Phase With a Game to Spare

Thanks to Salomón Rondón’s first-half goal, Venezuela recorded an unanticipated and historic second consecutive win in the Copa América and are already in the draw for the Quarter-final stage.

This disciplined and hard-fought win, coupled with the other result in Group C today, means Rafael Dudamel’s revitalised men will duke it out with Mexico on Monday for top spot as well as, most likely, the opportunity to avoid Argentina.

Though headlines were already being made around the world during the game for Luis Suárez’ anger at not making it onto the pitch as well as Uruguay’s elimination from the tournament, for Vinotinto fans, there was only one story here.

That said, it was far from straightforward and as early as the fifth minute, it looked like it may not be their day. Indeed, La Celeste had edged the early exchanges and then, disaster appeared to have announced itself, as Málaga right-back Roberto Rosales – perhaps, at club level at least, the most reliable of the high-profile players – was fouled by Cristhian Stuani and had to leave the field. Though he came back briefly, he soon went down again and this time it was for good. He was replaced by Alexander González of Spanish second-tier side Huesca, a player with undeniable abilities going forward, but who does not always convince in a defensive role. However, such concerns were to prove unfounded in Philadelphia.

Nevertheless, Venezuela certainly had to defend, particularly in the opening stages as attacks of any consequence were rare. The two Uruguayan full-backs, Gaston Silva and Maxi Pereira, regularly got forward throughout the game and it was the latter who played a role in his side’s first chance of note. This came after 15 minutes when the Porto right-back – who was making a record-breaking 113th appearance for his country – crossed in to the back post. From here, the ball was headed back towards Edinson Cavani but, not for the only time in this match, the Paris St. Germain striker miscued. Five minutes later, another Pereira cross raised pulses, but Stuani could only glance the ball out to the opposite flank.

Venezuela may not have been roaming forward much to begin with, but they did manage to offer a slight fright in the 23rd minute. Left-back Rolf Feltscher crossed with his right and Rondón jumped with centre-back Diego Godín and goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, yet the ball evaded all three of them as well as, only by a few yards, the far post. Five minutes later, the underdogs made another foray into the area as Josef Martínez won the ball and then fed Rondón but the latter’s pass onwards was just about snuffed out at the critical stage.

Despite such moments, when the game reached the half-hour mark, the main talking-point was the number of fouls: roughly one every two minutes, as the game threatened to become an exceedingly ill-tempered affair. However, soon, on-field matters were to take several steps in a more positive footballing direction.

Indeed, Uruguay had two chances to open the scoring within the space of a few minutes. First, a central free-kick some 45 yards out was swerved into the area and Stuani glanced a very faint header onwards that hit the side of the post and went out. Then, in the 34th minute, Pereira put in a low ball from his side that Cavani poked towards goal. Dani Hernández parried and was no doubt relieved to see that the rebound narrowly evaded the onrushing attacker and was cleared.

However, just as Óscar Tabárez’s men appeared to have the upper hand, it happened. A moment that will undoubtedly be repeated in the minds of Venezuelans and on their televisions for some time to come. It came out of nowhere and yet has now taken them to a place that, pre-tournament, seemed unworthy of serious contemplation.

The Venezuelan imagination was expanded exponentionally by the vision of Alejandro Guerra. The Atlético Nacional midfielder won the ball on the right side of midfield and then, apropos of nothing, whacked an incredible strike from just inside the opposition half. To what will be the eternal disappointment of every Vinotinto fan, his shot was actually tipped onto the crossbar by the out-of-sorts Muslera. However, this memory will be sweetened by the on-cue Rondón, who had enough time to compose himself as the ball bounced down just infront of the goal-line before placing his shot into the back of the net. 1-0. Elation for everyone of a burgundy persuasion.

Their sky-blue-clad opponents initially struggled to come to terms with this setback and it was La Vinotinto who had the best chance to score a second goal just before the break. This time, a minute before the half-time whistle,  Guerra won the ball in the centre around 35 yards from goal and with one touch managed to part the sea that was the Uruguayan defence, evading two or three players, before poking a shot goalwards. Unfortunately for him, his posture disadvantaged him and he could only nudge an effort with the outside of his boot too close to Muslera.

Uruguay went into the interval knowing that they had 45 minutes to save their place in a competition in which they have enjoyed phenomenal success for the past century. However, though they saw much of the ball in the early part of the second half, clear chances were rare. Their best moment in the moments before the hour-mark came after 54 minutes when a corner was swung in, knocked out and then Stuani, back-to-goal, swivelled and struck a couple of yards over on the turn.

The sense of urgency from Tabárez’s men was palpable yet their commitments upfield inevitably left them vulnerable to getting exposed at the back – as they indeed did in the 63rd minute. After Cavani was dispossessed in the area, the ball was knocked forward to the halfway line where it was picked up by 19-year-old starlet Adalberto Peñaranda who – somewhat surprisingly, despite his undeniable talents – was making his first ever start for his country. He ran with great speed and intent for 50 yards away from his pursuers, yet when confronted with a one-on-one with Muslera, hit the ball far too close to the Galatasaray goalkeeper, who saved low. Nevertheless, as the game became increasingly stretched, Peñaranda would find himself with more and more space in which to roam.

While Uruguay were still getting forward, raising Venezuelan heart-rates all the time, the attention for many neutrals increasingly turned to the sight of the agitated Suárez on the bench. At the beginning of the half, the injury-hit striker had been highlighted warming up with his team-mates and putting on some reinforcement tape. However, soon after Tabárez made his third and final change in the 80th minute, the Barcelona striker was seen fuming, removing his training bib, expressing his anger towards the coaching staff and then thumping the plexiglass at the side of the bench. Yet, though at the time many assumed he was furious at not being allowed onto the pitch, just as many wise-owls were aware of the fact that, according to the official team lists submitted pre-match, he was named as being unavailable and would not have been able to play no matter how much he protested. Suárez has since claimed that he was fully aware of this, but was training as he felt helpless just sitting inactive and passively with the stiffs. True or not, this was an unnecessary distraction for Uruguayans and, frankly, most Venezuelans could not have given the slightest toss. Try as many generalist football hacks did post-whistle to undermine and marginalise the result by reducing the game mainly to this non-issue, it should not diminish the scale of the achievement of Dudamel’s men.

That said, without any doubt, Tabárez – and any other manager in world football, for that matter – would have preferred if certain opportunities had instead been presented to his all-time top goalscorer. Indeed, though the remaining ten minutes of regulation time were characterised more by tension than chances, one particular gilt-edged opportunity arrived as the clock was about to strike ninety. This came when Nicolás Lodeiro slid the ball to Cavani just inside the area and, with one key touch, the PSG striker took the ball past the defender and opened up clear space to thump the ball goalwards. However, to the shock of himself, as well as the sunken Lodeiro and no doubt millions watching around the world, he whacked his effort hauntingly wide of the post. Though criticisms of the former Palermo man can often be unfair and sometimes reflect more on the high calibre of strike partners he has at international and club level, moments like this do little for his reputation. Barely a minute later, he almost had a chance to rectify this, but was unable to convert a knock-on from a rather direct lofted pass into the area which Hernández gratefully managed to get his body in the way of to halt the ball’s progress.

Despite these late scares, there was still time for Venezuela to have an opportunity to seal their victory. Indeed, in the fourth minute of stoppage-time, Muslera was caught in no-man’s-land after he came up for a corner and the ball was rapidly cleared to substitute Rómulo Otero on the halfway line. The Huachipato playmaker hastily tried to orientate himself in order to do something akin to what Guerra was narrowly thwarted in doing in the first half, yet his low strike from around 40 yards at the open goal went a mere yard wide of the far post.

The diminutive midfielder was understandably disappointed to see his effort swerve off-target but, within a minute, all was forgiven and forgotten after he was aggressively pushed off the ball by an opponent angered by the sound of the final whistle. He was quick to pick himself up and celebrate with his team-mates as the anguish and dejection of Uruguay contrasted with the smiles and euphoria  of Venezuela.

To neutrals who perhaps only pay La Vinotinto attention in tournaments may well view this as another positive stride on their inevitable march of progress, but those who have been observing with more regularity know the ride has not been so smooth. Already through to the knock-out stage, they are in an undeniably impressive and unanticipated position for a team that is bottom in World Cup qualifying, has only had their current manager for two months and who came into the tournament winless in four friendlies. Coach Dudamel has also been bold with his selections, starting with players who barely featured in those pre-tournament warm-up games. While they may have had some fortune in their two wins, things do appear to have fallen into place remarkably quickly and the defence (two straight clean sheets and just four goals conceded in six games) has undeniably improved.

Nevertheless, one does not wish to break the habit of a lifetime by getting too carried away. The group-deciding match against Mexico in front of a packed Houston crowd is likely to be the toughest yet and even a draw would mean a likely Quarter-final tie with Argentina. Euphoria in football can be shortlived, not least during fast-paced tournaments.

Still, enjoy the moment. Always look on the bright side of life. Cheer up son, it might never happen.

Over the upcoming days, the author of this blog shall attempt to put these happy-go-lucky platitudes into action and suggests any fellow sympathisers do as well. There is much to be positive about and build upon for the future and one can not resist the feeling that we may have just witnessed the beginning of something really quite remarkable.*

To keep up-to-date with Venezuela’s prolonged progress in Copa América Centenario, remember to look up @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and/or return to this website in the upcoming days.

Team Selections

Uruguay (4-4-2): F. Muslera; M. Pereira, D. Godín, J. Giménez, G. Silva; C. Sánchez (N. Lodeiro, 78′), E. Arévalo, Á. González (M. Corujo, 80′), G. Ramírez (D. Rolan, 73′); C. Stuani & E. Cavani.

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales (A. González, 8′), W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra, T. Rincón, A. Figuera (R. Otero, 79′), A. Peñaranda; S. Rondón (L. Seijas, 79′) & J. Martínez.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

*Or a complete false dawn. (Couldn’t resist).

Referee for Uruguay-Venezuela (U20s) Reverses Late Goal Decision Following Player Pressure

23 January 2015
2015 South American Youth Championship Group B
Uruguay 0-1 Venezuela

The final group game of the first stage of the prestigious South American Youth Championship between host nation Uruguay and Venezuela ended with some shady and unsavoury scenes that combined the playground with the pub league as La Celeste were denied a legitimate goal. 

Deep into stoppage-time, the referee committed a shameless U-turn following several minutes of vociferous Venezuelan protests, revoking from Uruguay what would have been an equaliser despite having previously signalled for the goal.

What follows beneath the video of the events is a recounting of this farcical episode. 

Stoppage-time Fiasco at Uruguay vs Venezuela (U20s), 23 January 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user Elite Player).

Venezuela went into the game having lost their three previous games and were already out of the competition, whereas their opponents possessed a 100% record and had arguably been the best side on display in either of the two groups. However, in a game contested largely by each nations’ second-string, La Vinotinto had been leading 1-0 courtesy of a first-half Jaime Moreno strike when they appeared to concede a late equaliser four minutes into stoppage-time. Their goalkeeper, Deportivo Petare’s Keiner Escorcia – who had up until that point been earning plaudits for his performance – completely misjudged a high, hanging cross, thus allowing Agustín Ale to nod the ball in.

After conceding, Escorcia remained face down on the ground and so initial Uruguayan celebrations were put on ice as the referee, Bolivia’s Alejandro Mancilla, darted over to his assistant on the far touchline, where he soon found himself crowded by members of both teams. After some brief consultation, he signalled towards the half-way line with the universally understood gesticulation confirming the awarding of a goal. Unsurprisingly, this was met with jubilation by the Uruguayans close by, relieved as a loss in front of their compatriots appeared to have been averted.

Murillo

Referee Alejandro Mancilla confronted by Jhon Murillo and his Venezuelan team-mates (Image courtesy of Reuters).

However, literally within a second the referee was furiously confronted by Venezuela’s Jhon Murillo, a man who has been nicknamed ‘Balotelli’ by his compatriots and not only for his appearance. The talented, if temperamental, livewire – who had been one of his team’s best performers – physically blocked the official’s atttempt to run back to the centre of the pitch for the restart, nearly clashing heads in the process. The Zamora FC forward then aggressively intimidated the referee Mancilla, incensed as he wildly gestured with his arms while releasing a seemingly relentless verbal diatribe. Two other officials soon also found themselves in a claustrophobic position in between the advertising hoardings and what was now nearly all of Venezuela’s outfield players, with Murillo as the ringleader. Some of his team-mates such as Rubén Ramírez, Franko Díaz and Carlos Sosa made attempts of varying conviction to restrain him though it never took long for him to find a way through the burgundy-bedecked bodies and back into the officials’ faces. However, though he was the leading protagonist, he was not alone in his actions, so riot police eventually had to step in to quell the situation and stop it from getting any uglier than it already was.

In all, this segment of this elongated episode that took place by the far touchline lasted around three minutes, before the referee had managed to find a police-aided pathway through to the penalty area where he could inspect the origins of the Venezuelan players’ complaints. Here, Escorcia was still down with two of the backroom staff crouching over him. It had no doubt been alleged that he had been fouled by Ale before the Uruguayan’s header hit the back of the net and so the referee appeared to be checking on the goalkeeper’s condition. It did not take long for Venezuelan players to again surround him, though they appeared to have cooled down a few degrees. One, erstwhile peacemaker Ramírez, could be seen communicating with him with his hands over his mouth, though whether this is of any significance is impossible to tell at this stage.

Two further minutes elapsed, at which point Escorcia had been gradually helped to his feet and, astoundingly, handed the ball by the referee to resume the game. The tone of the crowd’s noise suddenly changed and as soon as what must have been a free-kick was taken, the game was abruptly ended. Immediately, Uruguayans took their turn to encircle the referee, understandably angry as well as confused as everyone in the stadium and at home was at what the official scoreboard soon confirmed to be a barefaced reversal by a referee who had caved in under pressure. An increasingly volatile situation threatened to erupt, so it was to his credit that Uruguayan captain Gastón Faber opted against joining the rabble and instead stepped in to ensure that his team-mates did not completely lose their heads. Whilst the Danubio midfielder no doubt had an eye on avoiding suspensions for the final stage of the competition – something the Venezuelans had no reason to worry about – he nevertheless did an admirable job of taking some sting out of a potentially poisonous atmosphere and ensuring none of his compatriots descended to Murillo-levels of intimidation.

Nevertheless, Uruguay can feel justifiably aggrieved as replays show beyond dispute that, rather than being fouled, Escorcia completely misjudged the dipping cross that Ale rose to head in. Whether or not he was seriously hurt on his way down is a separate issue, though it seems unlikely.

Thus, it remains to be seen what, if any, punishments will be meted out on the Venezuelan players and the officials, though it would be a considerable surprise if at least Jhon Murillo and the referee avoid any disciplinary action.

Ultimately, from a Venezuelan perspective, this fiasco did take some gloss off what was a much-improved performance following three straight defeats. However, coming at the end of their participation in a tournament in which they had received four red cards in as many games and frequently allowed ill-discipline to overshadow their talents, it was in many ways fitting.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical