Tag Archives: Latin American Football

Venezuela 0-2 Brazil – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (11 October 2016)

Rather than historic headlines, the tenth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded goalkeeping and power failures. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela 0-2 Brazil

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-2 Brazil, 11 October 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

Oh Dani Boy, Gifting the Night Away

Match Report

Within eight minutes, Venezuela were knocked down and rarely looked like getting up again as Brazil went on to inflict upon them their eighth defeat in ten World Cup Qualifying games.

Making five changes from the Uruguay defeat (including three of the four defenders), Rafael Dudamel set up his men in a relatively bold 4-4-2 formation but no strategy or set of tactics could have accounted for the opening goal. This arrived when goalkeeper Dani Hernández, under no real pressure, suicidally passed the ball straight to Gabriel Jesus some 30 yards out. The Manchester-bound 19-year-old stopped the ball with his left boot and, as the Tenerife man scrambled in front of the penalty spot, with his right deftly scooped the Seleção into the lead with a masterful chip. Thus marked the latest instance of Venezuela’s tradition of providing significant aid to countries who don’t really need it.

Though it was his most glaring, this was hardly Hernández’s first error since regaining the gloves under Dudamel and pressure to make a change will surely intensify now. Yet with the two other goalkeepers in the squad relatively inexperienced at international level – and having not entirely convinced when called upon – there are no obvious alternatives. The previous number one Alain Baroja has been excluded from the selección throughout the new manager’s reign, seemingly due to having also committed some high-profile errors in earlier qualifying matches (the home games against Paraguay and Ecuador providing the most egregious examples). A recall can not now be entirely out of the question but, whatever happens, goalkeeping woes and back-line jitters look set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Conceding an early goal against one of the best teams in the continent would have deflated any nation but Venezuelans had additional reasons to fear the following 80+ minutes. Not only have they not won a single game in the current qualifying campaign, but – barring one friendly match in 2008 – they have never beaten Brazil and the last time that they gained a positive result from a competitive game after falling behind was exactly three years ago (their last match of the Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign, a 1-1 home draw with Paraguay on 11 October 2013).

In the remainder of the half, though Venezuela were not shrinking violets, it was certainly the visitors who came closest to getting the game’s second goal. In the 15th minute, Gabriel Jesus earned some space after he latched onto a long ball up the inside-left channel and slid it to Phillipe Coutinho, whose low strike from the edge of the dee was poked a bit too close to Hernández. Nine minutes later at the second attempt, roaming right-back Dani Alves volleyed in a goalmouth cross that was only narrowly diverted by Roberto Rosales from the path of Gabriel Jesus for a corner.

Just past the half-hour mark, Paulinho had a chance when he greatly unnerved the opposition back-line on the edge of the area, playing a few one-twos before eventually firing just wide. A few minutes later, it was Coutinho’s moment to strike a yard or two the wrong side of the post when an elevated ricochet in the area fell kindly for his right boot.

As with previous matches against the region’s heavyweights, the hosts’ best hope of an attempt on goal came from set-pieces (which here were flagged offside at the key moment) and breakaways, the impetus for which invariably derived from the feet of Adalberto Peñaranda. Indeed, the 19-year-old raised the volume in the stands in the 23rd minute when he left a player for dead in midfield before running into trouble. Later in the 41st minute, he impressively gained some space on the left before cutting inside and winning a corner from his own effort, though one or two of his colleagues seemed irritated that he did not pass for them to take aim.

Venezuela thus went into the break not completely out of the game, but having barely troubled opposition goalkeeper Alisson. Their struggle was compounded by the yellow cards earned by both centre-backs, Wilker Ángel and Sema Velázquez – not encouraging news for a team that has had three defenders (including Ángel) sent off in their last three games.

Nevertheless, as a spot of rain-lashing greeted the arrival of the second half, the hosts gained some heart from avoiding a repeat of the Uruguay game. No game-killing goals after 15 seconds here then. No, Tite’s men had to instead wait eight minutes for that. They doubled their lead thanks to Renato Agusto dragging the ball away from Rosales on the left and firing the ball across the goalmouth where Willian beat the other full-back Rolf Feltscher to clinically strike home at the back post.

Just five minutes later in the 58th minute, Brazil seemed well on their way to humiliating their hosts when an Augusto header from a corner ended up in the back of the net. However, Gabriel Jesus helped it across the line and his involvement caused the linesman to raise his flag.

Soon afterwards, partly inspired by the substitution of Alejandro Guerra on for Juanpi, Venezuela gradually overcame their dejection and started to threaten Alisson’s goal. Seconds after his arrival on the hour, it was the fresh Atlético Nacional midfielder who diverted a forward ball to Salomón Rondón. The West Bromwich forward’s first-time strike hit Marquinhos, seemingly on the upper arm, leaving Alisson stranded. Fortunately for the latter two, the ball went wide for a corner.

A couple of minutes later, Rondón had another chance. This time, from the right with his left boot, Rosales swung in a cross that the striker beat his marker to, with his header bouncing just a yard or so wide of the near post.

However, they were reminded of exactly what they were up against just a minute later when Brazil stretched their back-line and a pass from the left into the centre seemed to be heading for an inevitable third; yet the shot that followed was too close to Hernández, who parried.

The action continued and it was virtually end-to-end. Just two minutes later at the other end, Josef Martínez volleyed an arced free-kick that forced a save, though play was immediately halted for offside. Four minutes later, Alves skipped past the slide of Peñaranda on the right where he crossed towards the centre of the area to Paulinho but, despite the space the ex-Tottenham man had, he volleyed well over. Barely 30 seconds later at the other end, Rondón curled in a fine ball from the left with his right which destabilised and discombulated Filipe Luís. Prowling behind him at the back post was Guerra who did well to stretch to control the ball, but from his crab-like stance with Alisson narrowing the angles, he could only scuff a shot wide of the post.

However, pulses in the stands were not to be maintained at the same rate for much longer as in the 73rd minute, the floodlights suddenly went out. Darkness, punctuated by lights from phones and advertising boards, descended upon the Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida. There was initially much cheering and clapping from the home fans, perhaps proving Venezuelans like a good old ‘wheeeyyy’ when something goes wrong as much as anyone. Or maybe they just thought the game may get called off and they would receive a second chance. This was certainly debated by onlookers, with most agreeing a replay would have to be played the following night – sadly, such musings were not immediately relayed to a mid-kip Tony Pulis. Also during this interval, some fans began chanting for the removal of President Nicolás Maduro,  a fairly common occurrence when things are not going well at home (anti-government signs are also frequently seen at games on foreign soil). Last year towards the end of the 3-1 loss against Ecuador in Puerto Ordaz, similar chants were drowned out by music suddenly blasting out over the public announce system. This time in Mérida, however, no amount of pro-government officials would have been able to enforce similar action.

Fortunately for them though, there was little chance of a full-scale demonstration occurring as the electricity did gradually return and thus almost 25 minutes after the ball was last officially in play, the match resumed. Yet, in the remaining 17 minutes or so, little of note happened, with the interruption greatly diminishing the momentum of the players and the volume of the crowd. The one stand-out moment was Rondón’s 88th-minute header from a cross swung in from the right, which he powered towards Alisson, who was required to pull of a decent save to tip it over the bar.

Nevertheless, despite the hosts’ improvements after the second goal, when the Peruvian official blew for full-time, the Venezuelans were left to be confronted with their unenviable position at the bottom of the CONMEBOL Qualifying group. With Bolivia having picked up a point at home to Ecuador, Dudamel’s men now find themselves six points adrift at the bottom, with just two draws from ten games to their name.

After June’s promising Copa América campaign, the Vinotinto boss has now lost some of his initial goodwill, having presided over four qualifying games and earned just one point. Yet this worrying statistic is somewhat undermined by the fact that these matches were against four of the current top five teams in the region. However, with Venezuela’s next encounter being at home against those notoriously bad travellers Bolivia, nothing less than a victory will be enough to contain the critics for the time being. With changes to his already rather unsettled line-up inevitable, he may wish to spent the next month wisely while poring over his decisions.

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

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, S. Velázquez, W. Ángel, R. Feltscher; Juanpi (A. Guerra, 60′), T. Rincón,  A. Flores (Y. Herrera, 84′); A. Peñaranda (R. Otero, 73′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez.

Brazil (4-3-3): Alisson; D. Alves, Marquinhos, J. Miranda, F. Luís; Paulinho, Fernandinho, R. Augusto; Willian (Taison, 89′), G. Jesus, P. Coutinho (Giuliano, 83′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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).

Costa Rica 2-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (27 May 2016)

International Friendly

Friday 27 May 2016 – Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, La Sabana Metropolitan Park, San José, Costa Rica

Costa Rica 2-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Costa Rica 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 27 May 2016 (YouTube)

First Half Provides Rare Light Despite Loss

Despite a positive start that saw them take the lead, a strong Venezuela line-up suffered their first defeat under Rafael Dudamel. 

In what was his third game in charge, the new manager was able to give minutes to Tomás Rincón and Salomón Rondón for the first time. These two men, the most high-profile pair of the current crop, started alongside other top players who had already received varying amounts of game-time in the new era, such as Juanpi, Rómulo Otero and Josef Martínez. Also given a chance from the off were Rolf Feltscher at left-back, who was making his first international appearance for three years and goalkeeper José Contreras, who had an opportunity to bolster his claim for the No.1 shirt.

The match began at a very promising pace with both sides stretching opposition defences, putting in a number of crosses as well as winning a similar amount of corners. Most of these balls into each box caused nerves rather than actual saves, though one exception was Otero’s 11th-minute ball that centre-back Wilker Ángel met with a strong header, albeit one that went straight at goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton.

Alas, in the opening 25 minutes there were more jitters generated than shots on goal. For example, in the 19th minute, a Costa Rican corner was knocked down awkwardly by a Venezuelan defender, causing a ricochet and then a collision between outfield player and goalkeeper as, after the ball was frantically cleared, Contreras was left momentarily down for the count. A few minutes later, Rincón broke up an attack in midfield and charged forward, supplying Otero on the left who put in a low ball that eventually fell to Martínez, who managed to turn but had his shot blocked. Shortly afterwards, a mix-up between Pemberton and a defender 35 yards from goal briefly gifted the ball to Rondón, but the West Bromwich Albion striker was unable to adjust his feet and positioning in time to capitalise on the error.

A moment of greater substance occurred not long afterwards when, in the 28th minute, a Costa Rican cross from the right was greeted by the left foot of Ronald Matarrita, whose wicked diagonal volley went just wide of the far post.

A minute later the hosts nearly made some headway when a through-ball was only narrowly cut out. However, just as they thought they were gaining momentum, they fell behind. Indeed, in a rapid turnaround, in the 29th minute Contreras rolled the ball out to Rincón, who passed short to Juanpi near the halfway mark. Seemingly with his next move already plotted in his head, the Málaga youngster turned and coolly slid the ball between the centre-backs to Martínez, who quickly squared the ball to Rondón to knock home from the edge of the area. It was a fine team goal, a rare direct team move and provides much optimism that future games will feature more of this creative, cutting attack play.

Eight minutes later, the lead was close to being doubled as an attack up the inside-left came infield, with the ball eventually slid through to Juanpi who turned and swerved a low shot just wide of the far post. Alas, it was to be the hosts who got the second goal of the game and, just like the first, it came from a West Brom player.

Also not entirely dissimilar from the first, it took many in the ground by surprise. Indeed, being at least 35 yards out, right-back Cristian Gamboa seemed a little ambitious to be sizing up for a strike at goal. However, his low, skimming shot somehow managed to find its way past Contreras, who appeared to have ample time to manoeuvre himself over to keep the ball out. Yet again, a Venezuelan goalkeeper struggles to confidently seize his opportunity between the posts.

The hosts could have actually gone into the break ahead as, on the stroke of half time, they were denied a legitimate goal. A fine diagonal long ball by Cristian Bolaños was controlled and knocked over Contreras to be headed in but – incorrectly – the offside flag was raised.

However, they were not to be denied for too long. Four minutes after the restart, substitute Ariel Rodríguez gained some space from Vizcarrondo on the left edge of the area. Facing away from goal he then hooked a fine strike that seemed to float over Contreras and into the top corner.

Venezuela were thus back in a familiar position. However, just before the hour-mark they really should have been on equal terms. Indeed, Juanpi again played a fine direct through-ball to Martinez who this time dinked it over Pemberton and into the back of the net. Yet, despite being at least level with the last defender, the linesman perhaps got him confused with the nearby Rondón and raised his flag for offside.

For the remainder of the game, neither side created much of note as the game gradually petered out, with the excessive number of substitutes inevitably taking their toll on proceedings.

Nevertheless, when the final whistle blew, though disappointed by the outcome, the first-half performance gave many Venezuelans considerable reasons to feel encouraged by the new era.  They had played at a tempo rarely seen in the past couple of years and, especially due to the inclusion of Juanpi and Otero, displayed a variety of attacking options not often at their disposal. Ultimately undone by a goalkeeping error and a fine golazo, the defence should not feel too downhearted by their performance as they again put in a relatively solid shift.

Ultimately, while one should try not to read too much into these three friendlies, the signs have been quietly encouraging. Win away to Guatemala on Wednesday (1 June) and expectations will be raised that La Vinotinto will actually be able to make a fist of qualifying out of Copa América Group C.

Team Selections

Costa Rica (5-1-3-1): P. Pemberton (L. Moreira, 46′); C. Gamboa, K. Watson, Ó. Duarte (F. Calvo, 51′), J. Acosta, R. Matarrita; C. Borges (Y, Tejeda, 63′); J. Campbell, B. Ruiz, C. Bolaños (J. Venegas, 60′); Á. Saborío (A. Rodríguez, 46′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): J. Contreras; A. González (V. García, 53′), W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo (S. Velázquez, 77′), R. Feltscher (M. Villanueva, 77′); Juanpi, A. Figuera (C. Santos, 74′), T. Rincón, R. Otero (A. Guerra, 53′); J. Martínez & S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Panama 0-0 Venezuela – International Friendly (24 May 2016)

International Friendly

Tuesday 24 May 2016 – Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama

Panama 0-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Panama 0-0 Venezuela, International Friendly, 24 May 2016 (YouTube)

Makeshift Venezuela Put in Solid Shift

Rafael Dudamel maintained his unbeaten start to life in the Venezuelan dugout as his side chalked up their second successive draw.

Although he did not have all of his cracks available, it was nevertheless a curious choice to start with five players who have already been told they are not travelling to the USA for Copa América. If he had any doubts regarding his final 23-man selection, this game may have added some more as two of the rejected – Jacobo Koufatti and Andrés Ponce – were arguably amongst the most eye-catching performers.

It was in fact a curious spectacle in general as the hosts lined up in shirts not too dissimilar in hue to Venezuela’s renowned burgundy, whereas the stands had more than their fair share of Vinotinto followers.

The atmosphere itself, however, was for the most part a little muted and it took just over 20 minutes for the first chance of note to occur. Sampdoria youngster Ponce, having already looked rather alert with his positioning, nearly connected with a fine cross on the turn by Christian Santos. Alas, his grazed header went wide of the far post.

Several minutes later up the other end, Porto youngster Ismael Diaz unsettled the Venezuelan defence as he ran onto a knock-on into the area, but goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez raced out to thwart him.

The next moment of note in this well-contested, if opportunity-lite, friendly came in the 40th minute when the visitors won a free-kick following good work by Ponce, whose through-ball was stopped by a hand. Koufatti lined up 25 yards out near the centre of the pitch and drove the ball low, which went narrowly wide off the post, having perhaps taken a slight touch off goalkeeper Jaime Penedo’s hand.

Just before the players went in for the break, there were a few tasty challenges and scuffles in quick succession that caused many from each side to size one another up, as things threatened to turn ugly. There had already been rumblings of this and it was not to be the last instance before the ninety minutes were up.

Six minutes after the restart, a combination of first Abdiel Arroyo and then, after his charge was bluntly halted, fellow substitute Roberto Nurse, tried to force their way into the Venezuela box but the latter collided with a defender and the momentum was lost. This attack came after Arroyo opportunistically robbed the ball off centre-back Sema Velázquez, a rare occasion when the visitors’ defence looked genuinely vulnerable – something that could rarely be said during recent Venezuelan displays.

A few minutes later, former Spain Under-21 attacker Jeffrén Suárez – now representing the country of his birth, though not included in Dudamel’s final 23 – hit a dipping free-kick that hit the roof of the net – alas the wrong side of it. This was the closest the visitors were to come for the remainder of the game.

Again though, the middle-third of the pitch was always there to compensate for the shortcomings of both final-thirds. On the hour-mark, there was another coming together, as Santos took exception to the way he was backed into by his opponent and appeared to kick out in response. Whether on the advice of the officials or members of the coaching staff, the NEC Nijmegen striker was substituted off straight afterwards, to be replaced by midfield magician Rómulo Otero.

Though it would be a stretch to say the Panamanians were dominant in the final half-hour, they did nevertheless have the better of the chances. Indeed, perhaps the best opportunity came after 65 minutes when Arroyo crossed in low for Nurse who beat his marker to stab the ball just wide of the near post. Later, with less than ten minutes remaining, following some good work from Adolfo Machado on the right, his low ball in was only just cut out by the defender.

By contrast, the closest the Venezuelans came to the target were some uncharacteristically wayward free-kicks from Otero, as the game finally ended the way it had long been heading: goalless.

Alas, though the significance of such a match can always be called into question, this was the second time the two nations have finished level in a non-competitive match in the past year. Undeniably the coaches will have got far more out of this game than either set of fans. Nevertheless, though Venezuelan fans may feel a little in the dark as to who exactly will be lining up against Jamaica on 5 June, there is some comfort in the fact that both of Dudamel’s games have ended level and there are still two games left for experimentation. Next stop, Costa Rica.

Team Selections

Panama (4-4-2): J. Penedo (J. Calderón, 46′); F. Baloy, R. Miller (F. Escobar, 78′), A. Machado, L. Henríquez; G. Gómez, A. Henríquez, A. Cooper (M. Camargo, 46′), V. Pimentel (A. Arroyo, 37′); R. Buitrago, I. Diaz (R. Nurse, 46′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Faríñez; V. García, W. Ángel, S. Velázquez, M. Villanueva (A. González, 90′); J. Suárez (Juanpi, 73′), A. Flores,  C. Suárez (A. Figuera, 68′), J. Kouffati (J. Martínez, 79′); C. Santos (R. Otero, 60′) & A. Ponce.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Galicia 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (20 May 2016)

Non-FIFA International Friendly

Friday 20 May 2016 – Estadio Municipal de Riazor, A Coruña, Galicia, Spain

Galicia 1-1 Venezuela

Galicia 1-1 Venezuela, 20 May 2016, International Friendly (FutVe Venezuela)

Martínez Gives Dudamel Debut Boost

Josef Martínez’s scrambled goal deep into injury time allowed Rafael Dudamel to avoid what was heading towards a deserved defeat on his debut in the dugout.

For La Vinotinto, with several lesser known faces making their way onto the Riazor pitch, the game largely afforded one last chance to sway the mind of the new entrenador ahead of the Copa América Centenario. Indeed, scarcely three hours after the final whistle, the eight-player cull that reduced the initial 31-man squad to the final 23 included seven unfortunates who featured in this game (see below).

Given the usage of such unfamiliar personnel, the lack of teamwork and coherency on display was to be expected, though their hosts – themselves playing their first game in over seven years – had few comparable problems. Indeed, rivals with ties to Deportivo La Coruña and Celta Vigo united for the local good to ensure their region dominated possession and exhibited the most eye-catching play.

The first moment of note that they created came after just five minutes when a dinked ball to the back post targeted Jota, a forward formerly of Celta who spent last season on loan at Eibar from Brentford, but he struggled to make a meaningful connection.

Ten minutes later, however, Venezuela had their best chance of the half when Huachipato midfielder Rómulo Otero fired a swerving free-kick that goalkeeper Sergio Álvarez tipped over. Not long afterwards, the hosts were back in the ascendancy as local hero Lucas Pérez cut over from the right onto his left and struck just wide of the near post.

The half continued with Galicia having the better of the play, even if chances were often at a premium. After a brief mid-half lull, the hosts stepped up a gear, first unsettling the opposition defence with a low cross that was just about cleared, before making the breakthrough three minutes later. Indeed, with 39 minutes on the clock, Jota’s shot from outside the area was poorly and unnecessarily parried by 18-year-old Wuilker Fariñez. If anything, it looked like the original shot was heading wide, but the Caracas keeper knocked it straight into the path of Iago Aspas who struck it home first time. Subsequently, the ex-Liverpool striker enjoyed the extremely rare experience of being a Celta Vigo player cheered on by a crowd largely consisting of Depor fans. A surreal Friday night for all.

Five minutes into the second half, a second dose of this peculiar phenomenon was nearly delivered, as Aspas burst into the area, evaded a challenge and poked the ball against the post. In the 61st minute, Aspas had another chance, though this time he could only nudge a shot wide, following good work from Pérez who himself came close to doubling the lead 13 minutes later. Indeed, with barely 15 minutes left, the Depor striker received a pass and rounded Fariñez to slot home, but before he could celebrate discovered he was offside.

Alas, despite the evident technical superiority of the hosts, they were to be thwarted by Dudamel’s charges, who had barely mustered a shot on target in the second period. Two minutes into stoppage time, seemingly out of nowhere, substitute Jacobo Kouffati slid forward what appeared at first to be a slightly heavy pass. However, Torino striker Martínez sensed an opportunity and tussled with goalkeeper Diego Mariño, beating him to it and knocking home the loose ball.

It may have only been an unofficial end-of-season friendly, but local pride was certainly dented and the mood was somewhat soured by the outcome. This was palpable in the post-match comments of Granada midfielder Fran Rico, who was eager to emphasise who the superior side had been.

Nevertheless, though certainly not a performance to inspire immediate enthusiasm for the Dudamel reign,given the circumstances, most Vinotinto fans will take it.

Team Selections

Galicia (4-4-2): S. Álvarez (D. Mariño, 46′);  H. Mallo, Á. Bergantiños, Jonny (P. Cheikh, 66′), Angeliño; Jota (Joselu, 46′), D. Suárez, F. Rico (J. Domínguez, 46′), P. Mosquera; I. Aspas (D. Alende, 75′) & L. Pérez.

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Faríñez; V. García (D. Benítez, 86′), W. Ángel, J. Chancellor (S. Velázquez, 66′), M. Villanueva; J. Suárez (A. Ponce, 72′), A. Flores (J. Kouffati, 55′), C. Suárez (Y. Herrera, 66′), R. Otero; J. Martínez & C. Santos (A. Figuera, 55′).

Official Venezuela Squad for Copa América Centenario

venezuela23

(Source: FVF)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 1-0 Costa Rica – International Friendly (2 February 2016)

International Friendly

Tuesday 2 February 2016 – Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas

Venezuela 1-0 Costa Rica 

Video Highlights of Wilker Ángel’s goal in Venezuela 1-0 Costa Rica, International Friendly, 2 February 2016 (YouTube).

Wilker Ángel capitalised on a late goalkeeping howler to give Venezuela their first win for over seven months.

However, though ostensibly this long overdue victory came against World Cup quarter-finalists, little will have changed for under-fire manager Noel Sanvicente in the eyes of La Vinotinto’s frustrated public. Indeed, even before a ball was kicked, there was seemingly little at stake, with both nations’ squads drawn largely from their respective domestic leagues. Thus, Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell et al. were certainly not amongst the slain in Barinas.

Some of those that were instead selected for Los Ticos went some way towards aiding the home cause as, by the 65th minute, they were down to nine men following two dismissals. Despite this two-man advantage, familiar failings were displayed as the hosts struggled to create clear chances. Ultimately, it was to take further generosity from the visitors – in the form of experienced goalkeeper Marco Madrigal’s cack-handling – to save Sanvicente from media savagings – in the immediate aftermath, at least.

All the same, the game was at least an opportunity to break the winless streak, keep a rare clean sheet and for fringe/young players to demonstrate that they can handle wearing the burgundy shirt, if not put some additional pressure on their more illustrious, rebellious peers. While there were no storming performances, some players nevertheless stood out.

Ángel, for one, helped to keep things solid at the back and chipped in with his second international goal since making his debut in November 2014. Although he does not always convince in his defensive duties, with the first-choice centre-backs porous and, most pertinently, not getting any younger, further opportunities beckon.

With Fernando Amorebieta having resigned from the national set-up, this opens new possibilities at both centre-back and left-back. Indeed, throughout Sanvicente’s reign this spot on the flank has been contested mostly by the ex-Athletic Bilbao man and 31-year-old Gabriel Cichero (32 in April). Here as well, a vacancy is gradually emerging and Málaga youngster Mikel Villanueva did not do his prospects any harm in Barinas.

From an attacking perspective, two men were most prominent. Firstly, the man the majority of the Zamora-supporting crowd were most eager to see: 18-year-old nimble attacker, Yeferson Soltedo, scorer of an impressive 12 goals in 21 games in the local club’s recent championship-winning season. The volume was to rise whenever he picked up the ball. Without really getting a clear sight at goal, over the 90 minutes the fleet-footed forward looked the most likely to weave his way through the defence and either create or score a goal.

The other player of note to stand out was the more experienced Luis González, a 25-year-old dribbler who, particularly in the first half, niftily made space and put in the most testing balls.

Nevertheless, though the likes of González and Soteldo attempted to reward the vocal enthusiasm of the home faithful, the opening exchanges were familiarly tepid. It took 34 minutes until a shot hit the target and this came courtesy of the visitors’ Johan Venegas. Some space opened up for the Montreal Impact midfielder on the centre-right and his strike from 30 yards out troubled – perhaps unnecessarily – goalkeeper José Contreras who parried out. Immediately, Venezuela attempted to urge themselves into action and went straight down the other end, though Soteldo’s shot from outside the area went well wide. Around five minutes later, González created and fired the hosts’ first real attempt on goal, following a stepover with a low strike at the goalkeeper from the left of the area.

While the game was lacking in goal-mouth action, it was nevertheless keenly contested, with robust challenges of varying legality flying in. Just two minutes before half time, tensions got the better of Venegas who, to everyone’s surprise, suddenly received two successive yellow cards and was dismissed, presumably for comments aimed at the referee. As one of the most experienced players and likely threats for the Central Americans, his removal was a welcome boost for the hosts, but could they capitalise after the interval?

They tried, they certainly tried. Yet, lacking on-field familiarity and cohesiveness, most attacks in the opening 20 minutes after the restart were engineered by the likes of Soteldo and González creating space and then firing in balls to team-mates who were not always on the same wavelength. Then, in the 65th minute, even more space was afforded to them to make a crucial connection after another of their opponents’ stand-out players, David Ramírez, received his marching orders for a second yellow card.

Playing against nine men, Sanvicente would have known that nothing less than a win would suffice. Yet though his men did enjoy more of the ball and saw larger expanses of inviting green turf, Soteldo’s jinking runs were not punctuated with a finish and a stalemate seemed inevitable. Out of the blue, Costa Rica nearly thwarted this even this underwhelming narrative when, in the 84th minute, substitute Jordan Smith struck optimistically from 25 yards; his shot deflected, looped upwards and was then tipped over for a corner by Contreras.

Complete embarrassment and ignominy averted, Venezuela resumed their assault on Madrigal’s goal. The breakthrough, when it came with barely a minute left on the clock, came out of nowhere and was a gift that infuriated the Costa Rican coaching staff and match reporters alike. From a free-kick on the left, substitute Ángelo Peña whipped in a routine ball that bounced before Madrigal who, haplessly, was unable to catch it; instead, the ball rebounded off his upper body and was immediately headed past him by the alert Ángel.

Thus, in the short-term at least, a critical mauling was avoided and perceptions were rapidly re-assessed. It was the second time Sanvicente had managed Venezuela in Barinas under Sanvicente and the second time he had emerged victorious. However, both were in games featuring predominantly second- and third-string players and, barring further differences between the seniors and the FVF,  hardly any of these are likely to feature in the World Cup qualifiers next month. That is when the real action recommences and Sanvicente knows he needs solutions fast. Ultimately, he can take little from this match into March’s double-header, but he will be hoping he will at least be around long enough to take the likes of Soteldo and Ángel to further international heights.

 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Contreras; Faría, D. Benítez, Ángel, Villanueva; Figuera (Acosta, 78′), A. Flores (J. García, 90+4′); Soteldo, Johan Moreno (Ponce, 54′), L. González (Peña, 79′); Blanco.

Costa Rica (5-4-1): Madrigal; Miranda, Acosta, Mena (Smith, 78′), Waston, Francis; Colindres (Cunningham, 56′), Alvarado (Sánchez, 90+4′), Azofeifa (Valle, 76′), Venegas; Ramírez.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical