Tag Archives: Luis González

Panama 0-2 Venezuela – International Friendly (11 September 2018)

In their second friendly game of this international break, Venezuelans on the pitch and in the stands came together to generate a moving, memorable evening for the country. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…

International Friendly

Tuesday 11 September 2018 – Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama.

Panama 0-2 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Panama 0-2 Venezuela, International Friendly, 11 September 2018 (YouTube)

Salomón Spearheads Supersubs’ Show

Salomón Rondón came off the bench to combine twice with his fellow substitutes to give La Vinotinto a heartening, well-fought win in front of a sizeable number of their compatriots.

This victory was the first against Panama since 2000 and also the very first against any opposition in a senior friendly encounter for Rafael Dudamel in his 29 months in the job – and just his fifth overall.

Beforehand, the coach stated that he would like his side to be “not so vertical” and instead have “more time with the ball” than they had against Colombia. Although there were considerable spells where neither side could gain much command over the play, Venezuela did at least manage to assert themselves to a greater degree in what was a more inviting contest.

For the second consecutive game, Darwin Machís started with intent, driving into space and even troubling the goalkeeper with a deflected shot in the second minute. However, with six changes made to the line-up, it was to be two of his fellow attackers who garnered themselves more attention in the first half. Indeed, firstly Luis “Cariaco” González built on Friday’s promising sub appearance, outpacing opponents numerous times on the right, managing to knock in several crosses and even squeezing in an attempt or two at goal.

However, prominence-wise at least, both men were eclipsed by Rómulo Otero. Nominally fielded in the centre behind Christian Santos, he often seemed to be on a one-man mission to gain himself a regular starting place, frequently drifting into other areas, particularly the left side. His contributions were hit-and-miss, with plenty of long-range shots, crosses and set-pieces either ballooning over or cannoning off the first man, but his thrusting, do-or-die mobility did genuinely unsettle opponents and create spaces for team-mates. Two of his opening-half free-kick attempts did also hit the target: a 13th-minute right-footed curler from an impossible angle on the left caused an instinctive parry for goalkeeper Luis Mejía who was anticipating a cross and, more notably, a 43rd-minute strike from some 40 yards that bounced just before Mejía, causing him to awkwardly deflect it out with his lower ribcage.

Although there was more action around the hosts’ goal, the Central Americans led by English-Panamanian interim coach Gary Stempel were always very much in the game. Often thwarted at the moment of a key pass, they did nevertheless provide a few scares. In the 28th minute, Cristian Martínez whipped in a devilish cross which the diving goalkeeper Rafael Romo – playing his first international in seven years – got fingertips to, before Yordan Osorio’s shin awkwardly cleared for a corner. In the 36th minute, following one of many clever flicks by José Rodríguez, a shot from Martínez in a good position in the area was well-blocked by Osorio’s centre-back partner Wilker Ángel. From the subsequent Gabriel Torres corner, Venezuela perhaps received a huge let-off, as a Fidel Escobar header hit the arm of left-back Luis Mago; contrary to how it initially appeared to almost everyone, this was adjudged by the referee to be marginally outside, not inside the penalty area. A mere matter of yards from the incident, the man in black could not have had a better view. Regardless, from the resulting free-kick, Escobar gave Dudamel’s men a second fright, as his right-footed bullet arrowed barely a yard over the bar.

Thus, at half-time, both sides had good cause to feel that this open game was there for the taking and immediately after the restart, it was the 2018 World Cup qualifiers who were first out of the traps. With barely 40 seconds played, Martínez shaped up from some 30 yards, striking a fine right-footed effort which Romo’s outstretched palm had to deal with. Some seven minutes later, Venezuela trumped the home side in the long-range stakes as another Otero free-kick from 40 yards – for which a 15-yard run-up was required – dipped menacingly before Mejía, causing him to parry out wide.

Subsequently, scares were averted at both ends but when the next real attempt on goal arrived, it was made to count. This came in the 67th minute with two substitutes as the lead protagonists. First, following some neat Venezuelan play, fresh-and-fleet-footed Jefferson Savarino of Real Salt Lake played a one-two on the right with Otero, receiving back the ball inside the area to slide across the goalmouth past Román Torres where none other than Salomón Rondón knocked it into the back of the net. Celebrated by thousands of Venezuelans in attendance, it sounded as if the Premier League striker’s first international goal since March 2017 had been scored at home.

Additional changes were later made to both sides, which perhaps further diluted the attacking fluidity. Yet, despite the dearth of shots on target, the pulsing atmosphere and highly competitive pinball-esque action lended itself to an engrossing spectacle. Towards the end, however, another one of the reinforcements from the bench ensured that his spell on the pitch would be remembered.

Eduard Bello, an attacker enjoying an impressive first season with Chilean side Deportes Antofagasta, came on for his international debut in the 78th minute. Ten minutes later he earned a corner which he himself then took; Rondón connected but his header on the stretch at an angle to the goal went slightly wide of the post. Then, in the final minute of stoppage-time after a Panamanian cross and headed knock-back had been hastily cleared, a ball was hoisted upfield by captain Tomás Rincón. The defence were largely committed further upfield and so, following a fortuitous ricochet off the defender, Bello was able to swivel and slide the ball towards Rondón in space who pounced like a predator to seal the win.

The elation in the stands was palpable and afterwards at the press conference, Dudamel dedicated the win to these joy-deprived believers, many of whom would have moved to the Panamanian capital in recent years due to the well-documented domestic difficulties:

“For multiple reasons our compatriots have emigrated from our country. There is something that in life can not be lost, which is dignity. Today we wanted to give a boost to the dignity of the Venezuelan who has accompanied us and who makes life in this beautiful country. May La Vinotinto become an example for all our people – that is the invitation.”

Many observers of Russia 2018 may blithely dismiss the weight of this Venezuelan victory but nobody who experienced it can deny the importance of such a welcome morale-boost. Friday against Colombia now feels like quite some time ago. Regarding the performances, although the action was again largely disjointed and fragmented, Rondón, Otero, González, Machís, Savarino and Bello have all provided Dudamel with positive moments on which to build more sustained attacking play. As for the rearguard, while the coach may wish to try out other players for next month’s double-header in Spain, the prized clean sheet that they kept and their general solidity should give the likes of Osorio and Mago hope that a consecutive call-up will be forthcoming.

Lastly, post-match Dudamel also said that, after nearly ten months without senior matches, he hopes that his side will go on to have “no less than 15-18 games” (including however many they play at the 2019 Copa América) under their belts before the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers commence. Such a number seems optimistic but if an array of seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome to pull this off, it would go a considerable way towards narrowing the preparatory chasm with their major CONMEBOL rivals.

Precarious though the future most certainly is, in this international break some positive steps were undeniably taken.

Team Selections

Panama (4-3-3): L. Mejía; M. Murillo, R. Torres, F. Escobar, F. Palacios (K. Galván, 71′); C. Martínez, A. Godoy, M. Camargo (A. Carrasquilla, 65′); J. Rodríguez (J. González, 77′), R. Blackburn, G. Torres (Á. Orelien, 65′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): R. Romo; A. González, Y. Osorio, W. Ángel, L. Mago; T. Rincón, J. Moreno (A. Flores, 86′); L. González (J. Savarino, 56′), R. Otero (S. Córdova, 75′), D. Machís (E. Bello, 78′); C. Santos (S. Rondón, 56′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Colombia 2-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (7 September 2018)

In front of a passionate Miami crowd, well-populated by those with ties to either of the neighbouring countries, Venezuela fell short in their long-awaited return to international action. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…

International Friendly

Friday 7 September 2018 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA

Colombia 2-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Colombia 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 7 September 2018 (YouTube)

La Vinotinto Return Half-Awake

With only stoppage-time left to play, Yimmi Chará struck to give Colombia a deserved 2-1 comeback win over a Venezuela whose lack of game-time for 298 days became more evident as the encounter wore on.

However, it certainly did not feel that way in the opening exchanges. Straight away, with less than a minute on the clock, an Alexander González diagonal ball offered a surprise one-on-one for Salomón Rondón against David Ospina. Unfortunately for the Newcastle summer signing, his touch was heavy and he could only awkwardly bundle the ball a fraction past the Napoli-loanee before the defence was on hand to clear up. Undeterred, before the clock reached the fourth minute, a González cross from the right caught the Colombian back line by surprise and, with his first-ever goal for the senior side, the alert Darwin Machís headed low into the opposite corner to give La Vinotinto a 1-0 lead.

There was a healthy number of compatriots in the stands of the home of the Miami Dolphins to cheer this dream collective return to the international fold and these two men would prove to be two of Venezuela’s more noteworthy contributors. The Elche right-back occasionally being a threat knocking balls into the area and the Udinese attacker – playing here on the left of midfield – rarely afraid to cut inside, drive past opponents and strike at Ospina’s goal.

Also early on, Venezuela’s most-capped active player, captain Tomás Rincón, asserted himself in midfield and, when the opportunity presented itself, sought to find the second-most-experienced player, Rondón. Overall, the Torino man had the kind of night that has earned him his ball-winning, battling reputation, whereas the Magpie, as at club level, lacked sharpness, often finding himself burdened with the donkey work of chasing scraps and attempting to fashion something from almost nothing. The link-up play with man-of-the-moment Josef Martínez was virtually non-existent, as the Atlanta United goal-machine saw even less of the ball. It has since been claimed that he was carrying a knock and that it had been agreed in advance that he would subsequently stay in the USA and thus not make the trip to Panama on Tuesday.

Further back in the Vinotinto ranks, another eye-catching performance was put in by 20-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez; for some, his side’s man of the match. However, his increasing involvement from around the quarter-hour mark onwards was to be rarely overturned for any substantial period of time, as Colombia’s World Cup-level fluidity and ability became more prominent.

Indeed, Los Cafeteros – in their first game since the departure of José Pékerman – enjoyed more midfield possession and were quick to target the Venezuelan left-flank, where Rolf Feltscher often found himself exposed and received little support from Machís. Atlético Madrid right-back Santiago Arias regularly profited, first really making his presence felt in the 15th minute when he whipped in a cross that Mateus Uribe did well to volley; Faríñez parried this low, preventing it from creeping into the far corner.

Three minutes later, River Plate-loanee Juan Fernando Quintero, announced himself on the Hard Rock turf. He would go on to be Colombia’s standout player, giving Venezuela’s rearguard a torrid time with his dribbles, crafty through-balls and all-round inventiveness. His first moment of magic saw him drop the shoulder with great ease to both Machís and Feltscher, putting himself in a great position inside the area, before miscuing his shot.

Quintero and his colleagues ensured that Venezuela regularly ceded the midfield ball-play, finding themselves on the backfoot, deeply retreated with often two defensive lines crowding the area, anxiously repelling balls from all directions. Thus, the scares arrived with greater frequency: Carlos Bacca sped past centre-back Jhon Chancellor but González marginally out-paced an opponent to clear the goalmouth cut-back; Quintero dummied a pass, leaving Arias in acres of space on the right to play a first-time pass to Juan Cuadrado in the area, whose shot was well-blocked by Chancellor’s partner Wilker Ángel; a minute later from a deep position, Quintero and Radamel Falcao were one step ahead of their opponents, as the former’s incisive pass to the latter left Júnior Moreno playing catch-up, although the Monaco striker’s effort from an acute position went into the side-netting.

Venezuela did make some further first-half in-roads into the Colombian half but struggled to have any command over the ball; instead, Quintero continued running the show. In the 33rd minute, from a centre-right position, he curled a left-footed ball that Cuadrado was more alert to than González, but the Juventus attacker was ultimately denied by the ever-attentive Faríñez, who knocked it out for a corner. Almost ten minutes later, the Millonarios goalkeeper was again very much awake, this time to a deceptive, curling free-kick by Quintero from near the right touchline; it was curling towards the back of the net, before being punched over the bar.

However, before the half-time whistle went, Venezuela gave their opponents a reminder of the sudden, unanticipated threat that lurked. Some rather improvised passing inside the final third between Rincón, Rondón and Machís ended with the captain turning in his tracks to play a pass to the edge of the area to the goalscorer. He, in turn, struck first-time with his right, curling barely a yard wide of Ospina’s far post.

For a fleeting moment, the 1-0 lead of Rafael Dudamel’s men did not feel quite so precarious, though they were to struggle to build upon this in the second half.

The pattern of play of the opening five minutes after the restart was very familiar, with last-ditch blocks and interceptions required to quell the Colombian threat. That is, until the 51st minute when a goal seemed on the cards, as an exquisite touch by Quintero generated a one-on-one opportunity for Falcao. However, his shot from little more than ten yards lacked direction as Faríñez stayed strong to dramatically block. Not to be outdone, Colombia’s all-time top-scorer would soon make up for this lack of composure.

Indeed, shortly after Machís cut over from the left to feed Sergio Córdova for a long-range effort that was easy work for Ospina, Colombia returned to their hunting ground and found a 55th-minute equaliser. Here, the Colombian strike-force were able to demonstrate high-level intuitive, cut-throat abilities against a Russia-based centre-back pairing. Upon making a run to receive a pass from Quintero, Villarreal’s Bacca – who played club football in Venezuela a decade ago – only needed two touches to gain space from Ángel and then poke the ball to the central Falcao, who also took two touches: first to open up the opportunity away from Chancellor and the second, killer, one to strike the ball home into the bottom corner.

The goal was undoubtedly deserved and nine minutes later, they could have taken the lead were it not for Faríñez. This time, Quintero’s attempt to cut open the defence was only partially thwarted, with the ball falling very invitingly for the central Uribe, whose side-footed effort would have crept into the far corner were it not for the low glove of the ex-Caracas FC stopper.

Although after the goal Colombia continued to give the opposition defence the jitters, Dudamel’s men were able to offer some glimpses of offensive threat. On the hour-mark, Machís was on hand to intercept a pass and play through Martínez, who suddenly had a one-on-one which was struck at Ospina – albeit after the play had been called back for a debatable offside.

Just before this moment, the rather ineffective Córdova was replaced on the right side of midfield by the more dynamic Luis “Cariaco” González, who appeared to relish playing against the country in which he now earns his living. Indeed, in his half-hour cameo, the Tolima winger gained space for himself and played in several balls that caused concern for Ospina and his centre-backs. Rondón managed to meet one of these in the 68th-minute but, perhaps owing to the defender on his back, was unable to make a telling connection. With a bit of work in training, this could potentially become a useful creative outlet for Dudamel. Elsewhere in the Venezuelan ranks, Rincón showed once again that his particular understanding with the ex-West Brom striker still holds some currency. Indeed, six minutes later, his lofted ball into the area was chested by the centre-forward, before the strike was blocked by Davinson Sánchez for a corner.

All that being said, the most positive attacking performance for Venezuela undoubtedly came from Serie A new-boy Machís. Out of nothing from 25 yards out in the 79th minute, he further underlined this by taking a stepover and firing a feisty left-footed strike that demanded a spectacular one-handed tip-over from Ospina.

Nevertheless, ultimately it was to be Colombia’s day and in the final ten minutes, with both teams semi-transformed due to the number of substitutes, they re-asserted their superiority. In the 83rd minute, they should really have had the winner, but Glasgow Rangers’ international debutant Alfredo Morelos was unable to adjust his footing; with the vacant goal gaping following a goalmouth pass from impressive fellow substitute Sebastián Villa, he instead knocked the ball into the hands of the grateful Faríñez. Despite this gaffe, one way or another, Morelos had a very memorable quarter-of-an-hour. Just two minutes later he received a pass from Luis Muriel on the edge of area, swivelling rapidly to strike low and only marginally missing the near post. Then, in the final minute of regulation time, though he knew little about it, he was involved in the winning goal.

Here, Villa played a one-two with Muriel on the right inside the area and dinked a ball past the – possibly misjudged – onrushing Faríñez, which defenders attempted to knock away but could only clear as far as Atlético Mineiro’s Yimmi Chará. Comically, his first attempt was blocked by the horizontal Morelos – who had instinctively decided to duck-and-cover on the goal-line – but he made sure from the rebound, giving interim manager Arturo Reyes the result that his side’s play had merited.

Overall then, in so many ways, Venezuela’s rusty performance should have come as little surprise, playing as they did in a similar manner to how they ended the qualifers, albeit with somewhat less verve and success. A few players, most notably Machís, offered optimism for the long-term future but the team lacked match sharpness and were often unable to keep up with a more advanced footballing nation. They were unable to hold onto the ball in the centre of the pitch, with attacking avenues largely coming from crosses and – mostly thwarted – rapid transitions, rather than patient build-up play. This absence of possession and the concomitant cautious camping meant that they often packed the centre of their considerable rearguard with bodies, seemingly in an implicit acknowledgement that the flanks were going to leak problems that necessitated reinforcements. As Dudamel said pre-game, the left-side in particular is a “headache” and thus it proved, both with Feltscher on the pitch as well as with his 62nd-minute replacement, debutant Luis Mago. With the Carabobo FC man scheduled to start against Panama on Tuesday, many Vinotinto fans will be hoping that he can provide a surprising solution and develop a better relationship with those around him.

Dudamel has indicated that several other hitherto unused players will see action in Panama City, in what is likely to be a considerable challenge against a side that Venezuela have not managed to beat in their last seven attempts – even if the last two games were draws.

Although we are unlikely to witness any dramatic changes in playing style, this may turn out to be a more inviting test and with the new cycle having only just begun, for everyone involved, there really is everything to play for.

Team Selections

Colombia (4-3-1-2): D. Ospina; S. Arias (H. Palacios, 90+2′), D. Sánchez, W. Tesillo, C. Borja; J. Cuadrado (Y. Chará, 75′), W. Barrios (J. Campuzano, 81′), M. Uribe; J. Quintero (S. Villa, 75′); C. Bacca (L. Muriel, 68′) & R. Falcao (A. Morelos, 77′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; A. González, J. Chancellor (Y. Osorio, 87′), W. Ángel, R. Feltscher (L. Mago, 62′); S. Córdova (L. González, 59′), T. Rincón (J. Savarino, 81′), J. Moreno, D. Machís (R. Otero, 81′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Lucena, 68′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – September 2018 Preview

After an international hiatus of nearly ten months, Venezuela’s senior team are finally returning to action with a friendly double-header. Still coming to terms with this impending reality, @DarrenSpherical fills in some gaps and takes a look at the state-of-play within La Vinotinto’s 24-man squad.

International Friendlies

Friday 7 September 2018 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA.

Colombia vs Venezuela

Tuesday 11 September 2018 – Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama.

Panama vs Venezuela

hardrockstadium

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida – the site of La Vinotinto‘s return

Time To Start Putting the Pieces Together

Last October, as the prematurely-doomed Russia 2018 qualifying campaign was ending with a post-Under 20 World Cup upswing of fortunes (three draws and a final-day victory), La Vinotinto coach Rafael Dudamel revealed that he had asked for “at least five friendlies for 2018“. With four now scheduled and possibly one or two more in the pipeline, it now looks as if his rather modest request may ultimately be granted.

Also this year – a World Cup year, no less – the match-shy Venezuela have defied all logic and managed to ascend from 52nd to 31st in the FIFA rankings. Thus, taking a very partial-sighted view of things, it could be said that Venezuela appear to be well-poised to crack on with unburdening themselves of being branded the “Cinderella” of CONMEBOL.

Perhaps, but throughout the near-300 days since last November that the senior national side has gone without playing – during which an astonishing 17 of the 24 players in the current squad have switched club sides – there has been no shortage of concern over the perceived lack of activity. In response, the FVF (Federación Venezolana de Fútbol) have repeatedly stated what should come as no surprise to anyone with a passing interest in the country’s economic situation: there is simply not enough money. Friendlies come at unfriendly prices and plenty of proposals have had to be declined. Thus, regardless of whether or not some pleading phonecalls were made, it makes considerable sense to see that the first two encounters that have been belatedly set in stone come against countries very close to home.

Nevertheless, for a football association who invited the nation’s media to a presentation in July titled “Qatar 2022. The Objective of Everyone” and whose social media channels regularly repeat the slogan that “We are World [Cup] Class“, tests against two recent World Cup-qualifiers are an apt reintroduction into the international fold.

Furthermore, despite all the frustrations from fans who fear that the country is losing ground, Rafael Dudamel has undoubtedly been a busy man in the intervening lull, pursuing the stated strategy of investing in the young. Indeed, he, along with his coaching staff have not only held a dozen or so training modules with primarily local talent, but they have also led into several tournaments the new generation of Under-20s as well as some prospects from the previous history-making cycle. Ironically, two clear beneficiaries of one of these campaigns have been two eligible overage players: left-back Luis Mago (Carabobo FC, 24 this month) and holding midfielder Agnel Flores (Monagas SC, 29). Barely a month ago, this pair helped a mostly Under-21 squad reach the final of the 2018 Central American & Caribbean Games, where they were runners-up to hosts Colombia.

Concerning youth though, another two members of that particular squad also called to the current Selección are centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay) and midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira). These are two of the four players present – along with attacking midfielder Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany) and goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) – who were runners-up last year in South Korea and in whom considerable hope is indeed invested.

Initially, there were in fact six players from the silver crop in this squad, but within the past week right-back Ronald Hernández and jinking Yeferson Soteldo have had to be replaced, along with the marginally more experienced Jhon Murillo (22). Visa problems being the official reason disclosed by the FVF. Were it not for a long-term injury, midfielder and erstwhile Under-20 captain Yangel Herrera would have received a call and a stronger recent run of form as well as a UK work permit would have also surely helped the cause of fellow absentee Adalberto Peñaranda. More than a handful of others from their generation are also considered potential future call-ups, further reinforcing the sense that if the senior side is to seriously threaten their continental rivals in the next four years, the integration of youth with more established figures will be key.

This thus begs the question, who out of the current crop are considered likely first-teamers? Right now, all would agree that the fast-tracked Fariñez undoubtedly receives the No. 1 shirt and that the pivotal role in front of the back-four of captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) is not up for debate. Forwards Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) and Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) are also leading figures. However, questions have been asked as to whether or not the pair can combine effectively and, should Dudamel opt for a lone striker, if the latter’s phenomenal MLS goalscoring exploits could one day rather soon lead to him usurping the Magpie as the focal point of the attack. Either way, such is the gulf in stature that even if one has to make way for the other in the line-up, the two other forwards named in this squad will have a considerable battle on their hands just to receive further call-ups, let alone gain a starting berth off one of the aforementioned pair.

After these names, things start to become a little more precarious. Regarding the rearguard, one of Dudamel’s great achievements last year at both Under-20 level as well as in the final stretch of the qualifiers was the tightening up at the back, resulting in an admirably low number of goals conceded. However, there lurks the feeling that these were feats of a more collective, well-disciplined and systematic nature, rather than owing to a combination of individual brilliance. Thus, though the Russian-based pair of Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny) and Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala) currently have the strongest claims to the centre-back positions, it will be well worth looking at the 19-year-old Ferraresi as well as Yordan Osorio, who currently finds himself on loan at Vitória Guimarães, after a January transfer to Portuguese giants Porto.

Regarding the defensive flanks, they were repeatedly exploited by opponents in the qualifiers and Dudamel himself has admitted that the left-back position is a problem. As Rolf Feltscher‘s form at LA Galaxy – where, owing to the competition of Ashley Cole, he is usually deployed on the right – does not inspire confidence, opportunity surely beckons for the uncapped Mago. On the right, Hernández’s late omission is definitely a setback for personal, as well as collective, development. His replacement Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), a 27-year-old with less than a handful of caps who spent some of the past year playing in Gibraltar, does not appear to be one for the long run. Thus, the door is still very much open to Alexander González (Elche, Spain), a healthily-capped individual whose optimum position seems to lay somewhere curiously between that of a right-back and a right-sided midfielder, joining in with attacks but occasionally leaving himself exposed.

Just in front, though Flores or Lucena may well receive a chance to partner Rincón, with the absence of Herrera, Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) can really stake a claim to challenge his fellow MLS-dwelling compatriot for that coveted first-team spot. Aided by the arrival of Wayne Rooney, the 25-year-old is enjoying a good spell at club level, off the back of making his international debut last year, from which he went on to start in the heart of the Vinotinto midfield in the draws against Uruguay and Argentina.

Regarding the more attack-minded midfield positions, whether Dudamel opts for one on each flank or an attacking line of three, he still has the customary, welcome selection issue. Venezuela have had a relatively impressive amount of success with the development of players in this broad area and new candidates for the limited number of roles frequently emerge. Indeed, the right-sided Córdova rapidly transitioned from his country’s Under-20 World Cup topscorer to a regular in the Vinotinto line-up, starting all four of the remaining qualifying matches. However, with no starts yet this season in the Bundesliga, he will know more than anyone that nothing can be taken for granted. The visa-less Murillo was also making headway in the final qualifying stretch along with, to perhaps a lesser extent, Rómulo Otero, who has since raised eyebrows by swapping being a one-man highlight reel in Brazil for a loan spell in Saudi Arabia.

If there is to be a reordering in the pecking order, there are two men in particular who are primed to capitalise. Firstly, Darwin Machís, who can be deployed on either side of an attacking midfield and who also gained a start against Colombia last August. Since then, the tenacious late-bloomer of 25 years has enjoyed a sensational, golazo-laden season with Granada, justifying their faith in him and earning himself a move to Udinese, where he has already started the first three Serie A games of the season. Secondly, there is the right-sided Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), whose inclusion only came at the eleventh hour following the omissions of Murillo and Soteldo. Perhaps this will prove to be a blessing in disguise as, after initially being overlooked, the ex-Zulia man – only a mere several months older than the much-hyped Soteldo – has gone on a spectacular run of form, to the point where he now seems like a permanent fixture of the MLS’s official Team of the Week.

Machís and Savarino undoubtedly have the higher-profiles, but many will also be hoping to see some contributions from two other players in fine form: the uncapped Eduard Bello, who has netted 8 times in 21 league games since his move to Chile with Deportes Antofagasta and  Luis “Cariaco” González, the other beneficiary of the Murillo/Soteldo withdrawals. The latter has recently turned up at Colombian title-winners Deportes Tolima, assisting an impressive number of times in the same side as compatriot Yohandry Orozco (who, in turn, despite being one of the three overage players at the Central American and Caribbean Games, where he contributed three goals in five games, has not been selected here).

So, overall then, aside from perhaps four starting positions, there is certainly all to play for, with no shortage of competition inside and outside of the current squad. Tactically, Dudamel has spoken of experiments with the youth sides – in particular, playing with three at the back – though there is no indication yet as to whether this will be carried over to the seniors. What does remain likely, however, is that the side will continue with a compact defensive rearguard and will seek to break with rapid transitions on the counter. If, in time, they can also add some consistency in the starting personnel – particularly amongst the attacking midfield positions – and generate some more positive, front-foot play, this will certainly feel like team progress.

Although they are merely friendlies and the Copa América is not for another nine months, all Vinotinto fans will be hoping, perhaps with hearts rather than heads, that their representatives have not lost too much momentum since last year’s promising end. Results may not be the priority, but there is reason for optimism, not least because the national side does possess a respectable recent record against Colombia and have drawn their last two games against Panama (with the rain-soaked September 2015 encounter actually proving to be Juan Arango’s final appearance for his country).

There are, of course, far more important things for Venezuelans to be preoccupied with.

In April of this year, the life of 30-year-old Jesús Guacarán – physiotherapist for La Vinotinto who was part of the Under-20 national team’s success – was taken, shot dead whilst out shopping in Barquisimeto, thus depriving his wife of not only her husband but of a father for their then-unborn child. This is but one of countless tragedies that have occurred in a nation contending with unimaginable economic and social turmoil, though it is one of the more acutely-felt incidents for the Selección. Plenty of high-profile individuals conveyed their sadness on social media and it can only be speculated how the everyday uncertainties and hardships of their family members, friends and other loved ones impact upon the mindsets of the players and coaches of the national side.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Salomón Rondón offered this insight into the team’s perspective going into games: “My responsibility is to make Venezuelan people proud. When we play for the national team we try to make them forget the bad things, just for those 90 minutes.”

Though this may be impossible for some, here’s hoping that the long-awaited return of La Vinotinto can at least raise a few extra smiles, however fleeting, and inspire many in the face of adversity.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintosept2018

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Alexander González (Elche, Spain), Luis Mago (Carabobo FC) & Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal),

Midfielders

Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Agnel Flores (Monagas SC), Luis González (Deportes Tolima, Colombia), Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela, on loan from Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Deportivo La Coruña, Spain).

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

 

Venezuela 2-1 Honduras – International Friendly (11 February 2015) & Assessment

Wednesday 11 February 2015 

International Friendly

Venezuela 2-1 Honduras

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas 

Match Highlights of Venezuela 2-1 Honduras (YouTube channel: Deportes Hn)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Baroja; Carabalí, Fuenmayor (Vargas, 46′), Sánchez, Cichero; Lucena (c), Figuera (Acosta, 58′); Gómez (Murillo, 56′), Farías (Arteaga, 64′), Lugo (L. González, 46′); Blanco (Ocanto, 82′).

Honduras (4-3-3): Valladares; Crisanto, Figueroa, Leverón, Sánchez (Palacios, 69′); Peralta (Delgado, 76′), Claros, Martínez (Cardona, 82′); Quioto (Discua, 62′), Lozano (Tejeda, 75′), Castillo (Acosta, 36′).

Match Report

Following last week’s 3-2 away victory, Venezuela picked up their second consecutive win against Honduras in the two nations’ friendly double-header, with local debutant Jhon Murillo ensuring that his former club manager Noel Sanvicente enjoyed a triumphant return to his erstwhile stomping ground.

The Estadio Agustín Tovar, built in anticipation of Venezuela’s hosting of Copa América 2007, is the home of Zamora FC, the current leaders of the Torneo Clausura and the reigning two-time champions of Venezuela. Before taking the national job last July, it was Sanvicente who managed this club to these two titles – the only two in their modest history – and appropriately, in what was La Vinotinto‘s first home game under his guidance, he received a hero’s welcome upon his return.

noelsanvicente

Banner Tribute to Noel Sanvicente, expressing the fans’ support and belief that he will fulfil the nation’s dreams by qualifying for the 2018 World Cup (Image: Bet365 match feed).

The game itself was contested by home-based players plus one MLS-based Honduran who lasted little more than half an hour – more on this later. Whereas Jorge Luis Pinto, mastermind behind Costa Rica’s World Cup run, opted to experiment with his new squad by making seven changes from last week’s encounter, Sanvicente only made one alteration – one which was forced upon him. Indeed, Rómulo Otero – the pivotal figure who played a crucial role in all three of Venezuela’s goals – was injured in club action for Caracas FC at the weekend and was replaced in the line-up by club colleague, Edder FaríasThat the majority of the Venezuelan players were also in domestic action at the same time as Otero was a factor that their Honduran counterparts did not have to contend with and may have had some effect on this game’s dynamics (or lack, thereof). The play was, for the most part, sluggish and devoid of any sustained rhythm or fluidity, something that the players’ relative unfamiliarity with one another was no doubt also partly responsible for.

However, the opening exchanges were rather lively, with Farías driving a loose ball at Honduras’ returning World Cup goalkeeper, Noel Valladares, and within 17 minutes the two sides were level. The visitors looked to be relishing their role as potential homecoming saboteurs when, with 9 minutes on the clock, Rubilio Castillo’s decent low long-range effort was parried by Alain Baroja, only to be rapidly chipped back into the area from the left by Romell Quioto for Anthony Lozano to powerfully head in.

The hosts responded 8 minutes later from a free-kick just outside the right edge of the area. Argenis Gómez – who played a role in two of the goals in last week’s encounter – swung in a fine left-footed ball that was met by left-back Gabriel Cichero, whose header into the goalmouth found the trailing left leg of captain Franklin Lucena. Though Jorge Claros managed to hook it away, the linesman flagged that it had already crossed the line – parity had been restored.

One recurring theme of the first game between this pair was the high number of petulant fouls committed, a feature that was to recur to a slightly lesser extent in the subsequent phase of play. Within no more than two minutes of play, both Honduras’ Castillo and Venezuela’s Juan Fuenmayor were booked for offences on each other, though the likelihood of their tussles resulting in a red card or two was abruptly averted when Castillo went off injured after 36 minutes.

Before the match reached this point, however, two notable incidents had occurred. Firstly, after 22 minutes, from the free-kick conceded by Fuenmayor on Castillo, Mario Martínez  lined up a free-kick from the right flank 35 yards out. Struck with his left peg, his curled ball was met on the volley by Lozano’s outstretched right boot and his effort caused a few jitters but went narrowly wide into the side-netting. However, any Honduran hopes of regaining the lead were dealt a blow by the second incident worthy of comment in this period: Jorge Claros, arguably the most high-profile player in this line-up owing to his performances with Sporting Kansas City, receiving his marching orders for a wild high-foot challenge in midfield, some 5-6 feet off the ground.

Yet with ten men, the visitors certainly did not crumble and were to have at least a few more chances worthy of comment in the game, the closest one coming on 37 minutes, just several minutes after the dismissal. An exquisite left-footed diagonal ball by Martínez on the turn from the half-way line was taken adeptly in the stride of Quioto who, from inside the area on the left lashed a low shot that was to come off the inside of the post and agonisingly trickle back across the goalmouth. Whether or not Baroja got any of his left glove on this is open to debate, though if he did, as the margins involved here were so thin, this contact surely stopped the ball from crossing the line.

Though this reminded Sanvicente of the threat Honduras could pose even with the numerical disadvantage, he opted to make some attack-minded substitutes at the break. Off came centre-back Fuenmayor and attacking midfielder Jesús Lugo to be replaced by Luis Vargas, who appeared to operate in a deep-lying playmaker role, and debutant Luis ‘Cariaco’ González, who was largely to be found in advanced positions on the left.

The second half, perhaps partly due to it consisting of one side with many players who were contesting their third game in eight days up against a team trying to compensate for being a man down, was rather short on chances. However, when the first of note came after 57 minutes, it resulted in the winning goal. This was scored by Venezuela’s third substitute, local hot prospect – and hot-head – Jhon Murillo, a remarkable 37 seconds after arriving on the pitch. The Zamora winger as well as the unused José Marrufo were both not in the original squad but were called up on the strength of their performances at the recent South American Youth Championship.

He replaced Gómez on the field and was soon found on the right side of the area by the long searching ball of club team-mate Vargas. Murillo won an aerial duel to guide the ball into the area, where defender Johnny Leverón – back home after a season with Vancouver Whitecaps – horribly miscued an attempted clearance. Under no real pressure around his own six-yard box, he acrobatically hit the ball over goalkeeper Valladares – who had come out to claim it – and Murillo, with predatory anticipation, burst forward to chest the descending ball in from little more than a yard out – a dream debut for the substitute. It was certainly not a bad moment for Sanvicente either, with the move beginning with one former charge of his at club level and then finished off by another in what is their present, and his former, home ground – an ideal winning scenario.

In the rest of the half, after Cichero, González and Vargas all hit shots either wide or over from rather optimistic positions, Venezuela had their only other concrete chance. This came from another substitute, Manuel Arteaga, who capitalised on a poor midfield pass to rob a defender but then, from the edge of the area, shot far too close to Valladares.

Up the other end, the visitors mildly threatened first with a cross that was well-headed away for a corner and then a subsequent effort from outside the area that went comfortably wide. Their best chance, however, came with what proved to be the last kicks of the game, as Bryan Acosta’s free-kick was flicked on by Ángel Tejeda, which Baroja did well to see at a late stage and dive down low to parry out to the left.

Not long after, the whistle sounded and Noel Sanvicente had attained his second consecutive victory over his Central American opponents – also the second win of his reign, following defeats in his opening four games.

A Worthwhile Pair of Games?

Quite what the coach will draw from both games is difficult to ascertain as the constitution of the teams bore very little – if any – resemblance to the sides he is likely to select when Venezuela play competitive fixtures and the full overseas contingent is called up.

Left-back Gabriel Cichero is the only player likely to retain his place in future line-ups and he will be pleased to have had little to trouble him on his side of the pitch, as well as notching an assist.

Defensive-midfielder Franklin Lucena will surely have been buoyed at starting, being named as captain for both games and scoring a goal – he is surely now back ahead of Rafael Acosta and Édgar Jiménez (the latter of whom was not in the squad) in the pecking order. However, he is unlikely to receive a first-team place ahead of the supposed preferred pairing of converted right-back Roberto Rosales and official captain Tomás Rincón. Furthermore, with his 34th birthday coming up within a week, it remains to be seen how much of an international future the Deportivo La Guaira man has.

Alain Baroja, though he is very unlikely to replace Tenerife’s Dani Hernández as number one goalkeeper, will nevertheless be delighted to have played both games and surely consolidate his position as second-choice ahead of Rafael Romo. Regarding the defence as a whole, though their performance certainly improved and was more assured, that they still failed to provide Sanvicente with his first clean sheet will be a lingering concern.

Further upfield, both Argenis Gómez and, to a greater extentRómulo Otero did much to enhance their claims for a regular squad place. Though the attacking midfield slots are the most competitive positions at present, Otero’s absence from the second game arguably only helps to preserve the perception of his star performance in the first game and bolster his personal cause.

Finally, in the forward positions, though both Edder Farías and Richard Blanco scored in the first game, to see either in a future squad for a competitive game would be a surprise. Not only are there plenty of overseas-based rivals in this area but there is also competition from the top-scoring home-based Venezuelan who was unable to join this squad as he was busy enhancing the domestic league’s reputation in sensational fashion.

Indeed, immediately after the second national game had ended, Gelmin Rivas fired Deportivo Táchira through to the Copa Libertadores group stage, getting both goals away to Paraguayan giants Cerro Porteño as his side’s 2-2 draw ensured a 4-3 aggregate victory. To have three sides involved in this phase of the continent’s premier competition is very rare and this, along with the two national victories, marked a much-needed morale-booster for Venezuelan football.

It will be curious to see whether Rivas can maintain his form and earn what would be a somewhat unanticipated call-up to the senior side for their two friendlies in late March against Peru and an as-yet-unconfirmed opponent. These two games are currently the last scheduled chances to alter Sanvicente’s plans ahead of Copa América, so whoever ends up in the squad will be best-advised to make the most of their opportunity. With the coach having always been at least a few key players short in his squads up until this point, those that do receive a call-up will be acutely aware that there are certainly some places still yet to be determined.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical 

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

Friendly International Double-Header

4 February 2015

Honduras vs Venezuela

Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula 

11 February 2015 

Venezuela vs Honduras

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas 

Less Prestigious Than Friendlies?

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

The Managers:

Any Preparation Time is Invaluable

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

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

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

Venezuela’s Players

A Rare Opportunity for the Majority

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

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

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

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

What to Look out for in the Venezuelan Side

How the Goalkeepers Perform

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

How the Defence Copes

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

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

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

Rómulo Otero’s Role as an Attacking Threat

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

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

How the Forwards Fare

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

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

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

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

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

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Caracas FC)

Rafael Romo (Mineros de Guayana)

Defenders

Francisco Carabalí (Caracas FC)

Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo Lara)

Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana)

Juan Fuenmayor (Deportivo Anzoátegui)

Andrés Sánchez (Caracas FC)

Midfielders

Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana)

Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira)

Argenis Gómez (Trujillanos FC)

Luis González (Deportivo La Guaira)

Óscar González (Deportivo La Guaira)

Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira)

Rómulo Otero (Caracas FC)

Luis Vargas (Zamora FC)

Forwards 

Manuel Arteaga (Zulia FC)

Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana)

Edder Farías (Caracas FC)

Jesús Lugo (Aragua FC)

Aquiles Ocanto (Carabobo FC)

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical