Tag Archives: Málaga

Copa Libertadores Preview: Deportivo Táchira Join Zamora and Mineros de Guayana on the Grandest Stage

Tonight (17 February) may see Europe’s Champions League return for its knock-out phase, but in South America (and Mexico), attention will be very much on the inauguration of the Group Stage of the 2015 Copa Libertadores, the premier club competition.

Interest will be particularly high in Venezuela, the nation whose clubs have historically made the least impact in this tournament. For the first ever time since the round of play-off qualifiers was introduced in 2005, the continent’s traditional underdogs will be represented by their full quota of three teams, as Zamora (2013-14 champions) and Mineros de Guayana (2013-14 runners-up & Apertura winners) will be joined by Deportivo Táchira (3rd in 2013-14 aggregate table, behind the other two qualifiers).

Highlights of Cerro Porteño 2-2 Deportivo Táchira (3-4 aggregate), 11 February 2015, Copa Libertadores First Round.

(Video courtesy of YouTube user: Enfermos X el fútbol)

Deportivo Táchira’s Asunción Ascension

Táchira, who as well as making four appearances at this stage in the past ten years have also been unsuccessful in each of the three previous times that they have contested the play-off round, finally overcame this hurdle last week when they defeated Cerro Porteño. Perhaps being rivalled only by Palestino of Chile knocking out Uruguay’s three-time winners Nacional as the biggest surprise of the preliminaries, the side from the eponymous state on the Colombian border drew 2-2 in Asunción, thus claiming a memorable 4-3 aggregate victory

Before the first leg was contested on 4 February, the six-time semi-finalists from Paraguay were considered comfortable favourites to progress. Táchira, however, gave short shrift to the supposed script as it took no more than 12 minutes for 34-year-old Argentine Javier López – a recent recruit from Zamora FC – to head in the fine set-piece delivery of 32-year-old erstwhile Venezuela international César ‘Maestrico’ González. Rather than sitting back, San Cristóbal’s finest absorbed and were further invigorated by the raucous atmosphere of a well-populated Pueblo Nuevo and seven minutes later, the fans were to witness a goal that undoubtedly lived up to the significance of the occasion. Maintaining the theme of experience, this came from the much-travelled 37-year-old Jorge Rojas, a recent acquisition from one of the capital’s smaller sides, Metropolitanos, as well as being La Vinotinto‘s third highest-capped player of all-time. Upon receiving a throw-in, Rojas demonstrated why he is known as ‘El Zurdo’, as he let the ball roll into his stride and unleashed an unstoppable left-footed strike from over 30 yards that fizzed in the air before going in off the underside of the crossbar.

A goal surely fit to grace any stadium in the world and a fine example of the strength in depth that exists in this competition. Not to be outdone, five minutes after the restart Cerro were to get what proved to be their consolation and seemingly vital away goal, with a strike that left many impartial observers unsure as to which was the finest of the game. This was a swerving 30-yard free-kick from Jonathan Fabbro, an Argentina-born Paraguay international who has represented clubs in six countries within Latin America and who, at 33 years of age, was well on-message with this game’s theme.

Thus, with an away goal to their name and home advantage for the decisive tie on 11 February to look forward to, Cerro returned to the Paraguayan capital confident that a group berth awaited. When, with 40 minutes on the clock, Fabbro again got on the scoresheet – this time via a dubiously awarded penalty – many home nerves dissipated as now Táchira were compelled to attack in order to avoid elimination, thus leaving them vulnerable on the counter. Yet, while at times the Venezuelans rode their luck, from the very first minute they always looked like they were capable of posing a threat, not to mention a surprise or two, the first of which they delivered on 55 minutes. Gelmin Rivas, the club’s leading goalscorer with 11 goals in 17 league games, followed up the good work of Pablo Olivera – recently acquired from Uruguay’s second tier – to hold off defenders and adeptly side-foot home.

The onus was thus back on the hosts and to their credit, they required little more than five minutes to regain the lead with that man Fabbro again involved in the goal, albeit this time as supplier. He did well on the right of the area to shrug off some challenges before chipping a fine cross into the area that local youngster Cecilio Domínguez chested and dispatched with a consummate ease that belied his 20 years.

However, as the Asunción crowd began pondering whether or not extra-time would be necessary, Rivas abruptly rendered any such musings academic, stunning the home faithful within a minute of the restart. The striker, who was linked with a possible move to Standard Liège or Club Brugge in January, picked up the ball 30 yards out and evaded a challenge to hit a low bouncing shot from the right edge of the area into the bottom far corner. 2-2, the local scoreboard now alarmingly read. Although the goalkeeper Rodolfo Rodríguez probably should have parried this shot away, any anger felt by the home fans had to be suppressed as this sensationally swift turn of events meant that their side now had to frantically get their act together and score twice in just under half an hour.

As it panned out, while Cerro did have the bulk of the remaining chances, Táchira were to resist and hold on, thus not only qualifying for the group stage but also managing to avoid defeat against a side that had reached this very phase in four of the past five years.

Although it is unlikely that fans of Táchira’s El Clásico foes Caracas FC share the following sentiments, it must be said that as this second leg victory was immediately followed by the national team’s second successive win over Honduras in a week, for many Venezuelan football fans this was certainly a day to be savoured.

Previews of Venezuela’s 3 Teams in the 2015 Copa Libertadores

deportivotachira

Deportivo Táchira

With the confidence gained from their impressive win against Cerro Porteño coupled with their return to form in the early stages of Venezuela’s Torneo Clausura, Los Aurinegros should feel that advancing from Group 8 (of 8) is not beyond their capabilities. Indeed, while the encounter with Argentine champions Racing and their strike-force of Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou may cause the most butterflies, their games against Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal and another Paraguayan side, Guaraní, now seem, by comparison, manageable.

Coach Daniel Farías will certainly be hoping his side does not experience a similarly disastrous decline in form that befell them in the 18-team Torneo Apertura when they contrived to fall from 1st at the midway point to a final position of 11th.  To avert this, the form of various key players will be crucial: goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind, who has made a strong impression since joining at the beginning of the Clausura; young centre-back Wilker Ángel, who can chip in with more than his fair share of goals from set-pieces and who may well be heading abroad later in the year; playmaker César González, whose set-pieces and link-up play will be vital, as will be those of Jorge Rojas, though how much of the campaign the latter will feature in at his age remains to be seen; another dead-ball specialist, albeit one surely not concerned with stamina issues is young, creative livewire Yohandry Orozco, a man who will want to use this opportunity to display to a wide audience some of the talent that gained him recognition four years ago; the service of the likes of Orozco, Rojas, González and, to an extent, Pablo Olivera, will need to be spot-on in order for striker Gelmin Rivas to have a prosperous tournament, being as he is in the main a penalty-area predator.

zamorafc

Zamora FC

Before Táchira get their campaign underway with a home game against Racing, the 2013-14 champions of Venezuela will be ushering in their nation’s participation in the tournament with an away game against Montevideo Wanderers. Their Uruguayan opponents will be hosting this encounter at Parque Central, the home of their more illustrious cross-city neighbours, Nacional, whose qualifying-round conquerors Palestino – a Chilean side originally set up by Palestinian immigrants – are the third side in Group 5. The final team is Argentine giants Boca Juniors who, having raised eyes and expectations with the recruitment of Uruguayan international Nicolás Lodeiro, Málaga midfielder Pablo Pérez and striker Dani Osvaldo, promise to be the dominant threat.

Zamora may have won last season’s championship but, as is often the case in South America, they were victims of their own success. Consequently, key individuals were swiftly snapped up by all and sundry, such as midfielder Pedro Ramírez (FC Sion), leading goalscorer Juan Falcón (FC Metz) and, most significantly, manager Noel Sanvicente (Venezuela national team). They thus began the Torneo Apertura campaign in August disastrously, not picking up a win in their first 11 games and finding themselves rooted to the bottom. However, their form was to undergo a remarkable U-turn as their final six games ended with five wins and a draw, salvaging some pride with a final position of 12th. This reversal in fortunes has impressively and, with the reputation of Venezuelan football on the continental stage in mind, thankfully, continued into the second half of the domestic season, as they currently sit 1st in the Torneo Clausura, with four wins and two draws – unbeaten in a total of 13 games.

Key to continuining this impressive transformation under coach Julio Quintero will be the performance of the defence, which has four clean sheets in the past six games and now features some new faces as well as the likes of Panama international Luis Ovalle and the long-serving Moisés Galezo. Other players whose roles will be crucial include deep-lying playmaker, set-piece taker and occasional shield Luis Vargas, as well as fellow midfield stalwart Arles Flores; with his dribbles down the flanks as well as the inroads he makes infield, temperamental-yet-gifted 19-year-old Jhon Murillo – who had an unsuccessful trial with Basel last year – will certainly be hoping to make an impression, as well as chip in with some goals; the man who has been on target the most for the champions and who was the catalyst behind their return to form is attacking midfielder/support-striker Pierre Pluchino, whose elegant creativity and finishing will be crucial; lastly, Santiago Bello, a striker with an impressive record recently brought in from the Uruguayan second tier in advance of the Libertadores – so far yet to start a game, but from whom goals are anticipated.

Minerosdeguayana

Mineros de Guayana

The 2013 Torneo Apertura winners and overall runners-up for 2013-14 have thus far had a rather mediocre season, sacking Richard  Páez (the well-respected former national team manager from 2001-07) and ending the most recent Apertura in 6th place. Their uninspiring form has continued into the Clausura as they sit in 11th place, having played six games – one, and in some cases, two, more than the vast of majority of the sides around them.

Thus, of Venezuela’s three representatives, Mineros are currently heading into this tournament with the worst form. However, they may be able to boost morale ahead of their official entrance into the competition as they will be involved in another league game before they play their opening Libertadores match next week on Tuesday 24 February away to Argentine side Huracán (Update 24/2/15: this game against Estudiantes de Mérida did not take place due to the tragic death of club captain Carlos de Castro. Mineros now find themselves 12th in the table). This newly promoted club – who qualified by virtue of winning the Copa Argentina – will certainly be no pushover, as evidenced by their comfortable 4-0 play-off round win over Peru’s Alianza Lima. The other two sides that will be contesting Group 3 are champions of their respective countries: Club Universitario of Bolivia and Cruzeiro of Brazil, the latter of whom, despite some post-season departures, will be firm favourites and who now count Leandro Damião and Uruguayan prospect Giorgian De Arrascaeta amongst their ranks.

The success or otherwise of Mineros will depend largely on players who have mostly performed at a standard markedly lower than they did last season suddenly raising their game, however unlikely that may seem. Their side consists of many individuals who regularly receive call-ups to the national squad, such as goalkeeper Rafael Romo who, judging by his inaction in the recent Venezuela friendlies, finds himself demoted from second to third choice; Gabriel Cichero who, though certainly not without his critics, is Venezuela’s first-choice left-back and who also possesses attacking qualities, particularly on set-pieces; the two defence-minded midfielders Rafael Acosta and Édgar Jiménez also have their attacking merits, but when playing for the national side have largely been panned, particularly when they were both regularly left for dead in November’s 5-0 thrashing handed out by Chile; striker Richard Blanco recently played and scored a tap-in against Honduras but, as this was a squad of home-based players, he is unlikely to get a regular call-up; depending on form, the Colombian duo of Zamir Valoyes and James Cabezas may well find themselves sidelining Blanco; Cabezas was brought in from recent Apertura winners Trujillanos (where he scored 10 goals in 16 games), along with defender Edixon Cuevas, yet rather than boost the squad, both have thus far struggled to replicate the form they displayed at their old club. As a final consideration, it will be interesting to see how former Venezuela international defender Luis Vallenilla copes against the pace of the likes of Cruzeiro, given that he turns 41 in March.

Venezuelans Flying the Flag: More Bonuses

If following the three clubs was not enough for Venezuelan football fans, there are also some other compatriots who will be competing in this year’s edition for Colombian sides. Luis Manuel Seijas, a left-sided attacking midfielder who features regularly for the national side will be playing for 2014 Torneo Finalización champions Independiente Santa Fe. They have been drawn in Group 1 and their very first match comes tonight away to Mexico’s Atlas after the second game of interest – Táchira’s – has finished – a long night is thus in store for all. The two other teams in their group are 2014 Copa do Brasil winners Atlético Mineiro and last year’s Chilean Clausura winners, Colo-Colo.

In Group 7, Colombia’s 2014 Apertura winners Atlético Nacional should field another Venezuelan international midfielder, Alejandro Guerra. Also in their ranks is Jonathan Copete, a Colombian in origin but who has been in talks for some time now with Venezuelan national boss Noel Sanvicente about naturalisation and who could well feature in future national team squads at some point this year. Irrespective of how his international aspirations pan out, both men come into this competition with strong continental experience, having been part of their side’s run to the final of December’s Copa Sudamericana, in which they were runners-up to River Plate. Their first Libertadores match will be on Thursday 19 February and will be possibly their sternest test, being as it is against Paraguay’s 2014 Apertura and Clausura winners, Libertad. Their other two opponents are Ecuador’s championship runners-up Barcelona and Argentina’s Estudiantes de la Plata, whose President regular Argentine football fans will know is club legend Juan Sebastián Verón. While this is a far from straightforward group to negotiate, Guerra and Copete will fancy their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stage.

Although the general consensus is that the two Colombian sides featuring Venezuelans have more chance of progressing than the three domestic teams, one can not help but feel that no matter what happens, many memorable moments will occur this year for Venezuelan football fans to recall fondly for some time afterwards. It is going to be an enthralling tournament which should be covered as much as possible from a Venezuelan perspective on this site.

Now, that is more than enough talking – let’s get the caffeine ready and prepare for some long nights of top-level action!

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Don’t Call It a Comeback

…but it has been a while, hasn’t it?

This Happened

Those who have followed this site since around the time of its mid-July inception will know that The Ball is Hispanospherical started out, like many a half-baked online project, with some rather nauseating, reality-denying enthusiasm. Over time, this was tempered by the struggle to write updates that adequately reflected, and did justice to, the sizeable scope of interest outlined in the inaugural proclamations. Possessing the requisite time to write these articles has been, unsurprisingly, the chief underlying obstacle and, despite having reluctantly sacrificed certain topics in order to provide at least some substantial, albeit reduced, coverage, personal dissatisfaction with this state of affairs lingered. Consequently, in mid-September a rather hastily written post was published that alluded to a ‘fleeting moment of joy’ being partially responsible for the time-constraints and forewarned readers that updates may be even less forthcoming in the foreseeable future, as proved to be the case.

However, that temporary spell on loan to society has expired and, having traipsed back to seclusion, an abundance of free time has now become available. Thus, having spent the last few weeks doing some essential catching-up, the moment has finally arrived for us all to become reacquainted and, hopefully, for some new readers to become ensnared, willingly or otherwise. Before any new articles are written however, allow me first to clarify, having acknowledged the aforementioned experiences and given consideration to potential problems, what the refined focus of The Ball is Hispanospherical will be.

This is Happening

Although this site and its aligned Twitter account were created at around the same time, it was not originally anticipated that the latter would be used as much as it has been, as it gradually assumed a superior role to the former. Addictive, isn’t it? This imbalance needs to be redressed somewhat, though Hispanospherical  will very much be proceeding with both the site and Twitter being used in cahoots with one another. Anyone who has followed on Twitter (@DarrenSpherical, since you asked), particularly when no updates to the site were being published, may have been unsure as to what exactly they had stumbled upon. Indeed, as time progressed with the noted problems becoming more apparent, the social networking page was exclusively covering a lot of areas that were originally designated for this site. Given the transient visibility of most tweets, the average follower may have been none-the-wiser about the account’s precise purpose, which would have been further understandable as the stated scope – football coverage of Spanish-speaking nations and wherever Spanish-speakers are playing – is evasively and generously broad.

Therefore, to clear things up to some extent, what follows is a list of topics and themes that, for the foreseeable future at least, I intend to cover on Twitter and, when possible, this website:

Venezuelans Abroad

Visitors to either the site or the Twitter account will know that this has been the most common subject. Venezuela currently have several dozen players scattered around the globe, with some of the most talented plying their trade in top Europeans leagues such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, France and Russia. Others can be found playing crucial roles for their sides in countries such as Colombia, USA, Mexico, Qatar, Thailand and elsewhere. It is hoped that tracking these players over the four continents in which they can be found will not only interest those who wish to know more about one of the least mythologised nations of CONMEBOL, but also appeal to like-minded individuals who share a global perspective on the game.

While the Twitter account will continue to track the club games which feature players either in or on the cusp of the national side, this site will no longer be devoted to providing match reports. No doubt some more will appear in the future, but most likely only for very big encounters, such as title-deciding matches and cup finals. Instead, to make this area more manageable, I will be dedicated to writing features that are not quite so time-contingent and either relate to an individual player or several of them collectively. Ideas for articles have long been threatening to come to fruition and will hopefully all be fleshed out and up on the site by the end of the year.

Venezuela’s National Side (La Vinotinto)

Inextricably linked to the above area of interest, though thus far not given as much prominence simply due to only two international games having been played since the start of the season (both in early September). However, with two friendlies lined up this month against Chile and Bolivia as well as next year’s alluring twin stand-up-and-be-counted attractions, the Copa América and the commencement of the long road to qualification for the 2018 World Cup, expect in future to see some extensive pieces concerning the Noel Sanvicente era. Match reports will continue to be posted for this area of interest and, wherever possible, match previews and catch-up summaries should also make an appearance.

While it may have not seemed the case thus far, the Venezuelan national side is the central, guiding topic of this website though as with most matters of the heart, I would struggle to give a rational explanation as to why.

Venezuelan Domestic Football

Much as the Liga Movistar offers quality, intrigue and much else besides, with so many other leagues competing for the attention of fans, coverage on both Twitter and this site has been intentionally limited. Indeed, though part of the motivation behind starting this site was to shine some light on areas hitherto off the radar of the average English-speaking football fan, it was never the intention to be writing primarily for the benefit of insomniacs, contrarians and/or online gamblers (though these groups are very much welcome!).

Thus, so far, while a couple of thinking-while-typing articles did appear on this site in early August, Twitter has been the main preserve of this area. The focus of the coverage has largely been on the following: leading players (national team members, emerging youngsters, experienced ex-Vinotinto players etc.), the top sides involved in the title-race as well as those who had a brief spell in the Copa Sudamericana (most notably, Caracas FC), as well as any stories of interest (such as the Copa Venezuela run of second-tier Arroceros de Calabozo, who are preparing for a semi-final tie, having defeated top-flight sides Tucanes, cup-holders Caracas and Metropolitanos).

I will continue in this vein on Twitter, though am hesitant to make any commitments regarding articles on this website. Gaining comprehensive access to the Venezuelan domestic game is seemingly impossible for even those who live in the country, so irrespective of the miniscule Anglophone audience for this league, providing substantial coverage is rather problematic. Nevertheless, if any articles do emerge on this site, they will more than likely be concerned with the battles for the Apertura, Clausura and the Gran Final in May, as well as the progress of the three teams (Zamora, Mineros de Guayana and Deportivo Táchira) who have qualified for the Copa Libertadores.

International Teams and Players from Latin America 

According to the broadest definition of Latin America, the region constitutes just over 25 nations. Understandably, one person can not cover all of these and I do not intend to. Instead, given the primary interest in Venezuela and the desire to provide substantial coverage of the Copa América as well as the South American World Cup Qualifying process, when the international breaks occur attention will turn (as it has already) largely to the nine other nations in the CONMEBOL region (Brazil may not be Spanish-speaking but it seems churlish to ignore the one exception). If time allows for it – as it did in October – then some of the other Spanish-speaking nations from CONCACAF, such as Mexico and Costa Rica, will also be featured to varying degrees, though I am very conscious of spreading myself too thin.

For the majority of the year when players are with their club paymasters, I will endeavour to draw attention to Latin (primarily South) American footballers wherever possible, whether that be in games I am watching or in news articles I have read.

How all of this transfers into articles on this site remains to be seen, as it is probable that the first time a substantial number of words are expended on a Latin American nation other than Venezuela will not be until at least the Copa América.

Spanish Domestic Football

Followers on Twitter may have noticed me taking advantage of the near-200 top-flight games that are being broadcast in the UK this season, often giving updates of matches whenever time permits. Attention has largely been focused on ‘Los Otros 18’ sides as there is no shortage of coverage of the other two. The two teams that have featured the most are the ones that have Venezuelans in their ranks: Málaga (Roberto Rosales and Juan Pablo Añor) and Granada (Darwin Machís). All the other teams are very much of interest to me – particularly the two less-fancied sides of the Comunidad de Madrid, Rayo Vallecano and Getafe – but again, time is a barrier.

Thus, while on Twitter I will continue to provide match updates and news as well as venturing some opinions of my own, if any articles appear on this website, they will more than likely be rather general in nature relating to the league as a whole or, possibly, lengthy research pieces on Málaga and/or Granada.

Miscellaneous

No doubt other topics will emerge as potential candidates for articles. As can be gleaned from this update, I do have a habit of writing at length so am rather keen on undertaking some considerable research and then constructing extensive, and hopefully insightful, longform pieces. Ideas are welcome though I do already have some of my own that may or may not see the light of day.

Nevertheless, regardless of what does and does not come to fruition, I hope you now have a better idea of what my intentions are and feel curious enough to return to this site from time to time or at least follow me on Twitter. While there will not be one person who is attracted to everything that will be covered (if there is, I’m not sure even I would like to meet them), I hope that I can provide at least something of interest to everyone who passes by. I look forward to continuing what is, effectively, as cringeworthy as it sounds, language-driven football coverage and hope to get into contact with as many varied people as possible.

Darren

@DarrenSpherical