Tag Archives: Mexico

Mexico 3-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (5 June 2019)

Venezuela’s Copa América preparations are now two-thirds complete, but the team appears far from ready to set the tournament alight. Below, @DarrenSpherical recounts their encounter with El Tri.

International Friendly

Wednesday 5 June 2019 – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Mexico 3-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Mexico 3-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 5 June 2019 (YouTube)

La Vinotinto Vanquished By Martino’s Mexico

Despite taking the lead, a virtually first-choice Venezuela were comfortably swept aside by an under-strength Mexico. 

With all the Copa América players now present in the USA, Rafael Dudamel was able to field his big guns, yet they were nevertheless outplayed by Tata Martino’s Gold Cup-hunting squad which does not include the likes of Javier Hernández, Carlos Vela, Hirving Lozano and Héctor Herrera.

Early on though, it was Venezuela’s Jhon Murillo who surprised everyone – including himself – when, in the 18th minute, he sensationally struck the ball into the back of the net. Possibly caught in two minds as he shaped up on the right to whip in a cross, his ball into the area spectactularly swerved inwards and over goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco to give the South Americans a 1-0 advantage.

The largely pro-Mexico crowd were taken aback, but they soon returned to generating a frenetic atmosphere that was frequently reflected on the pitch.

Cruz Azul youngster Roberto Alvarado boosted their spirits when, in the 25th minute, he was not far off with a curled left-footed effort that went just wide of the target. Then, seven minutes later, he restored parity and drove Venezuelan defensive coaches to insanity. He made it 1-1 after a cross swung in from the right was poorly dealt with and dawdling centre-back Yordan Osorio was robbed of the ball by Rodolfo Pizarro, who nudged it to Alvarado to fire home.

For the remainder of the half, there was no lack of endeavour but both sides struggled to create clear chances. That is, until a couple of minutes before the break when Dudamel’s men nearly stunned the crowd for a second time. This time, Júnior Moreno’s corner was nodded against the post by Yangel Herrera; striker Salomón Rondón immediately lunged for the rebound, but alas, was unable to connect properly.

That was to be the last contribution of note of the Newcastle United Player of the Year as he was substituted off at half time for Josef Martínez, who received a proud ovation from the Atlanta locals who he performs in front of every other week. He arrived onto the pitch with Real Salt Lake’s Jefferson Savarino, though ultimately, the two MLS stars were to have little impact on the outcome.

Indeed, less than ten minutes after the restart, their nation fell behind. Defensive frailties were once again exposed as, on the left, Jésus Gallardo was afforded a little too much space, at the second attempt firing in a low cross that Osorio was beaten to by Pizarro. The latter’s nonchalant finish deservedly made it 2-1.

Later, in the 63rd minute, it looked as if the CONCACAF nation’s lead had been increased when, after Héctor Moreno and Raúl Jiménez had forced Wuilker Faríñez into a breathtaking double save, Diego Reyes struck third time lucky. However, owing to some dangerous, high-footed play from Wolves’ striker Jiménez, this was ruled out.

Shortly afterwards, Savarino created for himself a rare Venezuelan half-chance, but his strike from outside the area went at least a few yards wide. A better opportunity was presented in the 72nd minute after captain Tomás Rincón slid a ball into the area to Juanpi, but the shot of the La Liga midfielder lacked direction and was gratefully received by the gloves of Orozco.

Some four minutes later, the game was put beyond the reach of Venezuela. Again, fatal defensive disorganisation played a part, as on the Mexican right, substitute Carlos Antuna was afforded too much room and thus swung across a low ball that found fellow recent-arrival Andrés Guardado. Also benefitting from slack tracking, on the left side of the area he was able to strike low with aplomb to sentence the game at 3-1.

In all, given the strength of the Vinotinto line-up, it was an underwhelming performance. Perhaps adding to the concerns, at the post-game press conference, coach Dudamel claimed his team are currently at “40-50 per cent of our collective level” and also spoke of the possibility of utilising Rolf Feltscher and Luis Mago in various defensive positions.

The attacking players can not be feeling too comfortable or satisfied either, having netted just one fortuitous goal from open play in the two warm-up matches (wing-back Roberto Rosales having also scored a penalty against Ecuador). One man who will not be contributing anything more to their campaign is Adalberto Peñaranda, who was substituted off against Mexico less than ten minutes after coming on. The prognosis for him did not look good in the immediate aftermath and, today (8 June 2019), he has been officially ruled out of Copa América. To the delight of many fans, Santos-based jinking dribbler Yeferson Soteldo has been called up in his place and, in a few days, should meet up with the squad in Brazil.

Before that rendezvous, however, the national team will be travelling to Cincinnati where they have one last pre-tournament test to play against another CONCACAF Gold Cup challenger. The USA shall provide a stern test and, although friendlies may not be all about results, La Vinotinto will surely be hoping to deliver a performance that can instil belief in themselves and their committed faithful ahead of their flight to Porto Alegre.

To keep up-to-date with how things transpire in this final pre-Copa América international as well as the tournament itself, please keep checking back here as well as pay a visit to @DarrenSpherical.

Team Selections

Mexico (4-1-2-2-1): J. Orozco; F. Navarro (J. Sánchez, 68′), D. Reyes, N. Araujo, J. Gallardo; E. Álvarez (H. Moreno. 30′); C. Rodríguez, E. Gutiérrez (A. Guardado, 68′); R. Alvarado (C. Antuna, 68′), R. Pizarro (O. Pineda, 55′); R. Jiménez (A. Vega, 82′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, Y. Osorio, M. Villanueva, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, Y. Herrera (J. Añor, 60′), T. Rincón; J. Murillo (A. Peñaranda, 76′) (F. Aristeguieta, 85′), D. Machís (J. Savarino, 46′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 46′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – June 2019 Preview

With Copa América 2019 on the horizon, the official 23-man squad has been announced, although not everyone is currently in the USA for the three-match warm-up tour. To become more familiar with the Venezuelan orbit, @DarrenSpherical provides an update on the current state-of-play.

International Friendlies

Saturday 1 June 2019 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA

Ecuador vs Venezuela

Wednesday 5 June 2019 – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Mexico vs Venezuela

Sunday 9 June 2019 – Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

USA vs Venezuela

Peñaranda

Adalberto Peñaranda has some doubters to win over. (FVF)

Mixed Response to Squad Announcement Ahead of Testing Friendlies

Rómulo Otero, Yeferson Soteldo, Jan Hurtado and Alexander González head a list of considerable Venezuelan talents who will not be present in Brazil at the upcoming 46th edition of Copa América.

Ahead of a three-game warm-up tour of the USA, these names and more were omitted from Rafael Dudamel’s final 23-man squad. They were culled from an initial 40-man convocatoria that had been announced on 10 May – despite many players on that list never having been afforded the opportunity to physically be part of the set-up.

It thus appears that Dudamel – whose position was in doubt two months ago but who has since been ratified to continue – had largely made up his mind a while ago and, as is to be expected, not all of his choices have been greeted with unanimous approval. In particular, some were not convinced by the coach’s comments ostensibly justifying the exclusion of Santos No. 10 Soteldo on the inability to secure for him a US visa in time, thus rendering him absent for the build-up. Flimsy pretext or not, those following La Vinotinto over the past year should have not been too surprised, as the diminutive dribbler has, for a variety of reasons, missed call-ups and only played for less than half an hour. That said, one of his positional rivals who avoided the chop, Adalberto Peñaranda, has played even less and, more disconcertingly, only chalked up two FA Cup appearances last season for his club side, Watford. However, it appears that Dudamel is a big believer in the peroxide-blonde attacker. This is, after all, not the first time that he has held out an olive branch to the player who outshone Soteldo – as well as most of his team-mates – as part of 2017’s history-making Under-20 Silver Generation.

No explanations have yet been articulated regarding the other omissions. However, in the case of the eye-grabbing Otero, rightly or wrongly, it is possible that Dudamel was not convinced that his individualistic tendencies could be effectively harnessed within his system. Yet, with his swirling long-range strikes and occasional set-piece brilliance, to some it feels that a potential game-changer has been left behind.

As for Hurtado, since his return to club football eight months ago following an acrimonious hiatus, the striker has rose in stature. However, as well as strong competition from the in-form Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), his non-inclusion may be owing to his inexperience (he is still only 19), questionable discipline (two red cards with the Under-20s earlier this year) and relatively low goals tally.

Yet sespite this momentary setback, one feels that Hurtado’s time shall come – quite possibly as early as next year at 2020’s Argentina/Colombia co-hosted extravaganza. For now, however, he does have at least one more chance to show his boss what he is going be missing. Indeed, he is one of eight young/fringe players currently based in Miami who won’t be going to Brazil but who are nevertheless part of the 23-man squad set to play Ecuador on the first day of June. According to the FVF’s press releases, the other seven are: Pablo Bonilla (Portuguesa), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Erickson Gallardo (Zamora FC), Bernaldo Manzano (Deportivo Lara), Samuel Sosa (Talleres de Córdoba, Argentina), Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA) and Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal).

This curious situation is due to this game being played on a non-FIFA date. Afterwards, however, despite some of their club seasons still being contested, the likes of Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy) and Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) should gradually show their faces.

With two subsequent warm-up games lined up against Gold Cup-eyeing Mexico and USA, Venezuela have quite the competitive friendly guantlet to navigate their way through. As things stand, the consensus is that only one or two of the starting places are up for grabs. Indeed, based on the friendlies played since last September, with everyone available Dudamel would ideally opt to field his charges in a flexible 4-3-2-1 formation. In this system, Faríñez undoubtedly wears the gloves and the left-back is odds-on to be right-footed Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain), with one of the two central defenders being Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal). As Wilker Ángel is injured, Osorio is likely to be partnered by either Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar) or Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain), although surprise inclusion Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA) has an outside shot, given that Dudamel has praised the experienced Swiss-born player’s “versatility“. That said, with no González to vye with, he perhaps has a greater chance of dislodging 21-year-old Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), seemingly the current front-runner to start at right-back.

Further up the park, things appear more concrete: a tight midfield three is predicted to consist of captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), along with Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England) and Moreno. Ahead of them are likely to be the defence-terrorisers Machís and Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal) who, in turn, should be just behind Newcastle United’s 2018/19 Player of the Season, Salomón Rondón.

Yet, three games can be a long time in football and with the potential for injuries as well as high-calibre talents such as Martínez and Savarino lurking in the wings, more than a few purported certainties could well appear misplaced come mid-June.

To keep track of how things develop, please keep checking back to this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad for Copa América 2019

Ven2019CopaAmerica

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA) & Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

 

Venezuela Squad for Friendly against Ecuador

Ven2019Ecuador

Goalkeepers

Joel Graterol (Zamora FC) & Rafael Romo (APOEL FC, Cyprus).

Defenders

Pablo Bonilla (Portuguesa), Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Erickson Gallardo (Zamora FC), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Bernaldo Manzano (Deportivo Lara), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia), Samuel Sosa (Talleres de Córdoba, Argentina) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal), Jan Carlos Hurtado (Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Argentina), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Mexico 0-1 Venezuela (Group B, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 26 May 2017)

Venezuela’s third and final Group B game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup saw them defeat Mexico and thus qualify for the knock-out stage with an unblemished record of three wins and just as many clean sheets. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

GroupB3

(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results, fixtures and standings)

Mexico 0-1 Venezuela

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Group B, 26 May 2017 (YouTube)

A solitary goal was all that was needed for the already-qualified Venezuela to see off Mexico, who will also be joining them in the next phase.

Perhaps it was due to their promising pre-game positions combined with the toll of playing three matches in seven days, but overall there was less intent on offer from either side, with clear chances far and few between. Indeed, though they both had some shots to contend with, neither goalkeeper was greatly troubled for the majority of the encounter. Nevertheless, the Mexican rearguard only needed to be breached once and this occurred in the 33rd minute. Here, the impressive Adalberto Peñaranda dinked a central ball into the area for Sergio Córdova, who showed impressive composure to round the goalkeeper and deceive a defender on the line with his finish.

Following the final whistle, with an enviable collection of results to bolster their confidence, this remarkable generation of Venezuelans will now surely believe that anything is impossible.

Talent Tracking

venezuelaflag Venezuela

After a difficult season loaned out yet largely unwanted in both Serie A and La Liga, Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford) seems to have regained some much-needed mojo. In this game his main contribution was the fine ball he played forward from 30 yards out for the goal, though he also received considerable social media acclaim for a piece of elite showboating in the early stages of the second half. To the naysayers who have used this truncated instance of fancy dannery to lambast him for having “no end product”: not only does he now have a goal and three assists to his name in this tournament but, following his trickery, his nudged ball to Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas Atlético) – who later saw a well-struck 30-yard strike parried – led to the latter winning a corner off the goalkeeper. Yours truly is failing to restrain himself from adding “So there”.

Such is his importance to this side that, for the third consecutive game, manager Rafael Dudamel brought him off early to conserve some energy. He was later joined on the bench with his team’s other attacking star of the group stage, Sergio Córdova (No. 19, Caracas FC). However, whilst the right-sided forward appeared to depart with some discomfort, judging by his upbeat expression from the sidelines, it can’t be too serious. In this match, he regained his place as the tournament’s outright topscorer when he masterfully controlled Peñaranda’s pass, before holding off a defender, delicately rounding the goalkeeper and then, rather suavely, fooling another opponent on the line who had to watch on in agony as the rolling ball passed him by. Soon afterwards, Córdova had a shot parried from the edge of the area and, providing the knock was nothing too troubling, he should have more than a few future opportunities like this to help him increase his tally of four goals in three games.

Otherwise, though they had a few mild scares, Venezuela largely impressed by keeping another clean sheet. The back four as well as the two holding mifielders, Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) and Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC) did their respective jobs with a minimum of fuss. From an attacking perspective, Herrera was also involved in two forward moments of note. First, in the 28th minute, he did well to run into the area and then slide the ball across to Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile), though the ex-Zamora man hit it from a slightly awkward position with his less fancied right boot and thus had to watch the ball go wide of the mark. Much later on in the 71st minute, Herrera actually had a rather good chance to score himself when Lucena dinked a fine free-kick into the area yet, unmarked from barely ten yards out, the MLS starlet headed the ball much too close to the goalkeeper.

Never mind. He can be comforted by the knowledge that his side’s record speaks for itself and, with the performances they have been putting in, it does currently feel as if few other teams will relish having to play them in the remainder of this tournament. Though their opponents in the Round of 16 are yet unknown, what can be said for sure is that the game will take place on Tuesday 30 May 2017. Should they emerge victorious from this encounter, they will surpass the accomplishment of the class of 2009 and well and truly write themselves into their nation’s ever more-storied footballing history.

In the other Group B game played today, Vanuatu were defeated 3-2 by Germany, yet the third-placed Europeans will have to wait for the time being to see if they will be joining Venezuela and Mexico in the latter stages.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news on the South American nations at South Korea 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match-by-match talent-tracking articles.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Mexico 1-1 Venezuela -Copa América Centenario Group C (13 June 2016)

With the group stage complete, Venezuelans are slightly disappointed to have finished 2nd. Who would have thought…?

Copa América Centenario Group C

Monday 13 June 2016 – NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas, USA

Mexico 1-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Mexico 1-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario Group C, 13 June 2016 (YouTube).

Corona Thwarts Resilient Venezuela 

Venezuela narrowly missed out on an unprecedented third consecutive Copa América victory, as Jesús Corona’s late strike means Rafael Dudamel’s men finish 2nd in Group C and will most likely face Argentina in the Quarter-Finals.

Up until the 80th minute, it looked as if La Vinotinto were going to defy the odds yet again as they put in a fine defensive performance, soaking up huge amounts of pressure and once more dispelling the myth that Venezuelans lack mental fortitude. The fact that they were facing a Mexico side with nine changes to their previous line-up should do little to undermine their achievement – especially as they themselves had made five, including consigning star man Salomón Rondón to the bench.

In contrast to their other two group games, Dudamel’s charges were quicker off the mark, with the opening goal coming after just 10 minutes. This time, Alejandro Guerra’s free-kick from the left was curled into the area where Christian Santos – making his debut in the tournament – headed the ball back towards centre-back Sema Velázquez. The Portugal-based centre-back, himself fielded instead of Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, was afforded an obscene amount of space to fire home a sensational bicycle kick. This was certainly not what the sea of green in the stands had eagerly paid months in advance of kick-off to see. Yet thrilled though the minority of Venezuelans were at the time, it could not have been long before a few cautious sorts began to contemplate the cliché regarding scoring ‘too early’. Indeed, if they were going to beat El Tri for the first ever time, they knew a lot of defensive work was going to be required.

That said, though Juan Carlos Osorio’s side had more of the ball in the first half, the quality of the chances they created certainly did not reward the voluminous and nerve-jangling support they received. Also, owing to the number of bodies they often committed forward, they were occasionally vulnerable on the break.

Indeed,  in the 22nd minute, a slight fright was provided by one Yonathan Del Valle, who from the left hustled his way into the area and struck a rasping shot which swerved wide of the far post. It was one of a few occasions that the Kasımpaşa attacker was to both remind the hardcore of his abilities as well as introduce himself to thousands, if not millions, of fans who may have missed him first time around. After all, this was a remarkable personal story, as it was the player’s first international appearance for four years, going back to June 2012 when the then-22 year-old was considered a potential star of the future. Yet, just a year ago around the time of his 25th birthday, angered by the subsequent lack of opportunities and being overlooked by then-manager Noel Sanvicente, he resigned from the national team. However, the tables appeared to have turned as while he faces much competition at the top of the field, one suspects that this will not be his final outing in the burgundy shirt.

Returning to the action, though it felt to many Venezuelans that just one error could bring them swiftly back down to earth, Mexico continued to threaten without really making the opposition goalkeeper work too hard. Their opportunities were no more than half-chances, such as in the 34th minute when Jorge Torres crossed in for Jesús Corona whose diving header went straight to Dani Hernández. Or four minutes later when Héctor Herrera’s corner was headed by Héctor Moreno against the arm of defender Wilker Ángel – claims were made, but nothing was given.

When the half-time whistle blew, plenty of Venezuelan fans were left daydreaming about the further kudos from unexpected quarters that three consecutive 1-0 victories would bring their nation.

After the restart, the game continued with Mexico dominating the play and they were to get closer and closer to the target as the final whistle approached. One early notable moment was in the 50th minute when Porto full-back Miguel Layún played a one-two on the left inside the area and slid it along the goalmouth where it looked like it was going to be a tapped in by Oribe Peralta. However, centre-back Ángel once again got himself in the way, this time rather dramatically as his extremely low diving head diverted the ball off for a corner. A fine example of a player putting himself on the line for his country.

There was little respite for Venezuela as in the 57th minute on the inside-right 30 yards out, Corona picked up the ball and struck hard with his left but his shot went several yards wide. Then, just after the hour-mark, Layún from 25 yards out hit a fearsome shot that Hernández simply punched as far away outside of his area as possible.

Three minutes later, a better chance was created as Layún played in a low ball from the left. Rolf Feltscher’s attempted clearance went straight to Jesús Molina who, first-time, instinctively hit the ball and had to watch it trickle agonisingly wide of the far post.

However, just before this moment, Del Valle had managed to get away from his marker to hit a low strike at the goalkeeper and, a few minutes later, his replacement Josef Martínez had a golden opportunity to double his nation’s lead. Indeed, the Torino forward was slid through just inside the area, yet though he had plenty to aim for, he struck far too close to goalkeeper José Corona.

Venezuela were made to rue this miss and were nearly back on level terms in the 75th minute when Herrera’s free-kick in from the right met the head of Diego Reyes. However, Hernández earned plaudits around the globe for his astonishing double-save as he stretched down low to thwart and then, with the goal gaping, also blocked out the rebound whilst on the floor.

Nevertheless, Mexico kept up the onslaught. In the 79th minute Corona embarked upon a fine run on the left, powering through the Venezuelan back-line before striking wide from the left of the area. La Vinotinto survived, though not for long as barely a minute later the tenacious Porto youngster roamed infield from the left before taking the ball directly past four or five players and then blasting home for a sensational equaliser. The Venezuelan rearguard, which up until this point had seemed inpenetrable, was made to look all-too-mortal by this humbling. It was a great moment of relief for the El Tri faithful.

However, though their opponents were on the ropes for the remainder of the game, they did not merely lay down and invite the inevitable. Instead, with just over five minutes left, out of nowhere Martínez chested and teed himself up for an overhead kick, which dipped tantalisingly and had to be parried out for a corner.

Nevertheless, it was generally Mexico who were on the front-foot and with two minutes left, they came close to completing the reversal. This time, a ball was pulled back from the right-hand byline for substitute and fan-favourite Javier Hernández. However, though ‘Chicarito’ had a fair amount of the goal to aim for, Velázquez managed to get in his way and block his shot.

Thus, when the final whistle went, though they no longer had a 100 per cent record in the tournament and had in fact experienced their first draw after 11 consecutive wins, Mexico could console themselves with their first-placed finish. However, if as seems likely, Chile finish 2nd in Group D,  one can not help but wonder if a meeting with last year’s winners is really much of a reward for Mexico emerging victorious from their own group.

For Venezuela, however, just being in the knock-out phase seems like a prize in itself. Also, though they will face some sublime attacking talent, they will have picked up plenty of confidence from the way their players have absorbed so much pressure in the past three games, conceding just one goal.

One can not help but wonder if these strengths will be crucial for La Vinotinto as they enter a stage of the tournament in which, for the quarter- and semi-finals at least, matches level after 90 minutes go straight to penalties.

To find out how Venezuela get on, remember to keep up-to-date with @DarrenSpherical and this website.

Team Selections

Mexico (4-5-1): José Corona; P. Aguilar, D. Reyes, H. Moreno, J. Torres (M. Layún, 46;); H. Lozano, H. Herrera, J. Molina (J. Hernández, 68′), A. Guardado, J. Aquino (Jesús Corona, 18′); O. Peralta.

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; A. González, S. Velázquez, W. Ángel, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra (R. Otero, 83′), T. Rincón, L. Seijas, A. Peñaranda; C. Santos (S. Rondón, 78′) & Y. Del Valle (J. Martínez, 65′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela Team Preview for Copa América Centenario

As Venezuela get set to kick-off their Copa América Centenario campaign, Hispanospherical.com takes a look at how they may fare in this USA-hosted 16-team competition. Following on from a general overview that lays out the state La Vinotinto currently find themselves in, there are profiles of some of the key players, which also touch upon their team-mates most likely to see action this June.

Venezuela

Copa América Centenario Preview

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The official 23-man Venezuela squad for Copa América Centenario (FVF).

(See bottom of page for clearer details on the clubs of the players)

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Rock-bottom of CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying and with a manager barely two months into the job, this is not ideal preparation ahead of a challenging group containing Mexico, Uruguay and Jamaica.

Then again, compared to the norm for Venezuela, can it really be considered bad? Last year, with Noel Sanvicente at the helm, the players had been gradually mentally worn down by a year of lacklustre performances, FIFA/FVF scandals and played no warm-up games, yet still managed to make headlines across the world with a surprise opening day win against Colombia. This time around, they have played an eyebrow-raising four games in the fortnight preceding kick-off and the changes made to the coaching staff are still fresh enough for the players not to have become too jaded. So, swings and roundabouts. While an exit at the group stage seems probable, one can not help but feel that will be far from the full story in the USA.

What is more, while many of the starters will be familiar, only ten players remain from last year’s squad in what is the selección with the youngest average age in the entire tournament (in fact, three of the ten youngest players are Venezuelans). Thus, although inexperience could be a problem, there will also be several high-profile players along with plenty of fresh faces looking to impress and make their mark on a big stage.

Who then, is this new manager who has hitherto been alluded to? Rafael Dudamel’s the name and, for the time being at least, ‘Latino Loco Goalscoring Goalkeeper’ will be how he is caricatured. Indeed, in common with the likes of José Luis Chilavert and Rogério Ceni, the 43-year-old spent his playing career not only thwarting goal attempts but scoring them as well. In total, he scored well over 20 goals at club level in Venezuela and particularly in Colombia, but he also notched a phenomenal free-kick for his country back in a 1996 World Cup qualifier against Argentina. At the moment, his heroics in this department may be of more interest to broadcasters with broad audiences but, make no mistake, this is a man of substance who already has a strong idea of the task he has inherited.

The youthfulness of his squad is no doubt, in part, due to his work in recent years as head of the Under-17 and Under-20 national sides (the latter of whom, he will retain his role with). The nation’s football authorities – who have suggested they would have preferred a foreign manager had they the cash – will nevertheless be hoping Dudamel will be able to unite the seniors in more ways than one. As well as assimilating the newcomers with the well-travelled, they will be hoping he can act as an effective mediator between the federation and the players. Indeed, back in late November, an open letter voicing serious grievances with the FVF that largely concerned poor conditions and a lack of respect was signed by 15 senior players (with several more subsequently offering support). In the immediate aftermath, there was a public war of words and then-boss Sanvicente travelled to meet some of the players but there does not appear to have been a resolution (if one can even be found – this is, after all, partly a clashing of personalities). Problems still linger then and if little cohesion is to be found on the pitch in the USA, rest assured there will also be speculation about the lack of it off-field.

The four recent friendlies will have surely given the new manager some food for thought, although results were not very encouraging and performances were – barring the promising first-half attacking display against Costa Rica – similarly uninspiring. Indeed, unsurprisingly, Venezuela are hardly set to take their group by storm after a 1-1 draw with the largely La Liga-based representatives of Galicia, a dull 0-0 draw with Panama, a mixed-bag of a 2-1 defeat against Costa Rica and a curious 1-1 draw with Guatemala. Given how this rather high number of warm-up games all occurred away from home soil, one can not help but wonder if they will have taken some toll on the players who joined up with the squad at the start of this friendly-frenzy. In Group C, La Vinotinto will be travelling over 3,000 miles to predominantly NFL stadiums in Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston – how many starters against Jamaica will finish the closer (and possible decider) with Mexico?

If it is a low number, then there could well instead be footballing reasons for this as it is unlikely that Dudamel’s first-choice XI is set in stone and fans can expect to see changes throughout the tournament. Nevertheless, his selections in the friendly games certainly gave a few indications as to who will be lining up against Jamaica. For those who last watched Venezuela at the 2015 tournament, expect to see many new faces in midfield and defence – some of which may already be familiar from their club exploits.

Before detailing some of these men, it should first be noted that there will also be a different goalkeeper from last year. Indeed, after some high-profile errors in World Cup Qualifying, Alain Baroja, who received the nod at the last-minute ahead of 2015’s opener with Colombia and subsequently went on to receive acclaim as well as a move to AEK Athens, has surprisingly been left out the squad. Thus, the experienced Tenerife shot-stopper Dani Hernández will compete with José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira) for this position though, as the number one shirt has already been given to the latter, the decision may have already been made. However, Contreras made a glaring error when he played against Costa Rica and it would not be a surprise to see the former (who is also far from innocent in the blunder department) make an appearance at some stage.

Nevertheless, despite the huge importance of this position, whoever plays there can hardly be considered to be one of the leading players for Rafael Dudamel (even if, as a former occupant between the posts, the role must play on his mind a lot). Instead, the new entrenador will be counting more on the individuals listed below to both make their mark and galvanise their compatriots towards an unlikely progression to the knock-out stage.

Thus, what follows is an overview of the most likely stand-out Venezuelan performers, which also touches upon their team-mates who will either take to the field near them or be pushing hard to supplant them should anything go awry.

Key Players in Context

Roberto Rosales (Málaga)

Defence (Right-back)

Over the past two years at Málaga, 27-year-old right-back Rosales has been one of the most consistent players, in terms of both performances as well as appearances. He has been a vital part of the defence that, last season, conceded the joint-fourth fewest goals in La Liga, behind only the big three of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. Yet with the Andalusians being very much a selling club that has recently caused even promising manager Javi Gracia to depart, one must wonder if the diminutive bargain-buy from FC Twente will be the next out the door.

An energetic presence on the flank, he likes to get forward and help create chances. While his crossing could be more accurate, he is nevertheless responsible for an above-average number of assists at club level and possesses the tenacity and wherewithal to chase back if caught out of position.

There has, however, been repeated criticisms that his international performances of late have not matched those for his club – an assessment that, in fairness, could apply to most high-profile players in the squad. For the first game at least, he is likely to be joined at the back by left-back Mikel Villanueva, who will know him well as he plays for Málaga’s reserve side, Atlético Malagueño. He is a relative newcomer to the national side, having only debuted earlier this year towards the end of Sanvicente’s reign; his competition for a place will come from the returning Rolf Feltscher (Duisburg). There is also a slight chance that the right-footed Alexander González (Huesca) may be a back-up for this position, but he will primarily be the understudy to Rosales or, perhaps, the right side of midfield.

The very experienced Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes) cannot be said to have been up to his 2011 vintage (when he was one of the stars of the entire tournament) but he is still a likely starter at centre-back. He will have a different partner from last year; most likely it will be Sema Velázquez, a towering presence who helped Arouca to a 5th-placed finish in the Portuguese top-flight. However, it would be of little surprise if Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira) gets the nod at some point.

Tomás Rincón (Genoa)
Midfield (Defensive Midfielder)

The captain whose leadership, organisational and communication skills will be integral if his nation is to have any success. Venezuela are not renowned goalscorers so the tackling, harrying and interceptions of El General and those around him will be essential to allow the attackers to escape away up the other end. A defensive midfielder, he does not tend to get too far forward himself, preferring instead to limit his forward forays to occasionally driving the ball upfield to feed his more attack-minded team-mates. However, perhaps at the somewhat late age of 28, things may be changing in this area as last season he went some way to compensating for his relative goal-drought in Europe. Indeed, before 2015/16 kicked off, he had not scored once since moving to Hamburg in early 2009. Yet in what was his second season at Italy side Genoa (2014-), he managed to bury three of the beauties in the space of four months. One does not expect him to break his duck for La Vinotinto in what is often cautious tournament football, but with over 70 goalless games to his name, it would be a pleasant surprise.

Joining him in stemming the tide in front of the back four could well be Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), who has played there in some recent friendlies. However, he faces strong competition from Luis Manuel Seijas, one of the stand-out players at Colombian side Independiente Santa Fe last season who has recently joined Brazilian giants Internacional. An experienced international of 29 who has played in Belgium for Standard Liège, he partnered Rincón last year as well as in many qualifiers. With such pedigree, he will definitely get on the pitch at some point, whether in a protective position of further upfield in an attacking role.

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga)
Midfield (Attacking Midfielder – left, right or centre)

Juanpi has been known on occasion to play in front of the back four in a deep-lying playmaker position but will probably be fielded further up the pitch in the line behind the forward(s). Having previously been overlooked during much of Sanvicente’s reign  -presumably due to his inexperience as well as the cautious approach of Chita – the 22-year-old has somewhat belatedly made his way into the senior set-up and has a strong chance of starting. His personal cause was undoubtedly aided by an impressive second season for Málaga, during which he emerged to become a regular in the line-up and scored four league goals along the way. Three of these came in consecutive weeks (with one being against Barcelona), which really raised his profile.

A graceful, creative player who often exudes much confidence and poise on the ball wherever he plays, he was granted a starting position in Sanvicente’s last two qualifiers in March and has continued to be named in line-ups under Dudamel. He is a fine left-footed set-piece taker and offers something different in attacks by playing through-balls from central positions as well as instigating some more intricate passing moves. He has already set up some goals in his brief international career and also possesses the capacity to force himself forward to score. A player of tantalising potential.

Rómulo Otero (Huachipato)
Midfield (Attacking Midfielder – left, right or centre)

Perhaps even more so than Juanpi, attacking midfielder Otero could well be the Venezuelan on most neutrals’ lips after this tournament. Indeed, the 23-year-old has turned many heads in Chile with Huachipato in his debut season outside of his homeland and many of his compatriots feel that, quite frankly, he could do a lot better. Injury ruled him out of last year’s Copa América as well as much of Sanvicente’s reign, but like Juanpi, he did feature in the last two qualifiers (scoring a sensational free-kick against Chile) and has since appeared in some of Dudamel’s friendlies.

While not identical to Juanpi in that he has a propensity to run at defenders more and, so far at least, tends to score more goals, they do both share strong abilities from dead-ball situations and are rather versatile in the attacking midfield positions. Perhaps for more than any other player in the squad, this tournament serves as an opportunity to impress the scouts.

Although both Otero and Juanpi appear likely to start the first game, it is not guaranteed and, as always, there is much competition and inconsistency in the attacking positions. Should Dudamel opt for a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1), they could find themselves on either wing, but both in these formations as well as in a 4-2-3-1, there are plenty of players who are eager to nab their places.

One of these who has already been mentioned is Seijas, who can also play as a left-sided attacker, but there is also the similarly experienced Alejandro Guerra. He was a regular during last year’s tournament and this season for Colombian giants Atlético Nacional has scored at a rate of one in every two games, being a key player in their run to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores, where they will meet São Paulo in July.

Another player of note who could well make a mark in these positions is one of the youngest in the tournament and who has already made quite a name for himself: Adalberto Peñaranda. The then-18-year-old burst onto the La Liga scene with Granada last season and immediately grabbed headlines and broke records, both setting up and scoring goals that ultimately aided his club’s survival. Despite speculation that some of Europe’s biggest clubs would snap him up, he eventually signed a deal with ‘sister’ club Watford, who loaned him back to Andalusia where he finished the season.

However, though he has had a meteoric rise in the European game, at international level he only has three recent substitute appearances to his name and this is where he is likely to start the tournament. Nevertheless, given his abilities, at some point he will surely receive an opportunity from the bench to run at defenders and cause havoc.

There are some other players who could potentially play in attacking midfield/supplementary forward roles, but these are mentioned in the following profile.

Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion)
Attack (Striker)

The most famous current Venezuela international, Rondón will be integral to his nation’s chances of progressing and will undoubtedly start up front. It has been a big year for this talismanic figure, as he swapped Champions League football at Zenit St. Petersburg for a more stressful – if, potentially, career-enhancing – life at West Bromwich Albion. While many feel that, owing to his stature and attributes, he was born and bred to play in the Premier League, a more glamorous move had been desired and throughout his debut campaign quite a few of his compatriots have criticised how he has been used by manager Tony Pulis – a man who, incidentally, seems unaware that he was signing a South American international given that his complaints are as predictable as clockwork whenever his top-scorer is called up.

On the other hand, in his early outings in particular, many West Brom and Premier League followers felt he could be wasteful – something he has since accepted himself – but as the season progressed, he grew in importance to his team. When all was said and done, he had scored ten goals in all competitions, including the winning goal in five different matches, including the 1-0 win away to Everton and, most notably, the 1-0 home victory against Manchester United. Many doubters were won over.

While he may not take all his chances, he certainly works hard and comes deep to join in with some of the build-up play, although his primary strength is probably as a target man, to knock down and head in balls.

There is a chance that he may have a partner in attack. If so, the most likely candidate is Josef Martínez (Torino), who has played alongside him both under Dudamel and Sanvicente – albeit, usually in friendly encounters. Perhaps more so than any other player not granted the honour of an individual profile in this article, he could well emerge as one of the leading Venezuelan players in this tournament. What prevents one from confidently stating his importance to the team is that, despite his undeniable talents, he often gets overlooked as a starter, instead often being used in competitive games as an impact substitute.

Nevertheless, when given opportunities, he often displays a promising understanding with Rondón and is good at running at defenders as well as playing a key role in more direct attacks. He could also be used in an attacking midfield role though what, in the long run, could enhance his national team prospects is a move away from Torino, where he has also been used primarily as a substitute.

Otherwise, Christian Santos could be given a chance in a similar manner to that suggested for Martínez – albeit utilising different characteristics. Indeed, while he can also play as a striker, he has frequently been used at club level in a deeper role and possesses considerable abilities in the air. A late-bloomer at 28, who only decided to play for the country of his birth last year, he has been a phenomenal goalscorer for NEC Nijmegen over the past two years, scoring, on average, well above one in every two games. A move to La Liga has been strongly rumoured – perhaps this tournament will determine where precisely he ends up.

Venezuela’s tournament may well hinge on the very first game on 5 June against Jamaica – stern opponents but on paper, their weakest in Group C. For the sake of this niche blog – if not the author’s social and profressional life when the games from the USA are being played concurrently with those from Euro 2016 – one hopes that they can prolong the guessing game somewhat longer. To keep up-to-date with La Vinotinto’s progress, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back on this website for match reports, highlights and who knows what else. 

Venezuela’s 23-man squad for Copa América Centenario

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Rolf Feltscher (Duisburg, Germany), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Roberto Rosales (Málaga, Spain), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño, Spain) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes, France).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Rómulo Otero (Huachipato, Chile), Adalberto Peñaranda (Granada, Spain on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy), Luis Manuel Seijas (Internacional, Brazil) & Carlos Suárez (Carabobo, Venezuela).

Forwards

Yonathan Del Valle (Kasımpaşa, Turkey on loan from Rio Ave, Portugal), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen, Netherlands) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Q & A with David Freeman, Author of Barra Brava (A Latin American Football Journey)

Having recently finished reading Barra Brava, David Freeman’s envy-inducing account of his 18-month journey amongst a diverse range of Latin American football fans, Hispanospherical.com has been fortunate to be able to talk to the author. Following on from an introduction to his book, this extensive Q & A should be essential reading for anyone who has ever contemplated embarking upon a similar adventure.   

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Game 18: Itagüí Ditaires (now Águilas Doradas) 4-0 Atlético Nacional, Copa Colombia Quarter Final First Leg, Estadio Atanasio Girardot, Medellin, Antioquia Department, Colombia, 15 September 2010. One of 67 games David Freeman attended in the Americas.

David Freeman’s Barra Brava is sold in paperback and/or Kindle format through Amazon’s many location-specific websites. To purchase a copy, click whichever link is most relevant to you: UK/Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil and Spain

Barra Brava: An Introduction

In the collective consciousness of most football fans outside of its vibrant orbit, Latin America is somewhat of a dichotomy. While it may harbour a tantalising cocktail of innovative skills and irrepressible passion, it is nevertheless very much on the periphery of the global footballing mainstream. Although hundreds of its exports to Europe’s opulent centre-stage regularly provide incalculable instances of the substantial reservoirs of talent that this vast region consistently produces, the awareness of the footballing cultures from whence they came leaves something to be desired. Indeed, the clubs, supporters and environments that initially helped to nurture many of these cracks exist in many imaginations as little more than a combination of crude, often unflattering stereotypes, as well as names – the latter of which are diminishing in stature with each passing year.

As the exodus of native talent shows no sign of abating and kick-off times in this area for spectators in the Old Continent tend to be either anti-social or clash with top-flight European matches, none of these leagues appear well-placed to redress this situation. Nevertheless, for many, the curiosity will always linger. After all, having witnessed the 2014 Brazil World Cup, in which several Latin American nations were well-represented in both the stands as well as on the pitches, how many fans idly daydreamed about experiencing some of these atmospheres first-hand?

Well, one man who has already done just that and on a scale that is surely the envy of football fans and cultural tourists the world over, is David Freeman. His book, Barra Brava, is an absorbing travelogue, chronicling an 18-month journey that began in October 2009. Starting off with a brief Latin-tinged spell in the United States watching the now-defunct Chivas USA, he then crossed the language-barrier to experience many of the sights, sounds and sensations of Latin America, culminating with one final linguistic hurdle in Brazil where the fun ended in April 2011. Along the way, he visited 18 different countries, watching no less than 67 live matches in 15 of them. With so much ground covered, Freeman was able to experience the footballing cultures of not only some of the area’s heavyweights, such as Argentina and Mexico, but also those of nations that most people would struggle to name a single international player from (Guatemala and Nicaragua, anyone?).

Bringing a modicum of order to complement the roaming devil-may-care spirit that often pervaded his travels, Freeman made it his mission to mix with as many local supporters as he encountered. With his accompanying England flag conspicuously signposting him as a figure of curiosity in the stands, he was able to use his ever-developing Spanish skills to learn about many varied fan groups, their matchday rituals and relationships with their clubs. Subsequently in print, he displays an admirable levelling of the playing field, relaying his experiences of the barra bravas of the likes of Boca Juniors, Santos and Club América in a similar manner to those of Motagua (Honduras), Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica) and Blooming (Bolivia).

Wherever he turned up, there were always songs, gestures and/or dances to first decode and then perhaps, when enough of his beverage of choice had been consumed, join in with. Yet, as readers will discover, it was not always to be plain sailing, with the tensions in the stands sometimes escalating into atmospheres markedly less hospitable towards this Englishman. Indeed, from finding himself on an Argentine pitch being booed by supporters less-than-impressed with his flag to requiring police intervention to restrain a knife-wielding Colombian youth, Freeman’s recollections often serve to caution, as much as to inspire, the prospective traveller.

Away from the stadiums, his explorations of a rather breathtaking range of locations were no less colourful, with every other page flowing with anecdotes and evocative descriptions. A rich diversity of experiences was evidently had, not least during a lengthy spell at a Mexican hotel situated by a nudist beach as well as, conversely, when teaching English in the poverty-stricken Nicaraguan capital of Managua, where he participated in some controversy-mired Independence Day celebrations. Furthermore, some of his more inquisitive forays included visits to the Mayan ruins in Central America, the idiosyncratic capitals of Panama City, Bogotá and La Paz, as well as the topological treasures of the Calchaquí Valleys in north-west Argentina.

As can be expected, invaluable nuggets of practical advice are scattered throughout this book, rendering it an essential primer for anyone thinking of embarking on a journey that encompasses even a fraction of the ground covered here. Freeman regularly takes into consideration such readers, particularly when providing what amounts to a mini-dictionary of Spanish words and phrases at the beginning of each chapter that can be used to ingratiate oneself with the locals.

So, if you like the sound of going on such a trip yourself or would simply like to read the adventures of someone who did, be sure to check out this book, the most latest edition of which has just been published. If, however, before making such an investment, you would prefer to know a little more, then as well as perusing the promotional website, please read on as Señor Freeman has recently been kind enough to answer some questions in detail, providing a considerable idea of what Barra Brava is all about.

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Q & A with David Freeman, author of Barra Brava

[Darren Spherical] Hello David, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions (and for providing so many photographs!). Your book provides countless entertaining vignettes and fascinating insights into various footballing cultures and societies in the Americas.

Prior to beginning your adventure, you mention that you worked for an internet bank and had not done a great deal of travelling. What motivated you to sell your house to embark on such an extensive and, at times, daunting journey? Also, why Latin America?

[David Freeman] My short answer is that I’d been bitten by the travel bug when I went to Australia and seven years on I needed to scratch the itch. The timing was all about personal circumstances, having been promised redundancy and not having responsibilities such as kids to worry about. Latin America was chosen based on learning Spanish and being able to communicate throughout two continents.

Regarding the book’s title, on your travels you met dozens of different groups of fans from over a dozen Latin American countries. Based on your observations, could you give an introduction to the barra bravas? How did they differ in some of the nations you visited?

I’d describe the barra as universally passionate people who support their club in a noisy, colourful and fanatical way. In my experience, barra bravas are not the same as hooligans because clubs like Pumas (Mexico) and LDU Quito (Ecuador) are supported by civilised, friendly students who had no interest in violence, but instead created atmospheres to compete with the most fervent in the world. Whilst I tried not to get involved in the seedy sides of any barra that I encountered, there could be no doubt that in certain places (mainly Colombia and Argentina) they were a public menace whose activities resulted in people dying every year.

At each ground you entered, you tried to get a photograph of yourself with your flag (an English St. George’s Cross emblazoned with the name of Birmingham City’s Zulu Army firm). How did you feel in such situations? Regarding some of the more negative responses, you must have feared for your own safety at times? 

A gringo waving a flag around always attracted attention from the locals but I found the majority to be friendly, particularly as I spoke Spanish and it was clear that I was as crazy about football as they were. In some places it was really intimidating waving a piece of cloth around that advertised that you were a vulnerable foreigner, but it proved to be a great ice-breaker amongst curious strangers. The numerous positive experiences with my St. George’s cross far outweighed an occasional negative one – plus the volatile situations made for the best stories!

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To see dozens more photographs of David with his flag at stadiums, click here.

Could you give any advice to future football tourists who wish to experience some of the colourful and raucous Latin American atmospheres without getting embroiled in any trouble? 

Simple: go in the main stand. At every ground I visited there was a tranquilo section that charged around twice as much to enter than the ‘popular’ terrace. This more expensive seating area had a far better view, superior facilities, good stewarding and was populated by reasonable people. If, however, you insist on mixing it up, I would repeat the point about being able to communicate with the natives and, above all, be wary of everything!

With regard to fan culture (pre-match rituals, songs/chants, dances, paraphernalia etc.), what were some of the most memorable things you observed and/or joined in with on your travels? 

Personally, I found the friendly beer-drinking culture whilst watching games in Mexico, Central America and Ecuador enjoyable. More universally, the fans consistently bouncing and singing, always admirably supported by musical instruments. Every club had at least one drummer, some even had horn sections (see this video compilation for some of the highlights of fans I encountered). Also, the socialising during play, aided by the open terraces, which is something that has been lost in the UK. This is in contrast to Germany, which is the leading nation in Europe with regard to atmosphere at domestic fixtures, driven by their affordable safe standing sections.

Moving away from the stands and onto the pitches, you saw many well-known players, some of whom were winding down their careers after spells in Europe and others who were emerging and have since gone on to play in the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and elsewhere. Who were you most excited to see and who left the most lasting impressions on you?

Juan Manuel Iturbe impressed me most as a 17 year old turning a match at the 2011 South American Youth Championship in Argentina’s favour against Chile. He made some stunning appearances in the Copa Libertadores before impressing for Hellas Verona and now finds himself at Roma.

Of the big players I watched live more than once:

Neymar won the Libertadores with Santos in 2011 scoring crucial goals throughout, although showcasing his ample array of skills and tricks at that level did not always benefit the team.

Juan Sebastián Verón’s passing at Estudiantes was masterful in Argentina’s Primera División.

Salvador Cabañas looked a class act for América in Mexico’s top-flight, though this was of course before he was tragically shot by a drug dealer.

Indeed, understandably he was never the same afterwards. Staying with on-field matters, what were some of the most memorable games and goals you saw?

The Clásicos were always the best value for money atmosphere-wise; the derbies in Mexico (Pumas 3-2 América, Game 3) and Colombia (Deportivo Cali 6-3 América de Cali, Game 24) lived up to the hype on the pitch. My favourite was bouncing among Universidad Católica’s fans in Buenos Aires as the Chileans scored three goals in the last 20 minutes to record a 4-3 Libertadores group stage victory away at Vélez Sarsfield (Game 51). There were also many dull games where la barra provided the entertainment.

Just under a quarter of the games you watched were in the North/Central American (CONCACAF) region, often in countries which many football fans will not have considered visiting. What did you make of the play, supporters and stadiums in this area?

Central America’s population were as passionate about football as those in the southern continent. Yet though, for example, Los Ticos defied the odds to reach 2014’s World Cup Quarter Finals, football in Central America was markedly inferior to the South American game. Though considered part of the North, Mexico was the region’s domestic powerhouse, aided in part in being alone in having some of its teams compete in the most prestigious club tournament in the Americas, the Copa Libertadores. Whilst the CONCACAF Champions League wasn’t a particularly competitive tournament, it did throw up some interesting ties, sending high-profile MLS sides and former European legends to remote places such as El Salvador. In my experience, the rural locations were really friendly and the atmospheres were brilliant, even at a Nicaraguan league final held in a baseball park.

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Football-related photographs from Central America (Click to Enlarge)

Outside of the stadiums in this area, you seemed to have rather diverse experiences, from the fun of Mexico to the comparative austerity of Nicaragua. Which places would you recommend to visitors to this region? 

Most visitors to this part of the world head to Cancún (Mexico) or Costa Rica, and the tourist industry outside of these places is still developing. I found every country to be fascinating and despite not receiving as many visitors, each had some fairly well-established attractions. These were mainly based around coasts, lakes, mountains and Aztec or Mayan historical sites. Panama City was one of the oddest capitals I’ve seen and there was an amazing sunset pretty much anywhere along the Pacific coast. Nicaragua would be my suggestion if you want to escape reality and don’t mind a chaotically relaxed experience. Compared to South, Central America is far cheaper on the ground and much less ‘discovered’, although air fares can be expensive.

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Photographs from North/Central America (Click to Enlarge)

You watched 18 games in Buenos Aires (and 20 in Argentina altogether) in little over five weeks. As this is a footballing Mecca, what advice can you impart to anyone wishing to visit this city with similar intentions? 

Where possible, I would suggest buying your ticket in advance. Also, when I was there, the home fans were generally retained in the ground for 40 minutes after the final whistle, so going in the away end was preferable. However, as visiting fans have since been banned due to repeated problems with fan violence, there may be a wait before this advice can be put into practice again. Nevertheless, also make sure you use public transport to your advantage. From Central BA the train is best for Vélez, All Boys, Quilmes, Arsenal de Sarandí, Lanús and Argentinos Juniors; the Metro is convenient for River, San Lorenzo, Huracán and Atlanta; whilst the bus is quickest when visiting Boca, Racing and Independiente. Also, if you have the time and inclination, go to a smaller club in addition to Boca or River, as they can be far cheaper, friendlier and almost as spectacular. Finally, be wary of the alcohol exclusion zones around stadiums in Buenos Aires.

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Football-related photographs from Buenos Aires Province, Argentina (Click to Enlarge)

Outside of Argentina, but remaining in South America, what were some of your highlights watching football in this particular continent? 

Colombia had the most edgy and memorable atmospheres. Ecuador was the friendliest, although my opinion is aided by the fact that they served beer in the grounds, plus Guayaquil and Quito were unexpectedly vibrant football cities. Asunción (Paraguay) was a little gem in the middle of nowhere which had a wonderful history. Iquique (Chile) had the best band I saw, complemented by a full brass section.

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Football-related photographs from South America (Click to Enlarge)

Again, away from the football, what would you recommend to future visitors to the nations you travelled to in South America? 

Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia) was the most spectacular natural wonder I have ever seen and certainly guarantees some amazing photos. Generally speaking, Bolivia was cheap, friendly and diverse, with lots of unique tourist opportunities. Ecuador had easily accessible sights and offered the possibility of cycling from the Andes to the Amazon in a day. Colombia had rugged scenery as well as an attractive and cool population, although its reputation discourages many people. North-west Argentina’s vineyards and mountains were very pleasant and buzzing in the January I was there, as that is when many in Buenos Aires escape to the countryside.

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 Photographs from South America (Click to Enlarge)

On the subject of buying match tickets, it seemed that for the most part you showed up on matchdays without having pre-purchased them and yet, irrespective of what barriers you initially encountered, still managed to get in. As you appear to have acquired much know-how in this area, what advice can you impart?

Generally, I would advise showing up a couple of hours in advance, at which point you should be able to make a purchase and spend some time among the locals – most will be delighted that a gringo has chosen to watch their club. Face value prices were cheap – generally $5-10 in Central and South America, $10-12.50 in Argentina, whilst Brazil could cost as much as it does in the English Premier League. If you aren’t able to purchase a ticket in advance then touts are ever-present, although at the big Argentinian clubs you may have to pay tourist rates, which includes transport to the match (approximately $100 in 2011). Oddly, to watch Universitario in Lima – visit your local supermarket!

What were the most value-for-money places to live and/or watch football in? 

Buenos Aires is probably the world’s most exciting city to watch football in, and although accommodation isn’t cheap, public transport, food, drink and entrance fees are generally very reasonable – something I believe has continued as the Peso weakened in late 2014. Ecuador was probably best value in South America for watching top-level football, whilst accommodation and living in Central America was noticeably cheap. Conversely, Chile and Brazil were more expensive than the other countries I watched matches in.

While there was clearly much to be enjoyed on your journey, readers will discover that it was not always fun and games. Based on your experiences, if you wished to put someone off embarking on a similar adventure, what would you say to them?

Unless you go to a resort, Latin America isn’t somewhere that you can just turn up to without any preparation and then expect to have a great tourist experience. Considerations need to be made for the language barrier (hardly anyone speaks good English), the heat, the altitude and the distances you will be travelling within a limited transport network. If you like things going according to plan then this certainly isn’t your ideal destination, as nothing runs like clockwork. Also, it is important to accept that the locals will assume that you are rich and therefore you are likely to be a target. Although in my experience overcharging was the only real annoyance, I met many people who were robbed and subjected to violence, particularly in the big centres such as Lima and Quito. Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, seemed to be the most dangerous places, but it is all subjective.

What is your interest in Latin American football like these days? Do you look out for any teams in particular? Finally, on a related note, what have you been up to since returning from your travels?

I have been following Latin American results on Soccerway, particularly Argentinos Juniors’ return to a reformed 30-team Primera División and Vasco da Gama battling back into Brazil’s top-flight. Also, although I feel there could be a lot more exposure on British TV, I have been enjoying this year’s Copa Libertadores on Premier Sports and will certainly also be watching the Copa América on the channel and/or YouTube – whichever is most convenient. On a personal note, in the past three years between working for a bank and marrying my Brazilian girlfriend, I’ve spent much of my free time writing and editing the book. The first edition totalled almost 120k words, though thankfully the latest version has been whittled down to 103k – apologies to anyone who bought a copy a couple of years ago! Ultimately, while it may not be perfect, I believe it is a decent travelogue.

David, thank you for giving up so much of your time to answer these questions and providing a taste of your experiences. Again, readers, if you would like to purchase Barra Brava in either paperback or Kindle format, click on whichever link is most relevant to your location: UK/Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil and Spain

If you have any questions for David Freeman, feel free to either reply to this article with them or, if you fancy the more direct option, he can be reached on Twitter under the account @TheBlueBarra

More From the Author

While Barra Brava is David Freeman’s first book, he has also written these articles on Latin American football, which may be of interest:

Fútbol in a Baseball Park, In Bed With Maradona, 15 February 2013. A detailed feature on the standard and status of football in Nicaragua, partially informed by his experiences of living there for four months as an English teacher.

Latin American Football 2012 in Review, Talking Sports, 2 January 2013. Covering the year following his travels, here is a summary of who won what in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico.

My Trip to Brazil: A Year of Expectation, Football Friends Online, 17 June 2014. Craftily combining a pre-World Cup trip to meet his Brazilian girlfriend’s family with a football detour or three, Freeman visited the Mineirão, Estádio Independência and, of course, the Maracanã.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Article originally published on 6 June 2015.

El equipo juvenil de Venezuela sub-20 gana la medalla de plata

(This article was originally written in English. To read it, click here.) britain1 usaflag

Ayer, 28 de noviembre de 2014, el equipo sub-20 masculino de Venezuela recibió la medalla de plata en los XXII Juegos Centroamericanos y del Caribe, quedando subcampeones tras México, la nación anfitriona, que acabaron cómodos ganadores con un 4-1 en la final.

Este resultado supone un contraste con el rendimiento de La Vinotinto en su camino hacia la final, puesto que progresaron habiendo llegado al primer puesto de su grupo tras una victoria de 4-0 sobre Haití, un 1-0 sobre Costa Rica y después un empate sin goles contra Cuba. Posteriormente se encontraron con Honduras en la semifinal y los vencieron 1-0 gracias a un temprano penalti de Jhon Murillo del Zamora.

Aún así, por varias razones, los jóvenes venezolanos no deberían sentirse demasiado desanimados por la final y un aspecto al que se le debe prestar una breve atención aquí es la diferencia de edad de las alineaciones titulares del encuentro. En efecto, sus oponentes no sólo eran el equipo oficial Mexicano sub-21 si no que también había, de media, una brecha de más de dos años entre los dos conjuntos – una diferencia que, en muchas competiciones internacionales, habría visto a los equipos separados y colocados en distintas categorías de edad.

Es bastante notable el hecho de que el venezolano de más edad para empezar, el defensor de Caracas Jefre Vargas (nacido el 12/01/95), es más joven que el más joven de los mexicanos nombrado en la alineación de los oponentes, el jugador del torneo, Jonathan ‘Jorge’ Espericueta (nacido el 09/08/94).

Además, el jugador más mayor en la alineación de El Tri era Erick Torres (nacido el 19/01/93), un hombre que tiene una tasa de 1 gol cada 2 juegos para el equipo de la MLS Chivas USA – donde ha estado como préstamo durante casi un año y medio por el equipo mexicano superior en prestigio – y quien también marcó el gol ganador para su selección contra Panamá en Octubre. Es más de tres años y nueve meses mayor que los dos jugadores más jóvenes que empezaron el juego para La Vinotinto: Jefferson Savarino del Zulia y Andrés Ponce del Llaneros de Guanare (los dos compartiendo la fecha de nacimiento del 11/11/96), el último de los cuales tuvo algunas impresionantes actuaciones y fue el máximo goleador de su equipo con cuatro goles.

Muchas más observaciones se pueden recoger de la información proporcionada en la tabla inferior, pero seguramente la conclusión más relevante que se puede hacer es que el progreso de este equipo juvenil venezolano hasta la final ofrece mucho optimismo para el futuro.

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Se debe tener en cuenta que todas las edades de los jugadores han sido redondeadas al mes más cercano, dependiendo de su fecha de nacimiento en relación con el partido jugado el 28/11/14. Por lo tanto, si un jugador ha vivido más de 15 días en un nuevo mes, su edad ha sido redondeada. Por ejemplo, José Marrufo, habiendo nacido el 12/05/96 tenía 18 años, 6 meses y 16 días el día del partido y por lo tanto su edad ha sido redondeada a 18 años y 7 meses. Si alguien lo desea es libre de crear una comparación más precisa, aunque es sospechable que el promedio de diferencia entre los dos equipos no cambiaría por más de un mes o así, reafirmando por lo tanto que hay una brecha de aproximadamente dos años entre los dos conjuntos.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Traducido por:

Susana Spherical