Tag Archives: Mikel Villaneuva

Venezuela 2-2 Argentina– CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (6 September 2016)

The eighth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded one point more than anticipated yet two less than many Venezuelans felt attainable at half-time. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report plus thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 6 September 2016 – El Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida State

Venezuela 2-2 Argentina

Video Highlights of Venezuela 2-2 Argentina, 6 September 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

Mixed Emotions for Both Sides as Juanpi Announces Himself on the International Stage

Match Report

‘Bottom versus top’ could have been mistaken for ‘seventh versus eighth’ as what began as a tepid affair ended as a slugfest with Venezuela being denied a famous victory.

La Vinotinto went into the game with just one point, having just been comfortably dispatched 2-0 by neighbours Colombia, yet really needing to raise the morale of their compatriots in the Andean city of Mérida. Pace-setters Argentina were thus hardly the ideal opponents. However, the hosts were far from overawed in the opening half and with each passing period of play, the pre-game predictions of a pounding proved increasingly preposterous.

Indeed, the first threat they had to contend with – the closest Edgardo Bauza’s men came all half – occurred in the 16th minute. Inter Milan new-boy Éver Banega received a pass centrally, quickly turned and from 25 yards out struck a low drive that went just wide of the far post. Banega often appeared to be one of his side’s likeliest catalysts for a goal as at times he enjoyed plenty of midfield space in which to roam before searching for a key, incisive pass – though this latter, crucial phase largely proved elusive.

Ángel Di María, with his tormenting runs down the wing and balls into the area, was a more noticeable threat in the first period. Just after the 20th minute, he crossed in a fine ball for Lucas Pratto, but the Atlético Mineiro striker – playing in part due to the absences of several more high-profile strikers – stretched but could not make a meaningful connection. He certainly did, however, in the 32nd minute, when he met Di María’s cross but his solid header was a little too close to goalkeeper Dani Hernández, who managed to get his body behind it.

The hosts’ early chances were hardly much more threatening. Rafael Dudamel’s men sometimes resorted to pumping long balls towards star striker Salomón Rondón, but this rarely proved propitious, even if it was a cunning way of bypassing Javier Mascherano. The West Bromwich Albion forward did nevertheless have his country’s first opportunity of note when, after 21 minutes, he received the ball just outside the area. However, although some space opened up for him, it was not enough to warrant the headlines that must have been swirling in his head; he may have shaped up with intent but his tame shot trickled goalwards for goalkeeper Sergio Romero to gratefully collect.

One Venezuelan causing more problems for the Argentine back-line was Rondón’s strike-partner, Josef Martínez. He regularly beat defenders for pace, causing uncertainty as well as winning throws and corners. In the 23rd minute, he was especially of concern when he received a pass in the area and soon hit the deck, but his penalty claim was waved away.

The other leading attacking threat for the hosts in this half was the man who was to break the deadlock. The profile of Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor has been rising since he made his Málaga debut two years ago, with last season’s exploits really helping him emerge to prominence in La Liga. Aiding his cause in particular during that campaign were three goals in consecutive weeks (including one against Barcelona) and he is already off the mark for 2016/17. With the experienced Alejandro Guerra and Luis Manuel Seijas not part of this particular squad, he has been provided with opportunities to bolster his claims for a first-team spot in midfield. Overall, he has taken them.

Yet though he is capable of pinpoint accuracy from dead-ball situations, thankfully his largely wayward set-pieces throughout this half are unlikely to be used as arguments against future starts. Indeed, it is more the events in the 35th minute that shall be uppermost in most people’s minds when the line-up for the trip to Uruguay in October is being mulled over.

As befitting a largely listless half, it came almost out of nowhere. Rondón’s low cross in from the right was cut out before being immediately knocked back to the edge of the area, where it fell to the feet of Juanpi. Two players quickly tried to close him down yet somehow he bundled his way through them, before making some space for himself on the right corner of the area. Judging by the reaction of at least one Argentine defender, they did not consider him a serious threat from this position. Big mistake. Before anyone could get near enough to him, he unleashed a phenomenal strike that scorched past Romero and nearly burst the top corner of the net. The crowd erupted and the 22-year-old diminutive Málaga maestro was mobbed by his team-mates, both starters and subs alike. His first international goal, his formal arrival on this stage; aficionados of this balletic young man’s career will have been aware that it bore more than a slight resemblance to his first ever club goal against Levante in January 2015. Now, all Venezuelans know that no matter how bleak their nation’s prospects often seem, there will always be reason to keep an eye on them so long as the likes of Juanpi are in embryo.

Just four minutes later, Dudamel’s men nearly enhanced the euphoria in the ground to unprecedented levels. Rondón helped the ball on to Alexander González on the right inside the area. The Huesca right-back quickly slid the ball into the goalmouth where Josef Martínez was waiting and the goal was a-gaping, yet the Torino striker was narrowly beaten to the ball by Pablo Zabaleta, who managed to clear.

Thus, when the half-time whistle blew, the hosts had to resign themselves to being just 1-0 up against the No. 1 ranked side in the world. In the ever-bewildering and screen-throttling social media world, more than a few were quick to denigrate Venezuela’s lead by pointing out that Lionel Messi was missing and that this was a ‘depleted’ Argentine team. Risible claims, as aside from two attacking players, this was virtually a first-choice Albiceleste XI and, as no Venezuelan was staggered to observe, the hosts had problems of their own. Indeed, they made four changes from the Colombia loss, all of which were forced upon Dudamel: three of the four defenders were out (two due to suspensions, one due to injury) and one of the defensive-midfielders (suspended) was also unavailable. Such absences made their lead and hitherto ability to repel trouble all the more impressive.

Yet when the second half kicked off, the visitors returned with more intent to extricate themselves from the mire that they had slipped in. Much anticipation greeted Banega’s free-kick in the 50th minute, but when he finally took it, the ball sailed comfortably over. The hosts were nevertheless able to withstand such pressure and not long afterwards they broke free up the other end where Rondón nearly fed in Martínez, but the latter had his run abruptly blocked off.

However, shortly afterwards in the 53rd minute, the same combination sent the stands into raptures. The nation’s talisman robbed a hapless defender flailing in the Mérida rain and strode into the area, where he slipped a short pass to his Serie A-based partner who, with the visitors on the back foot, was afforded acres of space. Had he desired to, Martínez would have had time to whip out the day’s paper and read his horoscopes before pulling the trigger; regardless of what it would have said, the Torino man certainly would have felt it was his lucky day when his well-placed shot hit the back of the net. 2-0.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, the hosts celebrated their dizzying lead by going immediately on the defensive as Argentina raised their game and/or Venezuela pondered the ‘2-0 is the most dangerous lead in football’ cliché for a bit too long. Given such a change in approach, it came as little surprise when the visitors halved the deficit in the 58th minute. Here, Erik Lamela was gifted plenty of space to slide the ball through to Pratto in the area. Despite having left-back Mikel Villanueva and centre-back Sema Velázquez seemingly on his case, it seemed a little too easy for him. He nudged the ball forward and it ricocheted off Villanueva back to him in slightly more space and he simply toe-poked it goalwards past the possibly blindsided Hernández. 2-1. Game well and truly on.

Bauza’s men thus went on the hunt for an equaliser. Some more shaky goalkeeping from Hernández from a corner was to follow not long afterwards and the visitors were not too far from catching him out in the 66th minute. Here, Banega, on the inside-left just outside the area, went for a cross-shot which rebounded kindly off a defender, thus necessitating the Tenerife goalkeeper to scramble over to ensure his near post was covered. He got there just in time to block out the resultant shot that Di María fired from an acute angle from inside the area on the left.

One rare reprieve from the pressure came after 74 minutes when the much-touted 19-year-old Adalberto Peñaranda burst forward and gave a rare glimpse of why he made so many headlines at Granada last season. In a characteristically direct run, he passed through a few Argentine shirts before being cynically fouled not far from the area. This bought his nation some time, though the free-kick was duly squandered.

With the clock not ticking fast enough, Dudamel made some changes yet his second, replacing Martínez with Ecuador-based Jacobo Kouffaty, unfortunately did not reap the desired dividends. Indeed, officially he lasted no more than three minutes before succumbing to an injury and being replaced by Yonathan Del Valle in the 81st minute.

Compounding Kouffaty’s misery, as he was walking dejectedly along the sidelines, Di María whipped in a low corner which was clinically struck into the back of the net to level things up. Manchester City’s Nicolás Otamendi beat his centre-back counterpart Velázquez to the ball and restored some pride for his nation. Now, they were favourites to snatch all three points.

Ultimately, although they certainly put the jitters up their hosts, it was in fact Venezuela who came closest to emerging victorious in a five-goal thriller. First, with five minutes remaining, Juanpi curled in a free-kick from the right with his left boot which Romero went to catch but was easily beaten in the air by Rondón – unfortunately for the latter, his header also comfortably cleared the crossbar when it seemed as if with a bit more direction, he could well have won the game.

It was a let-off for the Manchester United goalkeeper and yet with a minute of regulation time left, he somehow had time to emerge relatively unscathed from an even greater howler. This time, Juanpi’s central free-kick from range bounced harmlessly through to the out-of-favour stopper, yet perhaps his rustiness affected him, as he was slow in anticipating the ball’s trajectory. Instead of catching it, the ball caught him by surprise and bounced off his chest and straight to Villanueva. The 23-year-old Atlético Malagueño left-back instinctively struck at the ball in textbook centre-forward fashion; he had Romero well beat but unfortunately his effort cannoned straight back off the near post.

Alas, the final whistle soon blew and it was greeted by both sides with a mixture of emotions. The visitors’ comeback could not mask the fact that they had once again struggled to contend with the absence of Messi and had been displaced from their perch, now finding themselves 3rd in the CONMEBOL standings. For the hosts, while it is a credible point, they will surely feel that they could have added a little more dignity to their campaign by gaining their first victory.

With Peru having beaten Ecuador 1-0, Venezuela now find themselves five points adrift at the bottom on a paltry two points. Although ten games still remain, as Dudamel’s men are 11 points away from the play-off spot (5th), sights are undoubtedly now set on Qatar 2022 and not Russia 2018. Building a new team with the likes of Juanpi at its core will be uppermost in the manager’s thoughts. After all, next month will involve a trip to Uruguay (1st) and a home clash against Brazil (2nd); Rome was indeed not built in a day.

To keep up-to-date with the Venezuelan football world, feel free to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; A. González (V. García, 71′), O. Vizcarrondo, S. Velázquez, M. Villanueva; Juanpi, T. Rincón,  A. Flores, A. Peñaranda; S. Rondón & J. Martínez (J. Kouffaty, 78′) (Y. Del Valle, 81′).

Argentina (4-2-3-1): S. Romero; P. Zabaleta, N. Otamendi, R. Funes Mori, M. Rojo (N. Gaitán, 83′); J. Mascherano, L. Biglia (L. Alario, 71′); E. Lamela (Á. Correa, 67′), É. Banega, Á. Di María; L. Pratto.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Peru 2-2 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (24 March 2016)

The fifth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded the first point for Noel Sanvicente’s men, yet this will be of little comfort to fans who were seconds away from celebrating a morale-boosting win. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 24 March 2016 – Estadio Nacional de Lima, Lima

Peru 2-2 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Peru 2-2 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 24 March 2016 (YouTube)

Ruidíaz Denies Venezuela at the Death 

Match Report

With the last touch of the game, Raúl Ruidíaz rescued a Peruvian point and ruined what was so close to being a history-making night for Venezuela. 

La Vinotinto had never won a World Cup qualifier away in Peru (previously managing a solitary draw) and thus, having led 2-0 on the hour, were just half an hour away from an unanticipated morale boost. Alas, ultimately they failed to survive the onslaught by mere seconds.

Viewed as a whole with a detachment rarely found in the South American stands, Noel Sanvicente’s underperforming men were perhaps fortunate to even get a point from this game. However, upon the full-time whistle in Lima, this is not an opinion that many away fans would want to hear, let alone be in accord with.

Indeed, not only were they on the back-foot for the majority of the final third of the match but also for the first quarter, when the hosts – backed up by the urges and instruments of an expectant home crowd –  repeatedly exploited an inexperienced Venezuelan back-line. In the opening exchanges, Peru found a lot of space both in the middle and and on the flanks of a Venezuelan defence which, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo aside, had less than a dozen caps between them pre-game.

The first genuine scare of note came in the eighth minute when a ball was dinked over from the left into the area that Jefferson Farfán only narrowly failed to make strong contact with, instead scuffing wide. Not long afterwards, a cross from roaming right-back Luis Advíncula found Claudio Pizarro in space, but the veteran striker’s header was comfortable for goalkeeper Alain Baroja. Holes continued to be found that necessitated last-ditch tackles and blocks but it was in the 24th minute that Peru really should have taken the lead. Here, an appalling clearance from Ángel Faría – playing instead of the suspended right-back Roberto Rosales – went straight to Farfán who immediately fed Paolo Guerrero in the area. However, despite the time and space he was afforded, he was unable to divert the ball either side of Baroja, who instead made an instinctive block.

Yet, though a Peruvian opener seemed on the cards, the Venezuelans surprisingly began to get a foothold into the game, creating a string of chances. In the 26th minute, a counter-attack was spearheaded by Josef Martinez, who fed strike-partner Salomón Rondón on the left who, in turn, returned a point-perfect cross that Martinez volleyed, causing a fine save from Pedro Gallese. Three minutes later, Rondón himself had an opportunity, seizing upon a forward ball on the inside-right and hitting a low strike across goal that Gallese padded away. Then, a minute later, a free-kick from the returning Rómulo Otero – who had struggled with a couple of previous attempts – dipped just before Gallese, causing the Juan Aurich goalkeeper to awkwardly parry the ball out.

Soon after, however, the breakthrough that less than ten minutes prior seemed improbable occurred. Málaga midfielder Juanpi, who was making a rare international start and is poised to be a fixture in the line-up for the foreseeable future, burst into the area and was rashly upended for a penalty. Otero thus stepped up and confidently dispatched the spot-kick.

The previously boisterous home fans fell silent and several minutes later their representatives nearly fell another goal behind. This time, Juanpi swung in a free-kick that the head of centre-back Wilker Ángel powerfully connected with, yet Gallese pulled off a sensational save, preventing what seemed like a certain goal.

Subsequently, the hosts struggled to regain their earlier dominance, a situation that continued into the first quarter of the second half. Barely a minute after the restart, the visitors could have had a second when another Juanpi free-kick curled towards Vizcarrondo and Mikel Villanueva in considerable space, yet a lack of communication and/or anticipation led to the ball missing the target. Ten minutes later, however, the latter did manage to double the lead. After Juanpi won a corner, he swung in another pin-point cross that his Málaga team-mate Villanueva, unmarked at the back post, thundered home on the volley.

Elation spread amongst the Venezuelan ranks on the pitch, in the stands and at home. Not just the first point of the campaign, but three of the blighters seemed very much on the table begging to be collected, requiring only some professional shepherding over the finish line. Easier said than done, of course, and it did not take long for Los Incas to ground their briefly stratospheric opponents back on planet earth. Indeed, having come close just a minute after Villanueva’s goal, they halved the deficit a minute after the hour-mark. A long ball was knocked into the air and then headed on by recent substitute Raúl Ruidíaz into the path of Guerrero who did well to take the ball into his stride and then strike home – though goalkeeper Baroja really should not have allowed the ball past him. Though the Flamengo forward rushed to pick the ball out of the net in order to force a quick restart this was in fact a landmark moment for him, as he became Peru’s undisputed all-time top goalscorer.

This goal really swung the momentum pendulum back into the hosts’ favour and for the remainder of the game they were to increase the pressure on the visitors to what ultimately proved to be unbearable levels. Vinotinto nerves were certainly rattled in the 68th minute, though not as much as their own crossbar, which Guerrero nearly pulverised with a bullet header from a corner. Manager Sanvicente could sense as much as anyone that the winds had decisively changed and so made a double substitution a couple of minutes later. Not only did he grant Adalberto Peñaranda his debut (replacing Martínez) but he also took off creative catalyst Juanpi in order for his replacement Alejandro Guerra to add some defensive grit and experience to the ranks. 12 minutes later, following ever more narrow squeaks and uncertainty, Venezuela’s other main attacking threat Otero was withdrawn to be replaced by holding midfielder – and debutant – Carlos Cermeño.

Sanvicente was evidently trying to preserve his side’s slim advantage and bring some much-neeed order and organisation to what was a rather open game – albeit one with the ball largely in the Venezuelan half. When, in the last minute of regulation time, Edison Flores was fed a return-ball inside the area yet from close range could only hoist the ball over both Baroja and the bar, many a Vinotinto fan must have felt an historic win was all-but-assured.

Alas, concentration levels failed at the very last hurdle. After some attacks were momentarily thwarted, mental lapses afforded space on the left for Flores who compensated for his miss by providing a pinpoint cross for Ruidíaz, who slipped away from Ángel, to nod home.

The goal was literally the last touch of the match. The dejection in the Venezuelan camp did well to mask the fact that this was the first – and somewhat unanticipated – point that they had picked up. If they can overcome the late psychological blow, then the home humiliation against Chile on Tuesday that some have feared may not come to fruition after all.

Match Thoughts

Future Optimism: Three Stand-Ins Amongst the Best Performers 

Venezuela came into the game without several individuals who have started recent qualifying games. Some of these players were either suspended (Roberto Rosales, Luis Manuel Seijas and Sema Velázquez), left out the squad (Ronald Vargas, Christian Santos and Gabriel Cichero) or, in the case of at least one, started on the bench (Alejandro Guerra).

Some players who stepped in for rare starts impressed and should expect many more caps in the foreseeable future. Of these, Juanpi, who has emerged to become a La Liga regular this season, perhaps put in the strongest performance. Not only did he win the penalty for the first goal and set up Villanueva for the second but, were it not for the heroics of Gallese and a slight-mix-up between his team-mates, he could well have had a hat-trick of assists to his name. This was the first time he has started a competitive international and it certainly will not be the last.

Rómulo Otero, another versatile attacking midfielder and impressive set-piece taker, also made his mark. The 23-year-old has gained more caps than Juanpi but has struggled for international appearances over the past two years due to injury. Against Peru, he made a welcome return to the line-up, coolly slotting home a penalty kick, driving at defenders and causing problems from set-pieces. With regard to free-kicks at least, many fans have hoped that he would be the long-term successor to Juan Arango though, as this match demonstrates, while future opportunities are certainly on the cards, he will have some stiff competition in this department from his Málaga-based team-mate.

Mikel Villanueva, who like Juanpi is registered with Málaga but instead plays for their reserve side Atletico Malagaugeno, also had a game to remember. This was his second appearance following last month’s friendly debut and he not only scored a memorable thumping goal but came away with more credit than most of his defensive colleagues. With Fernando Amorebieta having retired, Andrés Túñez falling out of favour and Gabriel Cichero all but a nowhere man at club level, an opportunity has surely opened up at left-back.

Problems at the Back

Unfortunately, not all players who stepped in can be assured of future appearances after this international break. Right-back Ángel Faría and centre-back Wilker Ángel both played their parts in the concession of goals and were often caught out of position, struggling to keep up with the pace of play. Against Chile, they will more than likely be dropped in favour of Roberto Rosales and Sema Velázquez, both of whom will be returning from suspensions.

Furthermore, though a first-team regular and one less likely to lose his place on Tuesday (UPDATE (29/3/16): If reports are to believed, it looks like he has in fact lost his place), goalkeeper Alain Baroja nevertheless really needs to raise his game. Once again, he showed moments of uncertainty and was at fault for a goal – this time when he awkwardly allowed a fairly straightforward shot from Guerrero to creep under his ineffectual dive. Add this to his amateurish mix-up with Vizcarrondo for Paraguay’s late winner in October and his dreadful clearance against Ecuador in November that led to their second goal and this gives the average Venezuela fan quite the unwanted memory bank to hold against him.

Martínez Enhanced a Team That Now Has More Reasons to Feel Cheerful 

More positively, Josef Martínez went some way to providing the answer for the striking dilemma of the decade: Who, If Anyone, Should Partner Salomón Rondón?  The West Brom striker has often looked more involved and participated in more direct moves when the younger, pacier, Torino forward has been playing a supplementary role. There were glimpses of this against Peru, particularly when the pair began Venezuela’s first-half re-emergence into proceedings as a fast-paced counter-attack led to the pair combining with Martínez ultimately only being denied by an impressive save. Unfortunately, as Rondón picked up his second booking of the campaign, they will not be reprising their partnership against Chile. Nevertheless, as things stand, if in future games Sanvicente opts to give Rondón some close on-field support, Martínez is surely currently ahead of the likes of Christian Santos, Richard Blanco and Adalberto Peñaranda in the pecking order.

Lastly, though in the immediate aftermath of this result nobody really wishes to hear this, the Venezuelan side, much of which was lacking in familiarity with one another, showed great character through most of the game. After 25 minutes, a defeat by at least two or three goals seemed likely and the thought that they could ever be two clear goals in front away to Peru could only have come from the mind of the most optimistic futurologist predicting a distant age at least a generation from now. To withstand the early tide and then play effectively within their limitations in order to gain their first point of the campaign represents progress. To follow this up with a strong showing against Chile at the ground of Sanvicente’s former club Zamora would do much for fan and team morale.

Team Selections

Peru (4-4-2): Gallese; Advíncula, Zambrano, Ascues, Vargas; Ballón, Tapia (Lobatón. 51′), Cuevas, Farfán (Flores, 60′); Pizarro (Ruidíaz, 60′), Guerrero.

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Faría, Ángel, Vizcarrondo, Villanueva; Juanpi (Guerra, 70′), Rincón, Figuera, Otero (Cermeño, 81′); S. Rondón, Martínez (Peñaranda, 70′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

International Friendly

Tuesday 2 February 2016 – Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas

Venezuela 1-0 Costa Rica 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Team Selections

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical