Tag Archives: Miku

Venezuela 0-3 Honduras – International Friendly (4 September 2015)

International Friendly

Friday 4 September 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State.

Venezuela 0-3 Honduras

(To read a preview of both of Venezuela’s September 2015 friendlies, click here)

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-3 Honduras, International Friendly, 4 September 2015 (YouTube)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Túñez (A. González, 90′), Cichero; Guerra (Arango, 46′), Rincón (Signorelli, 78′), Seijas (C. González, 68′), R. Vargas (M. Rondón, 61′); Martínez (Miku, 69′), S. Rondón. (The formation was nominally a 4-4-2 though often looked like the usual 4-2-3-1, with Martínez slightly behind S. Rondón).

Honduras (4-4-2): Lopez; Beckeles, Velásquez, Figueroa, Izaguirre (Oseguera, 90+2′); Andino (Méndez, 87′), A. Mejía (Garrido, 78′), Acosta, B. García (E. Hernández, 80′); Bengtson (Castillo, 71′), J. Mejía (Discua, 65′).

Match Report

Uncreative Venezuela Humbled at Home By Honduras 

Plans for Venezuela to overcome the shortcomings of their premature Copa América exit and instead gain a morale boost on home soil ahead of their World Cup qualifying campaign took a backwards step as they were undone by three second-half goals.

Possibly in a bid to improve his side’s poor goalscoring stats, coach Noel Sanvicente started with the same players that were named for the final Group C game with Brazil in June, albeit with one key change. Experienced icon Juan Arango was replaced with Torino prospect Josef Martínez, who from the off was perhaps the chief instigator of a more direct approach, often seeking to play in close tandem with star striker Salomón Rondón.

Indeed, though Venezuela certainly attempted many attacks on the flanks throughout the game, it was often the central approach that yielded the best results, particularly in the first half when they were the better side, playing at a tempo not witnessed in the Chile-hosted tournament.

That said, their first moment of note came from the right wing in the 10th minute when right-back Roberto Rosales, who was a frequent intruder into opposition territory, glided in a challenging cross. Rondón jumped for it with a defender, who just about beat the West Brom striker to the ball at the back post and goalkeeper Luis Lopez rose up to collect. However, just a couple of minutes later, Honduras were to give the hosts the first taste of what could happen if they fail to take advantage of their more frequent forward forays. The internationally prolific Jerry Bengtson – who has recently moved to Iran to play for Persepolis –  did well to take a long ball up the inside-left in his stride and suddenly had some space on the left within the area. However, centre-back Andrés Túñez’s presence may have just about served its purpose, as the shot was fired comfortably over.

Undeterred, Venezuela continued with their pressing and were to enjoy the next few chances of note. Just after the quarter-hour mark, the strike partnership haphazardly displayed some promise as a series of central knock-ons, intentional or otherwise, from opposition defender Maynor Figueroa as well as Martínez and Rondón led to the latter almost poking the ball in, though he was narrowly beaten to it by the fleet-footed Lopez. A few minutes later, a corner from Ronald Vargas – whose success rate of finding a team-mate from a set-piece was otherwise largely abysmal – was glanced wide by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Had the Nantes centre-back arrived a fraction of a second earlier to meet the ball, he could well have bullet-headed it into the back of the net. AEK winger Vargas was involved in the next opportunity in the 24th minute as, from the inside-right position, he slid the ball forward to give Rondón a chance at goal. However, though he could have squeezed a shot between the defender and Lopez towards the far corner, he instead hit a low strike straight at the goalkeeper.

Overall, Rondón was to have a rather mediocre game, not only failing to convert the chances that came his way but also giving away the ball several times when involved in quick-paced direct passing moves, though his efforts in such exchanges were not entirely without merit. Much of this was in evidence in the last moment of note in the first half. Indeed, in the 44th minute, Martínez bustled through the middle, played a rapid one-two with Rondón before being adjudged to have been fouled in the area. Up stepped Rondón but his penalty was struck barely halfway between the centre and left post of the goal-frame and thus, having guessed correctly, Lopez pulled off what was a fairly comfortable save.

Venezuela returned for the second half with the ineffectual Guerra having been replaced by Arango and were to again have the first chance of note. The roaming Rosales once more reached the right edge of the Honduran area, where this time he cut inside and curled a left-footed effort goalwards, though his accuracy was unfortunately off by several yards.

However, a minute later when the clock struck 50′, the tide was to begin to turn against the hosts. All of a sudden, they found themselves stretched at the back as the youthful Bryan Acosta was to beat the ageing Vizcarrondo to the chase and dinked the ball over the onrushing Alain Baroja but also a yard or two above the goalkeeper’s bar. Under-fire visiting manager Jorge Luis Pinto, who has had a relatively poor start to his reign in charge, shook his head on the touchline as if to query the footballing Gods as towhen exactly he is finally going to get a break.

Fortunately for him, the answer to that was very shortly. Indeed, a few minutes after Vizcarrondo almost got outpaced again, Erick Andino struck a bona fide golazo that really did come out of nowhere. Controlling a ball 25 yards out just to the right of the centre of the park, he hoisted a dipping half-volley towards the far top corner which Baroja could only help on its way into the net.

Momentarily at least, a hush of seemingly silent admiration appeared to spread amongst the Puerto Ordaz crowd. However, they soon had reason to regain their voices as immediately following the goal, another direct Venezuelan attack nearly reaped dividends. This time, from the edge of the area, Martínez flicked on with Cantona-esque panache a return-ball for Rondón, who stabbed a volley from inside the area that Lopez did well to instinctively tip over at point-blank range. From the resulting corner, Vargas’ second and final dead-ball delivery of note was met by the towering Túñez at the back post, but though Lopez was caught in a difficult position, the header was off target.

From that moment onwards, Venezuela struggled to get a clear sight of the Honduran goal as familiar problems came to the fore and were magnified by the scoreline. An absence of effective team-work and incisive passing marked most forward forays as La Vinotinto seemed short on ideas to find ways through or around the opposition. In the 70th minute, Rosales’ frustrations appeared to almost get the better of him after one of his many bursts up the right resulted in his infield pass to substitute Miku being wasted by the Rayo Vallecano striker, who attempted a hopelessly wayward return-ball. Subsequently, the Málaga right-back wore an expression of exasperation, quite possibly weary of several of his team-mates who were rarely capable of adequately complementing his charges up the right.

Unsurprisingly, such sullenness did not do much to aid his own performance. Just a few minutes later from Rosales’ side, Celtic left-back Emilio Izaguirre swung in a fine, elegant cross that recent substitute Román Castillo of Motagua beat his marker to and nodded home to double the lead. The out-manoeuvred defender in question was Túñez who also came in for some criticism against Brazil in June when he was similarly beaten to the ball for the two Seleção goals.

If Rosales’ culpability for the second goal was masked by the positioning of his team-mate in the centre, then there was no hiding for the third. This came in the 83rd minute when goalscorer Andino cut back from the byline inside the area where he was upended by the Venezuela right-back’s left leg. Some felt this was a soft call but, nevertheless, Izaguirre made no mistake from the spot, blasting down the centre to complete the rout.

With a minute remaining, there was a final chance for a consolation goal, though this was squandered. With a spacious area to aim his cross into, Rondón chipped the ball from the left edge towards the right-hand side near the back post where it was nodded down by Miku for substitute César González. However, what looked like being an inevitable close-range headed goal instead turned into an embarrassing miss that went well wide of the target, almost in a parallel trajectory to the goal line. Perhaps on second viewing, the Deportivo Táchira midfielder had a little trouble adjusting his body in time and the ball was a little behind him, though few fans will be willing to argue the toss over that one.

When the final whistle blew, the scoreline was emphatically not what the admirably vocal crowd had expected at the start of the game and at no point during the first 45 minutes did it seem likely either. Alas, Venezuela’s familiar failings came to the fore once again and they were made to pay, suffering the ignominy of what is, according to the revered statistician Mister Chip, their worst ever defeat at home to a Central American opponent. Owing to manager Noel Sanvicente’s success at club level, criticism during his reign has so far been less severe than it perhaps would have been for a foreign manager who had overseen similar results. Yet, with World Cup qualifying on the horizon, the underlying belief shared by many that things will eventually come together has taken another battering. Indeed, although the Puerto Ordaz crowd were consistently supportive during this game, a similar scoreline against Panama on Tuesday may well provoke a response from the stands that reverberates in the national press for some time before the Russia 2018 campaign kicks off against Paraguay.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – September 2015 Preview

International Friendlies 

Friday 4 September 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State.

Venezuela vs Honduras 

Tuesday 8 September 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State.

Venezuela vs Panama

estadiocachamay

Estadio Cachamay in Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State (Wikimedia).

Getting the Gang Back Together to Prepare for the Greatest Challenge

We meet again. Casually resented by great swathes of European fans who are spoilt-for-choice domestically, yet eagerly anticipated by many in the talent-exporting Latin American nations, an international break is once again upon us.

Venezuelans, for whom the national team inspires infinitely more passion amongst the general population than the neglected local fare, are amongst those in the region readying themselves for two further opportunities to run the rule over their representatives. Indeed, it may have been a mere two-and-a-half months ago that La Vinotinto’s Copa América campaign ended in dejection almost as soon as it had been inaugurated by unexpected euphoria, but with World Cup qualifying commencing next month, there really is little time or appetite to be absorbed by self-pity and scapegoating. After all, as mainstream football coverage of the nation rarely misses the opportunity to point out, Venezuela remains the only CONMEBOL country yet to feature at a World Cup.

Thus, warm feelings and intrepid eyes greet the bulk of this 26-man squad of players derived from four continents, 13 countries and 15 distinct leagues. Such diversity means that the attempts of even the most caffeine-addled, antisocial and aspiration-free fanatics in tracking every movement of the individuals in with a shot of a selección call-up will be hopelessly thwarted. Instead, those who are so inclined tend to resign themselves each weekend to an overseas game or two featuring one or more of their pioneering compatriots, supplemented by some online highlights of several other cracks – if, that is, they can find them.

The inadequacies and skewered view of the team intrinsic to this particular footballing consumption should be apparent. It is, after all, not often one comes acoss much visual material  of merit featuring the players who are fielded in less headline-grabbing and highlight-friendly positions, such as defence and defensive midfield. Moreover, newcomers to football in this corner of the world will be unsurprised to learn that the disparity in the locations of the players’ clubs is often matched in the wide differences of opinions held amongst fans, with certain favourites being held in high esteem by some for feats observed in YouTube videos and vines, yet achieved in the distant past.

One can only wonder how coach Noel Sanvicente and his staff manage to keep tabs on their potential history-makers. Some repeatedly ignored players, such as Yonathan Del Valle who announced his retirement from the international game in May a couple of weeks shy of his 25th birthday, doubtless think that they have grave difficulties coping with their workload.

Nevertheless, for both the fans and the serial-winner leader they call Chita, this all conspires to make the scant amount of time the players have together golden. With the symbol to inspire and unify the sometimes suppressed footballing passions of this nation reactivated once again, most of the men who take to the pitch in the upcoming days know that irrespective of what they have achieved recently at club level, what they do for their country will carry most weight in the minds of those in the stands as well as in the dugout.

‘Don’t I Know You From…?’ Familiar Faces in the Central American Opposition

Honduras and Panama, though undeniably substantial opponents, may lack the star power to entice a full house to Estadio Cachamay, but the atmosphere inside Mineros de Guayana’s home ground could still take a few by surprise. Indeed, for various logistical and administrative reasons, opportunities to fly the flag have been at a premium recently, with only one game having been played on home soil in Sanvicente’s near-14-month reign – a 2-1 win in February, also against Honduras.

This result marked the conclusion a double-header between the two nations and also the second Venezuelan win, as the preceding week in San Pedro Sula a 3-2 defeat was inflicted upon Jorge Luis Pinto in what was his debut game in charge of Los Catrachos. While the Colombian mastermind behind Costa Rica’s run to the quarter-finals of last year’s World Cup has continued his poor start, exiting July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup at the group stage, he has seemed in good spirits upon his arrival in Venezuela. Indeed, no doubt partly alluding to his 2010/11 title-winning tenure at the helm of Deportivo Táchira, he remarked to the local press in Puerto Ordaz that the country holds ‘very fond memories’ for him. As the encounters earlier this year were contested mainly by home-based players (plus a few MLS-dwellers on the Honduran side), in more ways than one, he will be hoping for an altogether different match on 4 September.

By contrast, Panama have won their last two internationals with Venezuela. While both games did occur back in 2010 and the Vinotinto line-up contained a mixture of fringe players alongside first-teamers, Los Canaleros have consistently shown, through their admirable, if similarly unlucky, 2014 World Cup Qualifying and 2015 Gold Cup campaigns, that they are more than capable of a third consecutive win. Furthermore, due in part to the country’s relative proximity to their opponents, a fair few Panamanians have enjoyed considerable recent success on Venezuelan soil playing in the domestic league, such as last season’s leading goalscorer, Edwin Aguilar of Deportivo Anzoátegui. He is not in the current squad but Marcos Sánchez, a midfielder for the 2014/15 champions Deportivo Táchira, is.

Squad Overview: Defence Less Tight for Friendies but the Core is Seemingly Settled 

How much weight Sanvicente puts on getting results, irrespective of the performances, from these two friendlies is debatable, though several in the Venezuelan set-up have spoken of the necessity of a strong home record to help keep them at least within touching distance throughout the two-year qualifying campaign. Given the contrast between the woeful, defensively porous displays in the games leading into Copa América and the resolute, compact performance in the surprise 1-0 group win over Colombia, many could be forgiven for questioning the merits of such internationals. Indeed, while La Vinotinto may have lost their subsequent two group games – 1-0 against Peru, 2-1 versus Brazil – their defensive record for the tournament still stood at an ostensibly admirable three conceded in three games – quite an improvement on the 18 (19 officially) that were knocked into their net by largely weaker opposition in eight warm-up games. Then again, as Group C at Chile 2015 was rather low-scoring, with a mere nine goals in total, more considered verdicts on the defence may have to wait until at least a few qualifying games have been played.

Nevertheless, what can be said with some certainty is that while Sanvicente has been a little coy on his line-up plans for these friendlies, nothing has occurred to suggest a dramatic change of personnel regarding the majority of his first-choice picks, particularly at the back. Barring injuries/suspensions/colossal mishaps, between the sticks next month for the qualifiers with Paraguay and Brazil will be Alain Baroja who, after winning a last-minute battle to be the national no. 1 in June has since left Caracas FC and has played the opening two league games of the season for AEK Athens. At right-back will be Málaga’s tenacious Roberto Rosales, with the centre-back pairing comprising of the towering, dependable Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Buriram United’s Thai-based GladiadorAndrés Túñez. All of these men were amongst their clubs’ most consistent and reliable performers last season and also played the entirety of their country’s three games at Copa América. If there is to be any experimentation in this area, Deportivo Táchira’s 22-year-old centre-back Wílker Ángel, who is already very much part of his club’s folkore, may be given a run out. He sat on the bench in Chile and may well find himself in future competitive line-ups, but there has been no suggestion that he is on the cusp of a breakthrough just yet.

Owing to Fernando Amorebieta’s tournament-turning red card against Peru and subsequent suspension, the front-runner to occupy the left-back berth for at least the Paraguay game next month is the man who filled in for him after his dismissal and against Brazil, Gabriel Cichero. Now back at Swiss side Sion after a year on loan in his native country, he will be looking forward to Europa League games against, amongst others, Liverpool and also to proving Sanvicente that he was wrong to ditch him so late on, after he had started all but one of the warm-up games in the year preceding Copa América. The only competition he has in the current squad is from Caracas’ Francisco Carabalí, but while he has been an integral part of his club’s miserly defence, having not been included in the Copa América squad, he currently stands less chance than Ángel of starting a competitive fixture.

So then, barring misfortune and/or catastrophe, all these positions for at least the first October qualifier seem fairly predictable and, as of this moment, so are the two spots in front of them. Indeed, Genoa-based roaming midfield warrior Tomás Rincón will undoubtedly start, with much of the team’s success dependent on the levels of commitment, organisation and belief he can help instil and inspire in those around him. His partner-in-crime in June was Santa Fe’s Luis Manuel Seijas, a more graceful midfielder capable of some stunning strikes and creative passes, but who is also not averse to mucking in. His most likely competition in current squad comes from Franklin Lucena, who has recently joined him in Colombia on loan at Once Caldas. However, at 34, he may be feeling uncertain as to whether Sanvicente fancies him in the long run for a position that demands zero lapses in concentration and, ideally, optimum levels of energy to meet head-on what can be frequent onslaughts. He may nevertheless take to the field in the upcoming days, as may 24-year-old Franco Signorelli, whose last two – also his first two – brief appearances for his country came last year. Having recently agreed to a loan from Serie A Empoli to Serie B Ternana, he will undeniably be seeking to make the most of his rare time with Sanvicente, as who knows how much the boss will see of his club outings this season.

Ultimately, while Sanvicente is likely to opt for a more open approach against Honduras and Panama, which may well afford their opponents more opportunities than the likes of Colombia, Peru and even Brazil could muster, he can allow himself a considerable degree of confidence regarding his defence-minded players in competitive games. After all, despite the two defeats endured in June, they never embarrassed themselves, nor were they ever far from gaining a result – that is, had their attacking players been able to link up more effectively, more frequently and create more goalscoring opportunities.

Squad Overview: Better Teamwork and More Target Practice Needed for Attackers 

Indeed, while Venezuela surprised their Colombian neighbours by having the better of the chances in the first hour or so (and, should any football-fatigued soul have forgotten, scored the match-winning goal), this proved to be something of a false dawn. Exiting the tournament with a mere two goals from three games just compounded the already meagre returns under Sanvicente, whose overall record now stands at 14 goals scored (though 12 officially) from 11 games. Thus, with his defensive personnel and tactics having largely been proven to aid the cause, Chita must surely place far greater emphasis in these two warm-up games towards finding the net more often.

As in all three of the group cames in Chile, he started with the same three players in the attacking midfield positions as well as the same striker up front, it is tempting to think that they are all likely to retain their spots next month. Transfer record-breaking striker Salomón Rondón undoubtedly will and the three behind him all have strong claims for places as well. After all, Atlético Nacional’s Alejandro Guerra on the left repeatedly linked up well with Rondón, gaining an assist for the goal against Colombia and could well have notched more had Venezuela’s chief marksman maintained his composure in front of the framework. In the centre, Juan Arango, despite persistent speculation that his age (35) renders almost every game as ‘quite possibly his last’, nevertheless managed to play some key, elegant passes and had a vital role in both tournament goals. On the right, the resurgent Ronald Vargas impressed so much against Colombia with his abilities to beat his marker, hold the ball up as well as link and switch with his team-mates, that he had the Athens-based press salivating over what he would be bringing to his new owners AEK. He was, however, less visible in the subsequent two games and though he has since scored on his debut for his Greek paymasters, as was the case in the summer, he is still unable to complete a full 90 minutes. If it is fitness which ultimately sees him sidelined in the future, for Guerra the most likely factor would be his inconsistency and tendency to give the ball away, whereas for Arango it would probably be his comparative lack of tracking back, as he was often left in a high, free role in Chile.

Thus, while these men collectively may all be currently in pole position to get the nod next month, they will not be feeling as secure of this as the defensive players surely are. The Venezuelan attacking midfield has long been the most competitive area of the pitch and, with at least ten versatile players of note capable of filling any of the three roles, there are almost as many players outside of the current squad as are within it who could receive a spot in the line-up within the next two years.

Indeed, for one, there is 22-year-old Rómulo Otero, who was ruled out of Copa América with injury and is currently again sidelined, frustrating his new owners Huachipato, for whom he got off to an explosive start in early August. He has long been considered an international star-in-waiting and had been linked to teams in countries such as Portugal and France, so when his long-anticipated move away from Caracas took him instead to a fairly unprestigious Chilean outfit, many were bemused. Similarly high hopes have been expressed for 20-year-old Jhon Murillo, who scored the winning goal against Honduras on his international debut earlier this year and was called up to the Copa América squad. He was eagerly snapped up just before the tournament by Benfica on a five-year-deal and is now a regular starter on loan at fellow Primeira Liga side Tondela. Sanvicente has stated that the speedy, if volatile, winger is one for the future but has been left out as he knows what he can do and instead wants to allow him to settle in with his new club, while he takes a closer look at other players. No explanation has been forthcoming regarding the absence of 21-year-old Juanpi of Málaga, though it is most likely that a lack of first-team experience in La Liga is the cause. However, with a recent exodus of midfield talent having occurred at the Andalusian club, he has come off the bench in both league encounters this season. Having already been granted a lengthy contract extension, this could prove to be his breakthrough year and will hopefully go some way to determining which of the positions he has hitherto occupied is best suited for him: in the hole, on either flank of an attacking midfield trident or, further back in a deep-lying playmaker role.

Regarding those in the actual squad, Torino’s Josef Martínez is currently the strongest challenger for a starting berth. Indeed, it surprised many that he was not in any line-up in June, yet when he did come on, he showed glimpses of his abilities to unsettle defenders and make things happen. Had fellow substitute Miku either been born a few inches taller or jumped a similar distance higher (the jury is still out on that one), then he would have been able to convert Martínez’s whipped cross in the dying moments of the Brazil game and thus secured Venezuela’s progress. Alternatively, there is Christian Santos, who Sanvicente has said he wants to take a closer look at and is likely to feature in at least one of the warm-up games. After confirming his eligibility to represent the country of his birth, there was much fanfare for the Germany-raised attacker when he made his international debut earlier this year. However, having lasted only an hour of a dismal friendly loss against Jamaica and subsequently missing out on Chile 2015, fans will this time be hoping to see him replicate some of last season’s phenomenal goal-scoring club form which helped NEC Nijmegen’s charge into the Dutch top-flight. Elsewhere, Mario  Rondón, the most surprising omission from the Copa América squad, has earned a recall and rather than being consumed by bitterness is instead seemingly filled with determination to ensure he is regularly in Sanvicente’s plans for at least the next two years. Indeed, a February move from Portugal to China may not have entirely helped his personal cause as beforehand he had been one of the most common names on Sanvicente’s teamsheets, yet come late May when the final cut was made, alleged justifications for his exclusion included his supposedly inferior fitness levels and lack of unique qualities in relation to his rivals. As he will be 30 next March and has earned roughly half of his caps under Sanvicente, he knows that the upcoming qualification cycle is likely to be his last chance to shine for his country. Another man in contention who has also earned a recall is Juan Falcón, who owes much to his international manager for converting him from a midfielder to a striker when the pair won the Venezuelan title twice together with Zamora (2012-14). He subsequently moved to Metz in Ligue 1 where he started in strong goalscoring form, yet succumbed to a long-term injury and struggled to regain his place in the side, who ultimately slipped down to the second tier. Nevertheless, with less than a handful of caps to his name and a strong personal association with the boss, this is a vital opportunity to remind everyone what he is capable of. However, if he is given a chance, it will more likely be as one of the attacking midfield three, possibly playing off Salomón Rondón.

With all this competition over three spots on the pitch, it seems counter-intuitive to many that Venezuela have struggled so much to find the net in recent times. There was seemingly some progress made in the three games in June as beforehand, the team often struggled to put together more than a handful of effective forward passes and were largely reliant on long-range efforts, set-pieces and defensive errors for goals. Still, Sanvicente knows that he is yet to stumble upon the right formula in this area. While he will doubtless trial at least a couple of the aforementioned individuals in the upcoming days, it remains to be seen whether a change of personnel is required.

Saviour or Historical Footnote? The Wildcard on the Wing 

If it is, however, then there are plenty of Venezuelans hoping that one individual in particular can constitute a large proportion of the solution. This man, hitherto unnamed but who is predicted to feature in at least one of the friendlies, is precisely the kind of player whose reputation owes much to on-field achievements that occurred in what can at times feel like the distant past. An attacking winger, born in the town of San Félix in Ciudad Guayana, he has played with and won trophies alongside some of the greatest names in global football and also scored in one of the most famous club games of the 21st century. Indeed, Salomón Rondón may now be the leading Venezuelan in most people’s eyes but, despite playing in the most-watched league in the world and being serenaded with his own personalised infectious ditty, even he can only claim a mere one-third of the number of Twitter followers this purported man of the hour has. Despite this, the wide-man who some are hoping can rapidly enhance the West Brom striker’s goal tally has never yet actually played for the country of his birth and a considerable number of his compatriots feel he should not be allowed to.

Readers who already know who the player in question is may feel this build-up is unmerited; time may very well prove that to be the case. For those still in the dark yet seeking enlightenment, click here to find out just who the mystery man is. The rest of you: enjoy the games and feel free to come back here in the upcoming days to find out whether there has been a Second Coming or not.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers: Alaín Baroja (AEK Athens), José David Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC).

Defenders: Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Francisco Carabalí (Caracas FC), Gabriel Cichero (Sion), Alexander González (Young Boys), Grenddy Perozo (Zulia FC), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), Andrés Túñez (Buriram United), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders: Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana), César González (Deportivo Táchira), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, on loan from Mineros de Guayana), Franklin Lucena (Once Caldas, on loan from Deportivo La Guaira), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fé), Franco Signorelli (Ternana, on loan from Empoli), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen), Jeffrén Suárez (KAS Eupen), Ronald Vargas (AEK Athens).

Forwards: Juan Falcón (Metz), Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor (Rayo Vallecano), Josef Martínez (Torino), Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Brazil 2-1 Venezuela – 2015 Copa América Group C (21 June 2015)

2015 Copa América Group C

Sunday 21 June – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Santiago, Chile

Brazil 2-1 Venezuela

Highlights of Brazil 2-1 Venezuela, 2015 Copa América Group C, 21 June 2015 (Video courtesy of Copa America 2015)

Team Selections

Brazil (4-2-3-1): Jefferson; D. Alves, Miranda, T. Silva, F. Luís; Fernandinho, Elias; Willian, Coutinho (Tardelli, 67′), Robinho (Marquinhos, 76′); Firmino (Luiz, 67′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Túñez, Cichero; Rincón, Seijas (Martínez, 46′); R. Vargas (C. González, 46′), Arango, Guerra (Miku, 72′); S. Rondón.

Late Rally Not Enough as Venezuela Exit Copa América

Match Report

Although Brazil and Venezuela could well have conspired to draw this final group stage game to ensure the pair progressed from Group C, the Seleção were evidently in no mood to take any chances, ultimately sending La Vinotinto out of the competition.

While Noel Sanvicente’s men rallied late on, it was Dunga’s under-fire charges who were on top for the majority of the match, taking it to their opponents from the start with Neymar’s replacement Robinho often the ringleader. Indeed, the now 31-year-old belied his age while rampaging all across the attacking midfield area and was to set up the opening goal. His ninth-minute corner was met by PSG’s Thiago Silva, who got in front of Andrés Túñez and emphatically volleyed past Alain Baroja at a pace that the 25-year-old Caracas FC goalkeeper will have rarely encountered before.

In response to this setback, there was some urgency in Venezuela’s forward play, though they struggled to get into meaningful positions within the final third. Instead, the next chance fell to Robinho, who was really finding his groove, as Dani Alves passed to the ex-Real Madrid man just outside the area on the centre-right. With the ball gently bouncing into his stride, he swept a graceful strike just over the crossbar. A few minutes later, a bit of space enjoyed in Brazilian territory allowed Ronald Vargas to blaze over from 30 yards.

However, this was nothing compared to what was going on at the other end, as Dunga’s men regularly found room on the flanks and just past the midway point in the half put Venezuela under some sustained pressure. Indeed, soon after Willian got away from his man on the right, his Chelsea team-mate Filipe Luís marched through on the left and blasted hard from an angle, drawing a parry from Baroja. The subsequent corner was knocked down and caused many jitters in the area as two shots were desperately blocked by the swarm of Venezuelan bodies that had come back. Sanvicente’s men were not coping well with the pace of their more illustrious opponents and could often be their own worst enemies when going forward, struggling to even control some basic passes with rather heavy touches.

Attack-wise, their next moment of note came via a surprisingly under-utilised weapon in their armoury during this tournament: the set-piece. Alas, as if to further emphasise the slim pickings that they were scraping by on, Roberto Rosales’ long-range central free-kick was merely flicked on by Túñez straight into the hands of Jefferson. Most attacks in the first half were instead in and around the other area as, coming up to half-time, Roberto Firmino drove along the touchline on the left before winning a corner and then, not long afterwards, Robinho had a right-footed strike parried wide for another corner. However unintentionally, with around a minute left before the break Venezuela caused Jefferson some mild concern, when left-back Gabriel Cichero’s ball dipped a bit too close towards the goal-frame for comfort, ultimately going wide.

When half-time came, Sanvicente knew he would need to inject more attacking impetus into the side and so replaced Ronald Vargas and Luis Manuel Seijas with César González and Josef Martínez, moves which would gradually have at least some effect on proceedings. However, this was not to occur until the latter stages of the game as before this, Brazil were to continue to exert their dominance.

Three minutes into the half, the impressive Willian did a stepover and then put in a ball that hit Túñez to go behind. From the resulting corner, Silva must have thought his header was going to make it two, but instead Baroja got down low to pull off a great save that will do his growing reputation no harm at all. Nevertheless, barely a minute later the lead was indeed doubled as Willian did great on the left to get away from Rosales before putting in a delightful ball with the outside of his right that bypassed Túñez and was finished off by Firmino. 2-0 and it was hard to see how Venezuela could get back into it.

        Indeed, even though they did gradually come to make more forward forays as their opponents relaxed and the atmosphere subsided somewhat, it was not until the last five minutes or so that an actual comeback seemed possible. One rare repository of hope were the free-kicks of Juan Arango and on 56 minutes he curled one with his revered left peg that may have been going half a yard over the bar but Jefferson nevertheless tipped it on its way for a corner. Little more than a minute later, the Botafogo goalkeeper dived outwards to parry away a cross that came in from the left from substitute González. Shortly afterwards, Jefferson was further kept busy by the other man introduced for the second half, young Torino attacker Martínez, who from a crowded position on the right of the area struck well but much too close to the goalkeeper for it to be of serious concern.
        Despite these moments of optimism for Venezuela, they knew Brazil and especially Robinho still had plenty more to offer, if necessary. In the 64th minute, the winger cut inside from the left, reeling back the years to jink past a couple of challenges outside the area before shooting a few yards wide.
      Venezuela nevertheless continued their hunt for a way back into the game. In the 71st minute, Alejandro Guerra cut the ball back from the right in the area for González, who shimmied away from a defender before having his shot crucially blocked. Soon afterwards, Guerra was substituted off for Rayo Vallecano striker Miku, a move whose significance would bear some fruit later on. In the meantime, Arango put in another good free-kick that bounced before Jefferson, who had to parry out.
      By the 76th minute, Brazil had used all three of their substitutes. Two of these – David Luiz and Marquinhos – being defenders by trade, brought the total of such players on the field to six, even if they were not all playing in the back line. A minute after their final change, Venezuela were to create another half-chance as, from the centre just outside the area, Miku was to roll the ball to the incoming González who blasted a strike not too far off the target.
    In the 81st minute, Brazil again made their presence known, this time from a Willian corner. As soon as it was headed out, it was nodded back in towards Luiz, whose scissor-kick was well-struck, but too close to Baroja, who got his full body behind it to catch.
    Three minutes later, the moment that rarely seemed likely arrived. From 25 yards out, Arango swung his third and best free-kick over the wall, which Jefferson did well to save against the post but Miku was on hand to head the rebound straight in. Suddenly, Dunga’s decision to go defensive looked complacent as Venezuela were instantly buoyed by this goal, with players and fans alike doubtless instantly recalling for inspiration the two goals they scored against Paraguay in the closing stages of the last game of the 2011 group stage.
            Alas, it was not to be, though they certainly did not go out without first giving Colombia a late fright. Deep into stoppage-time, Martínez gained some space on the left and put in a cross that went over the reach of Jefferson but, unfortunately, past Miku as well and out the other side. As the final whistle blew, many Venezuelans were still debating whether or not the La Liga striker slightly ducked out of the way of the cross, but in time, Fernando Amorebieta’s tournament-changing red card in the preceding loss against Peru should be the real talking point.
                Indeed, having sensationally upset the apple cart on the opening day with a win over Colombia, Sanvicente’s men went into their second game against Ricardo Gareca’s men in the vertiginous position of being able to secure qualification with a win. Alas, the ex-Bilbao man’s dismissal was to scupper this dream. Nevertheless, dejected as serial-winner Sanvicente doubtless currently feels, he will surely have felt some optimism from his team’s overall performance which he will seek to build on ahead of his chief aim: qualifying for Venezuela’s first-ever World Cup.
Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Peru 1-0 Venezuela – 2015 Copa América Group C (18 June 2015)

2015 Copa América Group C

Thursday 18 June 2015 – Estadio Elías Figueroa, Valparaíso, Chile

Peru 1-0 Venezuela 

Highlights of Peru 1-0 Venezuela, 2015 Copa América Group C, 18 June 2015 (Video courtesy of Copa America 2015)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Túñez, Amorebieta (sent off, 29′); Rincón, Seijas (Miku, 82′); R. Vargas (Cichero, 38′), Arango (Martínez, 73′), Guerra; S. Rondón.

Peru (4-2-2-2): Gallese; Advincula, Zambrano, Ascues, Vargas; Ballón, Lobatón (Reyna, 46′); Cueva (Hurtado, 83′), Sánchez; Pizarro (Yotún, 90′), Guerrero.

Amorebieta’s Red Card Leaves Venezuela in a Precarious Final-Day Position 

Match Report

Starting off the day in the dizzying position of being able to secure a place in the knock-out stage with a win, Venezuelan hopes now very much hang in the balance as Fernando Amorebieta’s red card put them on the back foot for over an hour, during which they were ultimately undone by Claudio Pizarro’s strike. 

Given the memorable upset against Colombia followed by, in turn, Los Cafeteros‘ frenetic win against Brazil, things were going almost disconcertingly well for La Vinotinto, as ultimately winning the group also seemed an eminent possibility. While even now that still can not be ruled out, many fans will be cursing the moment the Championship defender received his marching orders, as up until that point, Noel Sanvicente’s men were very much in with a chance of winning.

Indeed, in the well-contested early exchanges played at the home of Santiago Wanderers, the boys in burgundy were certainly less reserved than they were against Colombia, playing instead with more attacking freedom. Málaga’s roaming right-back Roberto Rosales looked particularly eager, combining well with captain Juan Arango from the flank, playing the occasional give-and-go. Midfielder Alejandro Guerra had the first effort on goal after a mere three minutes, striking somewhat optimistically from a central position 25 yards out and four minutes later, he was to be the provider for what was to be Venezuela’s best chance of the game.

As in the Colombia match, Guerra exhibited some encouraging understanding with Salomón Rondón, once again crossing from the left with his right towards the Zenit St. Petersburg striker. However, though the opening-day headline-grabber had a yard on his marker, he was unable to guide the ball either side of Pedro Gallese, with it instead meekly going into the Juan Aurich goalkeeper’s grateful hands. Subsequently, Guerra, at least, was to continue to have a decent half, whipping in a testing ball from time to time and nearly having a half-chance on 15 minutes, though he could not quite control Ronald Vargas’ return pass on the edge of the area, with the ball instead trickling through to Gallese.

Throughout this period as well as, indeed, the rest of the match, Peru regularly made forward forays and put in many crosses, particularly from Paolo Guerrero on the left and Luis Advíncula on the right. In doing so, while these balls were never effectively connected with, they did highlight the slightly larger gap in this game between Venezuela’s defence and midfield than existed against Colombia, which led to some jitters and nervy clearances.

However, this modest level of apprehension could only increase on the 29th minute when Sanvicente’s men lost one of their number. Indeed, the beginning of the end occurred for Amorebieta, who had hitherto largely been noticeable for hoisting long balls upfield for Rondón to knock down, when a tussle with Guerrero near the halfway line occurred. As the Flamengo new-boy gained some space, the ex-Athletic Bilbao man pulled his shirt back, sending him to the ground, where upon he ostensibly attempted to skip past him, only to land with the studs of his right boot nastily clipping the Peruvian’s left knee. Upon the resulting dismissal, perhaps partly due to the incident occurring on the far side to the cameras, shock was initally expressed by the commentators, fans on social media and many in the stadium.

However, the referee had a good view and did not hesitate in brandishing the red card, no doubt instinctively viewing Amorebieta’s actions as that of a wily professional who knew what he was doing. Indeed, the casual, faux-disinterested shirt-pulling was similar to the manner in which he landed down on Guerrero’s already vulnerable leg and attempted to continue as if nothing of note had occurred. While, predictably, many Venezuelans feel it was accidental and point to his startled response upon seeing red as further proof, though one can never be entirely sure, one could just as easily state that his expression was that of a man who could not believe he did not get away with actions that have worked for him in the past. As Opta Jose pointed out, he is not a man renowned for clean play with only Sergio Ramos (12) receiving more red cards than he did while in Spain (11). Following on from another underwhelming club season when, particularly at Fulham before he made a brief loan switch to Middlesbrough, he was regularly exposed and off-the-pace, it seems that, to some at least, in Valparaíso he confirmed pre-tournament concerns that he was a potential liability.

Several minutes afterwards, Ronald Vargas, who had drawn praise for his performance against Colombia, was taken off to be replaced by Gabriel Cichero, a natural left-back who has played seven of the eight friendly games of the Sanvicente era. He was also a regular in the 2011 competition and throughout the remainder of this game appeared to take it in turns with midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas to cover the left flank.

With cries of ‘VEN-E-ZUEL-A’ distantly heard from the stands, La Vinotinto‘s relatively humble following rallied behind their representatives as the half was to end with several more Peruvian crosses being swung in without any meaningful attacking contact being made. Nevertheless, given the man-disadvantage, each attempt to breach the Venezuelan area was to cause some visibly hesitant defending, though well into the second half, Los Incas were to continue to struggle to create genuine chances.

Indeed, after the interval, much of the first 25 minutes or so consisted of often good initial balls by the likes of Advíncula, Guerrero and Juan Manuel Vargas. One of the latter’s early crosses from the left was met by Guerrero towards the near post but due to the lack of space, the striker could only head it comfortably wide. Soon afterwards, Guerrero was to also manage a header that looped a few yards over but it was Advíncula, in particular, who was responsible for some of the best crosses and wingplay, particularly just after the hour-mark when he dashed past his man into the area, pulling back a low ball that none of his team-mates could meet. Owing in part to their inability to create decent chances from the flanks against a solid Venezuela who were always growing in confidence, a few speculative efforts came in from outside the area. However, the most notable of these – both of which fell to Fiorentina’s Vargas, consisting of a volley from a short headed clearance and and shot screwed a few yards wide from near the dee – were of little actual threat.

Despite seeing more of the ball, Peru were occasionally vulnerable to counter-attacks and other Venezuelan forays, the fear of which was always rising so long as the teams remained level. Rondón was to have two similar occasions to scare the opposition back-line, first in the 50th minute when Guerra slid the ball forward but though he looked like he may power away from two of the defenders, Advíncula ultimately blocked him off. Just over ten minutes later, it was Arango who passed it up to Salo, but again, his opponents caught up and stopped him from getting a shot away. Just before this, Venezuela’s leading man was involved in another move where he played a pass to the edge of the area to Arango, whose somewhat disguised pass went to Guerra but, though the latter was in a good position inside the area, he struggled to direct his attempt goalwards.

Having perservered for over 25 minutes of the second half and with the distant cheers for the side still audible, Venezuelan hopes that they may grab a valiant point grew. Alas, it was not to be. For a team that had defended rather well under the circumstances, the manner of the goal was somewhat difficult to take. Indeed, occurring in the 73rd minute, winger Christian Cueva was quick to a clearance, taking the ball forward and attempting a pass into the area that Rincón stretched for. However, unfortunately for the Genoa midfielder, his slide merely guided the ball to veteran Claudio Pizarro who, in space around eight yards out, blasted the ball past Alain Baroja, who could only get a hand to it. The 36-year-old Bayern Munich striker was only playing because of an injury to his Bundesliga colleague, the pacy Jefferson Farfán of Schalke 04, yet he certainly took this rare Peruvian chance when it came to him, in doing so scoring his first international goal since October 2013.

In immediate response, Sanvicente stepped up his side’s efforts to get a goal, removing the aging Arango to bring on the more mobile Torino youngster Josef Martínez. Another attack-minded change was made nearly ten minutes later when midfielder Seijas was replaced by Rayo Vallecano striker Miku. However, aside from the latter playing a ball up the left side into the area for Rondón that ultimately could not be properly controlled, these moves had little impact as Peru were able to hold on to their lead without any grave difficulty until the final whistle.

Group C: How it Stands

Thus, while this group may not have entirely proceeded as anticipated, the game which pre-tournament many felt would play the largest role in determining the qualification chances of Peru and Venezuela may yet still do so. With all four teams on three points going into the final matches, both will be underdogs in their respective games. However, as of 21 June, the day of these encounters, the despair that greeted the Peru result has subsided somewhat for many Venezuelan fans. Indeed, not only has Brazilian golden boy Neymar been ruled out of the rest of the tournament but also the possibility of nabbing at least the second third-best-placed side berth still seems within the grasp of Sanvicente’s men.

While Group B’s third-placed side, Uruguay (four points), are assured of a knock-out spot, Group A’s Ecuador will be waiting anxiously on the outcome of the two final Group C fixtures, as they have finished third with just three points and a goal difference of -2. Venezuela currently have three points and a neutral goal difference and so, playing after Colombia take on Peru if, as the average fan will be anticipating, the former beats the latter, La Vinotinto‘s task for the 90 minutes could be to play to frustrate and counter against Brazil in a manner comparable to the Colombia game. Indeed, while if such a scenario were to occur both teams could play for a draw, as whoever finishes third will face Argentina in the knock-out stage, whereas the runner-up will be against Bolivia and the winner gets Paraguay, this may not seem quite so appealing. Ultimately, there are many different permutations and it may well come down to goals scored rather than simply goal difference but nevertheless, provided there is a winner in the Colombia-Peru game, Venezuela could well lose their match and, so long as it is only a marginal defeat, still yet progress.

However, with Neymar out and a lot of hostility towards Dunga returning after an otherwise respectable year in charge since returning for a second spell, while it may be a tad optimistic, a first ever competitive win against Brazil can not be ruled out for Venezuela. If such an event were to transpire, one can only apologise for the inevitable tardiness in updating this site in the subsequent days.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela – Copa América 2015 Player Profiles

What follows is a detailed guide to all 23 players in Venezuela’s 2015 Copa América squad, their manager Noel Sanvicente and how he is likely to set up his team. This is intended both as a reference guide if any of the players catch the eye of viewers during the tournament and also as a complementary article to the main team preview. As the other piece provides context for much of what follows below, including details on how the team’s warm-up games have gone over the past year, it is recommended that readers first have a browse of that before delving into this one.

Copa América 2015 Profiles of All 23 Venezuela Squad Players & the Coach

Possible opening day line-up (1)

vencolpossibleteam

Possible line-up for Venezuela’s opening Copa América game against Colombia on Sunday 14 June 2015 (Reported on 8 June 2015; Image courtesy of @MisterVinotinto).

Please note: this starting XI is not confirmed and is based on media reports of how the side has been lining up in training in the week or so before the start of the tournament. While it may not be entirely accurate in terms of personnel and/or positioning, it does nevertheless serve as a useful way to help structure the information below. Although many individuals are capable of playing in more than one role, the profiles have largely been organised according to where the players appear to be most likely to play. Hispanospherical.com has enormous, possibly misplaced, faith in the abilities of its readers to engage their brains when confronted with information that comes to conflict with how reality pans out.

Possible opening day line-up (2) – UPDATE: Official line-up vs Colombia

venezuelanewlineup

Another possible line-up for Venezuela’s opening Copa América game against Colombia on Sunday 14 June 2015 (Reported on 13 June 2015; Image courtesy of @MisterVinotinto).

Update (13 June 2015): According to the slightly altered line-up above, which is based on new reports from the training ground on the eve of the opening game, there may be two personnel changes to the XI initially observed. These are noted in updates in the sections on the three positions affected: Goalkeepers, Deep-Lying Playmakers and Left-sided Attacking Midfielders. Further updates will appear here as the line-ups for each game are announced. Update (14 June 2015): This is the official line-up vs Colombia, albeit with Guerra and Arango switching positions.

Venezuela’s Friendly Results in the Sanvicente Era 

As noted, the team preview article contains details on the side’s preparations coming into this tournament and, consequently, what their likely aims will be. While it is highly recommended readers at least have a browse at how La Vinotinto have fared in warm-up games since new boss Noel Sanvicente took over in July 2014, a brief listing of their results nevertheless follows below (click on the links if you wish to read match reports and/or watch video highlights).

September 2014

South Korea 3-1 Venezuela

Japan 3-0 Venezuela

(Note: this match actually finished 2-2 but due to the fielding of an ineligible player, FIFA later credited this as a 3-0 Japan win by forfeit. See here for details)

November 2014

Chile 5-0 Venezuela

Bolivia 3-2 Venezuela

February 2015

Honduras 2-3 Venezuela

Venezuela 2-1 Honduras

(Note: only home-based players from Venezuela were called up for this double-header)

March 2015

Jamaica 2-1 Venezuela

Peru 0-1 Venezuela

(Note: the Peru game was played in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA)

The Manager

sanvicentearticlepic

Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente (Image courtesy of Foto Prensa FVF)

A former Venezuelan international in his playing days and a seven-time championship winner in his homeland as a manager, 50-year-old Noel ‘Chita’ Sanvicente was a popular choice upon his appointment in July 2014. His achievements were – and still are – very much fresh in the minds of all domestic football followers, having at the time just been crowned champion with Zamora – the second time in consecutive years and the only two title wins in the history of this modest club from Barinas. Before this, while he had a short spell with Real Esppor (now Deportivo La Guaira), it was his eight-year association with Caracas FC (2002-10) where he made his name on the touchline. Here, he not only won the league five times but also enjoyed some impressive scalps in the Copa Libertadores, most notably two group stage wins against River Plate in 2007 and then negotiating his side’s progress to the Quarter-Finals of 2009’s competition. Consequently, not only is he a proven winner and accustomed to relatively high-pressure situations, but he has also long been personally familiar with approximately half of the players in the current squad, having managed them at club level.

Thus, though the first eleven months of his reign have been somewhat lacklustre, there is plenty of belief amongst the players, fans and the FVF (Federación Venezolana de Fútbol) that eventually, things will fall into place. He has been working towards altering the collective mindset and approach of the team, attempting to transplant his predecessor César Farías’ rather successful counter-attacking set-up with more forward-orientated, high-pressing tactics. Unfortunately, on his watch, not only has the team shipped an abundance of goals but the attacking players have often looked like strangers, struggling to combine effectively and failing to replicate their club form for their country. Unless by some mysterious alchemy Sanvicente has managed to integrate everyone into his desired system in the past few weeks – despite not playing a single official warm-up game in the lead-up and, due to club commitments, rarely having his full squad to work with – it is difficult to see how Venezuela will make much of an impression this month. Indeed, drawn in Group C with Colombia, Peru and Brazil, it seems the result of the second match against Los Incas, as well as the points tallies of the third-placed teams in the other two groups, will determine their chances of progressing. Sanvicente has recently commented that he sees his job more to qualify for the World Cup rather than to win Copa América – no doubt true, but possibly also an admission that his team is not entirely ready just yet to emulate the history-making achievements of the past decade.

The Formation

While at times in a few games of Sanvicente’s reign a transient 4-4-2 has seemingly formed, with Mario Rondón typically linking up with his namesake Salomón, as the former has surprisingly been excluded from the final squad, a more standard 4-2-3-1 is likely to be consistently employed. Given the flexibility of this formation and the calibre of opponents, it can be expected that this arrangement may look more like a 4-5-1 when, as may frequently be the case, Venezuela are on the back foot. Nevertheless, the only real question about this system is whether, instead of two defence-minded players in front of the back four, a partnership combining a roaming battle-hardened tough-tackler with a more graceful deep-lying playmaker may be preferred. The former has generally been the norm in friendlies over the past year but in the days leading up to the tournament, it has been reported that the latter has been regularly experimented with in training.

Official 23-man Venezuela Squad for the 2015 Copa América

The Players

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The official 23-man Venezuela squad for the 2015 Copa América

(This image as well as all the subsequent ones are courtesy of Copa América)

Goalkeepers

danihernandez

Dani Hernández (29 years old), the joint-second tallest player in this competition (1.97m), inspires much respect for his career trajectory, having worked his way up from the third and fourth tiers in Spain, before managing to experience a season in the top-flight with Real Valladolid back in 2012-13. As 2014-15 began in the Segunda, he soon found himself playing second fiddle to the new arrival Javi Varas and so made a January switch to Tenerife where, though he only narrowly avoided relegation, he achieved impressive statistics for a goalkeeper mired in such a plight (19 goals conceded in 20 games). Internationally, he has been the first choice for his country over the past year, having played all but one of the internationals under Sanvicente that have been open to overseas players. However, given that he has just 20 caps to his name and has a propensity to spread uncertainty with not only his positioning but also his often erratic scrambling for crosses and his frequent tendency to parry shots straight back into the danger zone, a long-term occupation between the sticks can not be guaranteed.

alainbaroja

Indeed, while in the lead-up to the tournament Hernández has maintained his position in training, Chita appears to be keeping fans second-guessing his intentions as he has allocated rival Alain Baroja the number one shirt. The Caracas goalkeeper has had a sublime domestic season, making a string of sensational, acrobatic saves which, given his team-mates’ goal-shy displays, were crucial to his side coming hauntingly close to winning the Torneo Clausura in May. Internationally, while it may be a mere coincidence and the standard of opposition has to be taken into account, all three wins of the Sanvicente era have come with the Caraqueño in goal. At just 25 years of age, a move abroad seems almost a matter-of-course and, despite only making his international debut back in February, establishing himself as his country’s number one in the foreseeable future is very much within his grasp – time will tell if this occurs this month.

Update (13 June 2015): Sanvicente is indeed maintaining the intrigue until the very last moment before the Colombia game, as in a slightly altered line-up tried in training and reported on the eve of the match, it is Baroja and not Hernández who is allegedly starting. Big tournament for the Caracas man if so. 

wuilkerfarinez

Lastly, Baroja’s club team-mate Wuilker Fariñez is undoubtedly third in line as well as the biggest – if, most likely, inconsequential in the short-term – surprise in the squad. At just 17 years of age and with little more than a Copa Venezuela appearance as well as four displays in March’s Sudamericano Sub-17 tournament on his CV, he is the youngest player in the whole tournament. In overlooking several more established shot-stoppers, Sanvicente is evidently not anticipating simultaneous spells on the sidelines for Hernández and Baroja. Instead, he has stated that he views Fariñez’s inclusion as a long-term investment with the experience gained hopefully standing him in good stead for future international engagements.

Defenders

Left-backs

gabrielcicheronew

Having started his professional career in Uruguay with Montevideo Wanderers back in 2003, Gabriel Cichero (31) has managed to intersperse three spells in his homeland with stints of varying success in Italy, Bulgaria, USA, Argentina, France and Switzerland, never staying anywhere for more than two years. In the past year at international level, he has played seven of Sanvicente’s eight games at left-back, only missing the Peru game in March due to injury. Now officially registered with Swiss side Sion but on loan at Mineros de Guayana in the season just gone, Cichero was a frequent target of scorn from fans following the first four friendly matches of the nera era. Though he was not alone in this respect, age appeared to be catching up with this 2011 regular, with the 5-0 thumping meted out by Chile, during which he struggled to keep pace with the opposition’s dynamic wing-play, the definite nadir. However, since the turn of the year, while his club continued to underperform, from an attacking perspective at least, he has shown a marked improvement, scoring four goals in the league as well as a golazo for the national side against Jamaica. While not likely to take on an opposition winger down the flank, he likes to come forward, often taking a strike from range and/or making his presence felt at set-pieces.

fernandoamorebieta

Nevertheless, if the way La Vinotinto have lined up in training recently is anything to go by, Cichero may surprisingly lose his starting place to the man who stood in for him against Peru, Fernando Amorebieta (30). The Fulham defender began the last campaign at club level out of favour in west London and ended it sitting on the bench at Wembley on loan at Middlesbrough in the Teessiders’ ultimately unsuccessful Championship play-off final match. In between, he did little to restore his declining reputation back to his Athletic Bilbao heyday, rarely being at full fitness in an injury-hit season and, most pertinently, looking woefully out of position when he did appear – usually on the left. Indeed, not a man blessed with pace, he looked clumsy and had great difficulties keeping track with jinking wingers craftily cutting inside. Not entirely dissimilar to Cichero, he had a little more joy going forward, putting in crosses from the wing and being a threat from set-pieces. However, his favoured position is at centre-back so if he does get the nod on the flank, it would not be a surprise to see him later moved across or, if Colombia’s Juan Cuadrado gives him a particularly tortuous time in the opening game, unceremoniously excluded altogether.

Centre-backs

oswaldovizcarrondo

Although Nantes stalwart Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (31) can be assured of a starting place, having played in all six Sanvicente-era games as well as performing regularly and consistently at the highest club level of anyone in this position, his partner is less clear. There are four other options in this department and, given the noted issues at the back, it could very well transpire that Vizca ends the tournament having played alongside more than one of them. Thus, the leadership, organisational and renowned communication skills of this imposing, committed individual will be vital to the entire team’s chances.

A towering presence in the air at both ends of the pitch, though he is far from alone amongst the back line in lacking in speed, he can nevertheless be a beacon of solidity and persistent marking – just some of the traits which saw him placed in many Best XI features after the 2011 Copa América. That he is performing so well in Europe and even regularly captaining his Ligue 1 side is all the more impressive when it is noted that it was not until 2013 at the age of 29 that he made the leap over to the Old Continent. Indeed, previously he had racked up a colourfully respectable list of Latin American clubs: Caracas (Venezuela, two spells), Rosario Central (Argentina), Olimpia (Paraguay), Once Caldas (Colombia), Deportivo Anzoátegui (Venezuela), Olimpo (Argentina), América (Mexico) and Lanús (Argentina).

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Regarding Vizcarrondo’s most likely fellow-starter, Fernando Amorebieta had seemed like the leading candidate, having resumed his old 2011-13 partnership with Vizcarrondo against Jamaica in late March following an international absence of 17 months. However, if the latest training ground reports are anything to go by, it would appear that Sanvicente is more swayed by the defensive line-up that played four days later against Peru that secured his first clean sheet, favouring Amorebieta on the left and Andrés Túñez (28) instead in the centre. This has been the only international appearance in the present era for the Buriram United man who, having left his boyhood club Celta Vigo in 2014, won the championship in his first season in Thailand, becoming a masked cult hero along the way.

While he is another who would not stand a chance in the 100m sprint, he is nevertheless a mobile, aerial presence who often emits a calm demeanour. Perhaps crucially in his bid to get the nod, having played well recently in the AFC Champions League, he possesses current fitness levels that Amorebieta has rarely displayed this year at club level. If, however, neither of these men start, Sanvicente has two further options.

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In contrast to all of the players discussed so far, the first of the additional back-ups is the somewhat diminutive and comparatively pacy Grenddy Perozo (29), who was Vizcarrondo’s partner throughout the 2011 tournament. However, though he was named in the early – and defensively woeful – line-ups chosen by Sanvicente, his international career appears to have regressed somewhat. Indeed, he was not called up to the March squad and coupled with his underwhelming form at club level – Ajaccio, relegated in 2013-14 to France’s Ligue 2 only narrowly avoided a consecutive relegation in 2014-15 by a mere point – a return to favour does not appear to be on the horizon any time soon.

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A man seemingly with a brighter future than Perozo and perhaps more likely to stand in if a bit of youth is required, is Deportivo Táchira’s Wilker Ángel (22). It is unclear whether, over a month on, the smile has been wiped from his face following his final-day header in the fourth minute of stoppage-time that breathtakingly snatched away the Clausura title from Caracas, devastating Vinotinto colleague Baroja in the process. He has within the past year been linked with a move abroad and made his international debut back in November, scoring a header with the faintest of touches against Bolivia, in what is still his only national team appearance. Having not been called up for any subsequent squads until the present one, it is tempting to think that his Clausura-winning goal, with all the elation and hyperbole that greeted it, aided his selection.

Nevertheless, though he will have a battle on his hands to get any playing time, he is one of only a very small number of players in this group who have a realistic chance of leaving their homeland for pastures new after the tournament’s conclusion. That is not a criticism of the quality of this squad; on the contrary, a mere glance at where all the players are currently based instead makes apparent just how far the nation has come in the past decade or so.

Right-back

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Following Alexander González’s omission from the final squad due to injury, not only have commentators been deprived of regaling viewers with the story of him proposing to his girlfriend on the pitch, but Sanvicente now only has one natural right-back to choose from. However, as this is first-choice Roberto Rosales (26) – who has just completed a fine debut season in La Liga with Málaga – so long as he does not get sidelined, there should not be too much to concern in this patch of the field.

Since making the step up last year from FC Twente, he has proved to be more than capable of maintaining his close-tracking and tenacious tackling approach in his top-half Spanish side. Though the nature of his club’s style and the forwards at their disposal may be why his regular, pacy forays up the flank have only yielded three assists (which, nevertheless, put him third overall for the season just gone), in open play at least, he certainly provides more than his international defensive colleagues do in this department.

More pertinently to the group stage, in both league games against Barcelona, he was able to keep Brazil’s golden boy Neymar quiet, firstly in a 0-0 home draw and, most impressively, a 1-0 away win at Camp Nou. Largely influenced by this second performance, he was subsequently named in La Liga’s February Team of the Month. Quite how he will fare in a markedly different back line is less certain, particularly as none of the likely starters who have impressed at club level have been able to replicate their form internationally under Sanvicente.

Midfielders

Defensive Midfielders

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Playing in a role few schoolboys tend to daydream about emulating, defensive midfielder Tomás Rincón (27) is nevertheless the most important player in this squad. Although some other previews on Venezuela have picked out striker Salomón Rondón or ageing icon Juan Arango as their key man, El General will surely be playing the lead role in determining La Vinotinto‘s fortunes. Indeed, as if to confirm this status, in the run-up to the tournament, he was officially allocated the captain’s armband, taking over from the long-serving Arango.

Update (14 June 2015): Despite it being widely reported in late May that Rincón would be the new permanent captain, there are lots of claims that Arango will instead retain the armband for this tournament. Nevertheless, as Rincón has been the vice-captain for some time and Arango tends not to last the distance often, even if the latter ultimately officially keeps the armband, expect to see the former wear it during the tournament and eventually take over full-time in the future. 

To ensure the side is not overran in the central area and to also provide additional cover for the vulnerable back four, the Genoa midfielder’s leadership and organisational qualities will be integral. While renowned more for assiduous tracking and tough tackling than searching forward passes – or, for that matter, getting anywhere near the opposition goal – he will also need to release the ball quickly for the attack to prosper.

Following over five years with Hamburg, he has enjoyed a largely successful debut season in Serie A, finishing sixth with unfashionable Genoa and has been linked with a big move to La Liga or a return to the Bundesliga. Valencia is the strongest rumour of the several currently doing the rounds and though a repeat of 2011, when he was named the Adidas Player of the Tournament, seems a big ask, an impressive showing will certainly do him no harm.

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Rincón’s defensive midfield partner four years ago was Franklin Lucena (34) and if Sanvicente ultimately errs on the side of caution, particularly for the Colombia and Brazil games, the experienced Deportivo La Guaira man would be in a shoo-in to reprise this role.

However, as is the case for a few of Venezuela’s most impressive performers from 2011, age is not really on the side of El Paky (a nickname one suspects British broadcasters of the tournament will not be using). Indeed, Lucena’s advancing years were presumably a concern of the coach as he did not appear in the first matchday squad back in September. While he featured in the two November losses, it was not until February’s line-ups of home-based players for the games against Honduras that it could be said that he made a claim for a starting place. Here, he captained the side, flicked in a goal and was generally a vital pillar of assurance while playing in his customary no-frills holding role. He then continued in this position for the following month’s clash with Jamaica, though he was withdrawn at half-time as Sanvicente experimented with a more attack-minded player next to Rincón, as he also did in the subsequent game with Peru from the off. Ultimately, whether Lucena starts or comes on to shore things up, one expects to see him on the pitch at some stage in the upcoming weeks.

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This, however, can not be said with any confidence about the other player in the squad whose attributes are closest to those of the two aforementioned men: Mineros de Guayana’s Rafael Acosta (26). Indeed, it was Acosta who Lucena replaced during the latter’s first outing under Sanvicente in the 5-0 loss to Chile, as the former’s almost ghost-like presence in the middle of the park repeatedly allowed the opposition to stride through. While Acosta started the following game against Bolivia alongside Lucena, he was no more than a second-half substitute in the two domestic XI clashes with Honduras and was then omitted completely from the March friendlies. Given this fall from grace and an underwhelming club season, the inclusion of this relatively internationally inexperienced individual certainly was not news to everyone’s ears. While he perhaps offers something slightly different, being more inclined than the other two to get forward, of all the outfield players, he is the one with seemingly the least chance of making it onto the field.

Deep-Lying Playmakers

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A role which may or may not be utilised, it was nevertheless experimented with in March’s two friendlies as well as, more pertinently, in training sessions leading up to the tournament. Juan Arango, now 35 and understandably slowing down, is the most likely candidate if this position is ultimately given the green light. Indeed, though the free-kick maestro and scorer of almost exclusively sensational goals made his name in Spain and Germany with more of an attacking licence – centrally as well as on the left – he became accustomed to this role at club level in the season that has just passed.

Having returned last year to Mexico where he played before he made the transition to Europe back in 2004, while his current club Xolos de Tijuana had an underwhelming campaign, he gradually came to flourish in this less energy-sapping placement, particularly in the league’s second half (the Torneo Clausura). Overall in Liga MX, he scored nine goals and officially received credit for six assists, though his inviting crosses, corners and free-kicks certainly played a prominent role in at least a few more.

Playing in his sixth Copa América, though he may not be the same player who spearheaded the history-making 2007 Quarter-Final finish and who was later named in most observers’ 2011 Best XI of the Tournament pieces, his pin-point long-range passes could still be vital this time around. Although a place in the line-up can not be entirely guaranteed, he has played in all four games that he has been available for under Sanvicente (starting three and making a strong impression when he came on against Peru). If he starts but in another position, reprising a more forward role behind the striker or on the left are certainly possibilities.

Update (13 June 2015): On the eve of the opening game, it has been reported that in a slightly altered team that has been practising in training which has two personnel changes to the one previously observed, Arango has been playing as the left-sided attacker, with Luis Manuel Seijas instead as the deep-lying playmaker. If Arango does start off the tournament on the left (or, according to some alternative interpretations, in the middle), there is nevertheless a strong chance that he may drift back to beside Rincón at some point. It will be of possibly painful intrigue to see if his legs are still up to a more forward position.

Lastly, while it may not have made as many headlines as a certain incident involving Luis Suárez, Arango was guilty of biting an opponent at the end of a Mexican league match in early April, for which he was merely banned for two domestic encounters. Should Venezuela meet Uruguay in the latter stages – a possible, if not the likeliest, scenario – expect to hear more about this.

If Sanvicente does opt for this role, but situates Arango elsewhere, two candidates in with a strong shout are a certain pair who have recently been playing in the Copa Libertadores with Colombian sides. Firstly, Luis Manuel Seijas, more accustomed to playing on the left of attack both internationally and for Independiente Santa Fe, found himself in this position from the start against Peru in March. While it can not have been said to have been an unqualified success, its usage in a victory against a group stage rival may well have influenced the manager’s thinking. Update (13 June 2015): As noted above, Seijas may well start in this position.

If, however, the ex-Standard Liège man is overlooked, Alejandro Guerra, who has been on loan to Atlético Nacional from Mineros de Guayana for the past year, could find himself here, though it seems more likely in his case that a more advanced position is in the offing. Similarly, while there is a slight chance that Deportivo Táchira’s César González could do a job here from the bench, his natural place is further forward on the flank. More on these three individuals below.

Attacking Midfielders

The three attacking positions behind the striker are easily the most competitive in the squad. The likes of Sanvicente-regular Mario Rondón (who perhaps did himself few favours moving from Portugal to China in February), Christian Santos (23 league goals in NEC Nijmegen’s phenomenal promotion to the Eredivisie) and Yohandry Orozco (four years ago, arguably the country’s brightest prospect) failed to make the final 23, having been cut from the 30-man preliminary squad. Furthermore, Rio Ave’s Yonathan Del Valle, who last season scored some fine goals in the Europa League as well as a dramatic late domestic winner against Benfica, has barely even been considered, a situation that has led to him ‘resigning’ from the national team at the age of 25.

Given the contemporary tendency of fielding inverted wingers, with an individual who is predominantly right-footed ending up cutting inside from the left (and vice versa), as well as the versatility of those who have made it into the final squad – not to mention the inconsistency of Sanvicente’s selections – these positions are somewhat difficult to predict. Consequently, the bulk of information pertaining to certain players may be located underneath a position they ultimately do not play in.

Left-sided Attacking Midfielders

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As noted earlier in the Deep-Lying Playmakers section, Independiente Santa Fe’s Luis Manuel Seijas (29 on 23 June) is more at home in this position and has played here twice (against Japan and Bolivia) in his four appearances in the past year. Though far from Usain Bolt, he nevertheless possesses some pace as well as being capable of swinging in testing crosses and is certainly not afraid to shoot from range. If he is on the pitch and Arango – another player who could certainly perform in this role – is not, expect him to take charge of set-pieces. An experienced international with over 50 caps, whether or not he starts either here or a little further back, expect to see this 2014 Torneo Finalización champion at some point.

Update (13 June 2015): As noted elsewhere, according to reports on the eve of the opening game, there is a strong chance that against Colombia Seijas will play as the deep-lying playmaker with Arango instead starting in this position on the left.

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If, as is being suggested by reports, neither Seijas nor Arango is fielded in this left-sided spot to begin with, there are several other contenders in the frame. According to how the team has been training, Torino’s Josef Martínez (22) appears to be the likeliest candidate to start, despite being more regularly deployed at club level just behind the striker. Indeed, he can also play as the front man and if there are any problems with Salomón Rondón up top, he could well be pushed forward to step in.

Update (13 June 2015): According to a new line-up tried in training with two changes to the one at the top of the page, he may not start after all. While there are some suggestions that he may still start in an attacking position, see the sections on Seijas and/or Arango for more details.

Although, following a two-and-a-half year spell in Switzerland and a debut year in Turin, he now has a full Serie A season as well as Europa League experience with two different clubs under his belt, he still just about qualifies as being off the radar of most fans of top-level European football. With this being his first Copa América, he has the opportunity to showcase his abilities to new and larger audiences. Wherever he ends up playing on the pitch, in contrast to Jhon Murillo – who has been designated in several preview articles as Venezuela’s top young prospect despite only ever making one substitute appearance for his country – he has significantly more chance of starting at least one game. For this reason more than any other, he must be considered as his nation’s leading young player to look out for.

However, if he does shine, rather than gaining a bigger move, it is more likely to be beneficial for his chances at club level as while in 2014-15 he featured in 26 league, one cup and 13 European clashes – scoring seven goals along the way – he did not last the course in over half of these. Internationally, he is far from alone under Sanvicente in not having the most glorious of times in the past year but he did look particularly sharp when coming on as a substitute against Jamaica and, subsequently, scoring the winner against Peru. As a very mobile player, capable of rapid movements and turns, as well as clinical and long-range strikes, who can also provide support to other attackers, he has much to offer the team.

Other contenders in this area include the aforementioned Murillo and González as well as the returning Ronald Vargas but more on these three predominantly right-footed players in the Right-sided Attacking Midfielders section further down.

Central Attacking Midfielders

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Given his role at Torino and the excitement which his potential elicits, Martínez would be many fans’ favourite to start in this position, though according to reports, Alejandro Guerra (29) may well get the nod here – at least for the Colombia game. Indeed, though a spot on the flank could certainly also be suited to the latter, as Martínez has more ability to take on his man, whereas Guerra tends to worm his way into key central positions, take shots from around the edge of the area and be rather direct in his approach, this reported arrangement could well work out. In a slightly different formation, both men linked up well after coming off the bench against Jamaica back in March and one would expect to see the pair get at least one start each in the tournament, possibly far more.

Update (13 June 2015): While Guerra keeps his proposed place in a slightly altered line-up reported on the eve of the opening game, Martínez does not feature in this new possible XI. See the section on Arango, his possible replacement, for more information.

Possessing similar international experience to Seijas, Guerra has played some part in all four of the games in the past year that he has been available for, starting all but the Jamaica game. At club level over the past year, while not always initially named on the pitch with Atlético Nacional in the league, playing roughly half of their games, he did manage to score five goals. More prominently, he did play over half of the first leg of December’s Copa Sudamericana final against River Plate and, more recently, featured in six Copa Libertadores matches, memorably coming off the bench against Barcelona (de Guayaquil) to score this acrobatic effort. As it appears that he will be returning to his parent club, Mineros de Guayana, this competition offers him an opportunity to continue playing his football at a higher level than Venezuela can offer – something that, when he finally made the move abroad at 28 to Nacional last year, he said he had long craved.

Otherwise, if neither of these two players end up here or if an alternative is sought, then Arango could well reprise his glory days at some point. Murillo and, especially Vargas, are also possibilities, but more on these two below.

Right-sided Attacking Midfielders

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Both Martínez and Guerra are certainly in with a shout for this position as well but, in perhaps the most curious inclusion in the alleged opening-day line-up, Ronald Vargas (28) may well start off the competition here. Curious because in all of Sanvicente’s time in charge, the only matchday squads he has been part of were the two in March, where he played just half an hour against Jamaica and less than 15 minutes in the Peru win.

However, Vargas has had what must cautiously be considered a rejuvenation or sorts, having played regularly in the past year for Turkish side Balıkesirspor, scoring six league goals and setting up several more. That, barring an early scare, he went through the season without any major injuries is ample cause for many Venezuelans to celebrate. Indeed, when he first moved to Europe in 2008, he was considered by many as the country’s brightest prospect and, on occasion, he has gone some way to demonstrating why – most notably in the 2010-11 league campaign for Club Brugge when he scored 15 goals in 23 games. This earned him a move to Anderlecht, yet three injury-plagued seasons and 25 league appearances (nine starts) later, it was to end on a limp note, as he was released on a free. Last August, not long after he had been given a chance to rehabilitate himself in Turkey an article was published in the Venezuelan media stating that in all he has missed well over a year of his career to injury in his then-six-and-a-half year European career. It is a sorry fact that in all this time, he has never played more than 26 league games in any one season. Concurrently, his international career stalled, with his early exploits – such as his goal in his nation’s first ever win against Brazil in a 2008 friendly – a distant memory and he has picked up less than 20 caps overall.

Nevertheless, following his year in Turkey as well as two goals in Venezuela’s late-May practice game against Godoy Cruz youths, he appears to have done enough to earn Sanvicente’s trust and favour, especially as he has been handed the much sought-after number 10 shirt – a position some feel is his strongest. Given that he has also recently agreed a move to the more prestigious AEK Athens, one can only imagine the high spirits he must currently be in after having endured so many setbacks.

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Though he is not likely to start in the opening game, Jhon Murillo, who must be on cloud nine having recently turned 20 and signed for Benfica from Zamora, stands a fair chance of entering the fray at some point – if only as an impact substitute. Presumably due to this potentially life-changing move as well as there being no other young attacking player in the squad who has not already played for a European club, he has been singled out in many preview features as Venezuela’s hot prospect to watch. Maybe. He has, after all, reportedly impressed Arango in training, knows Sanvicente well from when the coach was at Zamora (2012-14) and, given the chance, will delight in aggressively running at defenders and pouncing on any hesitancy. However, with so much competition in this area and the fact that he has only previously been called up for one game – the second against Honduras in February in which, due to a defensive mix-up, he capitalised to score 37 seconds into his debut – one wonders if it is all a bit too much, too soon. Indeed, he has done remarkably well in his early club career, making his Zamora debut under Chita at the end of the 2012-13 campaign, before scoring an impressive 19 goals in 54 league games (all starts) in the subsequent two seasons while playing on the wing as well as, at times, more centrally. He was also his now ex-club’s leading threat this year in their otherwise dismal Libertadores campaign, scoring twice in four games.

However, he was also red-carded in the opening game, seemingly for comments made towards – or at least in front of – the referee and it is this worrisome temperament of his that could well hold him back in the long run. Indeed, while he was also the Venezuela U20 side’s best attacking player in January’s Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament, his antics at the very end of the final group game are further testimony to his volatile nature. Against hosts Uruguay, following a relentless verbal and even physical reprimanding of the referee, he played a leading role in getting the official – who, it must be noted, had riot police at his disposal – to reverse his decision on a legitimate opposition goal, securing for Venezuela the 1-0 win. Not entirely for his appearance and haircut then has he been nicknamed ‘Balotelli’ (though, in fairness, the Venezuelan is at least significantly more consistent on the pitch). Furthermore, while he will not be regretting it now, it is believed that his attitude during a trial at Basel in 2014 cost him a move to the Swiss giants. Ultimately, whether or not he gets many opportunities in the next month, one can only hope that the experience of being around long-standing high calibre professionals will inject a little more humility and maturity into this otherwise exciting prospect.

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One last player who regularly plays in this position at club level and also did at the last Copa América is Deportivo Táchira’s César González. The 32-year-old is not lacking in experience though with so many pacy rivals on this flank, one wonders where this more reserved, calculating player will fit in. As noted, a holding position further back is not entirely out of the question, though not anticipated.

His inclusion in the final squad, while not a shock, did raise a few eyebrows simply because, in contrast to some of the players who were ultimately discarded, he has barely played during the Sanvicente era. Indeed, though he knows the coach well from his spell at Caracas between 2005-07, his only call-up for the international side in the past year came in March, when he ended up starting against Peru. It should be said, it is likely that he would have featured in the previous month’s friendlies against Honduras but, like his Táchira team-mates, was unable to join his home-based colleagues due to playing in the ultimately successful Libertadores qualifying play-offs against Paraguay’s Cerro Porteño. Subsequently, he was a regular in the Libertadores group stage and while his side had a fairly forgettable campaign, he did manage to bag three goals in these six matches.

On a related note, while he is more of a playmaker, typically playing through balls to be finished off and swinging in free-kicks to be headed home, he did manage a very impressive goalscoring return last season, netting 13 goals in 31 games. No doubt this form – one of his best campaigns in a career that has included stints at four Argentine clubs – in Táchira’s dramatic championship-winning season contributed heavily to him winning a spot in the squad. Although he may not get on the pitch, his tournament experience should come in handy.

Strikers

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Salomón Rondón (25), the most expensive Venezuelan of all time, is considered by many as the team’s main man. Understandable, given that in the season just gone he played in both major European club competitions and ended it as champion and joint-second top-scorer of the Russian Premier League.

However, internationally, his success is largely dependent on the service provided by those behind him – something that has been frustratingly lacking in the past year, as he has not managed to score in any of his four outings, often appearing anonymous. When he has received chances, he has at times lacked composure and direction. Furthermore, though he may have only been 21 four years ago at Copa América 2011, he did come into the tournament with a domestic scoring rate of one in two in his debut season at Málaga and subsequently featured in all six of his country’s games (three starts), scoring just the once. While he does have an important role to play and will be looking to use his height to spring onto the end of balls coming into the area as well as be on his toes finish off chances, it can be easy to overstate his significance to this team.

Indeed, as he is more of a penalty-box predator who usually plays little role in the build-up, it is the players behind him who will be particularly crucial if he is to prosper. If he receives the requisite supply – and it is a big if, given the noted issues the attacking midfield players have had linking up effectively – then it should be a morale booster for the team. All the same, expect any goals that may or may not be scored to be spread around the side, rather than gobbled up by one individual.

The tournament could potentially be a great opportunity for Rondón to put himself in the shop window, as the talk emanating out of Zenit St Petersburg for the past several months has been that manager André Villas-Boas is seeking to offload him. Further fuelling the rumours, the player has commented more than once that he fancies trying his luck in England or Germany, though would not be averse to a return to Spain either. Media reports have dutifully obliged, with stories published linking him to, among others, Tottenham, Liverpool, Wolfsburg and Sevilla. While he may struggle to shine in such a tough group when Venezuela may often be on the back foot, the presence of such a relatively high calibre marksman up top ensures that those behind know, that if they can just play the right ball forward, the team will always have a chance.

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As mentioned, if Rondón is sidelined for whatever reason, there is a strong chance that Martínez will be pushed forward. However, in such a scenario, if Sanvicente elects to keep the Torino livewire behind the lead man, then the likelihood would be that Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor (29) will instead step in. The inclusion of the Rayo Vallecano forward has not gone down entirely well with some, seemingly due to his lack of game-time this season, combined with the perception that the best years of his career have already been and passed. Sanvicente, on the other hand, appears to have more faith in the man of Hungarian extraction (‘Miku’ is short for ‘Miklós’). Indeed, while he did not call him up for any friendlies this year, Miku did feature in the first four games of his reign, albeit only once as a starter.

It is likely that a change of clubs around two-thirds into the season has aided his return to the fold. He started off the 2014-15 campaign at Qatari side Al-Gharafa, who he had joined at the end of September 2013 from Getafe where, having worked his way up the Spanish pyramid, he enjoyed his most prosperous professional period. However, in Qatar, he was to find his first-team opportunities gradually diminishing and became a regular fixture on the bench, scoring only one goal there last season. When Vallecano came in for him, he jumped at the chance to return to the country that he started off his career in as a teenager, though he had to wait until early April to make his debut. Ultimately, he was to make seven appearances (two as a starter) for the overachieving club from Vallecas, scoring twice – one effectively a tap-in, the other a clinical strike on the turn. Thus, having proved he still has something to offer at a high level, if he is called upon in this tournament, the striker who played in all six of the games in 2011 should not feel overwhelmed by the occasion.

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Lastly, there is Gelmin Rivas (26) who, somewhat remarkably, is the only outfield player in the entire squad to have not been called up for a single matchday grouping in the Sanvicente era. It should be noted though, that given his domestic form with eventual champions Táchira (20 goals in 31 games, the second-highest in the league), he most likely would have been called up to the February squad had he not been otherwise engaged. Indeed, while his home-based compatriots were twice defeating Honduras, he was spearheading his club’s entry into the Copa Libertadores group stage, scoring two crucial goals in the decisive leg of the play-off with Cerro Porteño. All the same, no call-up was forthcoming in March, though he did make May’s 30-man preliminary squad and evidently Sanvicente liked what he saw.

In terms of attributes, perhaps at a level or two below, he shares much in common with the other two main strikers, getting the majority of his goals from close-range finishes and headers. Having had a couple of Belgian sides allegedly sniffing around him at the turn of the year, he will definitely be wanting to put himself in the shop window. However, given the competition for this solitary position, he will have quite the task on his hands to see any minutes in this year’s tournament.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela – Copa América 2015 Team Preview

As Venezuela get set to kick-off their 2015 Copa América campaign, Hispanospherical.com takes a look at how they may fare in Chile. Following on from a general overview, there is a more detailed summary of how the past 11 months have gone under new manager Noel Sanvicente as well as profiles on several players who could be crucial to the team’s chances. For more information on the representatives of La Vinotinto, click here for profiles on every single player in the 23-man squad as well as the coach and how he intends to set up his team. 

Venezuela

Copa América 2015 Team Preview

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The official 23-man Venezuela squad for the 2015 Copa América

(Image courtesy of Copa América. See bottom of page for details on the clubs of the players)

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Overview of Venezuela’s Chances:

Under-prepared Team in Transition Facing a Daunting Challenge

With Brazil, Colombia and Peru accompanying La Vinotinto in Group C, it is tempting to think that their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stages are largely contingent on getting a win against Los Incas and then praying for that to be enough to claim one of the two best third-placed-side spots. Indeed, while they may have finished fourth last time around and then challenged until the death for a World Cup berth, the team has struggled to gel under new manager Noel Sanvicente and appear to be under-prepared for the tournament. With the exception of Jamaica, who seem to be treating their Chilean experience as their warm-up for July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, Venezuela are the only team not to play at least one official match in the weeks leading up to the competition.

Their planned late-May friendly against Bolivia was the fifth in the past year to be cancelled and, considered in light of the recent FIFA shenanigans that implicated Venezuela FA (FVF) President Rafael Esquivel, organisational and administrative issues both on and off the field have certainly impacted upon Sanvicente’s plans. Chita (yes, cheetah), to give him his popular moniker, has overseen eight games in his 11 months in charge, yet despite also holding several training modules with home-based players, he has struggled to successfully instil his approach into his players. Indeed, the attempt to transition the side from one that soaked up pressure and then struck on counters, to a more confident, controlling team who press their opponents from the off has yet to reap dividends. Not only has the attack shown little cohesion with the team instead dependent on set-pieces, long range efforts and defensive errors for the goals they have scored (12, though 10 officially), but they have looked porous in the middle of the park as well as at the back, conceding 18 (19 officially). Furthermore, the three wins they have achieved – and in which they got 6 of their 10 official goals – have been of dubious merit, with two coming against Honduras in games contested solely by domestic players (only one or two of whom are likely to feature in a starting line-up this month) and the other occurring in a 1-0 win over an understrength Peru in the debut match of their new boss Ricardo Gareca.

Watching so many players who ply their trade at relatively high club levels – including La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 – struggle to replicate their weekly form within Sanvicente’s system has been disheartening for the nation’s ever-growing number of football fans. The obstacles that have thwarted Chita in regularly calling up every player he would have liked for friendlies as well as the sheer diversity of leagues in which the members of the 23-man squad played last season (12, in 10 different countries and four distinct continents) may well be partly to blame for the lack of fluidity and disjointed forward forays. Nevertheless, many fans instinctively retain hope; understandable given the memories of 2011’s semi-final run as well as some of the players Sanvicente has at his disposal.

Indeed, though the defence is arguably the area where the disparity between performances at club and international level has been most evident, it will nevertheless feature two of the most high-profile players in the squad. Firstly, towering centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, who played the most minutes of anyone at Nantes last year as well as regularly captaining the side and secondly, right-back Roberto Rosales, Málaga’s most used outfield player who kept group stage-rival Neymar quiet in both league encounters. Ahead of them will be arguably the team’s key man, defensive midfielder Tomás Rincón who, in his debut season since moving from Hamburg, helped play a central role in Genoa’s impressive sixth-placed finish. If Sanvicente errs on the side of caution against the likes of Brazil and Colombia, it is likely that Deportivo La Guaira’s experienced Franklin Lucena will renew the partnership with El General that was so effective in 2011. If however, he instead deploys a deep-lying playmaker – as he did for varying periods of time in both of March’s friendlies – Juan Arango, arguably the greatest Venezuelan player of all time, could well occupy this spot. Indeed, now 35 and winding down his career in Mexico with Xolos de Tijuana, it is not entirely clear if he will start but, having been moved back from a more advanced area into this position at club level, Sanvicente has also experimented recently with him here in training, so the possibility is very much there. Whoever ultimately plays alongside Rincón, likely to be in front of them in some capacity are the mobile legs of 22-year-old Josef Martínez, who showed glimpses of his clinical finishing and rapid movement in his first season for Torino. While he can play up front, he is likely to be used either slightly behind or on one of the flanks as the sole striker up top will undoubtedly be the team’s most valuable player (monetary-wise, at least). Salomón Rondón, who has recently won the Russian Premier League with Zenit St. Petersburg, may be yet to find the net in the Sanvicente era, but his height, physical power and finishing always provide fans and team-mates alike with ample reasons to feel confident when in the final third.

Ultimately, Rondón and co. will all need to regain some form and hastily generate some on-field chemistry and solidity if they are to achieve anything other than squabbling with Peru like two bald men fighting over a comb.

There are other players of note in the squad who could prove to be more influential than these established cracks – not least Alejandro Guerra, the returning Ronald Vargas, Luis Manuel Seijas and, possibly if he gets a chance or two, 20-year-old winger Jhon Murillo, who has recently been snapped up by Benfica. Along with every other player in the squad, they are all featured in this extensive reference guide of player profiles, some of which are relayed in the Key Players section below. However, should you choose to read on, before these, there is a more thorough overview of how The Sanvicente Era has so far panned out, starting with a reminder of the situation that the coach inherited.

The Sanvicente Era:

How to Follow Farías?

Four years ago in the unpredictable, online gambler-infuriating Argentina-hosted edition of this tournament, La Vinotinto were one of the leading sides to defy expectations as, enthusiastically cheered on by then-President Hugo Chávez, they embarked on a rollercoaster ride to the Semi-Finals. Although their performances had markedly improved in the preceding decade, with the Quarter-Final finish in 2007 at the time their best showing, their traditional reputation was nevertheless such that, for example, a Brazilian advertisment could still blithely mock their supposed lack of footballing prowess.

However, such flippant scorn was to rebound on these particular devotees of the Seleção, as Venezuela claimed a creditable opening-day draw off them, before beating Ecuador and then, following two dramatic goals at the death against Paraguay in a 3-3 draw, securing their place in the knock-out stage. In the Quarter-Finals, Chile, who finished ahead of eventual winners Uruguay in their group, came undone against César Farías’ men, whose swashbuckling run, in turn, ended in the most heartbreaking circumstances on penalties against Paraguay. A history-making fourth placed finish was thus confirmed following a play-off loss against Peru.

The boys in burgundy had done wonders to further increase the profile and popularity of football in their baseball-reared culture and were to continue to achieve some impressive results in qualifying for World Cup 2014, being in with a chance of claiming the fifth-place play-off-spot until their final matchday.

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Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente (Image courtesy of Foto Prensa FVF)

However, this sixth-placed finish in late 2013 marked the end of the Farías era and it was not until July 2014 – and just one game later – that a permanent replacement was appointed, in the form of seven-time domestic champion, Noel Sanvicente. The five-time Caracas and two-time Zamora title-winner, who also has international caps from his playing days to his name, had been interviewed for the role back in 2007 and was a popular choice this time around, in spite of Diego Maradona tenuously linking himself to the job. However, as noted, Chita has struggled to implement some attack-minded tactical changes and has had his attempts to do so regularly undermined by games being cancelled as well as rarely having all the players he would have liked at his disposal. Nevertheless, what follows is a succinct overview of the matches he has overseen:

He had a decent selection of players for his first two games, which occurred on September’s Asian tour and consisted of a 3-1 defeat against South Korea and a 2-2 draw with Japan (later officially overruled as a 3-0 loss; see here for more details). However, due to wanting time to bed in with his new club in Mexico, veteran icon Juan Arango omitted himself, a few other hitherto first-teamers were missing and several who have ultimately received the Copa call were quite far off a squad place back then. Following on from this, the two scheduled matches that were originally planned for October were cancelled, then rashly replaced by two more fixtures which, in turn, were then also called off. In lieu of any competitive action, some hastily arranged training sessions took place in Madrid that were almost exclusively attended by overseas-based players (goalkeeper Alain Baroja being the exception). Any tactical plans for the subsequent set of matches in November were undermined by the absences of 8-10 key players (including Venezuela’s very own three R’s: Rincón, Rondón and Rosales), which led to predictably disastrous results: a 5-0 thumping from Chile, in which Venezuela were easily overran and outflanked, then a 3-2 defeat against Bolivia, providing El Verde their first win in 21 months.

Early February brought some qualified joy, as a squad consisting entirely of domestic league players chalked up two victories in a double-header against Honduras, though in light of the fact that only one or two of the starters are likely to maintain this status in Chile, these have to be considered B-level encounters. Nevertheless, with the first wins of the new era under their belt, considerable enthusiasm greeted the two late March friendlies as Sanvicente was able to call upon arguably his strongest pool of players to date. Yet, morale was to fall to a new nadir as La Vinotinto were overpowered and outpaced in a 2-1 loss away to Jamaica who, at the time of the Copa América draw in late 2014, were the lowest seeded team. The subsequent 1-0 victory against group rivals Peru went some way to restoring hope that the team would not be entirely humiliated in Chile. However, it has to be acknowledged that it was manager Ricardo Gareca’s first game at the helm and, unlike then, for the tournament he will have Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich) Jefferson Farfán (Schalke 04), Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo, recently signed from Corinthians) and Juan Manuel Vargas (Fiorentina) at his disposal.

All the same, it was the side’s first win under Sanvicente in a game featuring the overseas contingent, as well as the first clean sheet and, particularly in the latter stages, saw them create far more chances than they had previously. Yet, the boss was to be largely denied the possibility of building upon this as firstly, for reasons known only to the FVF, a May home game was unable to be arranged. Then, amidst, and allegedly affected by, the FBI raid on FIFA that implicated FVF President Rafael Esquivel, a friendly against Bolivia in Mendoza, Argentina, was cancelled. Thus, since the Peru win, the closest thing Venezuela have had to a competitive test was a practice match against the youth team of Argentine side Godoy Cruz, which at least ended in a reassuring 5-0 bogwashing.

Collectively then, the representatives of La Vinotinto go into this competition relatively under-prepared and still struggling to be accommodated effectively in Sanvicente’s bold new system. Additional training modules have been held at various points throughout the past year largely in order to indoctrinate home-based players – many of whom never had a prayer of making the final squad – into the coach’s way of thinking, but as yet, the jury is still out. Thus, with results underwhelming, the defence porous and shaky, the midfield timid and the attack playing like strangers incapable of more than a few consecutive passes, if Venezuela manage to get out of the group, it has to be considered a success. Although Sanvicente may have received much goodwill upon taking the job, if his side crashes out at the first stage and his methods still yield little discernible results several games into the upcoming World Cup Qualifying campaign, he may find himself warily looking over his shoulder. However, such dystopian scenarios are doubtless far from the players’ minds as, with at least half of the 2011 regulars likely to also start here, they will retain the conviction that being the underdog and proving people wrong are part-and-parcel of being a Venezuelan footballer in the 21st century.

Key Players 

Below are several profiles on some of the leading names in Venezuela’s 23-man squad, as well as a couple of youngsters who could well make their mark. These profiles come from this extensive article which provides similar information on every single player in the squad as well as manager Noel Sanvicente and how he intends to set up his side.

The Spine of the Squad

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Hispanospherical.com Key Man

Playing in a role few schoolboys tend to daydream about emulating, defensive midfielder Tomás Rincón (27 years old) is nevertheless the most important player in this squad. Although some other previews on Venezuela have picked out striker Salomón Rondón or ageing icon Juan Arango as their key man, El General will surely be playing the lead role in determining La Vinotinto‘s fortunes. Indeed, as if to confirm this status, in the run-up to the tournament, he was officially allocated the captain’s armband, taking over from the long-serving Arango.

Update (14 June 2015): Despite it being widely reported in late May that Rincón would be the new permanent captain, there are lots of claims that Arango will instead retain the armband for this tournament. Nevertheless, as Rincón has been the vice-captain for some time and Arango tends not to last the distance often, even if the latter ultimately officially keeps the armband, expect to see the former wear it during the tournament and eventually take over full-time in the future. 

To ensure the side is not overran in the central area and to also provide additional cover for the vulnerable back four, the Genoa midfielder’s leadership and organisational qualities will be integral. While renowned more for assiduous tracking and tough tackling than searching forward passes – or, for that matter, getting anywhere near the opposition goal – he will also need to release the ball quickly for the attack to prosper.

Following over five years with Hamburg, he has recently enjoyed a largely successful debut season in Serie A, finishing sixth with unfashionable Genoa and has been linked with a big move to La Liga or a return to the Bundesliga. Valencia is the strongest rumour of the several currently doing the rounds and though a repeat of 2011, when he was named the Adidas Player of the Tournament, seems a big ask, an impressive showing will certainly do him no harm.

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Though Nantes stalwart Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (31) can be assured of a starting place, having played in all six Sanvicente-era games he was eligible for as well as performing regularly and consistently at the highest club level of anyone at centre-back, his partner is less clear. There are four other options in this department and, given the noted issues at the back, it could very well transpire that Vizca ends the tournament having played alongside more than one of them. Thus, the leadership, organisational and renowned communication skills of this imposing, committed individual will be vital to the entire team’s chances.

A towering presence in the air at both ends of the pitch, though he is far from alone amongst the back line in lacking in speed, he can nevertheless be a beacon of solidity and persistent marking – just some of the traits which saw him placed in many Best XI features after the 2011 Copa América. That he is performing so well in Europe and even regularly captaining his Ligue 1 side is all the more impressive when it is noted that it was not until 2013 at the age of 29 that he made the leap over to the Old Continent. Indeed, previously he had racked up a colourfully respectable list of Latin American clubs: Caracas (Venezuela, two spells), Rosario Central (Argentina), Olimpia (Paraguay), Once Caldas (Colombia), Deportivo Anzoátegui (Venezuela), Olimpo (Argentina), América (Mexico) and Lanús (Argentina).

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Following Alexander González’s omission from the final squad due to injury, not only have commentators been deprived of regaling viewers with the story of him proposing to his girlfriend on the pitch, but Sanvicente now only has one natural right-back to choose from. However, as this is first-choice Roberto Rosales (26) – who has just completed a fine debut season in La Liga with Málaga – so long as he does not get sidelined, there should not be too much to concern in this patch of the field.

Since making the step up last year from FC Twente, he has proved to be more than capable of maintaining his close-tracking and tenacious tackling approach in his top-half Spanish side. Though the nature of his club’s style and the forwards at their disposal may be why his regular, pacy forays up the flank have only yielded three assists (which, nevertheless, put him third overall for the season just gone), in open play at least, he certainly adds more than his international defensive colleagues do in this department.

More pertinently to the group stage, in both league games against Barcelona, he was able to keep Brazil’s golden boy Neymar quiet, firstly in a 0-0 home draw and, most impressively, a 1-0 away win at Camp Nou. Largely influenced by this second performance, he was subsequently named in La Liga’s February Team of the Month. Quite how he will fare in a markedly different back line is less certain, particularly as none of the likely starters who have impressed at club level have been able to replicate their form internationally under Sanvicente.

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A role which may or may not be utilised, a deep-lying playmaker was nevertheless experimented with in March’s two friendlies as well as, more pertinently, in training sessions leading up to the tournament. Juan Arango, now 35 and understandably slowing down, is the most likely candidate if this position is ultimately given the green light. Indeed, though the free-kick maestro and scorer of almost exclusively sensational goals made his name in Spain and Germany with more of an attacking licence – centrally as well as on the left – he became accustomed to this role at club level in the season that has just passed.

Having returned last year to Mexico where he played before he made the transition to Europe back in 2004, while his current club Xolos de Tijuana had an underwhelming campaign, he gradually came to flourish in this less energy-sapping placement, particularly in the league’s second half (the Torneo Clausura). Overall in Liga MX, he scored nine goals and officially received credit for six assists, though his inviting crosses, corners and free-kicks certainly played a prominent role in at least a few more. Playing in his sixth Copa América, though he may not be the same player who spearheaded the history-making 2007 Quarter-Final finish and who was later named in most observers’ 2011 Best XI of the Tournament pieces, his pin-point long-range passes could still be vital this time around. Although a place in the line-up can not be entirely guaranteed, he has played in all four games that he has been available for under Sanvicente (starting three and making a strong impression when he came on against Peru). If he starts but in another position, reprising a more forward role behind the striker or on the left are certainly possibilities.

Update (13 June 2015): On the eve of the opening game, it has been reported that in a slightly altered team that has been practising in training which has two personnel changes to the one previously observed, Arango has been playing as the left-sided attacker, with Luis Manuel Seijas instead as the deep-lying playmaker. If Arango does start off the tournament on the left, there is nevertheless a strong chance that he may drift back to beside Rincón at some point. It will be of possibly painful intrigue to see if his legs are still up to a more forward position.

Lastly, while it may not have made as many headlines as a certain incident involving Luis Suárez, Arango was guilty of biting an opponent at the end of a Mexican league match in early April, for which he was merely banned for two domestic encounters. Should Venezuela meet Uruguay in the latter stages – a possible, if not the likeliest, scenario – expect to hear more about this.

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Salomón Rondón (25), the most expensive Venezuelan of all time, is considered by many as the team’s main man up top. Understandable, given that in the season just gone he played in both major European club competitions and ended it as champion and joint-second top-scorer of the Russian Premier League.

However, internationally, his success is largely dependent on the service provided by those behind him – something that has been frustratingly lacking in the past year, as he has not managed to score in any of his four outings, often appearing anonymous. When he has received chances, he has at times lacked composure and direction. Furthermore, though he may have only been 21 four years ago at Copa América 2011, he did come into the tournament with a domestic scoring rate of one in two in his debut season at Málaga and so subsequently featured in all six of his country’s games (three starts), but scored just the once. While he does have an important role to play and will be looking to use his height to spring onto the end of balls coming into the area as well as be on his toes finish off chances, it can be easy to overstate his significance to this team.

Indeed, as he is more of a penalty-box predator who usually plays little role in the build-up, it is the players behind him who will be particularly crucial if he is to prosper. If he receives the requisite supply – and it is a big if, given the noted issues the attacking midfield players have had linking up effectively – then it should be a morale booster for the team. All the same, expect any goals that may or may not be scored to be spread around the side, rather than gobbled up by one individual.

The tournament could potentially be a great opportunity for Rondón to put himself in the shop window, as the talk emanating out of Zenit St Petersburg for the past several months has been that manager André Villas-Boas is seeking to offload him. Further fuelling the rumours, the player has commented more than once that he fancies trying his luck in England or Germany, though would not be averse to a return to Spain either. Media reports have dutifully obliged, with stories published linking him to, among others, Tottenham, Liverpool, Wolfsburg and Sevilla. While he may struggle to shine in such a tough group when Venezuela may often be on the back foot, the presence of such a relatively high calibre striker up top ensures that those behind know, that if they can just play the right ball forward, the team will always have a chance.

Rising Stars

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If, as is being suggested by reports, neither Luis Manuel Seijas nor Juan Arango is fielded on the left of midfield in the opening game, there are several other contenders in the frame. According to how the side has been training, Torino’s Josef Martínez (22) appears to be the likeliest candidate to start, despite being more regularly deployed at club level just behind the striker. Indeed, he can also play as the front man and if there are any problems with Salomón Rondón up top, he could well be pushed forward to step in.

Update (13 June 2015): As noted in the Arango profile, according to a new, slightly altered line-up tried in training, Arango may instead start on the left against Colombia. Whatever transpires, expect to see Martínez at some point in the tournament.

Although, following a two-and-a-half year spell in Switzerland and a debut year in Turin, he now has a full Serie A season as well as Europa League experience with two different clubs under his belt, he still just about qualifies as being off the radar of most fans of top-level European football. With this being his first Copa América, he has the opportunity to showcase his abilities to new and larger audiences. Wherever he ends up playing on the pitch, in contrast to Jhon Murillo – who has been designated in several preview articles as Venezuela’s top young prospect despite only ever making one substitute appearance for his country – he has significantly more chance of starting at least one game. For this reason more than any other, he must be considered as his nation’s leading young player to look out for.

However, if he does shine, rather than gaining a bigger move, it is more likely to be beneficial for his chances at club level as while in 2014-15 he featured in 26 league, one cup and 13 European clashes – scoring seven goals along the way – he did not last the course in over half of these. Internationally, he is far from alone under Sanvicente in not having the most glorious of times in the past year but he did look particularly sharp when coming on as a substitute against Jamaica and, subsequently, scoring the winner against Peru. As a very mobile player, capable of rapid movements and turns, as well as clinical and long-range strikes, who can also provide support to other attackers, he has much to offer the team.

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Though he is not likely to start in the opening game, Jhon Murillo, who must be on cloud nine having recently turned 20 and signed for Benfica from Zamora, stands a fair chance of entering the fray at some point – if only as an impact substitute. Presumably due to this potentially life-changing move as well as there being no other young attacking player in the squad who has not already played for a European club, he has been singled out in many preview features as Venezuela’s hot prospect to watch. Maybe. He has, after all, reportedly impressed Arango in training, knows Sanvicente well from when the coach was at Zamora (2012-14) and, given the chance, will delight in aggressively running at defenders and pouncing on any hesitancy. However, with so much competition in the attacking midfield positions and the fact that he has only previously been called up for one game – the second against Honduras in February in which, due to a defensive mix-up, he capitalised to score 37 seconds into his debut – one wonders if it is all a bit too much, too soon. Indeed, he has done remarkably well in his early club career, making his Zamora debut under Chita at the end of the 2012-13 campaign, before scoring an impressive 19 goals in 54 league games (all starts) in the subsequent two seasons while playing on the right wing as well as, at times, more centrally. He was also his now ex-club’s leading threat this year in their otherwise dismal Libertadores campaign, scoring twice in four games.

However, he was also red-carded in the opening game, seemingly for comments made towards – or at least in front of – the referee and it is this worrisome temperament of his that could well hold him back in the long run. Indeed, while he was also the Venezuela U20 side’s best attacking player in January’s Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament, his antics at the very end of the final group game are further testimony to his volatile nature. Against hosts Uruguay, following a relentless verbal and even physical reprimanding of the referee, he played a leading role in getting the official – who, it must be noted, had riot police at his disposal – to reverse his decision on a legitimate opposition goal, securing for Venezuela the 1-0 win. Not entirely for his appearance and haircut then has he been nicknamed ‘Balotelli’ (though, in fairness, the Venezuelan is at least significantly more consistent on the pitch). Furthermore, while he will not be regretting it now, it is believed that his attitude during a trial at Basel in 2014 cost him a move to the Swiss giants. Ultimately, whether or not he gets many opportunities in the next month, one can only hope that the experience of being around long-standing high calibre professionals will inject a little more humility and maturity into this otherwise exciting prospect.

As noted above, to read similar profiles about the entire squad, click here.

Venezuela’s 23-man squad for Copa América 2015

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Caracas FC), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) & Dani Hernández (Tenerife).

Defenders

Fernando Amorebieta (Fulham, ended season on loan to Middlesbrough), Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Gabriel Cichero (FC Sion, ended season on loan to Mineros de Guayana), Grenddy Perozo (Ajaccio), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), Andrés Túñez (Buriram United) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders

Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana), César González (Deportivo Táchira), Alejandro Guerra (Mineros de Guayana, ended season on loan to Atlético Nacional), Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira), Jhon Murillo (Benfica, signed recently from Zamora FC), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe) & Ronald Vargas (AEK Athens, signed recently from Balıkesirspor).

Forwards

Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor (Rayo Vallecano), Josef Martínez (Torino), Gelmin Rivas (Deportivo Táchira) & Salomón Rondón (Zenit St. Petersburg).

One last time, to find out more about these players and to get a more precise idea of where and how they play, please take a look at this detailed set of profiles of all 23 members of the squad. Otherwise, thank you for reading and stay tuned for more Copa América coverage in the upcoming weeks on Hispanospherical.com.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

Friendly International Double-Header

4 February 2015

Honduras vs Venezuela

Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula 

11 February 2015 

Venezuela vs Honduras

Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas 

Less Prestigious Than Friendlies?

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

The Managers:

Any Preparation Time is Invaluable

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

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

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

Venezuela’s Players

A Rare Opportunity for the Majority

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

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

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

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

What to Look out for in the Venezuelan Side

How the Goalkeepers Perform

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

How the Defence Copes

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

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

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

Rómulo Otero’s Role as an Attacking Threat

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

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

How the Forwards Fare

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

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

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

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

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

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Caracas FC)

Rafael Romo (Mineros de Guayana)

Defenders

Francisco Carabalí (Caracas FC)

Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo Lara)

Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana)

Juan Fuenmayor (Deportivo Anzoátegui)

Andrés Sánchez (Caracas FC)

Midfielders

Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana)

Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira)

Argenis Gómez (Trujillanos FC)

Luis González (Deportivo La Guaira)

Óscar González (Deportivo La Guaira)

Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira)

Rómulo Otero (Caracas FC)

Luis Vargas (Zamora FC)

Forwards 

Manuel Arteaga (Zulia FC)

Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana)

Edder Farías (Caracas FC)

Jesús Lugo (Aragua FC)

Aquiles Ocanto (Carabobo FC)

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical