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Chile 5-0 Venezuela – International Friendly (14 November 2014)

Friday 14 November 2014

International Friendly

Chile 5-0 Venezuela

Estadio CAP, Talcahuano

Goal Highlights of Chile 5-0 Venezuela (YouTube user: Pasión Por La Roja)

Team Selections

Chile (4-3-1-2): Bravo; Isla, Medel, Lichnovsky, Mena; Vidal (Millar, 76′), Díaz (Carmona, 81′), Aránguiz; Valdivia (Hernández, 76′); Vargas (Orellana, 76′), Sánchez (Pinilla, 85′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Hernández; González, Vizcarrondo, Perozo, Cichero; Jiménez (Signorelli, 86′), Acosta (Lucena, 57′); M. Rondón, Arango (Otero, 62′), F. Feltscher (Juanpi, 57′); Miku (Aristeguieta, 66′).

Match Report

Noel Sanvicente’s depleted side were repeatedly out-ran and out-thought as Jorge Valdivia returned to the Chile squad for the first time since announcing his international retirement in July to put in a triumphant performance for La Roja

Chile fielded a virtually full-strength team with the debatable exception of Porto B youngster Igor Lichnovsky who, at 6 feet 2 inches, brought some much-needed height to Jorge Sampaoli’s diminutive side which should stand him in good stead with regards to future call-ups.

Conversely, largely due to injuries as well as a couple of documentation issues and a suspension, Venezuela were unable to call upon ten players for this match, including several regular starters. Most notable amongst these were star striker Salomón Rondón, centre-back Fernando Amorebieta and, most crucially, Sanvicente’s favoured defensive-midfield partnership of converted right-back Roberto Rosales and newly appointed captain Tomás Rincón.

Indeed, even with Juan Arango returning to skipper the side after a year-long absence, La Vinotinto were made to look rather lightweight, slack and porous, with attack after attack easily bypassing Rosales and Rincón’s stand-ins, domestic league team-mates Édgar Jiménez and Rafael Acosta.

With regards to these two men, it is sometimes said that the contribution of those who play directly in front of the back four often goes unnoticed as it is not an area on the field likely to yield many headlines, with the players not anticipated to be major goal-scorers, goal-providers or even serve as the last heroic line of defence.

What the two Mineros de Guayana midfielders would have given for such anonymity.

Instead, they were very much conspicuous by their absence as any kind of effective shield for the back four as the likes of Jorge Valdivia, Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal, Charles Aránguiz and Eduardo Vargas were to have much joy playing rapid short passes around and through them. This did not aid the stability and organisation of the defenders as the two full-backs, Alexander González and Gabriel Cichero, often felt compelled to provide reinforcement by coming further infield, movements that regularly resulted in space becoming available on the flanks for Chile to exploit instead. However, increasing the defensive frailties, these two men also consistently had problems largely of their own making as they struggled to effectively track the overlapping runs from their opposite numbers, Eugenio Mena and Mauricio Isla, with Cichero in particular having a torrid time against the latter.

First Half

Extensive First-Half Highlights (Youtube user:  Deporte Luis TV)

As can often be said in hindsight following a hiding, the team on the receiving end of the outcome started the game promisingly. In the first ten minutes, Venezuela asserted themselves with some high pressing led by Arango, Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor and Mario Rondón, the latter of whom also had the best chance in the opening stages when he intercepted a poor backwards pass on the halfway line, nudging it past a defender and then dribbling it into the area before seeing his low shot saved with the feet of Claudio Bravo.

However, by the 15th minute, both González and Cichero had been exposed on their respective sides as moves that began with Valdivia and Sánchez culminated with Mena and Isla putting in crosses that, while not leading to clear attempts on goal, nevertheless offered the home side much encouragement.

Indeed, Sampaoli’s men must have been aware of Venezuela’s problematic left-back position and it was from an attack on Cichero’s side that led to the opening goal just two minutes later. Some customary rapid midfield interplay disorientated the visitors before a ball was gratefully received in space on the right byline by Vidal, who dinked it over to the far post where it was hooked back by Mena and headed in from a yard out by Sánchez, who clashed heads with Gary Medel in the process.

Four minutes later, Sánchez was to head wide from a cross from the Chilean left, but just a minute afterwards Venezuela were to be denied a clear penalty. Once again, a midfield mix-up was seized upon by Rondón who ran up the inside-right into the area where, on the turn, he was clipped by Medel, yet despite the incontrovertible evidence in the form of television replays and even Chilean commentators shouting ‘¡es penal!’, nothing was given.

A short while afterwards, just as La Roja were looking composed and enjoying some confident midfield possession play, one sloppy pass near the halfway line again caused some unnecessary trouble. This time it occurred on the opposite flank as Miku picked up the ball and drove forward in considerable space yet when he encountered a defender on the edge of the area, he opted to shoot and watched it drift over by several yards.

For the rest of the first period, Venezuela’s closest opportunities were to come from Arango’s corners that, while never once leading to an attempt on goal, were rarely dealt with comfortably by the defending side. The best one of these occurred after 41 minutes when Cichero leapt for a ball that evaded Bravo, with it instead floating just a yard over the Mineros man’s head and out to the other side.

However, such half-chances were merely infrequent interludes to what was being created with greater consistency from open play at the other end as Chile continued to have success putting in testing balls from the flanks, which is also where their second goal came from, albeit in unconventional circumstances. Indeed, this came in stoppage-time following a weak low clearance from goalkeeper Dani Hernández that fell to the feet of Aránguiz 40 yards out on the Chilean left. He nudged it to Valdivia and immediately ran forward several yards where he received a return pass and dribbled to the left edge of the area where two players came to thwart his progress. While doing so, neither of these defenders picked up the direct run of Valdivia who met Aránguiz’s pass and then, from an extremely acute angle near the left byline, hit what must have been intended as a cross but which, from a Chilean perspective at least, was very much a golazo. Indeed, Hernández must have been anticipating a lofted pass to a colleague in the centre as he dived outwards but was instead a stranded observer as the ball squeezed in between the near post and his outstretched body, rebounding off the far post and trickling over the line.

Second Half

Extensive Second-Half Highlights (Youtube user:  Deporte Luis TV)

Venezuela thus went into the second half with a task made doubly hard and soon found themselves having to fend off further trouble as within five minutes of the restart Sánchez’s free-kick brought a decent save from Hernández, as the ball curled towards the top corner. Soon after, following some quick exchanges between the Arsenal man, Valdivia and finally Vidal, the Juventus playmaker took aim from a central position 20 yards out and hit the inside of the post with a fine strike.

Despite being on the ropes, a minute later Sanvicente’s charges also hit the post as Arango’s corner was headed on by Rondón to Oswaldo Vizcarrondo who, at short notice, guided the ball onto the woodwork, watching it rebound to Rondón who forced a low save from Bravo.

However, any optimism gained quickly evaporated as, little more than a minute later, Chile scored their third. Valdivia picked up the ball centrally in space 40 yards out and played a wonderfully incisive turf-shaving low ball to Isla, who ran in behind the sluggish Cichero and unselfishly cut it back in the centre for Vargas to tap home.

3-0 and the 35 minutes left on the clock seemed like an eternity. Following the goal, the first two of a total of five Venezuelan substitutions occurred with Málaga’s Juan Pablo Añor replacing Frank Feltscher for his international debut and Deportivo La Guaira’s Franklin Lucena putting to an end Rafael Acosta’s misery.

Unfortunately for La Vinotinto, these introductions did little to stem the Roja tide with Vargas having two good opportunities, the first of which occurred after the Queens Park Rangers forward capitalised on a Vizcarrondo miskick from a Medel clearance and then dribbled into the area before dropping a shoulder to hit a right-footed effort narrowly wide. Later, in the 72nd minute, the ball was played out from the Chilean defence to Valdivia who, in acres of space 45 yards out, just rolled the ball forward to Vargas who fired a shot from inside the area that came off the outside of the post. Soon afterwards, Venezuela were to have their last meaningful attack of the game, as Rondón’s low ball from the left into the goalmouth towards substitute Fernando Aristeguieta – sporting a retro moustache of the seediest order – was desperately blocked out by Bravo.

With 76 minutes on the clock and the outcome long since decided, Chile took off Vargas, Valdivia and Vidal and replaced them with Fabián Orellana, Pablo Hernández and Rodrigo Millar. Any hopes that this would coincide in a respite for Venezuela were soon crushed as Millar scored the fourth within a couple of minutes of coming on. This goal came following some tenacious work by Aránguiz who held off Lucena on the left touchline 40 yards out and then ran forward, passing it to Millar on the edge of the area who then played in Sánchez whose shot from close range was blocked by the leg of Hernández, only to rebound into the path of Millar.

The last ten minutes felt at least twice as long to the Venezuelan players, who at one point had to endure the home fans oléing every one of their team’s passes. Chile’s final goal came in stoppage-time as Orellana’s corner was only palmed out by Hernández to Isla on the right side of the area who played a quick one-two with Millar and then crossed for another substitute, Pablo Hernández, to run forward unmarked and score with an accomplished diving header.

Recovering for Bolivia

Thus completed the humiliation for Noel Sanvicente’s who may well feel things could have been somewhat different if Rondón has scored early on and been rightfully awarded a penalty. However, their defensive shortcomings would have still let them down and one can not help but feel that were this a World Cup Qualifying game in which Venezuela were playing for nothing but pride and Chile needed 8 or 9 goals, then they could well have got them. Indeed, La Roja soon realised that they had this makeshift La Vinotinto for the taking and if anything, relented somewhat once the score reached 3-0, with the introduction of the three substitutes who came on with 15 minutes left being necessary in order to reinvigorate the side to some degree.

Venezuela now go into their next friendly against Bolivia with their confidence having taken a strong bashing and still with a rather threadbare squad, even if they will now be able to call upon midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas. The altitude of La Paz poses some perennial questions regarding preparation and Sanvicente is reportedly dealing with it this time by travelling with his side into the city just two hours before kick-off, rather than attempting to acclimatise days in advance.

Whether this pays off remains to be seen though any superstitious fans fearing the worst against the lowest-ranked team in CONMEBOL may be gratified to hear that La Vinotinto have not lost to La Verde since March 2005.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – November 2014 Preview

14 November 2014 – Estadio CAP, Talcahuano.

Chile vs Venezuela

18 November 2014 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz.

Bolivia vs Venezuela 

How the Teams Rank

FifaRankings

FIFA Rankings Comparison Graph for October 2013-October 2014 (FIFA.com)

Venezuela come into this friendly double-header having been demoted in the FIFA rankings from August’s record-high 29th to a lowly 85th in the space of a mere two months. During this period, they played away in September to two Asian nations that featured at the World Cup, losing 3-1 to South Korea and drawing 2-2 with Japan.* A largely overseas-based contingent then spent October’s break at the Ciudad del Fútbol de Las Roza training complex in Madrid, after a total of four friendly matches had been scheduled and then cancelled for varying reasons (though presumed to be primarily financial in nature).

Given the lack of games played by the national side, it is certainly tempting to dismiss the rankings. Indeed, some Venezuelans – not least Noel Sanvicente, the new coach installed in July – may even glance at them with a wry smile, acknowledging that the historical placing of 29th was somewhat dubious, given that two months prior they were 40th and had only played one game in the entire year – a 2-1 away loss to Honduras.

Yet, however misrepresentative these rankings may be, they can not be ignored as the current placements were recently used to determine the seeding of the sides competing for next summer’s Copa América ahead of the upcoming draw. Venezuela, despite finishing 4th in 2011’s tournament and 6th out of the nine CONMEBOL sides in the 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign, found themselves ranked 10th out of 12 sides, thus consigning them to the fourth and lowest-seeded pot with Bolivia and CONCACAF-invitees, Jamaica. Consequently, a slightly more difficult group than may have been anticipated looks to be on the cards for La Vinotinto.

Defensive bulwark Oswaldo Vizcarrondo as well as Sanvicente himself have both publicly criticised these organisational methods and their raw sense of injustice may well be harnessed by El Chita to instil a siege mentality into his troops ahead of their upcoming games against Chile and Bolivia.

Squad News: Absentees and Opportunities

Playing to, and galvanising, the emotions of his squad may be necessary for Sanvicente as much of his long-term tactical plans have been adversely affected by a long list of absentees, all of whom play outside of Venezuela and thus, it is not too disrepectful to say, are amongst their most important players.

Two key individuals to have succumbed to injuries are converted right-back Roberto Rosales (Málaga) and new captain Tomás Rincón (Genoa), both components of Sanvicente’s planned defensive-midfield pairing that was first given its debut against Japan. Also sidelined are Fernando Amorebieta (Fulham), Vizcarrondo’s regular partner in central defence under former coach César Farías, as well as Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional). Furthermore, though Guerra’s fellow Colombia-based midfield colleague Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe) will be reporting for duty, he is unlikely to play in the Chile game, having played less than 48 hours prior in his side’s Copa Colombia final defeat to Deportes Tolima.

Another player not making the trip is forward Juan Falcón (Metz) who has had a promising start in Ligue 1 (4 goals in 8 games) and would have hoped to quickly establish himself as a more common fixture of the national side with his former Zamora manager now at the helm. Following on with the problems in attack, perhaps the most internationally renowned player not joining up with his compariots is striker Salomón Rondón (Zenit St. Petersburg), who is suspended following a straight red card he received while on the bench against South Korea. In his absence, young prospect Darwin Machís (Granada), who has had several chances with the first team in La Liga this season, will unfortunately not be able to demonstrate what he can do up front, having picked up a lengthy injury in October that will likely rule him out until next year. Sanvicente’s attempts to find someone to partner Mario Rondón (C.D. Nacional) have been further thwarted as Germany-raised Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen), the man the coach said he wanted to trial in this role, has been temporarily unable to join up with the national side due to documentation issues. Indeed, this is a similar situation former Barcelona and Spain Under-21 international Jeffrén Suárez (Real Valladolid) finds himself in, having finally agreed to commit himself to La Vinotinto last month.

With so many players unavaible, Sanvicente has called up a squad that while not lacking in quality, features more players from the domestic league than would ideally be the case (9 out of 23) as well as several who have been languishing on the bench of overseas clubs (i.e. of the five forwards, only Mario Rondón can be said to be a regular starter for his club). However, one morale-boosting inclusion is the return of the iconic Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana) who had asked not to be called up for Sanvicente’s first two squads as he attempted to settle in Mexico’s Liga MX.

Nevertheless, with several regular starters missing and a coach still attempting to implement his ideas on the squad, Venezuela can certainly expect some tough encounters against a largely full-strength Chile, followed by Bolivia and the altitude of La Paz. Thus, what is detailed next are several things to look out for from a Venezuelan perspective in these two games.

What to Look Out For

How the Team Copes Defensively

Early reports suggest that the probable starting line-up for the Chile game will feature five out of the seven defence-minded players (goalkeeper, four defenders and two defensive-midfielders) who began against South Korea. In this 3-1 reversal, La Vinotinto at times looked porous, being repeatedly overran in the middle with their left side also offering weak resistance and the organisation in the middle often disintegrating into chaos (as can be witnessed on the third goal).

Édgar Jiménez (Mineros de Guayana), who made a rare start partnering Rincón in front of the defence, came in for some criticism for allowing the likes of Son Heung-Min to routinely bypass him and was one of only two players to be dropped for the Japan game. Given the noted injuries in this position, he is said to be likely to be paired with club team-mate Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana) and both men, along with the defence behind them, will surely have their work cut out in the first game against the direct, rapid attacks of Sánchez, Aránguiz, Vargas, Vidal and the Venezuela-born Valdivia. Indeed, they may well be best advised to try to force them wide at all opportunities and goalkeeper Dani Hernández (Real Valladolid) – another player to come in for some criticism, largely due to some questionable handling and decision-making – will be anticipating a busy night. Time will tell how he copes with such activity, following a season largely playing second fiddle in Spain’s Segunda División. Ultimately, the defence will want to come out of this game having conceded fewer than the five goals that South Korea and Japan collectively managed to get past them.

The Role of Juan Arango

It was noted last month that he has sometimes been allocated a less advanced role for Xolos in the centre, as opposed to the position he is more accustomed to further upfield either in the middle or, more commonly, on the left. It will be interesting to see if the 34 year-old will still be able to impose himself with as much attacking threat as he used to as, with the noted absences in the forward line, many will be counting on his his set-pieces, defence-splitting passes and/or long-range screamers. Given his advanced years (in footballing terms, at least) it is also common for him to complete less than 70 minutes for his club so he may well be withdrawn after a similar amount of time in these two games. If this proves to be the case, expect to see an injection of youthful pace and creativity from the likes of either Yohandry Orozco (Deportivo Táchira) or Rómulo Otero (Caracas FC), the latter of whom will be especially eager to take over set-piece duties.

The Role of Mario Rondón

Having not featured a great deal under César Farías, Mario Rondón was unquestionably the most notable performer on September’s Asian tour, having scored two goals and showing some potential in a future forward partnership with Salomón Rondón. Now the only Rondón in the side, he will be in the curious position of either playing in an attacking partnership with someone he is unlikely to feature regularly alongside in a competitive match or being moved back to one of the flanks, where he sometimes plays at club level. Either way, as his goals came from first a goalkeeping error (though was rather well-taken) and then a penalty, he will want to prove that he can be just as effective in regular open play and maintain the momentum he has built up.

Injuries

All Venezuelans will be hoping to avoid witnessing any more of these!

Surprises?

Ultimately, there will doubtless be plenty more aspects in these two games to look out for and yet with all the pessimism that has certainly prevailed in many quarters, this is just the right backdrop for La Vinotinto to spring a surprise or two. Indeed, irrespective of the Chile result, expect changes in the Bolivia game as this is still very much an experimental phase in the Sanvicente reign and with so many players receiving unexpected chances who knows what these new on-field partnerships and combinations will bring?

Whatever happens, Sanvicente will be eager for his Venezuela side to show the entire continent of South America that they can compete with the likes of Chile and have also moved on from being lumped in with the likes of Bolivia, regardless of what the rankings currently say.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

Dani Hernández (Real Valladolid) & Rafael Romo (Mineros de Guayana).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Francisco Carabalí (Caracas FC), Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana), Alexander González (FC Thun), Grenddy Perozo (Ajaccio) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders

Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga), Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana), Frank Feltscher (Aarau), Édgar Jiménez (Mineros de Guayana), Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira), Yohandry Orozco (Deportivo Táchira), Rómulo Otero (Caracas FC), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe) & Franco Signorelli (Empoli).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Nantes), Nicolás ‘Miku’ Fedor (Al-Gharafa), Josef Martínez (Torino), Emilio Rentería (San Marcos de Arica) & Mario Rondón (C.D. Nacional).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

*UPDATE: 15 November 2014 – The 2-2 friendly draw with Japan has since been changed by FIFA to a 3-0 victory for Japan due to Venezuela illegally fielding Salomón Rondón, despite having been sent off in the previous game. This fact went completely unreported in the Venezuelan media and was actually first reported on this site’s Twitter account.

Japan 2-2 Venezuela – International Friendly (9 September 2014)

Tuesday 9 September 2014

International Friendly

Japan 2-2 Venezuela

Although defensive shortcomings still creeped into view, Noel Sanvicente will have been buoyed by the improved attacking display he saw in Yokohoma’s Nissan Stadium as his side ended their Asian tour by twice coming from behind to finish with a respectable 2-2 draw.

Team Selection

(4-2-3-1): Hernández; González, Perozo, Vizcarrondo, Cichero; Rosales, Rincón (c); M. Rondón, Guerra, Seijas; S. Rondón.

Substitutions: Miku for Guerra (’66), Signorelli for Seijas (’76), Martínez for S. Rondón (’80) & Falcón for M. Rondón (’89).

The changes from last Friday’s game were Luis Manuel Seijas starting ahead of Josef Martínez and, in an attempt to avoid being overrun so frequently, Rosales surprisingly being moved forward to partner Rincón instead of Jiménez, with the right-back berth being given to the similarly versatile González. Franco Signorelli, as promised in the press by Sanvicente, made his international debut as a second-half substitute.

Further details of the two teams can be found here.

Match Report

First Half

Though they found themselves immediately on the back foot from the kick-off, Sanvicente’s men recovered and, for the second game running, had a golden chance to take the lead within three minutes, as Seijas’s left-footed ball from the right found Vizcarrondo completely unmarked but the Nantes man directed his header wide from close-range. A let-off for the hosts who certainly were not granted as much space as the Koreans and were given a further glimpse of the Venezuelan threat when, on 11 minutes, Rosales struck a curling left-footed shot from just outside the area that Kawashima palmed out for corner.

Javier Aguirre’s men, with the likes of Honda and Kakitani in their side, gradually showed more of the attacking options they had at their disposal, yet while they did cause some nervy moments, it was evident that the South Americans had learned from the first game, often appearing more organised with more men behind the ball, doubling up on attackers and conceding less space.

Venezuela had several chances in the first half, with both Seijas and Guerra getting decent shots away but it was the partnership of the two Rondóns that offered the most potential,  as they linked up to create the away side’s best chance of the first half after 29 minutes. Indeed, following some considerable pressing – a common feature of Venezuela’s display – the Japanese back line lost control of the ball 35 yards out and Salomón poked it forward to Mario who, on the edge of the area, turned Southampton’s Yoshida to find himself one-on-one against Kawashima. However, he could not quite shape his body enough to place it to the right of the goalkeeper, whose left shin saved his side as the ball went out for a corner.

The two Rondóns continued to create chances between them, yet one of their efforts in the 38th minute was sandwiched by two Japanese chances, the first of which was their best of the half as Kakitani ran onto a defence-splitting pass that Hernández was alert to, with his left leg blocking the Basel striker’s poke. The Valladolid goalkeeper saved the following attempt comfortably, bringing some composure to a hesitant area and overall, though he did indulge in at least one unnecessary punched clearance, he enjoyed a more assured performance than he did on Friday.

Second Half

Despite all of the improvements, the two goals Venezuela conceded exposed some weaknesses that had been highlighted in the South Korea game. The first one came after 51 minutes following an attempted clearance from Perozo, whose header from the edge of his area was gratefully picked up by the youngster Muto just inside opposition territory and, with three defenders standing off him, he was allowed to charge forward, shape to shoot and then bury a left-footed shot from 20 yards out.

Deflating as this must have been, little more than five minutes had passed when Guerra intercepted a loose ball in his own half and embarked on an exuberant run all the way up the inside-right channel and into the Japanese area, where his left leg was taken away from him by Mizumoto to earn a penalty. Mario Rondón stepped up to level from the spot with a low shot straight down the middle that was identical to the one he scored in his last league match and ensured that his contribution to the team will be remembered as one of the highlights of this tour.

Although the experienced Venezuelan back line knows not to get complacent following a moment of elation, this did not stop them looking rather porous in the aftermath as just a few minutes later, a right-footed cross from the left by Inter’s Nagatomo was swung into the area where two players were completely unmarked, with Okazaki’s stabbed volley going just wide of the far post. A let-off, but not for long, as in the 66th minute with González out of position, Japan countered down the left with Okazaki speeding away just inside the area and crossing for the wide-open Shibasaki to arrive late and confidently strike home a half-volley on his international debut.

Four minutes later, Japan, ranked 44th in the world to Venezuela’s 29th, nearly matched 57th-placed South Korea’s scoreline when Honda’s low curling free-kick swerved around the wall but, mercifully for the beaten Hernández, hit the post and came out.

However, out of nowhere and with Venezuelans fearing that their back line may succumb to their opponents’ increased confidence, Cichero popped up a minute later on the inside-left with a strike from over 30 yards out that should have been bread and butter for Kawashima. However, the experienced Standard Liège goalkeeper failed to catch the ball, instead embarrassing himself with a hot potato routine and fumbling it over the line to cap off a fairly poor exhibition of goalkeeping that has been on display in the two tour matches.

With Japan temporarily humiliated and their momentum abruptly halted, Venezuela found themselves back on level terms and were not to yield from this position for the rest of the game as a few changes that inevitably took something out of the game were made, the most notable of which was Empoli’s Signorelli making his international debut in the 76th minute. Thus, Sanvicente’s team looked assured as they held on for a creditable draw against World Cup opposition, salvaging some pride when a repeat of their Korean encounter loomed and providing fans with some optimism – most notably, the integration of Mario Rondón into the set-up and his link-up play with Salomón – ahead of next summer’s Copa América.

*UPDATE: 15 November 2014 – This 2-2 friendly draw with Japan has since been changed by FIFA to a 3-0 victory for Japan due to Venezuela illegally fielding Salomón Rondón, despite having been sent off in the previous game. This fact went completely unreported in the Venezuelan media and was actually first reported on this site’s Twitter account.

South Korea 3-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (5 September 2014)

Friday 5 September 2014

International Friendly

South Korea 3-1 Venezuela

The Noel Sanvicente era began in Bucheon with defeat as a line-up consisting mainly of regulars from the Farías reign plus a couple who were overlooked and one discombobulating absence were gradually overran by a Korean side keen to avoid any more toffees being lobbed at them, with the crowd of over 30,000 similarly eager to see their representatives compensate for a dire World Cup campaign.

The Team

(4-2-3-1): Hernández; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Perozo, Cichero; Rincón, Jiménez; Martínez, Guerra, M. Rondón; S. Rondón.

Substitutes: Falcón for Martínez (’56), Seijas for Jiménez (’62), Miku for M. Rondón (69′) and González for S. Rondón (’74). 

(For additional information, such as the South Korea line-up and the unused substitutes, click here.)

Arranging his side in a formation resembling the in-vogue 4-2-3-1, the new boss, affectionately known as ‘El Chita’, unsurprisingly opted for Real Valladolid’s Dani Hernández in goal, with Málaga new-boy Roberto Rosales at right-back and Nantes’s reliable Oswaldo Vizcarrondo as one of the centre-backs. However, finding Vizcarrondo a partner provided the former Zamora coach with some problems as both Fulham’s ostracised Basque, Fernando Amorebieta (club and possibly personal issues), and Buriram United colossus, Andrés Túñez (injury), could not be called upon. Instead, Sanvicente opted for Ajaccio’s experienced Grenddy Perozo, who has recently returned from injury, with Gabriel Cichero, currently back from Europe on loan at Mineros de Guayana, playing on the left side of the back line.

Playing in front of this back four, Tomás Rincón’s inclusion was never in doubt and he will have surely been honoured to have been awarded the captain’s armband, recently vacated by the veteran icon Juan Arango, who had asked not to be included in this squad but may return once he feels he has settled at his new club in Mexico. Yet there was some unexpected drama regarding Rincón’s partner-in-crime, as Rafael Acosta was originally pencilled in to play but suffered a strained right calf in a run on the morning of the match and was summarily replaced by his Mineros team-mate Édgar Jiménez who, despite nearing the age of thirty, has now been capped for the sixth time.

The attacking three in front of this line consisted of two players who had regularly featured in the line-ups of Farías, Torino’s emerging talent Josef Martínez (playing on one of the flanks) and Atlético Nacional’s Alejandro ‘Lobo’ Guerra (playing more centrally), who were joined by Mario Rondón who, despite regularly starring for Portuguese side Nacional, has no more than a handful of caps to his name. He was afforded a rare opportunity to show what he can do from the start and was to link up regularly with the lone striker and undisputed biggest name in the side, Salomón Rondón, who has been firing in the goals at a formidable rate for Zenit St. Petersburg since his arrival in January.

Match Report

First Half

For extensive highlights of the first half, click here.

It is unfortunate that Sanvicente’s reign is likely to begin with a decline from their, arguably undeserved, record-high FIFA ranking of 29th in the world (South Korea are currently 57th) but things could well have been different had Salomón Rondón managed to convert a gilt-edged opportunity with less than three minutes on the clock. Indeed, at a time when many Venezuelans, lacking any live domestic television coverage, were still attempting to connect to shady online streams, a low pass across the area from the right found the Zenit goal-machine unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box. Yet, perhaps due to a lack of concentration and/or a casual instinctive assumption that there would be plenty more opportunities to come – as is often the case in Russia – his attempted tap-in was blocked by the goalkeeper, leaving Rondón with a stunned expression on his face.

It was a rather open game in the first quarter, though Korea did gradually come to enjoy more of the ball in the final third, with Son Heung-Min, who exposed many defensive frailties throughout the match, letting Venezuela’s back line know what they were up against from an early stage. After 11 minutes, the Bayer Leverkusen forward craftily evaded two challenges, nearly winning a penalty following a collision with Vizcarrondo and just a few minutes later, he struck a pacey 25-yard drive at Hernández, who parried the shot a little too close to his goalmouth for comfort. The Valladolid goalkeeper was to look vulnerable on several occasions throughout the match yet it was his opposite number, Kim Jin-hyeon, who was to make the most egregious howler of the evening, gifting Venezuela the lead against the run of play after 21 minutes. What should have been a routine clearance was hit low and consequently blocked and chipped speedily with sublime grace by Mario Rondón from nearly 40 yards, providing his compatriots with a moment to savour that came out of nothing and, of course, aiding his personal cause for more starts in the future.

Korea attempted to get an immediate response and were able to gain some space down the right flank to put in some testing crosses though Cichero, the man primarily responsible for shielding this area, did manage to get forward on his left in the 29th minute to put in a cross that Mario Rondón attempted to nod back into the path of his namesake Salomón, though could not quite guide it towards him. Nevertheless, Korea were having more success exploiting the holes, slow tracking and general disorganisation that was a hallmark of Venezuelan defence throughout the game and in the 33rd minute they found themselves on level terms. The goal came following a forward pass from the halfway line to Son Heung-min on the inside-left, who caused disarray as he bombed forward towards the edge of the area, turning when surrounded, to slide in the onrushing Lee Chung-yong on the edge of the dee. He ran into the area and attempted a low cross from an acute position on the left side of the six-yard box which was blocked by a defender but fell to Lee-Myung-joo – another Korean not short of space – who controlled the ball, then curled a wonderful shot into the far corner of the net.

In the remainder of the half, the closest Venezuela came to restoring their lead was an attempted acrobatic effort from Perozo that did not really connect with the flick-on from Vizcarrondo but it was up the other end where the most dangerous attacks occurred, as Sanvicente’s boys were regularly found desperately scrambling around, attempting to block shots and keep up with attackers.

Second Half 

For extensive highlights of the second half, click here.

Just over a minute into the second-half, Hernández needlessly punched out a harmless cross, an act that was not only highlighted several times in replays but which was also one of at least a few instances of his poor decision-making, which could not have helped the confidence of the already hesitant back line. Shortly after in the 52nd minute he was picking the ball out of his net as Lee Dong-Gook, recalled at the age of 35 to earn his 100th cap, rose high to head home a corner that hit the underside of the bar before crossing the line to put South Korea 2-1 up.

Afterwards, Venezuela struggled to really get back into an increasingly dirty game, with a Vizcarrondo header from a corner that sailed well over the bar the best chance they had before Lee Dong-Gook turned up again to score his second and Korea’s third in the 63nd minute. This goal, far more than the other two, really highlighted Venezuela’s defensive disarray as, after Cichero was easily beaten for pace on his left, the ball was briefly recovered until Seijas (the replacement for Jiménez) was dispossessed and a cross was sent in that was closer to both Vizcarrondo and Rosales than any attacker, yet both men failed to deal with it. It is debatable as to who the main culprit is, as though Rosales looked absolutely hapless, facing the wrong way as the ball bounced off his back and into the path of Lee Dong-Gook, he was not helped by Vizcarrondo’s air-jump that may have made minor contact with the ball, thus diverting it away from the head of Rosales and towards his back.

Less than ten minutes after the goal, little had been learned as Son Heung-Min easily out-jumped the diminutive Rosales to get onto another cross from the Venezuelan left and headed just over. Soon after and again from the left, Son Heung-Min was played into acres of space within the area but Hernández blocked his shot from an acute angle, yet barely a minute afterwards the goalkeeper nearly emulated his opposite number’s first-half embarrassment, when his clearance was almost blocked by an opponent. However, luckily for the Valladolid man, the Korean could not quite get a strong enough leg in the way to stop the ball and cause further embarrassment to Venezuela.

For the remainder of the game, Korea had a few more dangerous attacks and the closest the South Americans could get to another goal came courtesy of some half-chances that were often started by space-opening passes to the flanks from Rincón that substitutes Alexander González, Juan Falcón and Miku could not quite finish off. With five minutes left on the clock, a rather downbeat new dawn was capped off by Salomón Rondón, now sitting on the bench having been substituted, receiving a red card. Although there has been no official word on why he was sent off, it was most likely for vociferously protesting at match officials, as some rather strong challenges had gone unpunished throughout the game and particularly in the second half.

Nevertheless, as it was a friendly match, he will not be missing the next test against Japan later on today and though for this Sanvicente will want to improve the organisation and confidence of the back line as well as create a system that facilitates more clear shooting opportunities, as this was his first match, it is perhaps not worth drawing too many conclusions from it. What we can say is, though there were a few changes, the majority of this team were regulars under the previous incumbent yet have only played together once previously in the preceding 11 months, which may explain some of the disorganisation, disarray and general ring-rustiness.

The line-up for the Japan game has already been announced and includes a few intriguing experimental changes from this first match and, depending on the performance, may well offer some clues as to the direction Sanvicente wishes to pursue. If you are up and about at 11:20am GMT, please join Hispanospherical on Twitter, where the game will be covered in more detail than anyone ever asked for. Look forward to hearing from you.

Venezuelans Abroad in Qatar

Qatar

Thursday 28 August 2014

Qatar Stars League

Al-Gharafa 2-2 Al-Arabi 

For the second week running, Miku did not feature. Given that he has not played competitive football since April and all of the forwards called up into Sanvicente’s national squad except Salomón Rondón have not been starting (let alone scoring) regularly for their clubs, fans may well be wondering where the goals will come from in the upcoming friendlies against South Korea and Japan.

Nevertheless, watched by an attendance that would have shamed a Ryman League side, Al-Gharafa took an early lead, went behind before the break, then scored a penalty just after the hour and played the remainder of the match against ten men but could not get the decisive goal. Despite the several doubtlessly well-paid foreign stars on show, it was the home-grown Abdulghani Munir who made the break-through after six minutes, poking in what is believed to be his first-ever senior goal. Al-Arabi, managed by Dan Petrescu of plucky pre-Roman Chelsea fame, struck back with the strike partnership of the Brazilian Paulinho, recently acquired from Livorno and Imoh Ezekiel, an up-and-coming Nigerian who had been banging them in for Standard Liège, combining for both goals. For the first, Ezekiel crossed in from the left edge of the box with his right-foot for Paulinho to head home, whereas the second was a less straightforward affair as chaos and confusion in the Al-Gharafa back-line led to Paulinho, clearly controlling the loose ball with his left arm, nudging the ball through three hapless defenders to Ekeziel who tapped it in for Al-Arabi to take the lead after 27 minutes.

Al-Gharafa got back on level terms just after the hour when the referee evened things up by awarding a penalty to the home side after a foul on Munir by Mohammed Salem which was clearly outside of the area and for which the latter received a second yellow card. Former PSG striker Nenê converted the penalty but could not force a winner against Petrescu’s ten men, who also featured former Swansea defender Pablo Hernández as well as ex-Fulham player and spearhead of Iran’s World Cup counter-attack, Ashkan Dejagah, who came on as a late substitute. 

Venezuelans Abroad – 26 Aug 2014 Weekend Round-up (Rest of the World)

This is the second part of the weekend update of Venezuelans Abroad, focusing on everywhere major Venezuelan players ply the Great Trade except Europe, which was covered in the first article that you can find on this website. Minimal messing about now, let’s crack on:

South America

Colombia

Luis Manuel Seijas played all of Santa Fe’s 0-0 disappointing home draw against Alianza Petrolera, a game in which his side had to play all of the second half with ten men due to Dairon Mosquera’s dismissal. Despite having a mere 8 points after 5 games, they are only 4 points off the leaders Deportes Tolima with a game in hand.

Elsewhere in the same league, fellow midfielder Alejandro Guerra was not named in the squad for Atlético Nacional’s 1-0 home defeat to Envigado, possibly due to having played in Venezuela in the Copa Sudamericana just two days prior. Losing to Envigado would traditionally not be tolerated, but this season the away side have been flying high and are now 3rd in the league, just one point behind Tolima, whereas Nacional are 11th, with no games in hand. 

Chile

Ñublense were on-message with this weekend’s recurring theme of squads featuring Venezuelans having to struggle on with ten men for long periods of time, as at the beginning of the second half Sebastian Montesinos was dismissed for blocking a shot on the line, which led to a penalty that O’Higgins’ Octavio Rivero converted. This equalled up the score as Juan Lorca had given Ñublense the early lead but the home side did at least manage to keep the score even for the remaining 45 minutes that followed the penalty. However, perhaps unsurprisingly to regular readers of this column, Javier González was left on the bench throughout this match, as indeed he has been for most of the league games this season. 

Emilio Rentería certainly started for his side San Marcos in their 0-0 away draw against Cobresal. It was a match of few clear chances that leaves his side drifting around mid-table in 10th with Ñublense 11th; both sides have 8 points but San Marcos have the superior goal difference. 

North America

Mexico

Juan Arango played all of Xolos de Tijuana’s 1-1 draw against Pumas, traditionally one of the stronger and more popular teams in the league but who currently find themselves third from bottom on 4 points, though Arango will not be feeling much more content as his side are a mere two points ahead in 13th. Xolos went a goal down in the 40th minute but responded a few minutes later with a goal that Arango had a small role in as he played Dario Benedetto into some space on the left and he did well to put in a loss cross that Richard Ruíz got onto the end of and did well to take the ball away from the defenders with his first touch before firing high into the net.

Down one level to the Ascenso MX, Giancarlo Maldonado‘s Atlante had an opportunity to go top in the game against leaders Deportivo Tepic and nearly took it, with the well-travelled Venezuelan putting them a goal to the good with a confident first-half penalty. However, Tepic got back into the game and turned things around thanks to two goals midway through the second half, leaving them top of the league with 16 points, 5 points ahead of their nearest rivals and 6 in front of Atlante. 

United States of America 

Bernardo Añor is still recovering from his injury and so did not feature in Columbus Crew’s 3-0 victory over Houston Dynamo. His side are now third in the Eastern Conference, albeit having played a game or two more than some of their rivals. 

Asia

Thailand

Having recently beaten Muang Thong United and maintained a 3-point lead at the top of the table over Chonburi, it seemed as if Buriram United could well see out their remaining games comfortably, but this weekend they were held at home by Army United, who are now 8th and who cut Buriram’s lead to just a point. The Army got off to a great start within two minutes, with an exceptional shot that looped over the goalkeeper from outside the area (check it out). Buriram got back on level terms after 15 minutes but for the rest of the game both teams certainly had chances without getting a winner; a Buriram header from a cross going against the bar and Andres Túñez himself heading just wide after the break were amongst the highlights for the home side.

Qatar

The Qatar Stars League got underway last Friday, though not for Miku (Nicolas Fedor to his parents) as he was left on the bench for Al-Gharafa’s narrow opening-day win over Umm Salal, a team who also finished last season in mid-table. To give an idea of the quality that resides in this league, Australian veteran Marc Bresciano who featured in this summer’s World Cup, lined up for Miku’s team and it was former Lyon and Argentine forward Lisandro López who scored the game’s winning goal. 

That concludes the round-up of the weekend’s action from outside Europe involving Venezuelans but if you have any further questions about events discussed or any players that have been neglected, please leave a comment below and you can be sure to get a relatively swift response!

Venezuelans Abroad – 22 Aug 2014 Weekend and Midweek Round-up

Apologies for the delay with the delivery of this dispatch – life’s not always reassuringly straightforward, is it? With more and more leagues kicking off, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there are too many Venezuelans playing abroad for one person to adequately cover in a single article every few days. Consequently, some of you will be relieved to read that this may be the last caffeine-charged update of undergraduate essay length to be posted in this column. Instead from the next article onwards, though time-constraints may complicate matters from time to time, there should be a higher number of shorter articles that summarise the highlights no more than a day or two after they have occurred so that they still appear relatively fresh when published on this site. With the future emphasis being more on the leading players of La Vinotinto, there can be no promises that every last footballer who could legally qualify for the national side will receive the coverage here that their play merits, but if anyone feels certain players are being neglected please either contact the site by leaving a comment or follow the Twitter account (Hispanospherical), which will always feature additional and fresher news and highlights. Whether they receive a mention or not, you can be sure that their progress is being tracked.

Lastly, before the intercontinental Venezuelan rampage gets breathlessly underway, a large thank you is in order to all of you who have taken an interest in this site so far. As you all no doubt have multiple sources to aid seeking out information on these disparate players, it is hoped that by now you will be well-acquainted enough with their whereabouts (if you were not already) to know which overseas-based Venezuelans are currently in contention to earn call-ups and thus, given the availability of alternative sources, not be too disappointed should they be omitted from any future updates.

No doubt some readers will be grateful for the diminished and snappier lengths of future articles but before we get to that stage, feel free to allow one more dissertation to be inflicted upon you:

 Europe

Russia

Four wins out of four for Russian table-toppers Zenit St Petersburg who, again in a near-empty ground, defeated new-boys FC Ufa at the weekend by the slender margin of 1-0 with a penalty from Hulk after half an hour. André Villas-Boas’s men may have had a sly eye on their midweek Champions League qualifier away to Belgium’s Standard Liège, as leading target man Salomón Rondón was largely rested though did make a brief appearance with five minutes remaining to unintentionally tarnish his impressive goals-to-games scoring ratio.

On Wednesday, Rondón received the nod over Kerzhakov for the first leg in Liège, though despite Zenit’s dominance for at least two-thirds of the game giving them a crucial 1-0 victory, he may have boarded the plane back to Saint Petersburg feeling frustrated. In Zenit attacks, he was often peripheral with service to him not as forthcoming as he would have hoped, though when he did receive the ball in the final third his first touch sometimes let him down. On the one rare occasion that he was provided with a clear opportunity he could have put the tie out of sight when, at the end of the first half, he ran onto Danny’s through-ball but poked the ball against the crossbar. That particular outcome may have been a little unfortunate but it will be curious to see whether he starts this weekend’s game against Amkar Perm; if AVB instead goes with the ageing Kerzhakov and the side’s all-time top-scorer reels back the years with a magisterial performance, then a starting place in the forward line for next week’s second leg will surely be up for grabs.

France

France’s Ligue 1 hosted the weekend’s most anticipated game of Venezuelan interest as Fernando Aristeguieta and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo lined up for Nantes at home to Juan Falcón‘s Metz in a 1-1 draw.  Falcón has come in for some criticism for his roles in both goals, with some feeling that he should have been tracking Jordan Veretout who fired in a loose ball for the early Nantes opener and that he tripped himself up – unintentionally or not – to win Metz a penalty on 12 minutes that Yeni  N’Gbakoto converted. Irrespective of the merits of these claims, Falcón was certainly a more threatening figure than he was allowed to be in his side’s 0-0 draw away with Lille, providing optimism to Metz fans still coming to terms with the departure of Diafra Sakho to West Ham earlier in the week. On the home side, Fernando Aristeguieta was substituted off again two-thirds into the game for last week’s provider of football’s latest Roy of the Rovers fairytale, Yacine Bammou. However, the former Paris St. Germain club shop employee was unable to provide another match-winner and so Aristeguieta can rest assured for the time-being at least that he is the man fans will be counting on to fill the boots of Filip Đorđević. As he experienced an injury in pre-season that ruled him out for at least a couple of weeks, it is possible that he is not fully fit at the moment.

Moving briefly down to Ligue 2 for the derby match in Corsica, Grenddy Perozo‘s Ajaccio comfortably defeated Gazélec Ajaccio 2-0 away from home, keeping a rare clean sheet against the commune’s poor-relations who were playing with ten men for over an hour.  This was Ajaccio’s first win of the season though will be facing sterner opposition in the league at the weekend against second-placed Tours and next midweek in the Coupe de la Ligue away to current league-leaders Troyes.

Portugal

The Portuguese Primeira Liga was inaugurated over the weekend, with two Venezuelans in action. 1770 people on the island of Madeira turned out to watch last season’s fifth-placed side CD Nacional, featuring Mario Rondón, lose 1-0 at home to last season’s Segunda Liga winners Moreirense. Rondón played the entirety of the game but though he was involved in some attacking opportunities that were soundtracked to some Thunderbirds-esque drumming by the home fans, his side were undone by an 80th minute header by Paraguayan substitute Ramón Cardozo. Over on the north coast of the mainland, Rio Ave went some way to moving on from the disappointment of losing the previous week’s Portuguese Super Cup match on penalties to Benfica by defeating Vitória Setúbal 2-0. However, whereas last week forward Yonathan Del Valle was ordered to run his socks off for over 120 minutes and chase every frantically hoofed clearance, here he was sacrificed for midfielder Pedro Moreira at half-time as Rio Ave were reduced to ten men following Filipe’s dismissal. Despite the man disadvantage, the home side showed character and opened the scoring after 53 minutes through Diego Lopes; they were further boosted when Zequinha was sent off for the opposition on 71 minutes, who actually finished the match with nine men as Manu received two bookings in the last ten minutes – in between these two events, the Brazilian Marcelo headed home the second for Rio Ave.

Del Valle and Rondón both started their sides’ Europa League games on Thursday as they sought to gain a first-leg advantage to earn group stage spots, but the Venezuelan pair again experienced more personal disappointment. Del Valle was again withdrawn by Rio Ave at half-time in Sweden against Elfsborg, this time along with fellow-starter Pedro Moreira, as the Portuguese side were trailing 2-0; the changes arguably made some difference as the deficit was eventually halved to 2-1 with Marcelo again scoring and there were opportunities to get on level terms. As for Rondón, he again played the full 90 minutes for Nacional but they were undone in the Belarusian capital by a goal in each half in a 2-0 defeat by Dinamo Minsk. Rondón had a European experience not entirely dissimilar to his Zenit namesake in that he received the ball several times in and around the box but rarely in potentially punishing positions, instead often ending moves by blasting half-hearted shots at crowds of defenders who could then clear. It will probably be Del Valle, not Rondón, who will feel more confident going into next week’s second legs, though whether he will be permitted to play more than one half remains to be seen.

Before moving on from Portugal, one final piece of brief news: 20 year-old defender Víctor García, fresh from earning the number 50 shirt for the season, did not feature in Porto’s 2-0 opening day win over Marítimo nor their impressive midweek Champions League victory away to Lille. Still, plenty of time yet.

Switzerland

Over in the erstwhile land of passive neutrality (who said this column is out-of-date and living in the past?), Alexander González enjoyed another full 90 minutes as FC Thun came from a goal down against St. Gallen to record an impressive 3-1 win to go third in the league. As this win came against the only side to take any points – never mind beat 2-0 away – the league-leaders Basel this season, Thun can feel especially pleased with themselves. Speaking of whom, further south the league’s sole Champions League representatives won 3-2 away to Pedro Ramírez‘s Sion in a very entertaining match that was only taken out of the home side’s grasp in the last ten minutes. However, the former Zamora starlet continued his run of negligible contributions as he was only substituted on for the last few minutes of the match and so unsurprisingly was unable to demonstrate to the fans why he was purchased in the summer.

Regarding the Feltscher brothers, Frank is still injured but interesting news regarding his younger sibling Rolf who, following his summer release from Lausanne-Sport, has finally found a club to allow him to get his career back on track. Despite repeated rumours of a move to Deportivo Táchira, he has instead made the move north to the German third division to sign for MSV Duisburg. While this move has been met with some bemusement by Venezuelan commentators, it could well prove to be a rewarding move in the long run. Duisburg are down in the third-tier not due to relegation but rather problems relating to their license documents (please, no questions about this in this comments). They are a team with the resources to gain at least one promotion, having been in the Bundesliga just six years ago playing in a stadium that holds over 30,000 people (still often half full) and as an indication of their potential, just this weekend they enjoyed dumping Nürnberg out of the DFB Pokal Cup.

England

Fernando Amorebieta has continued to be frozen out of Fulham’s match-day squads, not featuring in any of their opening three defeats in the Championship as manager Felix Magath appears to be alienating fans and players alike with his team selection and general approach. However with Amorebieta, it is possible that his allegedly high wages and feelings towards playing for a second-tier team mean that his days at the club have always been numbered since relegation so his exclusion is understandable if Magath is expecting him to leave. As reported in previous columns, various sides have been linked with a move for him though in the past week there has been some new rumours. Firstly and perhaps lacking in substance is the story regarding Dynamo Kyiv’s interest, but more credible is the interest of Granada, whose sporting director has made some enquiries but admits his wages may be a stumbling block.

Italy

Torino were another team of Venezuelan interest to be vying for a place in the Europa League group stage as Josef Martínez‘s side played out a 0-0 draw away to RNK Split in Croatia. Torino will undoubtedly be favourites in next week’s leg and given the stalemate may well offer an opportunity to Martínez, who remained on the bench through the first leg.

Looking ahead, while the Serie A does not get underway until 30 August, this upcoming weekend sees the introduction of some of the top-flight teams to the Third Round of the Coppa Italia. Tomás ‘Gattuso 2.0’ Rincón‘s Genoa will be making the journey south to Serie B’s Virtus Lanciano and Franco Signorelli‘s Empoli shall host third-tier L’Aquila, who beat Bologna, recently relegated from Serie A, in the last round.

Spain

Excitingly, the Spanish leagues will be commencing this weekend and so, given the scope and name of this website, readers can look forward to some more detailed coverage from the Primera and Segunda Divisións. Málaga will kick-off the top-flight with their difficult home match against the Basque side Athletic Bilbao; Roberto Rosales is an almost definite starter at right-back for Los Boquerones despite the recent acquisition of Miguel Torres and the youngster Juan Pablo Añor will be pushing for a place in the match-day squad after being given regular chances in pre-season and handed the number 28 shirt for the season. Another player with similar circumstances – albeit with more first-team experience – and who scored some goals in pre-season is Darwin Machís; his side Granada will be looking to get off to a winning start at home against the newly promoted former league champions Deportivo La Coruña.

In the Segunda División, Real Valladolid will begin their attempt to bounce straight back to the top-flight with a home match against Mallorca. Former Barcelona man Jeffrén  Suárez, now 26 and who has been in talks with representing Venezuela for the first time, has got an opportunity to play consistently for the first time over the course of an entire season and in a league that could well prove to be beneath him. His team-mate and international goalkeeper, Dani Hernández, who seemed to be certain to exit the club in the summer, is likely to start at the weekend as he has done  so all throughout pre-season as the club have failed so far in their attempts to buy a replacement. Elsewhere, Josmar Zambrano will be in contention for Recreativo Huelva as they start their bid to improve upon narrowly missing out on a play-off place last year with a home game against Real Zaragoza. Finally, if he makes an unlikely recovery by the weekend, then the creative playmaker Julio Álvarez could feature for Numancia at home to Sporting Gijón, though don’t bank on it as he has not featured at all in pre-season.

Cyprus

AEL Limassol nearly caused an upset against Tottenham Hotspur in the home leg of their Europa League tie, taking a first-half lead only to be undone by goals from Roberto Soldado and Harry Kane in the last quarter of the game. Jonathan España sat on the bench throughout this game though as ever, the whereabouts of his compatriot Jaime Moreno is unknown.

Turkey

Though thankfully pre-season is coming to an end and coverage here has recently been kept to a minimum, it would be churlish not to mention Ronald Vargas‘s free-kick winner for Balıkesirspor at home to AEL Kallonis last weekend. He did also score in a 3-1 friendly win on Thursday against Somaspor and if footage of that becomes available, you can be sure it will be posted both here and on the Twitter page. Vargas is a man who showed a lot of promise in his early days in Europe with Club Brugge but has had countless injury setbacks that have hampered his progress. 28 in December, he will be hoping to get his career back on track as he enters what should be his prime and will begin his season on 29 August with a home game against Akhisar Belediyespor.

Asia

Thailand

Last time we were with Andrés Túñez, his impressive start to his career at Buriram United was painfully interrupted by a last-minute goal against title-challengers Chonburi, thus narrowing the race. However, instead of wilting it appears that Buriram, and Túñez in particular, have reacted impeccably to the threat. Firstly, at the weekend they kept a clean sheet and comfortably defeated relegation-threatened Air Force United 2-0 and then in midweek earned a vital victory away to opposition who, before the match at least, were very much in with a chance of winning the league. Had Muangthong United won, they would have been one point behind Buriram (who would have been level with Chonburi) but thanks to a first-half goal from Túñez himself, seven points now separate the two sides (with Chonburi three behind).  After a Muangthong corner was cleared and then picked up by a Buriram player, Túñez (now unmasked) could see that the home side had over-committed and charged forward from his own area to receive a pass and then slot it home for a moment of glorious euphoria. However, Buriram certainly did not have it all their own way, as Muangthong had a penalty saved at the end of the first half and then, following Theeraton Bunmathan’s dismissal, the away side had to repel attack after attack with ten men for over 30 minutes. If you have an opportunity to view the highlights please do as the game was a great advertisement for the league. With seven league games left and having already faced the two closest title challengers, Buriram United are definitely favourites to win the Thai Premier League.

Qatar

Later on today, Friday 22 August, Miku should be beginning his season with Al Gharafa at home to Umm Salal, a team who also finished in a mid-table position last year, albeit two points above Miku’s side. The Venezuelan hitman has been somewhat neglected so far in this column due to the lack of news from his part of the world but no doubt once the season is up and running, there will be regular reports on his goals.

North America

Mexico 

Last week’s Friday night league game of Juan Arango‘s Xolos de Tijuana was mentioned in the last update and he did not feature in his side’s midweek 0-0 away draw with Deportivo Tepic in the Copa MX, which leaves them 2nd in their group behind Guadalajara. In the league below, Giancarlo Maldonado has been scoring again, this time the second goal – a header from a cross – for Atlante in their big 4-2 away win against Mérida, which leaves them second in the table. Maldonado, along with seven of his team-mates, was not selected for the midweek cup defeat against top-tier Toluca; such changes show where Atlante’s priorities lie and, along with the strength of their group, accounts for them currently being last with just one point from three games.

United States of America

Bernardo Añor is still out with a hamstring injury and thus sadly missed Columbus Crew’s 4-1 thrashing of LA Galaxy, a side which featured both Robbie Keane and Landon Donavan. The Crew are back in the play-off positions in the Eastern Conference.

South America 

Colombia

Alejandro Guerra did not feature in Atlético Nacional’s 1-1 away draw against Deportes Tolima in the league over the weekend, but he did make the journey back home to Venezuela to play in another 1-1 away draw, this time in the Copa Sudamericana First Round against Deportivo La Guaira. Guerra played just under an hour of this first leg, with the goals coming after his departure, first for La Guaira with a bullet-header from Framber Villegas after 66 minutes and then for Nacional from an Edwin Cardona penalty with 7 minutes remaining. Remarkably, Atlético Nacional fielded a completely different squad on the same night to fulfil domestic cup obligations against Jaguares de Córdoba and achieved a 1-1 draw thanks to a stoppage-time goal from former Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Ángel. Moving on to Santa Fe, Luis Manuel Seijas‘s side lost ground in the league last weekend as they were defeated 2-0 by Deportivo Cali. Seijas played the entire game and his team now find themselves 9th in the league, albeit with a game in hand which, were they to play tomorrow and win, would put them level on points with 2nd. Santa Fe, minus Seijas and most other first-team regulars, played midweek in the cup achieving a late turnaround with two goals in the last ten minutes to beat Expreso Rojo 2-1 away. Santa Fe have already won their group with an impressive record of 8 wins in 9 games and will play their remaining game against Bogotá next week.

Chile

This weekend just gone, Emilio Rentería‘s San Marcos had to wait until the 90th minute to make the decisive breakthrough against Antofagasta, with the goal coming from a Renato González free-kick, for which Rentería was also standing over providing a decoy. This win leaves San Marcos 9th and Antofagasta last, but in the reverse midweek cup fixture, San Marcos made wholesale changes, leaving no place for Rentería and ended up on the wrong side of a 4-0 hammering. Both teams now have the most points (10) in their group, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Antofagasta now have the edge on goal difference. Despite making a rare return to first-team football last midweek in the cup, Javier González was again sidelined to the bench once the more prestigious matters of league football returned, as Ñublense were defeated 3-2 by Unión La Calera, leaving them 11th with 7 points. 

Mercifully for us all, that concludes the round-up of the last several days of action but if you have any further questions about events discussed or any players that have been neglected, please leave a comment below and you can be sure to get a relatively swift response!