Tag Archives: Mineros de Guayana

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

Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira – 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg (10 May 2015) (Plus Serie Pre-Sudamericana Updates & the Aquiles Ocanto incident)

2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg

Sunday 10 May 2015 – Estadio José Alberto Pérez, Valera, Trujillo State

Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira

Video Highlights of Trujillanos 0-0 Deportivo Táchira, 2014/15 Venezuelan Primera División Gran Final First Leg, 10 May 2015 (courtesy of Youtube account Highlights Venezuela)

Bore Draw At Least Ensures a Competitive Venezuelan Finale 

Whether it was due to the 33 degrees heat, the attacking limitations of the hosts and/or the defensive approach of the visitors, Trujillanos and Táchira served up a forgettable encounter unbefitting of this showpiece occasion.

Pre-game, there were fears that the home side would expose themselves as being out of their depth, having endured a considerable fall from grace since winning the Torneo Apertura in December, losing some key players as they limped to a 11th-placed finish in the Clausura. However, though they failed to make a breakthrough in this game, they did dominate the majority of play, with the Clausura-winning visitors having largely been set up to contain and frustrate them. As Táchira possess the best attack in the league (64 goals in their 34 games this season), this was a somewhat unanticipated approach and one that could not be said to have been forced upon manager Daniel Farías. Indeed, his side may have had three first-team regulars out suspended following an accumulation of yellow cards – Gerzon Chacón, Wilker Ángel and Jorge Rojas – but only the latter of these plays in a forward position. Instead, the 33-year-old boss was very much the architect of his side’s reserved tactics, even benching 20-goal top-scorer Gelmin Rivas. Seemingly, this move was to help facilitate counter-attacks for the more mobile Yohandry Orozco and José Alí Meza to run onto and spearhead – something that never really occurred.

Thus, Trujillanos were to enjoy more of the ball in opposition territory though, to give Farías credit, the Táchira rearguard was largely successful in repeatedly blocking off key passes and not allowing their opponents many clear opportunities. Arguably the best chance Los Guerreros de la Montaña were to have was their first of note, which came after just seven minutes. Alfredo Padilla’s cross from the right was met by Sergio Álvarez, who flicked on a header at the near post that the visitors’ goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind did well to block at close range. This was a rare instance of one of Padilla’s many crosses in the game actually being connected with – had his side managed to keep ahold of strikers James Cabezas and Freddys Arrieta after the Apertura win, one wonders if Trujillanos would have had more joy from this mode of attack.

Up the other end, Táchira only really had two moments of note in this half yet as one was a low cross that evaded everyone and the other was a passing move that fell apart before a shot could even be struck, one would not wish to overstate the threat of these. Indeed, the only other chance of significance in the opening period came from Trujillanos in stoppage-time as Maurice Cova curled a fine free-kick from 25 yards that Liebeskind did well to tip over for a corner.

Regarding the second-half, while a lack of information provided on this period in a match report is often symptomatic of the writer having to make sacrifices in order to get an on-the-whistle article finished on time, readers can be assured that in this case it is simply because little of note occurred. Indeed, to succinctly summarise: Trujillanos dominated but continued to be thwarted in the final third, having even fewer opportunities than in the first half and Táchira barely mustered an attack worth mentioning, with Rivas’ introduction 20 minutes from time predictably changing nothing. Nevertheless, whether the away fans were pleased with their team’s tactical display, celebrating the Clausura title win or were simply amusing themselves, they were to see out the game by repeatedly jumping up and down while emitting something approaching euphoria

Hopefully, both sets of players will take some of this spirit with them into the decisive leg in San Cristóbal next weekend as, if there is anything positive to say about this match, it is that both teams will still feel that they have a strong chance of claiming the championship. Indeed, though Táchira will feel happier with this result and will go into the final game as strong favourites with a more attacking approach, the scoreline ensures that Trujillanos still retain some hope of causing what would be considered an upset.

To find out how the finale to the Venezuelan season pans out, keep checking back here and, if you are not already, please follow the Twitter account @DarrenSpherical.

Serie Pre-Sudamericana

Starting at the same time as the Gran Final, there is also a post-season tournament to determine the two remaining Venezuelan entrants into the 2015 Copa Sudamericana. Eight teams are participating and following the next round, all will have been decided. For more information on how the competition works, check out the bottom of this article, but in the meantime, here are the results of the first legs of the first round of games (also played on 10 May):

Tucanes de Amazonas 0-0 Mineros de Guayana

Estudiantes de Mérida 1-2 Zamora

Carabobo 1-0 Aragua

Atlético Venezuela 1-0 Deportivo Lara

UPDATE:

On Wednesday 13 May, the second legs of these games were played. Here are the results:

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Tucanes de Amazonas (Mineros de Guayana won 3-0 on aggregate)

Zamora 4-2 Estudiantes de Mérida (Zamora won 6-3 on aggregate)

Aragua 0-0 Carabobo (Carabobo won 1-0 on aggregate)

Deportivo Lara 2-0 Atlético Venezuela (Deportivo Lara won 2-1 on aggregate)

Consequently, the two Copa Sudamericana places will be decided in two separate games over two legs played on 17 and 20 May. Mineros de Guayana will face Zamora and Carabobo will play against Deportivo Lara.

Carabobo’s Aquiles Ocanto Savagely Attacked on Pitch By Rival Fan

Before signing off, one feels obliged to briefly mention a rather unsavoury incident that occurred after the game between Aragua and Carabobo – two rival teams from neighbouring states. Aquiles Ocanto, the visitors’ top scorer in the league and whose goal in the first leg ultimately decided this tie, was the victim of a vicious assault by a fan after the game. Indeed, Ocanto was being interviewed live by a TeleAragua presenter on the pitch when suddenly an intruder ran up behind him and jumped, knees first, into the player’s back, savagely knocking him to the ground.

Video of Pitch Invader’s Assault of Aquiles Ocanto after Aragua 0-0 Carabobo, Serie Pre-Sudamericana (Venezuela), 13 May 2015 (courtesy of TeleAragua).

The offender has since allegedly been identified online and Ocanto, who made his international debut against Honduras in February, is reportedly fine with no serious injuries. Unsurprisingly this incident has made the news far outside of Venezuela’s borders with, amongst others, the websites of The Guardian and The Metro – two British publications – picking up the story. While this was certainly newsworthy, it is a pity that leagues off the radar of the average European fan only tend to be of interest to editors and journalists when something disgraceful or bizarre that has little to do with football occurs. Such is the way of the world. Nevertheless, in a humble attempt to go some way towards rectifying this, it is politely recommended that any readers who came to this website off the back of this story check out how the final day of the Venezuelan Torneo Clausura ended – who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Participation in the 2015 Copa Libertadores – Review

With the three Venezuelan teams, Zamora, Deportivo Táchira and Mineros de Guayana, having recently completed their Copa Libertadores campaigns, Hispanospherical.com inhales deeply and looks in detail at what was a largely dispiriting experience for all concerned.

zamoraflores

Bright Start: Following a sensational goal in their opening game, Zamora’s Arles Flores leads a well-choreographed celebration that received attention far outside of South America. Sadly, such Venezuelan joy was rarely to be seen in the remainder of the group stage (Imagery courtesy of the Metro and the Daily Mirror from this video).

Copa Libertadores 2015: Review of the Venezuelan Participants

18 games, 13 defeats, 4 draws and, following the very last match whose outcome will have thwarted the pre-planned narratives of obituary writers everywhere, 1 win. That was the record in this year’s Copa Libertadores group stage of the three Venezuelans sides, Zamora, Mineros de Guayana and Deportivo Táchira. A derisory performance even for the representatives of this nation of perennial outsiders and one that certainly stakes a claim to be their worst in the current format of the competition. Indeed, while the average number of points gained per match this year (0.3888) was marginally superior to 2012 (0.3333) and 2010 (0.25), the scale of their collective failure is unrivalled in recent history. This was, after all, the first time in eleven attempts that the team in the qualifying round (in this case, Táchira) successfully negotiated their way into the group stage, thus bringing the Venezuelan contingent to a dizzying three. Yet, having another six games to endure only appeared to prolong the misery as not only was it clear before the halfway point that none of the teams were likely to progress but that, between them, they ended up conceding a jarring 46 goals.

It was all a far cry from, say, 2007 when Caracas FC won at home and away against River Plate or, more significantly, 2009 when they and long-standing rivals Táchira gained 19 points between them, with the capital’s finest ultimately unfortunate to go out to Grêmio in the quarter-finals on away goals. Back then, while Venezuela’s footballing reputation was in the ascendancy, a far greater number of its talents remained at domestic clubs with some foreign suitors still maintaining their scepticism regarding their adaptability – something that has been decreasingly the case in recent years. Indeed, as with most successful sides in South America, their key personnel is always in the shop window, a factor that particularly disadvantaged the 2013/14 champions Zamora this time around. Given the well-documented problems of improving the competitiveness and quality of a league outside of the European elite, one can not help but fear that this year’s poor results – not entirely dissimilar to those in 2012 and 2010, albeit with an additional team – are part of a trend that is set to continue.

Nevertheless, what follows are summaries of the campaigns and most noteworthy performers of the three Venezuelans clubs who competed in this year’s Copa Libertadores, starting with the side most affected by the aforementioned issues. (Please note: to read match reports and view video highlights of every single game, click here or on the relevant links in the text below)

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El Blanquinegro, from Hugo Chávez’s home state of Barinas, came into the tournament as reigning two-time champions and were also leading the Torneo Clausura which, with just over a week to go, they still have a slight chance of winning (*Update: they did following their Libertadores exit but that is no longer the case – see footnote at the bottom for an update on the domestic situation). However, their second successive championship win in May 2014 was to swiftly be met with the departures of key individuals which were to have a significant impact on their showing in the Libertadores. Indeed, playmaker Pedro Ramírez – nicknamed by some as the ‘Venezuelan Messi’ largely for a mazy dribbled goal – joined Switzerland’s FC Sion, leading goalscorer Juan Falcón signed for Ligue 1’s FC Metz and defender Jonathan España opted to try his luck with Cyprus’ AEL Limassol. Other players, particularly those crucial to the rearguard, were to leave (more on them later) but the most keenly felt loss of all was undoubtedly that of manager Noel Sanvicente to the national side.

‘Chita’, to give him his affectionate moniker, not only won both titles with this club, but also brought home five championships between 2002 and 2010 for Caracas FC, where he also led their impressive Libertadores campaigns. His successor Juvencio Betancourt was to last just six league games and things were to get worse before they could get better under his replacement Julio Quintero, who was to take his charges to the foot of the Torneo Apertura in October before turning things around for a 12th-placed finish. Yet, while he has done well domestically in this year’s Clausura, with his side having been rarely out of the top three, he has achieved this largely with the remnants of last year’s squad along with one or two new faces who are simply not of the calibre of their predecessors.

Thus, to match last year’s respectable showing of seven Libertadores points was always going to be a tall order though, having been drawn into a group with Boca Juniors, Montevideo Wanderers and Palestino, the possibility of sneaking second spot behind the Argentines did not seem out of question. However, Zamora were to be all but ruled out of contention after just two games.

Indeed, they kicked things off with an opening-day visit to the Uruguayan capital in a game that was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the group stage, yielding five goals, five red cards and a memorable bowling-themed celebration that featured on news outlets based all over the globe. Things began promisingly with 19-year-old starlet Jhon Murillo firing the then ten-man visitors 1-0 up on the counter and even with 15 minutes left on the clock, they were leading 2-1 on what at that point had become a level playing field. However, the dream start was not to be as Panamanian international Luis Ovalle received his marching orders after conceding a penalty that was duly converted which, in turn, was swiftly followed up with what proved to be the winner.

Losing was a bitter enough pill to swallow but Murillo’s injury-time dismissal (two-game suspension) as well as those of two defenders (one-game suspension each) gave lollipop-licking Quintero future selection issues that he struggled to negotiate. The largely full Estadio Agustín Tovar crowd nevertheless carried into the Palestino game some optimism which was to be dashed as 17-year-old Yeferson Soteldo was to both impress and frustrate by missing a hat-trick’s worth of chances (hitting the woodwork twice) in a 1-0 loss. Even at this early stage, the Venezuelan champions looked to be heading out as not only did they have no points but their next two games were against the unanimous group favourites, Boca Juniors.

Expectations were matched, as both encounters were unmitigated disasters. The trip to La Bombonera ended 5-0, a scoreline that could have been easily doubled had the Argentines took all of their chances, with Dani Osvaldo, a man in thrall to the concept of flamboyance, particularly wasteful. That the Southampton-loanee was afforded such space to repeatedly attempt to score the kind of goal that would be permanently etched into the retinas of every bostero spoke volumes about Zamora’s defensive performance. This was to be little better in the reverse fixture despite having been ostensibly aided by the Argentines’ decision to leave several top stars, including Osvaldo, in Buenos Aires. Indeed, though the returning Murillo was to give the Venezuelans a surprise first-half lead, the Xeneizes swiftly shifted out of first gear after the interval and were to leave 5-1 winners and with their 100 per cent record in tact. Zamora captain Luis Vargas added to his side’s woes by being their fourth player to be red-carded in the competition, which was compounded by Montevideo Wanderers earning a draw in Chile, thus bringing their tally to seven points and eliminating the Venezuelans.

Their two remaining group games were played with a weary sense of obligation, as they were thrashed 4-0 at the hands of a driven Palestino, before being dispatched 3-0 at home by Wanderers in a lacklustre encounter that saw the Uruguayans snatch a knock-out spot. Judging by the paltry crowd at this final match – believed to be well under 1000 – there was little desire amongst the fans of La Furia Llanera to see their side restore some pride in either of these reverse fixtures by demonstrating that their two opening losses were not entirely fair reflections on the overall play.

When all was said and done, Zamora had lost every one of their six games – the worst record of any Venezuelan side to have participated in the current format of the competition. Particularly galling was their goal difference of -18, having shipped 21 goals that were only offset by a mere 3 strikes at the other end. This was in stark contrast to last year’s more even statistics, when 6 goals were both scored and conceded, from what was a markedly more difficult group, comprising of then-holders Atlético Mineiro of Brazil, Colombia’s Santa Fe and Nacional of the Paraguayan variety. A brief comparison of the positive results they achieved in this group serves to highlight the deficiences that were witnessed this year. Indeed, not only were they led by serial winner Sanvicente but the departed Juan Falcón also scored all four of his goals in these games, netting the decisive goal in the 2-1 home win over Santa Fe, as well as both in the 2-2 draw in Colombia and the opener in the 2-0 victory in Barinas over Nacional. This year, Zamora did not possess an adequate replacement for their erstwhile marksman, with the only striker brought in being January-recruit Santiago Bello from the Uruguayan second-tier, who was to feature in four games in this edition – three times from the bench – without finding the net.

Last year, Pedro Ramírez also chipped in with a goal and some creativity, something that was also noticeably lacking this time around. However, arguably the most significant change from the previous campaign was to be found at the back, as the majority of those who featured regularly in 2014 left at the end of the season. Indeed, goalkeeper Yáñez Angulo as well as the defenders Hugo Soto, Javier López, Layneker Safra and Jonathan España have all since moved on, with most, if not all, of those filling their boots this year evidently not up to scratch. Having two defenders sent off in the first game – including Ovalle, who actually played five times in last year’s group stage – and the subsequent suspensions certainly did not help either.

Ultimately, if anything positive can be extracted from this season’s experience it will soon again be taken away from them. Jhon Murillo, the temperamental, dribbling winger who often drifts into more central positions, scored twice in his four appearances and has long been linked with a move abroad, with Torino and Celta Vigo the most recently touted destinations. Yeferson Soteldo, at just 17, could well follow suit in the not-too-distant future as though he may not have taken the chances that came his way, he was a lively presence and has become a regular starter in the league. That he has done so may instead prove in the long run to be further evidence of his club’s lack of depth at this particular time and given their rather humble means, fans must be wondering whether the good times enjoyed under Sanvicente will even be able to return anytime soon.

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Much enthusiasm from both domestic scribes as well as casual observers from afar greeted Táchira’s history-making 4-3 aggregate win against Paraguay’s six-time semi-finalists Cerro Porteño. For the first time since the current format was introduced in 2005, there were to be three, not two, Venezuelan sides to follow in the Copa Libertadores group stage. Drawn into a group containing another Paraguayan side, Guaraní, as well as Peruvians Sporting Cristal, a Round of 16 berth appeared eminently attainable. Seemingly bolstering their chances was the retention of the vast majority of the side that finished third in the 2014 aggregate table coupled with some useful additions, such as goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind and veteran international Jorge Rojas – the latter of whom scored a bona fide golazo in the first leg against Cerro.

The first game soon punctured this optimism, as a full-capacity Pueblo Nuevo was to witness a comprehensive 5-0 thrashing led by the superb partnership of Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou for Argentine champions Racing, the undisputed top dogs in the group. Immediately following this rude awakening, doubts that before the Cerro games had been regularly expressed resurfaced and at a higher volume. Indeed, in the Torneo Apertura, Táchira had contrived to throw away a commanding mid-point lead, not winning in their final eight games and finishing 11th, rendering manager Daniel Farías virtually a dead man walking. Furthermore, even the most partisan follower of Los Aurinegros would have to confess that their side rode their luck in the second leg against Cerro. Thus, in light of the car-crash performance against Racing, their response would be crucial.

For their second game, they travelled to Lima to face Sporting Cristal. Few lessons appeared to have been learned as the Peruvian champions took a first-half lead and were to comfortably dominate the play. However, with under five minutes remaining, they were made to pay for their profligacy as César González stepped up to curl a 25-yard free-kick into the back of the net. Grippingly for the neutral, there was to be further drama, though not a twist, as Renzo Sheput stepped up deep into stoppage-time to take a penalty but was to be spectacularly denied by Liebeskind as the Venezuelans held on.

Perhaps not the most deserved of points, but Táchira at least exhibited some backbone, essential ahead of their journey back to Asunción where this time they faced then-Apertura leaders Guaraní. Initially, despite conceding an early goal things appeared promising as ‘Maestrico’ González scored again to level up the score at 1-1 after just 17 minutes. However, they were to be blitzed by three goals in six first-half minutes and were to ultimately walk away smarting from a 5-2 defeat. Subsequently, the following week Zamora were to receive their second five-goal bashing from Boca and these games, along with Táchira’s comparable experiences here in Paraguay and against Racing, were to do sizeable damage to the reputation of Venezuelan domestic football on the continent.

Pessimism thus returned to the side representing the Colombia-bordering state of the same name. Progression began to feel like a fantasy from another age and next up was more potential embarrassment in the home fixture against Guaraní. However, to the relief of many, Farías’ men were to put in a far more respectable showing and could well have won it. A 21st-minute penalty was converted by experienced international González, thus providing him with his third goal in four matches. Lady Fortune appeared to be on their side when, after 32 minutes, Federico Santander’s spot-kick was saved by Liebskind which, at that point, was remarkably his fourth penalty stop since joining the club from Portuguesa just two months prior. However, nine minutes later, he was unable to improve on this statistic as Julián Benítez took command of a similar situation and buried the ball from the 12-yard spot. Despite being pegged back, Táchira were to have the better of the second half, though with just over 15 minutes to go Farías was to unintentionally abdicate any chance of winning the game by replacing his side’s most consistent threat, winger Yohandry Orozco. Consequently, ‘Fuera  Farías’ and ‘Farías hijo de puta’ were just two of the chants that were to be voiced by the home support and clearly captured for home-viewing around the continent up until the final whistle confirmed a 1-1 draw. As if to vindicate the angry hordes, the awarding of the Man of the Match prize indeed went to Orozco, a diminutive individual who just a few years ago was considered the next big thing of Venezuelan football.

At this point, Táchira were all-but-out and a 0-0 home draw against Cristal removed the miniscule and unvoiced doubt. Though overall it was as enthralling an encounter as it sounds and played in front of a ground well under half full, the hosts did have chances to pick up their first win. Indeed, firstly at the beginning of the second half, Orozco curled a fine free-kick against the post that was converted on the rebound by Uruguayan forward Pablo Olivera from an offside position (where he was to lurk wth frustrating frequency). Not long afterwards, Olivera was to receive a gilt-edged opportunity from a low cross by Orozco, yet from little more than six yards out he was to somehow direct it wide.

With their final game being away to Racing, the opportunity to give their fans at least something to smile about appeared to have been missed. Yet, remarkably, with 50 minutes on the clock, José Alí Meza, a regular impact substitute who was starting only his second Libertadores game this year, was to put Táchira into a shock 2-0 lead. Irrespective of the caveats involved, this was shaping up to be one of the most impressive results in the history of Venezuelan participation in this competition. Alas, it was not to be as, with twenty minutes remaining, the Argentine champions were back on level terms. In response, Farías, having already withdrawn Meza on the hour-mark, was to further enhance his reputation for unambitious substitutions with the removal of González and Orozco in the closing stages. Yet, with the score still at 2-2 when regulation time was up,  this was still shaping up to be a credible point. However, seconds into stoppage-time, 20-year-old goalkeeper José Contreras (who had played in the previous match as well), committed a calamitous error that may just haunt him for the rest of his career, as he let a relatively tame effort from Brian Fernández slip under him and inch over the line.

A gutting loss, every bit as soul-destroying as the reverse fixture was humiliating. Although their overall record may not have told the full story, Táchira had nevertheless failed to win, picking up as many draws as defeats and conceding 15 goals along the way. Aside from having scored two more goals this time around, this record was otherwise identical to the last time they reached the group stage – 2012 – not to mention a marginal improvement on the two points gained the previous year. However, it was a far cry from the nine-point haul of 2009, not to mention the remarkable undefeated group stage performance and run to the quarter-finals in 2004, a year that had a slightly different format that granted Venezuela three automatic entries.

If the Libertadores is considered to be a platform to advertise a player’s talents, quite where such a disappointing campaign leaves Táchira’s leading lights is difficult to surmise. Wilker Ángel, a 22-year-old centre-back who last year made his international debut and was rumoured to be interesting teams in South America and Europe, will not have done himself any favours by being on the field in both five-goal reversals. Yohandry Orozco, 24, had his creative moments and unsettled at least some of the defenders he ran at, yet while a move to another side on the continent does not seem out of the question, one does not anticipate another European side of note to be clamouring for his signature after his forgettable two-year spell at Wolfsburg. Gelmin Rivas, the club’s top scorer whose two goals in Asunción ensured their advancement to the competition proper, had been attracting attention from Belgium but, though he has 20 league goals, he could not find the net once in his three group game starts. Two of the most impressive performers, César González and, with some qualifications given the number of goals conceded, Alan Liebeskind, are both in their thirties and unlikely to be top of the lists of those looking for long-term value.

Ultimately, although this campaign was no worse than the last two occasions they reached this phase, Táchira will surely still be rather disappointed at the two hidings that they endured as well as not getting more out of at least two of the three games that they drew. Nevertheless, they must now dust themselves off as, with the Clausura ending on 3 May, they retain a significant chance of winning the title and thus securing another opportunity to right some wrongs in next year’s Libertadores.*

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Comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league going into this competition, Mineros were to end their Libertadores campaign with the most respectable results, the most points and, at the very last opportunity, the only win. This, despite never reaching the group stage in the present format (two qualifying round losses in 2005 and 2008 were the closest that they had come), sacking a second manager of the season during the competition and ending their participation as still comfortably the worst-performing Venezuelan side in the league. Indeed, though Richard Páez, former national team manager (2001-07) led them to finish top of the 2013 Torneo Apertura and the 2013/14 Aggregate Table as well as end up as the overall runners-up, he was out of the door by late September. His first six games of the season had been deemed unsatisfactory, but his replacement Marcos Mathías had little joy attempting to return his charges to their former level. Instead, they finished the Apertura in 6th and commenced their participation in the Libertadores while occupying a mediocre mid-table position in the Torneo Clausura.

It has been something of a quandary attempting to decipher what precisely is wrong in Puerto Ordaz as while they did lose a star from last season in the form of international midfielder Alejandro Guerra (more on him later), that alone can not account for their slump. Indeed, they had also brought in some quality players at the beginning of the Apertura, such as first-choice international left-back Gabriel Cichero. At the start of the Clausura, they also added two key members of Trujillanos’ Apertura title-winning team, defender Edixon Cuevas and striker James Cabezas.

Nevertheless, given their underwhelming form, they entered their first game away to Argentina’s Huracán as firm underdogs. Yet, though they were on the backfoot for at least two-thirds of the match, some of the considerable experience in their ranks came to the fore as they frustrated the Copa Argentina winners before ultimately coming within a minute of emerging victorious. Indeed, against the run of play, Colombian forward Zamir Valoyes gave them a 22nd-minute lead from a free-kick and though they were pegged back, come the final thirty minutes, their absorption of Argentine attacks had appeared to exhaust the hosts of ideas. Subsequently, they started to make a go for it and, remarkably, after some close scrapes, Valoyes netted again from a penalty (of admittedly dubious origin). Alas, not for the only time in this year’s competition, a Venezuelan side was to shoot themselves in the foot as a last-minute spot-kick was conceded and then converted as the honours ended even.

Even so, a point in Buenos Aires can never be sniffed at and so going into their home game against Club Universitario de Sucre – champions of Bolivia, whose teams are not renowned for travelling well – there were ample reasons to anticipate victory. Instead, what transpired was a largely dreary, horror show of tedium that was short on chances, enlivened only by an appalling fumble by Mineros goalkeeper Rafael Romo that gifted the visitors the only goal and the first Bolivian Libertadores win in Venezuela since 1994. Having also made a rather glaring error in the Huracán game, as well as some recent miscalculations in the league, the home supporters were in an unforgiving mood and proceeded to boo the international’s every touch until the end of the match. To make matters worse, several minutes later, the preceding week’s two-goal hero Valoyes was given a straight red card for an excruciating midfield challenge, ruling himself out of the next game. Capping off a tension-filled night, when the final whistle was blown there were plenty of calls for the head of manager Mathías. While the fans did not get their wish immediately, two weeks later following a mid-March 5-2 domestic thrashing by Táchira, they did, with assistant Tony Franco instead handed an opportunity until the end of the season.

His first task a couple of days after taking the reins could hardly have been greater. A home match against Brazilian champions Cruzeiro would be daunting for almost any side yet, though they were to ultimately lose 2-0, they actually acquitted themselves rather admirably and could come away with their dignity in tact. After Leandro Damião opened the scoring in the 12th minute, Mineros immediately fought back and created many opportunities throughout the game, looking like they may sneak a draw until Marquinhos sealed the win with seven minutes remaining. The reverse fixture in Belo Horizonte was to reflect not quite so favourably on the Venezuelans as two superb goals early on from Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Damião opened up the possibility of a trouncing of the magnitude Táchira and Zamora both twice endured. However, though Henrique got a third in the 73rd minute, Mineros can perhaps feel some contentment in their relative resilience – something their compatriots could perhaps learn from in preparation for future Libertadores clashes.

Despite these credible performances, they were nevertheless losses and their fifth game, away to Club Universitario in the high altitude of Sucre, is where their already faint hopes of making it out of the group evaporated. In a game somewhat more entertaining than the reverse fixture, a goal at the end of each half gave the Bolivians the victory and put them in with a strong chance of qualifying from the group. However, on the final matchday they were to face a trip to Brazil, whereas another of their rivals, Huracán, travelled to Venezuela, with the Bolivians knowing that if they lost and the Argentines won, they would be eliminated.

Yet, though they were to succumb to Cruzeiro 2-0, they were to owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mineros de Guayana who, in the very last group game contested by a Venezuelan side this year, surprised some by claiming the first – and only – victory for their nation. Indeed, as in Buenos Aires, while Huracán were to enjoy plenty of time on the ball, they were to struggle to create clear-cut chances with the Mineros defence largely blocking them off. Valoyes was to repeat his Argentine feats here by scoring another two goals – this time both before the half-time whistle – with international midfielder Rafael Acosta getting a third in the second half. Huracán’s players and coaching staff as well as many in the international media were visibly stunned at this 3-0 reversal, yet one can not help but feel their opponents were unjustly underestimated. While Mineros were playing without four or five first-team regulars and were already out of the competition, they did nevertheless achieve a 2-2 draw in February against the Argentines, who in turn, should perhaps be considered a second-tier Argentine side, given they sit 25th in the bloated 30-team domestic top-flight. Indeed, that all of Mineros’ five goals and four points came against Huracán should cause the men from Parque Patricios to pause to ponder in order to avoid heading back to the second division they were playing in last season.

Given the standard of this opposition, Mineros’ status as the best-performing Venezuelan side can easily be criticised. Indeed, even with their relatively respectable results against Cruzeiro, one has to bear in mind that the Brazilian giants have only scored more than three goals in any competitive game once since last August (and that occurred against Mineiro State Championship side Villa Nova who, nationally, compete in Série D). Nevertheless, it could be that the experience many players in this team possess of playing in the Libertadores as underdogs in the past for other Venezuelan sides facilitated their occasional strategic recognition of their shortcomings and defensive approaches. Indeed, at the back, the thirtysomethings Gabriel Cichero, Julio Machado and Edixon Cuevas as well as 41-year-old Luis Vallenilla all brought considerable know-how to this area of the pitch. Highly decorated Edgar Jiménez, who played for Caracas FC from 2003-2012, also certainly knew his way through such games while, in his case, sitting in front of the back four. Thus, while their goal difference was nothing to celebrate, their concession of a comparatively respectable ten goals was considerably better than the defences of Zamora and Táchira fared and may owe something to their experience and organisation of these players.

However, most of these individuals will not be anticipating life-changing foreign transfers as, like 29-year-old top scorer Valoyes, age is not really on their side. For the Colombian striker, a minor move at some point to his homeland to the west may not be entirely out of the question, but if any major scouts witnessed his side’s games, their attention may have instead been directed towards two of his younger team-mates. Indeed, Ángelo Peña, 25, whose jinking runs, diagonal balls and incisive passes often caught the eye, has already played in Brazil and Portugal and if he can be more consistent in his form then he may well depart for a third overseas adventure. In the long-term, 18-year-old left-sided midfielder Luis Guerra may well prove to have the brightest future, though it is difficult to tell at this early stage. Currently in his debut season, he only really came to prominence in the final game against Huracán – his first Libertadores start – but he put in a noteworthy performance, particularly with his role in the second goal which involved a run up the flank that bypassed three players.

Whether he turns out to be yet another winger of the week remains to be seen but as much as the fans will have gained some confidence from his side’s final game, this has been a season to forget for Mineros. Their fall from grace has been rather depressing to witness and despite having gained this rare opportunity to show the continent what they are capable of, their domestic position ensures that they will not be granted a second bite at the cherry next year. If there is a saving grace, however, it is that they possess a higher budget than most of their rivals. Indeed, despite their poor Apertura showing, they were still able to snap up Cabezas and Cuevas, two of the star men of the winners, Trujillanos. Though such purchases can not be said to have been a success thus far, the agitated Mineros fans will be hoping, if not demanding, that their resources are utilised with more acumen ahead of next season.

Down But Not Entirely Out: Venezuelans Abroad Flying the Flag 

Although all three Venezuelan teams have been eliminated, there still remains a Venezuelan interest in the tournament as attention will now solely be on their compatriots at two teams from their westerly neighbours, Colombia. Indeed, starting with the 2014 Finalización winners Santa Fe, left-sided international midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas currently plies his trade here and is often a first-team regular. Unfortunately, he has recently had problems with injuries and so could only make two brief appearances in his side’s group games – both of which were victories over Atlas of Mexico. However, though Santa Fe lost both of their games against Atlético Mineiro, they twice defeated Chilean champions Colo-Colo to end up winners of Group 1 with 12 points. Through to the Round of 16, they – and hopefully a fully fit Seijas – will now face Argentina’s Estudiantes de La Plata, with the first leg taking place in the Buenos Aires Province on 5 May and the reverse fixture in Bogotá on 12 May.

Also through to the knock-out stage is Alejandro Guerra, who may be able to pass his Vinotinto team-mate some notes as his side Atlético Nacional (2014 Apertura champions) finished top of Group 7, ahead of Estudiantes. In all, he featured in five games – only missing the 2-2 opening matchday draw away to Paraguay’s Libertad – and made his most notable contribution as an acrobatic goalscoring substitute in a 2-1 win away in Guayaquil against Barcelona. While he also started in an entertaining 3-2 home reversal inflicted upon them by the Ecuadorians, he had more positive experiences in a 1-0 away win and a 1-1 home draw against Estudiantes, as well as a 4-0 home thumping over Libertad, which sealed their progression. Furthermore, Jonathan Copete, a Colombian by birth but who has played at length in Venezuela and has been in talks to represent the nation, scored the last goal in this game. Both he and Guerra now look forward to a two-legged tie with Barcelona’s Clásico del Astillero rivals Emelec, returning to Guayaquil for the first leg on 7 May before taking the Ecuadorians back to Medellín on 14 May.

Drawn in eminently winnable match-ups, Venezuelans will be hoping that their leading representatives on the continent will be able to continue to fly the flag in this premier competition for some time yet.

*Torneo Clausura Update (17 May 2014): As this article was written when most domestic teams had 2-3 games remaining, hopefully readers will find an update on the league situation helpful. After a breathtakingly dramatic climax, Táchira claimed the title, with Caracas a very narrow 2nd and Zamora in 3rd. Subsequently, Táchira beat Trujillanos in the Gran Final to be crowned the overall 2014/15 champions of Venezuela. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (21 April 2015)

Tuesday 21 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán

Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz

Highlights of Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 21 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Victory, At Last: Huracán Dreams Shattered by Clinical Mineros

Mineros de Guayana may have already been eliminated from this year’s Copa Libertadores yet while few fans turned up to see them formally bow out, those that did were rewarded with the first (and only) victory by a Venezuelan team in this year’s competition.

This came at the 18th (6th, specifically for Mineros) and final attempt in a match that meant considerably more to their Argentine opponents who, had they won, would have joined Brazilian champions Cruzeiro in the next round. Alas, it was not to be, as they failed to take advantage of the hosts’ low morale and absence of several first-team regulars, all of whom are recent internationals: Gabriel Cichero, Edgar Jiménez, Richard Blanco and Rafael Romo (not to mention 41-year-old Luis Vallenilla, even if his last cap for La Vinotinto was over seven years ago). Instead, the Bolivian champions Club Universitario de Sucre progressed.

While Huracán initially took the game to the Venezuelans and were to perhaps edge possession in the first half, they went behind in the 10th minutes. The goal originated in a corner from Ángelo Peña, a talented individual with international experience and brief spells in Portugal and Brazil under his belt. He was to have a memorable game roaming all across the line behind the very tip of the Mineros attack, feeding in his team-mates on numerous occasions. His cross from the left was headed straight back to him but, undeterred, he swiftly left a defender for dead before inching into the area where he chipped a delightful ball over the goalkeeper to the back post where it was headed in by Colombian Zamir Valoyes.

For the visitors and many neutrals at least, this was not in the script. Six minutes later, the Argentines briefly thought they were level when Federico Vismara quickly took a free-kick that was knocked into the area for Ramón Ábila to tap in. However, the striker – nicknamed ‘Wanchope’ after the ex-Costa Rican international with what is apparently a disconcerting lack of irony – was offside and the goal was ruled out. Ábila was to frustrate fans, team-mates and coaching staff alike with his positioning throughout the game, repeatedly being ruled offside – a familiar story for those who have watched him regularly this season in the domestic Primera División.

For the following twenty minutes, the many Argentine forays into Venezuelan territory struggled to legally bypass the opposition’s back line or culminate with a testing shot on goal. Most crosses were blocked and/or headed out and while Ábila wormed a relatively harmless attempt wide, the majority of efforts stopped by goalkeeper Luis Romero were struck from a distance. By contrast, Mineros were to have clearer sights of goal, working two opportunities in quick succession from similar positions on the left inside the area. The first, after 34 minutes, fell to goalscorer Valoyes but, though he had a defender hot on his heels, he should have done better than blazing over the crossbar. Two minutes later, Edson Castillo was played through and did well to aim a left-footed shot across goal that provoked a rather theatrical parry from Marcos Díaz.

Throughout this half, though the Argentine domestic strugglers often attacked with intent, with the final key pass or cross eluding a forward, they were often conceding a great deal of space that was exploited by the likes of Peña and a few other team-mates who were to also put in good performances. Three of these were to combine impressively for the second goal on the 40th-minute mark. Indeed, Luis Guerra, an 18-year-old in his debut season, embarked on an eye-catching run that began in his own half and proceeded up the left-channel, evading three challenges along the way. Upon reaching the edge of the area, he played the ball towards the dee to Venezuela international Rafael Acosta, who swiftly arced it to Valoyes on the right, who in turn, confidently hit an exquisite shot with the outside of his foot to make it 2-0. The Colombian had scored his fourth goal in this year’s Copa Libertadores – all of which have come against the Argentines.

Two goals down and not even half-time, Huracán were heading out. The best they could muster in the five minutes before the interval was a header from Ábila that went marginally wide of the near post – albeit, once again from an offside position. Such transgressions by ‘El Wanchope’ and his team-mates as well as other decisions going against the visitors were to continue in the second half. Indeed, after another offside goal – this time netted in the 54th minute by Chilean  Edson Puch –  the coaching staff were visibly animated and, following each sounding of the whistle, continued to be as what was anticipated to be an historical day turned increasingly sour.

Their side persevered with their ever-fruitless attacks while affording the hosts more and more space to counter. Luis Guerra was always seeking ways to take advantage of this and he was to contribute further to his memorable performance in the 66th minute when he had a hand in the third and final goal. On the left, he cut into the area, turned back from the byline and, with his right foot, squeezed a ball through to Acosta whose first shot was blocked, only to come back to him to strike home into the net. 3-0, game over. The players on the away bench were utterly stunned and, in the aftermath, could do little but stare with their hands on their heads as the ramifications of this missed opportunity sunk in.

In the remainder of the game, each side had at least another notable long range effort but the one chance that perhaps summed up Huracán’s miserable day came with just over ten minutes left. Half-time substitute Cristian Espinoza – who impressed on the wing in Argentina’s victorious Sudamericano Sub-20 side earlier this year – chipped in a ball that Ábila, eight yards out and unmarked, contrived to head wide of the far post.

The final whistle marked a game to forget for the visitors. Many neutrals as well as Argentines were rather rash to proclaim this result to be a surprise, if not an embarrassment. Seemingly, they were forgetting the 2-2 draw in Buenos Aires back in February and somewhat overstating the reputation of Huracán, a newly promoted side who currently reside in 25th in a bloated 30-team division. This club was unable to stop Zamir Valoyes scoring twice in both Argentina and Venezuela which, along with Rafael Acosta’s strike, constituted the only times Mineros de Guayana managed to find the net in this year’s Copa Libertadores. As these five strikes also generated the only four points the Venezuelans gained in the tournament, the Argentines would do well to show a little more humility.

For Mineros, while the result can not be said to have been a complete surprise, given they were playing for nothing and 4-5 first-team regulars were missing, not many would have anticipated that they would have won by three goals. Given this game was the final one contested by Venezuelan teams and marked the solitary group stage win, following a winless run of 18, one must try not to read too much into it. Mineros are struggling domestically, they have sacked two managers this season and will not be competing in next year’s Libertadores; with only three league games left, it is unlikely this game will have much significance in the long run.

Nevertheless, they did well to salvage some pride and no doubt spoil the ’18 games, 0 wins’ narratives of planned obituaries for the three Venezuelan teams. One such review – albeit, marginally more level-headed – of the campaigns of Mineros de Guayana, Zamora and Deportivo Táchira will be appearing on this website in the upcoming days, so please keep returning to the site for that as well as much more.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (14 April 2015)

Tuesday 14 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana

Estadio Olímpico Patria, Sucre

Goal Highlights of Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 14 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Mineros Depart as Universitario Continue to Impress

Though they put in a spirited performance in the altitude of Sucre, Mineros’ Copa Libertadores exit was confirmed by two goals, both of which came towards the end of each half.

The first half was fairly even, with the Bolivians marginally edging it overall though it was the visitors from Venezuela that had the first chance of note. In the fifth minute, international striker Richard Blanco managed to get a shot away within the area from an acute angle that Chilean goalkeeper Raúl Olivares parried out. A couple of minutes later up the other end, Miguel Suárez curled a left-footed shot from the right edge of the area a yard or two wide of the far post.

A quarter of an hour in, Colombian striker Leonardo Castro had the hosts’ next opportunity but, though he received a dinked ball in a promising position, he leant back and blazed over. Five minutes later the Bolivians were to have their best moment thus far, with a header forcing Mineros goalkeeper Rafael Romo to pull off a fine save. However, following some pressure from the visitors, including a couple of corners, there was to be a temporary halt to proceedings in the 26th minute when some of the floodlights abruptly went out.

Three minutes later they were back on and soon afterwards, Mineros were to have their brightest chance of the half. This came when Blanco roamed forward on the inside-right and squared the ball to Ebby Pérez but instead of going for a shot or taking the ball confidently in his stride, he instead went a little wayward. Indeed, he struggled to take command of the situation and his lack of control led to him having to knock the ball back unconvincingly from the touchline towards a team-mate who was unable to get a shot on target.

However, though the Venezuelans were to continue to attack, the Bolivians were to make the breakthrough just before the interval. From a deep position on the inside-right, Rubén Cuesta chipped a free-kick into the area where Castro headed low and hard into the net to ensure his side left the pitch with a spring in their step.

Given their respectable showing, one doubts there were any verbal fireworks inside the Mineros dressing room, though there were some actual ones outside in the Universitario stands as the hosts appeared to be celebrating their final home group game (and a fine showing from their side). The pyrotechnics continued in a similarly well-contested half, with the first chance coming from the hosts five minutes in as Castro hit a shot with pace from 25 yards that was at a good height for Romo, who parried wide.

Ten minutes into the second period, Mineros had a couple of opportunites that both derived from the crosses of  Pérez. The first was headed comfortably over by centre-back Julio Machado whereas the second was somewhat closer to the mark, being nodded 2-3 yards wide of the far post by half-time substitute Zamir Valoyes.

However, far nearer the target was Ezequiel Filippetto’s gilt-edged chance that he was presented with in the 63rd minute. A corner was swung in, then headed on to the back post where the Argentine defender stretched for the ball but could only limply knock it wide of the goal. An opportunity to double the lead was certainly missed, though the hosts ploughed on and were to have the next significant chance six minutes later but Romo was equal to the powerful shot that was driven at him from just outside the area.

The Bolivians were nearly made to pay for Filippetto’s miss with just 15 minutes remaining on the clock when Blanco made space for himself on the edge of the area and hit a well-struck effort that was tipped over by Olivares.

However, ultimately they were to leave victorious and made sure of their win with five minutes remaining when a long ball was pumped forward up the left channel. This was flicked on just outside the area where Mineros substitute Edson Castillo erroneously ran onto it, unthinkingly nodding into the path of Suárez who rounded Romo to wrap up the game with a 2-0 win.

Thus, with one more date of fixtures to be played in this group, Universitario surprisingly top the group with 9 points, though their final opponents Cruzeiro (8 points) may well depose them. There also still remains the chance that the Bolivians may fail to reach the knock-out stage as third-placed side Huracán (7 points) will certainly retain firm hopes of qualifying. However, their final game, an away match against Mineros (1 point), may not be as plain sailing as some casual observers may presume, given the Venezuelans nearly beat them in Buenos Aires in February.

Whether Tpny Franco (who took over from Marcos Mathías in mid-March) feels potentially thwarting the Argentines is worth the bother remains to be seen though with a mere one point from five games, a morale-boosting performance may be deemed necessary. Indeed, domestically, they languish in ninth and are well on course to finish mid-table in the aggregate league – a far cry from the form under Richard Páez that gained them their place in this year’s competition: winning the 2013 Apertura, finishing 2013/14 runners-up and topping the aggregate table.

As always, irrespective of what happens, be sure to continue following what is left of the campaigns of the three Venezuelan sides – Deportivo Táchira, Zamora FC and Mineros de Guayana – on this website as well as on the affiliated Twitter account @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Cruzeiro 3-0 Mineros de Guayana – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (8 April 2015)

Wednesday 8 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Cruzeiro 3-0 Mineros de Guayana

Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais

Goal Highlights of Cruzeiro 3-0 Mineros de Guayana, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 8 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Early Super Strikes Stun Mineros

Any hopes Mineros de Guayana had of frustrating the Brazilian champions were devastatingly dashed by two superb early goals in quick succession as Cruzeiro ultimately ran out three-goal victors.

Despite the wealth disparity between the two sides, the Venezuelans put in a respectable account of themselves in the opening ten minutes, not looking overawed or overran. Alas, a spectacular goal out of nothing soon changed that in the 13th minute. The promising Uruguayan international Giorgian De Arrascaeta, recently recruited from Defensor Sporting, was the scorer, latching onto a header from right-back Mayke and then improvising a sensational overhead-kick. Barely a minute later, Leandro Damião doubled the lead as a throw-in on the left by Chilean international Eugenio Mena fell into his path in the area and he took one touch before unleashing a superb right-footed strike past Rafael Romo.

Faced with this early double whammy, Mineros struggled to regain their focus in the aftermath and thus an embarrassing pasting of the magnitude that their compatriots at Zamora and Deportivo Táchira have eached suffered more than once in this year’s group stage seemed probable. Indeed, the two goalscorers were to regularly link up with Alisson, Willian and other team-mates to almost extend their side’s lead, with De Arrascaeta often playing a pivotal role, playing incisive through-balls from distance.

However, as the half wore on, the Venezuelans at least managed to interject with some forward forays of their own, with two attacks in particular almost leading to goals. The first of these came on 31 minutes when striker Richard Blanco chipped a ball to the edge of the area from the right that the incoming Angelo Peña – formerly of Brazilian outfit Náutico Capibaribe – headed agonisingly wide of the post. Then, not long before the whistle blew for the interval, Alberto Cabello was to have the visitors’ second chance of note which this time was a low strike, though this too was to go marginally wide of the woodwork.

After the break, while the visitors were not entirely subdued, the Brazilians were nonetheless rather comfortable, linking up well in attack and creating chances here and there. One such notable opportunity came ten minutes into the half when Henrique cut onto his right on the left and struck a low shot that Romo did well to save. Eight minutes later, the third-choice Venezuela goalkeeper also did well to block off a sneaky encroachment into the area along the left byline by Damião. Futhermore, the Cruzeiro forward was also to force the best save out of Romo in the 72nd minute when he received De Arrascaeta’s chipped ball on the right of the area and hit a rasping low shot that flicked off the goalkeeper’s glove and out. However, from the resulting corner, Romo and his team-mates were to be instantly deflated as Henrique, aided by a deflection, headed the ball into the back of the net, thus killing any doubts regarding the result, if indeed there were any.

In the 79th minute, Zamir Valoyes was to cut in from the right onto his left, hitting a fine shot that went just wide of the far post, but ultimately such efforts were too little too late for Mineros, with this game having effectively been decided within 15 minutes.

Nevertheless, despite the early setbacks, Mineros deserve some credit for not wilting in the Mineirão and maintaining some pride. With two games left, they remain the only Venezuelan side with a chance of qualifying to the knock-out stage, though as they trail the second-placed side, Club Universitario – their next opponents – by five points, they may share the fates of Zamora and Deportivo Táchira by the time next week is over. Nevertheless, irrespective of the outcome of this particular game, be sure to check back on this site and/or @DarrenSpherical for further updates on the progress of these three teams in the 2015 Copa Libertadores.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Mineros de Guayana 0-2 Cruzeiro – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (19 March 2015)

Thursday 19 March 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Mineros de Guayana 0-2 Cruzeiro

Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz

Highlights of Mineros de Guayana 0-2 Cruzeiro, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 19 March 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user mateus3712)

Cruzeiro Made to Work for Victory in Venezuela

Brazilian champions Cruzeiro scored their first goals and also achieved their opening win of this year’s Copa Libertadores, though they had to survive a few scares before they could be assured of victory.

Mineros de Guayana, despite last time around being booed off following a dismal home defeat to Bolivia’s Club Universitario, put in a spirited performance and will feel disappointed not to have at least got on the scoresheet. They were anything but reticent, from the off letting their illustrious opponents know that they would be in for a game, with their first chance coming after 11 minutes when a low cross into the goalmouth was only cut out at the last moment.

However, the hosts never took for granted the task they were facing and just a minute later the Brazilians champions were to fulfil most pre-match predictions when they took the lead. Marquinhos – arguably Cruzeiro’s best player – bombed down the right, played a ball back for the Uruguayan Giorgian De Arrascaeta. His shot was blocked by goalkeeper Rafael Romo but fell straight to Leandro Damião, who headed it home. The Brazilian and erstwhile transfer target for European sides including the England trio of Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool has seen his career stall somewhat since he impressed at the 2012 Olympic Games and received some senior call-ups in the subsequent year. Nevertheless, he has started his Cruzeiro career with an impressive haul of six goals in six games in the State Championships and will be pleased to have got his new side’s first Libertadores goal of 2015.

To their enormous credit – and unlike the two other Venezuelan sides in this year’s competition – Mineros did not crumble after conceding an early goal against one of the contintent’s heavyweights. Instead, they were to continue with their forward forays throughout the half, with some of their most notable chances including Ebby Peréz’s deflected shot from a promising position after good work from Richard Blanco, James Cabezas controlling a long ball in the area before getting roughed off it by Eugenio Mena and Cabezas also having a header saved down low. The best opportunity to get back on level terms, however, came in the 34th minute when Ángelo Peña’s knockback into the area bamboozled the entire defence and goalkeeper, falling to 41-year-old right-back Luis Vallenilla. No more than ten yards out with a clear shot on goal, he struck low only to be denied at the foot of the near post by Fábio.

When the whistle blew for the interval, Mineros could feel relatively satisfied with their efforts, being still very much in the game and having only the goal and a late Romo miscalculation from a cross to really concern them.

After the restart, the hosts continued to search for an equaliser and while they were to enjoy much space in opposition territory, they were to leave themselves increasingly open to counter-attacks. One scare of this particular kind that they narrowly avoided came nine minutes into the half when De Arrascaeta freed into space Marquinhos, who drove into the area before his low shot was well saved by the outstretched leg of Romo.

Mineros were to have a half-chance a few minutes later when international left-back Gabriel Cichero suddenly emerged late in the area unmarked to head a diagonal ball from Peréz just over.

Mineros ploughed on but Cruzeiro were to have the next major chance of the match when, in the 67th minute, young attacker Alisson gained some space on the left inside the area and took aim, forcing goalkeeper Romo to pull off a decent save. While the goalkeeper was not to enjoy a flawless game, it was nevertheless a morale-boosting performance for Romo, who had been at fault for goals conceded in his side’s opening two group games. Indeed, after he fumbled the game-winning goal to Leonardo Castro in the previous encounter at home to Club Universitario, he suffered the ignominy of having his every touch booed by his own fans until the final whistle.

Despite such scares, the hosts continued their assaults in and around the Cruzeiro area and ten minutes later caused some nerves in the opposition backline to jangle when a series of crosses went back-and-forth, though no finish was forthcoming.

However, Mineros’ valiant efforts were to unfortunately come to nothing as the match was to be settled in the 83rd minute. Chilean international left-back Eugenio picked up the ball, played a one-two with Damião on the edge of the area and then put in a low cross from the left where, in the middle, Marquinhos just about ensured the ball crossed the line.

Blanco nearly managed to round Fábio late on, but the result was effectively decided with Marquinhos’ goal as Cruzeiro recorded their first win. In doing so, they leapt to the top of Group 3 with 5 points, the same amount as Club Universitario, though it is the Brazilians who have the superior goal difference.

Mineros, by contrast, are rooted to the bottom with a solitary point and so if they are to have any chance of progressing they will need to win their game, however unlikely this may seem, being as it is the reverse fixture away in Belo Horizonte.

As always, irrespective of what transpires, for more updates on the Libertadores campaigns of the three Venezuelan sides – Mineros de Guayana, Zamora FC and Deportivo Táchira – please check back here and/or @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical