Tag Archives: Nahuel Ferraresi

Japan 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (16 November 2018)

Venezuela’s Asian tour has got underway, with Japan the first stop. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the events in Ōita…

International Friendly

Friday 16 November 2018 – Ōita Bank Dome Stadium, Ōita, Kyushu Island, Japan

Japan 1-1 Venezuela

Goal Highlights of Japan 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 16 November 2018 (YouTube)

El General Rallies the Troops Late On

Having soaked up a considerable amount of Japanese pressure, Venezuela eventually managed to gain a draw on the first leg of their Asian tour courtesy of the first-ever international goal by captain Tomás Rincón.

The opening exchanges had a rather different complexion, however, as Rafael Dudamel’s reinforced line-up – Rincón, Júnior Moreno and the returning Yangel Herrera were all fielded in the middle – enjoyed a few notable chances. First of all, after 11 minutes, a ball ricocheted into Salomón Rondón’s path, who nudged it past debuting US-born goalkeeper Daniel Schmidt; the effort of the Newcastle striker was inches from crossing the line until defender Takehiro Tomisayu stretched to clear at the last moment.

Rondón again came close just four minutes later, following a free-kick on the right edge of the area won by the dynamic Darwin Machís. Although the Magpie’s initial attempt was blocked, he responded by lashing a fearsome left-footed strike which almost grazed Schmidt’s far post. Later in the 25th minute, Rondón played a ball on for roaming right-back Roberto Rosales who, somewhat similarly to the previous effort, also hit an effort with his less-favoured left boot that went across goal and not too far wide of the mark.

Throughout all of this, the hosts were also a threat, occasionally finding gaps, storming forward before a cross would typically be thwarted by a defender. Their first clear chance came in the 26th minute when some quick passes left the ball at the feet of Ritsu Doan, who spun and shot past goalkeeper Rafael Romo. Vinotinto hearts were in mouths, but mercifully for them, the Groningen man’s effort went narrowly wide of the post. Soon after at the half-hour mark Japan were again not far off when Takumi Minamino crossed low for Yuya Osako, though the visitors were to have 20-on-Monday Nahuel Ferraresi to thank, as he put in a sliding boot to divert out. Four minutes later, Romo was to be the momentary hero, as a defence-splitting pass forward found Shoya Nakajima whose one-on-one shot the goalkeeper manfully stood up to, diverting wide.

However, La Vinotinto could not completely stem the tide and so in the 39th minute, the hosts found the opener. Here, Nakajima’s free-kick was swung in from deep on the right and Marseille defender Hiroki Sakai met it in the air to volley home with aplomb. 1-0 and, just under two minutes before the break, Nakajima almost doubled the lead when, on the inside-left, he cut onto his right before firing low into the side-netting.

As the second half began, La Vinotinto knew they needed to get a foothold back into the match, but unfortunately for them, the hosts were in no mood to be accommodating. Subsequently, the majority of the best chances were to fall to Japan, one of which was a shot by Getafe midfielder Gaku Shibasaki that Romo parried at his near post. A few minutes later, the Samurai Blue had another opportunity when Osako slid the ball to Doan, but the latter’s effort from the left was blocked low by the goalkeeper.

Shortly afterwards the pace of the game was to be gradually diluted by the raft of substitutions, one of which was the 74th-minute introduction of international debutant, Bernardo Añor. Yet, just a minute later, the hosts were to regain some of their attacking momentum as Genki Haraguchi earned himself some space from his marker and, with some close control, danced his way into an acute spot to the left of the goal, but his attempt was greeted by the wall of Romo. The 28-year-old Cyprus-based shot-stopper has only been a part of Dudamel’s thinking since the dawn of this new cycle in September, but on the basis of his two appearances within that time, he has shown enough to be confidently described as Wuilker Faríñez’s understudy.

Despite the Japanese having the better of the game, five minutes later goalscorer Sakai was to squander his side’s on-field superiority as he clumsily brought down substitute Luis González in the area. After a delay, captain Tomás Rincón stepped up and confidently converted the penalty, bringing his side level when a defeat was beginning to seem inevitable. In the 91st minute, El General managed to rescue his side again when, following some ball-waltzing from Koya Gitagawa, he put in a perfectly-timed last-ditch challenge to slide the ball wide.

Following a header in the final throes of stoppage-time the hosts did actually have the ball in the back of the net, but a linesman’s flag quickly halted the elation in the stands. Thus, the game ended in a creditable 1-1 draw for Dudamel’s men. Although – some early first-half pressure and attempts aside – the performance left something to be desired, this result against a World Cup-level opponent in front of over 33,000 of their fans certainly feels like a respectable outcome. Fans will be hoping they can go one step further in Qatar on Tuesday, when the side face a similarly tough encounter against Carlos Queiroz’s Iran.

Team Selections

Japan (4-2-3-1): D. Schmidt; H. Sakai, M. Yoshida, T. Tomiyasu, S. Sasaki; W. Endo, G. Shibasaki; R. Doan (K. Sugimoto, 77′), T. Minamino (J. Ito, 77′), S. Nakajima (G. Haraguchi, 68′); Y. Osako (K. Kitagawa, 68′).

Venezuela (4-1-4-1): R. Romo; R. Rosales, N. Ferraresi, J. Chancellor, L. Mago (B. Añor, 74′); J. Moreno (J. Savarino, 90+5′); J. Murillo (L. González, 65′), Y. Herrera (A. Romero, 65′), T. Rincón, D. Machís (S. Córdova, 84′); S. Rondón (J. Martínez, 65′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – November 2018 Preview

It is said that good things come in threes and this appears to hold true for the Venezuelan national team, who for the third consecutive month, will contest a pair of friendlies. Here, @DarrenSpherical has a look at the latest La Vinotinto squad.

International Friendlies

Friday 16 November 2018 – Ōita Bank Dome Stadium, Ōita, Kyushu Island, Japan

Japan vs Venezuela

Tuesday 20 November 2018 – Hamad bin Khalifa Stadium, Doha, Qatar

Iran vs Venezuela

bernardoanor

Bernardo Añor in January 2018 (@Caracas_FC)

Venezuela Embark On First Asian Tour Since 2014

It may not have seemed it during the ten months of inaction following La Vinotinto‘s friendly with Iran in the Netherlands 12 months ago, but Rafael Dudamel’s modest request for “at least five friendlies for 2018” is set to be fulfilled.

Indeed, match No. 5 sees the South Americans travel to Japan and No. 6 has them confronting, once again, Carlos Queiroz’s men – albeit, this time in Qatar – bringing the number of Russia 2018 participants faced in recent months to four.

September and October’s encounters yielded mixed results (two wins and two defeats) in what has been and will remain to be for some time, a period of trials and tactical refinement. This is again reflected in the squad, not least in arguably the most eye-catching inclusion: Bernardo Añor, son of the former international of the same name and the elder brother of Málaga’s Juanpi. The 30-year-old may well finally make his international debut after a career spent entirely in the USA until this year, when he returned home to play for Caracas FC. A left-back who has been known to play further upfield, he will provide competition for the only other domestic-based player in this crop, Carabobo FC’s Luis Mago. The latter is also somewhat of a newcomer to the fold, having only made his debut two months ago and together the pair will be seeking to permanently remove the omitted Rolf Feltscher from the manager’s thinking.

It is debatable whether Añor’s belated international call-up will lead to much in the long-run but one player that surely all fans will be excited to re-embrace is the returning 20-year-old captain of 2017’s Under-20 silver generation, Yangel Herrera. The New York City FC midfielder has recently recovered from a long-term injury and will hope to regain his spot next to senior armband-wearer Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) from the main beneficiary of his 12-month international absence, fellow MLS ball-winner Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA).

Elsewhere, the previously injured Salomón Rondón is also back, surely on a high after his first two league goals for Newcastle United. His deputy Andrés Ponce (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia) made the most of his rare opportunities last month, bagging a goal in each friendly. However, although the 22-year-old forward deservedly keeps his place in the squad it is likely that, for the time being at least, Dudamel will be devoted to making the partnership of the Magpies’ new favourite no. 9 and hotshot Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) work.

Just behind this front line, Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany) and Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy) are also back after some time on the sidelines. The right-sided Colombia-based Luis “Cariaco” González has received a call too, with Dudamel evidently wanting another look at the Tolima man after he impressed in spells in September. With so many changes in the make-up of the attacking-midfield, inevitably there have been some noteworthy players who will sit out this double-header. This time it is the turn of Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England) and the betrothed-but-injured headline-grabber Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile). With experimentation very much the order of the day, these three will surely all be back next year.

One man who should currently be in Japan vying for one of these positions but isn’t is Chile-based 21-year-old midfield jinker Yeferson Soteldo. He had been summoned but in an official press release, he is said to have missed his flight from Santiago and, consequently, “due to the decision of national team manager Rafael Dudamel he will not form part of the group”. This follows on from last month when he was compassionately omitted so that he could stay at home to attend the birth of his third child and from September, when he was called up but ultimately left out as he could not gain a visa to enter into the USA. Thus, for one reason or another the much-touted youngster has not worn the Vinotinto shirt since the Iran match last year. Although time appears to be very much on his side, his many admirers should feel a little concerned at the ground he is currently conceding to his rivals in this most competitive of areas within the squad.

Lastly, centre-back Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) – whose status has quietly risen in recent times, culminating in him wearing the captain’s armband last month when Rincón was rested – will also not be making the trip to Japan, but he will at least be available for the Iran clash.

In their previous duel with the Middle Easterners in November 2017, La Vinotinto were defeated by a solitary goal and the last time they faced Japan back in 2014, a 2-2 draw was retrospectively converted into a 3-0 loss, owing to the fielding of an ineligible Salomón Rondón. As will be repeated for some time yet in these pre-Copa América months, results may not be of paramount importance, but any improvement on these two outcomes will no doubt provide a boost for everyone’s belief in the nascent Qatar 2022 project.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintonov2018

(Note: Having reportedly missed his flight, Yeferson Soteldo will now not be part of this squad.)

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Carabobo FC), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal) & Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Sergio Córdova (Augsburg FC, Germany), Luis González (Deportes Tolima), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Crotone, Italy) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA).

Forwards

Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Andrés Ponce (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

United Arab Emirates 0-2 Venezuela – International Friendly (16 October 2018)

Apparently owing to a disagreement between the UAE’s football association and a broadcaster, Venezuela closed the international break playing in a virtually empty stadium from which no transmission of the game was permitted. Thus, aided by the reports of a few of the privileged Venezuelan sources in the ground – as well as a sneaky live-streaming Instagram account or two – @DarrenSpherical provides a brief account of the events in Barcelona…

International Friendly

Tuesday 16 October 2018 – Estadio Olímpico Lluís Companys, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

United Arab Emirates 0-2 Venezuela

Goal Highlights of United Arab Emirates 0-2 Venezuela, Unofficial International Friendly, 16 October 2018 (YouTube/Instagram)

La Vinotinto Shine in Daytime Darkness

Playing in near-silence and obscurity at the prestigious stadium that was once the setting of history-making triumphs at the Barcelona ’92 Olympics, Venezuela’s two goals were enough to plunge the UAE further into the abyss.

Both of these came in the opening exchanges of the two halves, the first after barely a minute when Rómulo Otero’s corner was headed in at the back post by Luis Mago. The Carabobo FC left-back had only made his debut for the national side last month and this was his first-ever goal at senior international level.

Another man bagging his official first (of what could be many) was Andrés Ponce, who also scored last Friday in the unofficial encounter with the Basque Country. This one arrived in the 47th minute and has surely catapulted the 21-year-old Anzhi Makhachkala striker to first in the queue behind the absent Salomón Rondón and Josef Martínez.

Here, he was set up by Real Salt Lake’s Jefferson Savarino, a man he shares a birthday with and who is also consistently gaining ground in the national set-up, having now played key roles in goals in each of his last three appearances. Elsewhere in the match, Savarino also came close with a first-half strike that went just over and a late one-on-one that the goalkeeper denied. This latter chance occurred after a pass from Portugal-based forward Jhonder Cádiz, who was making his international debut along with fellow substitute Nahuel Ferraresi, a 19-year-old centre-back from the silver generation.

Otherwise, defensive-midfielder Júnior Moreno also crashed a first-half strike against the crossbar and the South Americans generally had the better of the opportunities, but their Middle-Eastern opponents did at least give them a couple of scares. Indeed, a second-half strike from Ali Hassan struck the base of the post and, earlier in the 40th minute, Omar Adbulrahman failed to convert a penalty, sweeping it wide of Wuilker Faríñez’s goal.

Overall then, though due in part to the blackout, it is not a game likely to be recalled often by fans, it did produce some personal milestones for a number of players who will surely cherish the memory of this curious encounter for the rest of their lives. Some of these individuals – particularly the two goalscorers – have further entrenched themselves in the plans of coach Dudamel who, judging by this starting line-up, has an ever-solidifying idea regarding seven or eight of his preferred XI.

That said, in this new cycle we really have only just begun and, aside from stiffer Asian competition, who knows what delights and surprises next month’s trips to Japan and Iran shall bring.

Team Selections

United Arab Emirates: A line-up of Alberto Zaccheroni’s men has been provided by the FVF and can be found here. However, it does not appear to be 100% accurate, so interested readers are invited to visit other sites such as Soccerway and play compare-and-contrast.

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Faríñez; R. Rosales, Y. Osorio, W. Ángel (N. Ferraresi, 90+3′), L. Mago; T. Rincón, J. Moreno (A. Romero, 71′); J. Savarino, R. Otero (E. Bello, 57′), J. Murillo (A. Peñaranda, 71′); A. Ponce (J. Cádiz, 71′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – October 2018 Preview

It seems like only yesterday that Venezuela returned from international hibernation and now here they are once again all set for another double-header – this time on the Old Continent. Below, @DarrenSpherical runs the rule over the latest La Vinotinto squad.

Unofficial International Friendly

Friday 12 October 2018 – Estadio de Mendizorroza, Vitoria, Álava, Spain

Basque Country vs Venezuela

International Friendly

Tuesday 16 October 2018 – Estadio Olímpico Lluís Companys, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

United Arab Emirates vs Venezuela

rosalesdudamel

Roberto Rosales reunited with Rafael Dudamel (FVF Press)

Rafael Reinstates Rosales for Rumble in Mendizorroza

La Vinotinto are seeking to build on last month’s warm-ups against World Cup-level competition with two curious encounters in north Spain, the first with the non-FIFA affiliated Basque Country and the second behind-closed-doors against United Arab Emirates (ranked 77).

Undoubtedly the most eye-catching name on Rafael Dudamel’s 23-man list is that of Roberto Rosales, who receives his first call-up for two years. The 29-year-old right-back recently made his debut for Espanyol and had previously been one of the mainstays of the national side, acquiring a status virtually on a par with those of captain Tomás Rincón and high-profile striker Salomón Rondón. Then, in 2016 as Dudamel was finding his feet in his new role, the Third R surprisingly lost his place in the line-up and by the end of the year he was out the squad altogether. Since then, rumours have abounded of a rift with the coach as well as with the federation. However, in the lead-up the boss has been quick to dismiss such Twitter-tattle and the FVF also seem keen to re-integrate the player, making an interview with him their most extensive press release for this friendly double-header.

With Elche’s Alexander González – a man who plays in a lower division, yet has benefited to become the most frequent starter at right-back – out injured, Rosales has a real opportunity to re-assert himself. His competition for this position within the current crop is young Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), a talented prospect who only missed out last month due to a visa issue and who one suspects has spent a chunk of his formative years looking up to Rosales. He will now receive a rare opportunity to learn from him first-hand. Who knows, perhaps such a mentorship is but one part of a long-term masterplan…

Hernández is joined this time around by four fellow prospects who also starred in 2017’s history-making squad of Under-20 World Cup runners-up. The inclusion of undisputed first-choice goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) is a given, but the other three have considerably more to prove.

Indeed, Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay) was part of last month’s squad but was one of only a few who did not make it onto the pitch. This, coupled with the fact that he was not originally called up – his late entry has only been made possible courtesy of an injury to Reus’ Mikel Villanueva – surely hints at some doubts Dudamel has about granting the centre-back his senior international debut. Considerably more faith is evidently reserved for Adalberto Peñaranda, an attacking-midfielder who, since overshadowing Yeferson Soteldo – again absent, this time due to the birth of his third child – at South Korea 2017, had a forgettable time on loan at Málaga last season. He is far from fresh, as he has been unable to gain a UK work permit to play with parent club Watford but, not for the first time, Dudamel has offered him a lifeline and has stated that the player will “see minutes“.

However, as always, competition in the positions behind the forward(s) will be stiff: Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), who missed out last month due to a visa problem will be seeking to regain his erstwhile starting position on, ideally, the right flank; Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), who put in a prominent individual performance in the 2-0 away win against PanamaJefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), who came off the bench to set up the opener in the same game; Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile), whose substitute appearance in Central America also led to an assist and whose goal-laden club displays have instigated escalating outbreaks of “Bellomanía” in the country where he plies his trade. To the disappointment of many, the latter was initially left out, only to be called up at the eleventh hour owing to injuries to two players who made starts last month: Darwin Machís (twice) and Sergio Córdova (once, plus sub).

Chances are thus there to be grabbed and this is certainly true in the forward positions, where the final member of the silver generation can be located. With the absence of the injured Salomón Rondón and the agreement that Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA)  will, once again, only play the first of the two games, 21-year-old support-striker/hold-up man Ronaldo Peña (Houston Dynamo, USA) must be dreaming of a senior international debut. If so, he could find himself re-igniting his 2013 Under-17 Sudamericano partnership with the marginally older Andrés Ponce, a more direct marksman who has recently resuscitated his club career with a couple of important goals for his new club Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia. Otherwise, Dudamel has at his disposal Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal), a 23-year-old currently with his fourth Portuguese club; with no previous international appearances, he rounds off this trio of inexperienced front-line pretenders.

Elsewhere in the squad, with Yangel Herrera still not quite back to match fitness, Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru) and the game-shy Aristóteles Romero (Crotone, Italy) have been recalled to provide competition for Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) in the central midfield spot alongside Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy). Also, left-back Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA) is said to not be fully fit so Luis Mago (Carabobo FC) will be seeking to build on last month’s debut and, similarly, at centre-back Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal) surely has his sights on breaking up the partnership of Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) and Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia) – that is, if his performance against Panama has not done so already.

Thus, as ever in this embryonic stage of the new cycle, there is no shortage of positional and tactical considerations to be resolved. Regarding the opponents, while the level of the UAE is somewhat of a mystery for those outside of the Asian continent, the same can not be said of the Basque Country. Indeed, their 18-man squad is full of La Liga talents from five different clubs, including Athletic Bilbao’s Aritz Aduriz, Iñigo Martínez and Iñaki Williams, Alavés’ Ibai Gómez and Real Sociedad’s Asier Illarramendi, Aritz Elustondo and David Zurutuza. Although the organisation of these players may be another matter, with Basque pride on the line, this really should prove to be a considerable test for Venezuela in what will be the third-ever encounter between the two sides. The Rumble in Mendizorroza awaits.

Venezuela Squad

venezuelaoct2018squad

(Note: On 8 October 2018, it was announced that Darwin Machís and Sergio Córdova withdrew due to injury, with Eduard Bello being called up as a replacement.)

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Carabobo FC) & Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile), Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Crotone, Italy), & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA).

Forwards

Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Ronaldo Peña (Houston Dynamo, USA) & Andrés Ponce (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – September 2018 Preview

After an international hiatus of nearly ten months, Venezuela’s senior team are finally returning to action with a friendly double-header. Still coming to terms with this impending reality, @DarrenSpherical fills in some gaps and takes a look at the state-of-play within La Vinotinto’s 24-man squad.

International Friendlies

Friday 7 September 2018 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA.

Colombia vs Venezuela

Tuesday 11 September 2018 – Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama.

Panama vs Venezuela

hardrockstadium

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida – the site of La Vinotinto‘s return

Time To Start Putting the Pieces Together

Last October, as the prematurely-doomed Russia 2018 qualifying campaign was ending with a post-Under 20 World Cup upswing of fortunes (three draws and a final-day victory), La Vinotinto coach Rafael Dudamel revealed that he had asked for “at least five friendlies for 2018“. With four now scheduled and possibly one or two more in the pipeline, it now looks as if his rather modest request may ultimately be granted.

Also this year – a World Cup year, no less – the match-shy Venezuela have defied all logic and managed to ascend from 52nd to 31st in the FIFA rankings. Thus, taking a very partial-sighted view of things, it could be said that Venezuela appear to be well-poised to crack on with unburdening themselves of being branded the “Cinderella” of CONMEBOL.

Perhaps, but throughout the near-300 days since last November that the senior national side has gone without playing – during which an astonishing 17 of the 24 players in the current squad have switched club sides – there has been no shortage of concern over the perceived lack of activity. In response, the FVF (Federación Venezolana de Fútbol) have repeatedly stated what should come as no surprise to anyone with a passing interest in the country’s economic situation: there is simply not enough money. Friendlies come at unfriendly prices and plenty of proposals have had to be declined. Thus, regardless of whether or not some pleading phonecalls were made, it makes considerable sense to see that the first two encounters that have been belatedly set in stone come against countries very close to home.

Nevertheless, for a football association who invited the nation’s media to a presentation in July titled “Qatar 2022. The Objective of Everyone” and whose social media channels regularly repeat the slogan that “We are World [Cup] Class“, tests against two recent World Cup-qualifiers are an apt reintroduction into the international fold.

Furthermore, despite all the frustrations from fans who fear that the country is losing ground, Rafael Dudamel has undoubtedly been a busy man in the intervening lull, pursuing the stated strategy of investing in the young. Indeed, he, along with his coaching staff have not only held a dozen or so training modules with primarily local talent, but they have also led into several tournaments the new generation of Under-20s as well as some prospects from the previous history-making cycle. Ironically, two clear beneficiaries of one of these campaigns have been two eligible overage players: left-back Luis Mago (Carabobo FC, 24 this month) and holding midfielder Agnel Flores (Monagas SC, 29). Barely a month ago, this pair helped a mostly Under-21 squad reach the final of the 2018 Central American & Caribbean Games, where they were runners-up to hosts Colombia.

Concerning youth though, another two members of that particular squad also called to the current Selección are centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay) and midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira). These are two of the four players present – along with attacking midfielder Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany) and goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) – who were runners-up last year in South Korea and in whom considerable hope is indeed invested.

Initially, there were in fact six players from the silver crop in this squad, but within the past week right-back Ronald Hernández and jinking Yeferson Soteldo have had to be replaced, along with the marginally more experienced Jhon Murillo (22). Visa problems being the official reason disclosed by the FVF. Were it not for a long-term injury, midfielder and erstwhile Under-20 captain Yangel Herrera would have received a call and a stronger recent run of form as well as a UK work permit would have also surely helped the cause of fellow absentee Adalberto Peñaranda. More than a handful of others from their generation are also considered potential future call-ups, further reinforcing the sense that if the senior side is to seriously threaten their continental rivals in the next four years, the integration of youth with more established figures will be key.

This thus begs the question, who out of the current crop are considered likely first-teamers? Right now, all would agree that the fast-tracked Fariñez undoubtedly receives the No. 1 shirt and that the pivotal role in front of the back-four of captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) is not up for debate. Forwards Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) and Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) are also leading figures. However, questions have been asked as to whether or not the pair can combine effectively and, should Dudamel opt for a lone striker, if the latter’s phenomenal MLS goalscoring exploits could one day rather soon lead to him usurping the Magpie as the focal point of the attack. Either way, such is the gulf in stature that even if one has to make way for the other in the line-up, the two other forwards named in this squad will have a considerable battle on their hands just to receive further call-ups, let alone gain a starting berth off one of the aforementioned pair.

After these names, things start to become a little more precarious. Regarding the rearguard, one of Dudamel’s great achievements last year at both Under-20 level as well as in the final stretch of the qualifiers was the tightening up at the back, resulting in an admirably low number of goals conceded. However, there lurks the feeling that these were feats of a more collective, well-disciplined and systematic nature, rather than owing to a combination of individual brilliance. Thus, though the Russian-based pair of Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny) and Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala) currently have the strongest claims to the centre-back positions, it will be well worth looking at the 19-year-old Ferraresi as well as Yordan Osorio, who currently finds himself on loan at Vitória Guimarães, after a January transfer to Portuguese giants Porto.

Regarding the defensive flanks, they were repeatedly exploited by opponents in the qualifiers and Dudamel himself has admitted that the left-back position is a problem. As Rolf Feltscher‘s form at LA Galaxy – where, owing to the competition of Ashley Cole, he is usually deployed on the right – does not inspire confidence, opportunity surely beckons for the uncapped Mago. On the right, Hernández’s late omission is definitely a setback for personal, as well as collective, development. His replacement Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), a 27-year-old with less than a handful of caps who spent some of the past year playing in Gibraltar, does not appear to be one for the long run. Thus, the door is still very much open to Alexander González (Elche, Spain), a healthily-capped individual whose optimum position seems to lay somewhere curiously between that of a right-back and a right-sided midfielder, joining in with attacks but occasionally leaving himself exposed.

Just in front, though Flores or Lucena may well receive a chance to partner Rincón, with the absence of Herrera, Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) can really stake a claim to challenge his fellow MLS-dwelling compatriot for that coveted first-team spot. Aided by the arrival of Wayne Rooney, the 25-year-old is enjoying a good spell at club level, off the back of making his international debut last year, from which he went on to start in the heart of the Vinotinto midfield in the draws against Uruguay and Argentina.

Regarding the more attack-minded midfield positions, whether Dudamel opts for one on each flank or an attacking line of three, he still has the customary, welcome selection issue. Venezuela have had a relatively impressive amount of success with the development of players in this broad area and new candidates for the limited number of roles frequently emerge. Indeed, the right-sided Córdova rapidly transitioned from his country’s Under-20 World Cup topscorer to a regular in the Vinotinto line-up, starting all four of the remaining qualifying matches. However, with no starts yet this season in the Bundesliga, he will know more than anyone that nothing can be taken for granted. The visa-less Murillo was also making headway in the final qualifying stretch along with, to perhaps a lesser extent, Rómulo Otero, who has since raised eyebrows by swapping being a one-man highlight reel in Brazil for a loan spell in Saudi Arabia.

If there is to be a reordering in the pecking order, there are two men in particular who are primed to capitalise. Firstly, Darwin Machís, who can be deployed on either side of an attacking midfield and who also gained a start against Colombia last August. Since then, the tenacious late-bloomer of 25 years has enjoyed a sensational, golazo-laden season with Granada, justifying their faith in him and earning himself a move to Udinese, where he has already started the first three Serie A games of the season. Secondly, there is the right-sided Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), whose inclusion only came at the eleventh hour following the omissions of Murillo and Soteldo. Perhaps this will prove to be a blessing in disguise as, after initially being overlooked, the ex-Zulia man – only a mere several months older than the much-hyped Soteldo – has gone on a spectacular run of form, to the point where he now seems like a permanent fixture of the MLS’s official Team of the Week.

Machís and Savarino undoubtedly have the higher-profiles, but many will also be hoping to see some contributions from two other players in fine form: the uncapped Eduard Bello, who has netted 8 times in 21 league games since his move to Chile with Deportes Antofagasta and  Luis “Cariaco” González, the other beneficiary of the Murillo/Soteldo withdrawals. The latter has recently turned up at Colombian title-winners Deportes Tolima, assisting an impressive number of times in the same side as compatriot Yohandry Orozco (who, in turn, despite being one of the three overage players at the Central American and Caribbean Games, where he contributed three goals in five games, has not been selected here).

So, overall then, aside from perhaps four starting positions, there is certainly all to play for, with no shortage of competition inside and outside of the current squad. Tactically, Dudamel has spoken of experiments with the youth sides – in particular, playing with three at the back – though there is no indication yet as to whether this will be carried over to the seniors. What does remain likely, however, is that the side will continue with a compact defensive rearguard and will seek to break with rapid transitions on the counter. If, in time, they can also add some consistency in the starting personnel – particularly amongst the attacking midfield positions – and generate some more positive, front-foot play, this will certainly feel like team progress.

Although they are merely friendlies and the Copa América is not for another nine months, all Vinotinto fans will be hoping, perhaps with hearts rather than heads, that their representatives have not lost too much momentum since last year’s promising end. Results may not be the priority, but there is reason for optimism, not least because the national side does possess a respectable recent record against Colombia and have drawn their last two games against Panama (with the rain-soaked September 2015 encounter actually proving to be Juan Arango’s final appearance for his country).

There are, of course, far more important things for Venezuelans to be preoccupied with.

In April of this year, the life of 30-year-old Jesús Guacarán – physiotherapist for La Vinotinto who was part of the Under-20 national team’s success – was taken, shot dead whilst out shopping in Barquisimeto, thus depriving his wife of not only her husband but of a father for their then-unborn child. This is but one of countless tragedies that have occurred in a nation contending with unimaginable economic and social turmoil, though it is one of the more acutely-felt incidents for the Selección. Plenty of high-profile individuals conveyed their sadness on social media and it can only be speculated how the everyday uncertainties and hardships of their family members, friends and other loved ones impact upon the mindsets of the players and coaches of the national side.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Salomón Rondón offered this insight into the team’s perspective going into games: “My responsibility is to make Venezuelan people proud. When we play for the national team we try to make them forget the bad things, just for those 90 minutes.”

Though this may be impossible for some, here’s hoping that the long-awaited return of La Vinotinto can at least raise a few extra smiles, however fleeting, and inspire many in the face of adversity.

Venezuela Squad

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(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Alexander González (Elche, Spain), Luis Mago (Carabobo FC) & Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal),

Midfielders

Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Agnel Flores (Monagas SC), Luis González (Deportes Tolima, Colombia), Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela, on loan from Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Deportivo La Coruña, Spain).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela – Summary of Top Talents at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup

Following a tournament overview of Venezuela’s sensational performance at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of most of the squad members. Those seeking further information on the majority of these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification.

 Venezuela celebrating reaching the U-20 World Cup Final (@VinotintoSub20)

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Venezuela

Tournament Overview

Coming into the tournament off the back of an impressive qualifying campaign, Rafael Dudamel’s trailblazers instantly put paid to fears that they would be too lightweight on the global stage, rapidly transforming from dark horses to genuine contenders before ultimately succumbing at the final hurdle.

They kicked of the competition’s opening game with an emphatic statement, overcoming a shaky first half to defeat – an admittedly sub-par – Germany 2-0. They followed this up with an emphatic 7-0 win against Pacific Islanders Vanuatu, who were billed by some as “no mugs”, on the basis of their narrow 3-2 defeat against Mexico, a scoreline that was later replicated against Germany. La Mini-Vinotinto, however, certainly made them look it, in the process booking their place in the next round. Subsequently, following a 1-0 win over Mexico, they confirmed themselves as winners of Group B, achieving in only their second Under-20 World Cup what regional heavyweights Brazil never have: a “perfect” record of three straight wins with no goals conceded. They could even boast the tournament’s topscorer at this stage, with the hitherto unstoppable Sergio Córdova having bagged four goals.

As one would expect, they were tested more in the knock-out stage, with Round of 16 opponents Japan rattling Venezuela’s crossbar from a free-kick as well as putting them on the back foot more than any of their previous opponents managed. However, the South Americans later re-asserted themselves and, though it took an additional 30 minutes to do so, eventually emerged victorious thanks to a towering Yangel Herrera header.

Next up in the Quarter-finals were the USA. However, though they agonisingly missed a golden opportunity in stoppage-time, the CONCACAF representatives largely turned in a less than imperial performance. That said, despite Venezuela greatly dominating the play and opportunities, it looked as if their profligacy in front of goal could cost them. Thus, extra-time was again needed and, to their relief and elation, Adalberto Peñaranda broke the deadlock in the 97th minute, with Nahuel Ferraresi adding a second. The States caused a late scare by pulling one back to become the first side to score in the tournament against Venezuela, but Dudamel’s darlings hung on.

They progressed to an all-South American Semi-final with Uruguay who, following a disputed penalty decision at the beginning of the second half, became the first side to take the lead against Venezuela. Subsequently, things did not look too promising for the burgundy boys. However, in the first minute of stoppage-time, 17-year-old Samuel Sosa came to the rescue, surprising almost everyone with a sensational free-kick into the top corner that will live long in the memory. Ultimately, his side were to edge Fabián Coito’s men out of the tournament, with two fine Wuilker Faríñez saves in the penalty shootout advancing them through to ascend to the most astounding, sublime, vertigo-inducing heights yet. Such was the fervour and focus on the nation that, post-game, coach Dudamel felt emboldened to take the opportunity to call upon the under-fire President Nicolás Maduro to “put down the weapons” and end the seemingly neverending armed conflicts that are ravaging the homeland.

Back to the football, having taken at least 120 minutes to achieve the admirable feat of seeing off the regional champions from the AFC, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, Venezuela reached the Final to meet a European side who also had to pinch themselves upon arrival. In the opening thirty minutes of their opening Group A game against Argentina, England looked as if they were going to receive a comprehensive going-over, yet emerged 3-0 winners. They were to grow in confidence throughout the tournament, delivering some impressive results on their journey to become the first English side at any level to reach a Final since…well, honestly, who can recall the precise year? Against Venezuela on Sunday 11 June 2017, they often looked formidable and deservedly took a first-half lead, courtesy of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. However, Dudamel’s charges saw more of the ball after the break and won a penalty in the 74th minute, yet, in a moment that defied the trajectory of Venezuela’s entire campaign, Peñaranda saw his spot-kick saved. Thus, when the final whistle later blew, his nation had to settle for runners-up medals.

Though it is a struggle not to contemplate “What could have been?” – and that many will is, of course, partly a testament to how readily they were accepted as viable contenders – it should go without saying what a phenomenal achievement this second-place finish represents. Plaudits of course go to Rafael Dudamel and particularly the way in which he organised his well-drilled side who rarely looked overrun, conceding just three goals in their seven games – even tighter than the record of seven goals let in during nine qualification matches. Further upfield, though the goals were more infrequent during the knock-out phase where set-pieces came to the fore, they did nevertheless finish the tournament as topscorers with 14. Certainly, the Vanuatu game greatly bolstered this tally but, as they were not really reliant upon a conventional striker, they demonstrated that there is a considerable amount of attacking talent to be located throughout their ranks.

With such a promising batch of players, expectations for La Vinotinto‘s seniors in the upcoming decade have suddenly escalated. Given that they currently sit bottom and are already out of the running of CONMEBOL qualifying with just six points from a possible 42, when they embark on the road to Qatar 2022, up really is the only way they can go. That Dudamel is also their coach, with his 14-month reign yielding results little better than those of his predecessor Noel Sanvicente, should cause a mixture of both caution as well as optimism amongst the level-headed. Indeed, caution because there are already plenty of talented individuals in the senior set-up, yet whether due to the volatile situation in the country, internal politics within the squad as well as the footballing authorities and/or some questionable tactical/selection choices, they have been underperforming. However, no doubt currently overriding these misgivings are the visions of imminent prosperity which Dudamel seems best-placed to oversee. Indeed, for all the individual talents within this Under-20 squad, their collective qualities were paramount and the boss, an ex-international goalkeeper, will want to integrate as many players from this crop as he can in order to perpetuate and fine-tune his footballing creed. Who knows, perhaps the disparity in results at the two levels can partly be understood as a case of these wide-eyed and eager youngsters simply being more receptive to his ideas.

Who knows, indeed. Who knows just how many of these heroes will go on to enjoy careers that at least equal those of their peers at club level, let alone at international? If lucky, history suggests maybe 3-5. Thus, as plenty is still very much up in the air regarding their fates, what follows is a summary of the majority of the squad members who made it onto the pitch during this record-breaking, inspirational South Korean campaign.

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(Group B table and knock-out stage results courtesy of Wikipedia; to read about and view highlights of each game, click here and scroll down)

Talents

Yangel Herrera (Midfielder, No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City)

Captain Fantastic, this athletic, assured midfielder continued where he left off at the qualifiers, providing leadership, one solid half of the two-man protective shield in front of the back four as well as some significant contributions to attacks. Indeed, the ex-Atlético Venezuela man played every single minute of the tournament and rarely looked flustered, instead regularly displaying morale-lifting composure and intent that helped both define and enhance his team’s play. Occasionally looking to cut open defences from deep, he demonstrated his impressive range of passes as well as often sought to get his head on the end of set-pieces – most unforgettably doing so in extra-time against Japan, when he nodded home the winning goal. Thus, though this man who has already turned some heads in his brief MLS career is primarily fielded for his defensive play, he is rather nimble on the ball and enjoys a forward foray or two. As with three other members of this squad, he has already been capped at senior level and, right now, his long-term international prospects are quite possibly the brightest. A consistent starting place as Tomás Rincón’s more attack-minded side-kick seemingly beckons for the man awarded the Bronze Ball by FIFA, as he was adjudged to be the tournament’s third best player. For this site, he was Venezuela’s top player.

Adalberto Peñaranda (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford)

The only regular starter who was not part of the qualifying campaign, this creative attacker nevertheless slotted in rather well, ultimately proving to be his side’s main threat from open play. Indeed, the most high-profile Venezuelan in the squad, this dangerous dribbler often set up team-mates, gaining three assists: a drive infield followed by a short pass to Sergio Córdova for the second against Germany, a cross for Velásquez to head home in the vanquishing of Vanuatu and, in the marginal win over Mexico, a well-weighted dinked central ball for Córdova’s winner. He also scored twice: a clinical low strike against Vanuatu and a slid finish to finally break the deadlock in the Quarter-final against the USA. Such returns should silence the naysayers who claim he has “no end product” – likes a spot of showboating, you see, does ol’ Penny – though, admittedly, he did frustrate at times, particularly in the latter stages. It should not go unremarked that this senior international also won the penalty in the Final, yet some English bandwagon-jumpers may only take away from the tournament his subsequent saved spot-kick. This may burden him for a fair while, though as he is set to return to parent club Watford, if – and, judging by the loan rumours and some work permit issues, it is a big “if” – Hertfordshire’s finest field him one day, perhaps he will be able to alter some perceptions first-hand.

Ronaldo Lucena (Midfielder, No. 16, Zamora FC)

Herrera’s ever-present partner-in-crime also responsible for some crucial tackles and reinforcing the back four. Like the captain, the – much – younger brother of 36-year-old ex-international Franklin also participated in many attacking moves, possessing an even greater range of passes, especially from deep positions. This, he most notably demonstrated against Vanuatu with an exquisite chipped ball that Córdova brilliantly controlled and finished off for his second of the game. However, undoubtedly his – and, arguably, Venezuela’s – greatest weapon was his pinpoint set-pieces, with one corner of his setting up Herrera’s goal against Japan and another providing Nahuel Ferraresi with a header to double the lead against the USA. Had some of his team-mates shown more composure, he could well have outshone Peñaranda with the quantity of goals marked by his involvement. Though he himself did not score, owing to his integral play – not to mention an outrageous 45-yard free-kick that hit the post against England – his performances gained much attention and acclaim, with his value to the team having greatly increased since his impressive, if more low-key, qualifying outings.

Wuilker Fariñez (Goalkeeper, No. 1, Caracas FC)

It is becoming harder to doubt the career potential of this supremely likeable 5-feet-9-inch shot-stopper, as though here he faced some more physically imposing opponents, his performances and statistics only improved: three goals conceded in seven games, which can be favourably compared to the seven goals in nine games that saw him heralded as the best goalkeeper in qualifying. What he lacks in height, he appears to compensate for with bottomless reserves of spring and alertness. True, he was not greatly troubled in the Group Stage – so uneventful was it at times, that he even followed in that hallowed tradition of goalscoring Latin American ‘keepers by netting a spot-kick against Vanuatu – but this certainly changed in the knock-out phase. Indeed, here the 19-year-old – who was the No. 1 for La Vinotinto‘s last two World Cup qualifiers – had more shots to contend with, particularly against Uruguay, where he ultimately enhanced his reputation for astutely saving penalties, heroically thwarting two in the shootout. He can add these to his list of scalps which includes Alexis Sánchez from the March senior preliminary with Chile. With a considerable run as the nation’s first-choice seemingly on the cards, it will be intriguing to see how far in the club game he can go. Dani Hernández, the man who he appears to have usurped, is currently chasing promotion in Spain’s second tier and also already has a short stint in the top-flight under his belt. Can Fariñez defy some more odds and surpass these credentials?

The Defence

Great as the little big man was, he did not really have to face an onslaught of the kind he may become accustomed to at senior level. For this, he has Herrera and Lucena to thank, as well as, of course, the defence. Apologies to the Alan Hansens and Gary Nevilles of this world for lumping them all together in the same section, but it has felt as if this year’s consistently impressive defensive record is more of a collective achievement.

That said, certain individuals were more notable than others, in particular right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC), who played all 16 games of qualifying and the World Cup, hardly ever – if at all – putting a defensive foot wrong. Furthermore, though he did not contribute to any goals, he can certainly roam up the flank. With Roberto Rosales’ senior career surprisingly in limbo at the moment, Hernández could well be in with a chance of at least earning a senior call-up in the not-too-distant future.

The other leading member of the back four has been centre-back Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) who, were it not for an accumulation of yellows that ruled him out of the Semi-final, would have also been an ever-present. As in qualifying, he was prominent at the back, repelling almost everything that came his way in what was a very tight defensive unit; against Vanuatu, he even opened the scoring with a header at the back post.

Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira), Dudamel’s choice of partner for Velásquez throughout this tournament, initially came as a surprise, as Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC) had been more than capable during qualifying. However, though the 18-year-old Ferraresi did look a little shaky in both the Semi-final as well as the Final – in which many blamed him for allowing Calvert-Lewin to manoeuvre and score – he largely acquitted himself well. He too got on the scoresheet, doubling the lead with a header against the USA. Mejías, on the other hand, only really played the Uruguay game with Ferraresi; in this encounter, there did appear to be some shakiness at the back, though given Mejías’s impressive qualifying form, it may be a little harsh to dwell on this.

Overall, though none of these centre-backs possess an imposing stature comparable to, say, Uruguay’s Agustín Rogel or the admirable ball-playing qualities of his partner Santiago Bueno, it nevertheless seems that Dudamel is blessed with some very committed and alert individuals able to carry out his instructions to the letter.

Otherwise, José Hernández (No. 5, Caracas FC), the main occupant of the left-back role, was also effective in repelling danger, if somewhat less conspicuous than his colleague over on the other flank. Hernández managed to win the position during the tournament from erstwhile regular Eduin Quero (No. 3, Deportivo Táchira), who may have had an assist to his name following a low cross finished off by Samuel Sosa against Vanuatu, but was perhaps considered a potential liability owing to his two red cards in a mere six qualifying games.

Sergio Córdova (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 19, Caracas FC)

The team’s topscorer with four, all of which he netted during the Group Stage. At this point, the right-sided attacking midfielder who sometimes drifts infield appeared to be the side’s most improved player since the qualifiers (during which he put in some decent, energetic performances but only netted once in nine games). However, as the tournament wore on, though it was not for the want of trying, he could not add to his tally, with a potential hat-trick squandered during the USA clash – not to mention a presentable one-on-one against England. It is no exaggeration to say that he could have at least doubled his haul. However, as he often found himself in good positions, beat opponents with his pace and drive, if he can just develop greater composure in front of goal, he could become something rather formidable indeed. He demonstrated as much in the first three games with the quality and variety of his four goals: the first, against Germany, was a clinical low drive; in the subsequent victory over Vanuatu he was alert to head home and then, later, superbly control and poke home Lucena’s fine ball; lastly, against Mexico, he brilliantly took on Peñaranda’s chipped central ball, before holding off a defender, bypassing the goalkeeper and bamboozling another opponent on the line with his calculated finish. This goal was put forward by FIFA as one of the best of tournament.

Yeferson Soteldo (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, Huachipato, Chile)

The fourth and final starlet of this crop to have already been capped at senior level, perhaps owing to the inclusion of Peñaranda, Venezuela’s leading attacking threat in qualifying was surprisingly less of a presence here. Indeed, of his six appearances, only three were starts and just the one of these – the Round of 16 clash with Japan – occurred in the knock-out phase. Similar to Fariñez, one of the key questions going into the tournament was whether the five-feet-three-incher destined to be forever dubbed the “diminutive dribbler” could hack it against potentially more physical opponents (at least within his own age range). As he did not feature so much, the jury is still out, though he did make some notable contributions that suggest in time he could prove to be just fine. Indeed, against Germany, he played a role in disconcerting a defender, which ultimately paved the way for the opener and against Vanuatu, he came off the bench and jinked his way along the byline before pulling back for Jan Hurtado to score the sixth. His cameos did not always reap dividends – he will still be counting his lucky stars that his Semi-final shootout penalty off the bar did not prove fatal – but sometimes they garnered him new admirers, not least in the Final. Here, his often glue-like relationship with the ball elicited excitement in the stands and in homes across the world, particularly when he shrugged off an opponent, turned and played in Córdova, who unfortunately had his close-range shot blocked.

Ronaldo Peña (Forward, No. 9, Las Palmas Atlético)

“One goal in 16 games? That’s a full-back, not a forward.” So once boomed current Scotland manager Gordon Strachan – albeit with slightly different statistics – during a spell of television punditry, bemoaning the shifting definitions and roles of those fielded up top. However, though Peña has received some justifiable criticism for failing to convert chances laid on a plate for him – particularly in qualifying, though there were also instances of this in the World Cup – he nevertheless again made some vital supplementary contributions. Indeed, he is clearly stronger than his attacking colleagues and was often utilised well shielding the ball and holding off opponents, thus creating space and making life much easier for his chums. He was also regularly the target of balls pumped upfield and, with flick-ons and passes, was sometimes able to put team-mates in advanced positions, such as when he recorded an assist with the outside of his boot for Peñaranda’s goal against Vanuatu. Also, though the floodgates did not subsequently open, he did at least get Venezuela off and running with their first goal of the tournament, a very well-taken effort against Germany, in which he bypassed both a defender and the goalkeeper before knocking home.

Best of the Rest

There were several other players granted minutes, with 17-year-old Samuel Sosa (Midfielder, No. 15, Deportivo Táchira) undoubtedly the most significant. He was not involved with either the Under-20 or the Under-17 qualifying stages earlier this year, but has already notched up a respectable number of domestic league appearances (22). Here, he came off the bench five times to rack up a mere two hours of action, yet given his age and his contributions-per-minute ratio, he is surely one to keep an eye on. Indeed, he scored from a low Quero cross in the Vanuatu rout, then later against the USA helped Peñaranda finally break the deadlock in extra-time with a fine low ball in from left. However, the moment he will long be fondly recalled for came in the first minute of stoppage-time of the Semi-final against Uruguay. Here, he struck a spectacular left-footed free-kick into the top corner, rescuing his nation from near defeat and taking the game into an additional thirty minutes.

Following some trickery at the very end of this additional period, he also set up fellow 17-year-old Jan Hurtado (Striker, No. 13, Deportivo Táchira), who was thwarted by the post. Like his club team-mate Sosa, Hurtado has also impressed in the domestic league, netting five times already in his brief career. Unlike the midfielder, however, he did play at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-17 qualifying tournament, netting three times in nine games. Here, he gave a glimpse of what he can do, tapping home Soteldo’s cross to score against Vanuatu.

Lastly, as he failed to score in any of his six appearances (four as a starter) and found himself on the end of moves far less frequently than Córdova, Ronaldo Chacón (Forward, No. 11, Caracas FC) will surely wish he had made more of a mark. Nevertheless, given that two years ago he scored three times in four Under-17 qualification games and, earlier this year at the Under-20 preliminary tournament, netted twice in seven matches (five starts), one feels he may have more to offer in another set of circumstances.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-1 England (Final, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 11 June 2017)

Venezuela’s thrilling, inspirational and rather otherworldly 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup came to an end, with La Mini-Vinotinto falling short at the very last hurdle and an impressive England side instead taking the glory. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

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

Venezuela 0-1 England

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Final, 11 June 2017 (YouTube)

So close, yet so far, Rafael Dudamel’s heroic men finally came unstuck against an often formidable England side in what was, particularly in the latter stages, a gripping tournament finale.

In the first half, Venezuela threatened twice from free-kicks, most notably one from Ronaldo Lucena, whose astonishing 45-yard effort crashed off the post. However, Paul Simpson’s chaps largely had the better of this period, testing goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez several times and, at the second attempt, making the breakthrough in the 35th minute courtesy of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Immediately after the break, however, the South Americans made their presence more keenly felt as, within the first ten minutes of the second half they managed at least a few attempts on goal. The most notable of these was spearheaded by substitute Yeferson Soteldo in the 53rd minute as he brilliantly swivelled in midfield before playing in Sergio Córdova, though the latter’s one-on-one attempt was rapidly blocked. However, despite this promising shift in proceedings, just a couple of minutes later, England came extremely close to doubling their lead when Joshua Onomah’s ferocious long-range strike hit the crossbar before bouncing down on the goal-line.

Subsequently, though it was a well-contested affair, actual chances were in short supply. That is, until Adalberto Peñaranda won a penalty, yet in a moment that may haunt him for some time, his 74th-minute spot-kick was well-saved by the trailing glove of goalkeeper Freddie Woodman.

For the remainder of the game – including some six minutes of stoppage-time – though Venezuela attempted to seek an equaliser – with even goalkeeper Fariñez attempting to get a shot in – they ultimately struggled to create any real chances of note.

Thus, when the final whistle blew, a dream was dashed and it is instead England who have been crowned champions, winning their first World Cup at any level since that rarely-recalled senior victory in 1966.

Talent Tracking

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Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) missed out on the tournament’s Golden Glove trophy to his English counterpart, yet put in another impressive showing – quite possibly his best. Indeed, he can’t really be faulted for the goal he conceded – just his third in seven games – as this came as a consequence of centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira) getting out-jumped and out-fought by Calvert-Lewin, who then had his first shot well-saved by Fariñez, before nabbing the rebound. Overall, the five-feet-nine-inch goalkeeper’s most eye-catching moments included the following: a 10th-minute close-range save after Dominic Solanke was played through in a very inviting position in the area; a 22nd-minute parry wide from a very well-struck, swerving Ademola Lookman effort; and, a 40th-minute alert rush off his line to beat an attacker in what was a rather close race to a forward ball. On occasion, Fariñez also demonstrated his sprightliness as well as joined in at the other end for a couple of last-ditch attacks.

These were set-pieces from Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC), who was his side’s most likely provider of a goal. Indeed, in the 24th minute, he surprised everyone by striking a phenomenal 45-yard central free-kick from just outside the semi-circle, which dipped over everyone and smacked the left-sided post. His most frequent method of causing scares amongst the opposition, however, came from his set-piece deliveries intended for team-mates inside the area. Perhaps his two most notable crosses were those that targeted Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) just after the restart, both of which went through to the goalkeeper, neither admittedly causing a great deal of trouble. Lucena also did well with his defensive duties – putting in a notable last-gasp tackle at the death – as did Herrera, though the latter was unable to exert as much attacking influence as he has in previous games. Nevertheless, the captain’s had a very impressive World Cup and was rewarded after the game with the Bronze Ball, for being adjudged to be the tournament’s third best player.

Even more so than any of his team-mates, Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford) won’t be forgetting this game in a hurry. His nation’s leading attacking threat for much of the tournament, though he did cause some problems here, he was also a little wasteful, single-minded and, of course, squandered a golden opportunity from the spot to take the final into extra-time. Still, even if this as well as some of his cul-de-sac runs and selfishness may be more firmly ingrained in the spectators’ minds, he surely deserves some credit for winning the penalty as well as a first-half free-kick which curled ever-so-marginally wide of the near post.

Nevertheless, he was to be somewhat overshadowed by substitute Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile), who came on in the 51st minute and was soon gaining admiring praise from the stands as well as from commentators and observers the world over. His presence and vitality seemed to immediately help spur his team-mates on and, after less than two minutes on the pitch, with panache he turned some heads as much as he did an opponent, before playing a fine through-ball to Sergio Córdova (No. 19, Caracas FC). However, Venezuela’s four-goal topscorer was unable to get level with the tournament’s Golden Boot winner – Italy’s Riccardo Orsolini (5 goals) – as his first touch enabled Woodman enough time to peg it out and block the shot from very close range.

Still, though ultimately it ended in heartbreak and a genuine sense of “What could have been?”, Venezuelans as well as the entire world who tuned in during this tournament will know that the footballing future appears to be beaming very bright indeed for this troubled, yet endearing, nation. Hopefully, Rafael Dudamel can integrate the cream of this exceptional crop with their many disparate, more experienced senior talents and then seriously challenge for a place at Qatar 2022.

Please stay tuned over the upcoming days for a summary of the performances of Venezuela’s leading talents. Otherwise, to keep up-to-date on the latest in Venezuelan football, please consider following @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical