The sixth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded the fifth defeat, in what proved to be manager Noel Sanvicente’s last game in charge. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game and the aftermath.
CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018
Tuesday 29 March 2016 – Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas
Venezuela 1-4 Chile
Video Highlights of Venezuela 1-4 Chile, 29 March 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)
‘Chita’ Bows Out After Chile Setback
In what turned out to be Noel Sanvicente’s last game as Venezuela manager, Chile survived an early scare to eventually run out comfortable 4-1 victors.
This win, the first of Juan Antonio Pizzi’s reign, puts Chile back into the automatic qualification places for Russia 2018 and leaves La Vinotinto even further adrift at the bottom.
However, for the first thirty minutes or so, it looked as if the hosts, cheered on by a capacity crowd, may belatedly gain some ground on their CONMEBOL rivals. Indeed, in the ninth minute, Rómulo Otero surprised everyone – not least stand-in goalkeeper Jhonny Herrera – with a phenomenal right-footed free-kick from the left flank 30 yards out that swerved mischievously high into the net. Otero, who plies his trade in Chile with Huachipato, did his club and international prospects no harm at all with this goal and so long as he keeps himself injury-free, should score many more free-kicks in the burgundy shirt.
For the following twenty minutes, few goalmouth incidents occurred with the game at times somewhat stop-start, but the hosts nevertheless did an effective job neutering their more illustrious opponents. However, soon after the half-hour mark, La Roja found an extra gear and got back on level terms courtesy of a Mauricio Pinilla header from Alexis Sánchez’ corner. Afterwards, Pizzi’s rejuventated players grew in confidence and dominated until the half-time whistle, creating a string of chances that only evaded the back of the opposition net due to the offside flag, last-ditch blocks and some faulty finishing.
Into the second half, Chile continued to enjoy the lion’s share of the ball, with Venezuela – often led by Otero – sometimes managing to catch them on the break and win a free-kick or two. Nevertheless, the visitors took the lead just seven minutes after the restart, with Pinilla latching onto a low cross from Jean Beausejour to coolly volley home and double both his and his nation’s tally.
Chile were now in the ascendancy in every way, yet had a decision a few minutes later gone another way, subsequent events could have transpired quite differently. Indeed, Venezuelan striker Josef Martínez chased after a ball and was clumsily brought down by Gonzalo Jara, the last man, just outside the area. However, for this, the Universidad de Chile defender received no more than a booking and Otero’s free-kick curled a couple of yards too high of the crossbar.
Although Chile generally saw more of the ball in the aftermath, in the 62nd minute Venezuela created their best chance to get back into the game. Alas, though substitute Adalberto Peñaranda did well to burst towards the byline on the left and poke a low cross into the goalmouth, Martínez’s despairing lunge towards the ball – and open goal – was just a yard or so off the pace. Instead of a close-range finish, the ball evaded the Torino striker and from then onwards, the hosts would struggle to create an opportunity that was anywhere near as promising as this one.
Barely ten minutes later, it was 3-1 and, effectively, game over. Celta Vigo’s Fabián Orellana gained some space from Mikel Villanueva on the right inside the area and slid a low pass for Arturo Vidal to control and fire home. For the remainder of proceedings, Chile looked the more likely to score, with Sánchez notably scooping a presentable chance over when there was a mere two minutes of regulation time left. In stoppage-time, however, where Sanchez failed, Vidal succeeded as the Arsenal forward cut into the area from the right and provided the Bayern Munich midfielder with a tap-in he could not miss.
4-1 it ended and though it may be a stretch to call this an embarrassment, Venezuela were nevertheless very much second-best overall. Ultimately, this depressing outcome was a dismal, if fitting, send-off for Noel Sanvicente.
Otero the Only Performer of Note
Although the outcome may have been different if either Jara had received a red card instead of a mere booking or Martinez had been able to stretch to make it 2-2 just after the hour-mark, the hosts were nevertheless on the back-foot for well over half of this game. Whilst not a dreadful collective performance, it is still difficult to say anything too positive about most of the home players, with the possible exception of Rómulo Otero. The Huachipato attacker, who scored in the previous game against Peru, here gave Venezuela the lead with a sensational free-kick and also won and took several more. If media reports are to be believed, it appears that Colo Colo were impressed, as the Chilean giants are rumoured to be interested in him.
A Very Unstable Starting XI
Otherwise though, one would be clutching at straws if other individuals were singled out and commended. Indeed, there have been so many underwhelming performances and changes to the regular starting XI under Sanvicente that, even if every player was fit for the next competitive game, the average fan would struggle to name more than four players likely to start. In all probability, these would be Salomón Rondón, Tomás Rincón, Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Yet even here there is some uncertainty, as Vizcarrondo has been partly at fault for several goals in recent memory and appears to keep his place largely due to the lack of competition at centre-back.
After these games, if fit, Otero and Juanpi (and perhaps Martínez) also appear to be relatively well-poised to start the Copa América group games in June, but who can really say that with any confidence? They have as much competition within this current squad as outside of it and will not only need to maintain decent form at club level, but also possess and maintain the faith of the national team manager.
Sanvicente Says a Sorrowful Sayonara
Lastly, then, this brings matters onto the most important thing to come out of this international double-header: the departure of Noel Sanvicente. On the day of the Chile match, the headline on the front cover of Meridiano read: ‘To Win: Yes or Yes’, with anything less being deemed unacceptable – and so it has proved. In post-match comments, ‘Chita’ strongly implied that he was on his way out and now, a few days later (1 April 2016), this has been confirmed by FVF President Laureano González.
Despite his club success (seven domestic league titles) and personal familiarity with many of the players, his international reign (Played 20: Won 5, Drew 2, Lost 13) never really gained much momentum behind it. His initial friendly results leading into Copa América 2015 were poor, with the three wins (from eight games) either coming with (as well as against) second-string sides (Honduras, twice) or against a nation missing several of their biggest names (Peru). Thus, the only credible result of note during the Sanvicente era came as quite a surprise, turning heads and making headlines around the world. This was the 1-0 win against neighbours Colombia on the opening day of Chile 2015 and was celebrated as a counter-attacking tactical masterclass; yet jubilation soon turned to despair after they lost their remaining two games against Peru and Brazil and exited at the group stage.
Sanvicente’s men followed up this disappointment with two dismal friendly performances on home soil (losing against Honduras and scraping a late draw against Panama). In October, Venezuela were in poor shape to mount a historic, successful challenge for World Cup qualification (what Sanvicente considered his main objective upon taking over) and so it has proved. With six games having been played, they currently sit at the bottom on the CONMEBOL group, with only one point from a possible 18. It could be argued that had his side managed to hold on for a few more seconds last week against Peru and picked up their first victory, then Sanvicente would still be in a job. However, it is hard not to see how that would not have just been postponing the inevitable, given all that has occurred beforehand as well as the lack of structure, teamwork and stability that has been evident in most of the games he has overseen.
Enter Dutiful Dudamel
His replacement has already been announced and it is Rafael Dudamel, a 43-year-old former international goalkeeper, who once scored a sensational free-kick against Argentina in 1996 and who has been a fine servant to his country, both as a player and as a manager. He has most recently been in charge of the national Under-20 side and previously enjoyed some impressive managerial spells at club level as well as with the Under-17 squad.
Fans are already debating if he can change Venezuela’s trajectory and get the best out of a relatively impressive generation of players or if the deeper problems that lay in the team’s relationship with the FVF will prove insurmountable for him, at least in the short term.
Dudamel’s first encounters will not be until late May, when he will take charge of some friendlies leading into the Copa América Centenario. In the meantime, he would do well to build relations with both the FVF as well as the players and ensure that he sees as much of his leading countrymen in action as possible – there is a lot of talent around, if only it could be organised into an effective system.
To keep abreast with Dudamel’s progress, be sure to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and return to this site in May, when there should be a summary of the new coach’s early moves, plans and actions.
Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Contreras; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Velázquez, Villanueva; Rincón, Figuera (Seijas, 28′) (Blanco, 74′); Juanpi (Peñaranda, 60′), Guerra, Juanpi; Martínez.
Chile (4-3-2-1): Herrera; Isla, Medel, Jara, Beausejour; Vidal, Silva, Gutiérrez; Sánchez, Orellana (Mena, 87′); Pinilla (Castillo, 80′).