Tag Archives: Noel Sanvicente

Venezuela 1-4 Chile – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (29 March 2016)

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

Match Report

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.

Match Thoughts

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. 

Team Selections

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′).

Darren Spherical


Peru 2-2 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (24 March 2016)

The fifth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded the first point for Noel Sanvicente’s men, yet this will be of little comfort to fans who were seconds away from celebrating a morale-boosting win. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 24 March 2016 – Estadio Nacional de Lima, Lima

Peru 2-2 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Peru 2-2 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 24 March 2016 (YouTube)

Ruidíaz Denies Venezuela at the Death 

Match Report

With the last touch of the game, Raúl Ruidíaz rescued a Peruvian point and ruined what was so close to being a history-making night for Venezuela. 

La Vinotinto had never won a World Cup qualifier away in Peru (previously managing a solitary draw) and thus, having led 2-0 on the hour, were just half an hour away from an unanticipated morale boost. Alas, ultimately they failed to survive the onslaught by mere seconds.

Viewed as a whole with a detachment rarely found in the South American stands, Noel Sanvicente’s underperforming men were perhaps fortunate to even get a point from this game. However, upon the full-time whistle in Lima, this is not an opinion that many away fans would want to hear, let alone be in accord with.

Indeed, not only were they on the back-foot for the majority of the final third of the match but also for the first quarter, when the hosts – backed up by the urges and instruments of an expectant home crowd –  repeatedly exploited an inexperienced Venezuelan back-line. In the opening exchanges, Peru found a lot of space both in the middle and and on the flanks of a Venezuelan defence which, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo aside, had less than a dozen caps between them pre-game.

The first genuine scare of note came in the eighth minute when a ball was dinked over from the left into the area that Jefferson Farfán only narrowly failed to make strong contact with, instead scuffing wide. Not long afterwards, a cross from roaming right-back Luis Advíncula found Claudio Pizarro in space, but the veteran striker’s header was comfortable for goalkeeper Alain Baroja. Holes continued to be found that necessitated last-ditch tackles and blocks but it was in the 24th minute that Peru really should have taken the lead. Here, an appalling clearance from Ángel Faría – playing instead of the suspended right-back Roberto Rosales – went straight to Farfán who immediately fed Paolo Guerrero in the area. However, despite the time and space he was afforded, he was unable to divert the ball either side of Baroja, who instead made an instinctive block.

Yet, though a Peruvian opener seemed on the cards, the Venezuelans surprisingly began to get a foothold into the game, creating a string of chances. In the 26th minute, a counter-attack was spearheaded by Josef Martinez, who fed strike-partner Salomón Rondón on the left who, in turn, returned a point-perfect cross that Martinez volleyed, causing a fine save from Pedro Gallese. Three minutes later, Rondón himself had an opportunity, seizing upon a forward ball on the inside-right and hitting a low strike across goal that Gallese padded away. Then, a minute later, a free-kick from the returning Rómulo Otero – who had struggled with a couple of previous attempts – dipped just before Gallese, causing the Juan Aurich goalkeeper to awkwardly parry the ball out.

Soon after, however, the breakthrough that less than ten minutes prior seemed improbable occurred. Málaga midfielder Juanpi, who was making a rare international start and is poised to be a fixture in the line-up for the foreseeable future, burst into the area and was rashly upended for a penalty. Otero thus stepped up and confidently dispatched the spot-kick.

The previously boisterous home fans fell silent and several minutes later their representatives nearly fell another goal behind. This time, Juanpi swung in a free-kick that the head of centre-back Wilker Ángel powerfully connected with, yet Gallese pulled off a sensational save, preventing what seemed like a certain goal.

Subsequently, the hosts struggled to regain their earlier dominance, a situation that continued into the first quarter of the second half. Barely a minute after the restart, the visitors could have had a second when another Juanpi free-kick curled towards Vizcarrondo and Mikel Villanueva in considerable space, yet a lack of communication and/or anticipation led to the ball missing the target. Ten minutes later, however, the latter did manage to double the lead. After Juanpi won a corner, he swung in another pin-point cross that his Málaga team-mate Villanueva, unmarked at the back post, thundered home on the volley.

Elation spread amongst the Venezuelan ranks on the pitch, in the stands and at home. Not just the first point of the campaign, but three of the blighters seemed very much on the table begging to be collected, requiring only some professional shepherding over the finish line. Easier said than done, of course, and it did not take long for Los Incas to ground their briefly stratospheric opponents back on planet earth. Indeed, having come close just a minute after Villanueva’s goal, they halved the deficit a minute after the hour-mark. A long ball was knocked into the air and then headed on by recent substitute Raúl Ruidíaz into the path of Guerrero who did well to take the ball into his stride and then strike home – though goalkeeper Baroja really should not have allowed the ball past him. Though the Flamengo forward rushed to pick the ball out of the net in order to force a quick restart this was in fact a landmark moment for him, as he became Peru’s undisputed all-time top goalscorer.

This goal really swung the momentum pendulum back into the hosts’ favour and for the remainder of the game they were to increase the pressure on the visitors to what ultimately proved to be unbearable levels. Vinotinto nerves were certainly rattled in the 68th minute, though not as much as their own crossbar, which Guerrero nearly pulverised with a bullet header from a corner. Manager Sanvicente could sense as much as anyone that the winds had decisively changed and so made a double substitution a couple of minutes later. Not only did he grant Adalberto Peñaranda his debut (replacing Martínez) but he also took off creative catalyst Juanpi in order for his replacement Alejandro Guerra to add some defensive grit and experience to the ranks. 12 minutes later, following ever more narrow squeaks and uncertainty, Venezuela’s other main attacking threat Otero was withdrawn to be replaced by holding midfielder – and debutant – Carlos Cermeño.

Sanvicente was evidently trying to preserve his side’s slim advantage and bring some much-neeed order and organisation to what was a rather open game – albeit one with the ball largely in the Venezuelan half. When, in the last minute of regulation time, Edison Flores was fed a return-ball inside the area yet from close range could only hoist the ball over both Baroja and the bar, many a Vinotinto fan must have felt an historic win was all-but-assured.

Alas, concentration levels failed at the very last hurdle. After some attacks were momentarily thwarted, mental lapses afforded space on the left for Flores who compensated for his miss by providing a pinpoint cross for Ruidíaz, who slipped away from Ángel, to nod home.

The goal was literally the last touch of the match. The dejection in the Venezuelan camp did well to mask the fact that this was the first – and somewhat unanticipated – point that they had picked up. If they can overcome the late psychological blow, then the home humiliation against Chile on Tuesday that some have feared may not come to fruition after all.

Match Thoughts

Future Optimism: Three Stand-Ins Amongst the Best Performers 

Venezuela came into the game without several individuals who have started recent qualifying games. Some of these players were either suspended (Roberto Rosales, Luis Manuel Seijas and Sema Velázquez), left out the squad (Ronald Vargas, Christian Santos and Gabriel Cichero) or, in the case of at least one, started on the bench (Alejandro Guerra).

Some players who stepped in for rare starts impressed and should expect many more caps in the foreseeable future. Of these, Juanpi, who has emerged to become a La Liga regular this season, perhaps put in the strongest performance. Not only did he win the penalty for the first goal and set up Villanueva for the second but, were it not for the heroics of Gallese and a slight-mix-up between his team-mates, he could well have had a hat-trick of assists to his name. This was the first time he has started a competitive international and it certainly will not be the last.

Rómulo Otero, another versatile attacking midfielder and impressive set-piece taker, also made his mark. The 23-year-old has gained more caps than Juanpi but has struggled for international appearances over the past two years due to injury. Against Peru, he made a welcome return to the line-up, coolly slotting home a penalty kick, driving at defenders and causing problems from set-pieces. With regard to free-kicks at least, many fans have hoped that he would be the long-term successor to Juan Arango though, as this match demonstrates, while future opportunities are certainly on the cards, he will have some stiff competition in this department from his Málaga-based team-mate.

Mikel Villanueva, who like Juanpi is registered with Málaga but instead plays for their reserve side Atletico Malagaugeno, also had a game to remember. This was his second appearance following last month’s friendly debut and he not only scored a memorable thumping goal but came away with more credit than most of his defensive colleagues. With Fernando Amorebieta having retired, Andrés Túñez falling out of favour and Gabriel Cichero all but a nowhere man at club level, an opportunity has surely opened up at left-back.

Problems at the Back

Unfortunately, not all players who stepped in can be assured of future appearances after this international break. Right-back Ángel Faría and centre-back Wilker Ángel both played their parts in the concession of goals and were often caught out of position, struggling to keep up with the pace of play. Against Chile, they will more than likely be dropped in favour of Roberto Rosales and Sema Velázquez, both of whom will be returning from suspensions.

Furthermore, though a first-team regular and one less likely to lose his place on Tuesday (UPDATE (29/3/16): If reports are to believed, it looks like he has in fact lost his place), goalkeeper Alain Baroja nevertheless really needs to raise his game. Once again, he showed moments of uncertainty and was at fault for a goal – this time when he awkwardly allowed a fairly straightforward shot from Guerrero to creep under his ineffectual dive. Add this to his amateurish mix-up with Vizcarrondo for Paraguay’s late winner in October and his dreadful clearance against Ecuador in November that led to their second goal and this gives the average Venezuela fan quite the unwanted memory bank to hold against him.

Martínez Enhanced a Team That Now Has More Reasons to Feel Cheerful 

More positively, Josef Martínez went some way to providing the answer for the striking dilemma of the decade: Who, If Anyone, Should Partner Salomón Rondón?  The West Brom striker has often looked more involved and participated in more direct moves when the younger, pacier, Torino forward has been playing a supplementary role. There were glimpses of this against Peru, particularly when the pair began Venezuela’s first-half re-emergence into proceedings as a fast-paced counter-attack led to the pair combining with Martínez ultimately only being denied by an impressive save. Unfortunately, as Rondón picked up his second booking of the campaign, they will not be reprising their partnership against Chile. Nevertheless, as things stand, if in future games Sanvicente opts to give Rondón some close on-field support, Martínez is surely currently ahead of the likes of Christian Santos, Richard Blanco and Adalberto Peñaranda in the pecking order.

Lastly, though in the immediate aftermath of this result nobody really wishes to hear this, the Venezuelan side, much of which was lacking in familiarity with one another, showed great character through most of the game. After 25 minutes, a defeat by at least two or three goals seemed likely and the thought that they could ever be two clear goals in front away to Peru could only have come from the mind of the most optimistic futurologist predicting a distant age at least a generation from now. To withstand the early tide and then play effectively within their limitations in order to gain their first point of the campaign represents progress. To follow this up with a strong showing against Chile at the ground of Sanvicente’s former club Zamora would do much for fan and team morale.

Team Selections

Peru (4-4-2): Gallese; Advíncula, Zambrano, Ascues, Vargas; Ballón, Tapia (Lobatón. 51′), Cuevas, Farfán (Flores, 60′); Pizarro (Ruidíaz, 60′), Guerrero.

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Faría, Ángel, Vizcarrondo, Villanueva; Juanpi (Guerra, 70′), Rincón, Figuera, Otero (Cermeño, 81′); S. Rondón, Martínez (Peñaranda, 70′).

Darren Spherical


Preview for Venezuela’s February 2016 Friendly with Costa Rica

International Friendly 

Tuesday 2 February 2016 – Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas.

Venezuela vs Costa Rica

Trouble Abounds, Though Not In These Surrounds


Letter sent via Twitter by 15 leading Venezuelan players (source: numerous Twitter accounts)

On the evening of 30 November 2015, an open letter was simultaneously tweeted by several Twitter accounts that was to put the immediate future of Venezuelan football in serious jeopardy. Signed by 15 of the most senior and high-profile internationals – including Tomás Rincón, Salomón Rondón and Roberto Rosales – and later endorsed by many more in the national set-up, its stated grievances were chiefly with the country’s football association (FVF). The players were incandescent at accusations that they were conspiring to get their manager and his coaching staff the sack; instead, they said, it was their paymasters on high that they would like to see replaced and some new leadership installed. Coming as it did in the week preceding the ruling chavista factions’ biggest electoral setback in their 17 years of power, this digital missive certainly chimed with anti-establishment currents in the air.

However, despite the players’ collective denial, national boss Noel Sanvicente and his off-field team had little reason to feel any more content about the situation. Indeed, the letter did also express disappointment at their silence and seeming lack of support for the players after the charges were first levelled several days prior by FVF President Laureano González. As around the same time the experienced defender Fernando Amorebieta had announced his resignation from the international stage, citing differences with Sanvicente and co. along the way, speculation has been rife that player-coach relations are at their lowest this century. Some voices in the domestic media have suggested that some, if not all, of the signatories will never play under Sanvicente again, while others have hit the nuclear button entirely and called for coaches and FVF directors alike to wash their hands with the current generation and instead plan for Qatar 2022. Regarding this last point, with four consecutive defeats having inaugurated the preliminary road to Russia 2018, making long-term future planning paramount is a pressing concern that certainly pre-dates the letter’s publication.

Nevertheless, in a seeming admission that bridges behind the scenes need to be mended, if not re-built entirely, Sanvicente has been proactive in improving the situation. Firstly, within a day of the original letter, he issued his own lengthy response in which, amongst other things, he offered himself up as a mediator of sorts between players and directors and, crucially, stated that he had no reason to believe that they were plotting to oust him. He also acknowledged that on-field performances need vast improvement and that he accepts ultimate responsbility. Part two of his salvage operation began in early January as he travelled to Europe to meet up with some of the most high-profile players. Little of substance is known about what was said in these discussions but he did also have time to meet and get his photograph taken with the likes of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique. Unintentionally or otherwise, calling upon his contacts in this way may have provided something of a rebuff to critics who have called for this derided provincial, who has never worked outside his homeland, to be replaced with a foreign, and therefore supposedly more tactically sophisticated, manager. Ultimately, observers will probably have to wait until the next World Cup Qualifiers in late March to see if any progress has been made and a full-scale rebellion averted.


Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente with Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola (Source: @SeleVinotinto)

Dissent Unlikely Here: The Current Squad

Indeed, as though in the meantime a friendly has been arranged, as it falls outside of official FIFA dates and clubs are not obliged to released their players, none of the 15 signatories feature in the crop to face Costa Rica in Barinas. Thus, rather than having to negotiate his way through cagey training sessions with wary, politicking professionals, Sanvicente’s squad is instead largely stocked with eager-to-impress domestic players (plus a couple of youngsters from abroad).  A fine opportunity for these upstarts to bolster the claims of those who want ridding of the supposedly traitorous seniors, some might say. However, this must be tempered by the fact that numerous Venezuelans who exhibit the faintest glimmer of future star potential are now snapped up by overseas clubs every single year. Indeed, eight of the home-based players called up for last year’s friendy double-header with Honduras have since moved abroad. These include the likes of Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Huachipato, Chile) and Manuel Arteaga (Palermo, Italy) – precisely the kind of individuals who are in a strong position to become regulars in the upcoming years. This is without mentioning goalkeeper Alain Baroja (then at Caracas FC, now in Greece with AEK Athens), who made his debut in the first of these games and is now his nation’s number-one choice. At last count, several dozen players who have received international call-ups already ply their trade abroad, many of whom are barely in their twenties, so the current products of the nation’s ransacked domestic game are not necessarily the first people to look at when envisaging a brave new era.

Consequently, in the current squad there are a fair few journeymen, nearly men and youngsters for whom this call-up will probably count as a career highlight. Furthermore, Sanvicente can not call upon any players from Caracas FC – easily the country’s leading exporter of talent – as their players are set to play the first leg of a crucial Copa Libertadores playoff tie. Nevertheless, promise can still be found amidst their ranks.

20-year-old midfielder Carlos Cermeño has now had a couple of years of regular action for 2014/15 champions Deportivo Táchira and some anticipate that he will eventually bring some more composure and support for both defence and attack. Perhaps more exciting to the average spectator is attacker Yeferson Soteldo, who made his professional debut at 16 and really burst to prominence in 2015, scoring 12 goals in 21 games of Zamora’s Torneo Adecuación championship-winning season (this was a short transitional tournament to pave the way for a restructured domestic league). Still only 18, this fleet-footed, persistent finisher has already scored in 2016’s opening domestic fixture and has recently received recognition in British magazine Four Four Two. Arguably possessing the most potential of the lot – and who has, unsurprisingly, already been prised away from Venezuela – is 19-year-old striker Andrés Ponce. Having first excited preying eyes when netting seven goals at 2013’s South American Under-17s Championship (where his nation only narrowly finished second to Argentina on goal difference), he is now causing excitement in Italy. Indeed, possessing attributes not entirely dissimilar to those of one Salomón Rondón, his 16 goals in 2015/16 mean he is currently top-scorer in Italy’s Torneo Primavera, the country’s top youth division.

A Respite From Reality?

The plucky faithful of Estadio Agustín Tovar, home of Zamora, will be keen to see both Ponce and their very own Soteldo mark their international bows with goals, though the reception they reserve for their ex-manager may be of greatest interest. Indeed, Sanvicente led them to two consecutive championships between 2012 and 2014 and received a hero’s welcome – banners et al – this time last year for the second friendly against Honduras. Based on online opinion polls taken back in November, a substantial majority of Venezuelans think Sanvicente should go, but fans of his former clubs (particularly Caracas FC) have been amongst the most keen to defend him. Who knows, in the short run this friendly of seemingly spurious consequence may give him a much-needed morale boost and go some way to building bridges with fans, if not the players he will most likely be calling upon next month against Peru and Chile.

In the long run however, particularly with regard to on-field matters, coercing the domestic public – let alone neutral observers – into perceiving some significance in this encounter is a challenge that even most television subscription services would struggle to rise to. Facing a Costa Rica side also devoid of familiar names, this is not adequate preparation towards salvaging some pride in the World Cup qualifying campaign. Sanvicente – once again thwarted by the resources and, perhaps, the organisation of the FVF – would have preferred two friendlies like last year, but has had to settle with the one. Although a second clash with Los Ticos has provisionally been agreed, this will not take place until May (or not at all, if the two sides draw each other at the Copa América Centenario). Even so, two games with players drawn mainly from the depleted national league would surely have done little more than made several extra players aware of his methods – methods which, with each setback, lose the considerable clout they once possessed.

Ultimately, everyone, not least Sanvicente, knows the real work recommences in March. For now, the orders of the day are public relations, running the rule over some prospects and raising spirits – internally, if not externally.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers: José David Contreras (Deportivo Táchira) and Luis Rojas (Deportivo La Guaira).

Defenders: Daniel Benítez (Deportivo La Guaira), Diego Melean (Zulia FC), Edwin Peraza (Zamora FC), Jhon Chancellor (Mineros de Guayana), Ángel Faría (Zamora), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño), Óscar González (Deportivo La Guaira) and Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira).

Midfielders: Carlos Cermeño (Dvo Táchira), Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Luis González (Mineros de Guayana), Angelo Peña (Mineros de Guayana), Carlos Suárez (Carabobo FC), Javier García (Deportivo La Guaira), Arles Flores (Zamora FC), Johan Moreno (Zamora FC) and Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora FC).

Forwards: Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana), Andrés Ponce (Sampdoria) and Jesús Lugo (Aragua FC).

*Note: All teams for players correct at time of the squad’s announcement.

Darren Spherical


Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (12 November 2015)

The third matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign brought the third consecutive loss to Noel Sanvicente’s charges. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 12 November 2015 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department

Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 12 November 2015 (YouTube)

Match Report

Fluid Bolivia Soundly See Off Sanvicente’s Makeshift XI

Not for the first time, a substantial strategy to combat the vertiginous altitude of La Paz was thwarted by Bolivia. This time, in a largely dominant display, La Verde bagged four goals – a feat they had not achieved since October 2012 – to emphatically end a run of five consecutive losses in all competitions. For Venezuela, it was their fifth competitive defeat on the bounce and their third straight loss in this World Cup qualifying campaign. Upon taking over in July 2014, manager Noel Sanvicente may have wanted the fans of La Vinotinto to be dreaming of Russia 2018 but already they can only think of Qatar 2022; he must now confront the very real possibility that Tuesday’s game against Ecuador may be his last. While the conditions definitely played a role in this latest reversal, Chita will have to concede that, as soon as the first ball was kicked, his charges were out-fought and his tactics were ineffective (and to some, incomprehensible). Once again, there was little on display to sway the hearts and minds of the ever-growing number of dissenters.

The hosts, coached by USA ’94 veteran Julio César Baldivieso and benefitting from having nine players in their line-up who regularly see club action in this stadium, frequently looked a threat going forward. Throughout the game, they passed and paced around with greater accuracy and purpose than their visitors, leaving observers with the impression that if they really wanted more goals, they could easily have had them.

They enjoyed much success on the flanks, particularly in the opening exchanges. With just five minutes on the clock, the irrepressible Alejandro Chumacero forced a good instinctive save from the legs of Alain Baroja, following a cross from Damián Lizio.

Despite such pressure being frequently exerted from wide positions, the opening goal on 19 minutes was more direct, albeit greatly facilitated by a defensive error. A long ball pumped towards the right-hand side was hooked by centre-back Franklin Lucena straight into more dangerous territory. Rudy Cardozo picked it up centrally some 40-plus yards from goal before rapidly feeding an incisive pass to Rodrigo Ramallo who, intentionally or otherwise, dinked the ball over Baroja.

Barely a minute later, Sanvicente was left mentally shredding up a month’s worth of preparation as Bolivia doubled their lead. Some neat interplay on the edge of the area culminated with Ramallo heading the ball on for Lizio who was barged over by Wilker Ángel. Juan Carlos Arce duly stepped up to convert the penalty to make it 2-0.

Whether a bit of complacency crept in amongst the hosts or the visitors suddenly found some attacking fluency, Venezuela’s immediate response saw them enjoy more time in opposition territory. Despite this, they were not really threatening Daniel Vaca’s goal, with Mario Rondón often chasing balls up the right but unable to put through a testing ball. Then, however, in the 33th minute, not without a little slice of luck, they were offered a lifeline. A throw from the right was touched on by Richard Blanco to captain Tomás Rincón on the edge of the area. El General did well to swiftly evade a tackle before striking a shot that was deflected towards Rondón who, in turn, just about nudged it past Vaca to halve the deficit. The Bolivian defence claimed offside but alas, the diversion had caught them out.

However, any hope of mounting a comeback was scuppered in first-half stoppage-time. A ball was sprayed out to Chucamero who was afforded considerable room on the right of the area, from where he crossed for Ramallo to head in with relative ease. 3-1.

Sanvicente appeared to want to shore things up at half-time by bringing on defender Francisco Carabalí for midfielder Arquímedes Figuera. Alas, this was to no avail as within three minutes the contest was all-but-over. Once again, Chumacero was the catalyst. With breathtaking skill, perhaps supplemented by some fortune, he received a hoisted ball on the right and, with a phenomenal first touch, gained a stately garden’s worth of space away from two defenders. He raced into the area before sliding it back to Ramallo whose shot was saved by Baroja at close range only to fall to Cardozo who, with the aid of a deflection, fired home.

Sanvicente responded by withdrawing – and, no doubt, humiliating – centre-back Ángel and replacing him with Arouca’s ‘Sema’ Velázquez, who received his first appearance under the incumbent manager. Given the already commanding scoreline and the subsequent continuation of attacking threat offered by Bolivia, it is difficult to say how much this change had in halting the concession of goals.

Nevertheless, in the 55th minute, Venezuela were to tease the eternal optimists by finding the net for a second time. Another throw-in – this time on the left – was picked up by Rondón who found Blanco on the edge of the area with a pinpoint pass. The Mineros de Guayana forward did well to take a touch to bring the ball away from his marker before striking low with his left boot. He shaped, he shot, he scored.

Despite this, Bolivia’s superiority was still very much in evidence for the remainder of the game, with attacks on the flanks as well as shots and balls fired into the area causing frequent problems for the Venezuelan rearguard. Such was the hosts’ dominance, with little more than ten minutes remaining, the La Paz crowd began to cheer their representatives’ every pass.

With eight minutes left, however, some of those in the stands may have briefly feared a previously unthinkable comeback as Venezuela put the ball into the back of the net. Luis Manuel Seijas’ corner from the left was headed against the crossbar by Rafael Acosta; from the rebound, Velázquez’s effort was saved but Rondón was able to hook it into the back of the net. Alas, the flag had already been raised – correctly – for offside.

Thus, Bolivia held on to their two-goal advantage to gain their first points of the qualifying campaign. Venezuela remain point-less and, if countering the after-effects of playing at high altitude before facing CONMEBOL leaders Ecuador (9 points) was not tough enough for Sanvicente, he will have to do it without one of his regular starters. Though it can not be said for sure that Seijas would have played anyway, he nevertheless ruled himself out in the third minute of stoppage-time, earning a straight red card; this was allegedly for comments made towards the official.

What follows are some thoughts on this latest Venezuelan setback. 

Match Thoughts

Decisions as well as Conditions Played Their Part

Despite undergoing specialist preparations with a pool of home-based talent at the national training facility (CNAR) for the past few weeks, Venezuela undoubtedly struggled with the altitude of La Paz. Only ten of those who received time with the hyperbaric chambers made the journey, with just five named in the line-up (plus one who came off the bench). Sanvicente’s selected XI consisted of a makeshift crop of individuals, many of whom have rarely, if ever, played together internationally and some of whom were only playing due to the circumstances.

Contrast this with the nine Bolivian starters (adding on two substitutes) who regularly play their domestic football at the Estadio Hernando Siles for either Bolívar or The Strongest. Indeed, all of the goalscorers and attacking threats – Chumacero, Ramallo, Cardozo, Arce and Lizio – are very much accustomed to playing at 3,600 metres above sea level in both the league as well as the Copas Libertadores and/or Sudamericana. Thus, while fielding a team with such experience undoubtedly aided the victory, their familiarity with one another for their clubs as well as their individual qualities were also major factors.

Venezuelan Rearguard Flimsy, Disorganised and/or Inexperienced

Not that these were the only reasons. For all the attacking qualities the Bolivians possessed, their routes towards goal – both through the middle and from the flanks – were greatly enabled by their opponents. Indeed, despite four of Venezuela’s starting midfielders – Rincón, Figuera, Acosta and Seijas – either being defence-minded or having experience of providing extra protection to the back four, acres of space was often gifted away. Furthermore, of the back line, only the experienced Lucena can be considered a regular; whereas Alexander González, a right-back or right-winger for his club Young Boys, was hopelessly exposed at left-back; the two home-based youngsters – 20-year-old debutant right-back Jefre Vargas and, especially, 21-year-old centre-back Ángel – will not wish to recall their rare outings any time soon.

On all four goals, there was more than one error of note. For the opener, Lucena’s poor clearance gifted plenty of space in the middle for Cardozo who, in turn, was not closed down and was instead able to rapidly pick a pass between the defenders for Ramallo to finish. On the second, Bolivia’s attackers were able to knock the ball between themselves in a central area before Ángel’s foul gave away the penalty. On the third, Chumacero had an abundance of time and space on González’s right-hand side to pick out a cross for Ramallo to nod home ahead of Ángel and Lucena. Similarly for the fourth, Chumacero glided into a huge free area in the right side of the area before Ramallo again beat the central defenders to the cross, with his shot being saved before Cardozo latched onto the rebound.

This is without detailing all the other chances that were created  on Baroja’s goal. Undeniably then, Sanvicente’s tactics and choice of defensive personnel were also factors in the loss. Given that many of these players would not be likely starters in regular playing conditions, they can consider this a squandered personal opportunity to make their presence count on this stage. Between them, they were responsible for the second-highest number of goals conceded in a match under Sanvicente (runners-up only to those involved in the 5-0 mauling dished out by Chile this time last year).

Experienced Men Stand Out in Attack but do they Possess a Future?

Despite the two goals, there are not many in the attacking positions who could be said to have done themselves many favours in the long run. It is perhaps asking a bit much to expect any attacking fluency and well-worked moves from individuals who rarely play in the same line-up but all the same, there was little of this on show. Indeed, of the starters, only Seijas can be considered a regular and he normally plays for his country just ahead of the back four, as opposed to on the left of midfield. He caused some problems from set-pieces but his red card at the death will have not helped his personal cause.

Mario Rondón will doubtless feel emboldened, not only scoring but also having a hand in the second goal as well as finding the net again towards the end – albeit after an offside flag had been raised. He regularly chased balls and with three goals since Sanvicente took over (albeit one of these has since been chalked off, through no fault of the player), he is having the best phase of his international career. Alas, with under 15 caps to his name and his thirtieth birthday approaching in March, Rondón is not well-placed to make a long-term claim for a starting spot. Indeed, he is not really an out-and-out striker and faces competition from numerous versatile attacking players, many of whom are just emerging and are tipped to be fixtures of the selección for the best part of the next decade.  That said, as he was omitted from the Copa América squad, one suspects he will at least derive some contentment from any future call-ups, having been largely ignored outright by previous managers.

Age is even more of a concern for the other attacker of note, 33-year-old Mineros de Guayana striker Richard Blanco. Nevertheless, he took his goal very well and also played a minor role in Rondón’s strike.

Although both men may struggle to get onto the pitch in future, Sanvicente must glean some satisfaction from the fact that both of their goals started via the same route: a throw-in. Indeed, this was not too dissimilar from the history-making Salomón Rondón goal against Colombia in June that had its origins in a Roberto Rosales throw. While in all of these situations, the touchline hoist may have been far from the decisive factor, it is a curious coincidence and most likely has its roots on the training ground. Although Venezuela still urgently need to broaden their attacking arsenal, this particular weapon does at least show they can always offer a surprise irrespective of their general performance.

Sanvicente’s Last Stand on Tuesday? 

Much of this speculation regarding the national team’s future could soon either be discarded or moderated as a change in leadership could well be in the offing. Indeed, the dissent that has long been a feature of Noel Sanvicente’s reign has grown considerably in recent months and increases with every disappointing result. This defeat was the sixth in Venezuela’s last seven games (with the other match being a dire home draw against Panama). Scurious internet rumours and managerial wishlists have since evolved into published articles suggesting possible replacements; questions regarding Sanvicente’s position have made it into at least a couple of press conferences. There is a growing feeling that Tuesday’s home game against Ecuador could well be Chita‘s last game in charge.

Although now is not yet the time to write an obituary, things have undoubtedly regressed during his 16-month reign, giving younger fans a taste of what the dark pre-boom years were like before the nation were viable underdogs. Indeed, despite the opening day win against Colombia, the failure to get out of their group in this year’s Copa América was their worst performance since 2004’s competition. Similarly, their three consecutive defeats mark their worst start to a World Cup qualifying campaign since their opening games of the preliminary stage of Japan/South Korea 2002.

Though the Venezuelan football association (FVF) has been relatively quiet on their manager’s position, it is hard not to escape the feeling that much is riding on Tuesday’s home clash in Puerto Ordaz. For this bottom-versus-top encounter with Ecuador, Sanvicente will welcome back leading players such as Salomón Rondón, Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo; they are tipped to be supplemented by the bright new things (at international leve, at least), Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez.

At this point, a sudden turnaround that catalyses and transforms the campaign seems rather unlikely. Not only have the players frequently been on the wrong end of scorelines in both competitive and friendly action, but they have also deserved to be. Unsurprisingly, they have rarely seemed particularly happy when out on the field; whether that is simply due to the results or the system under which they are playing is difficult to discern. Nevertheless, one can not help but feel that if Sanvicente is to keep his job, this does heavily hinge upon whether his players, particularly the most senior ones, really want him to. Regardless of how low Venezuela’s chances of making Russia 2018 already seem, many players know that Qatar 2022 is too late for them. For such players as well as many fans, when placed in such a scenario, patience does not seem like much of a virtue. The final whistle in Puerto Ordaz awaits.

Team Selections

Bolivia (4-4-2): Vaca; Saavedra, Zenteno, Marteli, Morales; Arce (Eguino, 86′), Chumacero, Veizaga, Lizio (Duk, 78′); Cardozo, Ramallo (Arrascaita, 58′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): Baroja, J. Vargas (Falcón, 65′), Ángel (Velázquez, 50′), Lucena, A. González; Acosta, Rincón, Figuera (Carabalí, 46′); M. Rondón, Seijas; Blanco. (The formation alternated somewhat; sometimes a 4-3-3, other times a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1).

Darren Spherical


Brazil 3-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (13 October 2015)

Matchday 2 of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign brought the second loss to Noel Sanvicente’s charges. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 13 October 2015 –  Estádio Plácido Aderaldo Castelo, Fortaleza, Ceará.

Brazil 3-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Brazil 3-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 13 October 2015 (YouTube).

Seleção’s Superiority Self-Evident as Venezuela Leave Opening Round Point-Less

Match Report

The night may have begun with boos for Seleção boss Dunga but come the final whistle it was his opposite number Noel Sanvicente whose position had become the more precarious. Brazil, coming off the back of a 2-0 reversal against red-hot Chile, wasted little time trying to get back into their fans’ good books, asserting their superiority with less than 40 seconds on the clock. Luis Gustavo dispossessed Alejandro Guerra in the middle of the park, feeding Chelsea’s Willian who was granted plenty of time to drive into the area and then strike with evidently too much venom for Alain Baroja.

Venezuela initially responded well to this setback, getting forward and gaining some space in opposition territory. However, their hosts were to find that they could afford occasional minor defensive lapses as the visitors offered little from open play, something that could not be said of the likes of Willian, Douglas Costa and Oscar, as well as the wing-backs Dani Alves and Filipe Luis.

For the majority of the half, these players, as well as 35-year-old striker Ricardo Oliveira, largely tested the nerves of the Venezuelan backline more than the actual goal. However, they were to get their reward and go into the break with a scoreline that did justice to their dominance, as Willian doubled the lead in the 42nd minute. This time, Luis jinked past both Ronald Vargas and Roberto Rosales on the left, before pulling the ball back towards the edge of the area; Oscar dummied over it and the incoming Willian blasted home.

The ease with which they maintained the ball – tiring the visitors as they sprayed it about – continued into the second half. Often, the hosts gave the impression that they possessed an extra gear and could shift into it and score more if they really needed to. Costa’s 53rd-minute cross-cum-shot that hit the underside of the bar nearly sealed the win. However, though Venezuela were still a distant second in this half, their set-pieces increasingly improved in quality; one provided unexpected hope. Indeed, Luis Manuel Seijas’ 64th-minute corner was headed by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo to the back post and knocked in by the thigh of Christian Santos in what was his first ever competitive international. Just like that, Venezuela had halved the deficit.

Though the Castelão crowd were momentarily silenced – even the TVes Venezuelan commentators were taken aback – the goal did not significantly alter the game’s complexion; ten minutes later, it was over. Costa’s whipped cross from the left bounced before defender Fernando Amorebieta who opted to use his left boot on the turn to try to clear the ball. Unfortunately for his pride, he swung and failed to make any meaningful contact, with Ricardo Oliveira instead profiting; the Santos striker needed no invitation to score on what was his first start for his national side in over ten years.

Brazil comfortably saw out of the remainder of the game, doing so with Kaká and then later, Hulk, on the field – much to the delight of the squealing females in attendance. While the heat is still very much on coach Dunga, for the next few weeks at least, he will surely be sleeping far more soundly than his Venezuelan counterpart.

What follows are some thoughts on the Venezuelan display. 

Venezuela’s Defence Lacking the Necessary Resilience of the Recent Past 

Against Paraguay, aside from the late gift Baroja and Vizcarrondo delivered to Derlis González – which, considered alone, could be dismissed as an aberration – Venezuela’s defence largely put in a respectable performance. Alas, against vastly superior Seleção opponents, nobody could be said to have emerged favourably.

Goalkeeper Baroja failed to get a strong pair of hands behind Willian’s early goal and was unconvincing with a few of his attempted claims and stops. Right-back Rosales (who can not always replicate his impressive club form for his country), along with left-back Gabriel Cichero, often struggled with the flank attacks of Willian, Costa, Alves and Luis – the second and third goals came from Rosales’ side and Cichero was hoodwinked by Oscar’s dummy on the second. Centre-back Amorebieta stood off Willian for the first, allowing him to strike and was especially embarrassed on the third with his unnecessary air-kick. His partner Vizcarrondo did not play as prominent a role in the concession of goals – conversely, he assisted Venezuela’s solitary effort – but he could have done:  in the 14th minute, he was manfully shrugged off a long ball by Oliveira who ran towards goal in considerable space but shot too close to Baroja.

Collectively, they were regularly given the runaround, struggling to maintain their shape and organisation. Such a performance, considered alongside many other unconvincing displays, increasingly makes the disciplined 1-0 win over Colombia at Copa América look like a curious anomaly. Venezuela’s impressive showing in the last qualification cycle was built upon a relatively strong defence, yet this has rarely been witnessed in Sanvicente’s 15-month tenure. While wholesale changes are not required in this area, greater concentration and organisation levels plus two or three new competitive faces would not go amiss. Alas, regarding the latter, there does not currently appear to be anyone in a good position to fill at least one of those vacancies.

Plenty of Attackers, Few Ideas

Of course, a shaky defence could always be masked by a rampant attack – not two words one expects to put together in a sincere sentence with ‘Venezuela’ any time soon. Indeed, against Paraguay, Salomón Rondón was partnered in attack with Juan Manuel Falcón, with César González and Jeffrén Suárez on the flanks; Guerra, Josef Martínez, and Jhon Murillo were all brought on as second-half substitutes. In Fortaleza, Rondón, nominally at least, was receiving support from three different starting attackers: Santos behind him, with the returning Guerra and Vargas in wide positions. These latter two lasted 45 minutes before being replaced by Murillo and the less offence-minded Arquímedes Figuera; with under 10 minutes to go, Alexander González also came on, replacing the deeper-lying Seijas, a move which required some further positional adjustments.

In all, over these two games, nine different attacking players were used in conjunction with Rondón. Did anything that can be built on actually occur? It seems customary for many Venezuelan fans and media figures to highlight and overstate the quality of any minor piece of skill or invention displayed; to these distant eyes, nothing of note happened that was not done multiple times and with greater panache by many of their Brazilian counterparts.

Perhaps Santos’ goal will have aided his personal cause but for the most part the match was the wearily tedious tale of a group of attackers failing to both combine effectively and create ways of penetrating the opposition rearguard. It is now 15 games into Sanvicente’s reign and virtually no on-field progress in this area has been made. Can anyone, with any genuine confidence, name even one of the players in this part of the pitch that Sanvicente considers a starter? There is, after all, almost as much competition outside of the current squad as within. Further changes are a cert next month in La Paz against Bolivia, as to deal with the high altitude Sanvicente is poised to take with him a large number of home-based players; this, when against Brazil, substitute Arquímedes Figuera was the only representative of the domestic league.

One minor positive to be noted was the standard of set-pieces delivered, mostly by Seijas. Many first-half corners and free-kicks were at least reaching testing areas; by the second period, team-mates were actually making contact and of course, Santos’ headed goal came from a dead-ball put in by the Santa Fe midfielder which, in turn, was headed on by Vizcarrondo. Given the problems from open play, this has long seemed like an area well worth dedicating considerable time towards on the training ground.

Under-Fire Sanvicente Has Little Reason to Expect a Sudden Turnaround

Unsurprisingly, many have lost patience with Sanvicente, whose impressive club-level record holds increasingly little currency these days. Immediately after the Brazil game, in an admittedly completely unscientific Twitter poll, around 75 per cent of voters felt that he should no longer continue as manager. ‘Support is gained with the results and at the moment we do not have them’, he said post-game in Fortaleza. Will he have any to speak of after next month’s qualifiers away to Bolivia and at home to Ecuador? Given that afterwards there will be a four-month gap before the subsequent round of competitive fixtures he, and any under-fire manager knows, just how crucial the November encounters will be.

While some may derive optimism from the competitive debuts of both bright new things, Jeffrén and Santos, it has undeniably been a thoroughly depressing opening to the campaign. Aside from the performances, captain Tomás Rincón was pilloried online by many of his own fans for swapping shirts on the pitch at half-time with two-goal Willian, ultimately the undoubted man of the match. Although professionals such as El General may view such acts differently, symbolically it played into the hands of Vinotinto supporters who feel the team lacks bite, self-respect and character.

Furthermore, before and after the Brazil game, Santos and Alexander González had goods stolen from their luggage at two different Venezuelan airports (UPDATE: Andrés Túñez also had similar problems). There has been some speculation that morale and the general atmosphere in the camp is rather low – such incidents are obviously not likely to help.

Given all that has occurred over the past week or so, it is going to take something rather unanticipated to improve Sanvicente’s mood before the end of the year.

Team Selections


Venezuela 0-1 Paraguay – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (8 October 2015)

Having witnessed La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign get off to a calamitous start against La Albirroja, Hispanospherical.com offers up some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 8 October 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State.

Venezuela 0-1 Paraguay

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-1 Paraguay, CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 8 October 2015

Late Venezuelan Embarrassment Turns Mediocre Night into Disaster
Match Report

36,650 fans turned up to a damp Estadio Cachamay seemingly willing to put their experience-derived doubts to the backs of their minds and instead provide some vocal support to help Noel Sanvicente’s men get off to the successful start the coach considered essential. Whilst the uneven and bobbly playing surface was not conducive to free-flowing football, the aficionados in attendance always knew this was going to be at a premium. The familiar unsophisticated, unimaginative and toothless Venezuela was very much on display yet as the game wore on, the volume steadily rose. In the second half, the boys in burgundy seemed the more likely to break the deadlock, even if the majority of their efforts were tame or off-target, struggling as they did open up the defence and gain clear sights of goal.

Although an underwhelming goalless draw would have still been below the boss’ expectations, a rare clean sheet – only two in the previous 13 games – is not something that can easily be passed up. Alas, with around five minutes remaining, an horrific, rank amateurish error deprived them of this and gifted the game to Ramón Díaz’s men. Thus, ground has already been ceded to one of the other outsiders seeking to defy the CONMEBOL odds.

Despite the bulk of the match being as wearily woeful as anticipated, Hispanospherical.com had already mentally – yes, in that sense of the word – signed a contract with itself to provide some thoughts on this and every Venezuela encounter for the foreseeable future. As this game exemplified many of the traits common to performances under Sanvicente since his arrival in July 2014, one will try not to labour too many points. There can, however, only be one place to start.

The Incident: Vizcarrondo/Baroja Confusion Gifts Paraguay the Win

For those hitherto residing in a state of blissful ignorance – or perhaps, having instead watched the likes of Colombia and Argentina or been sanely wrapped up in bed – here is how the game was won: In the 85th minute, a diagonal Paraguayan ball was hoisted forward, where it bounced centrally just before it reached Venezuelan defensive stalwart Oswaldo Vizcarrondo several yards outside his own area. Hauntingly, he tamely chested the ball to where he assumed goalkeeper Alain Baroja to be, only to turn to see the AEK Athens stopper suddenly scramble over to his left in vain; he had not been as central as the Nantes centre-back thought. Dynamo Kyiv’s Derlis González pounced, beating the keeper to the ball and tapping home, ultimately winning the game against the run of play.

The usually reliable ‘Vizca’ became an instant villain; social media was rife with anger, horror and mockery. There were, however, some who switched the blame over to Baroja, citing his poor positioning and/or presumed lack of communication. Upon reviewing the footage, there is some credence to this. It appears that the keeper was anticipating the ball to drift through to his grateful arms, yet had he stayed in line with Vizcarrondo, he would have been near enough to grab the ball before González’s arrival. Did he give his colleague a shout to let him know he was claiming it? Baroja said afterwards that there was no communication. On the other hand, some feel the defender could have attempted to clear the ball if he was unsure of Baroja’s whereabouts.

Post-game, public scapegoating was not on Sanvicente’s mind. ‘We continue committing the same errors of 20 years ago’, he sighed dejectedly, adding that ‘[t]here was confusion for both sides, [and thus] responsibility for both.’ Diplomatic to an extent, but largely accurate. Two days later, the ever-reflective El Estímulo was still struggling to come to terms with what had unfolded, opening an article by proclaiming that the memory of the mix-up was tormenting the minds of fans on a loop à la Groundhog Day. Elsewhere in the immediate aftermath, however, there was a fairly universal consensus over who was the culprit:

                       liderendeportesvizcarrondo   paraguayvizcarrondo

Front covers of the Venezuelan Sports Daily Líder en Deportes and Paraguay’s Diario Extra.

Otherwise, A Decent Defensive Display Against Low-Ranking Opposition

The goal aside, however, the visitors could not manage a shot on target. Indeed, while Paraguay were never likely to offer the sternest of tests, Sanvicente, if/when he unslumps his shoulders, will surely be quietly content with the efforts from his rearguard. With the exception of The Incident, there were only a handful or so of relatively minor defensive concerns.

Early on in the frenetic, composure-free exchanges, there were a couple of breaches at the back that came to nothing. The visitors were largely resigned to a few speculative off-target efforts, though late on, they did waste a gilt-edged chance that will never get the exposure it would warrant in different circumstances – not that Édgar Benítez will be complaining. Soon after taking the lead, with the Venezuelan back-line in disarray, a ball was lofted over to the Querétaro attacker who rounded Baroja only to miss what was an open goal. While some camera angles are more generous to him than others, he should certainly have done better. Alas, with the hosts failing to even up the score, there will be no tortuous mental Groundhog Day for Paraguayans.

Otherwise, there was not too much to concern Sanvicente. He could not significantly fault the two players under most threat in this area: the much-maligned left-back Gabriel Cichero and 34-year-old Franklin Lucena, more accustomed to being on defensive-midfield standby, who was preferred over Andrés Túñez to start alongside Vizcarrondo at the back. However, with Fernando Amorebieta returning from suspension for the upcoming Brazil game, a decision now has to be made. According to reports, rather than coming in for Cichero, the Championship defender is instead likely to replace Lucena at centre-back, his strongest position. Here, he can attempt to rediscover a partnership with Vizcarrondo that was regularly deployed during the last qualifying cycle.

Ultimately, despite the performance in this area, Sanvicente will be acutely aware that Paraguay, for all their merits, do not possess one of the region’s most testing attacks. Bigger challenges await around the corner; lapses in concentration can easily multiply and be punished accordingly.

New Personnel But Same Old Problems in Attack 

Nevertheless, the defensive display combined with the work of the likes of Tomás Rincón and Luis Manuel Seijas edging possession in midfield regularly put La Vinotinto marginally in pole position to nick a narrow win. Alas, to what should have been the surprise of no-one, not only did they fail but they showed little teamwork and collective understanding in the final third. They barely troubled opposition goalkeeper Antony Silva, rarely found space to run at – let alone past – defenders and often had to resort to long-ball and/or hit-and-hope tactics.

The recent retirement of Juan Arango necessitated a change in this area, though Sanvicente seemed keen on revolution over evolution. The Copa America triumvirate fielded behind Salomón Rondón consisting of Alejandro Guerra, Arango and Ronald Vargas was completely overhauled. Instead, in a 4-4-2 formation, Rondón was partnered by Juan Manuel Falcón, with the experienced César González on the left side and newcomer Jeffrén Suárez on the right. Though ‘Maestrico’ González has played many times with Rondón at international level, the other two are, in terms of experience on this stage, virtually strangers to all those around them (pre-game, Falcón possessed less than a handful of caps; Jeffrén, a mere 30 minutes gained from a forgettable friendly last month). Given these selections for this already vital game, only the eternal optimists could have had high hopes that everyone would instantly gel on-the-job.

All the same, despite not setting up any chances, often struggling to beat his man and failing to get a shot on target, ex-Barcelona man Jeffrén has since received some praise from various Venezuelan journalists. In fairness, he was not fully fit and playing his first competitive fixture, but was still able to show a few glimpses of admirable composure and willingness to make things happen. Yet the subsequent appraisals seem out-of-kilter with events on the pitch and seem to speak more of a clamouring for new heroes and positives on a night when frankly, there were slim pickings to be had.

Nevertheless, irrespective of what it says about Jeffrén and his competition, Sanvicente was implicitly taken by what he saw. Indeed, a few days after the game, he said that he would be prepared to wait ‘until the last hour’ to see whether the injury-prone KAS Eupen winger will be fit for the Brazil match. However, with several hours to go, it appears that he has conceded defeat on this front. Instead, according to the most reliable sources, in Fortaleza, there will again be wholesale changes in the area behind and to the side of Rondón: Guerra and Vargas are predicted to reprise their Copa roles on the flanks with the more central spot filled by Christian Santos, a man with a comparable amount of international experience as Jeffrén.

Curiously, none of these players were substituted on against Paraguay, with instead Josef Martínez and Jhon Murillo the two receiving minutes in the closing stages. The search for an effective offence shows little sign of going away any time soon.

Wanted: a Competent Set-Piece Taker  

Lastly, particularly in the first half on the wet pitch that was fighting a losing battle against the elements, spectators were treated to a variety of sports, though only rarely did these include the one that they had paid money to see. The challenging conditions facilitated some midfield duels and aimless forward forays that resembled some rather tedious ping-pong and head-tennis exchanges. Diving, a cynic might say, was taken as a given. Then, 25 minutes in, ‘Maestrico’ threw in a topical reference when he blazed a free-kick well over the bar. Not to be outdone, five minutes later Rondón spooned one at least 30 yards above the woodwork. To momentarily engage in a bit of Dad humour, one would like to enquire as to why Venezuela are not represented at the Rugby World Cup?

There was not a significant improvement in the majority of set-pieces in the remainder of the game. While the turf may have been partly to blame and, of course, no-one expected Juan Arango’s heir-apparent to announce himself in the first encounter following El Capi’s retirement, Sanvicente will be keen to see some progress in this area as soon as possible. Given his side’s evident shortcomings from open play, dead-ball situations could well offer a lifeline or two. Indeed, no matter how Brazil may, according to their standards, be struggling, Venezuela will need all the weapons in their armoury if they are to gain a result against the one CONMEBOL nation they are yet to beat in a competitive match.

Feel free to return to Hispanospherical.com for coverage of that particular match. 

Team Selections  

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Lucena, Cichero; J. Suárez (Murillo, 81′), Rincón, Seijas, C. González (Guerra, 62′); Falcón (Martínez, 74′), S. Rondón.

Paraguay (4-4-2): Silva; B. Valdez, Da Silva, Aguilar, Samudio; D. González, Ortigoza, Ortiz (Cáceres, 63′), Benítez; Barrios (Fabbro. 86′), Santander (Bobadilla, 72′).

Darren Spherical


Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – October 2015 Preview

With Venezuela set to begin their latest quest to qualify for their first-ever World Cup, Hispanospherical.com looks at the burden of expectation carried by manager Noel Sanvicente, the loss of the talismanic Juan Arango and provides an overview of those likely to take to the field against Paraguay and/or Brazil.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 8 October 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State.

Venezuela vs Paraguay

Tuesday 13 October 2015 – Estádio Plácido Aderaldo Castelo, Fortaleza, Ceará.

Brazil vs Venezuela 

sanvicenteturineseVenezuela manager Noel Sanvicente speaking on the eve of the Paraguay game (Via: Humberto Turinese)

Under-Fire Sanvicente Knows What the Fans Crave 

‘I’m not here to win Copa América, I’m here to get us qualified [for the next World Cup]. If not, it’s a failure’. Back in June just days before the Chile-hosted tournament kicked off, Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente forcefully set out the terms on which he believes his tenure will be judged.

In the four months that have since passed, the rod ‘Chita’ appears to have built for his own back has only enlarged. True, there was the expectation-escalating euphoria of mugging Colombia 1-0 on that frenetic opening sunday in Rancagua, but just seven days later La Vinotinto were booking their flights home. Having been vanquished by both Peru and Brazil, Venezuela’s group-stage exit marked their worst performance in the competition since 2004. However, when the squad was reconvened last month for two home internationals, the largely identical line-ups that were fielded had the chance to vindicate the views of many fans; namely, that in June they had merely been unfortunate victims of a tough draw as well as a certain refereeing decision/one player’s moment of ill-discipline (depending on who you talk to and on which day of the week).

Such sentiments were soon to evaporate, which is more than can be said for the rain at Estadio Cachamay, home of Mineros de Guayana. Indeed, following an eyebrow-raising 3-0 trouncing meted out by Honduras, the subsequent online storm that it sparked was paralleled in the weather conditions at this deceptively photogenic ground. Subsequently the second game against Panama had to be delayed for over 20 minutes before commencing in what were rather A & E-friendly circumstances. Swashbuckling, it was not, though both teams were not short of opportunities to make a splash. Two opposition players had to be substituted off within the first 25 minutes and had Salomón Rondón not tapped in an injury-time equaliser, he and his compatriots may have opted against emerging from the swamp.

Before these encounters, Sanvicente and several others in the camp had emphasised the importance of winning their home games, given the lengthy distances and varied playing conditions they will face in CONMEBOL qualifying. This week, as well as pointing favourably to the example of Ecuador last time around, he has voiced a similar outlook ahead of his country’s opening World Cup qualifying match with Paraguay: ‘For any team, the first match is all-important. To qualify, this match must be won.’ Such comments grant him little room to manoeuvre should things have gone awry just 90 minutes into a two-year campaign. However, they do testify to both his winning mentality (seven domestic titles as coach) as well as the expectations that now come with the job.

His predecessors have a lot to answer for. The cumulative work from 1999-2013 of José Omar Pastoriza, Richard Páez and, in particular, César Farías enabled Venezuela to belatedly emerge as a force within the region, regularly attaining ever-greater heights. Under Farías, they recorded their best ever Copa América performance (4th in 2011) as well as, positionally at least, their highest finish in a World Cup qualifying campaign (6th of 9 teams for Brazil 2014).

Given this backdrop of rapid transformation, any deviation from the seemingly inevitable march of progress runs the risk of provoking the collective ire of fans. The early Copa exit, compounded by the subsequent friendly defeats, has raised significant doubts in the minds of many as well as given further ammunition to those with long-standing grievances with the team’s displays since Sanvicente took over in July 2014. Midfielder Luis Manuel Seijas acknowledged this disgruntled element after the Honduras debacle, though was evidently not keen on any kind of rapprochement: ‘We’re surely getting crucified, but let’s hope that in October, when we win in the first match, they won’t get in the victory bus with us’. Alternatively, if worst comes to worst, they should withhold their home-made torture devices for the time being and then ‘[c]rucify us in October if things don’t go well for us.’ Two straight losses against Paraguay and Brazil and the mob will not need any encouragement.

One of the consistent complaints during Sanvicente’s reign has been the lack of effective attacking play and, as a consequence, goals. Overall, just 13 (15 unofficially) have been scored in as many games. However, apologists for the current regime will be keen to recall that things were no better during Farias’ reign, with the team only managing to score 14 in the 16 games of their admirable 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. Yet, Sanvicente has got a task on his hands if he is to even match that tally, particularly as one key architect and supplier of those goals has recently confirmed that he will not be there to assist on the road to Russia 2018.

The Post-Arango Era: Replacing the Irreplaceable

Video of all but one of Juan Arango’s goals in World Cup Qualifying games (YouTube). His final one against Bolivia can be viewed here.

A 15-minute run-out at the Estadio Cachamay on the night of the Panama game was no way to end the 16-year international career of the most-capped, highest-scoring and, quite simply, greatest player in Venezuela’s football history. Alas, that  was, by choice, the end of the road for Juan Arango, the man who future generations should easily be convinced into believing inspired the cliché ‘cultured left foot’. In the next two years there will be far fewer left-footed pearlers gliding through the air, far fewer pinpoint set-pieces and far fewer nonchalant flicks and exquisite through-balls. Some doom-mongers fear there could even be none of the above; this is something no convert to the CONMEBOL cause wishes to hear.

Aside from the goals and assists, the departure of La Zurda de Oro also deprives the side of a certain confidence and appeal to outsiders that is difficult to find elsewhere in the squad. This is, after all, the man who blithely informed German newspaper Bild that he is, in fact, a better free-kick taker than Cristiano Ronaldo; an assertion backed up by many observers, including one of the most august global football sources. Appreciation for his talents is such that even the Bundesliga’s official YouTube channel temporarily removed its impartiality cap to endorse El Huracán del Caribe as their favourite player in a much-viewed video of all his goals at Borussia Mönchengladbach (2009-2014). Furthermore, earlier this year, one of his team-mates from this period, a certain Marco Reus, paid tribute to him in an interview; he is far from alone in his admiration.

Following the dismal day out at the waterpark with Panama, his Vinotinto companions joined him at a teary-eyed press conference and soon afterwards were quick to express their gratitude and respect for El Capi, at times approaching idolatry with their praise. Arango had announced that he had been mulling over retirement for a while and that, ultimately, he did not possess the motivation for another lengthy campaign and it was time to give others a chance.

Talk of the post-Arango era has steadily increased ever since his 2014 move back to Mexico with Xolos de Tijuana following a decade in Europe shared between Spain and Germany. Undoubtedly, he was slowing down, tracking back less and being less of a decisive factor in games. However, as he remained an on-field influence right up until his last competitive game, the claims that his iconic status combined with his diminishing mobility made him a hindrance to reshaping the national team’s attack still needs some visible supporting evidence – this may take some time to emerge. Indeed, though Venezuela could only manage two goals at Copa América, Arango played a major part in both. Against Colombia, it was his hooked cross on the turn that Alejandro Guerra nodded across for Rondón to head in and against Brazil it was one of his trademark free-kicks – one of only a few he was actually allowed to take – that was parried back for Miku to halve the deficit late on and cruelly get everyone’s hopes up. .

Furthermore, in the last qualification cycle, he scored three goals – including this stunner against Ecuador – and set up some other memorable ones, including Fernando Amorebieta’s history-making winner against Argentina and Rondón’s late equaliser away to Uruguay.  Who then, could possibly fill his boots?

Team Preview: In Search of an Attack

No-one, is the gut reply. Instead, it seems Sanvicente will attempt to ensure that those in the attacking positions can combine to offer something different which adds up to more than the sum of their individual parts. Guerra and Ronald Vargas were the two wide-men who flanked Arango in June, though based on Sanvicente’s press comments as well as sources close to the side, they may not be reprising their roles against Paraguay. Indeed, renowned journalist Humberto Turinese, who regularly travels with the squad, has stated that Venezuela will line-up in a 4-2-2-2 formation, Rondón being joined up front by Juan Falcón with César González and Jeffrén Suárez playing in the space behind.

While the formation may well alter during – if not before – the match, if the personnel changes are accurate then this is a wholesale supplanting of the Guerra-Arango-Vargas triumvirate that began behind Rondón in all three Copa games. Long-time followers of the national side will be aware that despite the lack of recent success in this area, it is the most competitive in the squad, yet no-one in the current crop has been able to claim a regular spot supporting the West Bromwich Albion striker for any sustained period of time. Nevertheless, for any newcomers, here is a brief overview of some of the other attackers who may feature:

Falcón, a forward at Metz who was not even in the Copa squad, won some praise for his lively display against Panama after he came on as a first half-substitute for Christian Santos, the NEC Nijmegen attacker who is also in this squad and is currently one of the top-scorers in the Eredivisie with 5 goals in 8 games. 33-year-old González, a regular under Farías who had to make do with being a substitute in June, appears to have won a start off the back of his scintillating domestic form with Deportivo Táchira – 7 goals in 8 games. Jeffrén, by contrast, only made his international debut last month just as Arango was departing. One in, one out, some might say. The 27-year-old graduate of Barcelona’s La Masia academy and erstwhile Spain youth international finally agreed to play for the country of his birth and is doing well rebuilding his career at Belgian side KAS Eupen following some injury setbacks.

Needless to say, if such an attack does emerge from the tunnel then it is quite a bold risk from Sanvicente, who has named very similar line-ups for the past five games. While Turinese is a respected figure, it must be noted that other outlets, such as the popular Twitter account Mister Vinotinto, are anticipating a different line-up. Whatever the reality, should Sanvicente opt otherwise or perhaps need to make further adjustments after the first whistle has been blown, then along with Santos, Guerra and Vargas, there are at least two other options at his disposal. For one, there’s Josef Martínez, a slippery. versatile attacker who many in his homeland feel is a definite star for the future but who has struggled to really nail down a regular place at Torino. A second possibility is another much-vaunted prospect, 20-year-old Jhon Murillo, who is on loan at Tondela in the Portuguese top-flight from Benfica. The Lisbon giants signed him on a five-year-deal following two eye-catching seasons at domestic club Zamora.

Over the course of two years, observers can expect to see at least a few different organisational and personnel changes in this area of the field. Outside of the current squad, there is a handful of other players who could well be in with a chance, with two names in particular standing out as long-term prospects. Firstly, the injured Rómulo Otero, a jinking playmaker/wide-man whose set-pieces have at times drawn comparisons with those of Arango; a few months back he made his long-awaited move away from Caracas ending up, somewhat surprisingly, at Chilean outfit Huachipato. There is also 21-year-old Juanpi who, to the chagrin of some, Sanvicente feels needs a bit more first-team club experience. Indeed, while he may not always be named in the Málaga line-up, he does already have substitute appearances at the Bernabéu and Camp Nou under his belt this season. Time will tell whether he is best-suited to an attacking-midfield or a more reserved, deep-lying role.

Team Preview: Rincón’s Role Crucial

Despite the focus on the forward problems, the defence is certainly not without its flaws, conceding at a rate of two per game under Sanvicente. However, although they have been porous in non-competitive encounters, they only let in three in as many matches at Copa América, with the clean sheet and solid, disciplined performance against Colombia earning them plaudits around the world. While there are still some debates to be had here, things are, at the moment at least, a little more settled in this area. Against Paraguay, Alain Baroja will definitely be in goal, with Málaga’s tenacious Roberto Rosales at right-back and Sion’s Gabriel Cichero at left-back (though the suspended Fernando Amorebieta could return for the Brazil game). In the centre of defence will be the towering Oswaldo Vizcarrondo of Nantes, though Thailand-based Andrés Túñez may lose his spot to 34-year-old Franklin Lucena, if Turinese’s reporting is accurate. If this is the case, Túñez may be paying for his roles in the goals of Brazil’s Thiago Silva and Roberto Firmino – both of whom, incidentally, are not in the Seleção squad – in June as well as some errors in September’s friendlies. On a related note, the defence as a whole should also be pleased that Robinho – who had a great game three-and-a-half months ago, setting up the first goal – has not been called up; Chelsea’s Willian, however, who jinked past Rosales to cross in for Firmino to tap in the second, is.

In front of the back four will surely be the usual partnership of Seijas and new captain Tomás RincónMany will be looking to El General, currently with Serie A side Genoa, to assert his character on all his colleagues and instil within them the determination and mental toughness that he has long displayed, most notably in the run to the semi-finals of 2011’s Copa América. He has worn the armband on many occasions in the past and now with the official designation, he can be proclaimed with firmer justification to be the most important player in the Venezuelan ranks. Indeed, while Rondón may ultimately grab more headlines, with goals not anticipated to fly in with any regularity, Rincón’s leading role in repelling attacks and communicating with the defence-minded players around him will be key. To have any chance of prospering in this qualifying campaign, similar tactics, work-rate and organisation to those witnessed against Colombia will surely be essential. If Rincón and co. can successfully thwart, the onus will be on Rondón and whoever is immediately behind him to capitalise.

Ultimately, to state the blindingly obvious, it is not going to be easy for Noel Sanvicente. As well as the issues raised here, he must contend with the quality of the CONMEBOL region being arguably at its strongest in living memory as well as the additional problem of having Brazil return to the qualification trail to compete for what are potentially five World Cup places.

Indeed, their south-easterly neighbours, now managed by Dunga, are the only team left in the confederation that Venezuela have never beaten in a competitive match. Only the eternal optimists are considering this record to be broken next Tuesday. For now, the attention in the camp is narrowly focused on Paraguay, against whom in the same fixture the campaign for Brazil 2014 officially ended following a frustrating 1-1 draw in westerly San Cristóbal. That occurred on Venezuela’s final matchday; if Sanvicente’s pre-game words are to be taken at face-value, a failure to beat La Albirroja this time around could mean he feels their quest for Russia 2018 is all-but-over at the first hurdle.

Such an outcome would be disastrous for morale and the pressure on the coach and players would undoubtedly increase. Still, as long-time followers of football in this continent know, if a week is supposedly a long time in football, then try two years. Players can gradually emerge, teams can belatedly gel and circumstances can change. Whatever happens this week, it is going to be quite the long-distance assault on the senses. Hispanospherical.com hopes you manage to remain in one piece and stick around to see it to its conclusion.

Venezuela Squad

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

Defenders: Fernando Amorebieta (Middlesbrough, on loan from Fulham), Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Gabriel Cichero (Sion), Alexander González (Young Boys), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), Andrés Túñez (Buriram United), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders: Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), César González (Deportivo Táchira), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, on loan from Mineros de Guayana), Franklin Lucena (Once Caldas, on loan from Deportivo La Guaira), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fé), Ronald Vargas (AEK Athens).

Forwards: Juan Falcón (Metz),  Josef Martínez (Torino),  Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen), Jeffrén Suárez (KAS Eupen).

Note: Fernando Amorebieta is suspended for the first game against Paraguay.

Darren Spherical