In their first friendly game of the latest international break, Venezuela’s long-term ambitions were handed a rude awakening by a proud, well-honed team that has absolutely no chance of bumping into them at Qatar 2022. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…
Unofficial International Friendly
Friday 12 October 2018 – Estadio de Mendizorroza, Vitoria, Álava, Spain
Basque Country 4-2 Venezuela
Video Highlights of Basque Country 4-2 Venezuela, Unofficial International Friendly, 12 October 2018 (YouTube)
La Liga-Level Liquidation for La Vinotinto
The Spain-based top-flight representatives of the border-straddling region of the Basque Country served up a convincing victory over an experimental Venezuela line-up.
With Salomón Rondón already out injured, Rafael Dudamel also opted to place goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez and lynchpin captain Tomás Rincón on the bench. Even taking into account the long called-for return of Roberto Rosales at right-back, this was a rather inexperienced side to be confronting a La Liga-laden outfit.
Conversely, their opponents boasted in their ranks the likes of Athletic Bilbao’s Iñaki Williams and Aritz Aduriz, Real Sociedad’s Asier Illarramendi and Aritz Elustondo and, particularly eye-catching in the first half, Alavés’ Ibai Gómez – playing here on his home turf of Mendizorroza.
With the aid of pyrotechnics, over 15,000 were on hand to generate a carnival-like atmosphere, which spurred on the hosts to dart out of the traps to dominate the opening 25 minutes or so. Their speed, sharpness and mutual understanding controlled the match-tempo, making it difficult for Venezuela’s makeshift defensive-midfield pairing of Arquímedes Figuera and Aristóteles Romero to track and the flanks were also occasionally exposed. It was Gómez who enjoyed virtually all the best chances in this period. In particular, in the 6th minute he gave centre-back Yordan Osorio the slip before his low drive forced a good stop from Rafael Romo and, then in the 20th minute, he received a pass centrally, made room for himself and fired marginally wide of the post.
The visitors could breathe – albeit, only for five more minutes. At this point, Gómez stepped up to take a free-kick somewhat left-of-centre on the edge of the area. Surprisingly – or, perhaps not, for anyone who has seen any of his recent golazos – he anticipated the jump of the wall to perfection, striking the ball underneath them and past the blindsided Romo for the opening goal.
It was the least that his side deserved. Yet, as so often is the case, it galvanised the opponents, who until this moment had only made one or two brief incursions into the final third. Despite this, within five minutes, they found themselves level; hearteningly for Dudamel, this came courtesy of the work of two men who, for differing reasons, have been denied any club action so far this season. Following some purposeful striding from Adalberto Peñaranda on the periphery of area, Romero’s optimistic strike took a fatal deflection off Yuri Berchiche, wrongfooted Asier Riesgo and ended up in the back of the net.
For the remaining 15 minutes of the first period, Venezuela earned themselves a greater share of the play, in the process winning set-pieces as well as greatly diminishing the threat to Romo’s goal.
However, following six home changes at the break, the temporary dam did not take long to burst wide open. Indeed, barely four minutes of round two had been played when a rather static Vinotinto defence was breached by Williams’ central poke forward; this fell to the fresh Jon Bautista who controlled and placed home in space to regain the lead. Fast-forward another four minutes and the gap was doubled. This time, Javier Eraso’s corner was knocked back within the area before Jhon Murillo’s poor clearance landed at the feet of another substitute, Arnaitz Arbilla, whose strike from the edge of the area bypassed Romo.
Subsequently, Dani García had a shot that only narrowly missed the target and it was evident that the South Americans had a mountain to climb. Although some more experienced heads came on to help avert an onslaught, there was never any serious doubt over the result. Later on Venezuela created some minor moments of threat: Rincón drove into the area and then had a penalty appeal waved away, Rosales put in some testing crosses and Eduard Bello warmed the goalkeeper’s gloves from an acute angle. Yet it was the Basques who were next on the scoresheet when an 87th-minute header by Elustondo – which may have been diverted in by defender Luis Mago – made it 4-1. For the third time on the night, Dudamel’s men were undone from a set-piece.
Nevertheless, Venezuela were at least able to respond to this additional setback with a goal of their own at the death. Substitute Jefferson Savarino arced a fine diagonal ball over to Rosales who, from the right byline, saw his cross into the centre nodded home by another erstwhile benchmate, Andrés Ponce.
Make no mistake, although results are not everything at this early stage of this new cycle, this match was anything but a success from a Venezuelan perspective. The makeshift XI lacked an effective game-plan, struggled to keep pace with their opponents and were often easily outplayed.
However, if there is one broad positive to take away it is that both goals involved players – Peñaranda, Romero, Rosales and Ponce – who had previously not even been considered anywhere near the squad, let alone in the starting eleven. Looking ahead, the former two desperately need to find some minutes at club level, however problematic that currently appears to be. Rosales needs to work with his defensive colleagues to bolster their collective organisation but he at least displayed his renowned threat going forward. Ponce, on the other hand, who has had a promising start to his new life in Russia, must be feeling good about his late goal and, with Josef Martínez returning home to Atlanta, he must fancy his chances of leading the line against the United Arab Emirates.
That game, on Tuesday in Barcelona behind closed doors against an official FIFA-recognised nation, is anticipated to be a more winnable encounter. Dudamel is not one to take things for granted but as much as he will want to try out new ideas and personnel, he knows how important positive results are for maintaining faith in the country’s long-term ambitions.
Basque Country (4-1-4-1): A. Riesgo (J. Serantes, 46′); M. Aguirregabiria, A. Elustondo, I. Martínez (A. Arbilla, 46′), Y. Berchiche; A. Illarramendi (D. García, 46′); I. Williams, D. Zurutuza (J. Bautista, 46′), M. García (M. Vesga, 59′), I. Gómez (L. Sangalli, 46′); A. Aduriz (J. Eraso, 46′).
Venezuela (4-2-3-1): R. Romo; R. Rosales, Y. Osorio, W. Ángel, L. Mago; A. Figuera (T. Rincón, 59′), A. Romero (J. Moreno, 72′); J. Murillo, R. Otero (J. Savarino, 58′), A. Peñaranda (E. Bello, 64′); J. Martínez (A. Ponce, 64′).