Tag Archives: Paraguay

Day 7 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Paraguay 2-1 Chile & Colombia 1-0 Brazil)

On the seventh day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship, attention turned back to Group A, with Paraguay taking on Chile and Colombia facing Brazil. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…

groupa240117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Paraguay 2-1 Chile

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group A, 24 January 2017 (YouTube)

Pre-game, both sides seemed the likeliest to be going home early from Group A, but with a late winner, Paraguay greatly enhanced their chances of progressing, whilst putting Chile on the brink. Yet, it was La Rojita who made most of the early running, with the returning Jeisson Vargas setting up chances and rattling the crossbar from a free-kick. However, very much against the run of play, Paraguay took the lead in the 33rd minute when Pedro Báez twisted one way and then the other before striking home. It wasn’t to be until the 82nd minute that Chile got back on level terms; they did so via somewhat fortuitous means when a mis-hit cross bounced into the goalmouth, evading everyone except Ignacio Jara. Despite this relief, their joy was shortlived as in stoppage-time, following a rebound, the ball found its way through to Cristhian Paredes, who hit the back of the net.

Talent Spotting

paraguay Paraguay

Although he had less of a monopoly over the Paraguayan creativity than he did against Brazil, Jesús Medina (No. 11, Libertad) nevertheless played his part in some of the attempts on the Chile goal. Indeed, it was he who passed the ball up to Pedro Báez (No. 9, Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Cerro Porteño), though it is the latter who deserves most credit for the 33rd-minute opener, as he fooled a cluster of defenders before firing home with his left peg. Later in the 78th minute, Medina played a more substantial role in what was nearly the second goal, as his corner to the near post area bounced before purposely reaching the alert Saúl Salcedo (No. 5, Olimpia) whose elegant flick-shot with the outside of his right boot had to be quickly parried. With three minutes left Medina, this time from a free-kick, chipped in another ball that found its target in Báez, but alas, this went straight to the goalkeeper; thus, the eventual winner was to come from a different route altogther.

Indeed,  Cristhian Paredes (No. 6, Club América, Mexico) deserves praise for both starting and ending the sequence of events that led to this stoppage-time goal. He picked up the ball in the middle of the park, holding off a defender along the way before nudging it to Sebastián Ferreira (No. 19, Olimpia) on the edge of the area, who poked a shot at the goalkeeper. The rebound fell to Guillermo Paiva (No. 16, 3 de Febrero), who knocked in a low ball from the right inside the area towards the goalmouth; this was missed with an air-kick from Ferreira, but waiting behind him was Paredes, who fired home to claim the glory.

Otherwise, it would be remiss to note that just before this, Paraguay actually had two other notable chances to regain the lead, both featuring players involved with the goal. Indeed, Paiva was, in a way atoning for his miss barely a minute prior when, having just come on as a substitute, he was played into clear space around the edge of the area yet horribly screwed a right-footed shot wide.

Previous to this, Ferreira had rose rather well on the edge of the area to head a deep free-kick from the right; his effort bounced and seemingly threatened to creep inside the far post, but alas, this went a yard wide. This set-piece was played in by right-back Rodi Ferreira (No. 2, Olimpia) and it certainly wasn’t his only creative input in the game, having come close to the target from a free-kick earlier on and also having sent in some other testing balls. Already a regular at club level, it looks like his country may have a decent pair of full-backs in he and Blás Riveros (No. 4, Basel, Switzerland).

chileflag Chile

Particularly in the first half, Chile saw much of the ball and, more than anyone else, the man leading the drive for a goal was the returning Jeisson Vargas (No. 10, Estudiantes de La Plata, Argentina, on loan from Bologna, Italy); following on from his crude red card against Brazil, he provided several, more positive, instances of his talents. With less than two minutes gone, he played an incisive pass forward to 17-year-old Iván Morales (No. 19, Colo Colo) who just about shielded the ball away from the Paraguay goalkeeper before immediately turning and striking low; alas, defender Pablo Meza had quickly sensed this and was there on the goal-line to clear. Morales had a couple of other minor moments of note in the first half when generally being a nuisance to the opposition defence and may well be one to look out for at 2019’s tournament. Nevertheless, Vargas was the main man in this period, playing in balls and striking from range – at one point, he actually managed three shots in just under five minutes. Indeed, from 25 yards in the 24th minute, he struck with intent just wide of the far post; a minute later from a similar position, he hit a dipping free-kick barely a yard over; then, most eye-catchingly of all in the 28th minute, following a free-kick Morales had won after chasing a chipped Vargas ball, the latter whacked a thunderous set-piece that crashed off the crossbar and out. Although he was less conspicuous in the second half, he did nevertheless display some determination and hunger to push forward and cause some uncertainty with his area-bound balls; it’s not hard to see why a Serie A side have already snapped him up.

All that being said, he had no role in the 82nd-minute equalising goal, which had more than an element of fortune about it. Indeed, on the right, Victor Dávila (No. 7, Huachipato) – who caused a few problems with his dribbles, though seems a tad slight – made some space for himself but slipped as he was crossing in with his left boot. The ball thus bounced unpredictably in the goalmouth with first Morales missing it and then a defender being put in an awkward position; before he could do anything decisive about it, Ignacio Jara (No. 15, Cobreloa) pounced at the back post to get the goal.

Alas, ultimately, it wasn’t to be enough and now Chile find themselves perched over the precipice of elimination.

Colombia 1-0 Brazil

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group A, 24 January 2017 (YouTube)

Brazil rested several of their hitherto most effective players as Colombia snatched a victory in a game no doubt appreciated more by the Mario Yepes’ than the Carlos Valderramas of this world. Indeed, despite having a lively tempo, clear chances were not easy to come by, with the two defences both emerging from this with the most plaudits. From range, Colombia’s Juan Hernández perhaps came closest with a respectable effort and, later, he could have perhaps had an assist to his name had Michael Gómez got more direction on his header. The second half largely consisted of defences getting the upper hand, though Brazil did come close in the 58th minute when a spilled free-kick was nodded onto the post by Lucas Cunha, though the rebound from this was nervily blocked. To witness a goal in this game was certainly unanticipated and the manner in which it arrived even more so: from a difficult angle on the right in the 87th minute, substitute Ever Valencia struck what looked like a cross, but which may have taken a minor deflection that surprisingly deceived the goalkeeper. Despite this loss, Brazil are through to the Final Phase, whereas these three points for Colombia mean that while a draw against Chile in their final game could well be enough for them to qualify, a victory certainly will be. Their fate now lies in their own feet.

Talent Spotting

colombia Colombia

Though no attacking player could be said to have put in a vintage performance, Juan ‘El Cucho’ Hernández (No. 10, América de Cali, on loan from Granada, Spain) again made some notable contributions. After just 9 minutes on the left, he exhibited some fine natural ability when, apropos of nothing, he turned to put in a superb right-footed dipping cross which Michael Nike Gómez (No. 11, Envigado) met before the goalkeeper, but his connection was weak and went wide. Finishing like that won’t be earning ‘Mike Nike’ any lucrative sponsorship deals any time soon, though Hernández may have more luck in that department. He also came closest to the target in the first half when, from the right edge of the area in the 34th minute, he struck a decent effort that the goalkeeper had to tip over.

Otherwise, Colombia struggled to get a clear sight of goal within a realistic shooting distance and the likes of Luis Fernando Díaz (No. 17, Barranquilla) were often squeezed for time and space on the flanks. Indeed, for this otherwise persistent individual it didn’t get much better than a 47th minute cross-field pass that he played to Jorge Obregón (No. 19, Unión Magdalena) who, to the annoyance of Hernández in the centre, struck over from the right edge of the area. Also, in the 56th minute, right-back Leyser Chaverra (No. 15, Universitario Popayán) showed a brief glimpse as to why he may be one-to-watch when he came inside, received an unintentional one-two from his own forward nudge, then instinctively shot from range, though this was easily stopped by the goalkeeper.

Nevertheless, despite all these underwhelming attacks, they got the crucial goal. In the 87th minute, substitute Ever Valencia (No. 13, Atlético Bucaramanga) curled in a free-kick from an acute position on the right – ‘Ian Woan territory‘, if you will – and, though he no doubt was expecting a team-mate to get a touch on it, it somehow went past the keeper and in. It may have actually taken a slight touch off Brazil’s Léo Jabá, but as the ball wasn’t too elevated, it seems the goalkeeper was anticipating it to be headed away; instead, it flew by for Valencia’s second goal of the tournament.

Lastly, while Colombia’s defence may deserve some praise for the clean sheet, as they were playing a weakened Brazil side and three of their own back four in this match also conceded four goals in the Ecuador game, one may wish to withhold judgement for the time being.

brazilflag Brazil

Though they succumbed to what was a slightly fortuitous goal, Brazil’s defensive organisation deserves some acclaim for this performance as well as for all of the opening four games (three conceded). Those on the flanks, Rogério (No. 16, Juventus Primavera, Italy) and Robson Bambu (No. 13, Santos), performed admirable roles restricting the amount of balls into the area whilst centre-back Lyanco (No. 4, São Paulo) has an impressive stature and exuded confidence when coming out with the ball.

The other centre-back, Lucas Cunha (No. 3, Braga, Portugal), actually had his side’s best opportunity of the match. This came in the 58th minute following a free-kick dipped into area from the right by Allan (No. 5, Hertha BSC, Germany, on loan from Liverpool, England) which bounced through the bodies and was unconvincingly patted out by the goalkeeper. Lucas Cunha was thus on hand for the rebound but his header was directed a little too close to the corner, where it hit the post; from this, Maycon (No. 17, Corinthians) snapped a strike that would have gone in had it not been for an opponent getting in the way.

Otherwise, a few deflected shots and a minor 20-yard attempt from Giovanny (No. 21, Atlético Paranaense) that was comfortably saved low was about all this makeshift Brazil side were able to create. However, one suspects the coaching staff won’t be too worried as not only were they able to give some key players a rest but also all of those who did play will now go into the Final Phase with the relative luxury of five days off before their first match on 30 January.

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be Venezuela vs Bolivia & Uruguay vs Peru from Group B – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Day 5 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Brazil 3-2 Paraguay & Ecuador 1-1 Chile)

On the fifth day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship, attention turned back to Group A, with Brazil taking on Paraguay and hosts Ecuador facing Chile. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting…

groupa22117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Brazil 3-2 Paraguay

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group A, 22 January 2017 (YouTube)

Following on from their Chile stalemate, Brazil made a fairly unremarkable start to this match, but gradually regained some attacking impetus to see off Paraguay in a manner more comfortable than the scoreline suggests. Richarlison had already hit the post before Matheus Sávio put Brazil 1-0 up in the 39th minute with a somewhat fortuitous free-kick that took a wicked deflection. Richarlison doubled the lead in the 57th minute, finishing off a Route One move that was flicked on by Felipe Vizeu from goalkeeper Caíque’s clearance upfield. A couple of minutes later Paraguay were down to ten men and, in the 65th minute, the third goal arrived when  Mattheus Sávio dinked a short ball into the area which Léo Jabá beat the goalkeeper to, allowing Felipe Vizeu a tap-in. Throughout most of the game, Paraguayan fans hadn’t had much to cheer about though, somewhat surprisingly, Jesús Medina did manage to pull two goals back. The first of these in the 80th minute was a well-executed penalty; the second, which came in stoppage-time, was rather easy on the eye, as his left-footed strike dipped into the top corner – though spoil-sports have their duty to point out that it was aided by a deflection.

Talent Spotting

brazilflag Brazil

Enjoying his first minutes of the competition, Matheus Sávio (No. 20, Flamengo) was a regular presence in attacking moves. He could be seen sliding in a team-mate for a decent chance early on and had at least one shot from range before he broke the deadlock; this came via an admittedly fluky, deflected free-kick in the 39th minute that never would have gone in had it not had its path drastically altered. In the second half, he continued to look to make things happen, notably dinking the ball forward that one team-mate squared to another for the third goal. Felipe Vizeu (No. 9, Flamengo) was the man who finished this move off; he doubled his tally for the tournament and he had earlier also been credited with an assist for nodding on the upfield clearance of goalkeeper Caíque (No. 23, Vitória), which led to the second goal in the 57th minute.

This, in turn, was finished off by Richarlison (No. 18, Fluminense), another player who has stood out in the tournament. Earlier in the 12th minute, he was played in on the left side of the area by Matheus Sávio and struck the post with a low drive. Later on in the 28th minute, he nearly got an assist to his name when, from the left byline, he made some space to put in a well-directed cross with his right boot which glided straight to the back post to the feet of a team-mate.

However, Léo Jabá (No. 19, Corinthians) could only strike directly at the goalkeeper when a goal seemed quite likely. Nevertheless, although he previously had one substitute appearance to his name, like Matheus Sávio, Léo Jabá was also making his first start of the competition. Similarly difficult to ignore, he was particularly involved in the second half, striking across goal just a yard or so wide in the 51st minute. Most notably, he gained a well-earned assist in the 65th minute when he beat the goalkeeper to Matheus Sávio’s pass and simply slid it to Felipe Vizeu to make it 3-0. Later on, he had at least a couple more shots of his own, the most notable coming from a rebound in the 76th minute. Here, David Neres (No. 11, São Paulo) again displayed his capacity for fierce strikes, with his left-footed effort from the edge of the area causing the goalkeeper a fright, though he nevertheless parried. Léo Jabá then picked up the ball from a tight angle, managing to get in a shot that rolled across the goalmouth and narrowly wide.

paraguay Paraguay

Paraguay had much less to say for themselves and, based on the evidence so far, are not looking likely to progress to the final stage. Nevertheless, though it seemed like they could be on the receiving end of a tonking when they were 3-0 down and a man short owing to the stupidity of supposed talent Julio Villalba (No. 7, Cerro Porteño, on loan from Borussia Monchengladbach, Germany), an indisputable stand-out performer did ultimately emerge.

Jesús Medina (No. 11, Libertad) was their most creative player, even if the pickings were slim for much of the game. In the first half, he never got close to the opposition goal himself but put in a few balls, most notably a low one that went over to a compatriot on the right edge of the area, who hit a seemingly tame shot. Perhaps it was the bounce, but Caíque spilled this to striker Sebastián Ferreira (No. 19, Olimpia) at a tight angle and had it not been for the goalkeeper’s trailing leg, the Paraguayan striker would have had his second goal of the competition; instead the ball trickled wide for a corner. Alas, it was when the clock was against his team that Medina really made his mark. His first goal was an expertly taken penalty in the 80th minute; his second, in stoppage-time, was an eye-catching left-footed strike into the top corner hit from the right side of the area, though it did appear to get a flick off a defender to aid its loop over Caíque.

Though one’s eyes may have been playing tricks again, Paraguay did have one other chance of note to score that did not actually involve Medina. This came from the corner that followed Ferreira’s close-range shot in the first half; from the left, Blás Riveros (No. 4, Basel, Switzerland) crossed in to the dead centre, but though Jorge Morel (No. 8, Guaraní) rose in space, his header was well off-target. Nevertheless, this re-affirmed that Europe-based left-back Riveros, who also set up Ferreira’s goal against Colombia, is a creative threat.

Ecuador 1-1 Chile

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group A, 22 January 2017 (YouTube)

Hosts Ecuador came into this off the back of an exhilarating 4-3 win, yet though they took the lead here and could have been two-up, they let their opponents more into the game in the second half and succumbed to a draw. Indeed, after surviving an early scare, it was Jordan Sierra whose persistent hustling saw him enter the area and strike in low off the far post for the 7th-minute opener; later in the 39th minute, his side should have had a second but Joao Rojas’ clinical shot was incorrectly ruled to be offside. Chile missed a glaring chance to be level in the 61st minute, but just under twenty minutes later, they were able to restore parity. Indeed, in a tale of two Sierras, substitute José Luis was on hand to meet a fine cross with an adept low volley to square things up. Ecuador rallied towards the end but the score remained 1-1; thus, the hosts may rue an opportunity missed and though Chile had two head-in-hands moments of their own, one suspects that they will be more pleased with the point.

Talent Spotting

ecuadorflag Ecuador

A lot of praise should be rightfully reserved for the manner in which the first goal was scored by Jordan Sierra (No. 15, Delfin). Following a poor goalkeeping clearance, a team-mate pounced on a defender who could only run into the trouble embodied by Sierra. The Ajax-target then showed great tenacity and desire to hold off and evade the challenges of two defenders before, somewhat surprisingly, sneaking in a shot that trickled off the far post and in. Otherwise, he was involved in other attacks, including a minor role in the offside goal by mere virtue of playing in the initial free-kick; more generally, it was good to see other sides to his game as in previous matches his most notable contributions had been some long-range efforts. Here, however, not only did he get a goal but he almost came close to winning the game late on when, following some Chilean attempts to repel Ecuadorian pressure, the ball fell to him on the dee; with one touch, he made space for himself in the area and struck a swerving half-volley that went barely a yard wide of the far post.

The man who charged at the left-back to facilitate the start of Sierra’s drive for his goal was Joao Rojas (No. 17, Emelec); this was the third successive Ecuador game in which he made some notable contributions and really should have had a goal in the 39th minute. Indeed,  following Sierra’s free-kick, there was a bit of to-and-fro on the edge of the area before the ball fell in space to Rojas, who struck a low right-footed shot into the corner. Replays clearly show him to be onside but the flag nevertheless went up.

Pervis Estupiñán (No. 6, Granada, Spain) caught the eye again, though not always for the right reasons. Indeed, after his goalscoring game against Colombia it was noted here that he may be better off further up the flank; for this argument, this game provided more evidence. Chile had two attempts – one in the 5th minute that was saved against the post, the other being their equaliser – where crosses came in from their left to unmarked players hovering around the right of the central area. One could be wrong and it may be a flaw in the defensive system, but as Estupiñán is nominally a left-back and, more to the point, the man who was closest to the attacker in both cases, one suspects that he was culpable for not dealing with the trouble. Nevertheless, true to form, up the other end he sought to cause problems. Indeed, in the 38th minute, his compatriot Washington Corozo (No. 7, Independiente Del Valle) went on an impressive run, where he sped Bolt-like past a defender and then engaged in a spot of Ricky Villa-esque zig-zag dribbling before getting dispossessed; however, the ball fell to Estupiñán who struck with his trusty left boot, forcing the goalkeeper to instinctively tip over for a corner. More significantly, later on in the 90th minute just before Sierra had his last-gasp chance, Estupiñán came bustling into the area on the left, before turning the ball over to his – presumably weaker – right boot; yet, despite the crowd anticipating with bated breath a winner, his shot went a couple of yards wide of the near post.

chileflag Chile

Though at half-time it looked as if Chile could end up getting comfortably dispatched, they did grow into the game; yet, had they taken an early golden opportunity, the complexion of the match could have been quite different. Indeed, there had not really been much for La Rojita fans to get excited about, with their situation compounded by the surprising – to these eyes, at least – substitution of one of their potential threats, Carlos Lobos (No. 21, Universidad Católica).

However, their defence appears to be stronger than their attack, so they may have relished the opportunity to sit back and play on the counter had Ignacio Jara (No. 15, Cobreloa) scored after 5 minutes. Indeed, a fine ball from the left was played over to him in space at the back post; he met it with a diving header that he knocked downwards and which then bounced up but, unfortunately for him, it was too close to goalkeeper José Cevallos, who impressively palmed it onto the post. Jara was a little unfortunate here but he did ultimately compensate for this later on in the 80th minute as it was his perfect cross from the left that substitute José Luis Sierra (No. 22, Unión Española) coolly volleyed home. Regarding the Roja Sierra, he also has a relative who played professionally for his country: his father, also called José Luis Sierra, who played over 50 times for Chile, mostly in the 1990s.

Before this equaliser went in, the boys in red had been getting forward a little more in the second half and had already squandered a gilt-edged opportunity. This came about in the 61st minute following a fine right-sided cross from Raimundo Rebolledo (No. 2, Universidad Católica) which found Lobos’ replacement, Yerko Leiva (No. 6, Universidad de Chile), in clear space, one-on-one, eight yards out. However, he must have anticipated the ball’s flight incorrectly, as he embarrassingly sliced his low volley high and wide of the target.

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be Peru vs Venezuela and Argentina vs Bolivia from Group B – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Day 1 – 2017 Sudamericano Sub-20 (Colombia 1-1 Paraguay & Ecuador 0-1 Brazil)

The opening day of the 2017 edition of the prestigious U-20 South American Youth Championship saw Group A get under way, with Colombia taking on Paraguay and hosts Ecuador facing Brazil. Below are video highlights, brief summaries of each game and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-spotting… 

groupa18117

(Source: Wikipedia)

Colombia 1-1 Paraguay

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group A, 18 January 2017 (YouTube).

Colombia largely dominated the game, more frequently getting into advanced positions and confidently playing the ball around. In each half, they both struck the post as well as squandered a one-on-one chance. However, a surprise was briefly on the cards when Sebastián Ferreira controlled a diagonal ball from Blás Riveros and clinically struck home in the 81st minute. Alas, it wasn’t to be for the Paraguayans, as with barely a minute of regulation time left, a corner somewhat fortuitously fell in the direction of substitute Damir Ceter, who hooked home the equaliser.

Talent Spotting

colombia Colombia

Often throughout the game, Colombia displayed more attacking intent, with their forward players appearing to have a better mutual understanding than those of their counterparts. Particularly impressive was Juan Ramírez (No. 21, Atlético Nacional), who showed some trickery to gain himself some space, as well as often seeking out – and finding – his team-mates with a range of balls. Two passes of note were aimed towards close colleague, No. 10, Juan ‘El Cucho’ Hernández. The first was a 30th-minute cross from a right-sided free-kick that reached Hernández in space at the back post area, though his header tamely went to the goalkeeper; the second was an exquisite 58th-minute long ball from some 45-50 yards out that Hernández stretched to latch onto at the byline, but he could not find anyone with his subsequent low cross. Nevertheless, ‘El Cucho’ was another stand-out attacker who those in-the-know are already aware of. Indeed, this 17-year-old netted an astonishing 20 goals in 33 Colombian second division games last season and has recently been snapped up by Granada who, in turn, have loaned him back to América de Cali in his homeland. Like Ramírez, he linked up well and put in some decent crosses; perhaps his most creative moment came in the 31st minute when he did a fine turn before running up the left to play in a fellow team-mate, who unfortunately mis-controlled. This compatriot, Julián Quiñones (No. 7, Tigres, Mexico), the third of the attackers playing behind the striker, by no means had a bad game but will surely bring more to upcoming encounters.

These three men were often trying to feed in Envigado striker, No. 11 Michael Nike Gómez, a man whose name ensures the minions of Hades that lurk in football marketing and advertising will be greasing their palms whilst begging their master to facilitate his rise in the global game. He sometimes came deep but was more frequently the beneficiary of forward passes, such as one in the 21st minute, which he received in the area but, from a one-on-one position, struck too close to the goalkeeper; the rebound was subsequently deflected wide. The man who played him in, holding midfielder Kevin Balanta (No. 8, Deportivo Cali), had been picked out by some to shine pre-game and he may be worth keeping an eye on in future fixtures. Further back, particularly in the first half, left-back Anderson Arroyo (No. 5, Fortaleza) was an eye-catching presence. Just 17 years old, he reportedly went on trial at Liverpool in July 2016 and here could regularly be seen roaming up his flank and looking to make things happen. Though ultimately he was offside, he almost had the ball in the net after 9 minutes when he bustled up the left and bypassed a defender into the area; his pass into the centre then ricocheted back towards him and he poked a strike against the near post. Perhaps Paraguay made a concerted effort to nullify him after the break as the second half saw slightly more of his colleague on the other side, right-back Leyser Chaverra (No. 15, Universitario Popayán). It was he who crossed in the corner for the late equaliser. Damir Ceter (No. 9, Santa Fe) was the man who nudged in the late goal and he has an impressive goalscoring record at club level, netting 14 times in 25 games last season in the Colombian second-flight for Deportes Quindío. With these statistics, many would have backed him in the 74th minute to convert a clear one-on-one chance, but alas he was denied. Lastly, the man whose deflected ball from his own half was responsible for this opportunity, Eduard Atuesta (No. 20, Independiente Medellín), also picked up a loose ball mere seconds later before firing from 25 yards low against the post.

paraguay Paraguay

Regarding Paraguay, there was far less attacking fluidity and intent on display and while some may feel they deserve a lot of credit defensively, as noted, they were caught out by two clear one-on-one opportunities. Thus, if anyone from the rearguard deserves any praise for withstanding Colombian pressure until very late on, it must be goalkeeper Marino Arzamendia (No. 22, Olimpia). Otherwise, La Albirroja‘s attacks came more from set-pieces and, especially, long balls pumped upfield to be either chased or to exploit gaps in the defence. Cristhian Paredes (No. 6, Club América, Mexico), who with a jinking run on the right in the 16th minute showed a glimpse as to why a top Liga MX side has recently snapped him up, was responsible for one such ball. However, his recipient in the 79th minute, Jesús Medina (No. 11, Libertad), struggled to really take the ball in his stride and quickly lost possession. Nevertheless, Medina, having quietly impressed at the last tournament as a 17-year-old, could well prove to be one his country’s key players this time. He often took on set-piece duties and after 41 minutes lofted in a sublime ball from near the halfway line that found its target but was headed over. However, as we know, one long ball did pay off: Left-back Blás Riveros (No. 4, Basel, Switzerland) chipped a fine diagonal ball into the area; the Colombian defence did seem to stand off striker Sebastián Ferreira (No. 19, Olimpia) a tad, but that should take nothing away from his composed low strike home. Although he went off seemingly with a knock not long afterwards, perhaps we will see more of him as well as more varied attack play from his compatriots in the upcoming Paraguay matches.

Ecuador 0-1 Brazil

CONMEBOL U-20 South American Youth Championship 2017, Group A, 18 January 2017 (YouTube)

In a capacity ground full of optimistic locals, though Brazil had the edge for the most part, the strong and combative hosts of Ecuador never gave up their search for a goal in this rather heated fixture. In the first half both sides missed glaring opportunities: Brazil’s came after 16 minutes when Felipe Vizeu scuffed a cut-back over the gaping goal-frame; this, in turn, was followed by the gilt-edged chance in the 33rd minute afforded to Ecuador’s Bryan Cabezas who, one-on-one barely six yards out, mis-hit a shot wide. Less than 25 seconds after the restart, tensions boiled over and would continue to be at a high temperature, as Ecuador’s William Vargas was given his second yellow for a foul on the edge of the area. The hosts acrobatically escaped going behind soon after but could do nothing about Vizeu’s well-executed finish from a Richarlison cross in the 52nd minute. Although Brazil saw more of the ball from then on and could well have doubled their lead, Ecuador were always in the match and, on home soil, should prove strong opposition for any of their Group A opponents.

Talent Spotting

ecuadorflag Ecuador

As an attacking unit, the hosts Ecuador were rather robust and were not shy about taking the game to their opponents, often tenaciously forcing their way into advanced areas. Possibly their most conspicuous performer in this regard was attacking midfielder Bryan Cabezas (No. 10, Atalanta, Italy). More than once, he outpaced defenders on the flanks before knocking in balls. That said, he was responsible for an embarrassing miss in the 33rd minute when he was suddenly – and fortuitously – presented with a one-on-one chance on the edge of the six-yard-box. Yet, possibly due to a lack of composure or, quite possibly, bobbles on the pitch, he sliced it badly wide. Subsequently, he wasn’t really allowed much time to get his head straight as in the 55th minute, he clashed heads when vying for a lofted ball; when he was asked to come off, presumably due to a potential concussion, he was visibly angry, tearing up and kicking the nearest bottle. He did, however, return to the pitch before being substituted in the 78th minute. The man who put in the cross that led to this incident, as well as knocked in the initial ball from the left for Cabezas’ big chance, was the hosts’ other main threat, Joao Rojas (No. 17, Emelec). He too often sought to beat his man and also looked for Cabezas from set-pieces, with perhaps the most successful one, a free-kick in the 14th minute, finding his man in some space in the area; yet, perhaps in a portent of things to come, the Atalanta man fluffed his lines. Expect to see more of Rojas in future games and he also showed here that he isn’t afraid to shoot, with a 35th-minute effort from outside the area curling, admittedly comfortably, into the goalkeeper’s gloves.

Briefly, two other Ecuador moments of note: Luis Segovia (No. 21, El Nacional) overhead-kicking a deflected Brazil free-kick off the line just after his side had been reduced to ten men. Secondly, the 72nd-minute surprise half-volley of Ajax-linked substitute Jordan Sierra (No. 15, Delfin) from at least 25 yards out that caught most by surprise, though ultimately dipped 2-3 yards wide.

brazilflag Brazil

Though they sometimes were put on the back-foot, Brazil’s defence was often well-organised, with most of the midfielders regularly seen doubling up and standing in close proximity to the back-line. At the other end, Douglas Luiz (No. 8, Vasco da Gama) was occasionally seen skipping about with the ball and often stood over it, due to his role as one of the set-piece takers. It was his free-kick that led to Segovia’s goal-line acrobatics and he also wasn’t far off scoring directly from one when, in the 77th minute, he curled a right-footed effort around the wall, though this was parried wide. Arguably like his chance in the 16th minute, striker Felipe Vizeu (No. 9, Flamengo) was also undoubtedly hard to miss. He at least made amends for this with a very well taken goal in the 52nd minute. Richarlison (No. 18, Fluminense), who caused problems and had a shot from range, was the man responsible for the key pass in both of these moves; the goal itself came from a particularly deft first-time low cross following a soaring long ball from Lyanco (No. 4, São Paulo). As for the glaring miss, Vizeu’s club colleague, midfielder Lucas Paqueta (No. 10, Flamengo), was the one who got the move rolling, playing a sublime, cutting ball from the halfway line towards Richarlison. He often exhibited a certain elegance and poise on the ball and nearly set up a goal at the death when he raced upfield on a counter, before sliding to energetic substitute Giovanny (No. 21, Atlético Paranaense), who struck too close to the goalkeeper.

Lastly, midfielder David Neres (No. 11, São Paulo) often looked like he could cause trouble from the right; he won a fair few free-kicks, some of which were taken by Caio Henrique (No. 7, Atlético Madrid), another potential threat Brazil have at their disposal.

To keep up-to-date with the latest from Ecuador 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. The next games will be Uruguay vs Venezuela and Argentina vs Peru from Group B – expect to see another bout of talent-spotting from these encounters on Hispanospherical.com. 

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship – A Look Ahead

 

Possibly against his better judgement, @DarrenSpherical is preparing to watch and report back on the leading talents in all 35 games of the upcoming Under-20 South American Youth Championship. If you are seeking information on the teams and players participating, click one of the links at the bottom of this article (or alternatively, here). Otherwise, featuring some reflections on the last tournament two years ago, provided below is a loose idea of what is in store over these 25 days…

quitostadium

Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa, Quito, Ecuador (capacity: 35,724). The venue for the 15 games of the Final Phase. 

2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship – A Look Ahead

It faces stiff competition in the football-watching itineraries of even the most caffeine-addled obsessives, but within the next several years, many of its headline-grabbers are likely to invade the elite leagues of world football. From 18 January until 11 February witnesses the return of the biennial, raw talent-loaded South American Youth Championship (Campeonato Sudamericano Sub-20 Juventud de América).

Between them, the Under-20 sides of the 10 CONMEBOL nations shall make use of four different stadiums in the north and centre of Ecuador and duke it out in the latest edition of this prestigious competition. Such is the draw that it possesses that a staggering 65,235 turned up at Montevideo’s historic Estadio Centenario for 2015’s deciding match between hosts Uruguay and eventual-winners Argentina. Yet, though both of those sides certainly cared about winning, the competition is as much a qualification stage for the Under-20 World Cup.

Indeed, the tournament is structured as follows: the 10 CONMEBOL nations are split into two groups of five teams, in which they all play each other once. After these four games, the top three teams from each group go through to the final league of six sides, all of whom play each other once. Although following these five games whichever selección has the most points in this table shall momentarily bask in the glory of winning the trophy, all of the top four will nevertheless be travelling to South Korea in May for the World Cup. Thus, as one should be able to deduce, there is no actual knock-out final; it just so happened that last time around the top two played each other in what was the last match.

Cramming nine games into 24-25 days for each of the final six nations may not sound entirely conducive to the development of their players; however, intentionally or otherwise, it serves well the biggest attraction of this tournament: talent-spotting. Indeed, as the youngsters will be fully aware, professional scouts and agents from all over the world shall be present at the games, with many more of varying qualifications watching on from afar. To get an idea of the calibre of players who may be displaying their wares in the upcoming weeks, a perusal of past squad lists yields many household names. Lionel Messi? He banged in five goals in 2005 in an Argentina team featuring Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Biglia and Ezequiel Garay. Alexis Sánchez? He was there with Chile in 2007 alongside a six-goal Arturo Vidal, as well as Gary Medel and Mauricio Isla. Neymar? He led Brazil to victory in 2011 with nine goals in a squad that included Danilo, Casemiro, Oscar, Alex Sandro, Lucas Moura and Juan Jesus.

They have much to live up to and it is too early to judge the class of ’15; they are, after all, still between just 19 and 21 years of age. Nevertheless, it seems noteworthy that the final, decisive clash from that tournament featured some of the players who have since enjoyed the greatest prominence at club level. Indeed, the opener was scored by Uruguay’s Gastón Pereiro, one of the players of the tournament with five goals, who in July 2015 was snapped up by PSV Eindhoven for a handsome fee; in October of that year he also scored both goals in an away win against Ajax and now has over 20 goals to his name. Argentina’s first-half equaliser came courtesy of Sebastián Driussi who, in the last several months has emerged as a River Plate regular, netting 10 times in 14 league games; he has attracted interest from, amongst others, Tottenham Hotspur. Fittingly, La Albiceleste‘s 81st-minute winner was struck home by four-goal Ángel Correa, widely considered to be the championship’s standout player. Eyes were on the stocky rampager from the off as he had already signed for Atlético Madrid following some impressive displays at San Lorenzo. He has since been in and out of Diego Simeone’s side, though has scored some important goals, including the equaliser in September’s away draw with Barcelona. Speaking of Cholo, his son Giovanni Simeone was in fact the top-scorer in 2015 with nine goals. Derided by some at the time as being largely the beneficiary of the playmaking of Correa and co. as well as, less charitably, a goalhanger, he has answered such critics this season by making his mark on the European game, becoming a regular name on the Genoa scoresheet in Serie A.

Many more who featured in 2015 are playing regularly for top-level clubs in South America. Also, a considerable number of others have made the leap and are currently at teams in major European leagues, some of the most notable being: Gerson (Roma/Brazil), Mauricio Lemos (Las Palmas/Uruguay), Cristian Espinoza (Alavés, on loan from Villarreal/Argentina), Emmanuel Mammana (Lyon/Argentina), Mauro Arambarri (Bordeaux/Uruguay), Malcolm (Bordeaux/Brazil), Antonio Sanabria (Real Betis/Paraguay), Davinson Sánchez (Ajax/Colombia), Kenedy (Chelsea/Brazil), Rafael Santos Borré (Villarreal, on loan from Atlético Madrid/Colombia), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, on loan from Watford/Venezuela), Sergio Díaz (Real Madrid/Paraguay) and Marlon (Barcelona/Brazil).

Some of these impressed two years ago more than others. Another player of note, the much-hyped ‘new Neymar’ Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa, had a mixed tournament in a patchy Brazil side but has since won Olympic gold, played and scored for the senior side and moved from Santos to Inter Milan for an eye-watering €29.5m. Whether he and the others live up to expectations remains to be seen. By contrast, Colombia’s nippy attacker Jeison Lucumí was widely picked out as one of the stars of Uruguay 2015 yet, in the two years since, has been languishing with fallen giants América de Cali in his country’s second-flight. He may still be only 21 and his team have just been promoted back to the big league but such tales do both cause one to ponder the power and influence of certain agents as well as caution against getting carried away with tournament form.

Indeed, a prime case in point comes from 2005 when Hugo Rodallega ended up the top-scorer, netting a staggering 11 goals. Though he has since distanced himself from the comments, he was reported as claiming that this meant that he is ‘undoubtedly better than Messi‘, who bagged a mere five. In fairness, while he may not have subsequently met some people’s expectations (least of all his own), a career that has included six seasons in the English Premier League can not be glibly dismissed. Quite, for most youth internationals from any part of the world, it would constitute a rip-roaring success.

Nevertheless, roll on Ecuador 2017, false promises, surprise gems and all. As one person could not possibly claim to be an authority on all 10 sides, there will be no overview on this website, but if that is what one seeks then some links at the bottom of this article should come in handy. Having scoured through all the squad lists, it can at least be said that those who regularly watch any of these nations’ domestic leagues should spot several familiar names. Overall, however, very few players have already been snapped up by teams outside of their respective homelands – expect that to change. Also, those who watched two years may recognise a few names, such as Jesús Medina (Paraguay), Adrián Ugarriza (Peru) and Rodrigo Amaral (Uruguay). Each of these players put in good showings and one can not help but wonder if their slight age-advantages will benefit them here. The likes of Gerson, Sergio Díaz and Adalberto Peñaranda would also be eligible for a second throw of the dice but, alas, none of these Europe-based players have been released.  Lastly, 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City’s £27m signing from Palmeiras, did not appear for his country in 2015 yet did at that year’s Under-20 World Cup and has since scored five times for the senior side in qualifiers for Russia 2018; needless to say, he hasn’t made the trip to Ecuador.

Thus, yours truly plans to go into this tournament with open eyes and shall report back after each matchday with observations on the standout players, providing video highlights, brief summaries and maybe the opinions of others as well. With two games per day for the first ten days, followed by a well-earned two-day break before, gulp, three matches per day every three days which cover the final five matchdays, one hopes to maintain one’s sanity.

The opening day is 18 January 2017 and the two matches will be Colombia vs Paraguay and Ecuador vs Brazil. Daily updates should appear on this website following each matchday but for more up-to-the-minute coverage, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

groups

The two groups: the teams play each other once, then from 30 January-11 February, the three top teams from each group play each other once in the final phase of six teams, with the top four qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup). 

Preview Articles

La Pizarra Del DT: Tournament Preview – Perhaps the most detailed overview in Spanish, though these translations should help decode the key information on each page: Estrella – Star, Otro jugador clave – Other key player, Entrenador – Manager, Baja importante – Important loss/absence. You’re welcome.

Argentina Team Preview – The most thorough look at these perennial contenders, courtesy of Peter Coates of Golazo Argentino. Here is another of his articles, which highlights five key players for La Albiceleste.

Uruguay Team PreviewTim Vickery takes a broader, historical perspective in his piece on La Celeste.

ESPN Tournament Preview Article – Tim Vickery with another article again looking both back and forward, this time with a more general outlook.

Goal’s Ones to WatchDaniel Edwards selects 11 players tipped to stand out in 2017’s competition.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

@DarrenSpherical 

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

@DarrenSpherical

Q & A with David Freeman, Author of Barra Brava (A Latin American Football Journey)

Having recently finished reading Barra Brava, David Freeman’s envy-inducing account of his 18-month journey amongst a diverse range of Latin American football fans, Hispanospherical.com has been fortunate to be able to talk to the author. Following on from an introduction to his book, this extensive Q & A should be essential reading for anyone who has ever contemplated embarking upon a similar adventure.   

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Game 18: Itagüí Ditaires (now Águilas Doradas) 4-0 Atlético Nacional, Copa Colombia Quarter Final First Leg, Estadio Atanasio Girardot, Medellin, Antioquia Department, Colombia, 15 September 2010. One of 67 games David Freeman attended in the Americas.

David Freeman’s Barra Brava is sold in paperback and/or Kindle format through Amazon’s many location-specific websites. To purchase a copy, click whichever link is most relevant to you: UK/Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil and Spain

Barra Brava: An Introduction

In the collective consciousness of most football fans outside of its vibrant orbit, Latin America is somewhat of a dichotomy. While it may harbour a tantalising cocktail of innovative skills and irrepressible passion, it is nevertheless very much on the periphery of the global footballing mainstream. Although hundreds of its exports to Europe’s opulent centre-stage regularly provide incalculable instances of the substantial reservoirs of talent that this vast region consistently produces, the awareness of the footballing cultures from whence they came leaves something to be desired. Indeed, the clubs, supporters and environments that initially helped to nurture many of these cracks exist in many imaginations as little more than a combination of crude, often unflattering stereotypes, as well as names – the latter of which are diminishing in stature with each passing year.

As the exodus of native talent shows no sign of abating and kick-off times in this area for spectators in the Old Continent tend to be either anti-social or clash with top-flight European matches, none of these leagues appear well-placed to redress this situation. Nevertheless, for many, the curiosity will always linger. After all, having witnessed the 2014 Brazil World Cup, in which several Latin American nations were well-represented in both the stands as well as on the pitches, how many fans idly daydreamed about experiencing some of these atmospheres first-hand?

Well, one man who has already done just that and on a scale that is surely the envy of football fans and cultural tourists the world over, is David Freeman. His book, Barra Brava, is an absorbing travelogue, chronicling an 18-month journey that began in October 2009. Starting off with a brief Latin-tinged spell in the United States watching the now-defunct Chivas USA, he then crossed the language-barrier to experience many of the sights, sounds and sensations of Latin America, culminating with one final linguistic hurdle in Brazil where the fun ended in April 2011. Along the way, he visited 18 different countries, watching no less than 67 live matches in 15 of them. With so much ground covered, Freeman was able to experience the footballing cultures of not only some of the area’s heavyweights, such as Argentina and Mexico, but also those of nations that most people would struggle to name a single international player from (Guatemala and Nicaragua, anyone?).

Bringing a modicum of order to complement the roaming devil-may-care spirit that often pervaded his travels, Freeman made it his mission to mix with as many local supporters as he encountered. With his accompanying England flag conspicuously signposting him as a figure of curiosity in the stands, he was able to use his ever-developing Spanish skills to learn about many varied fan groups, their matchday rituals and relationships with their clubs. Subsequently in print, he displays an admirable levelling of the playing field, relaying his experiences of the barra bravas of the likes of Boca Juniors, Santos and Club América in a similar manner to those of Motagua (Honduras), Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica) and Blooming (Bolivia).

Wherever he turned up, there were always songs, gestures and/or dances to first decode and then perhaps, when enough of his beverage of choice had been consumed, join in with. Yet, as readers will discover, it was not always to be plain sailing, with the tensions in the stands sometimes escalating into atmospheres markedly less hospitable towards this Englishman. Indeed, from finding himself on an Argentine pitch being booed by supporters less-than-impressed with his flag to requiring police intervention to restrain a knife-wielding Colombian youth, Freeman’s recollections often serve to caution, as much as to inspire, the prospective traveller.

Away from the stadiums, his explorations of a rather breathtaking range of locations were no less colourful, with every other page flowing with anecdotes and evocative descriptions. A rich diversity of experiences was evidently had, not least during a lengthy spell at a Mexican hotel situated by a nudist beach as well as, conversely, when teaching English in the poverty-stricken Nicaraguan capital of Managua, where he participated in some controversy-mired Independence Day celebrations. Furthermore, some of his more inquisitive forays included visits to the Mayan ruins in Central America, the idiosyncratic capitals of Panama City, Bogotá and La Paz, as well as the topological treasures of the Calchaquí Valleys in north-west Argentina.

As can be expected, invaluable nuggets of practical advice are scattered throughout this book, rendering it an essential primer for anyone thinking of embarking on a journey that encompasses even a fraction of the ground covered here. Freeman regularly takes into consideration such readers, particularly when providing what amounts to a mini-dictionary of Spanish words and phrases at the beginning of each chapter that can be used to ingratiate oneself with the locals.

So, if you like the sound of going on such a trip yourself or would simply like to read the adventures of someone who did, be sure to check out this book, the most latest edition of which has just been published. If, however, before making such an investment, you would prefer to know a little more, then as well as perusing the promotional website, please read on as Señor Freeman has recently been kind enough to answer some questions in detail, providing a considerable idea of what Barra Brava is all about.

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Q & A with David Freeman, author of Barra Brava

[Darren Spherical] Hello David, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions (and for providing so many photographs!). Your book provides countless entertaining vignettes and fascinating insights into various footballing cultures and societies in the Americas.

Prior to beginning your adventure, you mention that you worked for an internet bank and had not done a great deal of travelling. What motivated you to sell your house to embark on such an extensive and, at times, daunting journey? Also, why Latin America?

[David Freeman] My short answer is that I’d been bitten by the travel bug when I went to Australia and seven years on I needed to scratch the itch. The timing was all about personal circumstances, having been promised redundancy and not having responsibilities such as kids to worry about. Latin America was chosen based on learning Spanish and being able to communicate throughout two continents.

Regarding the book’s title, on your travels you met dozens of different groups of fans from over a dozen Latin American countries. Based on your observations, could you give an introduction to the barra bravas? How did they differ in some of the nations you visited?

I’d describe the barra as universally passionate people who support their club in a noisy, colourful and fanatical way. In my experience, barra bravas are not the same as hooligans because clubs like Pumas (Mexico) and LDU Quito (Ecuador) are supported by civilised, friendly students who had no interest in violence, but instead created atmospheres to compete with the most fervent in the world. Whilst I tried not to get involved in the seedy sides of any barra that I encountered, there could be no doubt that in certain places (mainly Colombia and Argentina) they were a public menace whose activities resulted in people dying every year.

At each ground you entered, you tried to get a photograph of yourself with your flag (an English St. George’s Cross emblazoned with the name of Birmingham City’s Zulu Army firm). How did you feel in such situations? Regarding some of the more negative responses, you must have feared for your own safety at times? 

A gringo waving a flag around always attracted attention from the locals but I found the majority to be friendly, particularly as I spoke Spanish and it was clear that I was as crazy about football as they were. In some places it was really intimidating waving a piece of cloth around that advertised that you were a vulnerable foreigner, but it proved to be a great ice-breaker amongst curious strangers. The numerous positive experiences with my St. George’s cross far outweighed an occasional negative one – plus the volatile situations made for the best stories!

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To see dozens more photographs of David with his flag at stadiums, click here.

Could you give any advice to future football tourists who wish to experience some of the colourful and raucous Latin American atmospheres without getting embroiled in any trouble? 

Simple: go in the main stand. At every ground I visited there was a tranquilo section that charged around twice as much to enter than the ‘popular’ terrace. This more expensive seating area had a far better view, superior facilities, good stewarding and was populated by reasonable people. If, however, you insist on mixing it up, I would repeat the point about being able to communicate with the natives and, above all, be wary of everything!

With regard to fan culture (pre-match rituals, songs/chants, dances, paraphernalia etc.), what were some of the most memorable things you observed and/or joined in with on your travels? 

Personally, I found the friendly beer-drinking culture whilst watching games in Mexico, Central America and Ecuador enjoyable. More universally, the fans consistently bouncing and singing, always admirably supported by musical instruments. Every club had at least one drummer, some even had horn sections (see this video compilation for some of the highlights of fans I encountered). Also, the socialising during play, aided by the open terraces, which is something that has been lost in the UK. This is in contrast to Germany, which is the leading nation in Europe with regard to atmosphere at domestic fixtures, driven by their affordable safe standing sections.

Moving away from the stands and onto the pitches, you saw many well-known players, some of whom were winding down their careers after spells in Europe and others who were emerging and have since gone on to play in the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and elsewhere. Who were you most excited to see and who left the most lasting impressions on you?

Juan Manuel Iturbe impressed me most as a 17 year old turning a match at the 2011 South American Youth Championship in Argentina’s favour against Chile. He made some stunning appearances in the Copa Libertadores before impressing for Hellas Verona and now finds himself at Roma.

Of the big players I watched live more than once:

Neymar won the Libertadores with Santos in 2011 scoring crucial goals throughout, although showcasing his ample array of skills and tricks at that level did not always benefit the team.

Juan Sebastián Verón’s passing at Estudiantes was masterful in Argentina’s Primera División.

Salvador Cabañas looked a class act for América in Mexico’s top-flight, though this was of course before he was tragically shot by a drug dealer.

Indeed, understandably he was never the same afterwards. Staying with on-field matters, what were some of the most memorable games and goals you saw?

The Clásicos were always the best value for money atmosphere-wise; the derbies in Mexico (Pumas 3-2 América, Game 3) and Colombia (Deportivo Cali 6-3 América de Cali, Game 24) lived up to the hype on the pitch. My favourite was bouncing among Universidad Católica’s fans in Buenos Aires as the Chileans scored three goals in the last 20 minutes to record a 4-3 Libertadores group stage victory away at Vélez Sarsfield (Game 51). There were also many dull games where la barra provided the entertainment.

Just under a quarter of the games you watched were in the North/Central American (CONCACAF) region, often in countries which many football fans will not have considered visiting. What did you make of the play, supporters and stadiums in this area?

Central America’s population were as passionate about football as those in the southern continent. Yet though, for example, Los Ticos defied the odds to reach 2014’s World Cup Quarter Finals, football in Central America was markedly inferior to the South American game. Though considered part of the North, Mexico was the region’s domestic powerhouse, aided in part in being alone in having some of its teams compete in the most prestigious club tournament in the Americas, the Copa Libertadores. Whilst the CONCACAF Champions League wasn’t a particularly competitive tournament, it did throw up some interesting ties, sending high-profile MLS sides and former European legends to remote places such as El Salvador. In my experience, the rural locations were really friendly and the atmospheres were brilliant, even at a Nicaraguan league final held in a baseball park.

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Football-related photographs from Central America (Click to Enlarge)

Outside of the stadiums in this area, you seemed to have rather diverse experiences, from the fun of Mexico to the comparative austerity of Nicaragua. Which places would you recommend to visitors to this region? 

Most visitors to this part of the world head to Cancún (Mexico) or Costa Rica, and the tourist industry outside of these places is still developing. I found every country to be fascinating and despite not receiving as many visitors, each had some fairly well-established attractions. These were mainly based around coasts, lakes, mountains and Aztec or Mayan historical sites. Panama City was one of the oddest capitals I’ve seen and there was an amazing sunset pretty much anywhere along the Pacific coast. Nicaragua would be my suggestion if you want to escape reality and don’t mind a chaotically relaxed experience. Compared to South, Central America is far cheaper on the ground and much less ‘discovered’, although air fares can be expensive.

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Photographs from North/Central America (Click to Enlarge)

You watched 18 games in Buenos Aires (and 20 in Argentina altogether) in little over five weeks. As this is a footballing Mecca, what advice can you impart to anyone wishing to visit this city with similar intentions? 

Where possible, I would suggest buying your ticket in advance. Also, when I was there, the home fans were generally retained in the ground for 40 minutes after the final whistle, so going in the away end was preferable. However, as visiting fans have since been banned due to repeated problems with fan violence, there may be a wait before this advice can be put into practice again. Nevertheless, also make sure you use public transport to your advantage. From Central BA the train is best for Vélez, All Boys, Quilmes, Arsenal de Sarandí, Lanús and Argentinos Juniors; the Metro is convenient for River, San Lorenzo, Huracán and Atlanta; whilst the bus is quickest when visiting Boca, Racing and Independiente. Also, if you have the time and inclination, go to a smaller club in addition to Boca or River, as they can be far cheaper, friendlier and almost as spectacular. Finally, be wary of the alcohol exclusion zones around stadiums in Buenos Aires.

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Football-related photographs from Buenos Aires Province, Argentina (Click to Enlarge)

Outside of Argentina, but remaining in South America, what were some of your highlights watching football in this particular continent? 

Colombia had the most edgy and memorable atmospheres. Ecuador was the friendliest, although my opinion is aided by the fact that they served beer in the grounds, plus Guayaquil and Quito were unexpectedly vibrant football cities. Asunción (Paraguay) was a little gem in the middle of nowhere which had a wonderful history. Iquique (Chile) had the best band I saw, complemented by a full brass section.

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Football-related photographs from South America (Click to Enlarge)

Again, away from the football, what would you recommend to future visitors to the nations you travelled to in South America? 

Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia) was the most spectacular natural wonder I have ever seen and certainly guarantees some amazing photos. Generally speaking, Bolivia was cheap, friendly and diverse, with lots of unique tourist opportunities. Ecuador had easily accessible sights and offered the possibility of cycling from the Andes to the Amazon in a day. Colombia had rugged scenery as well as an attractive and cool population, although its reputation discourages many people. North-west Argentina’s vineyards and mountains were very pleasant and buzzing in the January I was there, as that is when many in Buenos Aires escape to the countryside.

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 Photographs from South America (Click to Enlarge)

On the subject of buying match tickets, it seemed that for the most part you showed up on matchdays without having pre-purchased them and yet, irrespective of what barriers you initially encountered, still managed to get in. As you appear to have acquired much know-how in this area, what advice can you impart?

Generally, I would advise showing up a couple of hours in advance, at which point you should be able to make a purchase and spend some time among the locals – most will be delighted that a gringo has chosen to watch their club. Face value prices were cheap – generally $5-10 in Central and South America, $10-12.50 in Argentina, whilst Brazil could cost as much as it does in the English Premier League. If you aren’t able to purchase a ticket in advance then touts are ever-present, although at the big Argentinian clubs you may have to pay tourist rates, which includes transport to the match (approximately $100 in 2011). Oddly, to watch Universitario in Lima – visit your local supermarket!

What were the most value-for-money places to live and/or watch football in? 

Buenos Aires is probably the world’s most exciting city to watch football in, and although accommodation isn’t cheap, public transport, food, drink and entrance fees are generally very reasonable – something I believe has continued as the Peso weakened in late 2014. Ecuador was probably best value in South America for watching top-level football, whilst accommodation and living in Central America was noticeably cheap. Conversely, Chile and Brazil were more expensive than the other countries I watched matches in.

While there was clearly much to be enjoyed on your journey, readers will discover that it was not always fun and games. Based on your experiences, if you wished to put someone off embarking on a similar adventure, what would you say to them?

Unless you go to a resort, Latin America isn’t somewhere that you can just turn up to without any preparation and then expect to have a great tourist experience. Considerations need to be made for the language barrier (hardly anyone speaks good English), the heat, the altitude and the distances you will be travelling within a limited transport network. If you like things going according to plan then this certainly isn’t your ideal destination, as nothing runs like clockwork. Also, it is important to accept that the locals will assume that you are rich and therefore you are likely to be a target. Although in my experience overcharging was the only real annoyance, I met many people who were robbed and subjected to violence, particularly in the big centres such as Lima and Quito. Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, seemed to be the most dangerous places, but it is all subjective.

What is your interest in Latin American football like these days? Do you look out for any teams in particular? Finally, on a related note, what have you been up to since returning from your travels?

I have been following Latin American results on Soccerway, particularly Argentinos Juniors’ return to a reformed 30-team Primera División and Vasco da Gama battling back into Brazil’s top-flight. Also, although I feel there could be a lot more exposure on British TV, I have been enjoying this year’s Copa Libertadores on Premier Sports and will certainly also be watching the Copa América on the channel and/or YouTube – whichever is most convenient. On a personal note, in the past three years between working for a bank and marrying my Brazilian girlfriend, I’ve spent much of my free time writing and editing the book. The first edition totalled almost 120k words, though thankfully the latest version has been whittled down to 103k – apologies to anyone who bought a copy a couple of years ago! Ultimately, while it may not be perfect, I believe it is a decent travelogue.

David, thank you for giving up so much of your time to answer these questions and providing a taste of your experiences. Again, readers, if you would like to purchase Barra Brava in either paperback or Kindle format, click on whichever link is most relevant to your location: UK/Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil and Spain

If you have any questions for David Freeman, feel free to either reply to this article with them or, if you fancy the more direct option, he can be reached on Twitter under the account @TheBlueBarra

More From the Author

While Barra Brava is David Freeman’s first book, he has also written these articles on Latin American football, which may be of interest:

Fútbol in a Baseball Park, In Bed With Maradona, 15 February 2013. A detailed feature on the standard and status of football in Nicaragua, partially informed by his experiences of living there for four months as an English teacher.

Latin American Football 2012 in Review, Talking Sports, 2 January 2013. Covering the year following his travels, here is a summary of who won what in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico.

My Trip to Brazil: A Year of Expectation, Football Friends Online, 17 June 2014. Craftily combining a pre-World Cup trip to meet his Brazilian girlfriend’s family with a football detour or three, Freeman visited the Mineirão, Estádio Independência and, of course, the Maracanã.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Article originally published on 6 June 2015.