It’s here! Nothing else matters, least of all your sanity or “career”! The rest of civilisation can take a running jump because the Copa América is set to kick-off! Below, @DarrenSpherical provides an overview of Venezuela’s build-up as well as which players to look out for.
Copa América 2019
Saturday 15 June 2019 – Arena do Grêmio, Porto Alegre.
Peru vs Venezuela
Tuesday 18 June 2019 – Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador.
Brazil vs Venezuela
Saturday 22 June 2019 – Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte.
Bolivia vs Venezuela
Who Are You Kidding Getting Dressed This Morning? TV. Now.
Venezuela head into the 46th edition of South America’s flagship international tournament with a better build-up than in the past two competitions.
That is not saying a great deal and nor can it be taken as an indicator of anything.
You’re welcome and hello. After all, in 2015 the selección then managed by Noel Sanvicente arrived in Chile with nine months of largely forgettable displays and no friendlies in the weeks leading up to kick-off. This did not prevent them from beating neighbours Colombia 1-0 in a passionate-yet-disciplined performance. However, they followed that up by crashing out at the first hurdle after losses in their two other group games. Subsequently, less than ten months later, languishing bottom of the World Cup Qualifying table, Sanvicente was out of a job and in came his replacement, Rafael Dudamel.
Prior to 2016’s Copa América Centenario, the ex-international goalkeeper failed to win in any of his four tightly-scheduled pre-tournament warm-ups, yet managed to turn heads by vanquishing both Jamaica and Uruguay before emerging from the group undefeated after a draw against Mexico. Acclaim soon turned to derision for the burgundy boys, however, when Argentina hammered them 4-1 in the quarter-finals and, in the eyes of some, equilibrium was restored to the natural footballing order.
Over the following 16 months, amidst ever-worsening domestic problems, Dudamel proved unable to lift La Vinotinto from last place in the Russia 2018 qualifying standings. However, speculation that the FVF may look elsewhere died down after the coach led the Under-20s to the extraordinary feat of becoming World Cup runners-up in 2017. Bolstered by a new, exciting generation, he was then able to say with considerable justification that the senior side was planning for the future and backed this up by seeing out the remaining four qualifiers without defeat. Yet of course, no momentum could be allowed to just organically build obstacle-free. Thus, after playing a solitary friendly in November 2017, financial difficulties was the stated FVF explanation behind the national team going on international hiatus and not contesting another game until September of last year. Little was helped by this except the team’s official FIFA ranking, which counter-intuitively rose from 52nd to 31st in the barren ten-month period.
However, credit where it is due: since returning to action in September 2018 they have made use of every single FIFA-designated date (as well as one that wasn’t). In all, they have faced 11, often weighty, opponents: three each from their own confederation, CONCACAF and Asia as well as two non-recognised sides stuffed full of La Liga talent.
Results have been better than in the run-ups to 2015 and 2016, if somewhat mixed: four wins, four defeats and three draws. Most spectacular of the victories was March’s 3-1 humbling of Argentina at the Wanda Metropolitano. Yet casual observers who project from this that Venezuela are therefore serious contenders for the Copa may wish to temper their prognostications by first reviewing three of the reversals: the 2-1 against Catalonia just three days after mauling Messi’s mob, the 4-2 versus Basque Country last October and, most pertinently of all, the 3-1 education meted out by a star-lite Mexico against a full-strength Venezuela barely a week ago.
Dudamel himself has been somewhat sheepish about his team’s prospects, instead placing more emphasis on the tournament serving as good build-up for the true goal: qualification to Qatar 2022. Perhaps he has been chastened from earlier this year when, after many from the Venezuelan camp proclaimed their desire to win the Under-20 South American Championship, his 2019 crop failed to even qualify for the soon-to-be-concluded World Cup.
All that being said, most would back Venezuela to achieve the minimum expectation at Brazil 2019: qualifying from Group A. The opening game against Peru is largely justified as being billed as crucial, even if losing to Los Incas plus the hosts – who La Vinotinto have never beaten in a competitive game – yet pulverising atrocious-travellers Bolivia could theoretically still be enough to see them advance as one of the two best third-place teams.
Not that anyone wishes to be cornered into such a scenario. If the team does progress to the quarter-finals then, in a tournament with a healthy history of surprises – not least Venezuela’s record-best run to the semi-finals in 2011 – they could be forgiven for daydreaming about extending their stay.
After all, what the preceding nine months have produced is a relatively settled way of playing. Indeed, Dudamel evidently intends to utilise a 4-3-2-1 formation, with the defence being covered by a midfield trio of ball-winners and the striker supported by rapid transitions, particularly from the two attackers in tow. Furthermore, regarding the personnel, even if the three recent warm-up friendlies have caused some slight re-thinks – mostly in the defence – there are not likely to be any significant line-ups surprises for Saturday’s opener.
Of those nailed-on to be fielded, four players stand out as being fundamental to Venezuela’s campaign: Fledgling Faríñez and the Three R’s of Experience.
A teenager on the bench in the last two Copas, the 21-year-old sprightly shot-stopper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) has a big chance to further enhance his already glowing reputation and will doubtless be called upon to make up for the defence’s shortcomings. In front, whether on the left or his more-favoured right side, will be the rejuvenated Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain), who last October was brought back into the fold following a curious two-year absence and will be vitally important tenaciously tracking opponents and contributing to attacks. As ever, captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) will also endeavour to be assiduous in his primary task of closing down attackers and reinforcing the defence, as well kickstarting and sometimes contributing to the forward play. Lastly, at the very top of the pitch will be recently-crowned all-time leading goalscorer Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England), who has also netted at all three Copas he’s been involved in and will be on the prowl to wound defenders’ egos with his muscular hold-up play, supreme leaping and wearying workrate.
Some of the individuals he is likely to combine with the most are amongst a secondary group of five within the squad. These are talented players with less-celebrated reputations who nevertheless possess the potential to assert themselves as indispensable assets during the tournament. In this batch are included three fleet-footed attacking-midfielders: Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), a near-certain starter against Peru who is likely to be paired with either Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy) or Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA). The former appeared to have the nod up until the Mexico friendly but after being dropped from the subsequent line-up, the latter, having flourished in the 3-0 win over the USA last Sunday, has more than an outside chance. Either way, both will undoubtedly see action in Brazil.
The two other players who could rise to prominence are the pair pencilled in to aid Rincón in front of the back four: Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) and Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England). If only due to his greater propensity to get forward, the latter has perhaps a higher chance of garnering attention, but both will certainly be wholly absorbed in their largely unglamorous roles.
Herrera, as well as Faríñez, are the two definite starters out of the five players from 2017’s Under-20 squad who have also been convened here. However, moving onto the dubious defence, if Dudamel opts to place Rosales at left-back then, with Alexander González having been omitted, the 21-year-old apprentice Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway) could make that three by taking up the right-back mantle. Alternatively, if Rosales is placed in his natural position – as he was against the USA – then Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile) would appear to be the front-runner for the left flank. That said, as Mago is far from an established fixture, he is vulnerable to being overlooked in favour of the versatile Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), who has not played in the warm-ups owing to a minor injury.
As for the centre-backs, Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain) and Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal) seem the likeliest initial partnership, what with the former playing the final two friendlies and the latter having enjoyed an encouraging club season. However, this is not a niche bet that anyone would place with confidence as Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar) was instead selected after Osorio’s poor showing against Mexico and he also started in the first warm-up against Ecuador.
So, to summarise the Venezuelan defensive quagmire succinctly: there is every chance that all seven defenders will make it onto the pitch during the tournament.
Still, despite this uncertainty as well as their tendency to get exposed, Vinotinto defences, in tandem with the midfielders, have, over the years, also occasionally shown themselves to be capable of collectively rising to be greater than the sum of their parts. This happened in the opening game of Copa América 2015, in virtually all of 2016’s group stage and also in the final four games of World Cup qualification in 2017. Admittedly, they can also ride their luck a little, although at least they now possess a highly-rated goalkeeper to save them from themselves.
Lastly, some MLS-watchers may be wondering where hotshot Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) fits into the scheme of things. Well, although a partnership with Rondón is not completely out of the question as it was deployed at the 2016 Copa and may be used if Venezuela are chasing a game late on, it was never tried in any of the most recent friendlies. Instead, with Dudamel preferring a lone forward, Martínez is more likely to make regular appearances from the bench, whether as a replacement for Rondón or, quite plausibly, in one of the two attacking positions behind. However, for these spots he will not only be competing with Murillo, Machís and Savarino, but also with pint-sized Class of ’17 graduate Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil). The dribbler extraordinaire beloved of many talent-spotters has only played 26 minutes for the national team since last September but he has been called up as an eleventh-hour replacement for the injured Adalberto Peñaranda. His initial omission – allegedly due to a problem processing his visa for the warm-up tour in the USA – as well as that of Rómulo Otero was not greeted favourably by a considerable number of fans, but now, having met up with the side in the country where he plies his trade, he’s good to go.
As, mercifully, is yours truly. ¡Vamos chamos!
To keep track of how things pan out, please keep checking back to this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.
Venezuela Squad for Copa América 2019
Note: Owing to an injury, Yeferson Soteldo has replaced Adalberto Peñaranda.
Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia), Joel Graterol (Zamora FC) & Rafael Romo (APOEL FC, Cyprus).
Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).
Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia) & Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil).
Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).