Tag Archives: Rafael Romo

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (21 April 2015)

Tuesday 21 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán

Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz

Highlights of Mineros de Guayana 3-0 Huracán, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 21 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Victory, At Last: Huracán Dreams Shattered by Clinical Mineros

Mineros de Guayana may have already been eliminated from this year’s Copa Libertadores yet while few fans turned up to see them formally bow out, those that did were rewarded with the first (and only) victory by a Venezuelan team in this year’s competition.

This came at the 18th (6th, specifically for Mineros) and final attempt in a match that meant considerably more to their Argentine opponents who, had they won, would have joined Brazilian champions Cruzeiro in the next round. Alas, it was not to be, as they failed to take advantage of the hosts’ low morale and absence of several first-team regulars, all of whom are recent internationals: Gabriel Cichero, Edgar Jiménez, Richard Blanco and Rafael Romo (not to mention 41-year-old Luis Vallenilla, even if his last cap for La Vinotinto was over seven years ago). Instead, the Bolivian champions Club Universitario de Sucre progressed.

While Huracán initially took the game to the Venezuelans and were to perhaps edge possession in the first half, they went behind in the 10th minutes. The goal originated in a corner from Ángelo Peña, a talented individual with international experience and brief spells in Portugal and Brazil under his belt. He was to have a memorable game roaming all across the line behind the very tip of the Mineros attack, feeding in his team-mates on numerous occasions. His cross from the left was headed straight back to him but, undeterred, he swiftly left a defender for dead before inching into the area where he chipped a delightful ball over the goalkeeper to the back post where it was headed in by Colombian Zamir Valoyes.

For the visitors and many neutrals at least, this was not in the script. Six minutes later, the Argentines briefly thought they were level when Federico Vismara quickly took a free-kick that was knocked into the area for Ramón Ábila to tap in. However, the striker – nicknamed ‘Wanchope’ after the ex-Costa Rican international with what is apparently a disconcerting lack of irony – was offside and the goal was ruled out. Ábila was to frustrate fans, team-mates and coaching staff alike with his positioning throughout the game, repeatedly being ruled offside – a familiar story for those who have watched him regularly this season in the domestic Primera División.

For the following twenty minutes, the many Argentine forays into Venezuelan territory struggled to legally bypass the opposition’s back line or culminate with a testing shot on goal. Most crosses were blocked and/or headed out and while Ábila wormed a relatively harmless attempt wide, the majority of efforts stopped by goalkeeper Luis Romero were struck from a distance. By contrast, Mineros were to have clearer sights of goal, working two opportunities in quick succession from similar positions on the left inside the area. The first, after 34 minutes, fell to goalscorer Valoyes but, though he had a defender hot on his heels, he should have done better than blazing over the crossbar. Two minutes later, Edson Castillo was played through and did well to aim a left-footed shot across goal that provoked a rather theatrical parry from Marcos Díaz.

Throughout this half, though the Argentine domestic strugglers often attacked with intent, with the final key pass or cross eluding a forward, they were often conceding a great deal of space that was exploited by the likes of Peña and a few other team-mates who were to also put in good performances. Three of these were to combine impressively for the second goal on the 40th-minute mark. Indeed, Luis Guerra, an 18-year-old in his debut season, embarked on an eye-catching run that began in his own half and proceeded up the left-channel, evading three challenges along the way. Upon reaching the edge of the area, he played the ball towards the dee to Venezuela international Rafael Acosta, who swiftly arced it to Valoyes on the right, who in turn, confidently hit an exquisite shot with the outside of his foot to make it 2-0. The Colombian had scored his fourth goal in this year’s Copa Libertadores – all of which have come against the Argentines.

Two goals down and not even half-time, Huracán were heading out. The best they could muster in the five minutes before the interval was a header from Ábila that went marginally wide of the near post – albeit, once again from an offside position. Such transgressions by ‘El Wanchope’ and his team-mates as well as other decisions going against the visitors were to continue in the second half. Indeed, after another offside goal – this time netted in the 54th minute by Chilean  Edson Puch –  the coaching staff were visibly animated and, following each sounding of the whistle, continued to be as what was anticipated to be an historical day turned increasingly sour.

Their side persevered with their ever-fruitless attacks while affording the hosts more and more space to counter. Luis Guerra was always seeking ways to take advantage of this and he was to contribute further to his memorable performance in the 66th minute when he had a hand in the third and final goal. On the left, he cut into the area, turned back from the byline and, with his right foot, squeezed a ball through to Acosta whose first shot was blocked, only to come back to him to strike home into the net. 3-0, game over. The players on the away bench were utterly stunned and, in the aftermath, could do little but stare with their hands on their heads as the ramifications of this missed opportunity sunk in.

In the remainder of the game, each side had at least another notable long range effort but the one chance that perhaps summed up Huracán’s miserable day came with just over ten minutes left. Half-time substitute Cristian Espinoza – who impressed on the wing in Argentina’s victorious Sudamericano Sub-20 side earlier this year – chipped in a ball that Ábila, eight yards out and unmarked, contrived to head wide of the far post.

The final whistle marked a game to forget for the visitors. Many neutrals as well as Argentines were rather rash to proclaim this result to be a surprise, if not an embarrassment. Seemingly, they were forgetting the 2-2 draw in Buenos Aires back in February and somewhat overstating the reputation of Huracán, a newly promoted side who currently reside in 25th in a bloated 30-team division. This club was unable to stop Zamir Valoyes scoring twice in both Argentina and Venezuela which, along with Rafael Acosta’s strike, constituted the only times Mineros de Guayana managed to find the net in this year’s Copa Libertadores. As these five strikes also generated the only four points the Venezuelans gained in the tournament, the Argentines would do well to show a little more humility.

For Mineros, while the result can not be said to have been a complete surprise, given they were playing for nothing and 4-5 first-team regulars were missing, not many would have anticipated that they would have won by three goals. Given this game was the final one contested by Venezuelan teams and marked the solitary group stage win, following a winless run of 18, one must try not to read too much into it. Mineros are struggling domestically, they have sacked two managers this season and will not be competing in next year’s Libertadores; with only three league games left, it is unlikely this game will have much significance in the long run.

Nevertheless, they did well to salvage some pride and no doubt spoil the ’18 games, 0 wins’ narratives of planned obituaries for the three Venezuelan teams. One such review – albeit, marginally more level-headed – of the campaigns of Mineros de Guayana, Zamora and Deportivo Táchira will be appearing on this website in the upcoming days, so please keep returning to the site for that as well as much more.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (14 April 2015)

Tuesday 14 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana

Estadio Olímpico Patria, Sucre

Goal Highlights of Club Universitario 2-0 Mineros de Guayana, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 14 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Mineros Depart as Universitario Continue to Impress

Though they put in a spirited performance in the altitude of Sucre, Mineros’ Copa Libertadores exit was confirmed by two goals, both of which came towards the end of each half.

The first half was fairly even, with the Bolivians marginally edging it overall though it was the visitors from Venezuela that had the first chance of note. In the fifth minute, international striker Richard Blanco managed to get a shot away within the area from an acute angle that Chilean goalkeeper Raúl Olivares parried out. A couple of minutes later up the other end, Miguel Suárez curled a left-footed shot from the right edge of the area a yard or two wide of the far post.

A quarter of an hour in, Colombian striker Leonardo Castro had the hosts’ next opportunity but, though he received a dinked ball in a promising position, he leant back and blazed over. Five minutes later the Bolivians were to have their best moment thus far, with a header forcing Mineros goalkeeper Rafael Romo to pull off a fine save. However, following some pressure from the visitors, including a couple of corners, there was to be a temporary halt to proceedings in the 26th minute when some of the floodlights abruptly went out.

Three minutes later they were back on and soon afterwards, Mineros were to have their brightest chance of the half. This came when Blanco roamed forward on the inside-right and squared the ball to Ebby Pérez but instead of going for a shot or taking the ball confidently in his stride, he instead went a little wayward. Indeed, he struggled to take command of the situation and his lack of control led to him having to knock the ball back unconvincingly from the touchline towards a team-mate who was unable to get a shot on target.

However, though the Venezuelans were to continue to attack, the Bolivians were to make the breakthrough just before the interval. From a deep position on the inside-right, Rubén Cuesta chipped a free-kick into the area where Castro headed low and hard into the net to ensure his side left the pitch with a spring in their step.

Given their respectable showing, one doubts there were any verbal fireworks inside the Mineros dressing room, though there were some actual ones outside in the Universitario stands as the hosts appeared to be celebrating their final home group game (and a fine showing from their side). The pyrotechnics continued in a similarly well-contested half, with the first chance coming from the hosts five minutes in as Castro hit a shot with pace from 25 yards that was at a good height for Romo, who parried wide.

Ten minutes into the second period, Mineros had a couple of opportunites that both derived from the crosses of  Pérez. The first was headed comfortably over by centre-back Julio Machado whereas the second was somewhat closer to the mark, being nodded 2-3 yards wide of the far post by half-time substitute Zamir Valoyes.

However, far nearer the target was Ezequiel Filippetto’s gilt-edged chance that he was presented with in the 63rd minute. A corner was swung in, then headed on to the back post where the Argentine defender stretched for the ball but could only limply knock it wide of the goal. An opportunity to double the lead was certainly missed, though the hosts ploughed on and were to have the next significant chance six minutes later but Romo was equal to the powerful shot that was driven at him from just outside the area.

The Bolivians were nearly made to pay for Filippetto’s miss with just 15 minutes remaining on the clock when Blanco made space for himself on the edge of the area and hit a well-struck effort that was tipped over by Olivares.

However, ultimately they were to leave victorious and made sure of their win with five minutes remaining when a long ball was pumped forward up the left channel. This was flicked on just outside the area where Mineros substitute Edson Castillo erroneously ran onto it, unthinkingly nodding into the path of Suárez who rounded Romo to wrap up the game with a 2-0 win.

Thus, with one more date of fixtures to be played in this group, Universitario surprisingly top the group with 9 points, though their final opponents Cruzeiro (8 points) may well depose them. There also still remains the chance that the Bolivians may fail to reach the knock-out stage as third-placed side Huracán (7 points) will certainly retain firm hopes of qualifying. However, their final game, an away match against Mineros (1 point), may not be as plain sailing as some casual observers may presume, given the Venezuelans nearly beat them in Buenos Aires in February.

Whether Tpny Franco (who took over from Marcos Mathías in mid-March) feels potentially thwarting the Argentines is worth the bother remains to be seen though with a mere one point from five games, a morale-boosting performance may be deemed necessary. Indeed, domestically, they languish in ninth and are well on course to finish mid-table in the aggregate league – a far cry from the form under Richard Páez that gained them their place in this year’s competition: winning the 2013 Apertura, finishing 2013/14 runners-up and topping the aggregate table.

As always, irrespective of what happens, be sure to continue following what is left of the campaigns of the three Venezuelan sides – Deportivo Táchira, Zamora FC and Mineros de Guayana – on this website as well as on the affiliated Twitter account @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Cruzeiro 3-0 Mineros de Guayana – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (8 April 2015)

Wednesday 8 April 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Cruzeiro 3-0 Mineros de Guayana

Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais

Goal Highlights of Cruzeiro 3-0 Mineros de Guayana, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 8 April 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Early Super Strikes Stun Mineros

Any hopes Mineros de Guayana had of frustrating the Brazilian champions were devastatingly dashed by two superb early goals in quick succession as Cruzeiro ultimately ran out three-goal victors.

Despite the wealth disparity between the two sides, the Venezuelans put in a respectable account of themselves in the opening ten minutes, not looking overawed or overran. Alas, a spectacular goal out of nothing soon changed that in the 13th minute. The promising Uruguayan international Giorgian De Arrascaeta, recently recruited from Defensor Sporting, was the scorer, latching onto a header from right-back Mayke and then improvising a sensational overhead-kick. Barely a minute later, Leandro Damião doubled the lead as a throw-in on the left by Chilean international Eugenio Mena fell into his path in the area and he took one touch before unleashing a superb right-footed strike past Rafael Romo.

Faced with this early double whammy, Mineros struggled to regain their focus in the aftermath and thus an embarrassing pasting of the magnitude that their compatriots at Zamora and Deportivo Táchira have eached suffered more than once in this year’s group stage seemed probable. Indeed, the two goalscorers were to regularly link up with Alisson, Willian and other team-mates to almost extend their side’s lead, with De Arrascaeta often playing a pivotal role, playing incisive through-balls from distance.

However, as the half wore on, the Venezuelans at least managed to interject with some forward forays of their own, with two attacks in particular almost leading to goals. The first of these came on 31 minutes when striker Richard Blanco chipped a ball to the edge of the area from the right that the incoming Angelo Peña – formerly of Brazilian outfit Náutico Capibaribe – headed agonisingly wide of the post. Then, not long before the whistle blew for the interval, Alberto Cabello was to have the visitors’ second chance of note which this time was a low strike, though this too was to go marginally wide of the woodwork.

After the break, while the visitors were not entirely subdued, the Brazilians were nonetheless rather comfortable, linking up well in attack and creating chances here and there. One such notable opportunity came ten minutes into the half when Henrique cut onto his right on the left and struck a low shot that Romo did well to save. Eight minutes later, the third-choice Venezuela goalkeeper also did well to block off a sneaky encroachment into the area along the left byline by Damião. Futhermore, the Cruzeiro forward was also to force the best save out of Romo in the 72nd minute when he received De Arrascaeta’s chipped ball on the right of the area and hit a rasping low shot that flicked off the goalkeeper’s glove and out. However, from the resulting corner, Romo and his team-mates were to be instantly deflated as Henrique, aided by a deflection, headed the ball into the back of the net, thus killing any doubts regarding the result, if indeed there were any.

In the 79th minute, Zamir Valoyes was to cut in from the right onto his left, hitting a fine shot that went just wide of the far post, but ultimately such efforts were too little too late for Mineros, with this game having effectively been decided within 15 minutes.

Nevertheless, despite the early setbacks, Mineros deserve some credit for not wilting in the Mineirão and maintaining some pride. With two games left, they remain the only Venezuelan side with a chance of qualifying to the knock-out stage, though as they trail the second-placed side, Club Universitario – their next opponents – by five points, they may share the fates of Zamora and Deportivo Táchira by the time next week is over. Nevertheless, irrespective of the outcome of this particular game, be sure to check back on this site and/or @DarrenSpherical for further updates on the progress of these three teams in the 2015 Copa Libertadores.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Mineros de Guayana 0-2 Cruzeiro – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (19 March 2015)

Thursday 19 March 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Mineros de Guayana 0-2 Cruzeiro

Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz

Highlights of Mineros de Guayana 0-2 Cruzeiro, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 19 March 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user mateus3712)

Cruzeiro Made to Work for Victory in Venezuela

Brazilian champions Cruzeiro scored their first goals and also achieved their opening win of this year’s Copa Libertadores, though they had to survive a few scares before they could be assured of victory.

Mineros de Guayana, despite last time around being booed off following a dismal home defeat to Bolivia’s Club Universitario, put in a spirited performance and will feel disappointed not to have at least got on the scoresheet. They were anything but reticent, from the off letting their illustrious opponents know that they would be in for a game, with their first chance coming after 11 minutes when a low cross into the goalmouth was only cut out at the last moment.

However, the hosts never took for granted the task they were facing and just a minute later the Brazilians champions were to fulfil most pre-match predictions when they took the lead. Marquinhos – arguably Cruzeiro’s best player – bombed down the right, played a ball back for the Uruguayan Giorgian De Arrascaeta. His shot was blocked by goalkeeper Rafael Romo but fell straight to Leandro Damião, who headed it home. The Brazilian and erstwhile transfer target for European sides including the England trio of Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool has seen his career stall somewhat since he impressed at the 2012 Olympic Games and received some senior call-ups in the subsequent year. Nevertheless, he has started his Cruzeiro career with an impressive haul of six goals in six games in the State Championships and will be pleased to have got his new side’s first Libertadores goal of 2015.

To their enormous credit – and unlike the two other Venezuelan sides in this year’s competition – Mineros did not crumble after conceding an early goal against one of the contintent’s heavyweights. Instead, they were to continue with their forward forays throughout the half, with some of their most notable chances including Ebby Peréz’s deflected shot from a promising position after good work from Richard Blanco, James Cabezas controlling a long ball in the area before getting roughed off it by Eugenio Mena and Cabezas also having a header saved down low. The best opportunity to get back on level terms, however, came in the 34th minute when Ángelo Peña’s knockback into the area bamboozled the entire defence and goalkeeper, falling to 41-year-old right-back Luis Vallenilla. No more than ten yards out with a clear shot on goal, he struck low only to be denied at the foot of the near post by Fábio.

When the whistle blew for the interval, Mineros could feel relatively satisfied with their efforts, being still very much in the game and having only the goal and a late Romo miscalculation from a cross to really concern them.

After the restart, the hosts continued to search for an equaliser and while they were to enjoy much space in opposition territory, they were to leave themselves increasingly open to counter-attacks. One scare of this particular kind that they narrowly avoided came nine minutes into the half when De Arrascaeta freed into space Marquinhos, who drove into the area before his low shot was well saved by the outstretched leg of Romo.

Mineros were to have a half-chance a few minutes later when international left-back Gabriel Cichero suddenly emerged late in the area unmarked to head a diagonal ball from Peréz just over.

Mineros ploughed on but Cruzeiro were to have the next major chance of the match when, in the 67th minute, young attacker Alisson gained some space on the left inside the area and took aim, forcing goalkeeper Romo to pull off a decent save. While the goalkeeper was not to enjoy a flawless game, it was nevertheless a morale-boosting performance for Romo, who had been at fault for goals conceded in his side’s opening two group games. Indeed, after he fumbled the game-winning goal to Leonardo Castro in the previous encounter at home to Club Universitario, he suffered the ignominy of having his every touch booed by his own fans until the final whistle.

Despite such scares, the hosts continued their assaults in and around the Cruzeiro area and ten minutes later caused some nerves in the opposition backline to jangle when a series of crosses went back-and-forth, though no finish was forthcoming.

However, Mineros’ valiant efforts were to unfortunately come to nothing as the match was to be settled in the 83rd minute. Chilean international left-back Eugenio picked up the ball, played a one-two with Damião on the edge of the area and then put in a low cross from the left where, in the middle, Marquinhos just about ensured the ball crossed the line.

Blanco nearly managed to round Fábio late on, but the result was effectively decided with Marquinhos’ goal as Cruzeiro recorded their first win. In doing so, they leapt to the top of Group 3 with 5 points, the same amount as Club Universitario, though it is the Brazilians who have the superior goal difference.

Mineros, by contrast, are rooted to the bottom with a solitary point and so if they are to have any chance of progressing they will need to win their game, however unlikely this may seem, being as it is the reverse fixture away in Belo Horizonte.

As always, irrespective of what transpires, for more updates on the Libertadores campaigns of the three Venezuelan sides – Mineros de Guayana, Zamora FC and Deportivo Táchira – please check back here and/or @DarrenSpherical.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Mineros de Guayana 0-1 Club Universitario – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (3 March 2015)

Tuesday 3 March 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Mineros de Guayana 0-1 Club Universitario 

Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz

Goal Highlight of Mineros de Guayana 0-1 Club Universitario, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 3 March 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Memorable Night for Bolivians, Forgettable One for Everybody Else

Goalkeeper Rafael Romo as well as manager Marcos Mathías earned the ire of the Mineros faithful as the Venezuelan side lost what was predicted to be their most winnable group game.

For neutrals, this was an entirely forgettable affair with both teams rarely troubling the opposition goal and which was largely characterised by a lack of urgency and intensity. For Universitario fans, however, this win was a significant step forward as it marked the first time since 1994 that a Bolivian side won in the Copa Libertadores away in Venezuela.

They achieved this against the run of play as though it would be a stretch to say Mineros were dominant, they did have the lion’s share of the ball. In the first half, the closest they came to a goal was after four minutes from what looked like a miscued ball into the area from arguably their top performer, Ángelo Peña. This was curled in with his right boot towards goalkeeper Juan Robles who misjudged it, leading him to parry it out unconvincingly whilst almost standing behind his own line.

However, Robles was certainly not the only one making goalkeeping errors and when the contest was ten minutes old, it was Rafael Romo’s turn to commit his first of the game. From a Universitario free-kick on the left 35 yards from goal, he misjudged a bounce through a crowd of players and instead of collecting, he nervously parried the ball out, causing uncertainty amongst his colleagues.

For the rest of the half, it was largely a case of misplaced passes and attacks that were over before they had begun. The best method either side – particularly the hosts – had of breaking the deadlock appeared to come from set-pieces. Just after the half-hour mark, a Universitario free-kick was lofted into the area for Argentine centre-back Federico Silvestre to head a few yards wide – the placement of the header as well as the fact that he was whistled offside only underlines just how little threat was actually being offered here. Mineros fared slightly better and had several free-kicks, with the two that came closest being struck by international left-back Gabriel Cichero. The first of these was curled comfortably into Robles’ hands but the second on the stroke of half-time was hit with pace and flashed just a yard or so over the bar.

Following an interval that everybody in the stands was grateful to have reached, the hosts did offer some hope in the opening minutes of the restart that the second half would be an altogether more attacking affair. Peña was the catalyst behind two moves in quick succession, the first of which involved him playing a fine 35-yard ball from the halfway-line that got in behind the defence to Zamir Valoyes. The Colombian striker took it in his stride but his lashed shot from the edge of the area went a yard or so over, seemingly having been flicked off the fingertips of Robles, though no corner was awarded. Straight afterwards, but from a far more acute angle, Valoyes’ striker-partner Richard Blanco picked up a long ball from Peña on the left, made some space near the touchline and squeezed into the area, shooting low at Robles.

However, despite this early promise, the half descended into a similar anti-spectacle of misplaced passes, tediously repetitive midfield skirmishes and paltry offerings from the front-lines. If a team could be said to have had the upper hand in these weak exchanges, it was certainly the hosts. Thus, when the visitors got their goal in the 74th minute – their first effort on target in the half which came complete with an unforced goalkeeping error – it was still somewhat of a surprise. This occurred after a ball into the Mineros area was knocked out to Alejandro Bejarano who teed himself up from 20 yards for a left-footed strike. This bounced just before Romo, though not too awkwardly and so if he felt he could not hold onto it, he still should have had the awareness not to spill it straight to Colombian striker Leonardo Castro, who pounced for what proved to be the winner. Coming just a week after an even worse howler against Huracán – far from his only previous mistake this season – the Mineros fans were in an unforgiving mood and proceeded to boo his every subsequent touch right up until the final whistle.

Suddenly on the ropes and needing to rev up a few gears to a level that they had hitherto not reached, it was of little surprise to regular observers of Venezuelan sides to see tempers suddenly begin to fray. This culminated in the 81st minute with Valoyes committing a completely needless and excruciatingly dangerous midfield challenge, for which the Colombian striker was immediately given his marching orders – quite the fall in grace from being last week’s two-goal hero in Argentina.

In the last ten minutes, the hunt for an equaliser was punctured by this man-disadvantage and as the final whistle was blown, chants were ringing out for the departure of Mineros boss Marcos Mathías. Having replaced the popular ex-national boss Richard Páez in the autumn of last year, it was never going to be easy to match his predecessor’s achievement of finishing runners-up in the league and attaining qualification for this very edition of the Libertadores. However, with his side currently in the bottom half of the Torneo Clausura and having now lost what was considered to be their most winnable Libertadores group game, it should not come as a surprise to him if, in the upcoming weeks, he receives a tap on the shoulder from the board.

By contrast, Universitario were understandably elated at the result and now find themselves top of the group with 4 points, after Huracán earned themselves a creditable point away to Brazilian champions Cruzeiro in what was, as far as 0-0 draws go, a fairly lively encounter. Both of these sides now have 2 points so on paper Mineros, with just the 1, should not feel out of the hunt just yet, but they will know that they missed a big opportunity here.

The next game for the Venezuelans will be in two weeks’ time at home to Cruzeiro, a daunting proposition with the one minor consolation being that their opponents have failed to score in either of their group games. Whether or not the Brazilians can conjure up any creative alchemy and turn that game into a bloodbath remains to be seen, but irrespective of what happens, feel free to check back here and/or at @DarrenSpherical for further updates on the Copa Libertadores campaign of not only Mineros de Guayana but also those of Deportivo Táchira and Zamora FC.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Huracán 2-2 Mineros de Guayana – 2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3 (24 February 2015)

Tuesday 24 February 2015

2015 Copa Libertadores Group 3

Huracán 2-2 Mineros de Guayana 

Estadio Tomás Adolfo Ducó, Buenos Aires

Highlights of Huracán 2-2 Mineros de Guayana, 2015 Copa Libertadores, 24 February 2015 (Video courtesy of YouTube user xpertowinner)

Mineros Defy the Odds and Nearly Sneak Victory

Despite being afforded little hope by most neutrals before the match, Venezuela’s Mineros de Guayana rode their luck in this Group 3 opener to come within a few minutes of taking away from Buenos Aires what would have been an impressive victory.

Although they possess several internationals in their ranks, domestically the most easterly side in Venezuela’s top-flight have been mired in some rather mediocre, mid-table form since finishing runners-up last May. They would have been right to feel apprehensive facing an Argentine side who, though newly promoted and playing in this competition for the first time since 1974, swatted aside illustrious Peruvian giants Alianza Lima 4-0 away from home in the Libertadores qualifying round.

For the first twenty minutes, the game largely adhered to the script, with Huracán dominating possession with some neat passing play and testing the Mineros defence with long balls and crosses from both flanks. Goalkeeper Rafael Romo made some important, if expected, stops from leading striker Ramón ‘Wanchope’ Ábila and experienced playmaker Patricio Toranzo though was scrambling when the fabulous left-footed volley of youngster Alejandro Romero Gamarra rattled the crossbar, before trickling across the goalmouth.

However, despite looking vulnerable at the back, Mineros did have a few forward forays, with that of recent international goalscorer Richard Blanco after 20 minutes, earning a free-kick on the left edge of the area after he was upended by a defender he had beaten for pace. Colombian forward Zamir Valoyes stepped up and, to silence the Globo faithful, curled a low powerful effort into the far corner that appeared to beat Marcos Díaz for pace. Mineros had a surprise lead.

A little flustered, the hosts nevertheless continued as before, though were now looking to get back into the game – a pursuit with which the visitors were to unwittingly provide some clumsy assistance. Indeed, little over five minutes following the opener, a ball was slid into the centre of the area where Édgar Jiménez picked it up. With more time on his hands that he evidently was aware of, the much-maligned international hastily nudged it against Lucas Villarruel whose block rebounded the ball back to Romo. Unfortunately for Venezuela’s third-choice goalkeeper – and not for the first time in recent memory – he failed to collect a relatively straightforward ball, instead dropping it for Villarruel to pounce and nudge home.

For the rest of the first half, the balance of play continued in the same vein as it had since kick-off, with Huracán putting in some crosses that tested Mineros’ nervy defence and getting a few shots on goal. The hosts did, however, receive a blow just before half-time as goalkeeper Marcos Díaz was injured and had to be replaced by Matías Giordano. This was especially disappointing for Díaz as he had been the shootout hero of November’s Copa Argentina win against Rosario Central, saving two of the three penalties the opposition failed to convert and thus securing Libertadores qualification for his side.

Moving into the second period, barring a brief early spell, the hosts continued to dominate possession in the first 25 minutes. However, while the Argentines may have enjoyed most of the play and, at times, been encamped within the Mineros half, they rarely threatened the opposition goal. They must have sensed their Venezuelan foes were growing in confidence, something they could see with their own eyes when, with 20 minutes remaining, Mineros made a rare foray into the other half. On the inside-left, goalscorer Valoyes slid a neat reverse ball through for substitute Angelo Peña – a man with international caps and a stint in Portugal on his CV – who found himself one-on-one with Giordano, but hit his shot too close to the goalkeeper.

From this moment onwards, the game turned into an end-to-end contest, something that was best encapsulated in a thrilling 30-second spell several minutes later. This started with Venezuelan international Blanco hitting the bar with a fine strike and then seeing the ball rebound to his La Vinotinto colleague Rafael Acosta who, from the edge of the area, hit the post with a good effort with the outside of his right boot. Before anyone could catch breath, the Argentines were up the other end where substitute and much-travelled recent recruit Daniel Montenegro then hit the crossbar.

However, it did not take the Venezuelans long to go one better as in the 80th minute Valoyes, with Federico Mancinelli behind him, appeared to slip following minimal contact and was awarded a rather fortuitous penalty. The Colombian himself stepped up to convert the spot-kick, thus gaining his second goal of the game and giving his side a suprise lead that, pre-game, few outside of Venezuela were predicting.

Alas, once again, a Venezuelan team were unable to hold on as with two minutes left, defender Julio Machado was adjudged to have hauled Montenegro to the ground in the penalty area. While it looked a little soft, many saw this as justice served and it was 36-year-old defender Eduardo Domínguez who held his nerve to ensure this game ended on level terms.

Before the game, one senses Mineros de Guayana would have taken a draw and indeed their defence-minded tactics borne of Libertadores experience were certainly designed primarily to frustrate, with the hope of mounting a counter-attack every now and again. When Huracán began to run out of ideas, the Venezuelan side threw off their shackles and came within a few minutes of achieving a memorable win.

Played on the same night, this group’s other fixture saw Brazilian champions Cruzeiro draw 0-0 against Bolivia’s Club Universitario, which, given the conditions, is not a point to be sniffed at. In their next match, they will be back in more comfortable environs in Belo Horizonte, where they will face Huracán, a game for which the sensible money will be on the hosts. Mineros thus will be at home to the Bolivian side, in a game that they really must win in order to feel that progressing from this group is a viable possibility.

As always, check back here and/or at @DarrenSpherical for further updates on the Copa Libertadores campaigns of not only Mineros de Guayana but also Deportivo Táchira and Zamora, as well as a whole lot more related to Venezuelan and South American football.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Copa Libertadores Preview: Deportivo Táchira Join Zamora and Mineros de Guayana on the Grandest Stage

Tonight (17 February) may see Europe’s Champions League return for its knock-out phase, but in South America (and Mexico), attention will be very much on the inauguration of the Group Stage of the 2015 Copa Libertadores, the premier club competition.

Interest will be particularly high in Venezuela, the nation whose clubs have historically made the least impact in this tournament. For the first ever time since the round of play-off qualifiers was introduced in 2005, the continent’s traditional underdogs will be represented by their full quota of three teams, as Zamora (2013-14 champions) and Mineros de Guayana (2013-14 runners-up & Apertura winners) will be joined by Deportivo Táchira (3rd in 2013-14 aggregate table, behind the other two qualifiers).

Highlights of Cerro Porteño 2-2 Deportivo Táchira (3-4 aggregate), 11 February 2015, Copa Libertadores First Round.

(Video courtesy of YouTube user: Enfermos X el fútbol)

Deportivo Táchira’s Asunción Ascension

Táchira, who as well as making four appearances at this stage in the past ten years have also been unsuccessful in each of the three previous times that they have contested the play-off round, finally overcame this hurdle last week when they defeated Cerro Porteño. Perhaps being rivalled only by Palestino of Chile knocking out Uruguay’s three-time winners Nacional as the biggest surprise of the preliminaries, the side from the eponymous state on the Colombian border drew 2-2 in Asunción, thus claiming a memorable 4-3 aggregate victory

Before the first leg was contested on 4 February, the six-time semi-finalists from Paraguay were considered comfortable favourites to progress. Táchira, however, gave short shrift to the supposed script as it took no more than 12 minutes for 34-year-old Argentine Javier López – a recent recruit from Zamora FC – to head in the fine set-piece delivery of 32-year-old erstwhile Venezuela international César ‘Maestrico’ González. Rather than sitting back, San Cristóbal’s finest absorbed and were further invigorated by the raucous atmosphere of a well-populated Pueblo Nuevo and seven minutes later, the fans were to witness a goal that undoubtedly lived up to the significance of the occasion. Maintaining the theme of experience, this came from the much-travelled 37-year-old Jorge Rojas, a recent acquisition from one of the capital’s smaller sides, Metropolitanos, as well as being La Vinotinto‘s third highest-capped player of all-time. Upon receiving a throw-in, Rojas demonstrated why he is known as ‘El Zurdo’, as he let the ball roll into his stride and unleashed an unstoppable left-footed strike from over 30 yards that fizzed in the air before going in off the underside of the crossbar.

A goal surely fit to grace any stadium in the world and a fine example of the strength in depth that exists in this competition. Not to be outdone, five minutes after the restart Cerro were to get what proved to be their consolation and seemingly vital away goal, with a strike that left many impartial observers unsure as to which was the finest of the game. This was a swerving 30-yard free-kick from Jonathan Fabbro, an Argentina-born Paraguay international who has represented clubs in six countries within Latin America and who, at 33 years of age, was well on-message with this game’s theme.

Thus, with an away goal to their name and home advantage for the decisive tie on 11 February to look forward to, Cerro returned to the Paraguayan capital confident that a group berth awaited. When, with 40 minutes on the clock, Fabbro again got on the scoresheet – this time via a dubiously awarded penalty – many home nerves dissipated as now Táchira were compelled to attack in order to avoid elimination, thus leaving them vulnerable on the counter. Yet, while at times the Venezuelans rode their luck, from the very first minute they always looked like they were capable of posing a threat, not to mention a surprise or two, the first of which they delivered on 55 minutes. Gelmin Rivas, the club’s leading goalscorer with 11 goals in 17 league games, followed up the good work of Pablo Olivera – recently acquired from Uruguay’s second tier – to hold off defenders and adeptly side-foot home.

The onus was thus back on the hosts and to their credit, they required little more than five minutes to regain the lead with that man Fabbro again involved in the goal, albeit this time as supplier. He did well on the right of the area to shrug off some challenges before chipping a fine cross into the area that local youngster Cecilio Domínguez chested and dispatched with a consummate ease that belied his 20 years.

However, as the Asunción crowd began pondering whether or not extra-time would be necessary, Rivas abruptly rendered any such musings academic, stunning the home faithful within a minute of the restart. The striker, who was linked with a possible move to Standard Liège or Club Brugge in January, picked up the ball 30 yards out and evaded a challenge to hit a low bouncing shot from the right edge of the area into the bottom far corner. 2-2, the local scoreboard now alarmingly read. Although the goalkeeper Rodolfo Rodríguez probably should have parried this shot away, any anger felt by the home fans had to be suppressed as this sensationally swift turn of events meant that their side now had to frantically get their act together and score twice in just under half an hour.

As it panned out, while Cerro did have the bulk of the remaining chances, Táchira were to resist and hold on, thus not only qualifying for the group stage but also managing to avoid defeat against a side that had reached this very phase in four of the past five years.

Although it is unlikely that fans of Táchira’s El Clásico foes Caracas FC share the following sentiments, it must be said that as this second leg victory was immediately followed by the national team’s second successive win over Honduras in a week, for many Venezuelan football fans this was certainly a day to be savoured.

Previews of Venezuela’s 3 Teams in the 2015 Copa Libertadores

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Deportivo Táchira

With the confidence gained from their impressive win against Cerro Porteño coupled with their return to form in the early stages of Venezuela’s Torneo Clausura, Los Aurinegros should feel that advancing from Group 8 (of 8) is not beyond their capabilities. Indeed, while the encounter with Argentine champions Racing and their strike-force of Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou may cause the most butterflies, their games against Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal and another Paraguayan side, Guaraní, now seem, by comparison, manageable.

Coach Daniel Farías will certainly be hoping his side does not experience a similarly disastrous decline in form that befell them in the 18-team Torneo Apertura when they contrived to fall from 1st at the midway point to a final position of 11th.  To avert this, the form of various key players will be crucial: goalkeeper Alan Liebeskind, who has made a strong impression since joining at the beginning of the Clausura; young centre-back Wilker Ángel, who can chip in with more than his fair share of goals from set-pieces and who may well be heading abroad later in the year; playmaker César González, whose set-pieces and link-up play will be vital, as will be those of Jorge Rojas, though how much of the campaign the latter will feature in at his age remains to be seen; another dead-ball specialist, albeit one surely not concerned with stamina issues is young, creative livewire Yohandry Orozco, a man who will want to use this opportunity to display to a wide audience some of the talent that gained him recognition four years ago; the service of the likes of Orozco, Rojas, González and, to an extent, Pablo Olivera, will need to be spot-on in order for striker Gelmin Rivas to have a prosperous tournament, being as he is in the main a penalty-area predator.

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Zamora FC

Before Táchira get their campaign underway with a home game against Racing, the 2013-14 champions of Venezuela will be ushering in their nation’s participation in the tournament with an away game against Montevideo Wanderers. Their Uruguayan opponents will be hosting this encounter at Parque Central, the home of their more illustrious cross-city neighbours, Nacional, whose qualifying-round conquerors Palestino – a Chilean side originally set up by Palestinian immigrants – are the third side in Group 5. The final team is Argentine giants Boca Juniors who, having raised eyes and expectations with the recruitment of Uruguayan international Nicolás Lodeiro, Málaga midfielder Pablo Pérez and striker Dani Osvaldo, promise to be the dominant threat.

Zamora may have won last season’s championship but, as is often the case in South America, they were victims of their own success. Consequently, key individuals were swiftly snapped up by all and sundry, such as midfielder Pedro Ramírez (FC Sion), leading goalscorer Juan Falcón (FC Metz) and, most significantly, manager Noel Sanvicente (Venezuela national team). They thus began the Torneo Apertura campaign in August disastrously, not picking up a win in their first 11 games and finding themselves rooted to the bottom. However, their form was to undergo a remarkable U-turn as their final six games ended with five wins and a draw, salvaging some pride with a final position of 12th. This reversal in fortunes has impressively and, with the reputation of Venezuelan football on the continental stage in mind, thankfully, continued into the second half of the domestic season, as they currently sit 1st in the Torneo Clausura, with four wins and two draws – unbeaten in a total of 13 games.

Key to continuining this impressive transformation under coach Julio Quintero will be the performance of the defence, which has four clean sheets in the past six games and now features some new faces as well as the likes of Panama international Luis Ovalle and the long-serving Moisés Galezo. Other players whose roles will be crucial include deep-lying playmaker, set-piece taker and occasional shield Luis Vargas, as well as fellow midfield stalwart Arles Flores; with his dribbles down the flanks as well as the inroads he makes infield, temperamental-yet-gifted 19-year-old Jhon Murillo – who had an unsuccessful trial with Basel last year – will certainly be hoping to make an impression, as well as chip in with some goals; the man who has been on target the most for the champions and who was the catalyst behind their return to form is attacking midfielder/support-striker Pierre Pluchino, whose elegant creativity and finishing will be crucial; lastly, Santiago Bello, a striker with an impressive record recently brought in from the Uruguayan second tier in advance of the Libertadores – so far yet to start a game, but from whom goals are anticipated.

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Mineros de Guayana

The 2013 Torneo Apertura winners and overall runners-up for 2013-14 have thus far had a rather mediocre season, sacking Richard  Páez (the well-respected former national team manager from 2001-07) and ending the most recent Apertura in 6th place. Their uninspiring form has continued into the Clausura as they sit in 11th place, having played six games – one, and in some cases, two, more than the vast of majority of the sides around them.

Thus, of Venezuela’s three representatives, Mineros are currently heading into this tournament with the worst form. However, they may be able to boost morale ahead of their official entrance into the competition as they will be involved in another league game before they play their opening Libertadores match next week on Tuesday 24 February away to Argentine side Huracán (Update 24/2/15: this game against Estudiantes de Mérida did not take place due to the tragic death of club captain Carlos de Castro. Mineros now find themselves 12th in the table). This newly promoted club – who qualified by virtue of winning the Copa Argentina – will certainly be no pushover, as evidenced by their comfortable 4-0 play-off round win over Peru’s Alianza Lima. The other two sides that will be contesting Group 3 are champions of their respective countries: Club Universitario of Bolivia and Cruzeiro of Brazil, the latter of whom, despite some post-season departures, will be firm favourites and who now count Leandro Damião and Uruguayan prospect Giorgian De Arrascaeta amongst their ranks.

The success or otherwise of Mineros will depend largely on players who have mostly performed at a standard markedly lower than they did last season suddenly raising their game, however unlikely that may seem. Their side consists of many individuals who regularly receive call-ups to the national squad, such as goalkeeper Rafael Romo who, judging by his inaction in the recent Venezuela friendlies, finds himself demoted from second to third choice; Gabriel Cichero who, though certainly not without his critics, is Venezuela’s first-choice left-back and who also possesses attacking qualities, particularly on set-pieces; the two defence-minded midfielders Rafael Acosta and Édgar Jiménez also have their attacking merits, but when playing for the national side have largely been panned, particularly when they were both regularly left for dead in November’s 5-0 thrashing handed out by Chile; striker Richard Blanco recently played and scored a tap-in against Honduras but, as this was a squad of home-based players, he is unlikely to get a regular call-up; depending on form, the Colombian duo of Zamir Valoyes and James Cabezas may well find themselves sidelining Blanco; Cabezas was brought in from recent Apertura winners Trujillanos (where he scored 10 goals in 16 games), along with defender Edixon Cuevas, yet rather than boost the squad, both have thus far struggled to replicate the form they displayed at their old club. As a final consideration, it will be interesting to see how former Venezuela international defender Luis Vallenilla copes against the pace of the likes of Cruzeiro, given that he turns 41 in March.

Venezuelans Flying the Flag: More Bonuses

If following the three clubs was not enough for Venezuelan football fans, there are also some other compatriots who will be competing in this year’s edition for Colombian sides. Luis Manuel Seijas, a left-sided attacking midfielder who features regularly for the national side will be playing for 2014 Torneo Finalización champions Independiente Santa Fe. They have been drawn in Group 1 and their very first match comes tonight away to Mexico’s Atlas after the second game of interest – Táchira’s – has finished – a long night is thus in store for all. The two other teams in their group are 2014 Copa do Brasil winners Atlético Mineiro and last year’s Chilean Clausura winners, Colo-Colo.

In Group 7, Colombia’s 2014 Apertura winners Atlético Nacional should field another Venezuelan international midfielder, Alejandro Guerra. Also in their ranks is Jonathan Copete, a Colombian in origin but who has been in talks for some time now with Venezuelan national boss Noel Sanvicente about naturalisation and who could well feature in future national team squads at some point this year. Irrespective of how his international aspirations pan out, both men come into this competition with strong continental experience, having been part of their side’s run to the final of December’s Copa Sudamericana, in which they were runners-up to River Plate. Their first Libertadores match will be on Thursday 19 February and will be possibly their sternest test, being as it is against Paraguay’s 2014 Apertura and Clausura winners, Libertad. Their other two opponents are Ecuador’s championship runners-up Barcelona and Argentina’s Estudiantes de la Plata, whose President regular Argentine football fans will know is club legend Juan Sebastián Verón. While this is a far from straightforward group to negotiate, Guerra and Copete will fancy their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stage.

Although the general consensus is that the two Colombian sides featuring Venezuelans have more chance of progressing than the three domestic teams, one can not help but feel that no matter what happens, many memorable moments will occur this year for Venezuelan football fans to recall fondly for some time afterwards. It is going to be an enthralling tournament which should be covered as much as possible from a Venezuelan perspective on this site.

Now, that is more than enough talking – let’s get the caffeine ready and prepare for some long nights of top-level action!

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical