Tag Archives: Renzo Zambrano

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – October 2019 Preview

Following on from last month’s dreary draw with neighbours Colombia, Venezuela are back in action with two rare home friendlies. What’s more, they find themselves in the jarring position of being the favourites to emerge victorious from both. Ahead of these, @DarrenSpherical provides a glimpse into the Vinotinto orbit.

International Friendlies

Thursday 10 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela vs Bolivia

Monday 14 October 2019 – Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela vs Trinidad and Tobago

caracasstadium

Estadio Olímpico de la UCV, Caracas, Venezuela

Back in the Capital with Farías but without Martínez

The Venezuelan national team’s first game in the capital city for eight years will also see the return of a prominent compatriot who was then at the helm of La Vinotinto: current manager of Bolivia, César Farías.

It was he who led his homeland from 2007 to 2013, with his achievements including reaching the semi-finals of the 2011 Copa América, as well as taking the Under-20s to their first-ever World Cup (2009). Thus, on 10 October his adopted nation of entirely domestic league players will be duking it out with the country of his birth, now bossed by the man who led the same age category to their second-ever World Cup appearance two years ago.

However, although Rafael Dudamel has paid tribute to Farías in the build-up, there has been far more media interest in the resignation from national-team duty of striker Josef Martínez. Indeed, two weeks ago, the Atlanta United netbuster wrote an open letter in which, after casting doubt upon the motives and behaviour of others and airing personal grievances regarding mistreatment, he announced that he would no longer be available for La Vinotinto for as long as the current incumbent remains in situ. In response, Dudamel has defended himself against the charges of mishandling the relationship, suggesting instead that the player’s annoyance may really stem from not being the guaranteed regular that he is at club level, whilst stating that the door nevertheless remains open to him. In turn, any fear of a collective revolt has seemingly already subsided as at least six players including the returning senior trio of Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) and Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain) have all commented that they disagree with Martínez’s decision.

As he has largely been relegated to cameo appearances from the bench and – for reasons of dubious legitimacy – excluded himself from some games in the past year, the 26-year-old MLS striker’s withdrawal may, to some, seem manageable in the short-term. However, as Venezuela frequently look toothless in attack, when things inevitably go awry, there will doubtlessly be no shortage of calls from the many champions of the MLS goal-machine for a change to this unhelpful state of affairs and, perhaps, to the Vinotinto status quo itself.

Nevertheless, as the boss evidently prefers just one man up top, there is no doubt that for this role he instead prefers 30-year-old China-dweller Rondón. Competition within the current crop comes from Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico) as well as Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), although both men have got a lot of convincing to do, as neither could confidently call themselves the first-choice understudy. For some fans, more long-term hope is invested in the boots of 19-year-old Boca Juniors striker Jan Hurtado. However, this time he did not make the cut from the 30-man preliminary squad and has instead joined up with the U23s who are hoping to play at next year’s Olympic Games.

Otherwise, although Dudamel may be a tad unnerved by Martínez’s decision as well  as his task of keeping the collective mentality healthy, he nevertheless has a strong squad to pick from. Indeed, along with Rondón, Rincón and Rosales, he also has central defender Yordan Osorio (Zenit Saint Petersburg, Russia, on loan from Porto, Portugal) back for selection, fresh from impressing in the UEFA Champions League. Also having impressed at club level in the past month are the Barcelona-slaying duo at Granada, Yangel Herrera and Darwin Machís, as well as Brazil-based pair Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro) and Yeferson Soteldo (Santos). The latter was named his club’s player of the month and, after scoring against Fluminense, imitated Martínez’s goal celebration, stoking speculation that he was set to also depart the international scene – a claim that he has recently refuted.

Although Dudamel spoke at length at his customary press conference on the eve of the first match, he did not provide many hints regarding to his line-up plans. That said, most regular Vinotinto observers would surely agree that the attacking-midfield spots behind Rondón as well as the defence in general are where most of the healthy competition for places currently resides. Regarding the latter, Dudamel himself spoke of the wealth of options at centre-back, but one wonders if over at left-back, given the omission of Luis Mago, a start could be given to the man who replaced him before the hour-mark against Colombia: Bernardo Añor. Brother of Juanpi (Málaga, Spain) and son of an ex-international, he is the squad’s only representative from the domestic league, who not only plays for Caracas FC but was also born in the capital.

For the player, it would be an unforgettable way to mark the team’s return to the city. On the other hand, for the boss, whether he wishes for sentiment to enter into his thoughts or not, he knows that the best way to quash any more rumblings of player discontent will be for a double sweep over Farías’ Bolivia and Monday’s Caribbean opponents. On paper and according to the FIFA rankings, this is what is anticipated, yet during his tenure, Dudamel has only achieved consecutive victories once: a pair of 1-0 wins against Jamaica and then Uruguay at 2016’s Copa América Centenario.

Who did he field up front for both games? Yup, Salomón Rondón.

Oh, and Josef Martínez.

Both notched a goal each.

Indeed, there was once a time when this partnership was utilised to effect. Yet three-and-a-bit years later, the chances of it ever being witnessed again currently seem about as likely as Venezuela going more than a month without some internal drama.

To keep track of how things pan out, please continue to check this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad

VinotintoOctober2019Squad

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (Silkeborg IF, Denmark).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Yordan Osorio (Zenit Saint Petersburg, Russia, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Leganés, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico), Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) & Salomón Rondón (Dalian Yifang, China).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly International – September 2019 Preview

For the first time since their quarter-final exit at Copa América, La Vinotinto has been reassembled. Just like this time last year, a kickabout with their neighbours to the west awaits. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides a look at those looking to see action.

International Friendly

Tuesday 10 September 2019 – Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida, USA

Colombia vs Venezuela

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Back in the Fray: Rómulo Otero (GettyImages)

Youthful Venezuela Bring Average Age Even Further Down

Reportedly owing to visa issues relating to his new club adventure in China, Salomón Rondón has been compelled to withdraw from Venezuela’s sole international friendly this month.

Thus, with MLS hotshot Josef Martínez also not part of the squad, a considerable opportunity has presented itself up front, with either Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) or Jan Carlos Hurtado (Boca Juniors) best placed to profit. Both men were absent from June’s Copa América cohort, but Ponce’s output has in the past suggested that he might have a future at this level, most notably last October when he bagged two goals in the Vinotinto shirt. On the other hand, although Hurtado has struggled to find the net during his senior career at club and international level, the 19-year-old inspires many a fan’s daydreams, even more so these days as he has recently been signed by Boca Juniors and donned their much-fetishised shirt in the Superclásico.

Rondón’s absence also throws up a rare situation for the national side: not one of the three R’s will be trotting onto the field in Vinotinto colours. Indeed, the other two components of the much-capped trio, captain Tomás Rincón and Leganés new-boy Roberto Rosales, have not been summoned. Neither for that matter has Yordan Osorio, who put in a memorable display against hosts Brazil in June and has recently earned a loan move to Zenit St. Petersburg. In an interview with Conexión Goleadora, one player currently in the USA has lamented the absences as well as the somewhat underwhelming prospect of only a solitary game having been scheduled, but as is often the case in matters concerning the FVF, the precise truth is difficult to discern.

Nevertheless, trials and experiments are thus guaranteed to be taking place in all the outfield positions. Firstly, with no Rosales, who has been fielded on both flanks at the back, a number of players will be hoping to get the nod on the left. These include the versatile pair Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile) and Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), both of whom were part of the Copa squad, with the latter the only one of the seven defenders to not see any action in the tournament. Alternatively, manager Rafael Dudamel could well give a run-out to the only home-based player in the squad, the recalled Bernardo Añor of Caracas FC, a 31-year-old who only made his international debut last year. Less promising – though rather curious – are the prospects of club-less 21-year-old left-back Alejandro Mitrano, hitherto a virtual unknown who was last recorded playing in Slovakia and who was called up to train with the squad after the initial 23-man announcement. Who knows what he may bring to the table, but such intrepid talent-scouring reinforces Dudamel’s previous comments about the long-standing issues the national side has with this particular position.

At centre-back, with no Osorio, Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) will be seeking to reclaim a place in the line-up after injury forced him to miss Brazil 2019. However, there is now much competition for these two positions, with erstwhile partner Jhon Chancellor – who has earned a big move to Brescia in Serie A  – and Mikel Villanueva – who, however awkwardly, has been accommodated back into the Málaga side – both also in the running. As, for that matter, is the recalled Under-20 2017 World Cup runner-up Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal), still only 20 years of age.

Moving on, Rincón’s absence opens up an opportunity in the line of three that typically helps to reinforce the back four as well as kickstart attacks. If regulars Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England) and Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) get the nod, then joining them could well be either Renzo Zambrano, who plays under ex-Vinotinto and Swansea City striker Giovanni Savarese at Portland Timbers or Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara), who last season made headlines for being the first player in a Copa Libertadores match to bag a goal, grab an assist, net an own goal and get sent off.

Alternatively, the outspoken and more attack-minded Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor – who, like Villanueva, has also been grudgingly granted minutes by cash-strapped Málaga  – could well reprise a role similar to that in which he shone in June against Bolivia. There is also a chance that Dudamel could instead utilise the La Liga man in the customary attacking pairing that will support either Ponce or Hurtado, although here, perhaps more than anywhere, there is no shortage of talented competition. Indeed, the four players who duked it out for these roles in Brazil are all in the current squad: Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal),  Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA) and Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil). However, accompanying them this time will be Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), unquestionably the biggest surprise omission from the Copa squad. Perhaps his individualistic streaks played a part in this decision, but as more than one fan commented during the tournament, the team really could have done with some of his gravity-defying set-piece spectaculars. Surely at the Raymond James Stadium he will be given an opportunity to win back the trust of Dudamel.

Overall then, plenty of players will be seeking to shake up the boss’s thinking. Even if the preparations for the game have not been ideal, the side are arguably in a better state than twelve months ago when, after a ten-month hiatus, they kickstarted their current cycle with a 2-1 loss against Colombia in a match also played in Florida – it was Miami Gardens back then and it is Tampa now. The Cafeteros are coming into it off the back of a creditable 2-2 draw with Brazil, whereas Venezuela enter poised in the highest position that they have ever attained in the official FIFA rankings: 26th. Ultimately, Dudamel may well be looking more for performances than a result, but any opportunity to get one over their historically more-illustrious neighbours will always be greatly received back home.

To keep track of how things pan out, please continue to check this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintosept2019

Notes: Owing to visa-related issues at club level, Salomón Rondón has withdrawn from the convocatoria. Also, Alejandro Mitrano has been called up to train with the squad.

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) & Rafael Romo (Silkeborg IF, Denmark).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Bernardo Añor (Caracas FC), Jhon Chancellor (Brescia, Italy), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (Porto B, Portugal), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Alejandro Mitrano (No club) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Málaga, Spain), Yangel Herrera (Granada, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Bernaldo Manzano (Tolima, Colombia, on loan from Deportivo Lara), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Jan Carlos Hurtado (Boca Juniors) & Andrés Ponce (Akhmat Grozny, Russia).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (1 June 2019)

Not everyone has yet arrived, but Venezuela’s Copa América preparations certainly have. Below, @DarrenSpherical recounts their opening USA-based friendly.

International Friendly

Saturday 1 June 2019 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 1 June 2019 (YouTube)

Rosales’ Rapture Ennered at the Death

A stoppage-time goal by Enner Valencia denied a makeshift La Vinotinto victory in Miami in their first of three Copa América warm-up encounters.

Manager Rafael Dudamel, deprived of eight of his final 23-man squad owing to the game being held on a non-FIFA date, fielded a side which included some individuals who have been omitted from the final cut. Two of these, youngsters Nahuel Ferraresi and Jan Hurtado, were given starting berths, with substitute appearances being granted to Renzo Zambrano, Jhonder Cádiz, Bernaldo Manzano, Erickson Gallardo and Samuel Sosa – the latter three, incidentally, making their senior international debuts.

Of the surprisingly physical early exchanges, captain-for-the-night Roberto Rosales had the best Venezuelan chance, when in the ninth minute he pounced on a loose ball outside the area to dip a well-struck right-footed effort over the bar. Three minutes later, the Ecuadorians made their attacking presence known, as defensive uncertainty led to a header suddenly being presented for Romario Ibarra, whose instinctive nodded effort went just wide of the target. Shortly afterwards, La Vinotinto found themselves in another similar pickle as Jhon Chancellor’s poor header fell into the path of Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, whose shot from an acute angle went just wide of Rafael Romo’s far post.

For the rest of the opening third of the game, Venezuela’s response consisted of little more than a couple of bustling runs from Hurtado. However, come the 38th minute, following a handball from a Ronald Hernández cross, Dudamel’s men had a penalty, which the shaven-headed Rosales stepped up to take. Although goalkeeper Alexander Domínguez got a touch, the experienced full-back scored his first international goal – barely two months after also finding the net in March’s unofficial friendly with Catalonia.

However, if Venezuela slightly edged the first half then the second half was Ecuador’s. They were not far off scoring just two minutes after the restart, as a ball into the area found Carlos Garcés, but the forward was unable to divert it goalwards and the chance was lost.

For the rest of the half, without threatening a great deal, Hernán Darío Gómez’s men looked the more organised of the two units, a fact perhaps partly due to the greater number of substitutions carried out by his Venezuelan counterpart.

It would be very generous to describe the majority of attempts that followed as even half-chances, but this state of affairs changed just as Venezuela thought they were slogging to victory. Indeed, in the first minute of stoppage-time, sudden dispossession in midfield led to eagle-eyed Ayrton Preciado playing in ex-West Ham striker Valencia who clinically pounced to level the score.

Overall, it was a fair outcome to a largely unmemorable game. Venezuela never really clicked and their central defence provided a few jittery moments, but – they will surely tell themselves – they did not lose and they have two more preparation games to settle into a more effective rhythm.

For the first of these, on Wednesday against Mexico, with the exception of the injured Rolf Feltscher – whose place is being temporarily filled by Pablo Bonilla – La Vinotinto will have all of their final 23-man squad available. With the game being played at the stadium of Atlanta United, the current home of incoming hotshot Josef Martínez as well as the former residence of new El Tri manager, Tata Martino, this promises to be a more captivating encounter.

To keep up-to-date with how things transpire in the remainder of Venezuela’s Copa América warm-up as well as the tournament itself, please keep checking back here as well as pay a visit to @DarrenSpherical.

Team Selections

Ecuador (4-2-3-1-1): A. Domínguez; J. Quintero, G. Achilier, B. Caicedo, P. Velasco; J, Intriago, J. Orejuela; A. Valencia (A. Preciado, 69′), R. Ibarra (E. Valencia, 69′); L. Chicaiza; C. Garcés (R. Ibarra, 69′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): R. Romo; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, N. Ferraresi, R. Rosales; A. Figuera (B. Manzano, 90′), Y. Herrera (R. Zambrano, 67′), L. Seijas (J. Añor, 79′); J. Murillo (E. Gallardo, 83′), A. Peñaranda (S. Sosa, 46′); J. Hurtado (J. Cádiz, 46′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – June 2019 Preview

With Copa América 2019 on the horizon, the official 23-man squad has been announced, although not everyone is currently in the USA for the three-match warm-up tour. To become more familiar with the Venezuelan orbit, @DarrenSpherical provides an update on the current state-of-play.

International Friendlies

Saturday 1 June 2019 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA

Ecuador vs Venezuela

Wednesday 5 June 2019 – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Mexico vs Venezuela

Sunday 9 June 2019 – Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

USA vs Venezuela

Peñaranda

Adalberto Peñaranda has some doubters to win over. (FVF)

Mixed Response to Squad Announcement Ahead of Testing Friendlies

Rómulo Otero, Yeferson Soteldo, Jan Hurtado and Alexander González head a list of considerable Venezuelan talents who will not be present in Brazil at the upcoming 46th edition of Copa América.

Ahead of a three-game warm-up tour of the USA, these names and more were omitted from Rafael Dudamel’s final 23-man squad. They were culled from an initial 40-man convocatoria that had been announced on 10 May – despite many players on that list never having been afforded the opportunity to physically be part of the set-up.

It thus appears that Dudamel – whose position was in doubt two months ago but who has since been ratified to continue – had largely made up his mind a while ago and, as is to be expected, not all of his choices have been greeted with unanimous approval. In particular, some were not convinced by the coach’s comments ostensibly justifying the exclusion of Santos No. 10 Soteldo on the inability to secure for him a US visa in time, thus rendering him absent for the build-up. Flimsy pretext or not, those following La Vinotinto over the past year should have not been too surprised, as the diminutive dribbler has, for a variety of reasons, missed call-ups and only played for less than half an hour. That said, one of his positional rivals who avoided the chop, Adalberto Peñaranda, has played even less and, more disconcertingly, only chalked up two FA Cup appearances last season for his club side, Watford. However, it appears that Dudamel is a big believer in the peroxide-blonde attacker. This is, after all, not the first time that he has held out an olive branch to the player who outshone Soteldo – as well as most of his team-mates – as part of 2017’s history-making Under-20 Silver Generation.

No explanations have yet been articulated regarding the other omissions. However, in the case of the eye-grabbing Otero, rightly or wrongly, it is possible that Dudamel was not convinced that his individualistic tendencies could be effectively harnessed within his system. Yet, with his swirling long-range strikes and occasional set-piece brilliance, to some it feels that a potential game-changer has been left behind.

As for Hurtado, since his return to club football eight months ago following an acrimonious hiatus, the striker has rose in stature. However, as well as strong competition from the in-form Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), his non-inclusion may be owing to his inexperience (he is still only 19), questionable discipline (two red cards with the Under-20s earlier this year) and relatively low goals tally.

Yet sespite this momentary setback, one feels that Hurtado’s time shall come – quite possibly as early as next year at 2020’s Argentina/Colombia co-hosted extravaganza. For now, however, he does have at least one more chance to show his boss what he is going be missing. Indeed, he is one of eight young/fringe players currently based in Miami who won’t be going to Brazil but who are nevertheless part of the 23-man squad set to play Ecuador on the first day of June. According to the FVF’s press releases, the other seven are: Pablo Bonilla (Portuguesa), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Erickson Gallardo (Zamora FC), Bernaldo Manzano (Deportivo Lara), Samuel Sosa (Talleres de Córdoba, Argentina), Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA) and Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal).

This curious situation is due to this game being played on a non-FIFA date. Afterwards, however, despite some of their club seasons still being contested, the likes of Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy) and Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) should gradually show their faces.

With two subsequent warm-up games lined up against Gold Cup-eyeing Mexico and USA, Venezuela have quite the competitive friendly guantlet to navigate their way through. As things stand, the consensus is that only one or two of the starting places are up for grabs. Indeed, based on the friendlies played since last September, with everyone available Dudamel would ideally opt to field his charges in a flexible 4-3-2-1 formation. In this system, Faríñez undoubtedly wears the gloves and the left-back is odds-on to be right-footed Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain), with one of the two central defenders being Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal). As Wilker Ángel is injured, Osorio is likely to be partnered by either Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar) or Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain), although surprise inclusion Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA) has an outside shot, given that Dudamel has praised the experienced Swiss-born player’s “versatility“. That said, with no González to vye with, he perhaps has a greater chance of dislodging 21-year-old Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), seemingly the current front-runner to start at right-back.

Further up the park, things appear more concrete: a tight midfield three is predicted to consist of captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), along with Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England) and Moreno. Ahead of them are likely to be the defence-terrorisers Machís and Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal) who, in turn, should be just behind Newcastle United’s 2018/19 Player of the Season, Salomón Rondón.

Yet, three games can be a long time in football and with the potential for injuries as well as high-calibre talents such as Martínez and Savarino lurking in the wings, more than a few purported certainties could well appear misplaced come mid-June.

To keep track of how things develop, please keep checking back to this website as well as @DarrenSpherical for updates.

Venezuela Squad for Copa América 2019

Ven2019CopaAmerica

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia), Joel Graterol (Zamora FC) & Rafael Romo (APOEL FC, Cyprus).

Defenders

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).

Midfielders

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), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA) & Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

 

Venezuela Squad for Friendly against Ecuador

Ven2019Ecuador

Goalkeepers

Joel Graterol (Zamora FC) & Rafael Romo (APOEL FC, Cyprus).

Defenders

Pablo Bonilla (Portuguesa), Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), 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).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Erickson Gallardo (Zamora FC), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Bernaldo Manzano (Deportivo Lara), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia), Samuel Sosa (Talleres de Córdoba, Argentina) & Renzo Zambrano (Portland Timbers, USA).

Forwards

Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal), Jan Carlos Hurtado (Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Argentina), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Chile 3-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (28 March 2017)

For the first hour of the fourteenth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Rafael Dudamel’s men were on the receiving end of a very one-sided bombardment; ultimately, though they were able to massage the scoreline somewhat, the performance exposed many known, recurring weaknesses. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 28 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Macul, Santiago

Chile 3-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Chile 3-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 28 March 2017 (YouTube)

Rampant Roja Compelled to be Content with Early Blitz

With three goals in the opening 22 minutes, it looked as if La Roja were on course to break some records, though in the end they had to settle just for these strikes, as their profligacy gave La Vinotinto some unmerited late optimism in the final half-hour. 

The first goal came after less than five minutes when Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez brilliantly curled a central 25-yard free-kick in off the underside of the bar; he hit it with such pace and accuracy that goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez seemed to not have time to even attempt a dive for it. Barely two minutes later, Sánchez did great to skip around a static Venezuelan defence from the left flank over to the centre of the area, where he slid through Charles Aránguiz, who immediately squared it to Colo-Colo maestro Esteban Paredes to tap in. Then, in the 22nd minute, the third goal came, with Sánchez once again involved. This time, he played the ball out to the right to Mauricio Isla, then beat Alexander González to meet the Cagliari right-back’s cross at the back post; from here, he headed past the flapping Faríñez into the goalmouth, where Paredes managed to nudge it over the line.

The hosts were very much dominant and frequently looked like they were about to extend their lead. Conversely, in the quarter-of-an-hour after the third goal, aside from a couple of off-target shots, Venezuela’s best moments came when their opponents had over-committed, leading to rapid attempts at countering. Most notably, Jhon Murillo twice chased forward balls, the second of which saw him virtually one-on-one with Claudio Bravo, but he couldn’t get a proper swing on his shot and the ball instead rolled tamely to the Manchester City goalkeeper. Later on in the half in the 42nd minute, arguably the best chance for La Vinotinto score before the break fell to Wilker Ángel; yet, despite the  six-feet-five-inch centre-back – who, once again, had a game to forget at the back – gaining space from his marker, he was unable to make good contact with Rómulo Otero’s free-kick.

Before this, however, Chile were nearer to the mark with two opportunities of their own. Firstly, in the 38th minute, Aránguiz headed a lofted ball back to the edge of the area from where Eduardo Vargas struck a fine low left-footed effort which hit the outside of the post. Two minutes later, from the left of the area, Jean Beausejour laid the ball to Paredes who rolled a low effort just wide of the far post.

Whatever Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel said at half-time, it didn’t work. It shall be one of the great mysteries of the 2018 World Cup CONMEBOL qualifying campaign as to how Chile did not extend their lead. Firstly, Arturo Vidal had a couple of minor efforts early on, hitting a strike at the goalkeeper on the turn then, from the left edge of the area, knocking a surprise cross-goal shot wide of the far post. A few minutes later in the 52nd minute, however, he should definitely have scored. Here, Sánchez once again came in from the flank and left the Venezuelan back-line for dead, before this time passing to Vidal in the area; yet, the Bayern Munich man, barely eight yards out, controlled, then surprised everyone by placing his shot wide of the post. Then, just over a minute later, Vidal left the home faithful even more incredulous as, from a Paredes cut-back in the area with the defence and goalkeeper scrambling about out of sorts, he blazed over. Less than two minutes afterwards, another chance for La Roja was fashioned: Vargas came roaming forward, slid it to Vidal who was confronted by the onrushing goalkeeper, off whom the ball ricocheted; however, it then rolled to a very tight position, from which Paredes could only blast into the side-netting. Subsequently, it wasn’t long before the local league striker had a pair of better opportunities, the first arriving following a forward ball from Sánchez that the former struck at Fariñez, forcing a block; from the rebound, he hit a low shot wide.

Around this point just before the hour-mark, whilst the home fans were a little miffed not to be in a more commanding position, their team’s supremacy was such that Olés greeted every pass. Shortly afterwards, in a tacit acknowledgement that his judgement may have let him down, Dudamel withdrew right-back González, who had been given a torrid time; with Roberto Rosales having been surprisingly omitted from the squad, Víctor García instead took his place.

Then, in the 63rd minute completely against the run of play, Venezuela scored. Otero capped a fine international break in which he has been involved in some key way in all three of his country’s goals by crossing in a free-kick for Salomón Rondón to rise high to head home; this was the West Brom striker’s first goal for club or country since 14 December and will have gone some way to quietening the doubters for the time being.

Though Chile continued to have the majority of the play, this goal aroused something in Venezuela. Indeed, in the 67th minute, captain Tomás Rincón raced forward on the inside left before hitting a well-struck right-footed shot from the edge of the area, which Bravo had to parry over. Then, in the 75th minute, he was to be aggrieved to have not ended up on the scoresheet. Here, Rondón gained some space on the right edge of the area, passing towards the centre where substitute Adalberto Peñaranda deftly back-flicked it towards the Juventus man who then crashed a wonderful shot against the underside of the bar – replays show that it was marginally over the line, but with no goal-line technology, the score remained at 3-1.

Despite playing their part in allowing the visitors back into the game, Chile still pressed forward and had a golden opportunity to extend their lead in the 77th minute, after left-back Rolf Feltscher gave away a penalty. However, 19-year-old goalkeeper Fariñez – who had made some decent blocks, even if his positioning looked somewhat suspect on two of the goals – enhanced his growing reputation by making a brilliant low save to deny a well-struck Sánchez spot-kick.

Nevertheless, though they should have got considerably more and Vidal acknowledged afterwards that he was partially responsible for not killing off the game sooner, Chile eventually saw out the game 3-1. Following all the other results from Matchday 14, they now sit fourth in the hotly-contested upper echelons of CONMEBOL qualifying; conversely, following Bolivia’s 2-0 win over a Messi-less Argentina, Venezuela are now four points adrift at the bottom, with just six points to their name.

Thus, given that the next qualifiers are five months away, in response to the question posed at the bottom of this site’s round preview, “Is It Even Possible To Pick Up Momentum?“, whilst it is impossible to give a conclusive answer, one has to at least state that Venezuela have not done so. Indeed, over the two games, once again, the entire defence, particularly Ángel and González, have certainly not covered themselves in glory; how many of them survive the next call-up is anyone’s guess, though a recall for Rosales at right-back aside, it’s debatable whether there are any vastly superior replacements available. Thus, Venezuela’s porous defence is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, which will have a negative impact on the attackers, who won’t be flowing with confidence knowing that their work can easily be undone at any moment.

That said, if everyone’s fit, then come late August against Colombia it wouldn’t be a surprise to also see at least two, possibly three, changes in this similarly unsettled forward area. If anyone here has come away with their reputation enhanced, it is surely Otero, who scored against Peru, played a key role in the other goal in that match and directly set up Rondón’s goal against Chile. Things can easily change in the upcoming months, but right now there wouldn’t be many complaints to see him start in an attacking position alongside a fit-again Juanpi, as well as – if a 4-2-3-1 is selected – one of at least two or three other candidates.

The manager Dudamel will have no doubt learned a few things from these two encounters, but given that his results were very similar to the last two matches of Noel Sanvicente before his sacking this time last year (2-2 away draw with Peru and a 4-1 home loss against Chile), it is hard to feel as if any real progress has been made. New faces sometimes come along or old ones re-emerge and some of these may suggest different directions for the squad but overall the performances and results are underwhelmingly consistent.

Dudamel is now charged with getting a new generation – who many of his compatriots are excited about – prepared for the Under-20 World Cup in May. The likes of Faríñez, Yeferson Soteldo and Yangel Herrera should feature – as they also all did in this round of senior qualifiers – and the coach will know a good showing will aid his declining reputation. Given that he was seen as the budget local choice when he was offered the role a year ago, it’s hard to know precisely how much pressure he is under from upon high, particularly as the FVF have recently elected a new president. Unfortunately, right now, one finds it difficult to envisage performances dramatically improving in the four remaining qualifiers later this year. If this transpires to be the case then, regardless of the consequences for Dudamel, it will be a huge blow to the international careers of this pool of players, many of whom possess the capabilities to achieve so much more.

Team Selections

Chile (4-3-3): C. Bravo; M. Isla (P. Díaz, 89′), G. Medel, G. Jara, J. Beausejour; P. Hernández (C. Carmona, 88′), A. Vidal, C. Aránguiz; E. Vargas, E. Paredes, A. Sánchez.

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Fariñez; A. González (V. García, 61′), W. Ángel, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; R. Zambrano, T. Rincón (A. Figuera, 84′); J. Murillo, R. Otero, D. Machís (A. Peñaranda, 68′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – March 2017 Preview

Jornadas 13 and 14 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign have finally arrived and whilst Venezuela have long been out of the running, they’re now playing the long-term game. Here, @DarrenSpherical takes a look at the squad preparing to face Peru and Chile…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 23 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental de Maturín, Maturín, Monagas State

Venezuela vs Peru

Tuesday 28 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Macul, Santiago

Chile vs Venezuela

josefmartinez2

Josef Martínez Celebrating in the Snow in Atlanta United’s 6-1 win away to Minneapolis United, MLS, 12 March 2017 (Image: josefmartinez17)

Dudamel Bids To Rejuvenate Venezuela’s Long-term Ambitions

A Youthful Injection

Four months on from their last two fixtures, Venezuela return to competitive action as they enter the final third of their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. Despite being bottom of the ten-team group and long since out of serious contention, manager Rafael Dudamel has said in the build-up that his men shall approach the games with Peru and Chile as if they are wilfully ignorant of the CONMEBOL table.

Well, what else could he say, really? Coasting it for the next six games was never going to be an option when there is a future out there to be won. Thus, as was also anticipated, Dudamel is looking to try out and integrate new faces to give La Vinotinto the best chance of fulfilling their collective potential by the time qualification for Qatar 2022 rolls around. This was partly expected as changes in personnel and/or tactics were clearly needed, but also because of the widely-celebrated success earlier this year of the World Cup-qualifying Under-20 national team, who Dudamel also manages. All of the three stand-out performers, Yeferson Soteldo, Yangel Herrera and Wuilker Fariñez, have made it into this 28-man squad and, having already debuted for the senior team, must fancy their chances of call-ups for the foreseeable future.

Admittedly, 5 feet 3 inch-dribbler Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile) will have his work cut out to earn a regular starting place in the unsettled attacking line behind the striker(s). Here, the front-runners in recent times have included Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, Spain, on loan from Watford, England) and the injured Juanpi. However, given the fluidity and rotation of the players in this area, Soteldo could well gain some minutes over the next week; if not, waiting in the wings are the marginally older yet similarly inexperienced internationals, Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Jacobo Kouffaty (Millonarios, Ecuador) and Darwin Machís (CD Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain).

Under-20 captain Herrera, recently signed by Manchester City and shipped over to New York City FC, currently appears to have a much stronger chance of consistently seeing first-team action for the seniors. Indeed, Tomás Rincón (Juventus, Italy), captain of the big boys, could do with a consistent partner-in-crime in front of the back four. The likes of Renzo Zambrano (Real Valladolid, Spain) and Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru) have been tried but Herrera, a man not shy of a challenge (and a yellow card) who can also be a positive influence further upfield, may have more to his game. Momentum is on his side.

This can also certainly be said of Caracas FC’s Fariñez, even if is not yet clear if the universally acclaimed goalkeeper of the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament will get the nod over domestic rival José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira). He is the favourite but if he loses out, he does nevertheless seem a safe bet for a run as first-choice at some point; time will tell if the sprightly 5-feet-9-incher can – to repeat a recurring theme – become a mainstay of future line-ups.

This goalkeeping issue as well as the inclusion of one other member of the Under-20 squad – Joel Graterol, who never featured between the sticks in the tournament and has hardly ever done so for domestic side Carabobo FC – leads into a less anticipated matter.

Surprise Omissions

First of all, there’s no place for Dani Hernández. He had reclaimed the No. 1 jersey at last year’s Copa América Centenario and, though the side has since leaked goals, accusatory fingers have rarely been pointed his way. Perhaps more pertinently, since the national side last convened he has been a vital component of Tenerife’s promotion push to return to the Spanish top-flight, contributing to an impressive defensive record. His absence has caught many off-guard and while there has been idle – though plausible – speculation that his club side may have requested he stay to play in their crucial domestic fixtures, there has been no explanation from Dudamel.

Also left out is experienced centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, virtually an ever-present for La Vinotinto who has earned over 80 caps. 33 in May, though Dudamel has stressed that the Nantes man hasn’t been put out to pasture just yet, he has also stated that he wishes to open up opportunities for others. That will have been news to the ears of 25-year-old Jhon Chancellor, who has recently moved to Ecuadorian side Delfin and may receive a rare opportunity. Alternatively, Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia) and Sema Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) had once looked the likeliest contenders to form a consistent partnership with Vizcarrondo or each other, though their performances, particularly that of Ángel, have often left much to be desired. Though they haven’t played themselves out of contention just yet, Vizcarrondo’s partner for the previous two games was instead Mikel Villanueva. Dudamel has said how he prefers to consider the Málaga man for a position in the middle, rather than at left-back, where he can also play; thus instead on this flank, it is Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain) and Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC) who will be competing for the manager’s approval.

Over on the right side of defence, however, is where the most surprising omission is concerned. Despite being Mr. Consistent at club level, a mainstay of Málaga’s defence for nearly three years now (which has included three clean sheets in five games against Barcelona) and easily one of Venezuela’s most high-profile performers, there is no place for Roberto Rosales. Given that he’s 28 years old, it’s a bit premature for him to be making way for a new generation. In justification, Dudamel has asserted that Alexander González of Spanish second-tier side Huesca has impressed by taking advantage of his opportunities since they first came his way following an injury to Rosales at last June’s Copa América Centenario. Yet whilst González has looked assured in glimpses, he has also played in several comfortable losses, though even if one is in accord with Dudamel’s viewpoint, champions of Rosales find his outright exclusion with Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal) as back-up hard to swallow. At best, this decision may instil a determination in Rosales not to be complacent for his nation, though if not matching club performances at international level were consistently enforced grounds for exclusion, none of this mob would survive three consecutive call-ups.

High-Profile Concerns…and Some Joy

With no Rosales, there shall be no Three R’s, leaving Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) and Tomás Rincón as the only two players in the current squad who can be classed as dead certs to be repeatedly named as starters. Naturally then, there are nevertheless some concerns about this pair, which have been aired in the Venezuelan media: with Rondón, it’s his goal drought in the Premier League since his hat-trick against Swansea City on 14 December; with Rincón, it’s his lack of match-time since his big move from Genoa to Juventus back in the January transfer window.

Rincón is one of ten players in the present selección who have moved club since the national team was last convened. One of these, Adalberto Peñaranda, has also struggled to make it onto the field, both for Udinese at the start of the campaign and, since January, new club Málaga. Though the Andalusian outfit twice managed the remarkable feat of fielding four Venezuelans in January, these have also been Peñaranda’s only two appearances. His stock has fallen somewhat since this time last year, when he was being hyped by football hacks as a potential superstar off the back of little more than a handful of observed appearances. However, as he is still a mere 19 years of age, Dudamel has included him in part so that support can be provided and spirits hopefully raised.

As always, there shall be much competition for one of the inner-channel/flank positions behind the striker(s) that the jinking Peñaranda is tailor-made for. One potential rival, who could also be moved elsewhere along the line or up front with Rondón, is 23-year-old Josef Martínez – another man who has recently moved clubs. By contrast, however, three games and five goals into his MLS career with Atlanta United, he has already been proclaimed a rip-roaring success; so much so, in fact, that Tata Martino’s club have just this week been able to make the loan deal from Torino a permanent one. Though a starting spot is not always guaranteed for him, he does tend to link up well with Rondón, either from behind or in tandem. As Rondón was injured last November, Martínez was afforded the rare opportunity of leading the attack alone and managed to notch a hat-trick against Bolivia. If, any time soon, the unthinkable happens and Rondón actually loses his place when fit, then the Atlanta new-boy – also his country’s top-scorer in qualifying with five – is easily the front-runner to displace.

Is It Even Possible To Pick Up Momentum?

Overall then, as always there is much speculation and few concrete certainties except the predominance of uncertainties. Several players are likely to be given new and/or rare opportunities over the upcoming two games and almost all of those who start can not feel too comfortable about this consistently recurring for the remainder of the campaign, let alone for the next few years. However, as the subsequent two qualifiers are not for another five months, one can not help but query in advance the weight that may be placed on the upcoming two matches in informing August’s squad. As evidenced by the justification behind Rosales’ omission, Dudamel is willing to overlook long-standing club form in favour of what he sees in these comparatively short spells when the men on his radar don the burgundy shirts. If this is the case, then Herrera, Soteldo and Fariñez will have more opportunities than most to sway his mind, given that he will be leading them to the Under-20 World Cup in two months’s time.

Nevertheless, despite the omissions and the new-look rearguard, there’s plenty of attacking talent in their ranks. A home win against Peru – who they should have beaten away in March 2016 but let a 2-0 lead become a 2-2 draw – is precisely the result a Venezuelan side challenging for World Cup qualification should attain; to do so would provide a significant boost to the hitherto underwhelmed faithful and subsequently decrease fears of another tonking from Chile. The last one came after the draw in Lima and turned out to be Noel Sanvicente’s last ever game as Venezuela manager; a year on, two more positive results against the same opposition would mark a symbolic shift in the right direction for Rafael Dudamel.

To read about how Venezuela get on against both Peru and Chile, please check back here and/or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC, Venezuela) & Joel Graterol (Carabobo FC, Venezuela).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Delfin, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain), Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC, Venezuela), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana, Venezuela), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Jacobo Kouffaty (Millonarios, Ecuador), Darwin Machís (CD Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, Spain, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Juventus, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Mineros de Guayana, Venezuela), Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile) & Renzo Zambrano (Real Valladolid, Spain). 

Forwards

Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Alaves, Spain).

venezuelasquadmarch2017

(Image: @SeleVinotinto)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 5-0 Bolivia – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (10 November 2016)

The eleventh matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded, in more ways than one, an unprecedented result. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 10 November 2016 – Estadio Monumental de Maturín, Maturín, Monagas State

Venezuela 5-0 Bolivia

Video Highlights of Venezuela 5-0 Bolivia, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 10 November 2016 (YouTube)

Hat-trick Man Martínez Revels in His Role as New-Look Venezuela Earn Emphatic Win

Match Report

At the eleventh attempt, Venezuela finally earned their first qualifying victory, emphatically seeing off Bolivia in a history-making game in which there was only ever one winner.

Manager Rafael Dudamel went into this must-win game without some familiar faces: Salomón Rondón, Juanpi and Alejandro Guerra were all injured and he also took some further gambles by relegating Adalberto Peñaranda and Roberto Rosales to the bench. Yet, from the third minute onwards, his charges vindicated his decisions to a degree far greater than any Vinotinto fan could have hoped.

Indeed, Venezuela opened the scoring with perhaps the first real attack of the game. One of the men receiving a rare start, Jhon Murillo, beat goalkeeper Carlos Lampe – who was in no-man’s-land – to a ball on the right, lofting it into the goalmouth. A defender instinctively headed it away but only towards another fresh face, Jacobo Kouffaty, who was on hand to squeeze a header past a Bolivian body and in at the near post. He wheeled away to the delight of the Maturín crowd.

Seven minutes later, they had more reason to cheer as from a corner from Rómulo Otero (returning to the line-up due to the injuries), Josef Martínez was afforded plenty of space to comfortably head home a second for the hosts. With no Rondón, the Torino man was to take his opportunity to prove there was still much to be feared from the Venezuelan frontline.

As the home side found themselves in an unfamiliar yet pleasing situation, they sat back throughout much of the rest of the half, with Bolivia in turn creating little of actual threat. Though La Verde saw more of the ball, they could only really offer a long-range shot from Marvin Bejarano that was comfortably saved as well as a 30-yard free-kick that went straight into the wall.

Venezuela themselves saw out the half by demonstrating greater likelihood of getting the game’s next goal. In the 38th minute, Martínez was played through in the area and narrowly won the race to the ball but goalkeeper Lampe stood his ground and blocked the low poke with his legs. However, the action was not over as from a fortuitous ricochet on the edge of the Bolivian area, the ball fell kindly for Alexander González who hit a half-volley a couple of yards over the bar, albeit with little venom. The hosts came closer two minutes later when, from a similar position to his spectacular goal against Chile in March, Otero struck a low, dipping, snake-like free-kick with the outside of his right boot which swerved dynamically before being touched narrowly wide by Lampe.

Bolivia made a couple of changes at the break but they were to have little impact. Barely three minutes into the second half, Otero tried his luck with another free-kick, this one from over 35 yards and which dipped wickedly just over the bar. Then, three minutes later, Kouffaty made some space for himself, evading a tackle from Diego Wayar just inside the area on the left, before striking a powerful low show with his right that Lampe parried away.

After the hour mark, with on-field affairs calming down somewhat, it seemed Dudamel was content to see out this two-goal lead when, in the 64th minute, he replaced attacking midfielder Kouffaty with holding midfielder Arquímedes Figuera. However, defying expectations, his charges stepped up a gear and three minutes later put the outcome beyond reasonable doubt. This time, from another Otero corner, centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo powered a header that Lampe could only parry out to opposition feet. However, Mikel Villanueva – playing for the first time at centre-back, with Rolf Feltscher granted the left-back berth – was denied a tap-in by Martínez who instead nabbed the third. The visitors were evidently still reeling from this nail in the coffin two minutes later. From a central position over 30 yards out, they allowed international debutant Renzo Zambrano to dink a ball into the area which Martínez, back-to-goal, managed to get a head to, which dipped over the agonising palms of the out-of-sorts Lampe. Not only did this goal cap off what some hip young upstarts might call a ‘statement performance’ from the Torino forward but, rather staggeringly, it was also the first-ever Venezuelan hat-trick in a competitive fixture and the first one in any international encounter since 1962.

The goal-glut was rounded off in the 74th minute when Murillo sped away up the right flank into the area, trickling a ball from the touchline across the goalmouth which Otero tapped in at the back post for a deserved goal. The 45,850 fans that were reportedly in the stands could thus see out the remaining quarter-of-an-hour with wide-eyed grins. Whether they knew it or not, they had just witnessed history as this 5-0 scoreline was in fact the largest competitive victory in Venezuela’s history. They have now leapfrogged Bolivia and sit ninth in CONMEBOL qualifying, with five points.

Regardless of the opposition’s long-standing woes on the road, this record-breaking performance was certainly not bad for a side low on confidence playing on a dreadful surface with at least five high-profile players absent from the line-up. Expectations have now suddenly been raised and plenty of fans are pondering just how many of those afforded a start here will maintain their spots for the Ecuador game as well as for subsequent encounters. Long-term, if there is one thing that this team needs, it is stability.

 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): D. Hernández; A. González, O. Vizcarrondo, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; R. Zambrano, T. Rincón; J. Murillo, R. Otero (L. González, 77′), J. Kouffaty (A. Figuera, 64′); J. Martínez (C. Santos, 71′).

Bolivia (4-3-3): C. Lampe; E. Rodríguez, R. Raldes, E. Zenteno, M. Bejarano; D. Wayar, P. Azogue, W. Veizaga (M. Zoch, 46′); R. Ramallo (J. Campos, 78′), M. Martins, Y. Duk (R. Castro, 46′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical