The third matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign brought the third consecutive loss to Noel Sanvicente’s charges. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.
CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018
Thursday 12 November 2015 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department
Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela
Video Highlights of Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 12 November 2015 (YouTube)
Fluid Bolivia Soundly See Off Sanvicente’s Makeshift XI
Not for the first time, a substantial strategy to combat the vertiginous altitude of La Paz was thwarted by Bolivia. This time, in a largely dominant display, La Verde bagged four goals – a feat they had not achieved since October 2012 – to emphatically end a run of five consecutive losses in all competitions. For Venezuela, it was their fifth competitive defeat on the bounce and their third straight loss in this World Cup qualifying campaign. Upon taking over in July 2014, manager Noel Sanvicente may have wanted the fans of La Vinotinto to be dreaming of Russia 2018 but already they can only think of Qatar 2022; he must now confront the very real possibility that Tuesday’s game against Ecuador may be his last. While the conditions definitely played a role in this latest reversal, Chita will have to concede that, as soon as the first ball was kicked, his charges were out-fought and his tactics were ineffective (and to some, incomprehensible). Once again, there was little on display to sway the hearts and minds of the ever-growing number of dissenters.
The hosts, coached by USA ’94 veteran Julio César Baldivieso and benefitting from having nine players in their line-up who regularly see club action in this stadium, frequently looked a threat going forward. Throughout the game, they passed and paced around with greater accuracy and purpose than their visitors, leaving observers with the impression that if they really wanted more goals, they could easily have had them.
They enjoyed much success on the flanks, particularly in the opening exchanges. With just five minutes on the clock, the irrepressible Alejandro Chumacero forced a good instinctive save from the legs of Alain Baroja, following a cross from Damián Lizio.
Despite such pressure being frequently exerted from wide positions, the opening goal on 19 minutes was more direct, albeit greatly facilitated by a defensive error. A long ball pumped towards the right-hand side was hooked by centre-back Franklin Lucena straight into more dangerous territory. Rudy Cardozo picked it up centrally some 40-plus yards from goal before rapidly feeding an incisive pass to Rodrigo Ramallo who, intentionally or otherwise, dinked the ball over Baroja.
Barely a minute later, Sanvicente was left mentally shredding up a month’s worth of preparation as Bolivia doubled their lead. Some neat interplay on the edge of the area culminated with Ramallo heading the ball on for Lizio who was barged over by Wilker Ángel. Juan Carlos Arce duly stepped up to convert the penalty to make it 2-0.
Whether a bit of complacency crept in amongst the hosts or the visitors suddenly found some attacking fluency, Venezuela’s immediate response saw them enjoy more time in opposition territory. Despite this, they were not really threatening Daniel Vaca’s goal, with Mario Rondón often chasing balls up the right but unable to put through a testing ball. Then, however, in the 33th minute, not without a little slice of luck, they were offered a lifeline. A throw from the right was touched on by Richard Blanco to captain Tomás Rincón on the edge of the area. El General did well to swiftly evade a tackle before striking a shot that was deflected towards Rondón who, in turn, just about nudged it past Vaca to halve the deficit. The Bolivian defence claimed offside but alas, the diversion had caught them out.
However, any hope of mounting a comeback was scuppered in first-half stoppage-time. A ball was sprayed out to Chucamero who was afforded considerable room on the right of the area, from where he crossed for Ramallo to head in with relative ease. 3-1.
Sanvicente appeared to want to shore things up at half-time by bringing on defender Francisco Carabalí for midfielder Arquímedes Figuera. Alas, this was to no avail as within three minutes the contest was all-but-over. Once again, Chumacero was the catalyst. With breathtaking skill, perhaps supplemented by some fortune, he received a hoisted ball on the right and, with a phenomenal first touch, gained a stately garden’s worth of space away from two defenders. He raced into the area before sliding it back to Ramallo whose shot was saved by Baroja at close range only to fall to Cardozo who, with the aid of a deflection, fired home.
Sanvicente responded by withdrawing – and, no doubt, humiliating – centre-back Ángel and replacing him with Arouca’s ‘Sema’ Velázquez, who received his first appearance under the incumbent manager. Given the already commanding scoreline and the subsequent continuation of attacking threat offered by Bolivia, it is difficult to say how much this change had in halting the concession of goals.
Nevertheless, in the 55th minute, Venezuela were to tease the eternal optimists by finding the net for a second time. Another throw-in – this time on the left – was picked up by Rondón who found Blanco on the edge of the area with a pinpoint pass. The Mineros de Guayana forward did well to take a touch to bring the ball away from his marker before striking low with his left boot. He shaped, he shot, he scored.
Despite this, Bolivia’s superiority was still very much in evidence for the remainder of the game, with attacks on the flanks as well as shots and balls fired into the area causing frequent problems for the Venezuelan rearguard. Such was the hosts’ dominance, with little more than ten minutes remaining, the La Paz crowd began to cheer their representatives’ every pass.
With eight minutes left, however, some of those in the stands may have briefly feared a previously unthinkable comeback as Venezuela put the ball into the back of the net. Luis Manuel Seijas’ corner from the left was headed against the crossbar by Rafael Acosta; from the rebound, Velázquez’s effort was saved but Rondón was able to hook it into the back of the net. Alas, the flag had already been raised – correctly – for offside.
Thus, Bolivia held on to their two-goal advantage to gain their first points of the qualifying campaign. Venezuela remain point-less and, if countering the after-effects of playing at high altitude before facing CONMEBOL leaders Ecuador (9 points) was not tough enough for Sanvicente, he will have to do it without one of his regular starters. Though it can not be said for sure that Seijas would have played anyway, he nevertheless ruled himself out in the third minute of stoppage-time, earning a straight red card; this was allegedly for comments made towards the official.
What follows are some thoughts on this latest Venezuelan setback.
Decisions as well as Conditions Played Their Part
Despite undergoing specialist preparations with a pool of home-based talent at the national training facility (CNAR) for the past few weeks, Venezuela undoubtedly struggled with the altitude of La Paz. Only ten of those who received time with the hyperbaric chambers made the journey, with just five named in the line-up (plus one who came off the bench). Sanvicente’s selected XI consisted of a makeshift crop of individuals, many of whom have rarely, if ever, played together internationally and some of whom were only playing due to the circumstances.
Contrast this with the nine Bolivian starters (adding on two substitutes) who regularly play their domestic football at the Estadio Hernando Siles for either Bolívar or The Strongest. Indeed, all of the goalscorers and attacking threats – Chumacero, Ramallo, Cardozo, Arce and Lizio – are very much accustomed to playing at 3,600 metres above sea level in both the league as well as the Copas Libertadores and/or Sudamericana. Thus, while fielding a team with such experience undoubtedly aided the victory, their familiarity with one another for their clubs as well as their individual qualities were also major factors.
Venezuelan Rearguard Flimsy, Disorganised and/or Inexperienced
Not that these were the only reasons. For all the attacking qualities the Bolivians possessed, their routes towards goal – both through the middle and from the flanks – were greatly enabled by their opponents. Indeed, despite four of Venezuela’s starting midfielders – Rincón, Figuera, Acosta and Seijas – either being defence-minded or having experience of providing extra protection to the back four, acres of space was often gifted away. Furthermore, of the back line, only the experienced Lucena can be considered a regular; whereas Alexander González, a right-back or right-winger for his club Young Boys, was hopelessly exposed at left-back; the two home-based youngsters – 20-year-old debutant right-back Jefre Vargas and, especially, 21-year-old centre-back Ángel – will not wish to recall their rare outings any time soon.
On all four goals, there was more than one error of note. For the opener, Lucena’s poor clearance gifted plenty of space in the middle for Cardozo who, in turn, was not closed down and was instead able to rapidly pick a pass between the defenders for Ramallo to finish. On the second, Bolivia’s attackers were able to knock the ball between themselves in a central area before Ángel’s foul gave away the penalty. On the third, Chumacero had an abundance of time and space on González’s right-hand side to pick out a cross for Ramallo to nod home ahead of Ángel and Lucena. Similarly for the fourth, Chumacero glided into a huge free area in the right side of the area before Ramallo again beat the central defenders to the cross, with his shot being saved before Cardozo latched onto the rebound.
This is without detailing all the other chances that were created on Baroja’s goal. Undeniably then, Sanvicente’s tactics and choice of defensive personnel were also factors in the loss. Given that many of these players would not be likely starters in regular playing conditions, they can consider this a squandered personal opportunity to make their presence count on this stage. Between them, they were responsible for the second-highest number of goals conceded in a match under Sanvicente (runners-up only to those involved in the 5-0 mauling dished out by Chile this time last year).
Experienced Men Stand Out in Attack but do they Possess a Future?
Despite the two goals, there are not many in the attacking positions who could be said to have done themselves many favours in the long run. It is perhaps asking a bit much to expect any attacking fluency and well-worked moves from individuals who rarely play in the same line-up but all the same, there was little of this on show. Indeed, of the starters, only Seijas can be considered a regular and he normally plays for his country just ahead of the back four, as opposed to on the left of midfield. He caused some problems from set-pieces but his red card at the death will have not helped his personal cause.
Mario Rondón will doubtless feel emboldened, not only scoring but also having a hand in the second goal as well as finding the net again towards the end – albeit after an offside flag had been raised. He regularly chased balls and with three goals since Sanvicente took over (albeit one of these has since been chalked off, through no fault of the player), he is having the best phase of his international career. Alas, with under 15 caps to his name and his thirtieth birthday approaching in March, Rondón is not well-placed to make a long-term claim for a starting spot. Indeed, he is not really an out-and-out striker and faces competition from numerous versatile attacking players, many of whom are just emerging and are tipped to be fixtures of the selección for the best part of the next decade. That said, as he was omitted from the Copa América squad, one suspects he will at least derive some contentment from any future call-ups, having been largely ignored outright by previous managers.
Age is even more of a concern for the other attacker of note, 33-year-old Mineros de Guayana striker Richard Blanco. Nevertheless, he took his goal very well and also played a minor role in Rondón’s strike.
Although both men may struggle to get onto the pitch in future, Sanvicente must glean some satisfaction from the fact that both of their goals started via the same route: a throw-in. Indeed, this was not too dissimilar from the history-making Salomón Rondón goal against Colombia in June that had its origins in a Roberto Rosales throw. While in all of these situations, the touchline hoist may have been far from the decisive factor, it is a curious coincidence and most likely has its roots on the training ground. Although Venezuela still urgently need to broaden their attacking arsenal, this particular weapon does at least show they can always offer a surprise irrespective of their general performance.
Sanvicente’s Last Stand on Tuesday?
Much of this speculation regarding the national team’s future could soon either be discarded or moderated as a change in leadership could well be in the offing. Indeed, the dissent that has long been a feature of Noel Sanvicente’s reign has grown considerably in recent months and increases with every disappointing result. This defeat was the sixth in Venezuela’s last seven games (with the other match being a dire home draw against Panama). Scurious internet rumours and managerial wishlists have since evolved into published articles suggesting possible replacements; questions regarding Sanvicente’s position have made it into at least a couple of press conferences. There is a growing feeling that Tuesday’s home game against Ecuador could well be Chita‘s last game in charge.
Although now is not yet the time to write an obituary, things have undoubtedly regressed during his 16-month reign, giving younger fans a taste of what the dark pre-boom years were like before the nation were viable underdogs. Indeed, despite the opening day win against Colombia, the failure to get out of their group in this year’s Copa América was their worst performance since 2004’s competition. Similarly, their three consecutive defeats mark their worst start to a World Cup qualifying campaign since their opening games of the preliminary stage of Japan/South Korea 2002.
Though the Venezuelan football association (FVF) has been relatively quiet on their manager’s position, it is hard not to escape the feeling that much is riding on Tuesday’s home clash in Puerto Ordaz. For this bottom-versus-top encounter with Ecuador, Sanvicente will welcome back leading players such as Salomón Rondón, Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo; they are tipped to be supplemented by the bright new things (at international leve, at least), Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez.
At this point, a sudden turnaround that catalyses and transforms the campaign seems rather unlikely. Not only have the players frequently been on the wrong end of scorelines in both competitive and friendly action, but they have also deserved to be. Unsurprisingly, they have rarely seemed particularly happy when out on the field; whether that is simply due to the results or the system under which they are playing is difficult to discern. Nevertheless, one can not help but feel that if Sanvicente is to keep his job, this does heavily hinge upon whether his players, particularly the most senior ones, really want him to. Regardless of how low Venezuela’s chances of making Russia 2018 already seem, many players know that Qatar 2022 is too late for them. For such players as well as many fans, when placed in such a scenario, patience does not seem like much of a virtue. The final whistle in Puerto Ordaz awaits.
Bolivia (4-4-2): Vaca; Saavedra, Zenteno, Marteli, Morales; Arce (Eguino, 86′), Chumacero, Veizaga, Lizio (Duk, 78′); Cardozo, Ramallo (Arrascaita, 58′).
Venezuela (4-3-2-1): Baroja, J. Vargas (Falcón, 65′), Ángel (Velázquez, 50′), Lucena, A. González; Acosta, Rincón, Figuera (Carabalí, 46′); M. Rondón, Seijas; Blanco. (The formation alternated somewhat; sometimes a 4-3-3, other times a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1).