Tag Archives: Roberto Rosales

United Arab Emirates 0-2 Venezuela – International Friendly (16 October 2018)

Apparently owing to a disagreement between the UAE’s football association and a broadcaster, Venezuela closed the international break playing in a virtually empty stadium from which no transmission of the game was permitted. Thus, aided by the reports of a few of the privileged Venezuelan sources in the ground – as well as a sneaky live-streaming Instagram account or two – @DarrenSpherical provides a brief account of the events in Barcelona…

International Friendly

Tuesday 16 October 2018 – Estadio Olímpico Lluís Companys, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

United Arab Emirates 0-2 Venezuela

Goal Highlights of United Arab Emirates 0-2 Venezuela, Unofficial International Friendly, 16 October 2018 (YouTube/Instagram)

La Vinotinto Shine in Daytime Darkness

Playing in near-silence and obscurity at the prestigious stadium that was once the setting of history-making triumphs at the Barcelona ’92 Olympics, Venezuela’s two goals were enough to plunge the UAE further into the abyss.

Both of these came in the opening exchanges of the two halves, the first after barely a minute when Rómulo Otero’s corner was headed in at the back post by Luis Mago. The Carabobo FC left-back had only made his debut for the national side last month and this was his first-ever goal at senior international level.

Another man bagging his official first (of what could be many) was Andrés Ponce, who also scored last Friday in the unofficial encounter with the Basque Country. This one arrived in the 47th minute and has surely catapulted the 21-year-old Anzhi Makhachkala striker to first in the queue behind the absent Salomón Rondón and Josef Martínez.

Here, he was set up by Real Salt Lake’s Jefferson Savarino, a man he shares a birthday with and who is also consistently gaining ground in the national set-up, having now played key roles in goals in each of his last three appearances. Elsewhere in the match, Savarino also came close with a first-half strike that went just over and a late one-on-one that the goalkeeper denied. This latter chance occurred after a pass from Portugal-based forward Jhonder Cádiz, who was making his international debut along with fellow substitute Nahuel Ferraresi, a 19-year-old centre-back from the silver generation.

Otherwise, defensive-midfielder Júnior Moreno also crashed a first-half strike against the crossbar and the South Americans generally had the better of the opportunities, but their Middle-Eastern opponents did at least give them a couple of scares. Indeed, a second-half strike from Ali Hassan struck the base of the post and, earlier in the 40th minute, Omar Adbulrahman failed to convert a penalty, sweeping it wide of Wuilker Faríñez’s goal.

Overall then, though due in part to the blackout, it is not a game likely to be recalled often by fans, it did produce some personal milestones for a number of players who will surely cherish the memory of this curious encounter for the rest of their lives. Some of these individuals – particularly the two goalscorers – have further entrenched themselves in the plans of coach Dudamel who, judging by this starting line-up, has an ever-solidifying idea regarding seven or eight of his preferred XI.

That said, in this new cycle we really have only just begun and, aside from stiffer Asian competition, who knows what delights and surprises next month’s trips to Japan and Iran shall bring.

Team Selections

United Arab Emirates: A line-up of Alberto Zaccheroni’s men has been provided by the FVF and can be found here. However, it does not appear to be 100% accurate, so interested readers are invited to visit other sites such as Soccerway and play compare-and-contrast.

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Faríñez; R. Rosales, Y. Osorio, W. Ángel (N. Ferraresi, 90+3′), L. Mago; T. Rincón, J. Moreno (A. Romero, 71′); J. Savarino, R. Otero (E. Bello, 57′), J. Murillo (A. Peñaranda, 71′); A. Ponce (J. Cádiz, 71′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Basque Country 4-2 Venezuela – International Friendly (12 October 2018)

In their first friendly game of the latest international break, Venezuela’s long-term ambitions were handed a rude awakening by a proud, well-honed team that has absolutely no chance of bumping into them at Qatar 2022. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…

Unofficial International Friendly

Friday 12 October 2018 – Estadio de Mendizorroza, Vitoria, Álava, Spain

Basque Country 4-2 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Basque Country 4-2 Venezuela, Unofficial International Friendly, 12 October 2018 (YouTube)

La Liga-Level Liquidation for La Vinotinto

The Spain-based top-flight representatives of the border-straddling region of the Basque Country served up a convincing victory over an experimental Venezuela line-up.

With Salomón Rondón already out injured, Rafael Dudamel also opted to place goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez and lynchpin captain Tomás Rincón on the bench. Even taking into account the long called-for return of Roberto Rosales at right-back, this was a rather inexperienced side to be confronting a La Liga-laden outfit.

Conversely, their opponents boasted in their ranks the likes of Athletic Bilbao’s Iñaki Williams and Aritz Aduriz, Real Sociedad’s Asier Illarramendi and Aritz Elustondo and, particularly eye-catching in the first half, Alavés’ Ibai Gómez – playing here on his home turf of Mendizorroza.

With the aid of pyrotechnics, over 15,000 were on hand to generate a carnival-like atmosphere, which spurred on the hosts to dart out of the traps to dominate the opening 25 minutes or so. Their speed, sharpness and mutual understanding controlled the match-tempo, making it difficult for Venezuela’s makeshift defensive-midfield pairing of Arquímedes Figuera and Aristóteles Romero to track and the flanks were also occasionally exposed. It was Gómez who enjoyed virtually all the best chances in this period. In particular, in the 6th minute he gave centre-back Yordan Osorio the slip before his low drive forced a good stop from Rafael Romo and, then in the 20th minute, he received a pass centrally, made room for himself and fired marginally wide of the post.

The visitors could breathe – albeit, only for five more minutes. At this point, Gómez stepped up to take a free-kick somewhat left-of-centre on the edge of the area. Surprisingly – or, perhaps not, for anyone who has seen any of his recent golazos – he anticipated the jump of the wall to perfection, striking the ball underneath them and past the blindsided Romo for the opening goal.

It was the least that his side deserved. Yet, as so often is the case, it galvanised the opponents, who until this moment had only made one or two brief incursions into the final third. Despite this, within five minutes, they found themselves level; hearteningly for Dudamel, this came courtesy of the work of two men who, for differing reasons, have been denied any club action so far this season. Following some purposeful striding from Adalberto Peñaranda on the periphery of area, Romero’s optimistic strike took a fatal deflection off Yuri Berchiche, wrongfooted Asier Riesgo and ended up in the back of the net.

For the remaining 15 minutes of the first period, Venezuela earned themselves a greater share of the play, in the process winning set-pieces as well as greatly diminishing the threat to Romo’s goal.

However, following six home changes at the break, the temporary dam did not take long to burst wide open. Indeed, barely four minutes of round two had been played when a rather static Vinotinto defence was breached by Williams’ central poke forward; this fell to the fresh Jon Bautista who controlled and placed home in space to regain the lead. Fast-forward another four minutes and the gap was doubled. This time, Javier Eraso’s corner was knocked back within the area before Jhon Murillo’s poor clearance landed at the feet of another substitute, Arnaitz Arbilla, whose strike from the edge of the area bypassed Romo.

Subsequently, Dani García had a shot that only narrowly missed the target and it was evident that the South Americans had a mountain to climb. Although some more experienced heads came on to help avert an onslaught, there was never any serious doubt over the result. Later on Venezuela created some minor moments of threat: Rincón drove into the area and then had a penalty appeal waved away, Rosales put in some testing crosses and Eduard Bello warmed the goalkeeper’s gloves from an acute angle. Yet it was the Basques who were next on the scoresheet when an 87th-minute header by Elustondo – which may have been diverted in by defender Luis Mago – made it 4-1. For the third time on the night, Dudamel’s men were undone from a set-piece.

Nevertheless, Venezuela were at least able to respond to this additional setback with a goal of their own at the death. Substitute Jefferson Savarino arced a fine diagonal ball over to Rosales who, from the right byline, saw his cross into the centre nodded home by another erstwhile benchmate, Andrés Ponce.

Make no mistake, although results are not everything at this early stage of this new cycle, this match was anything but a success from a Venezuelan perspective. The makeshift XI lacked an effective game-plan, struggled to keep pace with their opponents and were often easily outplayed.

However, if there is one broad positive to take away it is that both goals involved players – Peñaranda, Romero, Rosales and Ponce – who had previously not even been considered anywhere near the squad, let alone in the starting eleven. Looking ahead, the former two desperately need to find some minutes at club level, however problematic that currently appears to be. Rosales needs to work with his defensive colleagues to bolster their collective organisation but he at least displayed his renowned threat going forward. Ponce, on the other hand, who has had a promising start to his new life in Russia, must be feeling good about his late goal and, with Josef Martínez returning home to Atlanta, he must fancy his chances of leading the line against the United Arab Emirates.

That game, on Tuesday in Barcelona behind closed doors against an official FIFA-recognised nation, is anticipated to be a more winnable encounter. Dudamel is not one to take things for granted but as much as he will want to try out new ideas and personnel, he knows how important positive results are for maintaining faith in the country’s long-term ambitions.

Team Selections

Basque Country (4-1-4-1): A. Riesgo (J. Serantes, 46′); M. Aguirregabiria, A. Elustondo, I. Martínez (A. Arbilla, 46′), Y. Berchiche; A. Illarramendi (D. García, 46′); I. Williams, D. Zurutuza (J. Bautista, 46′), M. García (M. Vesga, 59′), I. Gómez (L. Sangalli, 46′); A. Aduriz (J. Eraso, 46′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): R. Romo; R. Rosales, Y. Osorio, W. Ángel, L. Mago; A. Figuera (T. Rincón, 59′), A. Romero (J. Moreno, 72′); J. Murillo, R. Otero (J. Savarino, 58′), A. Peñaranda (E. Bello, 64′); J. Martínez (A. Ponce, 64′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – October 2018 Preview

It seems like only yesterday that Venezuela returned from international hibernation and now here they are once again all set for another double-header – this time on the Old Continent. Below, @DarrenSpherical runs the rule over the latest La Vinotinto squad.

Unofficial International Friendly

Friday 12 October 2018 – Estadio de Mendizorroza, Vitoria, Álava, Spain

Basque Country vs Venezuela

International Friendly

Tuesday 16 October 2018 – Estadio Olímpico Lluís Companys, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

United Arab Emirates vs Venezuela

rosalesdudamel

Roberto Rosales reunited with Rafael Dudamel (FVF Press)

Rafael Reinstates Rosales for Rumble in Mendizorroza

La Vinotinto are seeking to build on last month’s warm-ups against World Cup-level competition with two curious encounters in north Spain, the first with the non-FIFA affiliated Basque Country and the second behind-closed-doors against United Arab Emirates (ranked 77).

Undoubtedly the most eye-catching name on Rafael Dudamel’s 23-man list is that of Roberto Rosales, who receives his first call-up for two years. The 29-year-old right-back recently made his debut for Espanyol and had previously been one of the mainstays of the national side, acquiring a status virtually on a par with those of captain Tomás Rincón and high-profile striker Salomón Rondón. Then, in 2016 as Dudamel was finding his feet in his new role, the Third R surprisingly lost his place in the line-up and by the end of the year he was out the squad altogether. Since then, rumours have abounded of a rift with the coach as well as with the federation. However, in the lead-up the boss has been quick to dismiss such Twitter-tattle and the FVF also seem keen to re-integrate the player, making an interview with him their most extensive press release for this friendly double-header.

With Elche’s Alexander González – a man who plays in a lower division, yet has benefited to become the most frequent starter at right-back – out injured, Rosales has a real opportunity to re-assert himself. His competition for this position within the current crop is young Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), a talented prospect who only missed out last month due to a visa issue and who one suspects has spent a chunk of his formative years looking up to Rosales. He will now receive a rare opportunity to learn from him first-hand. Who knows, perhaps such a mentorship is but one part of a long-term masterplan…

Hernández is joined this time around by four fellow prospects who also starred in 2017’s history-making squad of Under-20 World Cup runners-up. The inclusion of undisputed first-choice goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) is a given, but the other three have considerably more to prove.

Indeed, Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay) was part of last month’s squad but was one of only a few who did not make it onto the pitch. This, coupled with the fact that he was not originally called up – his late entry has only been made possible courtesy of an injury to Reus’ Mikel Villanueva – surely hints at some doubts Dudamel has about granting the centre-back his senior international debut. Considerably more faith is evidently reserved for Adalberto Peñaranda, an attacking-midfielder who, since overshadowing Yeferson Soteldo – again absent, this time due to the birth of his third child – at South Korea 2017, had a forgettable time on loan at Málaga last season. He is far from fresh, as he has been unable to gain a UK work permit to play with parent club Watford but, not for the first time, Dudamel has offered him a lifeline and has stated that the player will “see minutes“.

However, as always, competition in the positions behind the forward(s) will be stiff: Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), who missed out last month due to a visa problem will be seeking to regain his erstwhile starting position on, ideally, the right flank; Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), who put in a prominent individual performance in the 2-0 away win against PanamaJefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), who came off the bench to set up the opener in the same game; Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile), whose substitute appearance in Central America also led to an assist and whose goal-laden club displays have instigated escalating outbreaks of “Bellomanía” in the country where he plies his trade. To the disappointment of many, the latter was initially left out, only to be called up at the eleventh hour owing to injuries to two players who made starts last month: Darwin Machís (twice) and Sergio Córdova (once, plus sub).

Chances are thus there to be grabbed and this is certainly true in the forward positions, where the final member of the silver generation can be located. With the absence of the injured Salomón Rondón and the agreement that Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA)  will, once again, only play the first of the two games, 21-year-old support-striker/hold-up man Ronaldo Peña (Houston Dynamo, USA) must be dreaming of a senior international debut. If so, he could find himself re-igniting his 2013 Under-17 Sudamericano partnership with the marginally older Andrés Ponce, a more direct marksman who has recently resuscitated his club career with a couple of important goals for his new club Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia. Otherwise, Dudamel has at his disposal Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal), a 23-year-old currently with his fourth Portuguese club; with no previous international appearances, he rounds off this trio of inexperienced front-line pretenders.

Elsewhere in the squad, with Yangel Herrera still not quite back to match fitness, Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru) and the game-shy Aristóteles Romero (Crotone, Italy) have been recalled to provide competition for Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) in the central midfield spot alongside Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy). Also, left-back Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA) is said to not be fully fit so Luis Mago (Carabobo FC) will be seeking to build on last month’s debut and, similarly, at centre-back Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal) surely has his sights on breaking up the partnership of Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia) and Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia) – that is, if his performance against Panama has not done so already.

Thus, as ever in this embryonic stage of the new cycle, there is no shortage of positional and tactical considerations to be resolved. Regarding the opponents, while the level of the UAE is somewhat of a mystery for those outside of the Asian continent, the same can not be said of the Basque Country. Indeed, their 18-man squad is full of La Liga talents from five different clubs, including Athletic Bilbao’s Aritz Aduriz, Iñigo Martínez and Iñaki Williams, Alavés’ Ibai Gómez and Real Sociedad’s Asier Illarramendi, Aritz Elustondo and David Zurutuza. Although the organisation of these players may be another matter, with Basque pride on the line, this really should prove to be a considerable test for Venezuela in what will be the third-ever encounter between the two sides. The Rumble in Mendizorroza awaits.

Venezuela Squad

venezuelaoct2018squad

(Note: On 8 October 2018, it was announced that Darwin Machís and Sergio Córdova withdrew due to injury, with Eduard Bello being called up as a replacement.)

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Carabobo FC) & Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile), Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Crotone, Italy), & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA).

Forwards

Jhonder Cádiz (Vitória Setúbal, Portugal), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Ronaldo Peña (Houston Dynamo, USA) & Andrés Ponce (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – November 2016 Preview

Jornadas 11 and 12 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are on the horizon and, whisper it, Venezuela may just win a game. Honestly, @DarrenSpherical isn’t making this up…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Venezuela vs Bolivia

Tuesday 15 November 2016 – Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa, Quito, Pichincha Province

Ecuador vs Venezuela

tomasrinconvsuruguay

Well, We Know He’ll Be Starting: Captain Tomás Rincón (Via: Zimbio.com)

Unsettled Venezuela Confronted with Best Hope of a Victory

Barely halfway completed, Venezuela’s campaign for Russia 2018 has long seemed over, but they have the chance to belatedly boost morale with this upcoming set of encounters.

Indeed, bottom of CONMEBOL qualifying with just two points, they will surely not have a better chance to gain their first victory than against their next opponents. A home match against Bolivia is the closest thing the region offers in the way of a ‘banker win’, even if a similar meeting with Venezuela currently competes for that unwanted billing. Bolivia’s woes on the road go back a lot further, however, with their last qualification win outside of their homeland occurring over 23 years ago in July 1993, a 7-1 thrashing against – who else? – Venezuela. The following summer, La Verde went to the USA to play in the World Cup, a now unthinkable prospect as they sit just two points ahead of La Vinotinto, second-bottom. Thus, as their only victory came against Venezuela (4-2 almost a year ago today in high-altitude La Paz), a win for the hosts in this battle of the basement boys is essential for manager Rafael Dudamel. He presides over a generation of players widely believed to be underperforming and urgently needs to restore belief in the future with what remains of this campaign.

However, though it may prove to be a blessing in disguise, his task has been complicated by the absence of a few key players, all of whom have picked up injuries in the past week: Málaga midfielder Juanpi (a rare player to come out of recent internationals with any credit), Copa Libertadores winner Alejandro Guerra and star striker Salomón Rondón. Their replacements are two players from the domestic league, Yeferson Soteldo and Luis ‘Cariaco’ González, as well as Christian Santos, who just this weekend scored his first ever goal in La Liga – a late winner for Alaves away to Osasuna.

These fresh setbacks will cause two additional changes to the line-up that will face Bolivia (though all three were in contention), but personnel switches were in any case inevitable after last month’s defeats against Uruguay and Brazil. As the national side struggles to settle, aside from captain Tomás Rincón, no other player in the current squad can be feeling confident about consistently starting games for the foreseeable future. Indeed, though Roberto Rosales is one of the most reliable performers at club level with Málaga and is poised to start this week, he has nevertheless been engaged in a surprise battle at right-back with Spanish second-tier player, Alexander González. Perhaps in more danger of losing his first-team spot is veteran centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Indeed, though his competitors in recent months, Sema Velázquez and Wilker Ángel, have struggled to convince, Dudamel has spoken of his desire to try Mikel Villanueva in this spot. Venezuela’s third Málaguista – who made his La Liga debut in the past month – may be more accustomed to the left flank, but the boss has said this position will be contested by Rolf Feltscher and Rubert Quijada. The latter, a 27-year-old from Caracas FC, is not short of champions who feel he ought to be given a chance though, for the Bolivia game at least, the former is likelier to receive the nod.

Further up the field, though predicting starters has made a fool of many in recent times, more than a few are anticipating an opportunity for Rómulo Otero. Given the absences of Juanpi and Guerra, the Atlético Mineiro playmaker would be a welcome addition on set-pieces and provide some necessary creativity from deep. To see he and 19-year-old Adalberto Peñaranda running the flanks could certainly garner some enthusiasm for the future of La Vinotinto. Another young gun, Jhon Murillo, is a possible alternative for either of these positions.

Up front, no Rondón and defensively porous opponents (26 goals conceded in 10 games – the same as Venezuela) means a 4-4-2 is on the cards. Torino’s Josef Martínez has put in some decent showings when granted opportunities (usually in tandem with Rondón), though, bafflingly to some, there always appears to be a question mark hanging over his head. A starting spot is not assured and he will face competition from the likes of Jacobo Kouffaty, Edder Farías and Manuel Arteaga. All three men are strangers to the starting positions and, with regard to the latter two for over the past year, the squad as a whole. Farías has been in impressive goalscoring form for Caracas since returning from an underwhelming spell in Portugal. However, the fact that all three men were included before Santos (again, only here due to a late Rondón injury) is symptomatic of a recurring issue that is of questionable benefit to the national team. Namely, players who regularly play at club level tend to be chosen ahead of those who are not, regardless of the calibre of league they ply their trade in. Indeed, in this case, Santos has struggled for starting spots at Alaves this season but he only moved to Spain a few months ago after a very successful goalscoring season in the Dutch Eredivisie. Yet, he appears to be far from the front of a queue that includes a player who made little mark in his brief European spell, as well as two who have not exactly taken their respective leagues in Ecuador and Bolivia by storm. Perhaps Dudamel feels they possess characteristics that are more beneficial to the system he is trying to implement. Although with around half the line-up for the Bolivia game likely to be different from those who took to the field last month, one is not expecting much coherent and confident team play.

Nevertheless, with no victories yet to their name in qualifying, many Venezuelans will take the first one any way they can. Right now, next week’s away match against Ecuador (who gave La Vinotinto the runaround in a 3-1 win last November) seems almost irrelevant in comparison with getting these first three points. Gain them, however, and who knows what effect the consequent seretotin boost will have on the side’s expectations and performance.

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

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC, Venezuela) & Dani Hernández (Tenerife, Spain).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Rolf Feltscher (Getafe, Spain), Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC, Venezuela),  Roberto Rosales (Málaga, Spain), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal), Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes, France).

Midfielders

Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Arles Flores (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Luis ‘Cariaco’ González (Monagas SC, Venezuela), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Jacobo Kouffaty (Deportivo Cuenca, Ecuador), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Udinese, Italy, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy), Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora, Venezuela) & Renzo Zambrano (Real Valladolid, Spain). 

Forwards

Manuel Arteaga (The Strongest, Bolivia, on loan from Palermo, Italy), Edder Farías (Caracas FC), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy) & Christian Santos (Alaves, Spain).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-2 Brazil – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (11 October 2016)

Rather than historic headlines, the tenth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded goalkeeping and power failures. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 11 October 2016 – El Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida State

Venezuela 0-2 Brazil

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-2 Brazil, 11 October 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

Oh Dani Boy, Gifting the Night Away

Match Report

Within eight minutes, Venezuela were knocked down and rarely looked like getting up again as Brazil went on to inflict upon them their eighth defeat in ten World Cup Qualifying games.

Making five changes from the Uruguay defeat (including three of the four defenders), Rafael Dudamel set up his men in a relatively bold 4-4-2 formation but no strategy or set of tactics could have accounted for the opening goal. This arrived when goalkeeper Dani Hernández, under no real pressure, suicidally passed the ball straight to Gabriel Jesus some 30 yards out. The Manchester-bound 19-year-old stopped the ball with his left boot and, as the Tenerife man scrambled in front of the penalty spot, with his right deftly scooped the Seleção into the lead with a masterful chip. Thus marked the latest instance of Venezuela’s tradition of providing significant aid to countries who don’t really need it.

Though it was his most glaring, this was hardly Hernández’s first error since regaining the gloves under Dudamel and pressure to make a change will surely intensify now. Yet with the two other goalkeepers in the squad relatively inexperienced at international level – and having not entirely convinced when called upon – there are no obvious alternatives. The previous number one Alain Baroja has been excluded from the selección throughout the new manager’s reign, seemingly due to having also committed some high-profile errors in earlier qualifying matches (the home games against Paraguay and Ecuador providing the most egregious examples). A recall can not now be entirely out of the question but, whatever happens, goalkeeping woes and back-line jitters look set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Conceding an early goal against one of the best teams in the continent would have deflated any nation but Venezuelans had additional reasons to fear the following 80+ minutes. Not only have they not won a single game in the current qualifying campaign, but – barring one friendly match in 2008 – they have never beaten Brazil and the last time that they gained a positive result from a competitive game after falling behind was exactly three years ago (their last match of the Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign, a 1-1 home draw with Paraguay on 11 October 2013).

In the remainder of the half, though Venezuela were not shrinking violets, it was certainly the visitors who came closest to getting the game’s second goal. In the 15th minute, Gabriel Jesus earned some space after he latched onto a long ball up the inside-left channel and slid it to Phillipe Coutinho, whose low strike from the edge of the dee was poked a bit too close to Hernández. Nine minutes later at the second attempt, roaming right-back Dani Alves volleyed in a goalmouth cross that was only narrowly diverted by Roberto Rosales from the path of Gabriel Jesus for a corner.

Just past the half-hour mark, Paulinho had a chance when he greatly unnerved the opposition back-line on the edge of the area, playing a few one-twos before eventually firing just wide. A few minutes later, it was Coutinho’s moment to strike a yard or two the wrong side of the post when an elevated ricochet in the area fell kindly for his right boot.

As with previous matches against the region’s heavyweights, the hosts’ best hope of an attempt on goal came from set-pieces (which here were flagged offside at the key moment) and breakaways, the impetus for which invariably derived from the feet of Adalberto Peñaranda. Indeed, the 19-year-old raised the volume in the stands in the 23rd minute when he left a player for dead in midfield before running into trouble. Later in the 41st minute, he impressively gained some space on the left before cutting inside and winning a corner from his own effort, though one or two of his colleagues seemed irritated that he did not pass for them to take aim.

Venezuela thus went into the break not completely out of the game, but having barely troubled opposition goalkeeper Alisson. Their struggle was compounded by the yellow cards earned by both centre-backs, Wilker Ángel and Sema Velázquez – not encouraging news for a team that has had three defenders (including Ángel) sent off in their last three games.

Nevertheless, as a spot of rain-lashing greeted the arrival of the second half, the hosts gained some heart from avoiding a repeat of the Uruguay game. No game-killing goals after 15 seconds here then. No, Tite’s men had to instead wait eight minutes for that. They doubled their lead thanks to Renato Agusto dragging the ball away from Rosales on the left and firing the ball across the goalmouth where Willian beat the other full-back Rolf Feltscher to clinically strike home at the back post.

Just five minutes later in the 58th minute, Brazil seemed well on their way to humiliating their hosts when an Augusto header from a corner ended up in the back of the net. However, Gabriel Jesus helped it across the line and his involvement caused the linesman to raise his flag.

Soon afterwards, partly inspired by the substitution of Alejandro Guerra on for Juanpi, Venezuela gradually overcame their dejection and started to threaten Alisson’s goal. Seconds after his arrival on the hour, it was the fresh Atlético Nacional midfielder who diverted a forward ball to Salomón Rondón. The West Bromwich forward’s first-time strike hit Marquinhos, seemingly on the upper arm, leaving Alisson stranded. Fortunately for the latter two, the ball went wide for a corner.

A couple of minutes later, Rondón had another chance. This time, from the right with his left boot, Rosales swung in a cross that the striker beat his marker to, with his header bouncing just a yard or so wide of the near post.

However, they were reminded of exactly what they were up against just a minute later when Brazil stretched their back-line and a pass from the left into the centre seemed to be heading for an inevitable third; yet the shot that followed was too close to Hernández, who parried.

The action continued and it was virtually end-to-end. Just two minutes later at the other end, Josef Martínez volleyed an arced free-kick that forced a save, though play was immediately halted for offside. Four minutes later, Alves skipped past the slide of Peñaranda on the right where he crossed towards the centre of the area to Paulinho but, despite the space the ex-Tottenham man had, he volleyed well over. Barely 30 seconds later at the other end, Rondón curled in a fine ball from the left with his right which destabilised and discombulated Filipe Luís. Prowling behind him at the back post was Guerra who did well to stretch to control the ball, but from his crab-like stance with Alisson narrowing the angles, he could only scuff a shot wide of the post.

However, pulses in the stands were not to be maintained at the same rate for much longer as in the 73rd minute, the floodlights suddenly went out. Darkness, punctuated by lights from phones and advertising boards, descended upon the Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida. There was initially much cheering and clapping from the home fans, perhaps proving Venezuelans like a good old ‘wheeeyyy’ when something goes wrong as much as anyone. Or maybe they just thought the game may get called off and they would receive a second chance. This was certainly debated by onlookers, with most agreeing a replay would have to be played the following night – sadly, such musings were not immediately relayed to a mid-kip Tony Pulis. Also during this interval, some fans began chanting for the removal of President Nicolás Maduro,  a fairly common occurrence when things are not going well at home (anti-government signs are also frequently seen at games on foreign soil). Last year towards the end of the 3-1 loss against Ecuador in Puerto Ordaz, similar chants were drowned out by music suddenly blasting out over the public announce system. This time in Mérida, however, no amount of pro-government officials would have been able to enforce similar action.

Fortunately for them though, there was little chance of a full-scale demonstration occurring as the electricity did gradually return and thus almost 25 minutes after the ball was last officially in play, the match resumed. Yet, in the remaining 17 minutes or so, little of note happened, with the interruption greatly diminishing the momentum of the players and the volume of the crowd. The one stand-out moment was Rondón’s 88th-minute header from a cross swung in from the right, which he powered towards Alisson, who was required to pull of a decent save to tip it over the bar.

Nevertheless, despite the hosts’ improvements after the second goal, when the Peruvian official blew for full-time, the Venezuelans were left to be confronted with their unenviable position at the bottom of the CONMEBOL Qualifying group. With Bolivia having picked up a point at home to Ecuador, Dudamel’s men now find themselves six points adrift at the bottom, with just two draws from ten games to their name.

After June’s promising Copa América campaign, the Vinotinto boss has now lost some of his initial goodwill, having presided over four qualifying games and earned just one point. Yet this worrying statistic is somewhat undermined by the fact that these matches were against four of the current top five teams in the region. However, with Venezuela’s next encounter being at home against those notoriously bad travellers Bolivia, nothing less than a victory will be enough to contain the critics for the time being. With changes to his already rather unsettled line-up inevitable, he may wish to spent the next month wisely while poring over his decisions.

To find out how Venezuela get on, remember to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and/or check back here for match reports and news. 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, S. Velázquez, W. Ángel, R. Feltscher; Juanpi (A. Guerra, 60′), T. Rincón,  A. Flores (Y. Herrera, 84′); A. Peñaranda (R. Otero, 73′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez.

Brazil (4-3-3): Alisson; D. Alves, Marquinhos, J. Miranda, F. Luís; Paulinho, Fernandinho, R. Augusto; Willian (Taison, 89′), G. Jesus, P. Coutinho (Giuliano, 83′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – October 2016 Preview

Jornadas 9 and 10 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are on the horizon and, with the matches not getting any easier, Venezuela are already thinking about Qatar 2022. Here, @DarrenSpherical attempts to prove that this isn’t all just a futile waste of time…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 6 October 2016 – Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay

Uruguay vs Venezuela

Tuesday 11 October 2016 – El Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida State, Venezuela.

Venezuela vs Brazil

El Centenariazo: Uruguay 0-3 Venezuela, CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying,  31 March 2004. Historic first-ever away win for Venezuela against Uruguay.

Venezuela Still Waiting for a Generation’s Bonfire to Begin 

So, this revolution, eh? All set? Just like you were in September? Ah. Still, early days and all that…

Last month, off the back of a decent showing at Copa América Centenario Rafael Dudamel took charge of his first two Russia 2018 qualifiers, seeking to revive La Vinotinto‘s fortunes. Neighbours Colombia and regional heavyweights Argentina provided the rather unpropitious opposition. In boiling Barranquilla, the burgundy boys were comfortably outplayed, finishing with nine men in a 2-0 defeat. At home in the Andean state of Mérida, however, they were in the vertiginous position of being 2-0 up against Argentina with just over half an hour remaining. Alas, the campaign comeback was postponed, with the game ultimately ending in a 2-2 draw, leaving Venezuela to merely double their points tally to an overall total of 2 from a possible 24.

Thus, whilst that is one additional point more than most neutrals predicted, stronger evidence will be required before a clear demarcation line can be drawn between the current regime and that of Noel Sanvicente (July 2014 to April 2016). Still, there were positives to be taken away – Juanpi’s performances, for one – so there is some justification in enquiring if genuine progress in the form of the first victory of the campaign is on the horizon.

‘Unlikely’, would nevertheless appear to be the response of the objective observers (betting websites, online sneerers and other reprobates). After all, awaiting them in the upcoming week are none other than the top two teams in the CONMEBOL group: a trip to the Centenario to face Uruguay (1st) and then a home clash against a rejuvenated Brazil (2nd), who have never lost to La Vinotinto in a competitive match. Dudamel – who, incidentally, recently decked someone good an’ proper and yet has not even been ‘cuffed –  could not really have been provided with a more challenging opening four qualifiers.

Nevertheless, the manager has said that he was encouraged by the performance against Argentina and feels that there is much that can be built upon. He can also take comfort from the fact that in his short reign he has already beaten Uruguay once, when sending La Celeste packing from Copa América Centenario. Regarding the Brazil encounter, if he is of a superstitious persuasion or just has a propensity to clutch at straws then the statistic that Venezuela are undefeated in all five games they have played at Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida will be something to bear in mind. That this includes three draws, including one against Canada, should not be dwelt upon.

As for his squad, Dudamel knows that he has at his disposal a very young, talented collection of individuals that has shown signs of being receptive to his ideas. Although his first-choice starting line-up is far from settled, it is likely that most, if not all, of the seven players who began both games last month will also be fielded for kick-off in Montevideo. These are: goalkeeper Dani Hernández, veteran centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, central/defensive midfielder and captain Tomás Rincón, promising wingers/attacking midfielders Juanpi and Adalberto Peñaranda and star striker Salomón Rondón and his partner/back-up, Josef Martínez. Dudamel may well opt for different personnel altogether in one or two of these positions and he certainly has a decision to make regarding the returning Copa Libertadores winner Alejandro Guerra. Some speculation suggests that the much-capped ‘Lobo’ may be granted a midfield start, with Martínez or Peñaranda most likely to be sacrificed.

Nevertheless, more concretely, Dudamel definitely has decisions to make in various other spots as he was forced into changes following the Colombia game. Indeed, against Argentina, owing to suspension, Venezuela’s Copa América discovery Rolf Feltscher was replaced at left-back by Mikel Villanueva; having also received a red card, Wilker Ángel‘s centre-back position was taken by Sema Velázquez; injury ruled out the once untouchable Roberto Rosales, whose right-back role fell to the seemingly in-favour Alexander González; lastly, Arquímedes Figuera had accumulated one too many yellow cards and so Arles Flores instead partnered Rincón in defensive-midfield. In the Venezuelan press, it is this last dilemma that appears to be of most interest selection-wise. Otherwise, though Dudamel has many other options in his 28-man squad, none of these have been rumoured to be in with a sniff of starting.

That said, if there any surprises they may come from the bench as he has thus far displayed a consistent propensity to bring on players who are either new to the national set-up or have been largely overlooked during the past few years. Domestic players Yordan Osorio and Aristóteles Romero are the freshest faces in the present crop and can not entirely rule out receiving a second-half summoning. These two men are 22 and 20 respectively and Dudamel, no doubt owing in part to his work with the Under-20s and Under-17s, has repeatedly shown faith in youth. Indeed, he took the youngest squad to the Copa América Centenario and has also shunned a handful of Sanvicente’s favoured elder statesmen – not to mention ignored Luis Manuel Seijas since his excruciatingly poor penalty in June’s quarter-final defeat against Argentina. Furthermore, the head coach has also taken the Under-20 side to Uruguay with him in order to prepare for January’s Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament with two warm-up games (the first, a 3-1 loss against Uruguay, was played on Wednesday and featured three of the first-team squad).

Though it is tempting – particularly when results are not favourable – to regularly update daydreams about who the men of tomorrow will be, there are more than a few players in the current squad who have youth on their side and points to prove. Of these in the attacking midfield positions, creative maestro and set-piece taker Juanpi has thus far done the most to be confident of a regular starting place. Adalberto Peñaranda, touted within the past year as a potential wonderkid due to his exploits with Granada, has earned some starts under Dudamel but will need to show more consistency – as well as earn more match-time at new-club Udinese – if he is to see off his competition. Rómulo Otero, still only 23 but a favourite of many, has somewhat surprisingly not started any competitive games under Dudamel yet could well dislodge Peñaranda in the not-too-distant future. Then there is 19-year-old Yeferson Soteldo, who has been linked with a move away from home club Zamora since his goalscoring exploits in 2015. Unsurprisingly, some of the impatient masses have wanted to see him line-up in a qualifier but it appears that Dudamel, for the time being at least, is instead wisely prepping him to take the Under-20 tournament by storm. After that, he may well have a more serious selection dilemma on his hands.

So, plenty of options in the attacking ranks, but at least two-thirds of the line-up for Thursday’s match at the Centenario seems assured and the remaining four or so starting spots are unlikely to take more than two guesses each. That said, if Uruguay come seeking revenge for June’s humiliation – especially with Luis Suárez back as he had to watch on in frustration from the bench in Philadelphia – perhaps some unexpected names will make it onto the subsequent teamsheet. However, armed with more than a few likely starters who have never set foot on this ground’s turf with the national team, childhood memories of the Centenariazo some 12 years ago could well inspire some more history-making.

Either way, whoever starts, they will always have another chance to make even greater names for themselves in the home game against Brazil. Too much of an ask? Perhaps, but for many, the first win of the campaign can not come soon enough. Undoubtedly, the subsequent three games against Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru provide better opportunities but what could better convince the public that there is substance behind all the talk of ‘planning for Qatar 2022’?

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC, Venezuela) & Dani Hernández (Tenerife, Spain).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Rolf Feltscher (Getafe, Spain), Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Yordan Osorio (Zamora, Venezuela), Roberto Rosales (Málaga, Spain), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño, Spain) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes, France).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Arles Flores (Deportivo La Guaira), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Udinese, Italy, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Mineros de Guayana) & Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora, Venezuela). 

Forwards

Yonathan Del Valle (Bursaspor, Turkey on loan from Rio Ave, Portugal), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-2 Argentina– CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (6 September 2016)

The eighth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded one point more than anticipated yet two less than many Venezuelans felt attainable at half-time. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report plus thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 6 September 2016 – El Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida State

Venezuela 2-2 Argentina

Video Highlights of Venezuela 2-2 Argentina, 6 September 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

Mixed Emotions for Both Sides as Juanpi Announces Himself on the International Stage

Match Report

‘Bottom versus top’ could have been mistaken for ‘seventh versus eighth’ as what began as a tepid affair ended as a slugfest with Venezuela being denied a famous victory.

La Vinotinto went into the game with just one point, having just been comfortably dispatched 2-0 by neighbours Colombia, yet really needing to raise the morale of their compatriots in the Andean city of Mérida. Pace-setters Argentina were thus hardly the ideal opponents. However, the hosts were far from overawed in the opening half and with each passing period of play, the pre-game predictions of a pounding proved increasingly preposterous.

Indeed, the first threat they had to contend with – the closest Edgardo Bauza’s men came all half – occurred in the 16th minute. Inter Milan new-boy Éver Banega received a pass centrally, quickly turned and from 25 yards out struck a low drive that went just wide of the far post. Banega often appeared to be one of his side’s likeliest catalysts for a goal as at times he enjoyed plenty of midfield space in which to roam before searching for a key, incisive pass – though this latter, crucial phase largely proved elusive.

Ángel Di María, with his tormenting runs down the wing and balls into the area, was a more noticeable threat in the first period. Just after the 20th minute, he crossed in a fine ball for Lucas Pratto, but the Atlético Mineiro striker – playing in part due to the absences of several more high-profile strikers – stretched but could not make a meaningful connection. He certainly did, however, in the 32nd minute, when he met Di María’s cross but his solid header was a little too close to goalkeeper Dani Hernández, who managed to get his body behind it.

The hosts’ early chances were hardly much more threatening. Rafael Dudamel’s men sometimes resorted to pumping long balls towards star striker Salomón Rondón, but this rarely proved propitious, even if it was a cunning way of bypassing Javier Mascherano. The West Bromwich Albion forward did nevertheless have his country’s first opportunity of note when, after 21 minutes, he received the ball just outside the area. However, although some space opened up for him, it was not enough to warrant the headlines that must have been swirling in his head; he may have shaped up with intent but his tame shot trickled goalwards for goalkeeper Sergio Romero to gratefully collect.

One Venezuelan causing more problems for the Argentine back-line was Rondón’s strike-partner, Josef Martínez. He regularly beat defenders for pace, causing uncertainty as well as winning throws and corners. In the 23rd minute, he was especially of concern when he received a pass in the area and soon hit the deck, but his penalty claim was waved away.

The other leading attacking threat for the hosts in this half was the man who was to break the deadlock. The profile of Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor has been rising since he made his Málaga debut two years ago, with last season’s exploits really helping him emerge to prominence in La Liga. Aiding his cause in particular during that campaign were three goals in consecutive weeks (including one against Barcelona) and he is already off the mark for 2016/17. With the experienced Alejandro Guerra and Luis Manuel Seijas not part of this particular squad, he has been provided with opportunities to bolster his claims for a first-team spot in midfield. Overall, he has taken them.

Yet though he is capable of pinpoint accuracy from dead-ball situations, thankfully his largely wayward set-pieces throughout this half are unlikely to be used as arguments against future starts. Indeed, it is more the events in the 35th minute that shall be uppermost in most people’s minds when the line-up for the trip to Uruguay in October is being mulled over.

As befitting a largely listless half, it came almost out of nowhere. Rondón’s low cross in from the right was cut out before being immediately knocked back to the edge of the area, where it fell to the feet of Juanpi. Two players quickly tried to close him down yet somehow he bundled his way through them, before making some space for himself on the right corner of the area. Judging by the reaction of at least one Argentine defender, they did not consider him a serious threat from this position. Big mistake. Before anyone could get near enough to him, he unleashed a phenomenal strike that scorched past Romero and nearly burst the top corner of the net. The crowd erupted and the 22-year-old diminutive Málaga maestro was mobbed by his team-mates, both starters and subs alike. His first international goal, his formal arrival on this stage; aficionados of this balletic young man’s career will have been aware that it bore more than a slight resemblance to his first ever club goal against Levante in January 2015. Now, all Venezuelans know that no matter how bleak their nation’s prospects often seem, there will always be reason to keep an eye on them so long as the likes of Juanpi are in embryo.

Just four minutes later, Dudamel’s men nearly enhanced the euphoria in the ground to unprecedented levels. Rondón helped the ball on to Alexander González on the right inside the area. The Huesca right-back quickly slid the ball into the goalmouth where Josef Martínez was waiting and the goal was a-gaping, yet the Torino striker was narrowly beaten to the ball by Pablo Zabaleta, who managed to clear.

Thus, when the half-time whistle blew, the hosts had to resign themselves to being just 1-0 up against the No. 1 ranked side in the world. In the ever-bewildering and screen-throttling social media world, more than a few were quick to denigrate Venezuela’s lead by pointing out that Lionel Messi was missing and that this was a ‘depleted’ Argentine team. Risible claims, as aside from two attacking players, this was virtually a first-choice Albiceleste XI and, as no Venezuelan was staggered to observe, the hosts had problems of their own. Indeed, they made four changes from the Colombia loss, all of which were forced upon Dudamel: three of the four defenders were out (two due to suspensions, one due to injury) and one of the defensive-midfielders (suspended) was also unavailable. Such absences made their lead and hitherto ability to repel trouble all the more impressive.

Yet when the second half kicked off, the visitors returned with more intent to extricate themselves from the mire that they had slipped in. Much anticipation greeted Banega’s free-kick in the 50th minute, but when he finally took it, the ball sailed comfortably over. The hosts were nevertheless able to withstand such pressure and not long afterwards they broke free up the other end where Rondón nearly fed in Martínez, but the latter had his run abruptly blocked off.

However, shortly afterwards in the 53rd minute, the same combination sent the stands into raptures. The nation’s talisman robbed a hapless defender flailing in the Mérida rain and strode into the area, where he slipped a short pass to his Serie A-based partner who, with the visitors on the back foot, was afforded acres of space. Had he desired to, Martínez would have had time to whip out the day’s paper and read his horoscopes before pulling the trigger; regardless of what it would have said, the Torino man certainly would have felt it was his lucky day when his well-placed shot hit the back of the net. 2-0.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, the hosts celebrated their dizzying lead by going immediately on the defensive as Argentina raised their game and/or Venezuela pondered the ‘2-0 is the most dangerous lead in football’ cliché for a bit too long. Given such a change in approach, it came as little surprise when the visitors halved the deficit in the 58th minute. Here, Erik Lamela was gifted plenty of space to slide the ball through to Pratto in the area. Despite having left-back Mikel Villanueva and centre-back Sema Velázquez seemingly on his case, it seemed a little too easy for him. He nudged the ball forward and it ricocheted off Villanueva back to him in slightly more space and he simply toe-poked it goalwards past the possibly blindsided Hernández. 2-1. Game well and truly on.

Bauza’s men thus went on the hunt for an equaliser. Some more shaky goalkeeping from Hernández from a corner was to follow not long afterwards and the visitors were not too far from catching him out in the 66th minute. Here, Banega, on the inside-left just outside the area, went for a cross-shot which rebounded kindly off a defender, thus necessitating the Tenerife goalkeeper to scramble over to ensure his near post was covered. He got there just in time to block out the resultant shot that Di María fired from an acute angle from inside the area on the left.

One rare reprieve from the pressure came after 74 minutes when the much-touted 19-year-old Adalberto Peñaranda burst forward and gave a rare glimpse of why he made so many headlines at Granada last season. In a characteristically direct run, he passed through a few Argentine shirts before being cynically fouled not far from the area. This bought his nation some time, though the free-kick was duly squandered.

With the clock not ticking fast enough, Dudamel made some changes yet his second, replacing Martínez with Ecuador-based Jacobo Kouffaty, unfortunately did not reap the desired dividends. Indeed, officially he lasted no more than three minutes before succumbing to an injury and being replaced by Yonathan Del Valle in the 81st minute.

Compounding Kouffaty’s misery, as he was walking dejectedly along the sidelines, Di María whipped in a low corner which was clinically struck into the back of the net to level things up. Manchester City’s Nicolás Otamendi beat his centre-back counterpart Velázquez to the ball and restored some pride for his nation. Now, they were favourites to snatch all three points.

Ultimately, although they certainly put the jitters up their hosts, it was in fact Venezuela who came closest to emerging victorious in a five-goal thriller. First, with five minutes remaining, Juanpi curled in a free-kick from the right with his left boot which Romero went to catch but was easily beaten in the air by Rondón – unfortunately for the latter, his header also comfortably cleared the crossbar when it seemed as if with a bit more direction, he could well have won the game.

It was a let-off for the Manchester United goalkeeper and yet with a minute of regulation time left, he somehow had time to emerge relatively unscathed from an even greater howler. This time, Juanpi’s central free-kick from range bounced harmlessly through to the out-of-favour stopper, yet perhaps his rustiness affected him, as he was slow in anticipating the ball’s trajectory. Instead of catching it, the ball caught him by surprise and bounced off his chest and straight to Villanueva. The 23-year-old Atlético Malagueño left-back instinctively struck at the ball in textbook centre-forward fashion; he had Romero well beat but unfortunately his effort cannoned straight back off the near post.

Alas, the final whistle soon blew and it was greeted by both sides with a mixture of emotions. The visitors’ comeback could not mask the fact that they had once again struggled to contend with the absence of Messi and had been displaced from their perch, now finding themselves 3rd in the CONMEBOL standings. For the hosts, while it is a credible point, they will surely feel that they could have added a little more dignity to their campaign by gaining their first victory.

With Peru having beaten Ecuador 1-0, Venezuela now find themselves five points adrift at the bottom on a paltry two points. Although ten games still remain, as Dudamel’s men are 11 points away from the play-off spot (5th), sights are undoubtedly now set on Qatar 2022 and not Russia 2018. Building a new team with the likes of Juanpi at its core will be uppermost in the manager’s thoughts. After all, next month will involve a trip to Uruguay (1st) and a home clash against Brazil (2nd); Rome was indeed not built in a day.

To keep up-to-date with the Venezuelan football world, feel free to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; A. González (V. García, 71′), O. Vizcarrondo, S. Velázquez, M. Villanueva; Juanpi, T. Rincón,  A. Flores, A. Peñaranda; S. Rondón & J. Martínez (J. Kouffaty, 78′) (Y. Del Valle, 81′).

Argentina (4-2-3-1): S. Romero; P. Zabaleta, N. Otamendi, R. Funes Mori, M. Rojo (N. Gaitán, 83′); J. Mascherano, L. Biglia (L. Alario, 71′); E. Lamela (Á. Correa, 67′), É. Banega, Á. Di María; L. Pratto.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical