Tag Archives: Roberto Rosales

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

Colombia 2-0 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (1 September 2016)

Despite the impressive showing at Copa América Centenario, Rafael Dudamel’s first World Cup qualifier in charge of Venezuela yielded a familiar result.  The seventh matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign thus provided the sixth defeat. Here, Hispanospherical.com offers a match report plus a few words of resignation…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 1 September 2016 – El Metro, Barranquilla, Atlántico Department, Colombia

Colombia 2-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Colombia 2-0 Venezuela, 1 September 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

The Unthinkable is Unthinkable for a Ruddy Good Reason

Match Report

The proposed Venezuelan qualification fightback has yet to materialise as La Vinotinto were comfortably seen off in Barranquilla. 

Pre-match, Los Cafeteros manager José Pékerman complained about the poor playing surface but any fears were allayed by his own charges, who demonstrated far greater mastery of the conditions than their opponents.

Indeed, from the off, Colombia took the game to their neighbours. Frenziedly urged on by the Estadio Metropolitano crowd, they nearly took the lead within the first minute and, frequently spearheaded by James Rodríguez, were to make virtually all of the forward forays in the opening 20 minutes. Not helping the visitors’ cause in this period, goalkeeper Dani Hernández fumbled on at least a couple of occasions and centre-back Wilker Ángel could quite justifiably have been sent off for what many felt should have been a second yellow card after just 13 minutes.

Málaga youngster Juanpi, given an opportunity to make a regular starting place his own, took Venezuela’s first corner after 21 minutes but this was comfortably dealt with. The hosts soon went back up the other end and restated their dominance, with Rodríguez, Luis Muriel, Carlos Bacca and others frequently linking up in such seamless ways as to suggest that they possess a far greater shared telepathy than their opponents. In the 26th minute, they were not far off the mark when Stefan Medina put in an arcing, testing cross that Bacca could well have hit home were it not for the stretched block of Ángel.

However, despite the flow of the game, Venezuela’s first real chance was also hitherto the closest the game had to an opening goal. Perhaps it was the first-half drinks break to counter the heat that was behind a minor shift in affairs, but Venezuela did gradually come to see a little more of the ball. Juanpi, in particular, made inroads and it was he who won the 33rd-minute free-kick just several yards outside the area. A dead-ball specialist, he then stepped up and curled a fine left-footed effort over the wall; this appeared to be heading for the top corner but was ultimately denied by the tips of David Ospina’s gloves.
Subsequently, following some fine interplay, Colombia were only narrowly thwarted at the final pass stage on at least three more occasions in this half. Yet despite their supremacy, they must have known only too well from the past two Copa Américas that Venezuela do possess a considerable capacity for soaking up pressure before delivering the suckerpunch. On the 41st minute, the visitors nearly provided this. From a central position, Juanpi slyly played through the ball into the area to Josef Martínez who gained some space from his marker and stretched to take aim; Colombians inhaled but, thankfully for them, the shot was parried out by Ospina for a corner.
Barely five minutes later, home fans’ anxieties about the squandering of possession and momentum were permitted to diminish. Indeed, in a route one move, Colombia took the lead. Ospina pumped the ball upfield, where it was headed on towards Bacca, who turned on the edge of the area and teed up Rodríguez; the Real Madrid attacker thus made some room for himself before placing the ball past Hernández.
Venezuela boss Rafael Dudamel thus narrowly missed out on going into the break on level terms and, more so than before, needed to find a way of altering the course of events. Just five minutes into the second half, he acted, removing next-big-thing Adalberto Peñaranda (who, aside from his peroxide blonde hair, had been largely anonymous) for the next next-big-thing, Yeferson Soteldo. In the remaining 40 minutes, the diminutive 19-year-old Zamora attacker provided several examples of the play that have got so many people excited about him; he regularly hustled to get on the ball and get things moving, using his enviable low centre of gravity to evade challenges and maintain possession.
Nevertheless, the hosts still had the better of the half, with the pattern of fast-paced passing moves only narrowly being thwarted at a late stage continuing. On the hour, they nearly went one better as Muriel was found on the edge of the area, but his left-footed strike swished across goal to pass the far post by a few inches.
Shortly before the drinks break in 70th minute, Soteldo managed to win some space 25 yards out and take a strike at goal. Ospina comfortably got down to save this, but it was nevertheless notable for providing a rare whiff of the opposition goal for La Vinotinto.
After the Lucozade-fest, however, it was all Colombia, with Bacca spurning a few chances to double the lead. Indeed, first in the 74th minute, the AC Milan striker was played through, one-on-one with Hernández, but his shot lacked direction and was blocked by the Tenerife goalkeeper.
In the 81st minute, Bacca appeared to redeem himself by winning a penalty, having been brought down by a desperate lunge from Wilker Ángel, who, in turn, received his marching orders. However, despite assuring Rodríguez that he was fine to take the spot-kick, Bacca’s 12-yard strike was comfortably parried out and away by Hernández. Yet, unfortunately for the latter, there was little time to bask in the acclaim of his save as, within a minute, Rodríguez brilliantly slalomed down the right side of the area before shifting feet to rapidly swing in a left-footed cross towards the back post. There, Atlético Nacional’s Macnelly Torres was unmarked and on cue to knock the ball home. 2-0. Any doubts regarding the result were put to bed.
However, that was not the end of the goalmouth action. With four minutes remaining on the clock, Bacca’s replacement Roger Martínez was found by a lofted pass in the area but, somewhat akin to the man whose shoes he had briefly stepped into, he was only able to strike at Hernández. Soon afterwards, Venezuela had a rare sight of goal as again that man Soteldo forced into the area a low ball from the left which caused some uncertainty before being dealt with.
The last act of the game came in the third minute of stoppage time when the visitors conceded another penalty as well as received their second red card. This time, left-back Rolf Feltscher was given his marching orders after he clumsily upended Rodríguez. With Bacca no longer on the pitch, it was to be the former Monaco man who stepped up, yet the outcome was to be the same as Hernández guessed right again and parried out.
Thoughts: What Now? 
Thus, when the final whistle sounded, both sides had reasons to feel disappointed, yet one suspects the most westerly of the two nations will be comforted by the three points. Taking into account results from elsewhere, they have now moved up two places to third, though just one point separates them in both directions from 1st and 6th. By contrast, Venezuela are now even more rooted to the bottom, with their solitary point putting them 11 points off the play-off spot currently occupied by Brazil.
As they are no doubt all-too-aware, there really is no let-up in CONMEBOL qualifying. Next up for La Vinotinto is a home encounter with 1st-placed Argentina and then in October, they will be travelling to Uruguay (currently 2nd), before hosting Brazil (5th). Many (including, implicitly, then-manager Noel Sanvicente) had written off Venezuela’s campaign as soon as they lost their first game at home to Paraguay. With a new manager appointed ahead of June’s Copa América and the impressive showing at that tournament, some were curious to see if a mircaulous turnaround could be in motion. Alas, in light of this performance and the upcoming fixtures, there is surely no-one left who has yet to blow out their own candle of hope.
Though Lionel Messi may be out, Venezuela will be facing Argentina without the suspended Feltscher,  Ángel and defensive-midfielder Arquímedes Figuera (two cumulative yellow cards). Thus, opportunities once again open up within this rather unsettled line-up yet with just one competitive win against their upcoming opponents in their entire history, it is very difficult at this moment to envisage a radical defiance of expectations.
Team Selections
Colombia (4-2-3-1): D. Ospina; S. Medina (E. Cardona, 90′), O. Murillo, J. Murillo, F. Díaz; D. Torres & C. Sánchez; J. Rodríguez, M. Torres, L. Muriel (J. Cuadrado, 70′); C. Bacca (R. Martínez, 83′).
Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo (S. Velázquez, 82′), R. Feltscher; Juanpi (C. Santos, 67′), T. Rincón, A. Figuera, A. Peñaranda (Y. Soteldo, 50′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez.
Darren Spherical

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

The CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign is back but is Venezuela’s magically back on track? With a customary level of ambiguity and obfuscation, @DarrenSpherical is here to provide a preview to Match-days 7 and 8. 

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 1 September 2016 – El Metro, Barranquilla, Atlántico Department, Colombia

Colombia vs Venezuela

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

Venezuela vs Argentina

rolffeltscher

Rolf Feltscher – Surprise star of Copa América Centenario (OvacionDeportes)

Dudamel Plotting Qualification Fightback Despite Unfavourable Fixtures

Here we are once more to do it all over again. The CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying campaign has re-activated and – those in Europe may be surprised to learn – is already one-third of the way down. Yet Venezuela are rock-bottom with just one point from a possible 18, trailing the play-off spot by nine points.  Why then, should they – or, for that matter, you, the intrepid reader/online betting addict – even bother with their remaining 12 games?

Well, anyone who saw their escapades in the Copa América Centenario may have picked up a few clues as to why – indeed, try telling the fans and players that it was little more than a US-led money-making exercise. Certainly, actual qualification is a tall order, but a few scalps and the progressive building of a new team who can be motivated to replicate their club form at international level do not seem unrealistic aims.

It is hard to imagine this change in perceptions being possible without new manager Rafael Dudamel, who took over from Noel Sanvicente in early April. Ahead of June’s tournament, his first four friendly games hardly proclaimed a revolution, but once the competitive action began, a rapid upswing was in motion. Simply beating Jamaica in the opening match would have been enough to defy expectations, but the clean sheet, tactical organisation and defensive solidity gave cause for cautious optimism. Subsequently, the defeat of Uruguay – also with a clean sheet and which effectively sent La Celeste packing – provided a welcome return to the belief that, on their day, Venezuela are a match for any team in their region. Had they managed to hold on to beat Mexico in the final group encounter – rather than concede late on and be resigned to a draw – the erstwhile unthinkable idea that they could make it to the final would have been voiced by more than a few.

Alas, they finished second and, though they narrowly failed to get back into the game on a couple of occasions, were ultimately comfortably seen off 4-1 by Argentina in the Quarter-Final.

Although some of the most abject aspects of the Sanvicente-era Venezuela were also witnessed during this match – at least two suicidal passes led to goals for La Albiceleste – it will take more than one defeat to shake the belief that a positive new era is dawning. Admittedly, it is possible that the USA adventure merely allowed the players some welcome respite and liberation from problems at home as well as the strained relations with the country’s football federation. With the return to relative normality, will they soon revert to their former selves?

In the absence of any existing evidence, optimism is permitted to prevail – at least for the time being. This feeling will certainly be tested by games away to Colombia and home to Argentina – 3rd and 1st respectively in the official FIFA rankings. That said, though La Vinotinto have only defeated the latter once in their history, they should be buoyed by the fact that they are undefeated against Los Cafeteros in their past five competitive games (four wins and a draw).

So then, aside from the usual suspects – captain Tomás Rincón, star striker Salomón Rondón and dependable right-back Roberto Rosales –  which individuals will be leading the comeback for Dudamel? Given his freshness in his role and some of his surprise choices in June, it is difficult to be confident but one can at least have an idea of who is in the manager’s good books.

Firstly, there is Wilker Ángel, the 23-year-old centre-back who was chosen to partner the veteran Oswaldo Vizcarrondo in the USA and who has recently earned a move away from his homeland to the Russian Premier League with Terek Grozny. Then there is Venezuela’s biggest surprise of the tournament, Rolf Feltscher, who was completley overlooked during Sanvicente’s reign but who impressed as the first-choice left-back; he has since transferred from Duisburg in Germany to Getafe in Spain. Also, while he will have a constant battle on his hands to be a regular, Josef Martínez has put himself in a commanding position to start up front with Rondón, as he rewarded the faith placed in him in June by getting the winner against Jamaica and often linking up well with the West Brom striker.

The aforementioned three are probable starters. With slightly less certainty, the same can be said for Dani Hernández and Arquímedes Figuera. The former was given the nod in the USA to regain the number one shirt after a year away from the fray and, for the most part, did admirably well, pulling off some eye-catching saves. He did, however, show shades of his former unreliable self against Argentina and one can not help but feel that this position is going to be under the most scrutiny for the forseeable future. Regarding the latter, though the Deportivo La Guaira midfielder made two catastrophic errors against Argentina, he did otherwise receive a lot of praise during the tournament for his work alongside Rincón. With Luis Manuel Seijas not called up this time – supposedly to make way for youth – Figuera has an opportunity to make this position his own (and perhaps earn himself an overseas move in the process).

Lastly, though there is even less certainty as to where the following three players fit in, it is likely they will feature at some point in the near future. Firstly, there is Juanpi (Málaga), the versatile midfielder whose status has been ascending for the past year in La Liga and who can get goals as well as create them with calculated passes as well as crosses. Similarly, albeit with more directness in his approach, there is Rómulo Otero, who has recently swapped Chile’s Huachipato for Brazil’s Atlético Mineiro and who has long been tipped for a regular role with his country. Both players looked set to start in June, having done so in the pre-tournament friendlies, but were instead surprisingly relegated to brief substitute appearances. Nevertheless, with no Seijas and no Alejandro Guerra (injured), their time may now have arrived. That said, one man (amongst many others) that they will be in contention with is Adalberto Peñaranda, the teenage attacker who turned heads at Granada last season and who has since been sent by the Pozzo Empire to Italy with Udinese, instead of Watford (it was the English side who formally signed him in the January window, though whether he actually ever makes an appearance for them…).

Competition is fierce in most positions and in this new era many players both inside and out of the current squad will feel they have at least a chance of wangling their way into the manager’s plans. Above, many names have been put forward as likely to be key in the upcoming fixtures, yet as with the Centenario tournament, perhaps there will be one or two others players who are given a surprise chance and rise to the fore. With a bumper 28-man squad drawn from a range of disparate leagues, there is every possibility of this.

To find out how Venezuela get on against Colombia and Argentina, make sure to come back to Hispanospherical.com 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), 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), Agnel Flores (Deportivo Táchira), Arles Flores (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Jacobo Kouffati (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). 

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) Christian Santos (Alavés, Spain) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela – Copa América Centenario Group C (Sunday 5 June 2016)

Another Sunday in June, another Venezuela Copa América Group C opening-day victory by a solitary goal. Hispanospherical.com heartily welcomes this expectation-defying tradition…

Copa América Centenario Group C

Sunday 5 June 2016 – Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario Group C, 5 June 2016 (YouTube).

Josef’s the Man as Venezuela Announce Themselves as Group C Contenders

Venezuela turned more than a few heads as they got off to a winning start in Group C, courtesy of Josef Martínez’s well-worked winner.

Despite playing in front of a crowd that was only a fraction of the 60,000-plus capacity, the two sides certainly put on an entertaining spectacle of frequently fast-paced and end-to-end action.

Rafael Dudamel’s first victory as manager of La Vinotinto at the fifth attempt came as a slight surprise not only because of uninspiring recent results, but also due to the fact that he fielded a line-up somewhat different to the anticipated one. Indeed, to the disappointment of many who were hoping to see a brave new era of attacking play, the exciting creative midfielders Rómulo Otero and Juanpi were both consigned to the bench. Also not in the starting line-up were Sema Velázquez, usurped by the more youthful Wilker Ángel, and Mikel Villanueva, who in the last several months seemed to have become the clear frontrunner for the left-back spot but who ultimately lost out to Rolf Feltscher. Drawing fewer raised eyebrows but nevertheless noteworthy was José Contreras being pipped by Dani Hernández as the man between the goalposts, despite the former being handed the no.1 squad number and the latter not being trusted in a competitive game since October 2013.

The Tenerife goalkeeper certainly had to be alert throughout these 90 minutes though, as Jamaica edged the early proceedings in what was a rather energetic, knockabout affair. From the off, they caused some jitters with snapshots of what they are capable of, such as in the fourth minute when a long ball headed on to Clayton Donaldson in space led to the Birmingham City striker being clumsily nudged over in the area by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Fortunately for the Nantes centre-back, the offside flag had already been raised.

However, seven minutes later, if they were not already awake to task in front of them, Venezuela received a fresh, wet double-slap of reality from their Caribbean opponents. Firstly, Vizcarrondo was again caught out, as he missed a long ball which was instead headed on to Donaldson, who managed to get away a fine strike from the edge of the area which Hernández tipped over. Then, from the corner that was swung towards the far post, New England Revolution midfielder Je-Vaugh Watson powered a header against the crossbar.

Rattled, Venezuela most certainly were. Thus, while they did get forward themselves in the opening 15 minutes, it was nevertheless somewhat against the run of the play when they took the lead. This goal arrived when Feltscher cut out a lazy forward pass some 35-40 yards out on the inside-left channel and put into motion a very quick-paced passing move. He knocked it short to Luis Manuel Seijas, who helped it on to Salomón Rondón. The West Brom striker gave it to Alejandro Guerra in a more central position and with a deft touch, the Atlético Nacional man set up Torino striker Josef Martínez who slid it under the goalkeeper.

Momentarily at least, the goal appeared to take the wind out of Jamaica’s previously rather powerful sails, as they were to threaten far less in the ten minutes that followed. Then, in the 24th minute, came another sign that it may just be Venezuela’s day after all. Lunging for a loose ball with Tomás Rincón, Brøndby midfielder Rudolph Austin caught the Vinotinto captain from behind and the referee deemed it to be reckless enough for him to immediately brandish a straight red card.

However, despite the man-disadvantage, Jamaica were far from out of it and rallied together to regularly put their opponents ill-at-ease with their ability to create space and stretch play via their direct, powerful moves.

Nevertheless, there were moments in the remainder of the first half when the inequality in numbers was apparent and Venezuela made the most of the situation. For example in the 29th minute, when right-back Roberto Rosales was able to collect the ball in a very advanced position and jink his way infield past a player or two before forcing a low save from his left-footed shot. In the next few minutes his side continued to burst forward and could well have got a second goal in the 33rd minute. Indeed, not for the only time in this game, Jamaica’s marking deserted them, as Guerra’s corner found Ángel in acres of space, but the lofty centre-back badly headed well over, when he had time to get the ball down and possibly get a shot in.

Sensing that his side may effectively be on their way out of the tournament before it had even really started, Jamaica manager Winfried Schäfer appeared to hit the nuclear button. Indeed, with just 40 minutes on the clock, he took off Kemar Lawrence, replacing him with Leicester City captain Wes Morgan – a man he had been hoping to rest after his domestic heroics with the Premier League champions. However, it has since emerged that Lawrence was suffering from a groin injury that will rule him out of the rest of the competition. Nevertheless, with their next two games being against Mexico and Uruguay, Jamaica’s prospects were not looking bright.

For the remainder of the half, the CONCACAF side increased the pressure on the leaders, causing much uncertainty from set-pieces and crosses – albeit without seriously threatening the goal. Just before the half-time whistle, Venezuela midfielder Arquímedes Figuera was booked for a foul not entirely dissimilar to that of the dismissed Austin. When the teams emerged for the second half, coach Schäfer was to be found watching it from the stands as, one suspects, his complaints to the referee over incidents such as this led to him receiving a red card.

Nevertheless, for his own sake, one hopes he had a good view of his side’s considerable efforts to get back into the game after the restart. Indeed, within four minutes, they were nearly level. On the left edge of the area, the ball fell into the path of Michael Hector who curled a fine strike that swerved off the far post. A narrow escape for Dudamel’s men.

While Venezuela could be on the backfoot, they also certainly got forward themselves. On the hour-mark, Martínez and Rondón gave further evidence of their potential as a regular partnership. Two minutes after one move broke down, the West Brom striker had more success, controlling a pass, then sliding it forward to the Torino striker in the area, though just before he pulled the trigger his shot was blocked for a corner.

With around 20 minutes remaining, their best chance to double the lead presented itself. The Jamaican marking from a corner once again was non-existent as Guerra’s set-piece found Angel in the middle who powered a very strong low diving header from which the goalkeeper Andre Blake pulled off a sensational save. The rebound fell slightly unkindly to Rondón, who could only blaze the ball over.

Just a couple of minutes later up the other end, Venezuela were nearly made to rue such moments. Here, from a throw into the area, Rincón’s defensive header only went to Watson, who was afforded enough space for a spine-chilling run-up, yet his strike was blazed well over the crossbar.

The last ten minutes of the game did not have too much in the way of clear chances, with the closest Jamaica came being Adrian Mariappa’s header from a corner that was saved somewhat theatrically by Hernández. Nevertheless, they caused Venezuela some further jitters while also opening themselves up to potential counter-attacks.

Ultimately, however, the boys in burgundy were able to see out the game to record a memorable victory. Having historically being the whipping-boys of South America, they are now unbeaten in their last four opening-day Copa América matches. Last year in Chile, they began their tournament with a euphoric victory against neighbours Colombia, yet despite overcoming this considerable hurdle, lost their next two games against Peru and Brazil and were out. This time around, they know that – on paper at least – with Uruguay and Mexico on the horizon, Jamaica are not likely to have provided the sternest test in this group. Nevertheless, though many fans would take a draw, the fact remains that if, as seems likely, the Reggae Boyz fail to beat El Tri, then a victory against La Celeste would take La Vinotinto through.

Still, while this blog can be rather ponderous at times, it is certainly not one to spend too much time day-dreaming about getting what one’s heart actually desires. Thus, that will be all for now, but if you are not able to watch the Uruguay match – or, conversely, are, but simply enjoy revisiting what you are familiar with – then feel free to check back on this site and/or @DarrenSpherical in the upcoming days. Who knows what terrifyingly upbeat tones and adjectives may await.

Team Selections

Jamaica (4-4-2): A. Blake; J. Watson (M. Binns, 88′), A. Mariappa, J. Taylor, K. Lawrence (W. Morgan, 40′); G. McCleary, R. Austin, M. Hector (L. Williamson, 77′), J. McAnuff; G. Barnes & C. Donaldson.

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra (A. González, 90+1′), T. Rincón, A. Figuera, L. Seijas (R. Otero, 86′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (A. Peñaranda, 77′).

Darren Spherical 

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela Team Preview for Copa América Centenario

As Venezuela get set to kick-off their Copa América Centenario campaign, Hispanospherical.com takes a look at how they may fare in this USA-hosted 16-team competition. Following on from a general overview that lays out the state La Vinotinto currently find themselves in, there are profiles of some of the key players, which also touch upon their team-mates most likely to see action this June.

Venezuela

Copa América Centenario Preview

venezuela23

The official 23-man Venezuela squad for Copa América Centenario (FVF).

(See bottom of page for clearer details on the clubs of the players)

venezuelasgroup

Rock-bottom of CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying and with a manager barely two months into the job, this is not ideal preparation ahead of a challenging group containing Mexico, Uruguay and Jamaica.

Then again, compared to the norm for Venezuela, can it really be considered bad? Last year, with Noel Sanvicente at the helm, the players had been gradually mentally worn down by a year of lacklustre performances, FIFA/FVF scandals and played no warm-up games, yet still managed to make headlines across the world with a surprise opening day win against Colombia. This time around, they have played an eyebrow-raising four games in the fortnight preceding kick-off and the changes made to the coaching staff are still fresh enough for the players not to have become too jaded. So, swings and roundabouts. While an exit at the group stage seems probable, one can not help but feel that will be far from the full story in the USA.

What is more, while many of the starters will be familiar, only ten players remain from last year’s squad in what is the selección with the youngest average age in the entire tournament (in fact, three of the ten youngest players are Venezuelans). Thus, although inexperience could be a problem, there will also be several high-profile players along with plenty of fresh faces looking to impress and make their mark on a big stage.

Who then, is this new manager who has hitherto been alluded to? Rafael Dudamel’s the name and, for the time being at least, ‘Latino Loco Goalscoring Goalkeeper’ will be how he is caricatured. Indeed, in common with the likes of José Luis Chilavert and Rogério Ceni, the 43-year-old spent his playing career not only thwarting goal attempts but scoring them as well. In total, he scored well over 20 goals at club level in Venezuela and particularly in Colombia, but he also notched a phenomenal free-kick for his country back in a 1996 World Cup qualifier against Argentina. At the moment, his heroics in this department may be of more interest to broadcasters with broad audiences but, make no mistake, this is a man of substance who already has a strong idea of the task he has inherited.

The youthfulness of his squad is no doubt, in part, due to his work in recent years as head of the Under-17 and Under-20 national sides (the latter of whom, he will retain his role with). The nation’s football authorities – who have suggested they would have preferred a foreign manager had they the cash – will nevertheless be hoping Dudamel will be able to unite the seniors in more ways than one. As well as assimilating the newcomers with the well-travelled, they will be hoping he can act as an effective mediator between the federation and the players. Indeed, back in late November, an open letter voicing serious grievances with the FVF that largely concerned poor conditions and a lack of respect was signed by 15 senior players (with several more subsequently offering support). In the immediate aftermath, there was a public war of words and then-boss Sanvicente travelled to meet some of the players but there does not appear to have been a resolution (if one can even be found – this is, after all, partly a clashing of personalities). Problems still linger then and if little cohesion is to be found on the pitch in the USA, rest assured there will also be speculation about the lack of it off-field.

The four recent friendlies will have surely given the new manager some food for thought, although results were not very encouraging and performances were – barring the promising first-half attacking display against Costa Rica – similarly uninspiring. Indeed, unsurprisingly, Venezuela are hardly set to take their group by storm after a 1-1 draw with the largely La Liga-based representatives of Galicia, a dull 0-0 draw with Panama, a mixed-bag of a 2-1 defeat against Costa Rica and a curious 1-1 draw with Guatemala. Given how this rather high number of warm-up games all occurred away from home soil, one can not help but wonder if they will have taken some toll on the players who joined up with the squad at the start of this friendly-frenzy. In Group C, La Vinotinto will be travelling over 3,000 miles to predominantly NFL stadiums in Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston – how many starters against Jamaica will finish the closer (and possible decider) with Mexico?

If it is a low number, then there could well instead be footballing reasons for this as it is unlikely that Dudamel’s first-choice XI is set in stone and fans can expect to see changes throughout the tournament. Nevertheless, his selections in the friendly games certainly gave a few indications as to who will be lining up against Jamaica. For those who last watched Venezuela at the 2015 tournament, expect to see many new faces in midfield and defence – some of which may already be familiar from their club exploits.

Before detailing some of these men, it should first be noted that there will also be a different goalkeeper from last year. Indeed, after some high-profile errors in World Cup Qualifying, Alain Baroja, who received the nod at the last-minute ahead of 2015’s opener with Colombia and subsequently went on to receive acclaim as well as a move to AEK Athens, has surprisingly been left out the squad. Thus, the experienced Tenerife shot-stopper Dani Hernández will compete with José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira) for this position though, as the number one shirt has already been given to the latter, the decision may have already been made. However, Contreras made a glaring error when he played against Costa Rica and it would not be a surprise to see the former (who is also far from innocent in the blunder department) make an appearance at some stage.

Nevertheless, despite the huge importance of this position, whoever plays there can hardly be considered to be one of the leading players for Rafael Dudamel (even if, as a former occupant between the posts, the role must play on his mind a lot). Instead, the new entrenador will be counting more on the individuals listed below to both make their mark and galvanise their compatriots towards an unlikely progression to the knock-out stage.

Thus, what follows is an overview of the most likely stand-out Venezuelan performers, which also touches upon their team-mates who will either take to the field near them or be pushing hard to supplant them should anything go awry.

Key Players in Context

Roberto Rosales (Málaga)

Defence (Right-back)

Over the past two years at Málaga, 27-year-old right-back Rosales has been one of the most consistent players, in terms of both performances as well as appearances. He has been a vital part of the defence that, last season, conceded the joint-fourth fewest goals in La Liga, behind only the big three of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. Yet with the Andalusians being very much a selling club that has recently caused even promising manager Javi Gracia to depart, one must wonder if the diminutive bargain-buy from FC Twente will be the next out the door.

An energetic presence on the flank, he likes to get forward and help create chances. While his crossing could be more accurate, he is nevertheless responsible for an above-average number of assists at club level and possesses the tenacity and wherewithal to chase back if caught out of position.

There has, however, been repeated criticisms that his international performances of late have not matched those for his club – an assessment that, in fairness, could apply to most high-profile players in the squad. For the first game at least, he is likely to be joined at the back by left-back Mikel Villanueva, who will know him well as he plays for Málaga’s reserve side, Atlético Malagueño. He is a relative newcomer to the national side, having only debuted earlier this year towards the end of Sanvicente’s reign; his competition for a place will come from the returning Rolf Feltscher (Duisburg). There is also a slight chance that the right-footed Alexander González (Huesca) may be a back-up for this position, but he will primarily be the understudy to Rosales or, perhaps, the right side of midfield.

The very experienced Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes) cannot be said to have been up to his 2011 vintage (when he was one of the stars of the entire tournament) but he is still a likely starter at centre-back. He will have a different partner from last year; most likely it will be Sema Velázquez, a towering presence who helped Arouca to a 5th-placed finish in the Portuguese top-flight. However, it would be of little surprise if Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira) gets the nod at some point.

Tomás Rincón (Genoa)
Midfield (Defensive Midfielder)

The captain whose leadership, organisational and communication skills will be integral if his nation is to have any success. Venezuela are not renowned goalscorers so the tackling, harrying and interceptions of El General and those around him will be essential to allow the attackers to escape away up the other end. A defensive midfielder, he does not tend to get too far forward himself, preferring instead to limit his forward forays to occasionally driving the ball upfield to feed his more attack-minded team-mates. However, perhaps at the somewhat late age of 28, things may be changing in this area as last season he went some way to compensating for his relative goal-drought in Europe. Indeed, before 2015/16 kicked off, he had not scored once since moving to Hamburg in early 2009. Yet in what was his second season at Italy side Genoa (2014-), he managed to bury three of the beauties in the space of four months. One does not expect him to break his duck for La Vinotinto in what is often cautious tournament football, but with over 70 goalless games to his name, it would be a pleasant surprise.

Joining him in stemming the tide in front of the back four could well be Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), who has played there in some recent friendlies. However, he faces strong competition from Luis Manuel Seijas, one of the stand-out players at Colombian side Independiente Santa Fe last season who has recently joined Brazilian giants Internacional. An experienced international of 29 who has played in Belgium for Standard Liège, he partnered Rincón last year as well as in many qualifiers. With such pedigree, he will definitely get on the pitch at some point, whether in a protective position of further upfield in an attacking role.

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga)
Midfield (Attacking Midfielder – left, right or centre)

Juanpi has been known on occasion to play in front of the back four in a deep-lying playmaker position but will probably be fielded further up the pitch in the line behind the forward(s). Having previously been overlooked during much of Sanvicente’s reign  -presumably due to his inexperience as well as the cautious approach of Chita – the 22-year-old has somewhat belatedly made his way into the senior set-up and has a strong chance of starting. His personal cause was undoubtedly aided by an impressive second season for Málaga, during which he emerged to become a regular in the line-up and scored four league goals along the way. Three of these came in consecutive weeks (with one being against Barcelona), which really raised his profile.

A graceful, creative player who often exudes much confidence and poise on the ball wherever he plays, he was granted a starting position in Sanvicente’s last two qualifiers in March and has continued to be named in line-ups under Dudamel. He is a fine left-footed set-piece taker and offers something different in attacks by playing through-balls from central positions as well as instigating some more intricate passing moves. He has already set up some goals in his brief international career and also possesses the capacity to force himself forward to score. A player of tantalising potential.

Rómulo Otero (Huachipato)
Midfield (Attacking Midfielder – left, right or centre)

Perhaps even more so than Juanpi, attacking midfielder Otero could well be the Venezuelan on most neutrals’ lips after this tournament. Indeed, the 23-year-old has turned many heads in Chile with Huachipato in his debut season outside of his homeland and many of his compatriots feel that, quite frankly, he could do a lot better. Injury ruled him out of last year’s Copa América as well as much of Sanvicente’s reign, but like Juanpi, he did feature in the last two qualifiers (scoring a sensational free-kick against Chile) and has since appeared in some of Dudamel’s friendlies.

While not identical to Juanpi in that he has a propensity to run at defenders more and, so far at least, tends to score more goals, they do both share strong abilities from dead-ball situations and are rather versatile in the attacking midfield positions. Perhaps for more than any other player in the squad, this tournament serves as an opportunity to impress the scouts.

Although both Otero and Juanpi appear likely to start the first game, it is not guaranteed and, as always, there is much competition and inconsistency in the attacking positions. Should Dudamel opt for a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1), they could find themselves on either wing, but both in these formations as well as in a 4-2-3-1, there are plenty of players who are eager to nab their places.

One of these who has already been mentioned is Seijas, who can also play as a left-sided attacker, but there is also the similarly experienced Alejandro Guerra. He was a regular during last year’s tournament and this season for Colombian giants Atlético Nacional has scored at a rate of one in every two games, being a key player in their run to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores, where they will meet São Paulo in July.

Another player of note who could well make a mark in these positions is one of the youngest in the tournament and who has already made quite a name for himself: Adalberto Peñaranda. The then-18-year-old burst onto the La Liga scene with Granada last season and immediately grabbed headlines and broke records, both setting up and scoring goals that ultimately aided his club’s survival. Despite speculation that some of Europe’s biggest clubs would snap him up, he eventually signed a deal with ‘sister’ club Watford, who loaned him back to Andalusia where he finished the season.

However, though he has had a meteoric rise in the European game, at international level he only has three recent substitute appearances to his name and this is where he is likely to start the tournament. Nevertheless, given his abilities, at some point he will surely receive an opportunity from the bench to run at defenders and cause havoc.

There are some other players who could potentially play in attacking midfield/supplementary forward roles, but these are mentioned in the following profile.

Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion)
Attack (Striker)

The most famous current Venezuela international, Rondón will be integral to his nation’s chances of progressing and will undoubtedly start up front. It has been a big year for this talismanic figure, as he swapped Champions League football at Zenit St. Petersburg for a more stressful – if, potentially, career-enhancing – life at West Bromwich Albion. While many feel that, owing to his stature and attributes, he was born and bred to play in the Premier League, a more glamorous move had been desired and throughout his debut campaign quite a few of his compatriots have criticised how he has been used by manager Tony Pulis – a man who, incidentally, seems unaware that he was signing a South American international given that his complaints are as predictable as clockwork whenever his top-scorer is called up.

On the other hand, in his early outings in particular, many West Brom and Premier League followers felt he could be wasteful – something he has since accepted himself – but as the season progressed, he grew in importance to his team. When all was said and done, he had scored ten goals in all competitions, including the winning goal in five different matches, including the 1-0 win away to Everton and, most notably, the 1-0 home victory against Manchester United. Many doubters were won over.

While he may not take all his chances, he certainly works hard and comes deep to join in with some of the build-up play, although his primary strength is probably as a target man, to knock down and head in balls.

There is a chance that he may have a partner in attack. If so, the most likely candidate is Josef Martínez (Torino), who has played alongside him both under Dudamel and Sanvicente – albeit, usually in friendly encounters. Perhaps more so than any other player not granted the honour of an individual profile in this article, he could well emerge as one of the leading Venezuelan players in this tournament. What prevents one from confidently stating his importance to the team is that, despite his undeniable talents, he often gets overlooked as a starter, instead often being used in competitive games as an impact substitute.

Nevertheless, when given opportunities, he often displays a promising understanding with Rondón and is good at running at defenders as well as playing a key role in more direct attacks. He could also be used in an attacking midfield role though what, in the long run, could enhance his national team prospects is a move away from Torino, where he has also been used primarily as a substitute.

Otherwise, Christian Santos could be given a chance in a similar manner to that suggested for Martínez – albeit utilising different characteristics. Indeed, while he can also play as a striker, he has frequently been used at club level in a deeper role and possesses considerable abilities in the air. A late-bloomer at 28, who only decided to play for the country of his birth last year, he has been a phenomenal goalscorer for NEC Nijmegen over the past two years, scoring, on average, well above one in every two games. A move to La Liga has been strongly rumoured – perhaps this tournament will determine where precisely he ends up.

Venezuela’s tournament may well hinge on the very first game on 5 June against Jamaica – stern opponents but on paper, their weakest in Group C. For the sake of this niche blog – if not the author’s social and profressional life when the games from the USA are being played concurrently with those from Euro 2016 – one hopes that they can prolong the guessing game somewhat longer. To keep up-to-date with La Vinotinto’s progress, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back on this website for match reports, highlights and who knows what else. 

Venezuela’s 23-man squad for Copa América Centenario

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Rolf Feltscher (Duisburg, Germany), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), 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), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Rómulo Otero (Huachipato, Chile), Adalberto Peñaranda (Granada, Spain on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy), Luis Manuel Seijas (Internacional, Brazil) & Carlos Suárez (Carabobo, Venezuela).

Forwards

Yonathan Del Valle (Kasımpaşa, Turkey on loan from Rio Ave, Portugal), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen, Netherlands) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 1-4 Chile – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (29 March 2016)

The sixth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded the fifth defeat, in what proved to be manager Noel Sanvicente’s last game in charge. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game and the aftermath.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 29 March 2016 – Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas

Venezuela 1-4 Chile

Video Highlights of Venezuela 1-4 Chile, 29 March 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

‘Chita’ Bows Out After Chile Setback

Match Report

In what turned out to be Noel Sanvicente’s last game as Venezuela manager, Chile survived an early scare to eventually run out comfortable 4-1 victors. 

This win, the first of Juan Antonio Pizzi’s reign, puts Chile back into the automatic qualification places for Russia 2018 and leaves La Vinotinto even further adrift at the bottom.

However, for the first thirty minutes or so, it looked as if the hosts, cheered on by a capacity crowd, may belatedly gain some ground on their CONMEBOL rivals. Indeed, in the ninth minute, Rómulo Otero surprised everyone – not least stand-in goalkeeper Jhonny Herrera – with a phenomenal right-footed free-kick from the left flank 30 yards out that swerved mischievously high into the net. Otero, who plies his trade in Chile with Huachipato, did his club and international prospects no harm at all with this goal and so long as he keeps himself injury-free, should score many more free-kicks in the burgundy shirt.

For the following twenty minutes, few goalmouth incidents occurred with the game at times somewhat stop-start, but the hosts nevertheless did an effective job neutering their more illustrious opponents. However, soon after the half-hour mark, La Roja found an extra gear and got back on level terms courtesy of a Mauricio Pinilla header from Alexis Sánchez’ corner. Afterwards, Pizzi’s rejuventated players grew in confidence and dominated until the half-time whistle, creating a string of chances that only evaded the back of the opposition net due to the offside flag, last-ditch blocks and some faulty finishing.

Into the second half, Chile continued to enjoy the lion’s share of the ball, with Venezuela – often led by Otero – sometimes managing to catch them on the break and win a free-kick or two. Nevertheless, the visitors took the lead just seven minutes after the restart, with Pinilla latching onto a low cross from Jean Beausejour to coolly volley home and double both his and his nation’s tally.

Chile were now in the ascendancy in every way, yet had a decision a few minutes later gone another way, subsequent events could have transpired quite differently. Indeed, Venezuelan striker Josef Martínez chased after a ball and was clumsily brought down by Gonzalo Jara, the last man, just outside the area. However, for this, the Universidad de Chile defender received no more than a booking and Otero’s free-kick curled a couple of yards too high of the crossbar.

Although Chile generally saw more of the ball in the aftermath, in the 62nd minute Venezuela created their best chance to get back into the game. Alas, though substitute Adalberto Peñaranda did well to burst towards the byline on the left and poke a low cross into the goalmouth, Martínez’s despairing lunge towards the ball – and open goal – was just a yard or so off the pace. Instead of a close-range finish, the ball evaded the Torino striker and from then onwards, the hosts would struggle to create an opportunity that was anywhere near as promising as this one.

Barely ten minutes later, it was 3-1 and, effectively, game over. Celta Vigo’s Fabián Orellana gained some space from Mikel Villanueva on the right inside the area and slid a low pass for Arturo Vidal to control and fire home. For the remainder of proceedings, Chile looked the more likely to score, with Sánchez notably scooping a presentable chance over when there was a mere two minutes of regulation time left. In stoppage-time, however, where Sanchez failed, Vidal succeeded as the Arsenal forward cut into the area from the right and provided the Bayern Munich midfielder with a tap-in he could not miss.

4-1 it ended and though it may be a stretch to call this an embarrassment, Venezuela were nevertheless very much second-best overall. Ultimately, this depressing outcome was a dismal, if fitting, send-off for Noel Sanvicente.

Match Thoughts

Otero the Only Performer of Note

Although the outcome may have been different if either Jara had received a red card instead of a mere booking or Martinez had been able to stretch to make it 2-2 just after the hour-mark, the hosts were nevertheless on the back-foot for well over half of this game. Whilst not a dreadful collective performance, it is still difficult to say anything too positive about most of the home players, with the possible exception of Rómulo Otero. The Huachipato attacker, who scored in the previous game against Peru, here gave Venezuela the lead with a sensational free-kick and also won and took several more. If media reports are to be believed, it appears that Colo Colo were impressed, as the Chilean giants are rumoured to be interested in him.

 A Very Unstable Starting XI

Otherwise though, one would be clutching at straws if other individuals were singled out and commended. Indeed, there have been so many underwhelming performances and changes to the regular starting XI under Sanvicente that, even if every player was fit for the next competitive game, the average fan would struggle to name more than four players likely to start. In all probability, these would be Salomón Rondón, Tomás Rincón, Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Yet even here there is some uncertainty, as Vizcarrondo has been partly at fault for several goals in recent memory and appears to keep his place largely due to the lack of competition at centre-back.

After these games, if fit, Otero and Juanpi (and perhaps Martínez) also appear to be relatively well-poised to start the Copa América group games in June, but who can really say that with any confidence? They have as much competition within this current squad as outside of it and will not only need to maintain decent form at club level, but also possess and maintain the faith of the national team manager.

Sanvicente Says a Sorrowful Sayonara

Lastly, then, this brings matters onto the most important thing to come out of this international double-header: the departure of Noel Sanvicente. On the day of the Chile match, the headline on the front cover of Meridiano read: ‘To Win: Yes or Yes’, with anything less being deemed unacceptable – and so it has proved. In post-match comments, ‘Chita’ strongly implied that he was on his way out and now, a few days later (1 April 2016), this has been confirmed by FVF President Laureano González.

Despite his club success (seven domestic league titles) and personal familiarity with many of the players, his international reign (Played 20: Won 5, Drew 2, Lost 13) never really gained much momentum behind it. His initial friendly results leading into Copa América 2015 were poor, with the three wins (from eight games) either coming with (as well as against) second-string sides (Honduras, twice) or against a nation missing several of their biggest names (Peru). Thus, the only credible result of note during the Sanvicente era came as quite a surprise, turning heads and making headlines around the world. This was the 1-0 win against neighbours Colombia on the opening day of Chile 2015 and was celebrated as a counter-attacking tactical masterclass; yet jubilation soon turned to despair after they lost their remaining two games against Peru and Brazil and exited at the group stage.

Sanvicente’s men followed up this disappointment with two dismal friendly performances on home soil (losing against Honduras and scraping a late draw against Panama). In October, Venezuela were in poor shape to mount a historic, successful challenge for World Cup qualification (what Sanvicente considered his main objective upon taking over) and so it has proved. With six games having been played, they currently sit at the bottom on the CONMEBOL group, with only one point from a possible 18. It could be argued that had his side managed to hold on for a few more seconds last week against Peru and picked up their first victory, then Sanvicente would still be in a job. However, it is hard not to see how that would not have just been postponing the inevitable, given all that has occurred beforehand as well as the lack of structure, teamwork and stability that has been evident in most of the games he has overseen.

Enter Dutiful Dudamel 

His replacement has already been announced and it is Rafael Dudamel, a 43-year-old former international goalkeeper, who once scored a sensational free-kick against Argentina in 1996 and who has been a fine servant to his country, both as a player and as a manager. He has most recently been in charge of the national Under-20 side and previously enjoyed some impressive managerial spells at club level as well as with the Under-17 squad.

Fans are already debating if he can change Venezuela’s trajectory and get the best out of a relatively impressive generation of players or if the deeper problems that lay in the team’s relationship with the FVF will prove insurmountable for him, at least in the short term.

Dudamel’s first encounters will not be until late May, when he will take charge of some friendlies leading into the  Copa América Centenario. In the meantime, he would do well to build relations with both the FVF as well as the players and ensure that he sees as much of his leading countrymen in action as possible – there is a lot of talent around, if only it could be organised into an effective system.

To keep abreast with Dudamel’s progress, be sure to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and return to this site in May, when there should be a summary of the new coach’s early moves, plans and actions. 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): Contreras; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Velázquez, Villanueva; Rincón, Figuera (Seijas, 28′) (Blanco, 74′); Juanpi (Peñaranda, 60′), Guerra, Juanpi; Martínez.

Chile (4-3-2-1): Herrera; Isla, Medel, Jara, Beausejour; Vidal, Silva, Gutiérrez; Sánchez, Orellana (Mena, 87′); Pinilla (Castillo, 80′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical