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Venezuela – Copa América 2019 Preview

It’s here! Nothing else matters, least of all your sanity or “career”! The rest of civilisation can take a running jump because the Copa América is set to kick-off! Below, @DarrenSpherical provides an overview of Venezuela’s build-up as well as which players to look out for.

Copa América 2019

Saturday 15 June 2019 – Arena do Grêmio, Porto Alegre.

Peru vs Venezuela

Tuesday 18 June 2019 – Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador.

Brazil vs Venezuela

Saturday 22 June 2019 – Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte.

Bolivia vs Venezuela

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Who Are You Kidding Getting Dressed This Morning? TV. Now.

Venezuela head into the 46th edition of South America’s flagship international tournament with a better build-up than in the past two competitions.

That is not saying a great deal and nor can it be taken as an indicator of anything.

You’re welcome and hello. After all, in 2015 the selección then managed by Noel Sanvicente arrived in Chile with nine months of largely forgettable displays and no friendlies in the weeks leading up to kick-off. This did not prevent them from beating neighbours Colombia 1-0 in a passionate-yet-disciplined performance. However, they followed that up by crashing out at the first hurdle after losses in their two other group games. Subsequently, less than ten months later, languishing bottom of the World Cup Qualifying table, Sanvicente was out of a job and in came his replacement, Rafael Dudamel.

Prior to 2016’s Copa América Centenario, the ex-international goalkeeper failed to win in any of his four tightly-scheduled pre-tournament warm-ups, yet managed to turn heads by vanquishing both Jamaica and Uruguay before emerging from the group undefeated after a draw against Mexico. Acclaim soon turned to derision for the burgundy boys, however, when Argentina hammered them 4-1 in the quarter-finals and, in the eyes of some, equilibrium was restored to the natural footballing order.

Over the following 16 months, amidst ever-worsening domestic problems, Dudamel proved unable to lift La Vinotinto from last place in the Russia 2018 qualifying standings. However, speculation that the FVF may look elsewhere died down after the coach led the Under-20s to the extraordinary feat of becoming World Cup runners-up in 2017. Bolstered by a new, exciting generation, he was then able to say with considerable justification that the senior side was planning for the future and backed this up by seeing out the remaining four qualifiers without defeat. Yet of course, no momentum could be allowed to just organically build obstacle-free. Thus, after playing a solitary friendly in November 2017, financial difficulties was the stated FVF explanation behind the national team going on international hiatus and not contesting another game until September of last year. Little was helped by this except the team’s official FIFA ranking, which counter-intuitively rose from 52nd to 31st in the barren ten-month period.

However, credit where it is due: since returning to action in September 2018 they have made use of every single FIFA-designated date (as well as one that wasn’t). In all, they have faced 11, often weighty, opponents: three each from their own confederation, CONCACAF and Asia as well as two non-recognised sides stuffed full of La Liga talent.

Results have been better than in the run-ups to 2015 and 2016, if somewhat mixed: four wins, four defeats and three draws. Most spectacular of the victories was March’s 3-1 humbling of Argentina at the Wanda Metropolitano. Yet casual observers who project from this that Venezuela are therefore serious contenders for the Copa may wish to temper their prognostications by first reviewing three of the reversals: the 2-1 against Catalonia just three days after mauling Messi’s mob, the 4-2 versus Basque Country last October and, most pertinently of all, the 3-1 education meted out by a star-lite Mexico against a full-strength Venezuela barely a week ago.

Dudamel himself has been somewhat sheepish about his team’s prospects, instead placing more emphasis on the tournament serving as good build-up for the true goal: qualification to Qatar 2022. Perhaps he has been chastened from earlier this year when, after many from the Venezuelan camp proclaimed their desire to win the Under-20 South American Championship, his 2019 crop failed to even qualify for the soon-to-be-concluded World Cup.

All that being said, most would back Venezuela to achieve the minimum expectation at Brazil 2019: qualifying from Group A. The opening game against Peru is largely justified as being billed as crucial, even if losing to Los Incas plus the hosts – who La Vinotinto have never beaten in a competitive game – yet pulverising atrocious-travellers Bolivia could theoretically still be enough to see them advance as one of the two best third-place teams.

Not that anyone wishes to be cornered into such a scenario. If the team does progress to the quarter-finals then, in a tournament with a healthy history of surprises – not least Venezuela’s record-best run to the semi-finals in 2011 – they could be forgiven for daydreaming about extending their stay.

After all, what the preceding nine months have produced is a relatively settled way of playing. Indeed, Dudamel evidently intends to utilise a 4-3-2-1 formation, with the defence being covered by a midfield trio of ball-winners and the striker supported by rapid transitions, particularly from the two attackers in tow. Furthermore, regarding the personnel, even if the three recent warm-up friendlies have caused some slight re-thinks – mostly in the defence – there are not likely to be any significant line-ups surprises for Saturday’s opener.

Of those nailed-on to be fielded, four players stand out as being fundamental to Venezuela’s campaign: Fledgling Faríñez and the Three R’s of Experience.

A teenager on the bench in the last two Copas, the 21-year-old sprightly shot-stopper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) has a big chance to further enhance his already glowing reputation and will doubtless be called upon to make up for the defence’s shortcomings. In front, whether on the left or his more-favoured right side, will be the rejuvenated Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain), who last October was brought back into the fold following a curious two-year absence and will be vitally important tenaciously tracking opponents and contributing to attacks. As ever, captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) will also endeavour to be assiduous in his primary task of closing down attackers and reinforcing the defence, as well kickstarting and sometimes contributing to the forward play. Lastly, at the very top of the pitch will be recently-crowned all-time leading goalscorer Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England), who has also netted at all three Copas he’s been involved in and will be on the prowl to wound defenders’ egos with his muscular hold-up play, supreme leaping and wearying workrate.

Some of the individuals he is likely to combine with the most are amongst a secondary group of five within the squad. These are talented players with less-celebrated reputations who nevertheless possess the potential to assert themselves as indispensable assets during the tournament. In this batch are included three fleet-footed attacking-midfielders: Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), a near-certain starter against Peru who is likely to be paired with either Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy) or Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA). The former appeared to have the nod up until the Mexico friendly but after being dropped from the subsequent line-up, the latter, having flourished in the 3-0 win over the USA last Sunday, has more than an outside chance. Either way, both will undoubtedly see action in Brazil.

The two other players who could rise to prominence are the pair pencilled in to aid Rincón in front of the back four: Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) and Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England). If only due to his greater propensity to get forward, the latter has perhaps a higher chance of garnering attention, but both will certainly be wholly absorbed in their largely unglamorous roles.

Herrera, as well as Faríñez, are the two definite starters out of the five players from 2017’s Under-20 squad who have also been convened here. However, moving onto the dubious defence, if Dudamel opts to place Rosales at left-back then, with Alexander González having been omitted, the 21-year-old apprentice Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway) could make that three by taking up the right-back mantle. Alternatively, if Rosales is placed in his natural position – as he was against the USA – then Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile) would appear to be the front-runner for the left flank. That said, as Mago is far from an established fixture, he is vulnerable to being overlooked in favour of the versatile Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), who has not played in the warm-ups owing to a minor injury.

As for the centre-backs, Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain) and Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal) seem the likeliest initial partnership, what with the former playing the final two friendlies and the latter having enjoyed an encouraging club season. However, this is not a niche bet that anyone would place with confidence as Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar) was instead selected after Osorio’s poor showing against Mexico and he also started in the first warm-up against Ecuador.

So, to summarise the Venezuelan defensive quagmire succinctly: there is every chance that all seven defenders will make it onto the pitch during the tournament.

Still, despite this uncertainty as well as their tendency to get exposed, Vinotinto defences, in tandem with the midfielders, have, over the years, also occasionally shown themselves to be capable of collectively rising to be greater than the sum of their parts. This happened in the opening game of Copa América 2015, in virtually all of 2016’s group stage and also in the final four games of World Cup qualification in 2017. Admittedly, they can also ride their luck a little, although at least they now possess a highly-rated goalkeeper to save them from themselves.

Lastly, some MLS-watchers may be wondering where hotshot Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) fits into the scheme of things. Well, although a partnership with Rondón is not completely out of the question as it was deployed at the 2016 Copa and may be used if Venezuela are chasing a game late on, it was never tried in any of the most recent friendlies. Instead, with Dudamel preferring a lone forward, Martínez is more likely to make regular appearances from the bench, whether as a replacement for Rondón or, quite plausibly, in one of the two attacking positions behind. However, for these spots he will not only be competing with Murillo, Machís and Savarino, but also with pint-sized Class of ’17 graduate Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil). The dribbler extraordinaire beloved of many talent-spotters has only played 26 minutes for the national team since last September but he has been called up as an eleventh-hour replacement for the injured Adalberto Peñaranda. His initial omission – allegedly due to a problem processing his visa for the warm-up tour in the USA – as well as that of Rómulo Otero was not greeted favourably by a considerable number of fans, but now, having met up with the side in the country where he plies his trade, he’s good to go.

As, mercifully, is yours truly. ¡Vamos chamos!

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

Venezuela Squad for Copa América 2019

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Note: Owing to an injury, Yeferson Soteldo has replaced Adalberto Peñaranda.

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia) & Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (Monarcas Morelia, Mexico), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – June 2019 Preview

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

International Friendlies

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

Ecuador vs Venezuela

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

Mexico vs Venezuela

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

USA vs Venezuela

Peñaranda

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

Mixed Response to Squad Announcement Ahead of Testing Friendlies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venezuela Squad for Copa América 2019

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(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo “Juanpi” Añor (Huesca, on loan from Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Huesca, Spain, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Cádiz, Spain, on loan from Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portugal), Adalberto Peñaranda (Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA) & Luis Manuel Seijas (Santa Fe, Colombia).

Forwards

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

 

Venezuela Squad for Friendly against Ecuador

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Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Pablo Bonilla (Portuguesa), Jhon Chancellor (Al-Ahli, Qatar), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Ronald Hernández (Stabaek, Norway), Luis Mago (Palestino, Chile), Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Roberto Rosales (Espanyol, on loan from Málaga, Spain) & Mikel Villanueva (Gimnàstic de Tarragona, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

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

Forwards

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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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

Colombia 2-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (7 September 2018)

In front of a passionate Miami crowd, well-populated by those with ties to either of the neighbouring countries, Venezuela fell short in their long-awaited return to international action. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…

International Friendly

Friday 7 September 2018 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA

Colombia 2-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Colombia 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 7 September 2018 (YouTube)

La Vinotinto Return Half-Awake

With only stoppage-time left to play, Yimmi Chará struck to give Colombia a deserved 2-1 comeback win over a Venezuela whose lack of game-time for 298 days became more evident as the encounter wore on.

However, it certainly did not feel that way in the opening exchanges. Straight away, with less than a minute on the clock, an Alexander González diagonal ball offered a surprise one-on-one for Salomón Rondón against David Ospina. Unfortunately for the Newcastle summer signing, his touch was heavy and he could only awkwardly bundle the ball a fraction past the Napoli-loanee before the defence was on hand to clear up. Undeterred, before the clock reached the fourth minute, a González cross from the right caught the Colombian back line by surprise and, with his first-ever goal for the senior side, the alert Darwin Machís headed low into the opposite corner to give La Vinotinto a 1-0 lead.

There was a healthy number of compatriots in the stands of the home of the Miami Dolphins to cheer this dream collective return to the international fold and these two men would prove to be two of Venezuela’s more noteworthy contributors. The Elche right-back occasionally being a threat knocking balls into the area and the Udinese attacker – playing here on the left of midfield – rarely afraid to cut inside, drive past opponents and strike at Ospina’s goal.

Also early on, Venezuela’s most-capped active player, captain Tomás Rincón, asserted himself in midfield and, when the opportunity presented itself, sought to find the second-most-experienced player, Rondón. Overall, the Torino man had the kind of night that has earned him his ball-winning, battling reputation, whereas the Magpie, as at club level, lacked sharpness, often finding himself burdened with the donkey work of chasing scraps and attempting to fashion something from almost nothing. The link-up play with man-of-the-moment Josef Martínez was virtually non-existent, as the Atlanta United goal-machine saw even less of the ball. It has since been claimed that he was carrying a knock and that it had been agreed in advance that he would subsequently stay in the USA and thus not make the trip to Panama on Tuesday.

Further back in the Vinotinto ranks, another eye-catching performance was put in by 20-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez; for some, his side’s man of the match. However, his increasing involvement from around the quarter-hour mark onwards was to be rarely overturned for any substantial period of time, as Colombia’s World Cup-level fluidity and ability became more prominent.

Indeed, Los Cafeteros – in their first game since the departure of José Pékerman – enjoyed more midfield possession and were quick to target the Venezuelan left-flank, where Rolf Feltscher often found himself exposed and received little support from Machís. Atlético Madrid right-back Santiago Arias regularly profited, first really making his presence felt in the 15th minute when he whipped in a cross that Mateus Uribe did well to volley; Faríñez parried this low, preventing it from creeping into the far corner.

Three minutes later, River Plate-loanee Juan Fernando Quintero, announced himself on the Hard Rock turf. He would go on to be Colombia’s standout player, giving Venezuela’s rearguard a torrid time with his dribbles, crafty through-balls and all-round inventiveness. His first moment of magic saw him drop the shoulder with great ease to both Machís and Feltscher, putting himself in a great position inside the area, before miscuing his shot.

Quintero and his colleagues ensured that Venezuela regularly ceded the midfield ball-play, finding themselves on the backfoot, deeply retreated with often two defensive lines crowding the area, anxiously repelling balls from all directions. Thus, the scares arrived with greater frequency: Carlos Bacca sped past centre-back Jhon Chancellor but González marginally out-paced an opponent to clear the goalmouth cut-back; Quintero dummied a pass, leaving Arias in acres of space on the right to play a first-time pass to Juan Cuadrado in the area, whose shot was well-blocked by Chancellor’s partner Wilker Ángel; a minute later from a deep position, Quintero and Radamel Falcao were one step ahead of their opponents, as the former’s incisive pass to the latter left Júnior Moreno playing catch-up, although the Monaco striker’s effort from an acute position went into the side-netting.

Venezuela did make some further first-half in-roads into the Colombian half but struggled to have any command over the ball; instead, Quintero continued running the show. In the 33rd minute, from a centre-right position, he curled a left-footed ball that Cuadrado was more alert to than González, but the Juventus attacker was ultimately denied by the ever-attentive Faríñez, who knocked it out for a corner. Almost ten minutes later, the Millonarios goalkeeper was again very much awake, this time to a deceptive, curling free-kick by Quintero from near the right touchline; it was curling towards the back of the net, before being punched over the bar.

However, before the half-time whistle went, Venezuela gave their opponents a reminder of the sudden, unanticipated threat that lurked. Some rather improvised passing inside the final third between Rincón, Rondón and Machís ended with the captain turning in his tracks to play a pass to the edge of the area to the goalscorer. He, in turn, struck first-time with his right, curling barely a yard wide of Ospina’s far post.

For a fleeting moment, the 1-0 lead of Rafael Dudamel’s men did not feel quite so precarious, though they were to struggle to build upon this in the second half.

The pattern of play of the opening five minutes after the restart was very familiar, with last-ditch blocks and interceptions required to quell the Colombian threat. That is, until the 51st minute when a goal seemed on the cards, as an exquisite touch by Quintero generated a one-on-one opportunity for Falcao. However, his shot from little more than ten yards lacked direction as Faríñez stayed strong to dramatically block. Not to be outdone, Colombia’s all-time top-scorer would soon make up for this lack of composure.

Indeed, shortly after Machís cut over from the left to feed Sergio Córdova for a long-range effort that was easy work for Ospina, Colombia returned to their hunting ground and found a 55th-minute equaliser. Here, the Colombian strike-force were able to demonstrate high-level intuitive, cut-throat abilities against a Russia-based centre-back pairing. Upon making a run to receive a pass from Quintero, Villarreal’s Bacca – who played club football in Venezuela a decade ago – only needed two touches to gain space from Ángel and then poke the ball to the central Falcao, who also took two touches: first to open up the opportunity away from Chancellor and the second, killer, one to strike the ball home into the bottom corner.

The goal was undoubtedly deserved and nine minutes later, they could have taken the lead were it not for Faríñez. This time, Quintero’s attempt to cut open the defence was only partially thwarted, with the ball falling very invitingly for the central Uribe, whose side-footed effort would have crept into the far corner were it not for the low glove of the ex-Caracas FC stopper.

Although after the goal Colombia continued to give the opposition defence the jitters, Dudamel’s men were able to offer some glimpses of offensive threat. On the hour-mark, Machís was on hand to intercept a pass and play through Martínez, who suddenly had a one-on-one which was struck at Ospina – albeit after the play had been called back for a debatable offside.

Just before this moment, the rather ineffective Córdova was replaced on the right side of midfield by the more dynamic Luis “Cariaco” González, who appeared to relish playing against the country in which he now earns his living. Indeed, in his half-hour cameo, the Tolima winger gained space for himself and played in several balls that caused concern for Ospina and his centre-backs. Rondón managed to meet one of these in the 68th-minute but, perhaps owing to the defender on his back, was unable to make a telling connection. With a bit of work in training, this could potentially become a useful creative outlet for Dudamel. Elsewhere in the Venezuelan ranks, Rincón showed once again that his particular understanding with the ex-West Brom striker still holds some currency. Indeed, six minutes later, his lofted ball into the area was chested by the centre-forward, before the strike was blocked by Davinson Sánchez for a corner.

All that being said, the most positive attacking performance for Venezuela undoubtedly came from Serie A new-boy Machís. Out of nothing from 25 yards out in the 79th minute, he further underlined this by taking a stepover and firing a feisty left-footed strike that demanded a spectacular one-handed tip-over from Ospina.

Nevertheless, ultimately it was to be Colombia’s day and in the final ten minutes, with both teams semi-transformed due to the number of substitutes, they re-asserted their superiority. In the 83rd minute, they should really have had the winner, but Glasgow Rangers’ international debutant Alfredo Morelos was unable to adjust his footing; with the vacant goal gaping following a goalmouth pass from impressive fellow substitute Sebastián Villa, he instead knocked the ball into the hands of the grateful Faríñez. Despite this gaffe, one way or another, Morelos had a very memorable quarter-of-an-hour. Just two minutes later he received a pass from Luis Muriel on the edge of area, swivelling rapidly to strike low and only marginally missing the near post. Then, in the final minute of regulation time, though he knew little about it, he was involved in the winning goal.

Here, Villa played a one-two with Muriel on the right inside the area and dinked a ball past the – possibly misjudged – onrushing Faríñez, which defenders attempted to knock away but could only clear as far as Atlético Mineiro’s Yimmi Chará. Comically, his first attempt was blocked by the horizontal Morelos – who had instinctively decided to duck-and-cover on the goal-line – but he made sure from the rebound, giving interim manager Arturo Reyes the result that his side’s play had merited.

Overall then, in so many ways, Venezuela’s rusty performance should have come as little surprise, playing as they did in a similar manner to how they ended the qualifers, albeit with somewhat less verve and success. A few players, most notably Machís, offered optimism for the long-term future but the team lacked match sharpness and were often unable to keep up with a more advanced footballing nation. They were unable to hold onto the ball in the centre of the pitch, with attacking avenues largely coming from crosses and – mostly thwarted – rapid transitions, rather than patient build-up play. This absence of possession and the concomitant cautious camping meant that they often packed the centre of their considerable rearguard with bodies, seemingly in an implicit acknowledgement that the flanks were going to leak problems that necessitated reinforcements. As Dudamel said pre-game, the left-side in particular is a “headache” and thus it proved, both with Feltscher on the pitch as well as with his 62nd-minute replacement, debutant Luis Mago. With the Carabobo FC man scheduled to start against Panama on Tuesday, many Vinotinto fans will be hoping that he can provide a surprising solution and develop a better relationship with those around him.

Dudamel has indicated that several other hitherto unused players will see action in Panama City, in what is likely to be a considerable challenge against a side that Venezuela have not managed to beat in their last seven attempts – even if the last two games were draws.

Although we are unlikely to witness any dramatic changes in playing style, this may turn out to be a more inviting test and with the new cycle having only just begun, for everyone involved, there really is everything to play for.

Team Selections

Colombia (4-3-1-2): D. Ospina; S. Arias (H. Palacios, 90+2′), D. Sánchez, W. Tesillo, C. Borja; J. Cuadrado (Y. Chará, 75′), W. Barrios (J. Campuzano, 81′), M. Uribe; J. Quintero (S. Villa, 75′); C. Bacca (L. Muriel, 68′) & R. Falcao (A. Morelos, 77′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; A. González, J. Chancellor (Y. Osorio, 87′), W. Ángel, R. Feltscher (L. Mago, 62′); S. Córdova (L. González, 59′), T. Rincón (J. Savarino, 81′), J. Moreno, D. Machís (R. Otero, 81′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Lucena, 68′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – September 2018 Preview

After an international hiatus of nearly ten months, Venezuela’s senior team are finally returning to action with a friendly double-header. Still coming to terms with this impending reality, @DarrenSpherical fills in some gaps and takes a look at the state-of-play within La Vinotinto’s 24-man squad.

International Friendlies

Friday 7 September 2018 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA.

Colombia vs Venezuela

Tuesday 11 September 2018 – Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama.

Panama vs Venezuela

hardrockstadium

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida – the site of La Vinotinto‘s return

Time To Start Putting the Pieces Together

Last October, as the prematurely-doomed Russia 2018 qualifying campaign was ending with a post-Under 20 World Cup upswing of fortunes (three draws and a final-day victory), La Vinotinto coach Rafael Dudamel revealed that he had asked for “at least five friendlies for 2018“. With four now scheduled and possibly one or two more in the pipeline, it now looks as if his rather modest request may ultimately be granted.

Also this year – a World Cup year, no less – the match-shy Venezuela have defied all logic and managed to ascend from 52nd to 31st in the FIFA rankings. Thus, taking a very partial-sighted view of things, it could be said that Venezuela appear to be well-poised to crack on with unburdening themselves of being branded the “Cinderella” of CONMEBOL.

Perhaps, but throughout the near-300 days since last November that the senior national side has gone without playing – during which an astonishing 17 of the 24 players in the current squad have switched club sides – there has been no shortage of concern over the perceived lack of activity. In response, the FVF (Federación Venezolana de Fútbol) have repeatedly stated what should come as no surprise to anyone with a passing interest in the country’s economic situation: there is simply not enough money. Friendlies come at unfriendly prices and plenty of proposals have had to be declined. Thus, regardless of whether or not some pleading phonecalls were made, it makes considerable sense to see that the first two encounters that have been belatedly set in stone come against countries very close to home.

Nevertheless, for a football association who invited the nation’s media to a presentation in July titled “Qatar 2022. The Objective of Everyone” and whose social media channels regularly repeat the slogan that “We are World [Cup] Class“, tests against two recent World Cup-qualifiers are an apt reintroduction into the international fold.

Furthermore, despite all the frustrations from fans who fear that the country is losing ground, Rafael Dudamel has undoubtedly been a busy man in the intervening lull, pursuing the stated strategy of investing in the young. Indeed, he, along with his coaching staff have not only held a dozen or so training modules with primarily local talent, but they have also led into several tournaments the new generation of Under-20s as well as some prospects from the previous history-making cycle. Ironically, two clear beneficiaries of one of these campaigns have been two eligible overage players: left-back Luis Mago (Carabobo FC, 24 this month) and holding midfielder Agnel Flores (Monagas SC, 29). Barely a month ago, this pair helped a mostly Under-21 squad reach the final of the 2018 Central American & Caribbean Games, where they were runners-up to hosts Colombia.

Concerning youth though, another two members of that particular squad also called to the current Selección are centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay) and midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira). These are two of the four players present – along with attacking midfielder Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany) and goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) – who were runners-up last year in South Korea and in whom considerable hope is indeed invested.

Initially, there were in fact six players from the silver crop in this squad, but within the past week right-back Ronald Hernández and jinking Yeferson Soteldo have had to be replaced, along with the marginally more experienced Jhon Murillo (22). Visa problems being the official reason disclosed by the FVF. Were it not for a long-term injury, midfielder and erstwhile Under-20 captain Yangel Herrera would have received a call and a stronger recent run of form as well as a UK work permit would have also surely helped the cause of fellow absentee Adalberto Peñaranda. More than a handful of others from their generation are also considered potential future call-ups, further reinforcing the sense that if the senior side is to seriously threaten their continental rivals in the next four years, the integration of youth with more established figures will be key.

This thus begs the question, who out of the current crop are considered likely first-teamers? Right now, all would agree that the fast-tracked Fariñez undoubtedly receives the No. 1 shirt and that the pivotal role in front of the back-four of captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) is not up for debate. Forwards Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) and Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) are also leading figures. However, questions have been asked as to whether or not the pair can combine effectively and, should Dudamel opt for a lone striker, if the latter’s phenomenal MLS goalscoring exploits could one day rather soon lead to him usurping the Magpie as the focal point of the attack. Either way, such is the gulf in stature that even if one has to make way for the other in the line-up, the two other forwards named in this squad will have a considerable battle on their hands just to receive further call-ups, let alone gain a starting berth off one of the aforementioned pair.

After these names, things start to become a little more precarious. Regarding the rearguard, one of Dudamel’s great achievements last year at both Under-20 level as well as in the final stretch of the qualifiers was the tightening up at the back, resulting in an admirably low number of goals conceded. However, there lurks the feeling that these were feats of a more collective, well-disciplined and systematic nature, rather than owing to a combination of individual brilliance. Thus, though the Russian-based pair of Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny) and Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala) currently have the strongest claims to the centre-back positions, it will be well worth looking at the 19-year-old Ferraresi as well as Yordan Osorio, who currently finds himself on loan at Vitória Guimarães, after a January transfer to Portuguese giants Porto.

Regarding the defensive flanks, they were repeatedly exploited by opponents in the qualifiers and Dudamel himself has admitted that the left-back position is a problem. As Rolf Feltscher‘s form at LA Galaxy – where, owing to the competition of Ashley Cole, he is usually deployed on the right – does not inspire confidence, opportunity surely beckons for the uncapped Mago. On the right, Hernández’s late omission is definitely a setback for personal, as well as collective, development. His replacement Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), a 27-year-old with less than a handful of caps who spent some of the past year playing in Gibraltar, does not appear to be one for the long run. Thus, the door is still very much open to Alexander González (Elche, Spain), a healthily-capped individual whose optimum position seems to lay somewhere curiously between that of a right-back and a right-sided midfielder, joining in with attacks but occasionally leaving himself exposed.

Just in front, though Flores or Lucena may well receive a chance to partner Rincón, with the absence of Herrera, Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) can really stake a claim to challenge his fellow MLS-dwelling compatriot for that coveted first-team spot. Aided by the arrival of Wayne Rooney, the 25-year-old is enjoying a good spell at club level, off the back of making his international debut last year, from which he went on to start in the heart of the Vinotinto midfield in the draws against Uruguay and Argentina.

Regarding the more attack-minded midfield positions, whether Dudamel opts for one on each flank or an attacking line of three, he still has the customary, welcome selection issue. Venezuela have had a relatively impressive amount of success with the development of players in this broad area and new candidates for the limited number of roles frequently emerge. Indeed, the right-sided Córdova rapidly transitioned from his country’s Under-20 World Cup topscorer to a regular in the Vinotinto line-up, starting all four of the remaining qualifying matches. However, with no starts yet this season in the Bundesliga, he will know more than anyone that nothing can be taken for granted. The visa-less Murillo was also making headway in the final qualifying stretch along with, to perhaps a lesser extent, Rómulo Otero, who has since raised eyebrows by swapping being a one-man highlight reel in Brazil for a loan spell in Saudi Arabia.

If there is to be a reordering in the pecking order, there are two men in particular who are primed to capitalise. Firstly, Darwin Machís, who can be deployed on either side of an attacking midfield and who also gained a start against Colombia last August. Since then, the tenacious late-bloomer of 25 years has enjoyed a sensational, golazo-laden season with Granada, justifying their faith in him and earning himself a move to Udinese, where he has already started the first three Serie A games of the season. Secondly, there is the right-sided Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), whose inclusion only came at the eleventh hour following the omissions of Murillo and Soteldo. Perhaps this will prove to be a blessing in disguise as, after initially being overlooked, the ex-Zulia man – only a mere several months older than the much-hyped Soteldo – has gone on a spectacular run of form, to the point where he now seems like a permanent fixture of the MLS’s official Team of the Week.

Machís and Savarino undoubtedly have the higher-profiles, but many will also be hoping to see some contributions from two other players in fine form: the uncapped Eduard Bello, who has netted 8 times in 21 league games since his move to Chile with Deportes Antofagasta and  Luis “Cariaco” González, the other beneficiary of the Murillo/Soteldo withdrawals. The latter has recently turned up at Colombian title-winners Deportes Tolima, assisting an impressive number of times in the same side as compatriot Yohandry Orozco (who, in turn, despite being one of the three overage players at the Central American and Caribbean Games, where he contributed three goals in five games, has not been selected here).

So, overall then, aside from perhaps four starting positions, there is certainly all to play for, with no shortage of competition inside and outside of the current squad. Tactically, Dudamel has spoken of experiments with the youth sides – in particular, playing with three at the back – though there is no indication yet as to whether this will be carried over to the seniors. What does remain likely, however, is that the side will continue with a compact defensive rearguard and will seek to break with rapid transitions on the counter. If, in time, they can also add some consistency in the starting personnel – particularly amongst the attacking midfield positions – and generate some more positive, front-foot play, this will certainly feel like team progress.

Although they are merely friendlies and the Copa América is not for another nine months, all Vinotinto fans will be hoping, perhaps with hearts rather than heads, that their representatives have not lost too much momentum since last year’s promising end. Results may not be the priority, but there is reason for optimism, not least because the national side does possess a respectable recent record against Colombia and have drawn their last two games against Panama (with the rain-soaked September 2015 encounter actually proving to be Juan Arango’s final appearance for his country).

There are, of course, far more important things for Venezuelans to be preoccupied with.

In April of this year, the life of 30-year-old Jesús Guacarán – physiotherapist for La Vinotinto who was part of the Under-20 national team’s success – was taken, shot dead whilst out shopping in Barquisimeto, thus depriving his wife of not only her husband but of a father for their then-unborn child. This is but one of countless tragedies that have occurred in a nation contending with unimaginable economic and social turmoil, though it is one of the more acutely-felt incidents for the Selección. Plenty of high-profile individuals conveyed their sadness on social media and it can only be speculated how the everyday uncertainties and hardships of their family members, friends and other loved ones impact upon the mindsets of the players and coaches of the national side.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Salomón Rondón offered this insight into the team’s perspective going into games: “My responsibility is to make Venezuelan people proud. When we play for the national team we try to make them forget the bad things, just for those 90 minutes.”

Though this may be impossible for some, here’s hoping that the long-awaited return of La Vinotinto can at least raise a few extra smiles, however fleeting, and inspire many in the face of adversity.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintosept2018

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Alexander González (Elche, Spain), Luis Mago (Carabobo FC) & Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal),

Midfielders

Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Agnel Flores (Monagas SC), Luis González (Deportes Tolima, Colombia), Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela, on loan from Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Deportivo La Coruña, Spain).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – June 2017 Preview

At the end of April, two friendlies were announced to aid La Vinotinto‘s preparations for a more prosperous future, though now in early June, most Venezuelan minds are focused elsewhere. Here, the beleaguered @DarrenSpherical takes a quick look at the squad preparing to face the USA and Ecuador…

International Friendlies

Saturday 3 June 2017 – Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

USA vs Venezuela

Thursday 8 June 2017 – FAU Stadium, Boca Ratón, Florida

Ecuador vs Venezuela

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Venezuela assistant manager, Marcos Mathías (GettyImages)

Places Up For Grabs in the States

Since La Vinotinto‘s last pair of disappointing outings in March, the FVF have managed to cobble together two warm-up games before the team concludes their depressing World Cup Qualifying campaign later this year.

However, coach Rafael Dudamel will not be overseeing these two America-based encounters as he is currently in South Korea where he has led his remarkable Under-20 squad to the Quarter-finals of the World Cup. Indeed, the head-turning Sub-20 side have won all four of their games without conceding a goal and their do-or-die clash with USA’s youngsters shall commence barely two hours after the seniors of both nations have duked it out in Salt Lake City.

Thus, assistant manager Marcos Mathías will instead be leading this still-rather-youthful 27-man squad into battle in the States and will have to make do without the likes of Wuilker Faríñez, Yangel Herrera, Adalberto Peñaranda and Yeferson Soteldo. At least three, if not all, of these players – as well as some others currently in South Korea – have strong chances of being regulars in a future rebuilt Venezuela on the road to Qatar 2022 and there are several, more senior, players who have also not made the trip.

Most significantly, the captain Tomás Rincón will be somewhat preoccupied with the small matter of the Cardiff-hosted Champions League Final which his Juventus will contest against Real Madrid. One wonders how many Venezuelans will have the stamina to watch this game, plus the first senior friendly some five hours later and then the Under-20 knock-out tie.

There are again no places in the squad for the Málaga pair of Juanpi and Roberto Rosales. Regarding the former, who has recently been spotted in his home country participating in political demonstrations, he has had an injury-plagued 2017 though when he recuperates he will surely be welcomed back to the fold with open arms. However, this is something that is difficult to assert regarding Rosales – who has also made his anti-government sentiments known – as, though he is currently also carrying a knock, he was also surprisingly left out of March’s World Cup Qualifying double-header despite being fully fit.

Another absentee is forward Josef Martínez (Atalanta United), who was injured against Peru three months ago and has yet to resurface on a professional pitch – though he is apparently knocking on the door for a return at club level. Otherwise, as he was in March, goalkeeper Dani Hernández is again left out, though this is probably due to him still being involved in Tenerife’s vital promotion push. Also, possibly owing to some poor performances for the national team, there is no place for Terek Grozny’s Wilker Ángel.

One says “probably” and “possibly” because there has not been a great deal of press coverage for these two games, with Mathías/Dudamel’s plans shrouded in secrecy and/or a yawning cloud of indifference.

Still, what can be said is that there is a surprise return to the squad for Alain Baroja (Sud América, Uruguay, on loan from Cádiz CF, Spain) who, some two years ago had looked as if he could be Venezuela’s number one goalkeeper for the long haul yet, after some galling errors, was banished into international exile. This is his first-ever call-up in Dudamel’s 14-month reign.

There are also a fair few players in this squad who ply their trade in the domestic league, such as striker Edder Farías, who has scored 22 times in his last 37 league matches for Caracas FC. It would be greatly beneficial for Venezuela to have more options up top for when Martínez and/or West Brom’s Salomón Rondón – who has also been included – are unavailable. Farías could well provide one possible alternative though another possibility is 20-year-old Jefferson Savarino, a more versatile forward/attacking-midfielder, who was banging in the goals for Zulia until recently moving on loan to the MLS with Real Salt Lake. Who knows, for the USA game at the Rio Tinto Stadium, there may even be a few locals in the stands on hand to give him a wave, if not a cheer.

Otherwise, one can not help but feel these games are good opportunities for some of the more experienced-yet-still-relatively-young individuals to further entrench themselves in the coaching staff’s thinking following their appearances in March’s qualifiers. Perhaps chief amongst this crop are the likes of attacking-midfielders Darwin Machís (Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal) and Rómulo Otero** (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil on loan from Huachipato, Chile).

Ultimately, though one is not anticipating a vintage set of clashes on American soil, with almost every first-team place seemingly up for grabs – barring Rincón’s and Rondón’s – these are undoubtedly good chances for these players to make it hard for Dudamel, Mathías and co. to overlook them come August.

To keep up-to-date with these two friendly encounters, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match reports and highlights.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

Alain Baroja (Sud América, Uruguay, on loan from Cádiz CF, Spain) & José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira).

Defenders

Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), José Luis Marrufo (Mineros de Guayana), Yordan Osorio (Tondela, Portugal), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC), Jefre Vargas (Arouca, Portugal, on loan from Caracas), José Manuel “Sema” Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) &  Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Jacobo Kouffati (Millonarios, Colombia), Francisco La Mantía (Deportivo La Guaira), Darwin Machís (Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Júnior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Aristóteles Romero (Mineros de Guayana) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia).

Forwards

Edder Farías (Caracas FC), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Deportivo Alavés, Spain).

**Please note that, according to renowned journalist Juan Sifontes, the following players will not be available for the clash vs USA: Alexander González, Jhon Chancellor, Rolf Feltscher, Arquímedes Figuera, Alejandro Guerra, Jacobo Kouffati and Rómulo Otero.

venezuelasquadjune2017

(Source: @SeleVinotinto)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Chile 3-1 Venezuela

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

Rampant Roja Compelled to be Content with Early Blitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Selections

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical