Tag Archives: Russia 2018

Venezuela 0-0 Colombia – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (31 August 2017)

The fifteenth jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s revitalised side earn a respectable point. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 31 August 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira

Venezuela 0-0 Colombia

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-0 Colombia, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 31 August 2017 (YouTube)

Dudamel’s Darlings Give Heart

Upon their long overdue return to Pueblo Nuevo, a new-look Vinotinto gained a credible point against their qualification-chasing neighbours.

Though at times it could be a bitty affair with the referee’s whistle frequently heard, Rafael Dudamel’s youthful side displayed admirable intent and tenacity to deny Colombia the two additional points they desired. In turn, José Pékerman’s 2nd-placed men often lacked attacking fluency, something which has been a consistent problem in their campaign as in their 15 games they have scored only 18 goals – just one more than bottom-placed Venezuela.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, much of the first half played in the politically contentious border state of Táchira – anti-government chants were heard and fan signs were assessed upon entry – was an ugly affair, with 26 fouls committed (the highest so far in this CONMEBOL qualifying cycle). Very few attempts on goal were made in the opening half, though given Venezuela’s porous defence (34 conceded) and the number of personnel alterations made, this could only be seen as encouraging for the Qatar 2022-dreaming hosts.

Soon after the half-hour mark, however, this changed, with one of the prospective leading lights of the next qualifying campaign called into action. 19-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez – a star throughout the U20 side’s remarkable run to the World Cup final in June – pulled off the first few of what were to be several noteworthy stops. The first was the best of the lot, with Radamel Falcao’s powerful nine-yard header in space from a left-sided cross superbly blocked with an equally strong glove. Subsequently, virtually on the goal-line, centre-back Mikel Villanueva did well to hook the rebound away from an opponent.

As much as jolt the Venezuelan back-line, this shook the game into life. Shortly afterwards in the 35th minute at the other end, seemingly out of nothing, Josef Martínez received a long ball on the centre-left, came inside and rattled the crossbar with a spectacular right-footed 25-yard shot.

In an immediate response, the action returned to Fariñez’s domain, with a corner being struck on the low volley by Carlos Sánchez and going only narrowly wide – though the Caracas FC goalkeeper appeared to have it covered. A minute later, 26-year-old Yimmi Chará – playing his first-ever competitive international – latched onto a ball on the right edge of the area, firing a low, well-struck effort which Fariñez was alert to, blocking and then collecting.

At this point, it did seem that if the hosts were to score, a goal was most likely to arrive following something sensational á la Martínez’s effort and/or a set-piece. Hitherto, captain Tomás Rincón, not typically the first-choice free-kick taker, had little joy with his dead-balls but as the half drew to a close, he floated in a fine, direct chip from some 45 yards. This found towering centre-back Jhon Chancellor in space, who rose well and quite possibly should have opened the scoring. Alas, instead his header went just inches wide of the far post and the two sides went into the interval level.

After the restart, Colombia had a similar opportunity in the 52nd minute when Edwin Cardona’s free-kick was headed by the central Falcao, albeit straight into the grateful arms of Fariñez. Five minutes later, Venezuela were gifted a chance when a long ball from the left was meekly passed back towards his own goalkeeper by Colombian Cristian Zapata. Criminally, it was too short and Salomón Rondón pounced, though from an acute angle inside the area, the striker could only manage a low attempt which David Ospina saved for a corner.

With the game opening up, Fariñez had to be increasingly attentive to play, something that he proved to be more than capable of. Indeed, just 24 seconds after the restart he did well to block a low Juan Cuadrado strike at his near post and, throughout the half, was quick to race off his line to intercept long balls and dangerous crosses. More than one of these came from the tricky left-sided wide man Chará, who in the 64th minute looked as if he was going to blitz the back of the Venezuelan net. Here on his flank, he picked up an exquisite, pinpoint ball, swiftly raced past his man into the area, before cutting over to his right boot. Yet, with home fans inhaling their breath and fearing the worst, he blazed his strike well over the bar, squandering one of the best opportunities of the match.

Up the other end, for the first 20-25 minutes of the second half, Venezuela’s chances were largely long-range efforts, such as a 69th minute attempt from U20 World Cup captain Yangel Herrera and a similar, earlier strike from his senior counterpart, Rincón. Neither of these caused too much trouble for Ospina, less so a 68th-minute effort from substitute Jhon Murillo, which went far over the bar from the left edge of the area. However unremarkable this particular attempt may have been, plenty were on the edges of their seats to appreciate the build-up play of Venezuela’s U20 World Cup top scorer Sergio Córdova, who held off three players as he roamed infield from the right before making the pass. This was one of a few eye-catching, positive attacking moments from the Augsburg man, in what was his senior international debut.

Murillo may not have covered himself with glory in the aforementioned move, but the Turkey-based attacker soon atoned, being the driving force behind two heart-racing moments, the first of which perhaps should have resulted in a goal. This came in the 71st minute when, almost back-to-goal some 30 yards out, he immediately bypassed one opponent with a deft touch, before gaining space from another. Rampaging into the area, he cut across a golden low ball towards Rondón in the centre. However, though a goal looked a near-certainty, whether owing to Zapata’s positioning and/or the West Brom man being out-muscled, the ball was nudged – by either striker, defender or a combination of the two – softly at Ospina, who blocked instinctively with an outstretched leg. This felt like Venezuela’s moment to once again do over their neighbours, who still haven’t won a qualifier in this country since 1996. Two minutes later, Murillo’s second effective contribution occurred when he evaded a challenge to shuffle inside from the left; his ball found fellow substitute Rómulo Otero and somewhat fortuitously ricocheted into space for him to screw a low left-footed effort. It was hit well, but a little too close to Ospina, who will have been relieved to embrace the ball with both arms on the bobbly turf of Deportivo Táchira.

Aside from one or two testing balls into the Colombian area, Venezuela were unable to make any more inroads of note, with instead the visitors creating the better attempts before the final whistle. Indeed, in the 77th minute, China-based substitute Giovanni Moreno blasted a blistering 25-yard left-footed strike, which Fariñez did well to parry out to the side. Five minutes later, the goalkeeper spooned a deflected Falcao shot wide and, though he also later awkwardly punched out a cross, when the final whistle blew to proclaim a stalemate, overall this was another impressive performance by the diminutive shot-stopper.

He will go down as the man of the match for many and, more generally, Dudamel will be pleased with how well his men frustrated their more fancied opponents, picking up only their second clean sheet of their 15 qualifying games. Although the coach’s future appears precarious owing to a lack of FVF funds, if he can stay in his post for the long haul, this gutsy showing featuring three Under-20 graduates certainly offers him a rather positive platform on which to build.

However, in the short-term, he will be a little concerned that skipper Rincón picked up a yellow card in stoppage-time, thus ruling him out of Tuesday’s away match with Argentina. Consequently, when Venezuela go out onto the hallowed turf of El Monumental, they will need all the composure and organisation they can collectively muster. That said, another thwarting of a high-profile qualification-seeker is certainly not out of the question, particularly as Jorge Sampaoli’s 5th-placed men have only scored 15 goals in as many games – two fewer than Dudamel’s darlings.

The 16th matchday could scarcely be less decisive for Venezuela, but nevertheless, a considerable test awaits.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; V. García, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; S. Córdova (A. Figuera, 84′), T. Rincón, Y. Herrera, D. Machís (J. Murillo, 60′); S. Rondón, J. Martínez (R. Otero, 55′).

Colombia (4-2-3-1): D. Ospina; S. Arias, C. Zapata, O. Murillo, F. Fabra; C. Sánchez (A. Aguilar, 75′), W. Barrios; J. Cuadrado, E. Cardona (G. Moreno, 63′), Y. Chará (L. Muriel, 80′); R. Falcao.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – August/September 2017 Preview

Jornadas 15 and 16 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are upon us and, amidst a very bleak domestic backdrop, a new era for La Vinotinto is being sought. Here, @DarrenSpherical previews the state of play in the Venezuelan ranks ahead of the matches with Colombia and Argentina…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 31 August 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira.

Venezuela vs Colombia

Tuesday 5 September 2017 – Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires.

Argentina vs Venezuela

Aerial video of Pueblo Nuevo, venue for Venezuela’s encounter with Colombia (@SeleVinotinto)

The Search for a New Identity Stumbles on

Given the dire economic situation and galling political machinations in a country which has recently witnessed countless deaths and which is also experiencing ever-rising poverty levels, for many Venezuelans, these international fixtures feel even more meaningless than they already effectively are.

If his comments with Four Four Two earlier this month are anything to go by, forward Josef Martínez would certainly prefer not to board the flight back home: “We can’t play…it’s a celebration when the national team plays, and my country is not in the mood to celebrate right now. Venezuela is suffering a lot. People are dying.”

Particularly in the last several months, many other leading players – including captain Tomás Rincón and star striker Salomón Rondón – have expressed outrage on social media over perceived abuses – often fatal – perpetrated by government-controlled forces and/or sympathising militias. Of course, partisans on the other side of the considerable political divide would be quick to tell another story, though no such folk appear to exist within the current Venezuelan squad. If they do, then they certainly kept their views to themselves during the ceaseless and often bloody protests that were at their peak in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the highly controversial National Constituent Assembly elections on 30 July 2017.

Civil unrest and everyday instability abounds, with supporters of the broad coalition of opposition parties (MUD) horrified at what they see as the shameless, undemocratic overriding of institutions by President Nicolás Maduro and his PSUV party. Perceived as economically inept authoritarians by many both inside and outside the country, the government instead have repeatedly claimed that they are victims of international – primarily U.S.-backed – interference and economic sabotage. Either way, without wishing to delve too far into this intractable dispute here, the tragic reality for Venezuelans sees them having to contend with the related unholy cocktail of frightening levels of crime, hyperinflation and chronic shortages of basic food and goods.

So dire are the straits that increasingly citizens try their luck in neighbouring Colombia, whether this be to search for cheaper goods, perhaps make some money selling petrol (still heavily subsidised) or even to seek refuge and start new lives. Smugglers sensing opportunities often journey in the opposite direction and thus such is the human traffic that tight border controls are often enforced, as they will be for the first of La Vinotinto‘s two upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Indeed, the 31 August encounter with Los Cafeteros in the border state of Táchira could scarcely come at a worse time. Nevertheless, Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel, who has himself spoken out about his nation’s turmoil and who even had to cancel a training module last month owing to disruptive protests, has voiced his determination. With his charges long since out of the running for Russia 2018, he has stated that qualification for Qatar 2022 has become his “obsession“. He is also especially delighted for the peripatetic national team to be playing for the first time in this cycle at San Cristóbal’s Pueblo Nuevo, a stadium which he has referred to as the “sacred temple of Venezuelan football“. This is the home of one of his ex-clubs Deportivo Táchira and, more pertinently, the site of some famous international scalps. He hopes it will become a fortress for his men, starting with the visit of the high-flying representatives of the country in which he spent much of his playing days. Though this Thursday’s encounter, which pits 10th against 2nd, may come at an inopportune time to inaugurate a revitalised fresh dawn, Dudamel must find some solace in the fact that Venezuela have not lost on home soil to Colombia in qualifying since 1996.

Though the coach’s 17-month tenure of La Vinotinto has been as similarly underwhelming as that of his predecessor Noel Sanvicente, the exploits of his Under-20 World Cup finalists have given him good reason to feel optimistic about the future. Indeed, it was he who steered this well-organised side to nationwide – and, in some knowing quarters, global – acclaim in June and he has included seven from their ranks in this rather experimental – when isn’t it? – and youthful 30-man squad.

These are goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC), who appears to be the new first-choice, with former occupant between the sticks Dani Hernández not even in this group; left-back José Hernández (Caracas FC), surprisingly the only defender called up from what was a very effective defensive unit; right-sided attacking midfielder Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Venezuela’s top scorer at the World Cup and who is already off the mark in the Bundesliga; versatile midfielder Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), surely the most impressive U20 outfield player and who is already making waves in MLS; 17-year-old midfield starlet Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira), scorer of memorable free-kicks, both at the World Cup and recently in domestic action; jinking dribbler Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile), who has turned some heads at his new club – not least for his dubious alleged resemblance to Barney Rubble – scoring twice in all competitions; lastly, forward Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC) who, frankly, could probably have done better at the World Cup, though has been afforded an opportunity here to provide Dudamel with something different in attack.

(Incidentally, the absence of winger Adalberto Peñaranda – arguably the U20s’ leading attacker – is owing to an injury he sustained in the World Cup final against England which he has yet to recover from.)

With almost all of the starting positions seemingly up for grabs, one would expect to see at least a few of these youngsters feature over the upcoming pair of games. A new-look Venezuela shall gradually emerge in the next 2-3 years, though with experimentalism the order of the day, one is not anticipating many players to sew up starting berths any time soon. One man who definitely won’t be a part of the Qatar 2022 campaign is 32-year-old Alejandro Guerra, who announced his international retirement earlier this month. Also, regarding two of the most notable absentees, one wonders what roles, if any, Málaga’s Roberto Rosales and Juanpi will play in the future; for many observers, this pair are amongst their nation’s leading exports and their omissions from such a large squad only bemuse and baffle.

Once a stalwart, right-back Rosales appears to be out of favour with Dudamel despite still being a La Liga mainstay, whereas the younger Juanpi, a versatile midfielder, struggled with injuries earlier this year and has not featured for his country since last October. Dudamel seems to prefer players he has consistently worked with, so as well as the U20 contingent, some of the following may well feel optimistic about their immediate international careers: centre-back Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), right-back Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), midfielder Junior Moreno (Zulia FC – the standout player in June’s USA-based friendlies) as well as attacking midfielders Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC) and Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil).

Of the current crop, two attackers who seem particularly well-placed to spearhead the assault on Qatar 2022 are the pair of 24-year-olds, Otero (scorer of almost exclusively sensational golazos in Brazil) and Martínez (scorer of 9 goals in 11 MLS games). Still, few things feel certain with the Venezuela national team – even the talisman Rondón has been misfiring this year, so his target-man status can not be taken entirely for granted – and other players will no doubt emerge and compete for places all over the park.

Stability and consistency, largely absent in recent years from La Vinotinto, are what is needed, though with Dudamel concerned with long-term objectives one can’t help but be apprehensive of his side’s chances against two sides (2nd and 5th respectively) very much focused on the here-and-now. Given the domestic situation, this can all seem rather trivial but ultimately, at this stage with just four games left of the long-since-dead campaign, it is more performances than actual results which matter for Dudamel. Indeed, it may not currently feel like it and at either of the final whistles it may still seem imperceptible to most, but in so many ways, a new generation must surely feel they have everything – professional ambitions and, perhaps, a new life – to play for.

Venezuela Squad

venaugust2017

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) & Carlos Olses (Deportivo La Guaira).

Defenders

Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Free agent), Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), José Hernández (Caracas FC), Edwin Peraza (Deportivo La Guaira), Rubert Quijada (Al Gharafa, Qatar, on loan from Caracas FC), José Manuel “Sema” Velázquez (Veracruz, Mexico) & Mikel Villanueva (Cádiz, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Darwin Machís (Granada, Spain), Junior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, on loan from Juventus, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC), Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira) & Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile).

Forwards

Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC), Edder Farías (Once Caldas, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Alavés, Spain).

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 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

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

With Venezuela having lost their opening four World Cup Qualifying fixtures, Hispanospherical.com looks at the state of a somewhat unfamiliar squad ahead of the latest round of qualifiers.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 24 March 2016 – Estadio Nacional de Lima, Lima

Peru vs Venezuela

Tuesday 29 March 2016 – Estadio Agustín Tovar, Barinas

Venezuela vs Chile

romulootero

Chile-based Rómulo Otero is one of several Venezuelans looking to make their mark.

Familiar Issues Surround a Squad with Some Unfamiliar Faces

Suprise Omissions Open Some Doors in Attack

While there does not appear to have been a mass culling of stars – or, conversely, a boycott – familiar issues nevertheless abound for Venezuela boss Noel Sanvicente, who is set to field some unfamiliar faces in his nation’s latest round of Russia 2018 qualifiers.

Indeed, although only seven of the 15 signatories of November’s bombshell letter criticising the country’s football association (FVF) (and, to a lesser extent, the national team set-up) have been called up, most of the omissions can be justified without recourse to conspiracy theorising.

Most, that is, but – in the minds of many Vinotinto fans – perhaps not all. While the exclusion of stalwarts such as Grenddy Perozo, Gabriel Cichero and César González can be explained away via a combination of their age, lack of recent success with the national team and/or little match-time at club level, there are two notable exceptions.

One, Christian Santos, has been amongst the most prominent Venezuelans abroad over the past eighteen months, first firing NEC Nijmegen to promotion to the Dutch Eredivisie where, more recently, he has continued his impressive goalscoring exploits (15 goals in 26 league games). During this period, he also made his long-awaited international debut – scoring against Brazil in October along the way – and many have envisaged him being a key player for the foreseeable future. Unsurprisingly then, his absence has not gone down well in several quarters; national sports daily Líder En Deportes reflected this sentiment, in one article emphasing his exclusion above all others. However, his relatively new status and presumed lack of authority within the squad surely precludes him from having been a ringleader in the uprising.

Another similarly fan-infuriating omission is that of Ronald Vargas. Since rejuvenating his injury-hit career last year in Turkey, the 29-year-old attacker has gone from strength to strength this season at current club AEK Athens. In Greece he has garnered many effusive headlines and back/front-page splashes, scoring nine league goals, including in each of his side’s 1-0 wins against close-rivals Olympiakos, Panathinaikos and PAOK. He too seems an unlikely rebel, having enjoyed his most consistent spell in the national side under Sanvicente since he first burst onto the scene just under a decade ago.

Instead, no matter how baffling it may appear to many, it seems that the two players have been left out for footballing reasons. Sanvicente has said as much, commenting that he wishes to experiment with other players further up the field. Given his side’s lack of success in this area despite a seemingly disproportionate amount of talent in these positions, he may well prove to be vindicated. However, as changes in the attacking personnel have already frequently been made and selection controversies seem to surround every convocatoria, many fans have long ago reached the conclusion that the problem lies more with the boss than the men at his disposal.

Nevertheless, where there is frustration there is perhaps also the future, as Sanvicente has instead called up some of the nation’s most promising prospects. 18-year-old Adalberto Peñaranda has forced himself into the international scene much earlier than anticipated, owing to some impressive performances and goals for Granada. In a breathtakingly short space of time, he has earned a first-team place, broken a goalscoring record once held by Lionel Messi and has become one of the most famous Venezuelan legionarios. Despite reported interest from many leading European sides, he has already been snapped up by Granada’s sister club Watford, though will remain in Andalusia for the time being. This will be his first ever international call-up.

He is joined in the squad by Juanpi, another impressive La Liga starlet who, particularly in the past few months, has shone and participated in many goals for a rejuvenated Málaga. This has been his ‘breakthrough season’ and his performances coupled with his regular first-team appearances have seemingly made it impossible for Sanvicente to continue to frustrate fans by overlooking him.

Incidentally, 2015/16 has been a memorable year for Venezuelans in La Liga; along with these two individuals, Roberto Rosales has been an ever-present for Málaga and Miku impressively broke a scoring record for Rayo Vallecano (5 goals in 5 consecutive top-flight games). The latter man is only absent from the current squad due to an injury occurring at the most inauspicious of times.

Another attacker seeking a starting place is perhaps the most likeliest of the three to do so. Rómulo Otero, who over the past year has struggled with injuries at inopportune moments, has many admirers who see him as the leading creative catalyst of a new era; a mean free-kick taker, he has recently spoken to the local press about the possibility of taking over set-piece duties from the retired maestro Juan Arango. Plying his trade at Huachipato, he will be a familiar face to many Chile fans when La Roja travel to Barinas for the 29 March clash.

A Far Less Experienced Rearguard

Overall, owing to the suspensions of Luis Manuel Seijas, ‘Sema’ Velázquez and Roberto Rosales for the first game against Peru, Sanvicente has called up a bumper 26-man squad for this double-header. The absences of these latter two defenders, plus the relatively recent international retirement of Fernando Amorebieta and the omissions of Andrés Túñez and Gabriel Cichero have opened many doors – and perhaps even more holes – in the Venezuelan rearguard. Indeed, the one remaining regular, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, is likely to be in a defensive unit with three men who have barely a dozen caps between them.

Last month’s inclusion in the 1-0 win against Costa Rica (both fielded understrength sides) has no doubt bolstered the starting prospects of domestic league players such as centre-backs Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Tachira) and Daniel Benítez (Deportivo La Guaira), as well as right-back Ángel Faría (Zamora FC). Mikel Villanueva, who plays for Málaga’s reserve side Atlético Malagueño, also impressed last month and could well start at left-back. His main competition comes from Caracas FC’s Rubert Quijada, a man who has contributed to a miserly club defence but who has largely been overlooked at international level. Lastly, another defender receiving a rare call-up is Víctor García, a 21-year-old who primarily plays at right-back for Porto’s B team but who has also featured on the bench of the first team a couple of times this season. Though few Venezuelans have seen much of him in recent times, owing to his club affiliation as much as the desperation for improvement at the back, many are optimistic of this young man’s future.

Not entirely dissimilar issues concern the defensive midfield berths as a few domestic league players who rarely make competitive international starts have received call-ups. With regular first-team member Seijas out of the Peru game and late concerns being raised on the fitness of captain Tomás Rincón, it is possible that a very inexperienced and unfamiliar Venezuela takes to the field in Lima.

Change Needed, but What Kind?

Ultimately, with Sanvicente still in his post despite having overseen largely disappointing performances and results that currently place Venezuela bottom of CONMEBOL qualifying without a point, it may be a stretch to call these games ‘must-win’. Indeed, supposed crisis talks were held after the last round of losses with the media and fan consensus concluding that even if the FVF wanted change they simply could not afford it. Thus, although another two defeats will undoubtedly raise the calls for his head to unprecedented levels, Sanvicente has not really given off the impression that his future rests upon these two games.

Nevertheless, even if – as many people feel – Venezuela are already out of realistic contention for a Russia 2018 place, as well as playing for pride and progression, there is also this June’s Copa América  tournament to  consider. Their opponents will surely bring back memories of last year’s competition, with Chile having emerged victors on home soil and Peru playing a significant role in the eventual exit of Sanvicente & co. Indeed, had Amorebieta not been sent off in the second group game against Los Incas, many Venezuelan fans are keen to believe that they ultimately would not have fallen to a late 1-0 defeat and instead secured at least a point that would have been enough to make the knock-out stages.

Although not considered one of the region’s heavyweights, as Peru finished third in that competition, they certainly present a stern challenge, especially in Lima. If only to improve public relations, Sanvicente and his charges know they could well do with a good result or two from these two encounters, though it is difficult to say which game presents the better opportunity to do so. While he will be missing some well-known and much-capped individuals – particularly in the opening game – this nevertheless opens the door for new approaches and players. Given that a lack of stability, continuity and cohesion have been hallmarks of his 20-month reign, these are not things that fans can easily feel optimistic about. However, for very similar reasons, nor can they dismiss them outright as evidently there are problems that, for the sake of a rather promising generation of Venezuelan footballers, urgently need to be solved.

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers: Alain Baroja (AEK Athens), José David Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñéz (Caracas FC).

Defenders: Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Tachira), Daniel Benítez (Deportivo La Guaira),  Ángel Faría (Zamora FC), Víctor García (Porto), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders: Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga), Carlos Cermeño (Deportivo Táchira), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), Arles Flores (Zamora FC), Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional), Jhon Murillo (CD Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Rómulo Otero (CD Huachipato, on loan from Caracas FC), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe),  Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora FC).

Forwards: Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana), Josef Martínez (Torino), Adalberto Peñaranda (Granada, on loan from Watford), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (17 November 2015)

The fourth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded the fourth consecutive defeat for Noel Sanvicente’s charges. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 17 November 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State

Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador

Video Highlights of Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 17 November 2015 (YouTube)

Match Report

Contrasting Fortunes in Puerto Ordaz

What began as bottom versus top ended as bottom versus top yet, for now at least, Noel Sanvicente is still the Venezuela manager. A replacement had been rumoured beforehand and at least another one has been linked since the final whistle was blown in a disenchanted Cachamay stadium. Although Chita emphatically ruled out resigning immediately after this fourth consecutive qualifying loss, he is not really in a position to determine his own fate. With four months from now until matchday five, the Federación Venezolana de Fútbol (FVF) have got considerable time to weigh up how they envisage the remainder of the seemingly doomed Russia 2018 campaign. This may be partially revealed as soon as Monday 23 November, as a meeting with Sanvicente has been scheduled.

Before kick-off, fan discontent was already high, a fact reflected in the vast numbers of empty seats – a far cry from a near-full crowd of 35,076 who turned up to the Estadio José Antonio Anzoátegui for the same fixture three years ago. Much of the Puerto Ordaz public no doubt felt scarred and short-changed from the three other dreadful Vinotinto encounters that have taken place in the same ground over the past two months. Nevertheless, those who did attend brought with them some vocal, giddy, enthusiasm that could only be gradually tamed by events.

Many were excited to get a good look at a vast array of their leading representatives, all of whom currently play for overseas clubs in, remarkably, 11 different countries. This was a much-changed side from the one featuring five home-based players that was seen off by Bolivia at high altitude. It combined established cracks and familiar faces with a few individuals who many hope will be long-term regulars (namely injury-hit Rómulo Otero and the recently converted pair, Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez).

Alas, it did not take long to dissipate the rather optimistic hope that, in spite of recent performances, this encounter against CONMEBOL’s most in-form nation would be when things suddenly gel. Though the hosts just about held their own in the opening exchanges, the 11th minute witnessed Pumas striker Fidel Martínez receiving a short pass in a disconcerting amount of space before firing into the back of the net. The Venezuelan back-line breathed  a collective sigh of relief upon seeing the offside flag but their mood did not last long. Following a failed attack just four minutes later, they were caught hopelessly out of position as right-back Juan Carlos Paredes simply dinked a ball over into the central area to Martínez who had the time to control and strike home. Highlighting the hosts’ defensive woes, it was right-back Roberto Rosales – albeit, with little hope of success – who was the closest to putting in a challenge, with centre-backs Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and ‘Sema’ Velázquez never in the race.

Ecuador were apparently aware of Venezuela’s lack of pace at the back and later in the half were only narrowly denied with a couple more speed battles in open spaces that they instigated via chipped central passes.

No tactical know-how was needed for the second goal, however, though home fans will have felt a dispiriting sense of déjà vu. In the 23rd minute, it seemed Venezuela’s – and, perhaps, Sanvicente’s – fate was sealed when the pass out by goalkeeper Alain Baroja went awry. It was far too short for Vizcarrondo, who was beaten to the ball by Miller Bolaños who, in turn, nudged it to Jefferson Montero. The Swansea City winger quickly passed it back to Bolaños on the left side of the area and the Emelec man was able to return the ball to the centre for the incoming Montero, who doubled the lead with relative ease. While the culprit was different – for most observers, anyway – the goal inevitably drew comparisons with the mix-up involving Vizcarrondo and Baroja for Paraguay’s late winner  in the same ground a month ago.

Deflated on the pitch as well as in the stands, Venezuela struggled to inspire genuine hope of a comeback. Otero seemed the most likely catalyst with his occasionally testing balls into the area, bursts of pace, plus an ambitious shot or two. It was his run into the left side of the area in the 43rd minute that created a chance of sorts for Jeffrén; alas, he shot too close to goalkeeper Esteban Dreer. Just a minute prior, the ex-Barcelona wide man had fashioned a chance for himself when, from the right, he cut onto his left and struck a shot a yard or so wide from the edge of the area.

This slight momentum continued and grew in the early stages of the second half. NEC Nijmegen’s top-scorer Santos was to come close twice in as many minutes. Firstly on 52 minutes, he got onto the end of Rosales’ cross but his header, though powerful, was directed straight at Dreer. Soon afterwards, he received a flick-on by Salomón Rondón and beat Dreer to the ball, nudging it around him, though was ultimately denied by a defender guarding the exposed net.

Alas, just several minutes later as the hour mark approached, the contest was effectively over. From a break, Montero paced up the left to cross in a hanging ball that was met in space 16 yards out by Felipe Caicedo. Unmarked, the Espanyol striker powered a spectacular header into the top left-hand corner.
In the remaining thirty minutes, Ecuador continued to attack without increasing their lead. As has often recently been the case with Venezuela’s opponents, the home spectactors were left with the feeling that if their rivals had really needed at least one more goal, then they would have got it. The closest they did come, however, occurred in the 69th minute when a phenomenal 35-yard left-footed free-kick from Walter Ayoví venomously curled over the wall and then rattled off the highest point of the right-sided post.
Goal-wise at least, Venezuela were to have the last say. Their consolation came with little more than five minutes left as substitute Josef Martínez arrived unmarked at the far post to side-foot home Rosales’ cross from the right. Much as the Torino striker wanted to rouse his team-mates for an ambitious grand finale, it was the visitors who looked more likely to find the net. Indeed, as the game entered stoppage-time, Ecuador broke on a counter with at least a man advantage, but Rosales just about caught up with Walter Ayoví to commit a foul a couple of yards outside the area, for which he received a booking.
Nevertheless, with a 3-1 away victory, fans of La Tricolor will be as delighted with their fourth consecutive win as La Vinotinto followers will be dejected with their fourth straight defeat.
What follows are some thoughts on this encounter. 
Too Much Diversity? Venezuela’s Awkward Transition

Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Colombia, Italy, Chile, England, Belgium and the Netherlands. These are the countries in which the Venezuelan starting XI play their respective domestic football. All different and all overseas. Given the weakness of the Venezuelan top-flight, the latter is perhaps not so much a problem but the former surely is. While several have long-standing experience of playing together at international level, this is certainly not the case for new ‘recruits’ such as Jeffrén and Santos. These two men are past their mid-20s and have only recently become eligible to represent La Vinotinto, having moved away from Venezuela with their families while very young.

Of course, most fans are always excited to see their disparate representatives all on one field together. However, it is hard not to avoid the feeling that their distances from one another for most of the year are not really conducive to effective team play. Indeed, familiarity amongst players at club level is a huge asset for international managers who are usually short of preparation time, as has been evidenced by the last two World Cup-winning sides, Germany and Spain.

While many South American nations have their leading talents scattered across the globe (mostly in Europe), the diversity of leagues represented is easily the highest amongst the current Venezuelan crop. Although a typical Argentina or Brazil squad may draw upon talents based in seven or eight different countries, the cream of the crop largely come from no more than three or four. While recent results for these two decorated nations may not be meeting past standards, their records from the past decade or so are nevertheless envied by the vast majority of national federations.

Thus, though Venezuelans should be proud to now have so many players plying their trade in highly competitive leagues, it could well be that they are currently at a difficult transition phase in their footballing development. Indeed, while it may only provide one piece of the puzzle, in order to see more unity and cohesion on the pitch we may all have to wait until more top players are clustered in no more than a handful of different leagues. In such a scenario, irrespective of whether or not they play for the same teams, not only would they be experiencing broadly similar playing styles, surfaces, cultures etc. but there would be more opportunities to socialise off the pitch. Fostering a collective team spirit is every bit as important as a functioning playing system.

Sanvicente’s Future/Venezuela’s Regression

Another defeat for Noel Sanvicente and another unwanted record. Venezuela have now got off to their worst start in World Cup Qualifying since the campaign for USA 1994. This was in a different format and consisted of a run of seven straight losses that, on the last matchday, was ended by a solitary victory. If Chita‘s current charges are to avoid again making history for the wrong reasons, their best chance may be in the next encounter away to Peru in March – quite a challenge in itself. Otherwise, their subsequent encounters in the 18-game process are against Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. For Venezuela at least, there really are no easy games in CONMEBOL qualifying.

Such regression has understandably irked fans. Not only are the results very poor but there is no discernible style to Venezuela’s play and there is little awareness of what the manager is trying to achieve. Consequently, analyses of team performances seem increasingly unenlightening. Even if a player shows glimpses of promise – for this game, Josef Martínez’s goal and general drive to go forward should not go unremarked upon – not only does it seem relatively minor but also, they seem to have prospered in spite of, rather than because of, whatever system Sanvicente is trying to implement.

Although they may just be idle rumours, two Argentines have been linked with replacing him as national boss. Firstly, 2014 Copa Libertadores-winning Edgardo Bauza of San Lorenzo and, even more eye-raisingly, renowned maverick Marcelo Bielsa, formerly of Argentina and Chile, whose most recent job was at Marseille. Even if it does not come from either of these two men, there is certainly a threat to the position of Sanvicente and he will have to wait until Monday to discover his fate.

UPDATE (23 November 2015): Following a meeting with the FVF, Noel Sanvicente remains as the Venezuela national team manager. One casualty from the talks, however, is the Estadio Cachamay, where Venezuela have played – and lost – two qualifiers and will no longer be appearing at during this qualifying cycle.

Venezuela Also Disconcerting off the Field

Finally, it was not just a bad night for Venezuelan football but also for the nation’s politics – not to mention democracy. Indeed, towards the end of the game, some fans started chanting against the current government headed by Nicolás Maduro and were audible to those watching at home. It did not take long for those in control of the public announce system to drown these voices out with the sounds of what was most probably the first piece of music they could lay their hands on. Anyone who is familiar with the country’s media will be unsurprised to learn that this unsavoury incident largely went unreported in the leading outlets.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Velázquez, Cichero; Jeffrén (Martínez, 54′), Rincón, Lucena (Acosta, 46′), Otero; S. Rondón, Santos (M. Rondón, 68′).

Ecuador (4-2-3-1): Dreer; Paredes, Guagua, Erazo, W. Ayoví; Noboa, Quiñónez (Castillo, 70′); F. Martínez, Bolaños, Montero (Cazares, 76′); Caicedo (J. Ayoví, 82′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical 

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – November 2015 Preview

With Venezuela having lost their opening two World Cup Qualifying fixtures, Hispanospherical.com looks at the situation facing manager Noel Sanvicente, his team’s preparations for their visit to high-altitude La Paz to face Bolivia as well as the notable call-ups for this game and the subsequent home encounter with Ecuador.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 12 November 2015 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department

Bolivia vs Venezuela

Tuesday 17 November 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State

Venezuela vs Ecuador
Sanvicente Urgently Needs to Give Fans Something to Cheer About

Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department, Bolivia, where Venezuela play on 12 November 2015. (Photo courtesy of David Freeman who travelled to 67 football matches across Latin America. Read more about his adventures here

‘I am not a coward, I won’t resign’. So proclaimed Venezuela boss Noel Sanvicente last month at a lengthy press conference shortly after his nation’s Russia 2018 qualifying campaign had been inaugurated with two straight defeats. The 3-1 loss away to Brazil may have been largely anticipated, but the embarrassing late defensive mix-up that caused a 1-0 reversal in the opener in Puerto Ordaz at home to Paraguay certainly irked fans, greatly lowering morale at the first hurdle. Coming off the back of poor friendly performances and the failure to reach the knock-out stages of Copa América 2015, many fans ran out of patience with Chita.

The ex-Caracas and Zamora director técnico has lost considerable goodwill in his 16 months in charge. Results have not met expectations, displays have been lacklustre and most players have struggled to replicate their club form. Regarding this last point, given the tactical incoherence repeatedly exhibited as well as the high number of attackers fielded with similarly incohesive results, many point the finger of blame at Sanvicente as his intentions continue to puzzle and bewilder.

In further comments to the media, while he acknowledged some of the criticism and accepted responsibility, he seemed unwilling to consider a fundamental shift in his approach. Instead, amongst other things, he lamented the ‘accident’ involving Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Alain Baroja that gifted the win to La Albirroja and also remarked upon the superior club levels that many of his country’s opponents play at – an observation that ‘you don’t have to be Harry Potter to see’.

Before Sanvicente categorically stated that the thought of ‘resigning doesn’t go through my head’, he also reiterated that ‘my thing is work, work and more work’. Weary words for many Vinotinto fans as ‘all work and no play’ would certainly be a succinctly apt assessment of his goal-shy reign to date.

Under pressure, currently point-less and in charge of the lowest ranked nation in CONMEBOL (83rd), Sanvicente knows that all this much-vaunted labour must be converted into positive results as soon as possible. This month’s challenges from fellow strugglers Bolivia as well as injury-hit high-flyers Ecuador, while certainly substantial and seemingly with the potential to send Chita scurrying out of a job, do also offer opportunities to reinvigorate the cause. However, though he has claimed his methods will not be changing any time soon, the personnel definitely will be – more so than at any other point since he took up the post.

Venezuelan Preparations: Bumper-sized Squad to Help Cope With High Altitude  

Indeed, Thursday’s trip to La Paz’s Estadio Hernando Siles – over 3,600 metres (nearly 12,000 feet) above sea-level – serves up all kinds of logistical issues that South American nations have attempted to counteract in differing ways. Sanvicente has opted to call up an enlarged squad of 33 players, with 20 of them making the journey to Bolivia; these comprise of an equal mixture of ten home-based individuals and ten, largely more established, legionarios who ply their trade abroad. Several of the latter possess experience of playing at high altitude at club and/or international level but it is those currently featuring in the transitory Torneo Adecuación who have undergone the greatest preparation ahead of this game.

For the past three weeks or so, they have been training at La Vinotinto‘s National Centre of High Performance (CNAR) facility on the northerly Isla de Margarita. Ideally, physical trainer Rodolfo Paladini said he would have liked 17 consecutive days with the players but due to club commitments for some – though not all – this was somewhat problematic. Nevertheless, when available, this domestic crop have been spending time in hyperbaric chambers which are intended to help users experience and acclimatise to simulated high-altitude conditions.

In the few days preceding the game, the overseas-based contingent have gradually been joining up with them at CNAR and today, Wednesday 11th, the 20-strong group flew to Bolivia. However, rather than travel straight to La Paz, they are instead staying in the relatively low-altitude Santa Cruz de la Sierra (416 metres above sea-level). Tomorrow on matchday, they will embark on a get-in-and-get-out strategy as they shall enter the city of the fixture no more than two hours before kick-off; some Bolivia-based portable chambers have been hired to assist any breathing problems they may experience. Almost as soon as the game is concluded, the squad will then take an aeroplane back to the national training centre.

A calculated risk, no doubt, though far from the first time something like this has been deployed by a South American nation. The altitude issue has been a bone of contention for decades and FIFA resolutions have been passed more than once (notably in 1995 and 2007) to ban international games in La Paz, though these were subsequently repealed. It is undeniable that even if not all of Bolivia’s players are accustomed to high-altitude conditions, they have more than enough who are and this has been a partial factor in many victories over some of the continent’s heavyweights. Anyone resistant to this argument may wish to briefly peruse the nation’s woeful record away from home – their Copa América win against Ecuador in June was their first competitive victory on foreign soil since 1995.

Nevertheless, though their home advantage has attained near-mythical status over the years and casual observers may consider a visit from CONMEBOL’s lowest-ranking team as a banker win for La Verde, this is far from assured. Indeed, in the past two visits during World Cup Qualifying campaigns Venezuela have attained a 1-1 draw (in 2013, when Juan Arango’s last international goal was cancelled out with four minutes left) and a 1-0 win (in 2009 via an own goal; this was during the same qualification cycle in which Bolivia beat Argentina 6-1 and Brazil 2-1).

If, however, they are unable to get a result, the pressure will be on to get one against Ecuador – no mean feat as La Tricolor are riding high following two consecutive wins, the first of which being a sensational 2-0 away triumph against under-fire Tata Martino’s Argentina. Though they will be missing key-man Antonio Valencia, they have strength in depth and will fancy their chances as last month’s heroics came without Enner Valencia, Michael Arroyo or Renato Ibarra on the pitch (and who are all injured this time around). The likes of Jefferson Montero and Felipe Caicedo promise to offer the Venezuelan backline a consistent threat throughout the game.

Again though, La Vinotinto have a strong recent qualifying record in this particular fixture, drawing the last encounter 1-1 and winning the preceding two 3-1. Post-La Paz, after the full Venezuela squad reconvenes at CNAR, they will head over to Puerto Ordaz for this game looking to give the Estadio Cachamay public something to cheer about. Indeed, not only did the 1-0 debacle against Paraguay occur at this ground but in September it was also the site of two dreadful displays: a 3-0 reversal meted out by Honduras which was followed by a 1-1 draw with Panama on a bog of a pitch. An on-field apology of sorts is very much in order.

Predicting who will line-up for this second fixture is only marginally more problematic than that of the Bolivia game. Nevertheless, what follows is a brief overview of some players to look out for in the upcoming week, starting with the La Paz trip.

venezuelabolivia

20-man Venezuela squad for the trip to face Bolivia in La Paz (photo: @SeleVinotinto)

Players to Keep an Eye Out For

‘The following are the matches of our lives. We have to go out with impetus. [We] can not give away more points.’ Experienced Franklin Lucena understands the significance of these two games and will more than likely start in La Paz, either as a central defender or a holding midfielder. This is owing to his club outings this season at Colombia’s Once Caldas who play home matches at over 2,000 metres above sea-level and who are accustomed to similar levels of altitude in certain away matches. For similar reasons, Luis Manuel Seijas of Colombia’s Independiente Santa Fe has also been touted for a place in the line-up. If both men start, then Lucena will be more than likely at the back with Seijas partnering captain Tomás Rincón in defensive midfield – that is, if El General of Genoa has recovered from his injury.

First-team spots have also been rumoured for the versatile right-back/wide-man Alexander González (Young Boys) and centre-back Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), who both scored the last time Venezuela played in La Paz in a 3-2 defeat in November 2014. So long as he has shaken off his minor injury then first-choice goalkeeper Alain Baroja (AEK Athens) will be between the sticks. Once again, the attacking positions are the hardest to predict though, if utilised effectively, there is certainly talent in the 20-man squad: Josef Martínez (Torino), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Juan Falcón (Metz) and Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright) may all be granted a chance to wangle their respective ways into the long-term thinking of Chita.

Regarding potential starters from the home-based crop, aside from Ángel, few strong rumours exist though Sanvicente has said he is keen on giving youth a chance. If he follows through on this, many fans will be keen to see international debuts granted to 20-year-olds Carlos Cermeño, a highly rated defence-minded player at Táchira, and Caracas’ attacking full-back, Jefre Vargas. However, one youngster who will not be featuring is the league’s top-scorer, 21-year-old Manuel Arteaga who, despite intiially being called up to the full squad, was the victim of some kind of communication failure between his club and country and so was unable to make the trip. On a more experienced note, midfielder Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira) can not be too far away from a starting berth, having featured as a substitute against Brazil.

Who from this group will be in a state to play against Ecuador is anyone’s guess though it can be said with the closest thing to certainty that the following cracks will start in Puerto Ordaz: right-back Roberto Rosales (Málaga), centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes) and striker Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion).

The locals as well as most fans will also be keen to see Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez, two men born in the state but who were raised in other countries and who have only in the past year acquired the relevant citizenship documentation to represent La Vinotinto. The former in particular has been in eye-catching form, banging in 9 goals in 12 games for NEC Nijmegen in his debut season in the Dutch Eredivisie. The latter has also shown promising form as he seeks to revitalise his career with KAS Eupen, who currently reside at the top of the Belgian second tier. One other individual who, due to injury troubles, is featuring in his first international squad since he ran the show away to Honduras in February is 23-year-old Rómulo Otero (Huachipato). For some, a possible successor to Juan Arango, this Chile-based playmaker has long been tipped for a long-term spell in the first team.

Alas, this is all largely educated conjecture at this stage. On matchdays, Sanvicente’s line-ups tend to be revealed in advance to the press, so those interested in being in the know at least a couple of hours before kick-off should either return to this page for a short update or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. Otherwise, enjoy the games and feel free to return for some thoughts on them in the upcoming week.

UPDATE (12 November): This, courtesy of @SoccerDataVEN, is the Venezuela line-up that will face Bolivia:

venezuelavsbolivialineup

Full Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers: Alain Baroja (AEK Athens), José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira) and Wuilker Faríñez (Caracas FC).

Defenders: Wilker Ángel (Deportivo Táchira), Francisco Carabalí (Mineros de Guayana), Carlos Cermeño (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Mineros de Guayana), Gabriel Cichero (Sion), Alexander González (Young Boys), Roberto Rosales (Málaga), Jefre Vargas (Caracas FC), José Manuel Velásquez (Arouca) and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes).

Midfielders: Rafael Acosta (Mineros de Guayana), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira), César González (Deportivo Táchira), Jacobo Kouffati (Deportivo Lara), Franklin Lucena (Once Caldas, on loan from Deportivo La Guaira), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica), Rómulo Otero (Huachipato), Tomás Rincón (Genoa), Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe) and Ronald Vargas (AEK Athens).

Forwards: Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana), Juan Falcón (Metz), Josef Martínez (Torino), Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion), Christian Santos (NEC Nijmegen) and Jeffren Suárez (KAS Eupen),

Notes: Fernando Amorebieta (Middlesbrough, on loan from Fulham) and Juan Pablo Añor (Málaga) were initially called up to the 33-man squad but have since been ruled out due to injury.

Also, Manuel Arteaga (Zulia) was also in the initial squad but has been unable to join up with the group following a communication problem between his club and the Venezuelan football association (FVF).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical