Tag Archives: South American football

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

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

International Friendly

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

United Arab Emirates 0-2 Venezuela

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

La Vinotinto Shine in Daytime Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Selections

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

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

Unofficial International Friendly

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

Basque Country 4-2 Venezuela

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

La Liga-Level Liquidation for La Vinotinto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Selections

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – October 2018 Preview

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

Unofficial International Friendly

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

Basque Country vs Venezuela

International Friendly

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

United Arab Emirates vs Venezuela

rosalesdudamel

Roberto Rosales reunited with Rafael Dudamel (FVF Press)

Rafael Reinstates Rosales for Rumble in Mendizorroza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venezuela Squad

venezuelaoct2018squad

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

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

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

Midfielders

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

Forwards

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Panama 0-2 Venezuela – International Friendly (11 September 2018)

In their second friendly game of this international break, Venezuelans on the pitch and in the stands came together to generate a moving, memorable evening for the country. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…

International Friendly

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

Panama 0-2 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Panama 0-2 Venezuela, International Friendly, 11 September 2018 (YouTube)

Salomón Spearheads Supersubs’ Show

Salomón Rondón came off the bench to combine twice with his fellow substitutes to give La Vinotinto a heartening, well-fought win in front of a sizeable number of their compatriots.

This victory was the first against Panama since 2000 and also the very first against any opposition in a senior friendly encounter for Rafael Dudamel in his 29 months in the job – and just his fifth overall.

Beforehand, the coach stated that he would like his side to be “not so vertical” and instead have “more time with the ball” than they had against Colombia. Although there were considerable spells where neither side could gain much command over the play, Venezuela did at least manage to assert themselves to a greater degree in what was a more inviting contest.

For the second consecutive game, Darwin Machís started with intent, driving into space and even troubling the goalkeeper with a deflected shot in the second minute. However, with six changes made to the line-up, it was to be two of his fellow attackers who garnered themselves more attention in the first half. Indeed, firstly Luis “Cariaco” González built on Friday’s promising sub appearance, outpacing opponents numerous times on the right, managing to knock in several crosses and even squeezing in an attempt or two at goal.

However, prominence-wise at least, both men were eclipsed by Rómulo Otero. Nominally fielded in the centre behind Christian Santos, he often seemed to be on a one-man mission to gain himself a regular starting place, frequently drifting into other areas, particularly the left side. His contributions were hit-and-miss, with plenty of long-range shots, crosses and set-pieces either ballooning over or cannoning off the first man, but his thrusting, do-or-die mobility did genuinely unsettle opponents and create spaces for team-mates. Two of his opening-half free-kick attempts did also hit the target: a 13th-minute right-footed curler from an impossible angle on the left caused an instinctive parry for goalkeeper Luis Mejía who was anticipating a cross and, more notably, a 43rd-minute strike from some 40 yards that bounced just before Mejía, causing him to awkwardly deflect it out with his lower ribcage.

Although there was more action around the hosts’ goal, the Central Americans led by English-Panamanian interim coach Gary Stempel were always very much in the game. Often thwarted at the moment of a key pass, they did nevertheless provide a few scares. In the 28th minute, Cristian Martínez whipped in a devilish cross which the diving goalkeeper Rafael Romo – playing his first international in seven years – got fingertips to, before Yordan Osorio’s shin awkwardly cleared for a corner. In the 36th minute, following one of many clever flicks by José Rodríguez, a shot from Martínez in a good position in the area was well-blocked by Osorio’s centre-back partner Wilker Ángel. From the subsequent Gabriel Torres corner, Venezuela perhaps received a huge let-off, as a Fidel Escobar header hit the arm of left-back Luis Mago; contrary to how it initially appeared to almost everyone, this was adjudged by the referee to be marginally outside, not inside the penalty area. A mere matter of yards from the incident, the man in black could not have had a better view. Regardless, from the resulting free-kick, Escobar gave Dudamel’s men a second fright, as his right-footed bullet arrowed barely a yard over the bar.

Thus, at half-time, both sides had good cause to feel that this open game was there for the taking and immediately after the restart, it was the 2018 World Cup qualifiers who were first out of the traps. With barely 40 seconds played, Martínez shaped up from some 30 yards, striking a fine right-footed effort which Romo’s outstretched palm had to deal with. Some seven minutes later, Venezuela trumped the home side in the long-range stakes as another Otero free-kick from 40 yards – for which a 15-yard run-up was required – dipped menacingly before Mejía, causing him to parry out wide.

Subsequently, scares were averted at both ends but when the next real attempt on goal arrived, it was made to count. This came in the 67th minute with two substitutes as the lead protagonists. First, following some neat Venezuelan play, fresh-and-fleet-footed Jefferson Savarino of Real Salt Lake played a one-two on the right with Otero, receiving back the ball inside the area to slide across the goalmouth past Román Torres where none other than Salomón Rondón knocked it into the back of the net. Celebrated by thousands of Venezuelans in attendance, it sounded as if the Premier League striker’s first international goal since March 2017 had been scored at home.

Additional changes were later made to both sides, which perhaps further diluted the attacking fluidity. Yet, despite the dearth of shots on target, the pulsing atmosphere and highly competitive pinball-esque action lended itself to an engrossing spectacle. Towards the end, however, another one of the reinforcements from the bench ensured that his spell on the pitch would be remembered.

Eduard Bello, an attacker enjoying an impressive first season with Chilean side Deportes Antofagasta, came on for his international debut in the 78th minute. Ten minutes later he earned a corner which he himself then took; Rondón connected but his header on the stretch at an angle to the goal went slightly wide of the post. Then, in the final minute of stoppage-time after a Panamanian cross and headed knock-back had been hastily cleared, a ball was hoisted upfield by captain Tomás Rincón. The defence were largely committed further upfield and so, following a fortuitous ricochet off the defender, Bello was able to swivel and slide the ball towards Rondón in space who pounced like a predator to seal the win.

The elation in the stands was palpable and afterwards at the press conference, Dudamel dedicated the win to these joy-deprived believers, many of whom would have moved to the Panamanian capital in recent years due to the well-documented domestic difficulties:

“For multiple reasons our compatriots have emigrated from our country. There is something that in life can not be lost, which is dignity. Today we wanted to give a boost to the dignity of the Venezuelan who has accompanied us and who makes life in this beautiful country. May La Vinotinto become an example for all our people – that is the invitation.”

Many observers of Russia 2018 may blithely dismiss the weight of this Venezuelan victory but nobody who experienced it can deny the importance of such a welcome morale-boost. Friday against Colombia now feels like quite some time ago. Regarding the performances, although the action was again largely disjointed and fragmented, Rondón, Otero, González, Machís, Savarino and Bello have all provided Dudamel with positive moments on which to build more sustained attacking play. As for the rearguard, while the coach may wish to try out other players for next month’s double-header in Spain, the prized clean sheet that they kept and their general solidity should give the likes of Osorio and Mago hope that a consecutive call-up will be forthcoming.

Lastly, post-match Dudamel also said that, after nearly ten months without senior matches, he hopes that his side will go on to have “no less than 15-18 games” (including however many they play at the 2019 Copa América) under their belts before the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers commence. Such a number seems optimistic but if an array of seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome to pull this off, it would go a considerable way towards narrowing the preparatory chasm with their major CONMEBOL rivals.

Precarious though the future most certainly is, in this international break some positive steps were undeniably taken.

Team Selections

Panama (4-3-3): L. Mejía; M. Murillo, R. Torres, F. Escobar, F. Palacios (K. Galván, 71′); C. Martínez, A. Godoy, M. Camargo (A. Carrasquilla, 65′); J. Rodríguez (J. González, 77′), R. Blackburn, G. Torres (Á. Orelien, 65′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): R. Romo; A. González, Y. Osorio, W. Ángel, L. Mago; T. Rincón, J. Moreno (A. Flores, 86′); L. González (J. Savarino, 56′), R. Otero (S. Córdova, 75′), D. Machís (E. Bello, 78′); C. Santos (S. Rondón, 56′).

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

Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (10 October 2017)

The eighteenth and final jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s post-Under-20 World Cup rebirth capped off with a memorable, disciplined victory. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 10 October 2017 – Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asunción

Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 10 October 2017 (YouTube)

Herrera Heralds New Era at the Death

Rafael Dudamel’s youthful Venezuela concluded their late surge of good form by gaining their first away victory in their otherwise long-dead campaign, destroying Paraguayan hopes of progression in the process.

As revealed in post-match comments, La Vinotinto resisted some late-night intimidation and temptation – the latter arriving in the form of some rather talented young ladies sent to the team hotel – in order to methodically inflict some late, heartbreaking sabotage, courtesy of an 84th-minute Yangel Herrera winner.

The game was somewhat reminiscent of recent Venezuela encounters – particularly the away draw against Argentina – as the onus was on the opponents – for whom a win would, ultimately, have kept their qualification hopes very much alive – to break them down.

Thus, roared on by the ascension-seeking Asunción faithful, they took the game to Dudamel’s men, looking to gain advantages down the flanks in order to whip in balls as well as occasionally try their luck from dead-ball scenarios. Many of these crosses were dangerous and elicited gasps from both sets of fans but, truth be told, the vast majority were also very well dealt with by those in the centre, notably Wilker Ángel. Indeed, throughout most of the encounter, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez, whilst having to remain alert and viligant, was perhaps only ever once forced into an acrobatic save – and that did not occur until just before the end of regulation time.

The most troubling shot in the first half that he stopped was a mild worm-murderer from Rodrigo Rojas; it demanded merely a routine low save, though as with some other cross-area balls, goalkeeper did have to contend with the fear that a foot or other body part could so easily redirect it. Shortly afterwards in the 26th minute though, he did have to face his side’s biggest fright of the half as Cecilio Domínguez bypassed debutant right-back Ronald Hernández, broke into space inside the area on the left and cut back into the goalmouth. It looked as if someone in the centre was inevitably going to knock it home, yet somehow, after at least one attacker, defender and Faríñez all made tentative touches, the ball was cleared. The relieved rearguard thus breathed a collective sigh of relief – that is, until an Óscar Romero cross caused more concern, though ultimately this whistled by the cluster of bodies in the box and out to the other side.

Romero often put in testing balls, such as in the 38th minute when a lofted free-kick met Antonio Sanabria just inside the area, but the Real Betis forward’s header went a couple of yards over the bar. Four minutes later, Romero crossed in again – this time at the second attempt from the left – and Gustavo Gómez beat Ángel to the header, yet though he was in a promising goalmouth position, his effort comfortably evaded the target.

Throughout all of this, Venezuela’s forward forays were limited, though did gradually increase without seriously threatening the Paraguayan goal. Indeed, the only real attempt was Salomón Rondón’s soft 19th-minute header from a floated Tomás Rincón free-kick, which goalkeeper Antony Silva easily caught. However, Dudamel’s men were biding their time, hoping they could repeatedly thwart their hosts to the point where morale would slip and they would be on hand to grow in confidence and punish.

If home belief was dipping it did not tell immediately after the restart when, 30 seconds into the second half, a Paraguayan roamed down the right and played in a near-perfect cross. This found Domínguez in the centre with just one defender near him, yet his touch was off and the ball missed the target. Less than a minute later, the Paraguayans came storming forward again and their momentum was only halted by Yangel Herrera taking one for the team, strategically fouling and picking up a yellow card.

Venezuela composed themselves for a bit, though in the 50th minute had to deal with another series of scares. This involved Romero winning space again inside the area and crosses going across and back, but alas, without a killer connection.

Paraguay continued to see more of the ball, though with each passing minute, Venezuela became more bold. Suddenly, in the 61st minute, Jhon Murillo fashioned what was hitherto the best actual shot of the match, as from just outside the area on the centre-right, he blasted an effort that stung Silva’s palms and went out for a corner. Four minutes later, Murillo came even closer when substitute Yeferson Soteldo did well to hold off opponents and play him through on the inside-left. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, he had to quickly get a shot away, but the result was too close to Silva, who blocked low.

The game was more open and, with just one unanswered goal likely to suffice, Paraguay had certainly not given up hope. In the 68th minute, they caused further frights as a cross in from the right was headed goalwards; another player attempted to divert the ball with a high foot but Fariñez was there to dive-and-punch away. Three minutes later, after the ball was again played in and around the area, Óscar Romero had evidently had enough of the final-third frustrations and struck a low left-footed effort from almost 25 yards. Though it missed the target by at least a yard, it was hit with intent and was the closest Paraguayan effort of the half thus far. In so many ways, this said a lot.

Indeed, subsequently, Venezuelan forays became very commonplace and in the 77th minute, they came agonisingly close to the opening goal. Here, ultra-fresh substitute Rómulo Otero hit a slightly unexpected low drive from just outside the angle of the area on the right. Goalkeeper Silva could only parry this into the path of Rondón, yet with the goal gaping, his instinctive lunge instead somehow diverted the ball over the bar. Whether or not his footing and/or anticipation was at fault, it did look much easier to score.

A momentary let-off for the hosts. Five minutes later, they survived another one, as jinking Yeferson Soteldo showed what he can do at senior level, cutting into the area onto his right foot and hitting a strike that appeared to be net-bound, but instead clipped the top of the crossbar.

However, with their own forays yielding repetitive, underwhelming results, Paraguay’s fortune at their own end could not last and barely a minute after Soteldo’s effort, Venezuela finally made the heartbreaking breakthrough. After a home attack was snuffed out, the impressive Otero brilliantly bypassed an opponent on the right flank and then gained space from another inside the area, before pulling the ball back from the byline. It rolled for what felt like a potential golden age towards the middle of the area, some 16 yards out, where the steely-eyed 19-year-old Herrera met it in space and struck home. He immediately reeled away to celebrate with his fellow Under-20 graduate Soteldo as La Vinotinto‘s future gleefully hammered virtually the final nail into La Albirroja‘s 2018 qualification dreams.

Though most inside the stadium were deflated, their representatives did nevertheless attempt some hurried late attacks. One of the more notable attempts involved Fariñez parrying a strike and then, from the resulting cross, seemingly tipping Gómez’s powerful header onto the crossbar.

A sensational moment and some further heat exploded into the late proceedings as in the 89th minute Wilker Ángel and Gustavo Gómez let tensions get the better of each other and their mutual pushes resulted in double red cards.

Finally, in the last of what somehow turned out to be eight hair-pulling minutes of stoppage-time, Fariñez was called upon again to see the win out. At this point, an unexpected ball hoisted forward caught out the Venezuelan back-line and Rojas charged past them all, yet when confronted by the 5 feet 9 inch frame of Fariñez, his attempted chip was weak and the Caracas FC goalkeeper gratefully gathered the ball with barely a stretch.

When the final whistle blew, Paraguayan dejection, following a game which must have felt eminently winnable, was contrasted with elation from a Venezuela supposedly playing for nothing. However, this, their first away win in the entire campaign – only their second victory in the 18-game marathon and which extends their competitive unbeaten run to four matches – featured five players from the squad of Under-20 World Cup finalists. A rebuilding project is very much under way and at this moment, one can not rule out at least a dozen of the players whose exploits thrilled a nation several months ago receiving call-ups at some point during the Qatar 2022 qualification cycle.

Dudamel – who has just this week signed an extension deal to take him to 2022 – no doubt knows that he will certainly have difficulty in maintaining any kind of momentum from now until the next competitive games are played at June 2019’s faraway Copa América. Indeed, in preparation, he has requested “at least five friendly games” for next year, a relatively meagre number but one which was no doubt informed by the FVF’s cash-strapped situation as well as a mere handful having also been played in the previous World Cup year of 2014.

Still, against a backdrop of domestic turmoil, with such a promising pool of young talent already reaping dividends in tamden with a frequently shifting cast of – also relatively young – elders, really, what’s to stop this group from seriously competing for a spot at Qatar 2022? After all, upon final cold-light-of-day reading of the Russia 2018 CONMEBOL qualification table – their worst performance since the road to France ’98 – everyone will be determined to ensure that things can only get better.

conmeboltable

Final Standings for the CONMEBOL Qualification Campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup (Wikipedia)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, W. Ángel, R. Quijada; S. Córdova (Y. Soteldo, 57′), Y. Herrera, T. Rincón, J. Murillo (J. Moreno, 81′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Otero, 77′).

Paraguay (4-4-2): A. Silva; J. Moreira, G. Gómez, P. Da Silva (M. Samudio, 62′), J. Alonso; Ó. Romero, R. Rojas, R. Piris, C. Domínguez (A. Bareiro, 56′); A. Sanabria (O. Cardozo, 56′) & Á. Romero.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical