Tag Archives: South American football

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.

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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

Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (5 October 2017)

The seventeenth and penultimate jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s youthful side continue to impress with their eyes very much on a Middle East-based prize. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 5 October 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira.

Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 5 October 2017 (YouTube)

Stalemate Gives Venezuela Third Consecutive Draw Against Qualification Hopefuls

In a game short on clear attempts, Venezuela held Uruguay to a draw, postponing La Celeste‘s likely qualification celebrations until Tuesday.

Although his side’s ongoing inability to create chances will be of concern, La Vinotinto boss Rafael Dudamel will nevertheless be pleased to have earned his third consecutive point.

Not entirely dissimilarly, though his Uruguayan counterpart Óscar Tabárez may feel confident of wrapping up automatic qualification at home to Bolivia, he would have no doubt hoped his side could have posed a greater attacking threat in this game.

Indeed, their best opportunity of the first half was also their first: after three minutes, a hanging Cristian Rodríguez corner was headed, in space, by Atlético Madrid’s José Giménez, whose effort was spectacularly saved by Wuilker Fariñez. Tipping the ball wide as it headed towards the top corner, this was to be the much-hyped Caracas FC stopper’s only real save of the match.

Subsequently, both sides put in crosses and attempted efforts from distance but, one way or another, these mostly evaded their targets. The bobbly state of the Pueblo Nuevo pitch appeared to do zero favours for free-flowing, passing football, as each side hardly ever worked themselves into space within the final third. Instead, some individuals attempted relatively tame and/or wayward long-range efforts and the best prospects were evidently most likely to arise from set-pieces – thus it was from a corner in the 34th minute that Venezuela came closest. Here, Junior Moreno – standing in for the suspended Yangel Herrera (and Arquímedes Figuera) – saw one of his many dead balls headed back across goal by Mikel Villanueva, where it was met by left-back Rubert Quijada – himself playing in place of the suspended Rolf Feltscher – who nodded just over from a goalmouth position. That said, as much as this opportunity gave the home crowd some hope of a slight upset, the referee’s whistle had in fact already been blown for an infringement.

Soon after up at the other end, Luis Suaréz – who had been duking and diving without really winning much more than a corner – chipped a good ball to strike-partner Edinson Cavani. Though he was near the edge of the area, the qualification campaign’s top scorer must have considered this at least a half-chance, but his volley was ultimately quite weak, causing no difficulty for Fariñez.

Into the second half, the disjointedness of the play continued but the volume of the crowd noticeably increased as a little more initiative was displayed. In the 49th minute, La Vinotinto captain Tomás Rincón suddenly forced a low parry from Fernando Muslera with a pacey shot, then soon up the other end Cavani had a decent chance, this time turning dangerously from just inside the area on the right. He was squeezed for space, but his shot deflected off a defender and, though it was heading wide, Fariñez still felt that he had to dive low to make sure, as the ball brushed his gloves and went out for a corner.

With a little more space available to roam and buoyed on by the crowd, 20-year-old Sergio Córdova knocked in a cross that caused concern amongst the Uruguayan backline and then, just before the hour-mark, he tried his luck from range. However, as with most shots from this distance, this one troubled nobody but the ballboys.

However, deeper into the second half, though there was considerable midfield endeavour and some minor moments of intrigue, greater interest was provided by the introduction of a few players who starred in this year’s Under-20 tournaments. Indeed, Uruguay already had World Cup starlet Federico Valverde on the field and he was to be joined on the 65th minute by Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur, who was making his first ever senior appearance. On the Venezuelan side of things, Ronaldo Lucena also debuted, coming on in the 83rd minute, a few minutes after diminutive dribbler Yeferson Soteldo had also taken to the field. The latter replaced another youngster, Sergio Córdova, and, overall, with Wuilker Fariñez also in goal, Venezuela fielded four members of their Under-20 World Cup side that finished runners-up in June. With Herrera available in their final qualifier and four other youngsters in the squad, it is likely that at least one other member shall receive a run-out before this cycle is concluded.

Still, before the game itself was over, the visitors did manage to fashion two further chances to win it. Firstly, with seven minutes remaining, substitute Giorgian De Arrasceta dinked a ball over to the centre-right just inside the area, where Cavani, with a good sight of Fariñez’s goal, quickly controlled and struck. However, perhaps it was the pressure of the encroaching defenders who he had briefly stole a pace or two from or maybe it was instead a lack of composure, but either way, his shot went low and narrowly wide of the target.

It was surely his side’s best chance of the match, though their final opportunity of note was also rather presentable. This time, De Arrasceta crossed in a fine set-piece from the right towards the back post where, in space from a closer position than he was some 80-plus minutes prior, Giménez attempted to head it on the stretch. Alas, his connection lacked intent and his effort bobbled harmlessly wide.

Thus, goalless it ended. A laborious encounter in more ways than one, Venezuela will surely be the happier of the two nations, even if they do not appear to be any closer to finding any consistent attacking cohesion. Still, post-Under-20 World Cup, Dudamel has certainly managed to instil and stabilise an impressive defensive system – much-needed, even if nothing can ever entirely massage the figures in the “Goals Conceded” column.

His side’s final encounter on Tuesday sees them travel to Asunción to face qualification-chasing Paraguay, whose remarkable late win away to Colombia has given them genuine belief that they may yet nab at least the playoff berth. Against a very fired-up La Albirroja, a draw would surely constitute another credible result for La Vinotinto, but if – if – they can just build on that impressive rearguard by sneaking an unanswered goal, it really would provide a huge boost in morale.

Much of the footballing world are watching as the future of several CONMEBOL countries hangs precariously; Venezuela may be out, but they certainly have a role to play.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; V. García, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, R. Quijada; S. Córdova (Y. Soteldo, 80′), J. Moreno, T. Rincón, J. Murillo (R. Lucena, 83′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Otero, 69′).

Uruguay (4-4-2): F. Muslera; M. Pereira, J. Giménez, D. Godín, M. Cáceres; N. Nández (Á. González, 83′), F. Valverde (G. De Arrascaeta, 79′), M. Vecino, C. Rodríguez (R. Bentancur, 65′); E. Cavani & L. Suárez.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

Uruguay – Summary of Top Talents at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup

Following a brief tournament overview of Uruguay’s campaign at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of several players worth keeping an eye on. Those seeking further information on the majority of these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification.

Santiago Bueno with Federico Valverde (and his Silver Ball trophy) (@SantiBueno98)

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Uruguay

Tournament Overview

Such were the expectations of the CONMEBOL champions that their eventual fourth-place finish will have caused disappointment throughout their ranks as well as their nation of perennial overachievers. Perhaps things could have been different had Facundo Waller not got injured in the first game and if potential star man Rodrigo Amaral had been fully fit, but nevertheless, Fabián Coito’s men have much to feel positive about in what any neutral analysis would brand a successful campaign.

They kicked it off with an impressive 1-0 win against Italy, with Amaral coming off the bench to strike a phenomenal free-kick into the opposite top corner. Subsequently, they eventually saw off a talented Japan side 2-0, before drawing 0-0 with South Africa, a game in which they were surprisingly often on the back foot. Nevertheless, they had already qualified and were to do as Group D winners, keeping three straight clean sheets along the way.

In the Round of 16, they chalked up a fourth, as captain Nicolás De La Cruz’s penalty was just about enough to squeeze past Saudi Arabia. However, their defensive miserliness swiftly came to an end in the Quarter-final, as Portugal took a first-minute lead; Uruguay recovered, though soon after they levelled up the score for the second time in the 50th minute to make it 2-2, both teams seemed fairly content to settle for a penalty shootout. This was the first of three that the South Americans would face in the tournament, though the only one from which they would emerge victorious.

They thus went into a Semi-final clash with regional rivals Venezuela, the only side to defeat them in qualifying. Uruguay almost avenged this courtesy of Nicolás De La Cruz’s second converted penalty of the competition, yet owing to a sensational Samuel Sosa stoppage-time free-kick were forced into extra-time, after which penalties followed. Alas, De La Cruz was to be one of two in the sky blue shirts to have their spot-kicks saved as, once again, La Mini Vinotinto got the better of them. Subsequently, they strolled into the Third Place match with group foes Italy, yet though they had a decent second half, the 90 minutes finished as a 0-0 stalemate. The shootout, held immediately afterwards, was won relatively comfortably by the Europeans.

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(Group D table and tournament results courtesy of Wikipedia; to read about and view highlights of each game, click here and scroll down)

Top Talents

Federico Valverde (Midfielder, No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla)

Starting all seven games, the solitary regular to have not also played a part in the qualifying process was adjudged to be the second best player of the tournament, winning the Silver Ball. Back in 2015, the ex-Peñarol man scored a remarkable seven goals in eight Under-17 qualifying games, but here he was fielded in a deeper midfield role, caressing the ball with great poise as he often sought to kick-start and galvanise attacks. He was regularly on set-piece duties and had a role in the first goal against Portugal when his corner was volleyed by Nicolás Schiappacasse onto the bar, before Santiago Bueno headed home the rebound. Later on, he made it 2-2 with his only goal of the tournament, which came from the penalty spot. Impressively, he also converted a further three penalties, albeit during shootouts. Given that Uruguay only netted seven goals in seven games, with four coming from dead ball situations, one could easily dispute FIFA’s high ranking of the playmaker Valverde, though it must be said that his side was often let down by a lack of options and finishing in the final third. Indeed, the Real Madrid youngster seemed to feel a little of these frustrations against Venezuela when he took matters into his own hands. He thus nearly scored directly from a corner, almost caught out the goalkeeper with a fine, curling free-kick as well as attempted a – rather less accurate – strike from near the halfway line.

The Defence

Though the front line provided relatively little to write home about, those fielded at the back certainly came away with well-earned plaudits. Indeed, having entered the tournament with a decent qualifying record of eight let in over nine games, they thus conceded just three goals in their seven World Cup games: one a free-kick, another a long range golazo and the other – the opener against Portugal – the result of Valverde, of all people, getting dispossessed within the first minute and the Europeans quickly capitalising.

For this goal, the ball was slid by Xadas to Xandre Silva, who finished off. Bypassed and split open along the way were centre-backs Santiago Bueno (No. 2, Barcelona Juvenil A) and Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional). Given the circumstances, it is debatable how much blame can be apportioned to the pair, but they both otherwise had very impressive tournaments and can justifiably be considered amongst their country’s most promising prospects. Indeed, Bueno was more prominent than he was in qualifying, starting all the games except the Third Place decider, scoring with a close-range header against Portugal and often impressing with his ball-playing skills and passing – most notably when he hoisted a well-directed upfield ball which ultimately turned into a goal for Nicolás Schiappacasse against Japan. Rogel, on the other hand, was perhaps a little overshadowed at times due to the blossoming of the more nimble Barcelona youngster, but he nevertheless solidified his reputation as a persistent, intimidating brick wall, who will relentlessly harass and harry opponents. Though he did not score, he was still a nuisance at set-pieces, with his muscular frame and intent unsettling defenders.

The wing-backs also impressed, with right-back José Luis Rodríguez (No. 4, Danubio) winning much praise, not only for his defensive work but also his occasional forays up his flank. Indeed, this ever-present was particularly prominent in the Third Place game, cutting inside and nearly scoring at the end; his most telling contribution, however, was his pass to Schiappacasse for the striker’s goal against Japan. Left-back and fellow regular Mathías Olivera (No. 5, Club Atlético Atenas) had a similarly impressive tournament and, just as he did in qualifying, got on the scoresheet. Indeed, with one of several overlapping runs he embarked on, he received a pass from midfielder Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio) – who was not used so much in the competition, but had his moments – and from inside the area squeezed a shot home, to seal the 2-0 win against Japan. Owing to the manoeuvrings of his agent Daniel Fonseca earlier this year which led to him being bought out of his Nacional contract and then registered with a second division side he has never played for, he is very much in the shop window.

Lastly, recognition is certainly in order for goalkeeper Santiago Mele (No. 1, Fénix), who made some fine stops, keeping a tournament-best five clean sheets, as well as remarkably saving three spot-kicks in a row against Portugal. Off the back of that particular feat, he will have been disappointed not to have saved any of the subsequent nine penalties he faced in his following two shootouts – Yeferson Soteldo’s hit the bar – but his credentials have nevertheless been bolstered. Indeed, though Venezuela’s Wuilker Faríñez was widely considered to be the best shot-stopper in qualifying, the favourite of the dissenters was Mele and here he also had admirers eager to put him forward for this tournament’s accolade.

Nicolás De La Cruz (Attacking-midfielder, No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay)

In terms of consistency, certainly the best player in qualifying, yet while in South Korea the captain had his moments, he was less of a driving force and will surely come away feeling disappointed. Indeed, he was often an attacking presence and showed glimpses of what he can do, but his tournament got off on the wrong foot and never really consistently recovered to a plateau that this determined battler would be able to accept. In the opening game with Italy, just as did occur on the first day of qualifying, he had a penalty saved and then, in the following match with Japan, missed a golden one-on-one opportunity. In the knock-out phase, he went some way towards restoring internal equilibrium by scoring from the spot twice: first against Saudi Arabia (a penalty which he also won after forcing a handball) and then in the Semi-final with Venezuela. However, though there is certainly a lot of potential to be nurtured here, he was to leave the competition in a very dejected state, with his decisive shootout spot-kick being saved by Faríñez, which thus denied Uruguay a place in the Final.

Rodrigo Amaral (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 10, Nacional)

Still, though De La Cruz did not exactly fire on all cylinders, he nevertheless had more to say for himself than Rodrigo Amaral. The scorer of five, largely breathtaking, qualifying goals and arguably his nation’s most natural talent, back in February his agent Daniel Fonseca spirited him away from Nacional in order to physically prepare for this tournament in isolation. Having been unable to complete 90 minutes at any point earlier this year due to being deemed unfit, this was supposed to be the platform on which he could showcase to the world his abilities and thus have countless salivating elite sides eagerly offering up their daughters and much more in order to sign him up. However, though in the first game against Italy, he came off the bench to score an absolutely sensational bullet of a free-kick to win the match, we saw very little of him in the remainder of the tournament. Indeed, he only made one further substitute appearance as well as – somewhat curiously – played for the entirety of the Third Place encounter. He did reportedly pick up a knock in the first game, but one suspects that his lack of subsequent game-time was more due to ongoing fitness issues which manager Coito has made clear that he is not impressed by (struggles with his weight, does Amaral). One wonders how different Uruguay’s campaign would have been had he arrived in peak condition with left-sided midfielder Facundo Waller (No. 15, Plaza Colonia) – who picked up an injury after thirty minutes of the opener and never featured again – also able to line up alongside him. Having also missed two shootout penalties – on top of the one the prodigy missed two years ago at the same tournament against Brazil which knocked his country out – this is not a competition that he will wish to recall in a hurry. Nevertheless, though Amaral has stated that he will not return to Nacional, he is still contracted there until December – will there be an unlikely reconciliation or will a bigger side be willing to take the risk?

Rodrigo Bentancur (Defensive-midfielder, No. 20, Boca Juniors, transferring to Juventus in July)

Possibly under-the-radar, possibly just a little under-par, the Boca Juniors regular who has already been snapped up for €9.5 million by Juventus had a decent, if unspectacular, tournament. Indeed, though not renowned for his goalscoring, he is nevertheless capable of kick-starting attacks and making inroads upfield, though in this competition he was a little more subdued in that department. Instead, he mainly deserves commendation for his work in tandem with the likes of Carlos Benavídez (Defensive-midfielder, No. 8, Defensor Sporting), Valverde and others in shielding the back four and often ensuring opponents had few options available to them in the final third. One minor concern for his new employers may be his tendency to collect cards as, having already been sent off in a qualifying game, here he received a one-match suspension owing to an accumulation of yellows. Still, he turns 20 later this month and given the money – and thus, confidence – invested in him, one expects to see him make his Serie A bow next season.

Nicolás Schiappacasse (Striker, No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s)

As noted, Uruguay sometimes struggled to create clear chances, yet when they did, they were often not taken by those up top. Perhaps more than anyone else, Schiappacasse was guilty of some notable misses, one in particular occurring in the opener against Italy; later in the final Group D game against South Africa, his squandering drew him a fair bit of unwanted attention. He could be wasteful and sometimes appeared disinterested, yet at the same time he also regularly found himself in good positions and was involved in many good moves. He could certainly be inconsistent, but he did at least show a sample of how clinical he can be when he struck home against Japan; he also had some indirect involvement in Bueno’s goal against Portugal when he volleyed a corner against the bar, which the defender then headed home.

Otherwise, Joaquín Ardaiz (Forward, No. 7, Danubio) had a less remarkable tournament, whereas Agustín Canobbio (Attacking-midfielder, No. 19, Fénix) often found himself in promising positions but was not able to get on the scoresheet – he did, however, win two penalties (against Portugal and Venezuela).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (8 June 2017)

Again somewhat overshadowed by events in South Korea, Venezuela’s makeshift senior national side have nevertheless just concluded their two-stop American tour…

International Friendly

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

Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Ecuador 1-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 8 June 2017 (YouTube)

Moreno’s Magic Ends Things All-Square In Florida

Venezuela’s brief American tour ended with Júnior Moreno’s first-half goal earning them a second consecutive draw in a game which began fairly lively though petered out in the last half-hour.

Both sides had their moments in the early exchanges, with Venezuelan right-back Alexander González striking the top of the crossbar with a phenomenal 12th-minute strike from over 30 yards out on the inside-right.

However, the pacy and powerful Ecuadorians combined with more success during this period and were to enjoy the better of the opportunities. Indeed, in the 5th minute, Cristian Ramírez dinked in a cross from the left which Marcos Caicedo headed with great intent but too close to goalkeeper José Contreras who nevertheless did well to pull off a crucial close-range block. In the 20th minute, there were two moments of note: first, Caicedo ran forward before passing to Enner Valencia in a promising position on the left, yet his low ball into the rather spacious box was knocked away. Soon afterwards, a team-mate struck an effort from outside the area which Contreras comfortably got down to.

Then, three minutes later Ecuador had the ball in the back of the net after some fine flank-work from Caicedo on the left, following which he drilled in a low ball that Valencia stabbed home – only to be flagged offside. However, La Tricolor were not to be denied for long as, in the 28th minute, another low cross in from Caicedo ended up in the back of the net – that is, after being unfortunately converted by Venezuelan centre-back Mikel Villanueva for an own goal. 1-0.

Following this opener, Ecuador had a couple more half-chances, though Venezuela gradually got upfield more frequently, though most of their forays involved crosses, particularly from Rómulo Otero, which evading those in the middle by a whisker. Nevertheless, they managed to return affairs to level terms in the 42nd minute after another cross without contact went over to the right, where Arquímedes Figuera then passed to Júnior Moreno. From an inside-right position just outside of the area, the Zulia man impressed for his second successive Vinotinto game, by striking a fantastic right-footed effort that went in off the far post to make it 1-1.

Following the interval, most of the – rather limited – action was confined to the opening fifteen minutes or so. From the Venezuelan side of things, Salomón Rondón fluffed his lines a few times, thus continuing his rather underwhelming form in 2017 – just the one goal at international level plus another for West Brom so far. First in the 50th minute, after a fine run by Jhon Murillo down the right into the area which saw the Tondela loanee bypass a couple of opponents along the way, the ball was played back for Rondón in an inviting central position, but his shot was badly screwed wide. Similarly, five minutes later, the striker was found via a fine deep pass from González, yet somehow was unable to make a connection with the ball. Later on in the 61st minute, Rondón was again played through and had a partial sight of goal within the area. However, once more, he misdirected his effort wide.

In between as well as after this trio of chances, Venezuela goalkeeper Alain Baroja – who was substituted on at half-time, thus heralding his international return following an exile of over 14 months – made some decent contributions. First, in the 53rd minute, Valencia did well to nutmeg Villanueva on the left before coming into the area, one-on-one, yet his shot was blocked by the trailing arm/right-side of Baroja; Venezuela thus narrowly dealt with the resulting corner. Then, some seven minutes later, the goalkeeper did well to race out and beat an attacker who was threatening to reach the forward ball.

Otherwise, in the remaining 30 minutes, little of note occurred aside from the minor matter of Venezuela’s Andrés Ponce being slid through on the inside-right in the 72nd minute and taking a surprise shot that whistled a yard or so wide of the target.

Overall, whilst neither this nor the previous game with the USA will live long in the mind of any fan, perhaps acting manager Marcos Mathías and Under-20 World Cup finalist Rafael Dudamel, will have learned a thing or two. Indeed, with eyes very much on the future consideration of qualification for Qatar 2022, the international credentials of 23-year-old Júnior Moreno, in particular, have surely been bolstered.

Team Selections

Ecuador (4-2-3-1): E. Dreer; P. Velasco, D. Aimar, G. Achilier, C. Ramírez; P. Quiñónez, M. Oyola (F. Gaibor, 46′); Á. Mena (A. Preciado, 72′), J. Cazares (G. Cortéz, 79′), M. Caicedo; E. Valencia (J. Cifuentes, 88′).

Venezuela (4-4-2): J. Contreras (A. Baroja, 46′); A. González, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva (Y. Osorio, 68′), R. Feltscher (R. Quijada, 84′); J. Murillo, J. Moreno (F. Flores, 63′), A. Figuera, J. Kouffaty (A. Ponce, 55′); S. Rondón & R. Otero (D. Machís, 77′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Portugal 2-2 Uruguay (AET – 4-5 on penalties) (Quarter-final, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 4 June 2017)

Overcoming an early setback and ultimately requiring the dreaded spot-kicks, Uruguay eventually emerged victorious from their 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup Quarter-final clash with Portugal. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

uruguayportugal

(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results and fixtures)

Portugal 2-2 Uruguay (AET – 4-5 on penalties)

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Quarter-final, 4 June 2017 (YouTube)

Uruguay set up a scintillating Semi-final clash with CONMEBOL rivals Venezuela, after seeing off a Portugal side who easily provided them with their most difficult test yet.

Indeed, within the first minute, their Iberian opponents not only took the lead but also became the first team in the tournament to both score against Uruguay as well as put them in a losing position. This occurred when Federico Valverde was dispossessed by Xadas who slid the ball to Xandre Silva to finish off. It took about ten minutes, but Uruguay did gradually find their way into the game, having a few chances which culminated with the equaliser on 16 minutes. Here, a right-footed corner from Valverde was brilliantly whipped towards the back post, which Nicolás Schiappacasse volleyed onto the bar, with the rebound falling to Santiago Bueno, who headed home. For most of the remainder of the half, Uruguay were more than holding their own despite not creating much, yet in the 41st minute they were left reeling by Diogo Gonçalves’ phenomenal right-footed strike from just outside the area on the inside-left which flew into the top corner.

Thus, Fabián Coito’s men went in at half-time behind, though this state of affairs did not last long. Indeed, after the restart, Agustín Canobbio was fouled in the area and in the 50th minute, Valverde struck home the penalty to make it 2-2. Subsequently, though there were a couple of other chances in the match, both teams appeared to have decided from a relatively early stage that this game was heading to penalties – and so it proved.

After eight well-executed penalties, almost every taker’s nerves then crumbled, with first Portugal’s Pepê seeing his sstrike saved by Santiago Mele. Rodrigo Amaral thus stepped up to claim the glory for Uruguay, yet spectacularly blazed his strike well over the bar. Thus followed three consecutive failed spot-kick efforts, before Bueno struck his home with aplomb to book the South Americans’ place in the final four.

Talent Tracking

uruguayflag Uruguay

Federico Valverde (No. 16, Real Madrid Castilla) had a curious game, yet again made some crucial contributions. Firstly, he was partly at fault for the opening Portugal goal when he was robbed of the ball seconds beforehand, yet 15 minutes later he crossed in the corner that led to his side’s equaliser and later, he both scored the spot-kick to make it 2-2 as well as converted the all-important first one in the shootout. Otherwise, he whacked a conspicuously bad free-kick off-target in the 72nd minute but overall, his positive actions far outweigh the negatives.

Valverde’s potential future El Clásico rival Santiago Bueno (No. 2, Barcelona Juvenil A) also had a game to remember. It is debatable – though, probably a little unfair – whether to apportion blame at his feet or those of centre-back partner Agustín Rogel (No. 18, Nacional) for the first goal as they were both caught off-guard by Valverde’s unexpected loss of the ball. Nevertheless, he got himself in the fans’ good books 15 minutes later when he was on cue to head home the equaliser and, especially at the very end, when he put away the decisive spot-kick to win the tie.

Otherwise, the role of Santiago Mele (No. 1, Fénix) will certainly be fondly recalled as, though he conceded his first goals of the tournament – not a huge deal he could have done about either – he also remarkably pulled off three successive saves in the penalty shootout. He’s certainly attracted some attention over the past fortnight, building on a quietly impressive qualifying record.

Overall, despite the four goals, this was not really a game teeming with clear opportunities. Still, some additional attacking impetus was injected when Rodrigo Amaral (No. 10, Nacional) came off the bench in the 79th minute – taking the captain’s armband off the largely quiet Nicolás De La Cruz (No. 11, Liverpool, Uruguay) – to make his first appearance since his match-winning opening day cameo. In his 41 or so minutes on the field, he was to demonstrate some of the potential of his exceptional left wand, largely seeking to loft balls into the area as well as play in team-mates.

Indeed, a handful or so of opportunities  – or at least, half-chances – were created for the likes of Rogel and Matías Viña (No. 17, Nacional), with perhaps the most eye-catching being intended for Marcelo Saracchi (No. 6, Danubio) in the 90th minute. Here, he rapidly turned near the halfway line and then hit a great pass with his left peg towards Saracchi, though the midfielder – who also played in some impressive balls of his own earlier in the game – was narrowly beaten to the ball by the goalkeeper.

However, though Amaral showed that, despite injury and fitness concerns, he is still capable of spurring his team-mates on and making things happen, one wonders how he feels following the shootout. Indeed, in rather tragi-comical fashion, for the second Under-20 World Cup in a row this prodigous raw talent missed a crucial penalty. Hopefully for his sake, the fact that, unlike last time, this did not prove to be the decisive kick that knocked his nation out, will at least provide him with some solace.

Lastly, a quick word for striker Nicolás Schiappacasse (No. 9, Atlético Madrid Under-19s). He had a half-chance in the 13th minute when he bypassed an opponent before seeing his shot from a rather acute angle parried for a corner. More significantly, however, three minutes later he hit the crossbar, with the rebound being nodded home by Bueno and he also had a role in the second goal when he played the ball to Agustín Canobbio (No. 19, Fénix), who was fouled for the penalty converted by Valverde.

Ultimately, Uruguay certainly survived some scares and rode their luck, but managed to progress and thus move one step closer to attaining their goal. Though they will be very wary of the threat posed by Venezuela – the only side to beat them in qualifying – they will at least be able to welcome back Rodrigo Bentancur from suspension for this potentially epic Semi-final.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news on the two remaining South American nations at South Korea 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match-by-match talent-tracking articles.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-1 USA (AET) (Quarter-final, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 4 June 2017)

Like Venezuela’s preceding encounter, their Quarter-final clash with the USA at the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup took 120 minutes to decide, but ultimately Rafael Dudamel’s breathtaking men got what they deserved. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

venezuelausa

(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results and fixtures)

Venezuela 2-1 USA (AET)

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Quarter-final, 4 June 2017 (YouTube)

Though it took them in excess of 90 minutes, Venezuela’s dominance eventually paid off as they sensationally carried their history-making mission into the Semi-finals.

The chances La Mini-Vinotinto created are too innumerable to recall in full, yet as each minute passed with the scoresheet still blank it looked as if it could end up being one of those days. Indeed, within the first minute, they came close from a Nahuel Ferraresi header and also in this half both Adalberto Peñaranda and Sergio Córdova had chances, with the latter actually thinking he had scored in the 21st minute. Alas, his strike was belatedly ruled out for offside.

Just three minutes into the second half, Ronaldo Lucena’s corner was greeted by the head of Ronaldo Chacón though, unfortunately for him, his powerful effort rattled the crossbar. Lucena was to put in more than a few dangerous balls and another of these, in the 61st minute was headed by Córdova, yet again, this rebounded off the bar. Córdova, the tournament’s joint-top scorer with four goals, was to have more – some, rather gilt-edged – opportunities to score in both regulation- as well as extra-time, yet ultimately departed the field without having added to his tally.

Amongst others, Peñaranda also failed to convert a couple of opportunities – one, a particularly galling miss – yet, at the very end of the 90 minutes, both he and Córdova only narrowly avoided going home with guilty consciences. Indeed, at the death, USA had a clear chance to steal the victory yet, despite beating Wuilker Fariñez to a chipped ball from the left, Erik Palmer-Brown’s header went agonisingly wide.

Thus, for the second Venezuela game in a row, a further 30 minutes were required. Having looked destined to squander every chance that they could conjure, even they must have been a little surprised when Peñaranda opened the scoring just six minutes into the first additional half, sliding home substitute Samuel Sosa’s left-sided cross. Later, with just five minutes remaining, their lead was doubled when Ferraresi rose high to head home Lucena’s corner. Game over – or so it seemed. Indeed, barely two minutes later, partly capitalising on some Venezuelan joy-infused slackness, the USA pulled a goal back when Jeremy Ebobisse headed in a Brooks Lennon free-kick.

Nevertheless, though there was a nervy end to the game, Rafael Dudamel’s men could breathe a sigh of relief at the final whistle, which was swiftly followed by some elated celebrations of their astounding achievement of reaching the final four of the greatest competition for their age group.

Talent Tracking
venezuelaflag Venezuela

Thankfully, someone broke the deadlock and, perhaps fittingly, it was to be Venezuela’s best attacker of the tournament, Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford), who did the honours.

Previously, he had been involved in several notable attacks, such as in the 13th minute when his low right-footed shot was parried out wide. Then, in the 24th minute, he played a fine pass to Ronaldo Peña (No. 9, Las Palmas Atlético) whose left-footed shot went only just wide of the post. Later on in the 73rd minute, he had a golden opportunity to score when, from an acute angle within the area, he fired a ball into the goalmouth, where it took three pinball-esque ricochets before returning to him in a promising position with the goalkeeper floored. However, instead of allowing for some composure to lead him through the situation, he instinctively swung his left boot at the ball and was to somehow watch his shot evade the gaping net.

Two minutes from regulation time, he almost had another good chance when Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) played one of several incisive through-balls from largely deep positions that he was to distribute throughout the game. The captain was again to have an impressive game, also helping to ensure that the back four had very little to do over the 120 minutes. Regarding this particular pass, however, almost as soon as it found Peñaranda, a defender was close enough to be able to quickly block the shot.

Nevertheless, the Málaga loanee was not to be denied and, six minutes into extra-time, he side-footed a good left-sided cross from Samuel Sosa (No. 15, Deportivo Táchira) into the back of the net, thus scoring his second goal of the tournament.

Had Peñaranda not scored, one wonders if Venezuela would have made the breakthrough as frustrations were mounting with every miss from their many opportunities – not least following those that fell to Sergio Córdova (No. 19, Caracas FC). Indeed, he did manage to get the ball in the back of the net after 21 minutes with a low strike, though this was ruled out for offside and. subsequently, the four-goal striker’s composure was to repeatedly desert him as on another day he could have easily bagged a hat-trick.

It was in the second half, in particular, that his crimes in front of the opposition goal were committed. Firstly, in the 54th minute he had a virtually free header in the centre yet glanced it wide. Seven minutes later, he was slid through following a great pass by Herrera, yet despite being practically one-on-one with goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann, his low shot lacked placement and was comfortably blocked. A couple of minutes later, he was perhaps unfortunate when he rose well to head powerfully against the crossbar. Then, almost immediately afterwards in the 64th minute, Córdova fashioned a chance of his own from the inside-right edge of the area, curling a left-footed effort a couple of yards wide of the far post.

So many opportunities in what was barely ten minutes of action garnered him some unwanted attention and judgements. Much later on in the first minute of extra-time, he was to have another good chance when Herrera’s superb ball from deep was controlled by the forward yet, before he could pull the trigger, Klinsmann was there to nab the ball off him. Lastly, soon after Peñaranda gave Venezuela the lead, the scorer nearly turned provider when he dinked a fine central ball which put Córdova one-on-one yet, frustratingly, he nudged the ball far too gently at the goalkeeper, with his shot also lacking direction.

Had he put a couple of these opportunities away – the 54th-minute free header and the 61st-minute nod against the bar – Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC), in particular, would have been a satisfied man as he set them up. The ever-impressive midfielder with his lofted balls could well have had even more assists to his name. Indeed, it was he who also crossed into the area in the 48th minute for Ronaldo Chacón (No. 11, Caracas FC) to batter the bar with a header. Lucena’s crosses were a threat from the off, with one that drew a fine save from Klinsmann coming after less than minute. The man who headed this was centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira) and, some 114 minutes later, he was to ensure that Lucena was not to be denied his assist when he towered high from his team-mate’s pinpoint corner to nod home Venezuela’s second goal.

Overall, though they somewhat sloppily conceded their first goal some 507 minutes into the tournament, this was an otherwise impressive performance from Venezuela, even if they could have been a considerable bit more clinical. Though the USA did not offer much going forward, the defence nevertheless did well not to allow the four-goal Josh Sargent a sniff. However, owing to an accumulation of yellow cards, two of their number will unfortunately be suspended for the Semi-final: the impressive centre-back Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) as well as left-back José Hernández (No. 5, Caracas FC). That said, Dudamel does possess two back-up players with more than enough experience – particularly in qualifying – to suggest that they possess the abilities to do effective jobs within this rather well-drilled system.

Uruguay, their opponents in the South American battle on Thursday 8 June 2017, will certainly provide a stern. However, given all that Venezuela have achieved as well as the knowledge that they were the only side to defeat the CONMEBOL champions in qualifying, they have every right to believe that they stand a strong chance of making the Final. Now, wouldn’t that really be something?

To keep up-to-date with the latest news on the two remaining South American nations at South Korea 2017, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and check back to Hispanospherical.com for match-by-match talent-tracking articles.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical