Tag Archives: Spain

Catalonia 2-1 Venezuela – International Friendly (25 March 2019)

La Vinotinto departed the Spanish capital to head north to a very proud and rebellious autonomous region. Here, @DarrenSpherical recalls the events of an atmospheric night in Girona…

International Friendly

Monday 25 March 2019 – Estadi Montilivi, Girona, Catalonia, Spain

Catalonia 2-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Catalonia 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 25 March 2019 (YouTube)

Vinotinto Denied at the Death

In what could well turn out to be Rafael Dudamel’s last game in charge, a Venezuelan national team that featured several changes from the glorious 3-1 victory over Argentina was ultimately undone by a late Catalonian winner.

Salomón Rondón was one of four players replaced in the line-up, though particularly in the first half, La Vinotinto performed very much on a similar level to their well-experienced opponents.

In front of a boisterous crowd, the game started at a healthy pace, with the first moments of note coming in the ninth minute when Sevilla’s Aleix Vidal put in a couple of testing crosses that were both narrowly thwarted in the area.

Five minutes later, Venezuela came alive in the final third when Yeferson Soteldo – here, given the nod ahead of Darwin Machís – cut inside and fired a rapid right-footed strike that goalkeeper Edgar Badía parried low. Immediately afterwards, Roberto Rosales picked up the rebound, knocking it across the goalmouth where it only just evaded Rondón’s replacement Josef Martínez in the middle. However, it instead fell on the right in the area to Jhon Murillo, who lashed a fearsome effort that crashed back off the crossbar.

Murillo often sought to make things happen and later in the 24th minute he did also fashion himself another, albeit considerably softer, chance, as his effort from the edge of the area floated into the goalkeeper’s arms.

A few minutes later back up the other end, the hosts were not far from taking the lead when a cross fell to Joan Jordán, whose low drive fortuitously ricocheted off a ground-bound Jhon Chancellor and trickled out for a corner.

Barely a minute later, it was again Venezuela’s turn to go close. This time, Murillo bustled past an opponent on the right to play a fine cross into the centre where Rosales, five yards out and odds-on to score, saw his strike hit the inside of the post and go back in Murillo’s direction.

In the 36th minute, the hosts themselves got involved with the woodwork action as captain Gerard Piqué curled a fine free-kick that clipped the crossbar. Not to be outdone, five minutes later fellow La Liga defender Rosales again beat the goalkeeper but not his apparatus by also connecting with the top beam from a long-range set-piece effort.

Thus, when the two sides withdrew for the break, although the scoreboard read 0-0, with regard to the goal framework, Venezuela were 3-1 up on hits.

The restart heralded the beginning of many personnel changes, with Catalonia ultimately going on to replace their entire team and Venezuela making a total of seven changes.

A few minutes into the second half, Soteldo dinked a ball to Alexander González who, in turn, crossed the ball low for Josef Martínez. Yet, the Atlanta forward could not quite pull the trigger in time as Oriol Romeu intervened for a corner.

However, in the 53rd minute, the South Americans found themselves chasing the game. Here, hot Barcelona prospect Riqui Puig played an incisive ball into the area and no Venezuelan picked up the run of Brighton’s Martín Montoya. Thus, he rounded substitute goalkeeper Rafael Romo, with fellow Camp Nou-graduate-turned-British-resident Bojan Krkić finishing the move off.

It was not the first time the Catalans had displayed some impressive fast-paced passing and movement abilities, but it was the first time that it had paid off. However, barely five minutes later they were prevented from pushing on as a defensive mix-up gifted Venezuela an equaliser. Indeed, an innocuous ball forward was weakly headed by Montoya back towards his area, but before second-half goalkeeper Isaac Becerra could receive it, Rosales was there to pounce and nutmeg him to make it 1-1.

For the remaining half-hour or so, the game suffered somewhat due to the number of substitutions. Two of these conjured up Venezuela’s best chance of a winner in this period as Juanpi’s 62nd-minute pass into the middle was almost diverted goalwards by Fernando Aristeguieta, but the Colombia-based striker struggled to make the right connection.

In turn, Venezuelan shot-stopper Romo was on cue to parry a couple of home efforts, such as that of Javi Puado in the 68th minute and then Marc Cardona’s in the 77th.

However, there was little that the APOEL goalkeeper could do in the 88th minute. With the clock close to expiring a ball was played over from the right byline and defender Ronald Hernández stretched but could not deal with it as it fell to Puado, who maintained his composure within the area and struck home.

For the majority of elated fans, it seemed an apt end to proceedings. For Venezuela, however, while they should not be too downheartened by the result and certainly not by their overall on-field experiences in Spain, their future currently seems surprisingly precarious.

Indeed, post-game it was assistant coach Marcos Mathías who attended to the press, with Rafael Dudamel reportedly being due to meet with the football association (FVF) in order to discuss whether or not he shall continue in the role. This follows in the wake of Friday’s publicised meeting with representatives of one of the two political factions currently locked in a dispute over the running of the country, which led to the coach offering his resignation. Currently, it is unclear as to what the outcome is likely to be and, although his second-in-command instead speaking to the media feels somewhat ominous, it is possible that Dudamel merely wished to avoid the inevitable interrogation. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but right now it feels as if, on-field at least, Venezuela are onto something and, with no obvious candidate to take over, nobody wants to see any momentum squandered.

Team Selections

Catalonia (4-4-2): E. Badía (I. Becerra, 46′); A. Vidal (J. Puado, 62′), G. Piqué (R. Puig, 52′), M. Bartra (M. Montoya, 46′), D. Vilá (O. Romeu, 46′); J. Jordán (A. García, 46′), P. Pons (M. Cucurella, 46′), Á. Granell (V. Sánchez, 46′), Ó. Melendo (M. Muniesa, 46′); B. Krkic (M. Cardona, 62′) & S. García (P. Milla, 37′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): W. Faríñez (R. Romo, 46′); A. González (R. Hernández, 78′), Y. Osorio, J. Chancellor, R. Rosales; J. Moreno, T. Rincón (L. Seijas, 46′), Y. Herrera; J. Murillo (D. Machís, 61′), Y. Soteldo (Juanpi, 61′) (J. Cádiz, 81′); J. Martínez (F. Aristeguieta, 61′).

Darren Spherical


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


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


Andrés Túñez: El Gladiador

(This article was originally written in English. If you would prefer to read it in English, click here.) britain1 usaflag

Con una de las exportaciones de Venezuela más aventureras y sin embargo menos observadas logrando recientemente un importante trofeo tras haber cortado lazos con el conjunto al que sirvió por más de una década, Hispanospherical.com hace un repaso en profundidad de su papel en una campaña memorable en una nación lejos del radar de muchos fans del fútbol.


Buriram United (Andrés Túñez en el centro): 2014 Ganadores de la Liga Premier de Tailandia, 2 de noviembre de 2014. (Fanpage de Facebook del Buriram United)

El domingo 2 de noviembre de 2014, mientras muchas ligas en Europa tomaban impulso, la carrera por la Premier League se asentaba finalmente en Tailandia, con el Buriram United manteniendo su corona tras una victoria de 2-1 sobre el Police United.

Aunque en retrospectiva el fracaso del rival más cercano, el Chonburi, a la hora de derrotar al TOT SC hizo irrelevante este resultado, más de 25.000 fans en el New I-Mobile Stadium – o, como prefieren llamarlo los locales, el Thunder Castle – recibieron con entusiasmo los simbólicos goles marcados por el anteriormente delantero del Sporting de Gijón Carmelo González y el canterano del Deportivo de La Coruña David Rochela.

Importaciones como estas, junto con el máximo goleador filipino-español Javier Patiño, han ayudado a este ambicioso club a disfrutar del periodo más exitoso de toda su historia (puesto que lleva existiendo de distintas maneras desde 1970), consiguiendo sus cuatro títulos de liga en las últimas siete temporadas. Sin embargo, no se puede decir que todas las adquisiciones internacionales hayan tenido una gran relación calidad-precio para el equipo, con el anterior delantero del Arsenal y el Hull City Jay Simpson sirviendo recientemente como advertencia contra el exceso. Había sido atraído al club en 2013 con un contrato que según se dijo batía records y aún así volvió a Inglaterra este verano tras menos de un año en su aventura tailandesa para jugar con el Leyton Orient.

No obstante, un hombre que, tras menos de cinco meses de apariciones, ha dejado una marca imborrable en el club y que podría seguramente dejar el equipo mañana y seguir siendo tenido en alta estima durante años, es otro de los fichajes del Buriram desde España: el internacional venezolano y anterior defensa central del Celta de Vigo, Andrés Túñez.

Nacido en Caracas, criado en Balaídos:
La carrera de Túñez en el Celta de Vigo

Túñez nació en Caracas de unos padres gallegos que volvieron, con su hijo de siete años en brazos, a la conocidamente lluviosa región noroeste de España donde en su adolescencia firmó con uno de los dos clubs locales más venerados, el Celta de Vigo. Fue una relación que duraría más de diez años, con Túñez apareciendo por primera vez para el equipo B principalmente en su posición preferida a la izquierda de la pareja de defensa central en la temporada 2006/07 y finalmente consiguiendo su oportunidad con el equipo senior en la primera mitad de la campaña de 2009/10 a los 22 años. Ganó protagonismo en un equipo que, a pesar de languidecer en la mitad de la tabla en Segunda División, llegó a cuartos de final de la Copa del Rey – igualando su mejor actuación en conjunto desde que quedaron subcampeones tras el Real Zaragoza en 2000/01 – y fue recompensado con un contrato de cuatro años.

A pesar de jugar en la mayoría de los partidos de liga que quedaban en esa temporada, su carrera dio un paso atrás temporal en la siguiente ya que, tras la llegada del nuevo entrenador Paco Herrera ese verano, apareció en menos de un quinto de los partidos de su equipo. Sin embargo, la temporada 2011/12 sería crucial, aportándole un inmenso orgullo personal y profesional, puesto que Túñez no sólo debutó internacionalmente con su país de nacimiento contra Argentina, si no que también fue el beneficiario de un cambio de opinión por parte de Herrera y se convirtió en un titular regular en el que seria un año de ascenso.

Subir a Primera División trajo consigo la inherente calidad superior de los oponentes pero, mientras el Celta se debatía en cuanto a resultados, cuando no estaba apartado por lesión o suspensión Túñez era una constante en el equipo. Un partido destacable de esta temporada fue de nuevo en la Copa del Rey, cuando un Real Madrid que empezó con, entre otros, Ronaldo, Di María, Benzema, Alonso y Modrić (sin mencionar a Callejón, Özil y Kaká todos saliendo del banquillo) fue vencido 2-1, aunque Los Merengues progresarían tras un aplastante 4-0 en el partido de vuelta.

Sin embargo tristemente esta temporada fue más una batalla que sobrevivir, una causa que Túñez sintió de forma visceral, diciendo a principios de mayo de 2013 que si el Celta perdía los dos partidos siguientes que eran vitales contra el Atlético de Madrid y el Real Bétis entonces “toda la temporada se irá al infierno”. El conjunto fue efectivamente vencido en los dos partidos, dejándolos cuatro puntos por detrás pero sin llegar al apocalipsis puesto que, extraordinariamente, el Celta tuvo éxito a la hora de preservar su estatus a través de las victorias en los últimos dos partidos contra el Real Valladolid y el Espanyol.

Entonces llegó Luis Enrique.

Apenas una semana después de que Túñez se tirara al suelo tras escuchar el pitido final y ser arrollado por sus similarmente aliviados seguidores en ese dramático último día, Lucho se incorporaba como nuevo entrenador, reemplazando a Abel Resino, que a su vez había tomado el relevo de Paco Herrera en Febrero. La leyenda del Barcelona se trajo consigo a varios jugadores y aunque siendo optimista en un principio, Túñez se dio cuenta pronto de que él no sería parte de esta audaz nueva era. Aunque no podría haberlo sabido entonces, la emocional victoria contra el Espanyol había sido su último partido competitivo en los colores de Os Celestes.

Posteriormente, en parte para reforzar las posibilidades de ayudar a Venezuela en su intento de clasificarse en el Mundial de 2014, el hombre que había pasado toda su carrera jugando en la región de su juventud presentaba síntomas de amante desdeñado deseando irse lejos, acordando unirse finalmente al equipo israelí Beitar Jerusalén como préstamo en septiembre de 2013. Aunque Túñez ha dicho que disfrutó de esta estancia, al final desembocó en una decepción profesional con el Beitar terminando 9º entre 14 equipos en la temporada normal y por consiguiente sufriendo el escarnio de jugar en los play-offs entre los 8 equipos del final. De todas formas Túñez ya se había ido en marzo justo antes de que los play-offs hubieran empezado y al final del siguiente mes finalizó su contrato con el Celta (dos años antes de expirar), embarcándose en su lugar en un nuevo desafío con los campeones Tailandeses del Buriram United.


Andrés Túñez en los colores del Celta de Vigo, tocando la bola para alejarla de Lionel Messi en el Camp Nou, 3 de noviembre de 2012. (David Ramos/Getty Images Europe)

El Buriram forcejea, Túñez se asienta:
Los primeros días en Tailandia

Efectivamente, este no fue un movimiento convencional para un jugador con experiencia en la que podría denominarse la mejor liga del mundo y quien, a los 27, estaba entrando en lo mejor de su carrera. No obstante, debido al número de jugadores con conexiones españolas asociados con el club no era tanto aventurarse a lo desconocido como se podría pensar, y mucho menos caer en una espiral descendiente en el abismo futbolístico. En efecto, no sólo le fue dada la bienvenida al club por los considerables talentos de Javier Patiño y Carmelo González (que ahora tienen más de 70 goles en liga entre los dos durante las dos últimas temporadas), junto con el defensa David Rochela, si no que también entre el equipo técnico se encontró con el preparador físico y analista de tácticas Arnau Navarro. Tuñez ha declarado en una entrevista con Los Otros 18 que pidió consejo a Navarro y otros antes de cambiarse, aunque hubo un hombre con el que no llegó a encontrarse por los pelos a su llegada con el cual podría haber compartido alguna que otra historia del Balaídos.

Alejandro Menéndez, que había sido entrenador de Túñez entre 2007 y 2009 en el conjunto B del Celta de Vigo, fue eximido de sus deberes como entrenador del Buriram dos semanas antes de firmar el internacional venezolano. A pesar de haber ganado casi cualquier honor local concebible en 2013, Menéndez fue víctima de un impulso insaciable de éxito instantáneo con el lamentable comienzo del Buriram en la temporada del 2014, que les vio conseguir tan sólo 10 puntos de 8 juegos, dejándolos en el puesto 12 en la liga y prácticamente fuera de la Liga de Campeones de la AFC en la fase de grupos.

Consecuentemente, el serbio Božidar Bandović fue convocado como interino hasta principios de junio y tuvo el placer de revitalizar al conjunto, que ganó 20 de los 27 puntos disponibles en los 9 partidos de liga que él entrenó. Túñez no participó en esta primera etapa de resurgimiento del club, puesto que se encontraba aclimatándose a su nuevo entorno, aunque en su debut el 11 de junio en el siguiente partido – el primero supervisado por el nuevo entrenador brasileño Alexandre Gama – ocurrió algo que tendría un efecto inesperado en su temporada.

El Buriram Asciende, El Gladiador Emerge:
Andrés el Incalculable

Lo que para sus compañeros de equipo era una victoria rutinaria de 3-1 en la Copa de la Liga de Tailandia contra el secundario TTM Customs finalizó abruptamente para Túñez tras recibir un duro codazo en la nariz, rompiéndola y obligándole a llevar una máscara protectora durante los siguientes dos meses. Como será referido, lo que estaba destinado a ejercer una simple labor práctica – aunque estilizada – de ayuda a la rehabilitación que le permitiese jugar, iba a convertirse en el signo de identidad de un jugador que, cuando volvió a la acción dos semanas después, se congració rápidamente con los fans del Buriram con espectaculares jugadas que le valieron victorias.

Así, con su equipo ahora 3º hizo su primera aparición en liga el 25 de junio contra el Songkhla United, teniendo un papel crucial en el resultado. Quedando sólo 15 minutos de reloj, el Buriram había desperdiciado una ventaja de dos goles y se encontraban al mismo nivel que el humilde bando contrario cuando Túñez recogió un tiro libre que rebotó fortuitamente en el larguero y volvió hacia el. Inmediatamente mandó la bola de un cabezazo a su izquierda, encontrando a Patiño que instintivamente la encajó con una tijera para dar a su equipo una victoria de 3-2.

Túñez se convertiría en una parte integral del equipo, y aunque le habían escogido principalmente para evitar goles, pronto se encontró marcándolos en el otro lado el campo, haciendo conocidas sus ventajas físicas entre los defensas de todo el país. El primero para el club llegó el día 16 de julio en el partido en casa de la semifinal de la Copa de la Liga cuando su altísimo cabezazo, de espaldas a la portería desde el tiro libre elevado de Theeraton Bunmathan, demostró ser el ganador contra Ratchaburi. Una quincena después, en su partido como visitantes el coloso Caraqueño marcó un gol casi idéntico pasando al mismo portero varado mientras el Buriram se reservaba su plaza en la final de octubre con una victoria 2-1 esa noche (un 3-1 global). Entre estos dos partidos en los que puso su nombre en el marcador, también abrió su cuenta en la liga el 23 de julio con un gol de inauguración – otro cabezazo, tres en cinco partidos en este periodo – en una categórica paliza de 5-0 a Chiangrai.

Este éxito propulsó al Buriram al primer puesto por primera vez en la campaña y, junto con el papel de Tuñez a la hora de conseguirle un lugar en la final de la Copa de la Liga a su equipo, no era sorprendente saber que los fans le habían tomado cariño, aunque si lo era la forma que tenían de expresar su admiración. Así, a principios de agosto el diario deportivo español Marca, interesado por las hazañas tailandesas de Túñez, publicó un artículo proclamándolo una sensación local a quien le había sido concedido el afectuoso apodo de “El Gladiador”, llegando a 5.233 ventas entre sus seguidores de máscaras similares a la que él llevaba. Los medios deportivos venezolanos, que siguen la trayectoria de sus internacionales fuera del país con varios niveles de empeño dependiendo del jugador, alegremente publicaron esta historia y consecuentemente esta percepción de Túñez en la distancia continuaría mucho tiempo después de haber sido desenmascarado. Comprensible quizás, al menos entre los seguidores venezolanos, dado que el acceso a los partidos en directo desde fuera de Tailandia es muy limitado y la mayoría de los partidos de fin de semana del jugador empezaban cuando muchos de sus compatriotas aun estarían durmiendo.


Un enmascarado Andrés Túñez, imagen promocional que aún sigue en la página del equipo en la web oficial del Buriram United. (Buriram United)

Para muchos con ésta idea de Túñez como una especie de  guerrero omnipotente que hacía el trabajo en los dos extremos teniendo el poder sobre todos y todo, fue una forma de poner los pies en la tierra cuando, sólo 11 días después de que el artículo fuera publicado, los rivales de título más cercanos, el Chonburi, acabaron con la racha de 19 partidos (nueve desde la llegada de Túñez) seguidos sin perder del Buriram. Sutthinan Pukhom propició un ataque psicológico potencialmente letal recortando con un gol en el último minuto la distancia entre ambos bandos a sólo un punto. Incluso después de que el Chonburi perdiera dos puntos en el siguiente partido, permitiendo que el Buriram aumentase su liderazgo por tres tras una victoria 2-0 sobre los modestos Air Force Central, los campeones parecían estar contra las cuerdas y se enfrentaban a una potencial batalla por el título a tres bandas.

Esto ocurría porque el siguiente juego del Buriram era un encuentro auténticamente épico  en casa  del Muangthong United, el equipo que ganó la liga en las tres ocasiones en los 6 años previos en que los Thunder Castles habían fracasado en este empeño. Si otra derrota pudiera ser infligida al Buriram, se encontrarían con los mismos puntos que el Chonburi, con el Muangthong United al acecho con un solitario punto de desventaja.

Aquellos que adscribían propiedades apotropaicas a la máscara de Túñez estaban sin duda temiéndose lo peor y buscando cobijo en sus refugios, puesto que había dejado de llevarla. Un revés más tangible que sucedió en el Buriram en este periodo fue la prolongada suspensión padecida por Carmelo González, que inicialmente se había visto vetado de forma indefinida desde finales de julio hasta el final de la temporada, pero que fue exitosamente apelada para permitirle volver a mediados de octubre. La tremenda doble infracción de Carmelo fue su respuesta a que el codazo que había recibido en la barbilla quedase sin castigo: primero le dio disgustado una patada a una botella que pasó más cerca de lo debido de un colegiado, y después, al serle otorgada una segunda tarjeta amarilla a causa de esta reacción, despejó el balón fuera del campo con rabia diciéndole a los colegiados que podían ir a buscarla. Así, sin Carmelo, que tampoco había jugado en el partido en el que fueron derrotados por el Chonburi, y el tenue brillo del aura de Túñez amenazando con desvanecerse, el Buriram de Alexandre Gama fue a este partido siendo profundamente consciente de los efectos en la moral del equipo que una segunda derrota contra el rival podría suponer.

Sin embargo este partido, que se puede clasificar como el más destacado de Túñez de la campaña, resultó ser donde realmente asentó su lugar en los corazones de los fieles del Buriram, marcando el gol ganador con un sensacional ostentación de capa y espada, a la altura de cualquier proyección idealizada de sí mismo mientras lo hacía. Fue a los 34 minutos de la primera mitad siguiendo un saque de esquina que el ex-Celta estaba defendiendo atrás en su propia área. Cuando la bola fue tocada con un cabezazo limpio pudo ver que el Muangthong se había comprometido en exceso y, oliéndose la oportunidad, avanzó hacia el centro del campo siguiendo el ritmo de la carrera de Jakkraphan Kaewprom por el flanco derecho. Con un solo defensa entre ellos, la pelota le fue cuadrada a través del área para que el paciente Túñez marcara con un patadón izquierdo que, aparte de los debidos gritos de asombro, dejó muda a las gradas locales. El hecho de que el venezolano estuviese en una posición tan avanzada era menos sorprendente que verle marcar con los pies, algo que nunca había conseguido antes en el nivel senior (exceptuando un golazo perfectamente legítimo en uno de los partidos de su lucha contra el descenso del Celta, que fue incorrectamente anulado y que llevó a que el juez de linea fuera vetado en su siguiente partido).

El resto del partido estaba lejos de ser una inevitable marcha hacia la victoria para el Buriram, puesto que concedieron un penalti poco después del gol, que fue evitado gratificantemente por Siwarak Tedsungnoen y tuvieron que jugar los últimos 30 minutos con diez hombres tras la expulsión de Theeraton Bunmathan. Después llovieron los tiros a la portería de Tedsungnoen pero Túñez y sus compañeros en la defensa los aguantaron, consiguiendo una eufórica victoria de considerable significado que noqueó de forma efectiva a sus anfitriones fuera de la carrera por el título.

Momentos destacados del Muangthong United 0-1 Buriram United, Liga Premier Tailandesa, 20 de agosto de 2014 (Youtube)

Desafortunadamente para los amantes de las narrativas simples, los Thunder Castles no podían dejar que sus seguidores respiraran tranquilos por mucho tiempo y siguiendo el ejemplo del Chonburi, tras su gran resultado empataron a uno contra la oposición de mitad de tabla, en este caso Army United. Esto dejó al Chonburi rezagado por un solo punto al final de agosto, en el momento en que todos los equipos de la Liga Premier Tailandesa se preparaban para dejar paso a los Juegos Asiáticos, pasando el rato las siguientes siete semanas con algunos amistosos hasta que los últimos seis partidos volvieran a comenzar a mediados de octubre.

Buriram Cuatro, Túñez Uno:
La Carrera por el Campeonato

Tres días antes de que el Buriram pudiera continuar con su carrera por la liga, una especie de doblete doméstico seguía estando a la vista, puesto que participaron en la final de la Copa de la Liga el 12 de octubre con el BEC Tero Sasana, quien en ese momento había reemplazado al Muangthong en el tercer puesto. Dado su papel de liderazgo en ambos partidos de semifinal, Túñez podría haber sido perdonado si se hubiera permitido tener un buen presentimiento sobre este partido. Sin embargo, en lo que fue un encuentro muy monótono de escasas oportunidades y que incluyó Mexicanos haciendo demasiadas olas (una), fue por el contrario el conjunto con un vociferante Avram Grant en la banda – en su papel de director deportivo – el que quedó como ganador sorpresa de un 2-0 con dos goles tardíos.

Así, un trofeo se había escapado mansamente del alcance del Buriram, pero ¿podrían hacerlo dos? La pérdida de la copa no pareció ser más que un desliz momentáneo cuando los Thunder Castles volvieron a la campaña de liga con una victoria contra el Sisaket que, al coincidir con una derrota del Chonburi, les dio cuatro puntos limpios quedando sólo cinco partidos. Aun así, los fatalistas sintieron que tenían razón después de todo cuando el Buriram consiguió un solo punto de los siguientes dos juegos y el Chonburi finalmente los desalojó del primer puesto por primera vez desde julio. El Buriram parecía haberlo echado todo a perder. 

Sin embargo, tras haber igualado sus resultados en la siguiente jornada, el Chonburi dio el fatal y decisivo paso en falso, empatando con el Chainhat Hornbill en la penultima etapa, en un partido inundado por una inmensa controversia y que dio pie a prolongados suspensos tanto para el árbitro como para el juez de línea. Consecuentemente, justamente o no, esto permitió al Buriram tener el control sobre su propio destino consiguiendo llegar como líderes por un punto al último día de la temporada.

Cuando llegó el domingo 2 de noviembre de 2014, las escasas esperanzas del Chonburi se desvanecieron rápidamente después de diez minutos cuando Carmelo puso al Buriram 1-0 contra un  Police United amenazado por el descenso y Rochela haría el 2-0 desde el punto de lanzamiento de penalti cuando quedaban 25 minutos. Aunque sus oponentes – ahora jugando con diez hombres – se las apañaron para conseguir recuperar un gol unos minutos después, los Thunder Castles despidieron cómodamente la victoria, con el Chonburi fracasando en tan siquiera  cumplir adecuadamente su tarea como potencial azote del día, empatando a uno con el TOT SC.

El Buriram United era nuevamente campeon por cuarta vez en su historia y, por primera vez en su carrera profesional, Andrés Túñez obtuvo una medalla de ganador de liga. Como se puede observar en los videos oficiales del club del partido y las celebraciones posteriores (los goles con banda sonora, como siempre, de una cuestionable interpretación del ‘Go West’ de los Village People), así como un pequeño baile de los jugadores en el podio, no cabe duda de que este logro fue sentido de todo corazón por El Gladiador.


Andrés Túñez con el trofeo de la Liga Premier de Tailandia, 2 de noviembre de 2014. (Cuenta de Twitter de Andrés Túñez)

Un Héroe de Culto para Unos, un Valorado Compañero de Equipo para Otros y un Campeón para Todos:
Andrés Túñez


La posición en liga del Buriram United en las 38 jornadas en la temporada de la Liga Premier de Tailandia de 2014. (Fanpage de Facebook del Buriram United)

Así terminó una inusual pero estimulante campaña para una persona revitalizada que capturó los corazones e imaginación de miles de fans, no sólo de su propio equipo, si no en toda Tailandia y más allá. Mientras que una lectura fría del gráfico superior podría debilitar la percibida contribución de Tuñez al éxito del campeonato, poco puede hacer para disminuir su estatus icónico y su papel como uno de los jugadores más valiosos de su equipo. Es de cualquier manera útil considerar brevemente los datos en cuestión para por lo menos conseguir una fotografía ligeramente más amplia de la temporada del Buriram que lo que ha sido relatado en otros sitios, sin desmerecer el papel de Túñez.

Teniendo en cuenta la resurrección de la campaña del Buriram tras su flojo comienzo, aunque el influyente artículo del Marca manifestó correctamente que el club estaba a mitad de la tabla cuando Tuñez fue fichado a finales de abril (que sería la 10ª jornada, cuando iban en el puesto 12), casualmente exageró su papel en el giro de su suerte. Efectivamente, a pesar de incluir las estadísticas de aparición en los partidos que deberían haber dado pie a mayor reflexión, el artículo omitió mencionar que él no hizo su  debut en la liga hasta la 20ª jornada de la temporada, para cuando el Buriram ya iba 3º. Así, como el club ya estaba en una trayectoria ascendente se le deben reconocer grandes méritos, primero al entrenador interino Božidar Bandović y también a  su repuesto permanente Alexandre Gama, quien continuó el trabajo de su predecesor de motivar a los indudablemente talentosos jugadores a alcanzar su potencial colectivo.

Eso no significa que Túñez fuera un jugador menor en la subida a la cumbre inicial de su equipo al final de julio (25ª jornada) – poco antes de que el artículo fuera escrito – puesto que incuestionablemente, a través de sus primeras intervenciones en las que se ganaron partidos él fue todo menos irrelevante. Como también ha sido retransmitido, él habría continuado jugando un papel crucial a la hora de mantener (aunque con uno o dos pequeños deslices) la posición del equipo hasta el final de la campaña pero, junto con las contribuciones de algunos de sus compañeros mencionados antes, el papel de Gama también debería ser enfatizado.

En efecto, de cara al futuro, Túñez debe de haber estado encantado de escuchar que el entrenador brasileño ha firmado recientemente un nuevo contrato, puesto que el venezolano dijo que inicialmente le atraía el Buriram porque tienden a clasificarse en la Liga de Campeones de la AFC –  una competición en la cual su jefe tiene algún pedigrí. En el 2007, Gama se las arregló para llevar al Al-Wahda de los Emiratos Árabes Unidos a las semifinales de la competición – la mejor actuación del grupo hasta ahora – y probablemente disfrutará la oportunidad del año que viene de mejorar la floja actuación del Buriram de Menéndez anteriormente esta temporada.

Aunque la reciente noticia de que Carmelo González va a dejar el club debería invitar a la reflexión, es probable que Túñez siga estando cerca para jugar en esta competición continental, puesto que inicialmente firmó un acuerdo de tres años y ha indicado que su intención es la de quedarse con el Buriram.

Por último de cualquier forma, pase lo que pase en su futuro y donde sea que se encuentre jugando después, siempre recordará afectuosamente, y será recordado afectuosamente por ella, esta campaña de ligas ganadas con el Buriram United. Muchos jugadores han visto sus carreras disolverse hasta volverse insignificantes tras habérseles dicho que son un sobrante para los requisitos del único club profesional que han conocido, pero la respuesta de este gallego ha sido ejemplar. De forma contraria, muchos jugadores han dejado el club de su juventud para ir a ganar títulos, a veces en ligas más prestigiosas. Sin embargo, pocos pueden presumir de haber tenido una temporada tan reveladora como la que disfrutó Túñez y de haberse convertido en un héroe de culto para fans del fútbol en al menos tres continentes en el camino. Así que, así estén aclamando a El Gladiador en Tailandia, Venezuela, España o puede que incluso Israel, y sin importar cuantas imágenes de partidos hayan podido ver, aquellos que de algún modo estaban al tanto de esta historia saben que merecía la pena ser contada.

Darren Spherical


Traducido por:

Susana Spherical 

Andrés Túñez: Venezuela’s Thai Champion

(Si prefieres leer este artículo en español, haz click aquí) venezuelaflag Spain

With one of Venezuela’s most adventurous yet least-observed exports recently picking up silverware after severing ties with the side he served for over a decade, Hispanospherical.com looks in depth at his role in a memorable campaign outside of the footballing mainstream 


Buriram United (Andrés Túñez in the centre): 2014 Thai Premier League winners, 2 November 2014. (Buriram United’s Facebook Fanpage)

On Sunday 2 November 2014, as many leagues in Europe were just gaining momentum, the Premier League chase was finally settled in Thailand as Buriram United retained their crown following a 2-1 victory over Police United.

Although in hindsight the failure of nearest rival Chonburi to beat TOT SC rendered this result irrelevant, over 25,000 fans at the New I-Mobile Stadium – or, as the locals prefer, Thunder Castle – rapturously received the symbolically significant goals scored by erstwhile Sporting Gijón forward Carmelo González and Deportivo La Coruña youth graduate David Rochela.

Imports such as these, as well as Spanish-Filipino top-scorer Javier Patiño, have helped this ambitious club enjoy the most successful period in its history (it has existed in several guises since 1970), with all four of its league titles coming in the past seven seasons. Not all overseas acquisitions can be said to have provided the club with value-for-money, however, with former Arsenal and Hull City forward Jay Simpson serving as a recent warning against excess. He had been lured to the club in 2013 on a reportedly record-breaking contract yet returned to England this summer after less than a year into his Thai adventure to play for Leyton Orient.

However, one man who, with fewer than five months’ worth of appearances to his name, has left an indelible mark on the club and who could surely leave tomorrow and still be regarded with affection for years to come, is another of Buriram’s recruits from Spain: Venezuela international and former Celta Vigo centre-back, Andrés Túñez.

Caracas-conceived, Balaídos-bred:
Túnez’s Celta Vigo Career

Túñez was born in Caracas to Galician parents who returned, with seven-year-old son in tow, to Spain’s notoriously rain-sodden north-west region where in his teenage years he signed forms with one of the two most revered local clubs, Celta Vigo. It was a relationship that would last over ten years, with Túñez first appearing for the B team primarily in his favoured position on the left side of a centre-back pairing in the 2006/07 season and eventually getting his chance with the seniors in the first half of the 2009/10 campaign at the age of 22. He rose to prominence in a side that, despite languishing in mid-table of the Segunda División, reached the Quarter-finals of the Copa Del Rey – equalling their joint-best performance since they were runners-up to Real Zaragoza in 2000/01 – and was rewarded with a four-year contract.

Despite playing in the majority of the remaining league games that season, his career took a temporary step backwards the following campaign, as with the arrival of new manager Paco Herrera in the summer, he featured in fewer than one-fifth of his side’s matches. However, the 2011/12 season was to prove pivotal, bringing immense personal and professional pride, as not only did Túñez make his international debut for the country of his birth against Argentina, but he was also the beneficiary of a change of heart on the part of Herrera and became a first-team regular in what was to be a promotion-winning year.

Moving up to the Primera División brought with it the concomitant higher quality of opponents but while Celta struggled in terms of results, when not sidelined by injury or suspension Túñez was an ever-present in the team. One game in particular that stands out from this season again came in the Copa Del Rey when a Real Madrid side that started with, amongst others, Ronaldo, Di María, Benzema, Alonso and Modrić (not to mention Callejón, Özil and Kaká all coming off the bench) were defeated 2-1, though Los Merengues were to progress following a 4-0 hiding in the return leg.

Alas, this season was more about the battle to survive, a cause Túñez felt viscerally as he stated in early May 2013 that if Celta lost two vital upcoming games against Atlético Madrid and Real Betis then ‘the whole season goes to hell’. His side were indeed defeated in both matches leaving them four points adrift yet no apocalypse came as, remarkably, Celta were ultimately successful in preserving their top-flight status via wins in the final two matches against Real Valladolid and Espanyol.

Then along came Luis Enrique.

Barely a week after Túñez fell to the ground upon hearing the final whistle and was mauled by similarly relieved fans on the dramatic last day, Lucho was installed as the new manager, replacing Abel Resino who had, in turn, taken over from Paco Herrera in February. The Barcelona legend brought in several players of his own and while initially optimistic, Túñez soon came to realise that he was not going to be part of this bold new era. Though he could not have known it at the time, the emotional victory over Espanyol was to be his final competitive game in the colours of Os Celestes. 

Subsequently, partly to bolster his chances of helping Venezuela’s attempt to qualify for World Cup 2014, the man who had spent all of his career playing in the region of his youth exhibited some symptoms of a spurned lover as he looked to move far away, eventually agreeing to join Israeli side Beitar Jerusalem on loan in September 2013. While Túñez has said that he enjoyed this sojourn, it did end in professional disappointment as Beitar finished 9th out of 14 teams in the regular season and thus suffered the indignity of playing in the play-offs contested by the bottom eight sides. Túñez, however, had left in March just before the play-offs had begun and at the end of the following month he terminated his contract with Celta (two years before it expired), instead embarking on a fresh challenge with the reigning Thai champions Buriram United.


Andrés Túñez in Celta Vigo colours, poking the ball away from Lionel Messi at Camp Nou, 3 November 2012. (David Ramos/Getty Images Europe)

Buriram Struggle, Túñez Settles:
Early Days in Thailand

This was certainly not a conventional move for a player with experience of arguably the best league in the world and who, at 27, was entering the prime of his career. However, due to the number of players with Spanish links associated with the club it was perhaps less of a venture into the unknown than may be assumed, never mind a downward spiral into a footballing abyss. Indeed, not only was he greeted at the club by the considerable talents of Javier Patiño and Carmelo González (who now have over 70 league goals between them for the past two seasons), as well as defender David Rochela, but amongst the backroom staff he would have found the Strength and Conditioning Coach/Performance Analyst, Arnau Navarro. Túñez has stated in an interview with Los Otros 18 that he sought the advice of Navarro and others before moving, though there was one man he narrowly missed upon his arrival with whom he could have shared a Balaídos story or two.

Alejandro Menéndez, who coached Túñez between 2007-09 in Celta Vigo’s B side, was relieved of his duties as Buriram manager two weeks prior to the signing of the Venezuela international. Despite having won virtually every conceivable domestic honour in 2013, Menéndez was the victim of an insatiable drive for instant success as Buriram’s woeful start to the 2014 campaign saw them take just 10 points from 8 games, leaving them 12th in the league and virtually out of the AFC Champions League at the group stage.

Consequently, the Serbian Božidar Bandović was brought in on an interim basis until early June and he had much joy revitalising the squad as they gained 20 of the 27 available points in the nine league games that he managed. Túñez took no part in this early stage of the club’s revival as he was acclimatising to his new surroundings, though in his debut on 11 June in the very next game – the first overseen by the new Brazilian manager Alexandre Gama –  an event occurred that was to have an unforeseen effect on his season.

Buriram Ascend, El Gladiador Emerges:
Andrés the Invaluable

What for his team-mates was a routine 3-1 away win in the Toyota League Cup against second-tier TTM Customs was curtailed abruptly for Túñez after he received a sharp elbow to the nose, breaking it and obliging him to wear a protective mask for the next two months. As shall be related, what was intended as a mere functional – if somewhat stylised – rehabilitation aid allowing him to play, was to become the defining identifying feature of a player who, when he did return to action two weeks later, rapidly ingratiated himself with the Buriram fans with some outstanding, match-winning displays.

Indeed, with his side now 3rd he made his first league start on 25 June away to Songkhla United, playing a crucial role in the outcome. With 15 minutes left on the clock, Buriram had squandered a two-goal lead and found themselves on level terms with the lowly outfit when Túñez came forward for a set-piece that rebounded fortuitously off the bar and into his path. Immediately nodding the ball to his left, he found Patiño who instinctively hooked it in with a scissor-kick to give his team a 3-2 victory.

Túñez was to become an integral part of the team, yet while he was brought in primarily to keep out goals, he soon found himself knocking them in at the other end as he made his physical advantages known to defences up and down the country. His first for the club came on 16 July in the home leg of the League Cup semi-final as his towering header, back-to-goal from Theeraton Bunmathan’s lofted free-kick, proved to be the winner against Ratchaburi. A fortnight later in the away leg, the Caraqueño colossus scored a near-identical goal past the same stranded goalkeeper as Buriram booked their place in October’s final with a 2-1 win on the night (3-1 on aggregate). Between getting his name on the scoresheet in these two games, he also opened his account in the league on 23 July with the opening goal – another header, three in five games for this period – in an emphatic 5-0 thrashing of Chiangrai.

This win propelled Buriram to top spot for the first time in the campaign and, coupled with Túñez’s role in earning his side a place in the League Cup final, it was not surprising to learn that the fans had taken to him, though the manner in which they expressed their admiration certainly was. Indeed, in early August the Spanish sports daily Marca, curious of Túñez’s Thai deeds, published an article proclaiming him to be a local sensation who had been bestowed the affectionate moniker ‘El Gladiador‘, with sales to fans of replica masks similar to the one he was then wearing numbering 5,233. The Venezuelan sports media, who track the progress of their overseas internationals with varying degrees of commitment depending on the player, gleefully reprinted this story and consequently this perception of Túñez was to live on from afar long after he had been unmasked. Understandable perhaps, at least amongst Venezuelan fans, given that live access to games outside of Thailand is very limited and the majority of the player’s weekend matches kicked off when most of his compatriots would have still been in bed.


A masked Andrés Túñez, promotional image still displayed on the squad page of Buriram United’s official website (as of 6 November 2014). (Buriram United)

For many with this idea of Túñez as some kind of omnipotent warrior who did the business at both ends while lording it over all and sundry, it was something of a reality check when, just 11 days after the article was published, nearest title rivals Chonburi ended Buriram’s 19-game (nine since Túñez’s arrival) undefeated streak in the league. A potentially lethal psychological blow was struck by Sutthinan Pukhom whose last-minute goal cut the gap between the two sides to just one point. Even after Chonburi dropped two points in their next game, thus allowing Buriram to increase their lead to three following a 2-0 win over minnows Air Force Central, the champions appeared to be on the ropes and were now facing a potential three-way battle for the title.

This was because Buriram’s next game was an authentically epic encounter away to Muangthong United, the side who won the league on the three occasions in the previous six years that the Thunder Castles failed to. If another defeat could be inflicted on Buriram, they would find themselves level on points with Chonburi, with Muangthong United lurking just a solitary point behind the pair.

Those who ascribed apotropaic qualities to Túñez’s mask were no doubt fearing the worst and scrambling for cover in their bunkers, as he was now no longer wearing it. A more tangible setback that befell Buriram in this period was the lengthy suspension served by Carmelo González that initially saw him banned indefinitely from late-July until the end of the season, but which was later successfully appealed to allow him to return in mid-October. Carmelo’s heinous double-offence was his response to seeing an elbow he received to his chin go unpunished: he first kicked a bottle in disgust that trickled too close to a match official for comfort and then, upon being awarded a second yellow card for his reaction, punted the ball upfield with all his pent-up rage, effectively telling the officials to go fetch. Thus, with no Carmelo, who had also been ruled out of the Chonburi loss, and the soft glow of Túñez’s aura threatening to diminish, Alexandre Gama’s Buriram went into this game acutely aware of the effects on team morale a second defeat against a rival could have.

As it transpired, however, this match, which must rank as Túñez’s personal highlight of the campaign, is where he really cemented his place in the hearts of the Buriram faithful, scoring the winning goal with sensational, swashbuckling swagger, living up to every idealised projection of himself as he did so. It came 34 minutes into the first half following a corner that the ex-Celta man was back defending in his own six-yard box. As the ball was headed clear he could see that Muangthong had over-committed and, scenting an opportunity, he strode forward up the centre of the pitch, keeping pace with Jakkraphan Kaewprom’s run up the right flank. With just one defender between them, the ball was squared across the area for the patient Túñez to calmly slot home with a left-footed strike that, aside from some mandatory squeals, silenced the home crowd. That the Venezuelan was in such an advanced position was less of a surprise than witnessing him score with his feet, something he had never previously achieved at senior level (barring a perfectly legitimate golazo in Celta’s relegation run-in that was incorrectly ruled out and which led to the linesman being banned for his following game).

The rest of the match was far from an inevitable march towards victory for Buriram as they conceded a penalty shortly after the goal that was gratefully saved by Siwarak Tedsungnoen and then had to play the final 30 minutes with ten men following Theeraton Bunmathan’s dismissal. Shots subsequently rained down on Tedsungnoen’s goal but Túñez and his defensive colleagues held on, achieving a euphoric victory of considerable significance that effectively knocked their hosts out of the title race.

Highlights of Muangthong United 0-1 Buriram United 1, Thai Premier League, 20 August 2014. (YouTube)

Unfortunately for fans of simple narratives, the Thunder Castles were unable to allow their supporters to breathe easily for too long, taking a leaf out of Chonburi’s book by following up their big result with a 1-1 draw against mid-table opposition, in this case Army United. This left Chonburi trailing by a mere point at the end of August, at which time all of the sides in the Thai Premier League packed up to make way for the Asian Games, whiling away the subsequent seven weeks with some friendlies until the final six games re-commenced in mid-October.

Buriram Four, Túñez One:
The Championship Run-in

Three days before Buriram could continue their league pursuit, a domestic double of sorts was still very much in the offing as they contested the Toyota League Cup final on 12 October with BEC Tero Sasana, who at this point had replaced Muangthong in 3rd. Given his leading role in both legs of the semi-final, Túñez could have been forgiven if he allowed himself to feel a sense of destiny about this match. However, in what was a very drab encounter low on opportunities and which featured a Mexican wave too many (one), it was instead the side with a barking Avram Grant on the touchline – serving his role as technical director – that ran out surprise 2-0 winners with two late goals.

Thus, one trophy meekly slipped from Buriram’s grasp, but could two? The cup loss seemed no more than a momentary blip when the Thunder Castles resumed their league campaign with a victory against Sisaket that, as it coincided with a Chonburi defeat, put them four points clear with just five games left. However, the fatalists felt they were onto something after all when Buriram took just one point from their subsequent two games and Chonburi finally dislodged them from top spot for the first time since July. Buriram appeared to have blown it.

However, after matching each others’ results in the next round of games, Chonburi committed the fatal, decisive misstep, drawing at the penultimate stage with Chainhat Hornbill in a game marred by immense controversy and which led to lengthy bans for the referee and one of the linesmen. Consequently, justly or otherwise, this allowed Buriram to be in control of their own destiny as they took a one-point lead into the last day of the season.

When Sunday 2 November 2014 arrived, Chonburi’s slim hopes were quickly dashed after just ten minutes when Carmelo put Buriram 1-0 up against relegation-threatened Police United and Rochela was to make it 2-0 from the penalty spot with 25 minutes remaining. Although their opponents – now playing with ten men – managed to get a goal back a few minutes later, the Thunder Castles comfortably saw out the win, with Chonburi failing to even adequately fulfil their duty as the day’s potential scourge, drawing 1-1 with TOT SC.

Buriram United were once again champions for the fourth time in their history and, for the first time in his professional career, Andrés Túñez had a league-winner’s medal. As can be observed from the official club videos of the game and the post-game celebrations (the goals soundtracked, as always, to a questionable rendition of the Village People’s ‘Go West’) as well as a players’ dance-off on the podium, there can be no doubt that this achievement was felt wholeheartedly by El Gladiador.


Andrés Túñez with the Thai Premier League Trophy, 2 November 2014. (Andrés Túñez’s Twitter account)

A Cult Hero to Some, a Valued Team-mate to Others & a Champion to All:
Andrés Túñez


Buriram United’s league position over the 38 rounds of games in the 2014 Thai Premier League season. (Buriram United’s Facebook Fanpage)

Thus ended an unconventional yet exhilarating campaign for a revitalised individual who captured the hearts and imaginations of thousands of fans, not just of his own side, but throughout Thailand and beyond. While a cold reading of the above graph could pull Túñez’s perceived contribution to the championship success down a peg or two, it should do little to diminish his iconic status and role as one of his team’s most valuable players. It is nevertheless helpful to briefly consider the data in question to at least gain a slightly broader picture of Buriram’s season than has been reported elsewhere, without detracting from the part played by Túñez.

Regarding the resurrection of Buriram’s campaign following their poor start, though the influential Marca article correctly stated that the club were in mid-table when Túñez was signed in late April (which would have been round 10, when they were 12th), it casually overstated his role in the reversal of their fortunes. Indeed, despite providing his appearance statistics which should have given more pause for thought, the article neglected to mention that he did not make his debut in the league until round 20 of the season, by which time Buriram had climbed to 3rd. Thus, as the club were already on an upward trajectory huge credit is due, first to the interim coach Božidar Bandović and also to his permanent replacement Alexandre Gama, who continued his predecessor’s work of motivating the undoubtedly talented players to reach their collective potential.

That is not to imply that Túñez was a minor player in his side’s initial rise to the summit in late July (round 25) – shortly before the article was written – as unquestionably, throughout his early match-winning performances, he was anything but. As has also been relayed, he would go on to play a crucial role in maintaining (albeit with a minor slip or two) their position until the end of the campaign but, along with the contributions of some of his team-mates noted earlier, Gama’s role should also be emphasised.

Indeed, looking to the future, Túñez must have been delighted to hear that the Brazilian coach has recently signed a new contract, as the Venezuelan said he was initially attracted to Buriram as they tend to qualify for the AFC Champions League – a competition in which his boss has some pedigree. Back in 2007, Gama managed to take Al-Wahda of the United Arab Emirates to the semi-finals of the competition – the club’s best ever performance – and will surely relish next year’s opportunity to improve upon Buriram’s limp showing under Menéndez earlier this season.

Although the recent news that Carmelo González will be leaving the club must cause some pause for thought, it is likely that Túñez will still be around to play in this continental competition as he initially signed on a three-year deal and has indicated that his mind is very much on staying with Buriram.

Ultimately however, whatever happens in his future and wherever he next finds himself playing, he will always fondly recall, and be fondly recalled for, this league-winning campaign with Buriram United. Many players have seen their careers dissolve into insignificance after being told they are surplus to requirements at the only professional club they have known but this Galician’s response has been exemplary. Conversely, many players have left the club of their youth and gone on to win titles, often in more prestigious leagues. However, very few can claim to have had the revelatory season enjoyed by Túñez and become a cult hero to football fans in at least three continents in the process. So, whether they were cheering on El Gladiador in Thailand, Venezuela, Spain or possibly even Israel and regardless of how much match footage they managed to see, those who were in any way privy to this story know that it was one well worth telling.

Darren Spherical


Don’t Call It a Comeback

…but it has been a while, hasn’t it?

This Happened

Those who have followed this site since around the time of its mid-July inception will know that The Ball is Hispanospherical started out, like many a half-baked online project, with some rather nauseating, reality-denying enthusiasm. Over time, this was tempered by the struggle to write updates that adequately reflected, and did justice to, the sizeable scope of interest outlined in the inaugural proclamations. Possessing the requisite time to write these articles has been, unsurprisingly, the chief underlying obstacle and, despite having reluctantly sacrificed certain topics in order to provide at least some substantial, albeit reduced, coverage, personal dissatisfaction with this state of affairs lingered. Consequently, in mid-September a rather hastily written post was published that alluded to a ‘fleeting moment of joy’ being partially responsible for the time-constraints and forewarned readers that updates may be even less forthcoming in the foreseeable future, as proved to be the case.

However, that temporary spell on loan to society has expired and, having traipsed back to seclusion, an abundance of free time has now become available. Thus, having spent the last few weeks doing some essential catching-up, the moment has finally arrived for us all to become reacquainted and, hopefully, for some new readers to become ensnared, willingly or otherwise. Before any new articles are written however, allow me first to clarify, having acknowledged the aforementioned experiences and given consideration to potential problems, what the refined focus of The Ball is Hispanospherical will be.

This is Happening

Although this site and its aligned Twitter account were created at around the same time, it was not originally anticipated that the latter would be used as much as it has been, as it gradually assumed a superior role to the former. Addictive, isn’t it? This imbalance needs to be redressed somewhat, though Hispanospherical  will very much be proceeding with both the site and Twitter being used in cahoots with one another. Anyone who has followed on Twitter (@DarrenSpherical, since you asked), particularly when no updates to the site were being published, may have been unsure as to what exactly they had stumbled upon. Indeed, as time progressed with the noted problems becoming more apparent, the social networking page was exclusively covering a lot of areas that were originally designated for this site. Given the transient visibility of most tweets, the average follower may have been none-the-wiser about the account’s precise purpose, which would have been further understandable as the stated scope – football coverage of Spanish-speaking nations and wherever Spanish-speakers are playing – is evasively and generously broad.

Therefore, to clear things up to some extent, what follows is a list of topics and themes that, for the foreseeable future at least, I intend to cover on Twitter and, when possible, this website:

Venezuelans Abroad

Visitors to either the site or the Twitter account will know that this has been the most common subject. Venezuela currently have several dozen players scattered around the globe, with some of the most talented plying their trade in top Europeans leagues such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, France and Russia. Others can be found playing crucial roles for their sides in countries such as Colombia, USA, Mexico, Qatar, Thailand and elsewhere. It is hoped that tracking these players over the four continents in which they can be found will not only interest those who wish to know more about one of the least mythologised nations of CONMEBOL, but also appeal to like-minded individuals who share a global perspective on the game.

While the Twitter account will continue to track the club games which feature players either in or on the cusp of the national side, this site will no longer be devoted to providing match reports. No doubt some more will appear in the future, but most likely only for very big encounters, such as title-deciding matches and cup finals. Instead, to make this area more manageable, I will be dedicated to writing features that are not quite so time-contingent and either relate to an individual player or several of them collectively. Ideas for articles have long been threatening to come to fruition and will hopefully all be fleshed out and up on the site by the end of the year.

Venezuela’s National Side (La Vinotinto)

Inextricably linked to the above area of interest, though thus far not given as much prominence simply due to only two international games having been played since the start of the season (both in early September). However, with two friendlies lined up this month against Chile and Bolivia as well as next year’s alluring twin stand-up-and-be-counted attractions, the Copa América and the commencement of the long road to qualification for the 2018 World Cup, expect in future to see some extensive pieces concerning the Noel Sanvicente era. Match reports will continue to be posted for this area of interest and, wherever possible, match previews and catch-up summaries should also make an appearance.

While it may have not seemed the case thus far, the Venezuelan national side is the central, guiding topic of this website though as with most matters of the heart, I would struggle to give a rational explanation as to why.

Venezuelan Domestic Football

Much as the Liga Movistar offers quality, intrigue and much else besides, with so many other leagues competing for the attention of fans, coverage on both Twitter and this site has been intentionally limited. Indeed, though part of the motivation behind starting this site was to shine some light on areas hitherto off the radar of the average English-speaking football fan, it was never the intention to be writing primarily for the benefit of insomniacs, contrarians and/or online gamblers (though these groups are very much welcome!).

Thus, so far, while a couple of thinking-while-typing articles did appear on this site in early August, Twitter has been the main preserve of this area. The focus of the coverage has largely been on the following: leading players (national team members, emerging youngsters, experienced ex-Vinotinto players etc.), the top sides involved in the title-race as well as those who had a brief spell in the Copa Sudamericana (most notably, Caracas FC), as well as any stories of interest (such as the Copa Venezuela run of second-tier Arroceros de Calabozo, who are preparing for a semi-final tie, having defeated top-flight sides Tucanes, cup-holders Caracas and Metropolitanos).

I will continue in this vein on Twitter, though am hesitant to make any commitments regarding articles on this website. Gaining comprehensive access to the Venezuelan domestic game is seemingly impossible for even those who live in the country, so irrespective of the miniscule Anglophone audience for this league, providing substantial coverage is rather problematic. Nevertheless, if any articles do emerge on this site, they will more than likely be concerned with the battles for the Apertura, Clausura and the Gran Final in May, as well as the progress of the three teams (Zamora, Mineros de Guayana and Deportivo Táchira) who have qualified for the Copa Libertadores.

International Teams and Players from Latin America 

According to the broadest definition of Latin America, the region constitutes just over 25 nations. Understandably, one person can not cover all of these and I do not intend to. Instead, given the primary interest in Venezuela and the desire to provide substantial coverage of the Copa América as well as the South American World Cup Qualifying process, when the international breaks occur attention will turn (as it has already) largely to the nine other nations in the CONMEBOL region (Brazil may not be Spanish-speaking but it seems churlish to ignore the one exception). If time allows for it – as it did in October – then some of the other Spanish-speaking nations from CONCACAF, such as Mexico and Costa Rica, will also be featured to varying degrees, though I am very conscious of spreading myself too thin.

For the majority of the year when players are with their club paymasters, I will endeavour to draw attention to Latin (primarily South) American footballers wherever possible, whether that be in games I am watching or in news articles I have read.

How all of this transfers into articles on this site remains to be seen, as it is probable that the first time a substantial number of words are expended on a Latin American nation other than Venezuela will not be until at least the Copa América.

Spanish Domestic Football

Followers on Twitter may have noticed me taking advantage of the near-200 top-flight games that are being broadcast in the UK this season, often giving updates of matches whenever time permits. Attention has largely been focused on ‘Los Otros 18’ sides as there is no shortage of coverage of the other two. The two teams that have featured the most are the ones that have Venezuelans in their ranks: Málaga (Roberto Rosales and Juan Pablo Añor) and Granada (Darwin Machís). All the other teams are very much of interest to me – particularly the two less-fancied sides of the Comunidad de Madrid, Rayo Vallecano and Getafe – but again, time is a barrier.

Thus, while on Twitter I will continue to provide match updates and news as well as venturing some opinions of my own, if any articles appear on this website, they will more than likely be rather general in nature relating to the league as a whole or, possibly, lengthy research pieces on Málaga and/or Granada.


No doubt other topics will emerge as potential candidates for articles. As can be gleaned from this update, I do have a habit of writing at length so am rather keen on undertaking some considerable research and then constructing extensive, and hopefully insightful, longform pieces. Ideas are welcome though I do already have some of my own that may or may not see the light of day.

Nevertheless, regardless of what does and does not come to fruition, I hope you now have a better idea of what my intentions are and feel curious enough to return to this site from time to time or at least follow me on Twitter. While there will not be one person who is attracted to everything that will be covered (if there is, I’m not sure even I would like to meet them), I hope that I can provide at least something of interest to everyone who passes by. I look forward to continuing what is, effectively, as cringeworthy as it sounds, language-driven football coverage and hope to get into contact with as many varied people as possible.



Venezuelans Abroad in Spain – Recap of Round 4 in the Primera División



Saturday 20 September 2014

Primera División

Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Granada

Match Summary

Athletic Bilbao suffered a Champions League hangover as their much-changed side slumped to their third defeat in four league games following an appalling defensive lapse that allowed the young Colombian Jhon Córdoba to score the winner after 39 minutes.

Córdoba’s first goal for Granada came after he seized upon Ander Iturraspe’s complacent nonchalance on the ball forty yards from the Bilbao goal to drive towards goal and nutmeg Gorka Iraizoz.

Córdoba’s first start of the campaign alongside the young Success Isaac in attack was Granada’s fourth different strike-partnership in as many games. One man who was sidelined by this latest experiment was Darwin Machís who, despite starting in the opening game of the season and being a half-time substitute last week, was demoted back to the B side to play in their 1-1 away draw against Cádiz. Granada’s reserve side compete in Segunda B’s Group 4 (of 4), so to call this the Spanish third-tier is debatable given the variance in quality from the top of each group to the bottom.

Nevertheless, as he did not play, one hopes to be forgiven for not giving a more comprehensive report of the first-team’s match, though should you to wish to read one, please click here.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Primera División

Espanyol 2-2 Málaga

Match Summary 

After his petulant opening-day dismissal, Portuguese veteran Duda redeemed himself by coming off the bench to score a wonderful equalising free-kick with the last kick of the game, providing Málaga with a slightly fortuitous point

Espanyol will feel hard done by as they would have fancied their chances against the last side they managed to beat in the league (albeit all the way back in March) and they did edge the number of chances, particularly within the first half.

Indeed, the less radical of Catalonia’s two top-flight sides looked sharper and in the early stages took advantage of what is becoming worryingly characteristic slack tracking and disorganisation from Málaga’s back line. After just six minutes, Espanyol captain Sergio García pressed at pace to take advantage of poor passing between Sergi Darder and Roberto Rosales – who started, with his compatriot Juan Pablo Añor not in the squad – in their own defensive third. Under duress, Rosales hesitantly nudged it short to Málaga captain Weligton on the edge of the area but his desperate recovery-slide merely fell to Víctor Sánchez who forced his way into the area before shooting low at Carlos Kameni.

Málaga did not heed warnings such as this and on 16 minutes were punished, with García again causing problems – this time being the architect of the opening goal. He ran infield with the ball from the right of the area, played a quick one-two with Madrid-loanee Lucas Vázquez and, from a central position just outside the area, found a gap to play through Ecuadorian Felipe Caicedo, playing against his former side, whose deft footwork grounded Kameni, leaving a vacant goal to tap into.

Right-back Rosales was one of a few defenders who did not seem entirely sure where he should be during that attack as he ran out to a central position, though credit must be given to García for such defence-bamboozling movement. Rosales, though to not to the same degree as he did against Levante, offered more going forward and ten minutes after the goal received a dinked ball from Darder on the right of the area which he fired across the goalmouth. This caused problems for goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, whose parry outwards fortunately did not fall to an attacker.

Despite this rare glimpse of hope for the away side, Espanyol nearly got a second after 36 minutes, following a corner from Vázquez. His cross swung to the back post with both Kameni and Rosales missing the ball and García, who anticipated it a mile off, headed it just wide – though had he stepped back a yard or so he may well have been in a better position to profit from this goalkeeping error. Kameni also received some criticism in certain quarters for supposedly going to ground too early for the goal so it will be interesting to see if he keeps his place in the line-up in upcoming weeks, as Guillermo Ochoa is always waiting in the wings.

In the opening stages of the second half, not a great deal had changed but irrespective of what level a team is playing at and who their opposition are, there is always hope from a set-piece. Indeed, out of nowhere, Los Boquerones got themselves back into the game in the 53rd minute when Luis Alberto’s corner was nodded into the back of the net by the unmarked Igancio Camacho.

Espanyol attempted to prove this was just a temporary blip in the natural order of things and just eight minutes later came close to regaining the lead following a corner won after Vázquez’s free shot on goal was parried out by Kameni. From the resulting cross, half-time substitute, the Uruguayan forward Christian Stuani, headed onto the bar. As the ball came back out, Salva Sevilla (who had been brought on two minutes prior) and García may have got in each other’s way as it fell further away from goal towards the inside-edge of the area. However, the drama was not over as Diego Colotto, back-to-goal, attempted to hook the ball over his head into the danger zone but it was blocked by the high arm of Rosales. The former FC Twente man knew exactly where the ball was, having his eyes on it as he leaped, thus bolstering any claims that it should have been a penalty, though apologists will surely claim that his turn away at the last moment proves his innocence and that it was accidental as he was possibly fearful of Colotto’s right boot connecting with him.

As the game wore on, things did become more tense for the visitors as they picked up five yellow cards in the final 30 minutes and watched Espanyol have more chances to regain the lead. Indeed, Stuani was played through by García in the 79th minute, though Kameni was out to block the forward’s nudged attempt with his legs and then, just a minute later, the Cameroonian goalkeeper was to save comfortably from a header from Salva Sevilla following a corner.

However, there was nothing Kameni could do about Stuani’s header with two minutes to go. The Uruguayan may have long played fourth or fifth fiddle on the international stage to his nation’s other impressive attacking options, but he must have been elated to score here what felt like the headline-grabbing goal, nodding in from a free-kick on the right, having lost his marker Sergio Sánchez. 

Ultimately though, it was not to be as Espanyol were to be denied their first league victory in six months as 67th-minute substitute Duda curled a textbook free-kick into the top right-hand corner in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time.