Friday 27 March 2015 – Montego Bay Sports Complex, Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Jamaica vs Venezuela
Tuesday 31 March 2015 – Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA
Peru vs Venezuela
For those wanting to watch either of these games, both are scheduled to be broadcast on TeleAragua
(For a detailed position-by-position look at all the players Venezuela manager Noel Sanvicente has selected, as well as a peek at the probable line-up for the first game against Jamaica, please take a look at this article)
Expectations Mount as Sanvicente Sources a Rare Embarrassment of Riches
With the 2015 Copa América a mere 80 or so days away, these internationals can comfortably be billed as the most vital yet of the Noel Sanvicente era. Not only do they, the seventh and eighth of his reign, include a preliminary test against one of their tournament opponents, Peru, but they will also be potentially pivotal in determining who will be boarding the aeroplane to Chile. Most significant of all, however, is the available pool of players that Chita has been able to call upon – on paper at least, the strongest since he took over in July 2014.
Indeed, for his first two games – which occurred on September’s Asian tour and consisted of a 3-1 defeat against South Korea and a 2-2 draw with Japan (later officially overruled as a 3-0 loss; see here for more details) – veteran icon Juan Arango omitted himself and a few other hitherto first-teamers were missing. October’s scheduled matches were cancelled and replaced by hastily arranged training sessions in Madrid that were almost exclusively attended by overseas-based players. Any tactical plans for the subsequent set of matches in November were undermined by the absences of 8-10 key players (mainly due to injury), which led to predictably disastrous results: a 5-0 thumping from Chile and a 3-2 defeat against Bolivia. Then early last month, it was left to domestic league players to contest two matches – a double-header against Honduras – which, in light of the fact that only seven home-based individuals have made it into the latest squad, can be considered B-level encounters.
You Can’t Please Them All: Notable Absentees
Having endured this inauspicious start, La Vinotinto fans are no doubt mostly delighted – and rather relieved – that Sanvicente has this time been able to take with him to the Florida training base almost any player he desires. Though some may haved wished that he had selected the likes of the recently nationalised Jeffrén Suárez (Real Valladolid, ex-Barcelona) and Yonathan Del Valle (last seen scoring a stoppage-time winner for Rio Ave against Benfica), not to mention Fernando Aristeguieta and Miku (both of whom have received call-ups from Sanvicente but have been inactive at club level for much of this season, particularly the latter), he has only been denied two players this time around. Both had originally been included in this squad but succumbed to injuries. The first of whom, Metz striker Juan Falcón, Sanvicente knows well from his double title-winning spell at Zamora. The other is Caracas’ Rómulo Otero, the most promising attacking talent currently plying his trade in Venezuela. This 22-year-old set-piece maestro will be especially disappointed to miss out at this critical stage, rendering him unable to build on last month’s momentum when he was widely lauded as the catalyst in the first victory against Honduras.
Nevertheless, as neither of these two players has staked a durable claim for a regular starting berth, Sanvicente does have at his disposal the players to name in at least one of these games what could potentially be his first-choice XI come the opening Copa América clash against Colombia on 14 June. However, this is unlikely as, owing to the noted problems that he has so far faced, several places in the line-up are still up for grabs and he has already indicated that there will be some experimentation in these two games. Nevertheless, upon their conclusion, whatever transpires in Jamaica and the USA, some much-needed clarity should be added to the coach’s thoughts.
The Squad: Collective Aims and Key Call-Ups
A cursory glance of the list of players (see bottom of the page) called up to this 23-man squad should give everyone an idea of one of the key issues Sanvicente needs to resolve. While plenty have experience of playing together under previous regimes at club and international level, this group are nevertheless a disparate collection of individuals who play their domestic football in 13 different countries while representing 21 separate clubs. One of the noticeable characteristics of the games played so far in this new era has been a lack of attacking cohesion and fluency, something that could well be further complicated in these fixtures as it is anticipated that the manager will introduce new players and arrangements in the forward positions. Another glaring issue that requires urgent attention is the number of goals that have thus far been conceded in the six games played: 16 or, officially, 17, given FIFA’s retrospective decision pertaining to the game against Japan. With this in mind and moving on to the list of players announced this time around, Sanvicente will be hoping that two individuals in particular will be able to shore up his back-line.
Indeed, regarding the playing personnel (who are discussed in much greater depth in this article), the headlines when this squad was initially announced largely went to four players who have yet to play a single minute of the Sanvicente era. Two of these are primarily central defenders, the first of whom being Fernando Amorebieta, who just this week has completed a loan switch from Fulham to title-challenging Middlesbrough in the English second tier. During a two-year spell starting in late 2011, he was often Oswaldo Vizcarrondo’s partner at the back before injuries and a lack of game-time thwarted further call-ups. He has not played for his country since October 2013 whereas another returnee, erstwhile first-choice back-up Andrés Túñez – who has enjoyed much success with Thailand’s Buriram United after being forced out the door of his boyhood club Celta Vigo – has not featured since June of the same year.
One man who has gone even longer without a look-in is Ronald Vargas who, several years ago, was tipped by some to be the long-term successor to the majestic Juan Arango. Considerable excitement – albeit of the kind that is partially tempered by the pitfalls that experience knows are always lurking – has greeted the return of this winger/attacking midfielder, offering many a chance to recall his promising early career. Indeed, he made his international debut in February 2008 and not long afterwards in June scored the second goal in his nation’s first ever victory over Brazil (who on that day started with, amongst others, Robinho, Adriano, Dani Alves and Gilberto Silva). He continued to play for his country throughout this calendar year and shortly after his history-making exploits, he made his debut in Belgium for Club Brugge. Although not everything ran smoothly for him here, his performances gradually gained in consistency and following a superb third season in which he scored a remarkable 15 goals in 23 league games, he earned a move to the more prestigious Anderlecht. However, the three years he spent here were plagued by recurring injuries – as indeed, to a lesser extent, were the three seasons with his former club – which thus hindered his playing time and hampered his international career. Consequently, a transfer that could have solidified his place in the selección and bolstered his reputation in Europe ended on a sad note as he was released when his contract expired at the end of the 2013/14 season. Somewhat stigmatised as an injury-prone liability and having made barely a handful of international appearances since late 2008, he was subsequently picked up by Turkish Süper Lig new-boys Balıkesirspor. Although they currently prop up the division, looking well on course to head back from whence they came, the now 28-year-old Vargas has had a relatively prosperous time, scoring six goals in 21 league appearances and, perhaps most crucially, not suffering any serious injury setbacks. Five of these goals were bagged following the turn of the year and he will be hoping that not only will such form ensure that he is not condemned to follow his club down a level, but also that it will enable him to make a surprise late entry into Sanvicente’s Copa América plans.
In stark contrast to these three players, the last inclusion of note, Christian Santos, has never before played for his country. Indeed, the Venezuela-born 27-year-old was raised from a young age in Germany and has only recently acquired the relevant documentation that allows him to represent the country of his birth. This man, whose looks have drawn comparisons to those of none other than David Beckham, can play up front or anywhere across the supporting line of attackers, particularly towards the flanks as either an inside-forward or winger. He comes into the squad off the back of the season of his life in the Dutch second tier with Nijmegen’s NEC who, being 21 points clear with 7 games to spare, are virtually already promoted. The team has scored a staggering 87 goals, with Santos netting a highly commendable 18 of these in his 28 league appearances (21 of these starts). A significant proportion of his tally were headers which, with set-pieces being a regular source of goals for La Vinotinto, could well aid his case for future call-ups. Sanvicente spoke of his desire to try him out back in November and though logistical issues were to thwart these plans, it looks like this time around he will have his way.
Morale on the Line: Two Winnable Games
Old or new, stalwarts or relative whippersnappers, this group of players will be facing two nations who will also be contesting this year’s Copa América with their most realistic route of advancing from their respective groups being as one of the two best-performing third-placed sides.
Indeed, CONCACAF guests Jamaica have been allocated an unenviable group that includes Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. With this in mind, the Reggae Boyz will need all the preparation they can get and will follow up hosting La Vinotinto with another match at the Montego Bay Sports Complex against Cuba. Given that along with five players from their domestic league, their squad is largely comprised of representatives from the two highest divisions in USA/Canada (nine – eight from the MLS) and the three highest in England (six – two from each of the top three leagues), two wins does not seem out of reach for them.
This would certainly sow some seeds of doubt in the minds of all Venezuelans, though it is debatable if this would be more dispiriting for morale than a loss against CONMEBOL rivals Peru. Indeed, La Blanquirroja have recently appointed a new manager, Argentine Ricardo Gareca, whose first moves suggest he may be looking to the future with his relatively inexperienced squad that features 13 players from the domestic league. Regarding their exports, while Sporting’s André Carrillo is included, the majority of their most famous ambassadors are not: Fiorentina’s Juan Manuel Vargas, Schalke’s Jefferson Farfán (who is reportedly nursing a minor injury), Corinthians’ Paolo Guerrero (suspended) and Bayern Munich’s Claudio Pizarro (originally called up, but succumbed to an injury).
While the seemingly understrength nature of this squad would normally be reason enough for Venezuelans to expect a victory, another additional factor is the Copa América draw, which has pitted the two nations together in the rather daunting Group C alongside Brazil and Colombia. Though gaining a result against either of these teams is certainly not out of the question for Venezuela and Peru, the likeliest scenario sees the game on 18 June between the two nations having the most significant bearing on whether or not either can progress to the next stage.
As only the two best-performing third-placed teams can reach the knock-out stage, Venezuelans will be hoping here not only for a win but a much-improved defensive display in both games, as goal difference could well prove decisive in June.
Ultimately, though two victories in the upcoming days seems eminently attainable, there is the ever-weary possibility that these friendlies may descend into training match-level farces brought about by high numbers of substitutions. Nevertheless, though such games can never be relied upon to act as the most accurate barometers of a team’s progress and quality, all Venezuelan football fans will be excited to see what feels like the closest to a first-choice squad Sanvicente has had at his disposal since his appointment.
For a detailed position-by-position look at all the players Sanvicente has selected, as well as a peek at the probable line-up for the first game against Jamaica, please take a look at this article.
Venezuela Squad for the Friendly Internationals Against Jamaica (27 March 2015) and Peru (31 March 2015)
Alain Baroja (Caracas FC)
Dani Hernández (Tenerife)
Fernando Amorebieta (Middlesbrough, on loan from Fulham)
Gabriel Cichero (Mineros de Guayana)
Juan Fuenmayor (Deportivo Anzoátegui)
Alexander González (FC Thun)
Roberto Rosales (Málaga)
Andrés Túñez (Buriram United)
Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes)
Juan ‘Juanpi’ Pablo Añor (Málaga)
Juan Arango (Xolos de Tijuana)
Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira)
César González (Deportivo Táchira)
Alejandro Guerra (Atlético Nacional, on loan from Mineros de Guayana)
Franklin Lucena (Deportivo La Guaira)
Tomás Rincón (Genoa)
Christian Santos (N.E.C. Nijmegen)
Luis Manuel Seijas (Independiente Santa Fe)
Ronald Vargas (Balıkesirspor)
Richard Blanco (Mineros de Guayana)
Josef Martínez (Torino)
Mario Rondón (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright)
Salomón Rondón (Zenit St. Petersburg)