Tag Archives: Venezuelan Football

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

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

International Friendly

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

Panama 0-2 Venezuela

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

Salomón Spearheads Supersubs’ Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Selections

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

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

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s Friendly Internationals – September 2018 Preview

After an international hiatus of nearly ten months, Venezuela’s senior team are finally returning to action with a friendly double-header. Still coming to terms with this impending reality, @DarrenSpherical fills in some gaps and takes a look at the state-of-play within La Vinotinto’s 24-man squad.

International Friendlies

Friday 7 September 2018 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA.

Colombia vs Venezuela

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

Panama vs Venezuela

hardrockstadium

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida – the site of La Vinotinto‘s return

Time To Start Putting the Pieces Together

Last October, as the prematurely-doomed Russia 2018 qualifying campaign was ending with a post-Under 20 World Cup upswing of fortunes (three draws and a final-day victory), La Vinotinto coach Rafael Dudamel revealed that he had asked for “at least five friendlies for 2018“. With four now scheduled and possibly one or two more in the pipeline, it now looks as if his rather modest request may ultimately be granted.

Also this year – a World Cup year, no less – the match-shy Venezuela have defied all logic and managed to ascend from 52nd to 31st in the FIFA rankings. Thus, taking a very partial-sighted view of things, it could be said that Venezuela appear to be well-poised to crack on with unburdening themselves of being branded the “Cinderella” of CONMEBOL.

Perhaps, but throughout the near-300 days since last November that the senior national side has gone without playing – during which an astonishing 17 of the 24 players in the current squad have switched club sides – there has been no shortage of concern over the perceived lack of activity. In response, the FVF (Federación Venezolana de Fútbol) have repeatedly stated what should come as no surprise to anyone with a passing interest in the country’s economic situation: there is simply not enough money. Friendlies come at unfriendly prices and plenty of proposals have had to be declined. Thus, regardless of whether or not some pleading phonecalls were made, it makes considerable sense to see that the first two encounters that have been belatedly set in stone come against countries very close to home.

Nevertheless, for a football association who invited the nation’s media to a presentation in July titled “Qatar 2022. The Objective of Everyone” and whose social media channels regularly repeat the slogan that “We are World [Cup] Class“, tests against two recent World Cup-qualifiers are an apt reintroduction into the international fold.

Furthermore, despite all the frustrations from fans who fear that the country is losing ground, Rafael Dudamel has undoubtedly been a busy man in the intervening lull, pursuing the stated strategy of investing in the young. Indeed, he, along with his coaching staff have not only held a dozen or so training modules with primarily local talent, but they have also led into several tournaments the new generation of Under-20s as well as some prospects from the previous history-making cycle. Ironically, two clear beneficiaries of one of these campaigns have been two eligible overage players: left-back Luis Mago (Carabobo FC, 24 this month) and holding midfielder Agnel Flores (Monagas SC, 29). Barely a month ago, this pair helped a mostly Under-21 squad reach the final of the 2018 Central American & Caribbean Games, where they were runners-up to hosts Colombia.

Concerning youth though, another two members of that particular squad also called to the current Selección are centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay) and midfielder Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira). These are two of the four players present – along with attacking midfielder Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany) and goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez (Millonarios FC, Colombia) – who were runners-up last year in South Korea and in whom considerable hope is indeed invested.

Initially, there were in fact six players from the silver crop in this squad, but within the past week right-back Ronald Hernández and jinking Yeferson Soteldo have had to be replaced, along with the marginally more experienced Jhon Murillo (22). Visa problems being the official reason disclosed by the FVF. Were it not for a long-term injury, midfielder and erstwhile Under-20 captain Yangel Herrera would have received a call and a stronger recent run of form as well as a UK work permit would have also surely helped the cause of fellow absentee Adalberto Peñaranda. More than a handful of others from their generation are also considered potential future call-ups, further reinforcing the sense that if the senior side is to seriously threaten their continental rivals in the next four years, the integration of youth with more established figures will be key.

This thus begs the question, who out of the current crop are considered likely first-teamers? Right now, all would agree that the fast-tracked Fariñez undoubtedly receives the No. 1 shirt and that the pivotal role in front of the back-four of captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) is not up for debate. Forwards Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) and Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) are also leading figures. However, questions have been asked as to whether or not the pair can combine effectively and, should Dudamel opt for a lone striker, if the latter’s phenomenal MLS goalscoring exploits could one day rather soon lead to him usurping the Magpie as the focal point of the attack. Either way, such is the gulf in stature that even if one has to make way for the other in the line-up, the two other forwards named in this squad will have a considerable battle on their hands just to receive further call-ups, let alone gain a starting berth off one of the aforementioned pair.

After these names, things start to become a little more precarious. Regarding the rearguard, one of Dudamel’s great achievements last year at both Under-20 level as well as in the final stretch of the qualifiers was the tightening up at the back, resulting in an admirably low number of goals conceded. However, there lurks the feeling that these were feats of a more collective, well-disciplined and systematic nature, rather than owing to a combination of individual brilliance. Thus, though the Russian-based pair of Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny) and Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala) currently have the strongest claims to the centre-back positions, it will be well worth looking at the 19-year-old Ferraresi as well as Yordan Osorio, who currently finds himself on loan at Vitória Guimarães, after a January transfer to Portuguese giants Porto.

Regarding the defensive flanks, they were repeatedly exploited by opponents in the qualifiers and Dudamel himself has admitted that the left-back position is a problem. As Rolf Feltscher‘s form at LA Galaxy – where, owing to the competition of Ashley Cole, he is usually deployed on the right – does not inspire confidence, opportunity surely beckons for the uncapped Mago. On the right, Hernández’s late omission is definitely a setback for personal, as well as collective, development. His replacement Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), a 27-year-old with less than a handful of caps who spent some of the past year playing in Gibraltar, does not appear to be one for the long run. Thus, the door is still very much open to Alexander González (Elche, Spain), a healthily-capped individual whose optimum position seems to lay somewhere curiously between that of a right-back and a right-sided midfielder, joining in with attacks but occasionally leaving himself exposed.

Just in front, though Flores or Lucena may well receive a chance to partner Rincón, with the absence of Herrera, Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA) can really stake a claim to challenge his fellow MLS-dwelling compatriot for that coveted first-team spot. Aided by the arrival of Wayne Rooney, the 25-year-old is enjoying a good spell at club level, off the back of making his international debut last year, from which he went on to start in the heart of the Vinotinto midfield in the draws against Uruguay and Argentina.

Regarding the more attack-minded midfield positions, whether Dudamel opts for one on each flank or an attacking line of three, he still has the customary, welcome selection issue. Venezuela have had a relatively impressive amount of success with the development of players in this broad area and new candidates for the limited number of roles frequently emerge. Indeed, the right-sided Córdova rapidly transitioned from his country’s Under-20 World Cup topscorer to a regular in the Vinotinto line-up, starting all four of the remaining qualifying matches. However, with no starts yet this season in the Bundesliga, he will know more than anyone that nothing can be taken for granted. The visa-less Murillo was also making headway in the final qualifying stretch along with, to perhaps a lesser extent, Rómulo Otero, who has since raised eyebrows by swapping being a one-man highlight reel in Brazil for a loan spell in Saudi Arabia.

If there is to be a reordering in the pecking order, there are two men in particular who are primed to capitalise. Firstly, Darwin Machís, who can be deployed on either side of an attacking midfield and who also gained a start against Colombia last August. Since then, the tenacious late-bloomer of 25 years has enjoyed a sensational, golazo-laden season with Granada, justifying their faith in him and earning himself a move to Udinese, where he has already started the first three Serie A games of the season. Secondly, there is the right-sided Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA), whose inclusion only came at the eleventh hour following the omissions of Murillo and Soteldo. Perhaps this will prove to be a blessing in disguise as, after initially being overlooked, the ex-Zulia man – only a mere several months older than the much-hyped Soteldo – has gone on a spectacular run of form, to the point where he now seems like a permanent fixture of the MLS’s official Team of the Week.

Machís and Savarino undoubtedly have the higher-profiles, but many will also be hoping to see some contributions from two other players in fine form: the uncapped Eduard Bello, who has netted 8 times in 21 league games since his move to Chile with Deportes Antofagasta and  Luis “Cariaco” González, the other beneficiary of the Murillo/Soteldo withdrawals. The latter has recently turned up at Colombian title-winners Deportes Tolima, assisting an impressive number of times in the same side as compatriot Yohandry Orozco (who, in turn, despite being one of the three overage players at the Central American and Caribbean Games, where he contributed three goals in five games, has not been selected here).

So, overall then, aside from perhaps four starting positions, there is certainly all to play for, with no shortage of competition inside and outside of the current squad. Tactically, Dudamel has spoken of experiments with the youth sides – in particular, playing with three at the back – though there is no indication yet as to whether this will be carried over to the seniors. What does remain likely, however, is that the side will continue with a compact defensive rearguard and will seek to break with rapid transitions on the counter. If, in time, they can also add some consistency in the starting personnel – particularly amongst the attacking midfield positions – and generate some more positive, front-foot play, this will certainly feel like team progress.

Although they are merely friendlies and the Copa América is not for another nine months, all Vinotinto fans will be hoping, perhaps with hearts rather than heads, that their representatives have not lost too much momentum since last year’s promising end. Results may not be the priority, but there is reason for optimism, not least because the national side does possess a respectable recent record against Colombia and have drawn their last two games against Panama (with the rain-soaked September 2015 encounter actually proving to be Juan Arango’s final appearance for his country).

There are, of course, far more important things for Venezuelans to be preoccupied with.

In April of this year, the life of 30-year-old Jesús Guacarán – physiotherapist for La Vinotinto who was part of the Under-20 national team’s success – was taken, shot dead whilst out shopping in Barquisimeto, thus depriving his wife of not only her husband but of a father for their then-unborn child. This is but one of countless tragedies that have occurred in a nation contending with unimaginable economic and social turmoil, though it is one of the more acutely-felt incidents for the Selección. Plenty of high-profile individuals conveyed their sadness on social media and it can only be speculated how the everyday uncertainties and hardships of their family members, friends and other loved ones impact upon the mindsets of the players and coaches of the national side.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Salomón Rondón offered this insight into the team’s perspective going into games: “My responsibility is to make Venezuelan people proud. When we play for the national team we try to make them forget the bad things, just for those 90 minutes.”

Though this may be impossible for some, here’s hoping that the long-awaited return of La Vinotinto can at least raise a few extra smiles, however fleeting, and inspire many in the face of adversity.

Venezuela Squad

vinotintosept2018

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

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

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Anzhi Makhachkala, Russia), Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy, USA), Nahuel Ferraresi (CF Peralada-Girona B, Spain, on loan from Club Atlético Torque, Uruguay), Alexander González (Elche, Spain), Luis Mago (Carabobo FC) & Yordan Osorio (Vitória Guimarães, on loan from Porto, Portugal),

Midfielders

Eduard Bello (Deportes Antofagasta, Chile), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Agnel Flores (Monagas SC), Luis González (Deportes Tolima, Colombia), Ronaldo Lucena (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela, on loan from Atlético Nacional, Colombia), Darwin Machís (Udinese, Italy), Júnior Moreno (DC United, USA), Rómulo Otero (Al Wehda, Saudi Arabia, on loan from Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, Italy) & Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA).

Forwards

Fernando Aristeguieta (América de Cali, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Salomón Rondón (Newcastle United, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Deportivo La Coruña, Spain).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 2-2 Peru – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (23 March 2017)

At half-time, the thirteenth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign appeared to herald a rebirth; by full-time, it was just another chapter in a weary story. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 23 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental de Maturín, Maturín, Monagas State

Venezuela 2-2 Peru

Video Highlights of Venezuela 2-2 Peru, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 23 March 2017 (YouTube)

First Half Fantastic, Second Half Familiar for Fresh-Faced Venezuela

For the third time during their Russia 2018 qualifying campaign, Venezuela were pegged back to a draw after leading 2-0, thus stalling Rafael Dudamel’s attempts to revitalise his new-look bottom-dwelling nation. 

On what was a dangerous, rain-soaked pitch in Maturín, Peru came closest in the first quarter when Aldo Corzo’s powerful header from a corner was well-parried out by 19-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez. However, soon afterwards in the 24th minute, Venezuela took the lead. Rómulo Otero’s free-kick from the left was whipped in and headed onto the bar by a Peruvian defender, with the ball then bouncing kindly to Mikel Villanueva, who nodded home for his second international goal – both of which have come against Peru.

The hosts, playing in a 4-4-2 formation, often showed much intent to get forward, with the two strikers in particular finding themselves in promising positions. In the 32nd-minute, Salomón Rondón drove towards the area but instead of squaring it to Josef Martínez, he continued his run and was hustled off the ball by a defender, yet despite the West Brom man’s protests, no penalty was awarded. Three minutes later, his partner Martínez managed to get away from an opponent inside the area, before sliding it back to Jhon Murillo. However, though this ball bypassed the goalkeeper, there were a few defenders crowding the goalmouth and one of them did well to chest wide the Tondela winger’s side-footed strike for a corner.

However, in the 40th minute, Venezuela sensationally doubled their lead. Adding to a couple of similarly spectacular strikes earlier this year for his Brazilian side, Atlético Mineiro, Rómulo Otero phenomenally struck a swerving 35-40-yard free-kick which fizzed off goalkeeper Pedro Gallese’s gloves and into the net; perhaps the Peru no. 1 should have done better but it was also a very impressive hit. Five minutes later when the teams went in for the break, it looked as if Dudamel’s tweaking of the personnel and the system had ushered in the belated start of a new, more competitive, phase.

Yet, within the first minute of the restart, things began to sour. Peru pulled a goal back after Rolf Feltscher was easily beaten by Édison Flores on the flank; he, in turn, fed Christian Cueva who had plenty of space to pass it between the centre-backs to Benfica’s André Carrillo, who slid the ball past Fariñez.

Despite this, Venezuela were to have two very good opportunities to regain their two-goal lead before the hour-mark. Firstly, in the 49th minute, Murillo crossed in a dangerous low ball from the right yet Rondón couldn’t quite reach it with his slide. Then, five minutes later, the Premier League striker played into space Martínez, who then roamed towards the edge of the area; however, despite only having the goalkeeper to beat, the MLS top-scorer badly sliced his golden opportunity wide. Shortly afterwards, some attacking impetus was lost as he was replaced by youngster and fellow America resident, Yangel Herrera; post-match, it was revealed that Martínez had picked up an injury and will be reportedly out of action for ten days, thus missing Tuesday’s Chile clash.

However, it was to be Peru who took advantage of this increasingly open game. Familiar foe Paolo Guerrero provided the goal in the 64th minute when he beat the out-of-sorts Wilker Ángel to climb highest and head home Yoshimar Yotún’s corner. Eight minutes later, Guerrero was not far off taking Los Incas in front when a low cross fell invitingly, but he couldn’t quite locate the trigger, with Fariñez instead gratefully gathering.

Not long afterwards, the impressive Otero was replaced by 24-year-old Leganés attacker Darwin Machís, who was making his first Vinotinto appearance in over five years. Within two minutes, he took the ball past a defender on the left edge of the area before striking a hard low shot at the goalkeeper who, given the conditions, did well to hold onto it. However, this was soon eclipsed by a greater chance that fell to Rondón, who benefited from a ricochet yet, despite having a clear sight of goal, he horribly miscued his left-footed effort comfortably wide. Gasps of disbelief reigned around the rainy Estadio Monumental de Maturín; this was to be Venezuela’s last chance of note.

With six minutes remaining, Murillo made way for diminutive dribbler Yeferson Soteldo. With Herrera and Fariñez already on the pitch, this meant Dudamel had managed to field all three of the stand-out performers from the Under-20 side’s impressive Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament earlier this year. The manager appears to have many promising youngsters at his disposal, either still in their teens or early twenties; however, today was not the day for them to collectively flourish and announce themselves to a wider public.

After all, they very nearly ended up on the losing side when, in the 91st minute, Miguel Trauco’s cross was headed low inside the area by Raúl Ruidiaz. Yet to the evident relief of Fariñez and the apparent disbelief of Peru boss Ricardo Gareca, this went narrowly wide.

Thus, after a 2-0 lead was squandered, it ended all-square, just as it had done a year ago. Even though Villanueva scored, Venezuela’s new-look defence looked out-of-sorts, with the players gifting space and struggling to keep up with their opponents. Further upfield, Murillo and, in particular, Otero, caught the eye and provided some creative moments. Regarding the two strikers Martínez and Rondón, however, though they did demonstrate some nice link-up play and creativity of their own, their finishing left something to be desired.

With no Martínez, Venezuela will really need Rondón to be on his game when leading their attack against Chile, holding up the ball and providing relief for the defence. Given La Roja beat La Vinotinto 4-1 on Venezuelan soil a year ago, the back four will also especially be required to improve, in their case by demonstrating more alertness and mutual understanding.

Waiting for them in Santiago will be a Chile side who, having just lost to Argentina, are now outside of the top five positions and so really need to win. Venezuela famously knocked Chile out of the 2011 Copa América quarter-final, yet since then have lost all four subsequent encounters, scoring just once and conceding 14. Thus, those anticipating a Dudamel Revolution may wish to keep these wishful thoughts private for the time being.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; A. González, W. Ángel, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; J. Murillo (Y. Soteldo, 84′), A. Guerra, T. Rincón, R. Otero (D. Machís, 73′); J. Martínez (Y. Herrera, 59′) & S. Rondón.

Peru (4-2-3-1): P. Gallese; A. Corzo, C. Ramos, A. Rodríguez, M. Trauco; Y. Yotún (S. Peña, 78′), R. Tapia (P. Aquino, 85′); A. Carrillo (R. Ruidíaz, 78′), C. Cueva, É. Flores; P. Guerrero.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – March 2017 Preview

Jornadas 13 and 14 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign have finally arrived and whilst Venezuela have long been out of the running, they’re now playing the long-term game. Here, @DarrenSpherical takes a look at the squad preparing to face Peru and Chile…

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 23 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental de Maturín, Maturín, Monagas State

Venezuela vs Peru

Tuesday 28 March 2017 – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Macul, Santiago

Chile vs Venezuela

josefmartinez2

Josef Martínez Celebrating in the Snow in Atlanta United’s 6-1 win away to Minneapolis United, MLS, 12 March 2017 (Image: josefmartinez17)

Dudamel Bids To Rejuvenate Venezuela’s Long-term Ambitions

A Youthful Injection

Four months on from their last two fixtures, Venezuela return to competitive action as they enter the final third of their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. Despite being bottom of the ten-team group and long since out of serious contention, manager Rafael Dudamel has said in the build-up that his men shall approach the games with Peru and Chile as if they are wilfully ignorant of the CONMEBOL table.

Well, what else could he say, really? Coasting it for the next six games was never going to be an option when there is a future out there to be won. Thus, as was also anticipated, Dudamel is looking to try out and integrate new faces to give La Vinotinto the best chance of fulfilling their collective potential by the time qualification for Qatar 2022 rolls around. This was partly expected as changes in personnel and/or tactics were clearly needed, but also because of the widely-celebrated success earlier this year of the World Cup-qualifying Under-20 national team, who Dudamel also manages. All of the three stand-out performers, Yeferson Soteldo, Yangel Herrera and Wuilker Fariñez, have made it into this 28-man squad and, having already debuted for the senior team, must fancy their chances of call-ups for the foreseeable future.

Admittedly, 5 feet 3 inch-dribbler Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile) will have his work cut out to earn a regular starting place in the unsettled attacking line behind the striker(s). Here, the front-runners in recent times have included Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, Spain, on loan from Watford, England) and the injured Juanpi. However, given the fluidity and rotation of the players in this area, Soteldo could well gain some minutes over the next week; if not, waiting in the wings are the marginally older yet similarly inexperienced internationals, Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Jacobo Kouffaty (Millonarios, Ecuador) and Darwin Machís (CD Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain).

Under-20 captain Herrera, recently signed by Manchester City and shipped over to New York City FC, currently appears to have a much stronger chance of consistently seeing first-team action for the seniors. Indeed, Tomás Rincón (Juventus, Italy), captain of the big boys, could do with a consistent partner-in-crime in front of the back four. The likes of Renzo Zambrano (Real Valladolid, Spain) and Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru) have been tried but Herrera, a man not shy of a challenge (and a yellow card) who can also be a positive influence further upfield, may have more to his game. Momentum is on his side.

This can also certainly be said of Caracas FC’s Fariñez, even if is not yet clear if the universally acclaimed goalkeeper of the Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament will get the nod over domestic rival José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira). He is the favourite but if he loses out, he does nevertheless seem a safe bet for a run as first-choice at some point; time will tell if the sprightly 5-feet-9-incher can – to repeat a recurring theme – become a mainstay of future line-ups.

This goalkeeping issue as well as the inclusion of one other member of the Under-20 squad – Joel Graterol, who never featured between the sticks in the tournament and has hardly ever done so for domestic side Carabobo FC – leads into a less anticipated matter.

Surprise Omissions

First of all, there’s no place for Dani Hernández. He had reclaimed the No. 1 jersey at last year’s Copa América Centenario and, though the side has since leaked goals, accusatory fingers have rarely been pointed his way. Perhaps more pertinently, since the national side last convened he has been a vital component of Tenerife’s promotion push to return to the Spanish top-flight, contributing to an impressive defensive record. His absence has caught many off-guard and while there has been idle – though plausible – speculation that his club side may have requested he stay to play in their crucial domestic fixtures, there has been no explanation from Dudamel.

Also left out is experienced centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, virtually an ever-present for La Vinotinto who has earned over 80 caps. 33 in May, though Dudamel has stressed that the Nantes man hasn’t been put out to pasture just yet, he has also stated that he wishes to open up opportunities for others. That will have been news to the ears of 25-year-old Jhon Chancellor, who has recently moved to Ecuadorian side Delfin and may receive a rare opportunity. Alternatively, Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia) and Sema Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) had once looked the likeliest contenders to form a consistent partnership with Vizcarrondo or each other, though their performances, particularly that of Ángel, have often left much to be desired. Though they haven’t played themselves out of contention just yet, Vizcarrondo’s partner for the previous two games was instead Mikel Villanueva. Dudamel has said how he prefers to consider the Málaga man for a position in the middle, rather than at left-back, where he can also play; thus instead on this flank, it is Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain) and Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC) who will be competing for the manager’s approval.

Over on the right side of defence, however, is where the most surprising omission is concerned. Despite being Mr. Consistent at club level, a mainstay of Málaga’s defence for nearly three years now (which has included three clean sheets in five games against Barcelona) and easily one of Venezuela’s most high-profile performers, there is no place for Roberto Rosales. Given that he’s 28 years old, it’s a bit premature for him to be making way for a new generation. In justification, Dudamel has asserted that Alexander González of Spanish second-tier side Huesca has impressed by taking advantage of his opportunities since they first came his way following an injury to Rosales at last June’s Copa América Centenario. Yet whilst González has looked assured in glimpses, he has also played in several comfortable losses, though even if one is in accord with Dudamel’s viewpoint, champions of Rosales find his outright exclusion with Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal) as back-up hard to swallow. At best, this decision may instil a determination in Rosales not to be complacent for his nation, though if not matching club performances at international level were consistently enforced grounds for exclusion, none of this mob would survive three consecutive call-ups.

High-Profile Concerns…and Some Joy

With no Rosales, there shall be no Three R’s, leaving Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) and Tomás Rincón as the only two players in the current squad who can be classed as dead certs to be repeatedly named as starters. Naturally then, there are nevertheless some concerns about this pair, which have been aired in the Venezuelan media: with Rondón, it’s his goal drought in the Premier League since his hat-trick against Swansea City on 14 December; with Rincón, it’s his lack of match-time since his big move from Genoa to Juventus back in the January transfer window.

Rincón is one of ten players in the present selección who have moved club since the national team was last convened. One of these, Adalberto Peñaranda, has also struggled to make it onto the field, both for Udinese at the start of the campaign and, since January, new club Málaga. Though the Andalusian outfit twice managed the remarkable feat of fielding four Venezuelans in January, these have also been Peñaranda’s only two appearances. His stock has fallen somewhat since this time last year, when he was being hyped by football hacks as a potential superstar off the back of little more than a handful of observed appearances. However, as he is still a mere 19 years of age, Dudamel has included him in part so that support can be provided and spirits hopefully raised.

As always, there shall be much competition for one of the inner-channel/flank positions behind the striker(s) that the jinking Peñaranda is tailor-made for. One potential rival, who could also be moved elsewhere along the line or up front with Rondón, is 23-year-old Josef Martínez – another man who has recently moved clubs. By contrast, however, three games and five goals into his MLS career with Atlanta United, he has already been proclaimed a rip-roaring success; so much so, in fact, that Tata Martino’s club have just this week been able to make the loan deal from Torino a permanent one. Though a starting spot is not always guaranteed for him, he does tend to link up well with Rondón, either from behind or in tandem. As Rondón was injured last November, Martínez was afforded the rare opportunity of leading the attack alone and managed to notch a hat-trick against Bolivia. If, any time soon, the unthinkable happens and Rondón actually loses his place when fit, then the Atlanta new-boy – also his country’s top-scorer in qualifying with five – is easily the front-runner to displace.

Is It Even Possible To Pick Up Momentum?

Overall then, as always there is much speculation and few concrete certainties except the predominance of uncertainties. Several players are likely to be given new and/or rare opportunities over the upcoming two games and almost all of those who start can not feel too comfortable about this consistently recurring for the remainder of the campaign, let alone for the next few years. However, as the subsequent two qualifiers are not for another five months, one can not help but query in advance the weight that may be placed on the upcoming two matches in informing August’s squad. As evidenced by the justification behind Rosales’ omission, Dudamel is willing to overlook long-standing club form in favour of what he sees in these comparatively short spells when the men on his radar don the burgundy shirts. If this is the case, then Herrera, Soteldo and Fariñez will have more opportunities than most to sway his mind, given that he will be leading them to the Under-20 World Cup in two months’s time.

Nevertheless, despite the omissions and the new-look rearguard, there’s plenty of attacking talent in their ranks. A home win against Peru – who they should have beaten away in March 2016 but let a 2-0 lead become a 2-2 draw – is precisely the result a Venezuelan side challenging for World Cup qualification should attain; to do so would provide a significant boost to the hitherto underwhelmed faithful and subsequently decrease fears of another tonking from Chile. The last one came after the draw in Lima and turned out to be Noel Sanvicente’s last ever game as Venezuela manager; a year on, two more positive results against the same opposition would mark a symbolic shift in the right direction for Rafael Dudamel.

To read about how Venezuela get on against both Peru and Chile, please check back here and/or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC, Venezuela) & Joel Graterol (Carabobo FC, Venezuela).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Delfin, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Real Zaragoza, on loan from Getafe, Spain), Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Rubert Quijada (Caracas FC, Venezuela), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal) & Mikel Villanueva (Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Francisco Flores (Mineros de Guayana, Venezuela), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras, Brazil), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Jacobo Kouffaty (Millonarios, Ecuador), Darwin Machís (CD Leganés, on loan from Granada, Spain), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil, on loan from Huachipato, Chile), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, Spain, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Juventus, Italy), Aristóteles Romero (Mineros de Guayana, Venezuela), Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile) & Renzo Zambrano (Real Valladolid, Spain). 

Forwards

Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy), Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England) & Christian Santos (Alaves, Spain).

venezuelasquadmarch2017

(Image: @SeleVinotinto)

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-2 Brazil – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (11 October 2016)

Rather than historic headlines, the tenth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded goalkeeping and power failures. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 11 October 2016 – El Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida State

Venezuela 0-2 Brazil

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-2 Brazil, 11 October 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

Oh Dani Boy, Gifting the Night Away

Match Report

Within eight minutes, Venezuela were knocked down and rarely looked like getting up again as Brazil went on to inflict upon them their eighth defeat in ten World Cup Qualifying games.

Making five changes from the Uruguay defeat (including three of the four defenders), Rafael Dudamel set up his men in a relatively bold 4-4-2 formation but no strategy or set of tactics could have accounted for the opening goal. This arrived when goalkeeper Dani Hernández, under no real pressure, suicidally passed the ball straight to Gabriel Jesus some 30 yards out. The Manchester-bound 19-year-old stopped the ball with his left boot and, as the Tenerife man scrambled in front of the penalty spot, with his right deftly scooped the Seleção into the lead with a masterful chip. Thus marked the latest instance of Venezuela’s tradition of providing significant aid to countries who don’t really need it.

Though it was his most glaring, this was hardly Hernández’s first error since regaining the gloves under Dudamel and pressure to make a change will surely intensify now. Yet with the two other goalkeepers in the squad relatively inexperienced at international level – and having not entirely convinced when called upon – there are no obvious alternatives. The previous number one Alain Baroja has been excluded from the selección throughout the new manager’s reign, seemingly due to having also committed some high-profile errors in earlier qualifying matches (the home games against Paraguay and Ecuador providing the most egregious examples). A recall can not now be entirely out of the question but, whatever happens, goalkeeping woes and back-line jitters look set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Conceding an early goal against one of the best teams in the continent would have deflated any nation but Venezuelans had additional reasons to fear the following 80+ minutes. Not only have they not won a single game in the current qualifying campaign, but – barring one friendly match in 2008 – they have never beaten Brazil and the last time that they gained a positive result from a competitive game after falling behind was exactly three years ago (their last match of the Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign, a 1-1 home draw with Paraguay on 11 October 2013).

In the remainder of the half, though Venezuela were not shrinking violets, it was certainly the visitors who came closest to getting the game’s second goal. In the 15th minute, Gabriel Jesus earned some space after he latched onto a long ball up the inside-left channel and slid it to Phillipe Coutinho, whose low strike from the edge of the dee was poked a bit too close to Hernández. Nine minutes later at the second attempt, roaming right-back Dani Alves volleyed in a goalmouth cross that was only narrowly diverted by Roberto Rosales from the path of Gabriel Jesus for a corner.

Just past the half-hour mark, Paulinho had a chance when he greatly unnerved the opposition back-line on the edge of the area, playing a few one-twos before eventually firing just wide. A few minutes later, it was Coutinho’s moment to strike a yard or two the wrong side of the post when an elevated ricochet in the area fell kindly for his right boot.

As with previous matches against the region’s heavyweights, the hosts’ best hope of an attempt on goal came from set-pieces (which here were flagged offside at the key moment) and breakaways, the impetus for which invariably derived from the feet of Adalberto Peñaranda. Indeed, the 19-year-old raised the volume in the stands in the 23rd minute when he left a player for dead in midfield before running into trouble. Later in the 41st minute, he impressively gained some space on the left before cutting inside and winning a corner from his own effort, though one or two of his colleagues seemed irritated that he did not pass for them to take aim.

Venezuela thus went into the break not completely out of the game, but having barely troubled opposition goalkeeper Alisson. Their struggle was compounded by the yellow cards earned by both centre-backs, Wilker Ángel and Sema Velázquez – not encouraging news for a team that has had three defenders (including Ángel) sent off in their last three games.

Nevertheless, as a spot of rain-lashing greeted the arrival of the second half, the hosts gained some heart from avoiding a repeat of the Uruguay game. No game-killing goals after 15 seconds here then. No, Tite’s men had to instead wait eight minutes for that. They doubled their lead thanks to Renato Agusto dragging the ball away from Rosales on the left and firing the ball across the goalmouth where Willian beat the other full-back Rolf Feltscher to clinically strike home at the back post.

Just five minutes later in the 58th minute, Brazil seemed well on their way to humiliating their hosts when an Augusto header from a corner ended up in the back of the net. However, Gabriel Jesus helped it across the line and his involvement caused the linesman to raise his flag.

Soon afterwards, partly inspired by the substitution of Alejandro Guerra on for Juanpi, Venezuela gradually overcame their dejection and started to threaten Alisson’s goal. Seconds after his arrival on the hour, it was the fresh Atlético Nacional midfielder who diverted a forward ball to Salomón Rondón. The West Bromwich forward’s first-time strike hit Marquinhos, seemingly on the upper arm, leaving Alisson stranded. Fortunately for the latter two, the ball went wide for a corner.

A couple of minutes later, Rondón had another chance. This time, from the right with his left boot, Rosales swung in a cross that the striker beat his marker to, with his header bouncing just a yard or so wide of the near post.

However, they were reminded of exactly what they were up against just a minute later when Brazil stretched their back-line and a pass from the left into the centre seemed to be heading for an inevitable third; yet the shot that followed was too close to Hernández, who parried.

The action continued and it was virtually end-to-end. Just two minutes later at the other end, Josef Martínez volleyed an arced free-kick that forced a save, though play was immediately halted for offside. Four minutes later, Alves skipped past the slide of Peñaranda on the right where he crossed towards the centre of the area to Paulinho but, despite the space the ex-Tottenham man had, he volleyed well over. Barely 30 seconds later at the other end, Rondón curled in a fine ball from the left with his right which destabilised and discombulated Filipe Luís. Prowling behind him at the back post was Guerra who did well to stretch to control the ball, but from his crab-like stance with Alisson narrowing the angles, he could only scuff a shot wide of the post.

However, pulses in the stands were not to be maintained at the same rate for much longer as in the 73rd minute, the floodlights suddenly went out. Darkness, punctuated by lights from phones and advertising boards, descended upon the Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida. There was initially much cheering and clapping from the home fans, perhaps proving Venezuelans like a good old ‘wheeeyyy’ when something goes wrong as much as anyone. Or maybe they just thought the game may get called off and they would receive a second chance. This was certainly debated by onlookers, with most agreeing a replay would have to be played the following night – sadly, such musings were not immediately relayed to a mid-kip Tony Pulis. Also during this interval, some fans began chanting for the removal of President Nicolás Maduro,  a fairly common occurrence when things are not going well at home (anti-government signs are also frequently seen at games on foreign soil). Last year towards the end of the 3-1 loss against Ecuador in Puerto Ordaz, similar chants were drowned out by music suddenly blasting out over the public announce system. This time in Mérida, however, no amount of pro-government officials would have been able to enforce similar action.

Fortunately for them though, there was little chance of a full-scale demonstration occurring as the electricity did gradually return and thus almost 25 minutes after the ball was last officially in play, the match resumed. Yet, in the remaining 17 minutes or so, little of note happened, with the interruption greatly diminishing the momentum of the players and the volume of the crowd. The one stand-out moment was Rondón’s 88th-minute header from a cross swung in from the right, which he powered towards Alisson, who was required to pull of a decent save to tip it over the bar.

Nevertheless, despite the hosts’ improvements after the second goal, when the Peruvian official blew for full-time, the Venezuelans were left to be confronted with their unenviable position at the bottom of the CONMEBOL Qualifying group. With Bolivia having picked up a point at home to Ecuador, Dudamel’s men now find themselves six points adrift at the bottom, with just two draws from ten games to their name.

After June’s promising Copa América campaign, the Vinotinto boss has now lost some of his initial goodwill, having presided over four qualifying games and earned just one point. Yet this worrying statistic is somewhat undermined by the fact that these matches were against four of the current top five teams in the region. However, with Venezuela’s next encounter being at home against those notoriously bad travellers Bolivia, nothing less than a victory will be enough to contain the critics for the time being. With changes to his already rather unsettled line-up inevitable, he may wish to spent the next month wisely while poring over his decisions.

To find out how Venezuela get on, remember to follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and/or check back here for match reports and news. 

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, S. Velázquez, W. Ángel, R. Feltscher; Juanpi (A. Guerra, 60′), T. Rincón,  A. Flores (Y. Herrera, 84′); A. Peñaranda (R. Otero, 73′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez.

Brazil (4-3-3): Alisson; D. Alves, Marquinhos, J. Miranda, F. Luís; Paulinho, Fernandinho, R. Augusto; Willian (Taison, 89′), G. Jesus, P. Coutinho (Giuliano, 83′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Uruguay 0-1 Venezuela -Copa América Centenario Group C (9 June 2016)

This is just what they do, the Venezuelans. Do keep up…

Copa América Centenario Group C

Thursday 9 June 2016 – Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Uruguay 0-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Uruguay 0-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario, 9 June 2016 (YouTube)

Venezuela Book Place in the Knock-Out Phase With a Game to Spare

Thanks to Salomón Rondón’s first-half goal, Venezuela recorded an unanticipated and historic second consecutive win in the Copa América and are already in the draw for the Quarter-final stage.

This disciplined and hard-fought win, coupled with the other result in Group C today, means Rafael Dudamel’s revitalised men will duke it out with Mexico on Monday for top spot as well as, most likely, the opportunity to avoid Argentina.

Though headlines were already being made around the world during the game for Luis Suárez’ anger at not making it onto the pitch as well as Uruguay’s elimination from the tournament, for Vinotinto fans, there was only one story here.

That said, it was far from straightforward and as early as the fifth minute, it looked like it may not be their day. Indeed, La Celeste had edged the early exchanges and then, disaster appeared to have announced itself, as Málaga right-back Roberto Rosales – perhaps, at club level at least, the most reliable of the high-profile players – was fouled by Cristhian Stuani and had to leave the field. Though he came back briefly, he soon went down again and this time it was for good. He was replaced by Alexander González of Spanish second-tier side Huesca, a player with undeniable abilities going forward, but who does not always convince in a defensive role. However, such concerns were to prove unfounded in Philadelphia.

Nevertheless, Venezuela certainly had to defend, particularly in the opening stages as attacks of any consequence were rare. The two Uruguayan full-backs, Gaston Silva and Maxi Pereira, regularly got forward throughout the game and it was the latter who played a role in his side’s first chance of note. This came after 15 minutes when the Porto right-back – who was making a record-breaking 113th appearance for his country – crossed in to the back post. From here, the ball was headed back towards Edinson Cavani but, not for the only time in this match, the Paris St. Germain striker miscued. Five minutes later, another Pereira cross raised pulses, but Stuani could only glance the ball out to the opposite flank.

Venezuela may not have been roaming forward much to begin with, but they did manage to offer a slight fright in the 23rd minute. Left-back Rolf Feltscher crossed with his right and Rondón jumped with centre-back Diego Godín and goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, yet the ball evaded all three of them as well as, only by a few yards, the far post. Five minutes later, the underdogs made another foray into the area as Josef Martínez won the ball and then fed Rondón but the latter’s pass onwards was just about snuffed out at the critical stage.

Despite such moments, when the game reached the half-hour mark, the main talking-point was the number of fouls: roughly one every two minutes, as the game threatened to become an exceedingly ill-tempered affair. However, soon, on-field matters were to take several steps in a more positive footballing direction.

Indeed, Uruguay had two chances to open the scoring within the space of a few minutes. First, a central free-kick some 45 yards out was swerved into the area and Stuani glanced a very faint header onwards that hit the side of the post and went out. Then, in the 34th minute, Pereira put in a low ball from his side that Cavani poked towards goal. Dani Hernández parried and was no doubt relieved to see that the rebound narrowly evaded the onrushing attacker and was cleared.

However, just as Óscar Tabárez’s men appeared to have the upper hand, it happened. A moment that will undoubtedly be repeated in the minds of Venezuelans and on their televisions for some time to come. It came out of nowhere and yet has now taken them to a place that, pre-tournament, seemed unworthy of serious contemplation.

The Venezuelan imagination was expanded exponentionally by the vision of Alejandro Guerra. The Atlético Nacional midfielder won the ball on the right side of midfield and then, apropos of nothing, whacked an incredible strike from just inside the opposition half. To what will be the eternal disappointment of every Vinotinto fan, his shot was actually tipped onto the crossbar by the out-of-sorts Muslera. However, this memory will be sweetened by the on-cue Rondón, who had enough time to compose himself as the ball bounced down just infront of the goal-line before placing his shot into the back of the net. 1-0. Elation for everyone of a burgundy persuasion.

Their sky-blue-clad opponents initially struggled to come to terms with this setback and it was La Vinotinto who had the best chance to score a second goal just before the break. This time, a minute before the half-time whistle,  Guerra won the ball in the centre around 35 yards from goal and with one touch managed to part the sea that was the Uruguayan defence, evading two or three players, before poking a shot goalwards. Unfortunately for him, his posture disadvantaged him and he could only nudge an effort with the outside of his boot too close to Muslera.

Uruguay went into the interval knowing that they had 45 minutes to save their place in a competition in which they have enjoyed phenomenal success for the past century. However, though they saw much of the ball in the early part of the second half, clear chances were rare. Their best moment in the moments before the hour-mark came after 54 minutes when a corner was swung in, knocked out and then Stuani, back-to-goal, swivelled and struck a couple of yards over on the turn.

The sense of urgency from Tabárez’s men was palpable yet their commitments upfield inevitably left them vulnerable to getting exposed at the back – as they indeed did in the 63rd minute. After Cavani was dispossessed in the area, the ball was knocked forward to the halfway line where it was picked up by 19-year-old starlet Adalberto Peñaranda who – somewhat surprisingly, despite his undeniable talents – was making his first ever start for his country. He ran with great speed and intent for 50 yards away from his pursuers, yet when confronted with a one-on-one with Muslera, hit the ball far too close to the Galatasaray goalkeeper, who saved low. Nevertheless, as the game became increasingly stretched, Peñaranda would find himself with more and more space in which to roam.

While Uruguay were still getting forward, raising Venezuelan heart-rates all the time, the attention for many neutrals increasingly turned to the sight of the agitated Suárez on the bench. At the beginning of the half, the injury-hit striker had been highlighted warming up with his team-mates and putting on some reinforcement tape. However, soon after Tabárez made his third and final change in the 80th minute, the Barcelona striker was seen fuming, removing his training bib, expressing his anger towards the coaching staff and then thumping the plexiglass at the side of the bench. Yet, though at the time many assumed he was furious at not being allowed onto the pitch, just as many wise-owls were aware of the fact that, according to the official team lists submitted pre-match, he was named as being unavailable and would not have been able to play no matter how much he protested. Suárez has since claimed that he was fully aware of this, but was training as he felt helpless just sitting inactive and passively with the stiffs. True or not, this was an unnecessary distraction for Uruguayans and, frankly, most Venezuelans could not have given the slightest toss. Try as many generalist football hacks did post-whistle to undermine and marginalise the result by reducing the game mainly to this non-issue, it should not diminish the scale of the achievement of Dudamel’s men.

That said, without any doubt, Tabárez – and any other manager in world football, for that matter – would have preferred if certain opportunities had instead been presented to his all-time top goalscorer. Indeed, though the remaining ten minutes of regulation time were characterised more by tension than chances, one particular gilt-edged opportunity arrived as the clock was about to strike ninety. This came when Nicolás Lodeiro slid the ball to Cavani just inside the area and, with one key touch, the PSG striker took the ball past the defender and opened up clear space to thump the ball goalwards. However, to the shock of himself, as well as the sunken Lodeiro and no doubt millions watching around the world, he whacked his effort hauntingly wide of the post. Though criticisms of the former Palermo man can often be unfair and sometimes reflect more on the high calibre of strike partners he has at international and club level, moments like this do little for his reputation. Barely a minute later, he almost had a chance to rectify this, but was unable to convert a knock-on from a rather direct lofted pass into the area which Hernández gratefully managed to get his body in the way of to halt the ball’s progress.

Despite these late scares, there was still time for Venezuela to have an opportunity to seal their victory. Indeed, in the fourth minute of stoppage-time, Muslera was caught in no-man’s-land after he came up for a corner and the ball was rapidly cleared to substitute Rómulo Otero on the halfway line. The Huachipato playmaker hastily tried to orientate himself in order to do something akin to what Guerra was narrowly thwarted in doing in the first half, yet his low strike from around 40 yards at the open goal went a mere yard wide of the far post.

The diminutive midfielder was understandably disappointed to see his effort swerve off-target but, within a minute, all was forgiven and forgotten after he was aggressively pushed off the ball by an opponent angered by the sound of the final whistle. He was quick to pick himself up and celebrate with his team-mates as the anguish and dejection of Uruguay contrasted with the smiles and euphoria  of Venezuela.

To neutrals who perhaps only pay La Vinotinto attention in tournaments may well view this as another positive stride on their inevitable march of progress, but those who have been observing with more regularity know the ride has not been so smooth. Already through to the knock-out stage, they are in an undeniably impressive and unanticipated position for a team that is bottom in World Cup qualifying, has only had their current manager for two months and who came into the tournament winless in four friendlies. Coach Dudamel has also been bold with his selections, starting with players who barely featured in those pre-tournament warm-up games. While they may have had some fortune in their two wins, things do appear to have fallen into place remarkably quickly and the defence (two straight clean sheets and just four goals conceded in six games) has undeniably improved.

Nevertheless, one does not wish to break the habit of a lifetime by getting too carried away. The group-deciding match against Mexico in front of a packed Houston crowd is likely to be the toughest yet and even a draw would mean a likely Quarter-final tie with Argentina. Euphoria in football can be shortlived, not least during fast-paced tournaments.

Still, enjoy the moment. Always look on the bright side of life. Cheer up son, it might never happen.

Over the upcoming days, the author of this blog shall attempt to put these happy-go-lucky platitudes into action and suggests any fellow sympathisers do as well. There is much to be positive about and build upon for the future and one can not resist the feeling that we may have just witnessed the beginning of something really quite remarkable.*

To keep up-to-date with Venezuela’s prolonged progress in Copa América Centenario, remember to look up @DarrenSpherical on Twitter and/or return to this website in the upcoming days.

Team Selections

Uruguay (4-4-2): F. Muslera; M. Pereira, D. Godín, J. Giménez, G. Silva; C. Sánchez (N. Lodeiro, 78′), E. Arévalo, Á. González (M. Corujo, 80′), G. Ramírez (D. Rolan, 73′); C. Stuani & E. Cavani.

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales (A. González, 8′), W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra, T. Rincón, A. Figuera (R. Otero, 79′), A. Peñaranda; S. Rondón (L. Seijas, 79′) & J. Martínez.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

*Or a complete false dawn. (Couldn’t resist).

Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela – Copa América Centenario Group C (Sunday 5 June 2016)

Another Sunday in June, another Venezuela Copa América Group C opening-day victory by a solitary goal. Hispanospherical.com heartily welcomes this expectation-defying tradition…

Copa América Centenario Group C

Sunday 5 June 2016 – Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Jamaica 0-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario Group C, 5 June 2016 (YouTube).

Josef’s the Man as Venezuela Announce Themselves as Group C Contenders

Venezuela turned more than a few heads as they got off to a winning start in Group C, courtesy of Josef Martínez’s well-worked winner.

Despite playing in front of a crowd that was only a fraction of the 60,000-plus capacity, the two sides certainly put on an entertaining spectacle of frequently fast-paced and end-to-end action.

Rafael Dudamel’s first victory as manager of La Vinotinto at the fifth attempt came as a slight surprise not only because of uninspiring recent results, but also due to the fact that he fielded a line-up somewhat different to the anticipated one. Indeed, to the disappointment of many who were hoping to see a brave new era of attacking play, the exciting creative midfielders Rómulo Otero and Juanpi were both consigned to the bench. Also not in the starting line-up were Sema Velázquez, usurped by the more youthful Wilker Ángel, and Mikel Villanueva, who in the last several months seemed to have become the clear frontrunner for the left-back spot but who ultimately lost out to Rolf Feltscher. Drawing fewer raised eyebrows but nevertheless noteworthy was José Contreras being pipped by Dani Hernández as the man between the goalposts, despite the former being handed the no.1 squad number and the latter not being trusted in a competitive game since October 2013.

The Tenerife goalkeeper certainly had to be alert throughout these 90 minutes though, as Jamaica edged the early proceedings in what was a rather energetic, knockabout affair. From the off, they caused some jitters with snapshots of what they are capable of, such as in the fourth minute when a long ball headed on to Clayton Donaldson in space led to the Birmingham City striker being clumsily nudged over in the area by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. Fortunately for the Nantes centre-back, the offside flag had already been raised.

However, seven minutes later, if they were not already awake to task in front of them, Venezuela received a fresh, wet double-slap of reality from their Caribbean opponents. Firstly, Vizcarrondo was again caught out, as he missed a long ball which was instead headed on to Donaldson, who managed to get away a fine strike from the edge of the area which Hernández tipped over. Then, from the corner that was swung towards the far post, New England Revolution midfielder Je-Vaugh Watson powered a header against the crossbar.

Rattled, Venezuela most certainly were. Thus, while they did get forward themselves in the opening 15 minutes, it was nevertheless somewhat against the run of the play when they took the lead. This goal arrived when Feltscher cut out a lazy forward pass some 35-40 yards out on the inside-left channel and put into motion a very quick-paced passing move. He knocked it short to Luis Manuel Seijas, who helped it on to Salomón Rondón. The West Brom striker gave it to Alejandro Guerra in a more central position and with a deft touch, the Atlético Nacional man set up Torino striker Josef Martínez who slid it under the goalkeeper.

Momentarily at least, the goal appeared to take the wind out of Jamaica’s previously rather powerful sails, as they were to threaten far less in the ten minutes that followed. Then, in the 24th minute, came another sign that it may just be Venezuela’s day after all. Lunging for a loose ball with Tomás Rincón, Brøndby midfielder Rudolph Austin caught the Vinotinto captain from behind and the referee deemed it to be reckless enough for him to immediately brandish a straight red card.

However, despite the man-disadvantage, Jamaica were far from out of it and rallied together to regularly put their opponents ill-at-ease with their ability to create space and stretch play via their direct, powerful moves.

Nevertheless, there were moments in the remainder of the first half when the inequality in numbers was apparent and Venezuela made the most of the situation. For example in the 29th minute, when right-back Roberto Rosales was able to collect the ball in a very advanced position and jink his way infield past a player or two before forcing a low save from his left-footed shot. In the next few minutes his side continued to burst forward and could well have got a second goal in the 33rd minute. Indeed, not for the only time in this game, Jamaica’s marking deserted them, as Guerra’s corner found Ángel in acres of space, but the lofty centre-back badly headed well over, when he had time to get the ball down and possibly get a shot in.

Sensing that his side may effectively be on their way out of the tournament before it had even really started, Jamaica manager Winfried Schäfer appeared to hit the nuclear button. Indeed, with just 40 minutes on the clock, he took off Kemar Lawrence, replacing him with Leicester City captain Wes Morgan – a man he had been hoping to rest after his domestic heroics with the Premier League champions. However, it has since emerged that Lawrence was suffering from a groin injury that will rule him out of the rest of the competition. Nevertheless, with their next two games being against Mexico and Uruguay, Jamaica’s prospects were not looking bright.

For the remainder of the half, the CONCACAF side increased the pressure on the leaders, causing much uncertainty from set-pieces and crosses – albeit without seriously threatening the goal. Just before the half-time whistle, Venezuela midfielder Arquímedes Figuera was booked for a foul not entirely dissimilar to that of the dismissed Austin. When the teams emerged for the second half, coach Schäfer was to be found watching it from the stands as, one suspects, his complaints to the referee over incidents such as this led to him receiving a red card.

Nevertheless, for his own sake, one hopes he had a good view of his side’s considerable efforts to get back into the game after the restart. Indeed, within four minutes, they were nearly level. On the left edge of the area, the ball fell into the path of Michael Hector who curled a fine strike that swerved off the far post. A narrow escape for Dudamel’s men.

While Venezuela could be on the backfoot, they also certainly got forward themselves. On the hour-mark, Martínez and Rondón gave further evidence of their potential as a regular partnership. Two minutes after one move broke down, the West Brom striker had more success, controlling a pass, then sliding it forward to the Torino striker in the area, though just before he pulled the trigger his shot was blocked for a corner.

With around 20 minutes remaining, their best chance to double the lead presented itself. The Jamaican marking from a corner once again was non-existent as Guerra’s set-piece found Angel in the middle who powered a very strong low diving header from which the goalkeeper Andre Blake pulled off a sensational save. The rebound fell slightly unkindly to Rondón, who could only blaze the ball over.

Just a couple of minutes later up the other end, Venezuela were nearly made to rue such moments. Here, from a throw into the area, Rincón’s defensive header only went to Watson, who was afforded enough space for a spine-chilling run-up, yet his strike was blazed well over the crossbar.

The last ten minutes of the game did not have too much in the way of clear chances, with the closest Jamaica came being Adrian Mariappa’s header from a corner that was saved somewhat theatrically by Hernández. Nevertheless, they caused Venezuela some further jitters while also opening themselves up to potential counter-attacks.

Ultimately, however, the boys in burgundy were able to see out the game to record a memorable victory. Having historically being the whipping-boys of South America, they are now unbeaten in their last four opening-day Copa América matches. Last year in Chile, they began their tournament with a euphoric victory against neighbours Colombia, yet despite overcoming this considerable hurdle, lost their next two games against Peru and Brazil and were out. This time around, they know that – on paper at least – with Uruguay and Mexico on the horizon, Jamaica are not likely to have provided the sternest test in this group. Nevertheless, though many fans would take a draw, the fact remains that if, as seems likely, the Reggae Boyz fail to beat El Tri, then a victory against La Celeste would take La Vinotinto through.

Still, while this blog can be rather ponderous at times, it is certainly not one to spend too much time day-dreaming about getting what one’s heart actually desires. Thus, that will be all for now, but if you are not able to watch the Uruguay match – or, conversely, are, but simply enjoy revisiting what you are familiar with – then feel free to check back on this site and/or @DarrenSpherical in the upcoming days. Who knows what terrifyingly upbeat tones and adjectives may await.

Team Selections

Jamaica (4-4-2): A. Blake; J. Watson (M. Binns, 88′), A. Mariappa, J. Taylor, K. Lawrence (W. Morgan, 40′); G. McCleary, R. Austin, M. Hector (L. Williamson, 77′), J. McAnuff; G. Barnes & C. Donaldson.

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra (A. González, 90+1′), T. Rincón, A. Figuera, L. Seijas (R. Otero, 86′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (A. Peñaranda, 77′).

Darren Spherical 

@DarrenSpherical