Tag Archives: Wilker Ángel

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

Chile 3-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (28 March 2017)

For the first hour of the fourteenth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Rafael Dudamel’s men were on the receiving end of a very one-sided bombardment; ultimately, though they were able to massage the scoreline somewhat, the performance exposed many known, recurring weaknesses. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

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

Chile 3-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Chile 3-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 28 March 2017 (YouTube)

Rampant Roja Compelled to be Content with Early Blitz

With three goals in the opening 22 minutes, it looked as if La Roja were on course to break some records, though in the end they had to settle just for these strikes, as their profligacy gave La Vinotinto some unmerited late optimism in the final half-hour. 

The first goal came after less than five minutes when Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez brilliantly curled a central 25-yard free-kick in off the underside of the bar; he hit it with such pace and accuracy that goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez seemed to not have time to even attempt a dive for it. Barely two minutes later, Sánchez did great to skip around a static Venezuelan defence from the left flank over to the centre of the area, where he slid through Charles Aránguiz, who immediately squared it to Colo-Colo maestro Esteban Paredes to tap in. Then, in the 22nd minute, the third goal came, with Sánchez once again involved. This time, he played the ball out to the right to Mauricio Isla, then beat Alexander González to meet the Cagliari right-back’s cross at the back post; from here, he headed past the flapping Faríñez into the goalmouth, where Paredes managed to nudge it over the line.

The hosts were very much dominant and frequently looked like they were about to extend their lead. Conversely, in the quarter-of-an-hour after the third goal, aside from a couple of off-target shots, Venezuela’s best moments came when their opponents had over-committed, leading to rapid attempts at countering. Most notably, Jhon Murillo twice chased forward balls, the second of which saw him virtually one-on-one with Claudio Bravo, but he couldn’t get a proper swing on his shot and the ball instead rolled tamely to the Manchester City goalkeeper. Later on in the half in the 42nd minute, arguably the best chance for La Vinotinto score before the break fell to Wilker Ángel; yet, despite the  six-feet-five-inch centre-back – who, once again, had a game to forget at the back – gaining space from his marker, he was unable to make good contact with Rómulo Otero’s free-kick.

Before this, however, Chile were nearer to the mark with two opportunities of their own. Firstly, in the 38th minute, Aránguiz headed a lofted ball back to the edge of the area from where Eduardo Vargas struck a fine low left-footed effort which hit the outside of the post. Two minutes later, from the left of the area, Jean Beausejour laid the ball to Paredes who rolled a low effort just wide of the far post.

Whatever Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel said at half-time, it didn’t work. It shall be one of the great mysteries of the 2018 World Cup CONMEBOL qualifying campaign as to how Chile did not extend their lead. Firstly, Arturo Vidal had a couple of minor efforts early on, hitting a strike at the goalkeeper on the turn then, from the left edge of the area, knocking a surprise cross-goal shot wide of the far post. A few minutes later in the 52nd minute, however, he should definitely have scored. Here, Sánchez once again came in from the flank and left the Venezuelan back-line for dead, before this time passing to Vidal in the area; yet, the Bayern Munich man, barely eight yards out, controlled, then surprised everyone by placing his shot wide of the post. Then, just over a minute later, Vidal left the home faithful even more incredulous as, from a Paredes cut-back in the area with the defence and goalkeeper scrambling about out of sorts, he blazed over. Less than two minutes afterwards, another chance for La Roja was fashioned: Vargas came roaming forward, slid it to Vidal who was confronted by the onrushing goalkeeper, off whom the ball ricocheted; however, it then rolled to a very tight position, from which Paredes could only blast into the side-netting. Subsequently, it wasn’t long before the local league striker had a pair of better opportunities, the first arriving following a forward ball from Sánchez that the former struck at Fariñez, forcing a block; from the rebound, he hit a low shot wide.

Around this point just before the hour-mark, whilst the home fans were a little miffed not to be in a more commanding position, their team’s supremacy was such that Olés greeted every pass. Shortly afterwards, in a tacit acknowledgement that his judgement may have let him down, Dudamel withdrew right-back González, who had been given a torrid time; with Roberto Rosales having been surprisingly omitted from the squad, Víctor García instead took his place.

Then, in the 63rd minute completely against the run of play, Venezuela scored. Otero capped a fine international break in which he has been involved in some key way in all three of his country’s goals by crossing in a free-kick for Salomón Rondón to rise high to head home; this was the West Brom striker’s first goal for club or country since 14 December and will have gone some way to quietening the doubters for the time being.

Though Chile continued to have the majority of the play, this goal aroused something in Venezuela. Indeed, in the 67th minute, captain Tomás Rincón raced forward on the inside left before hitting a well-struck right-footed shot from the edge of the area, which Bravo had to parry over. Then, in the 75th minute, he was to be aggrieved to have not ended up on the scoresheet. Here, Rondón gained some space on the right edge of the area, passing towards the centre where substitute Adalberto Peñaranda deftly back-flicked it towards the Juventus man who then crashed a wonderful shot against the underside of the bar – replays show that it was marginally over the line, but with no goal-line technology, the score remained at 3-1.

Despite playing their part in allowing the visitors back into the game, Chile still pressed forward and had a golden opportunity to extend their lead in the 77th minute, after left-back Rolf Feltscher gave away a penalty. However, 19-year-old goalkeeper Fariñez – who had made some decent blocks, even if his positioning looked somewhat suspect on two of the goals – enhanced his growing reputation by making a brilliant low save to deny a well-struck Sánchez spot-kick.

Nevertheless, though they should have got considerably more and Vidal acknowledged afterwards that he was partially responsible for not killing off the game sooner, Chile eventually saw out the game 3-1. Following all the other results from Matchday 14, they now sit fourth in the hotly-contested upper echelons of CONMEBOL qualifying; conversely, following Bolivia’s 2-0 win over a Messi-less Argentina, Venezuela are now four points adrift at the bottom, with just six points to their name.

Thus, given that the next qualifiers are five months away, in response to the question posed at the bottom of this site’s round preview, “Is It Even Possible To Pick Up Momentum?“, whilst it is impossible to give a conclusive answer, one has to at least state that Venezuela have not done so. Indeed, over the two games, once again, the entire defence, particularly Ángel and González, have certainly not covered themselves in glory; how many of them survive the next call-up is anyone’s guess, though a recall for Rosales at right-back aside, it’s debatable whether there are any vastly superior replacements available. Thus, Venezuela’s porous defence is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, which will have a negative impact on the attackers, who won’t be flowing with confidence knowing that their work can easily be undone at any moment.

That said, if everyone’s fit, then come late August against Colombia it wouldn’t be a surprise to also see at least two, possibly three, changes in this similarly unsettled forward area. If anyone here has come away with their reputation enhanced, it is surely Otero, who scored against Peru, played a key role in the other goal in that match and directly set up Rondón’s goal against Chile. Things can easily change in the upcoming months, but right now there wouldn’t be many complaints to see him start in an attacking position alongside a fit-again Juanpi, as well as – if a 4-2-3-1 is selected – one of at least two or three other candidates.

The manager Dudamel will have no doubt learned a few things from these two encounters, but given that his results were very similar to the last two matches of Noel Sanvicente before his sacking this time last year (2-2 away draw with Peru and a 4-1 home loss against Chile), it is hard to feel as if any real progress has been made. New faces sometimes come along or old ones re-emerge and some of these may suggest different directions for the squad but overall the performances and results are underwhelmingly consistent.

Dudamel is now charged with getting a new generation – who many of his compatriots are excited about – prepared for the Under-20 World Cup in May. The likes of Faríñez, Yeferson Soteldo and Yangel Herrera should feature – as they also all did in this round of senior qualifiers – and the coach will know a good showing will aid his declining reputation. Given that he was seen as the budget local choice when he was offered the role a year ago, it’s hard to know precisely how much pressure he is under from upon high, particularly as the FVF have recently elected a new president. Unfortunately, right now, one finds it difficult to envisage performances dramatically improving in the four remaining qualifiers later this year. If this transpires to be the case then, regardless of the consequences for Dudamel, it will be a huge blow to the international careers of this pool of players, many of whom possess the capabilities to achieve so much more.

Team Selections

Chile (4-3-3): C. Bravo; M. Isla (P. Díaz, 89′), G. Medel, G. Jara, J. Beausejour; P. Hernández (C. Carmona, 88′), A. Vidal, C. Aránguiz; E. Vargas, E. Paredes, A. Sánchez.

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Fariñez; A. González (V. García, 61′), W. Ángel, M. Villanueva, R. Feltscher; R. Zambrano, T. Rincón (A. Figuera, 84′); J. Murillo, R. Otero, D. Machís (A. Peñaranda, 68′); S. Rondón.

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

Colombia 2-0 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (1 September 2016)

Despite the impressive showing at Copa América Centenario, Rafael Dudamel’s first World Cup qualifier in charge of Venezuela yielded a familiar result.  The seventh matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign thus provided the sixth defeat. Here, Hispanospherical.com offers a match report plus a few words of resignation…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 1 September 2016 – El Metro, Barranquilla, Atlántico Department, Colombia

Colombia 2-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Colombia 2-0 Venezuela, 1 September 2016, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (YouTube)

The Unthinkable is Unthinkable for a Ruddy Good Reason

Match Report

The proposed Venezuelan qualification fightback has yet to materialise as La Vinotinto were comfortably seen off in Barranquilla. 

Pre-match, Los Cafeteros manager José Pékerman complained about the poor playing surface but any fears were allayed by his own charges, who demonstrated far greater mastery of the conditions than their opponents.

Indeed, from the off, Colombia took the game to their neighbours. Frenziedly urged on by the Estadio Metropolitano crowd, they nearly took the lead within the first minute and, frequently spearheaded by James Rodríguez, were to make virtually all of the forward forays in the opening 20 minutes. Not helping the visitors’ cause in this period, goalkeeper Dani Hernández fumbled on at least a couple of occasions and centre-back Wilker Ángel could quite justifiably have been sent off for what many felt should have been a second yellow card after just 13 minutes.

Málaga youngster Juanpi, given an opportunity to make a regular starting place his own, took Venezuela’s first corner after 21 minutes but this was comfortably dealt with. The hosts soon went back up the other end and restated their dominance, with Rodríguez, Luis Muriel, Carlos Bacca and others frequently linking up in such seamless ways as to suggest that they possess a far greater shared telepathy than their opponents. In the 26th minute, they were not far off the mark when Stefan Medina put in an arcing, testing cross that Bacca could well have hit home were it not for the stretched block of Ángel.

However, despite the flow of the game, Venezuela’s first real chance was also hitherto the closest the game had to an opening goal. Perhaps it was the first-half drinks break to counter the heat that was behind a minor shift in affairs, but Venezuela did gradually come to see a little more of the ball. Juanpi, in particular, made inroads and it was he who won the 33rd-minute free-kick just several yards outside the area. A dead-ball specialist, he then stepped up and curled a fine left-footed effort over the wall; this appeared to be heading for the top corner but was ultimately denied by the tips of David Ospina’s gloves.
Subsequently, following some fine interplay, Colombia were only narrowly thwarted at the final pass stage on at least three more occasions in this half. Yet despite their supremacy, they must have known only too well from the past two Copa Américas that Venezuela do possess a considerable capacity for soaking up pressure before delivering the suckerpunch. On the 41st minute, the visitors nearly provided this. From a central position, Juanpi slyly played through the ball into the area to Josef Martínez who gained some space from his marker and stretched to take aim; Colombians inhaled but, thankfully for them, the shot was parried out by Ospina for a corner.
Barely five minutes later, home fans’ anxieties about the squandering of possession and momentum were permitted to diminish. Indeed, in a route one move, Colombia took the lead. Ospina pumped the ball upfield, where it was headed on towards Bacca, who turned on the edge of the area and teed up Rodríguez; the Real Madrid attacker thus made some room for himself before placing the ball past Hernández.
Venezuela boss Rafael Dudamel thus narrowly missed out on going into the break on level terms and, more so than before, needed to find a way of altering the course of events. Just five minutes into the second half, he acted, removing next-big-thing Adalberto Peñaranda (who, aside from his peroxide blonde hair, had been largely anonymous) for the next next-big-thing, Yeferson Soteldo. In the remaining 40 minutes, the diminutive 19-year-old Zamora attacker provided several examples of the play that have got so many people excited about him; he regularly hustled to get on the ball and get things moving, using his enviable low centre of gravity to evade challenges and maintain possession.
Nevertheless, the hosts still had the better of the half, with the pattern of fast-paced passing moves only narrowly being thwarted at a late stage continuing. On the hour, they nearly went one better as Muriel was found on the edge of the area, but his left-footed strike swished across goal to pass the far post by a few inches.
Shortly before the drinks break in 70th minute, Soteldo managed to win some space 25 yards out and take a strike at goal. Ospina comfortably got down to save this, but it was nevertheless notable for providing a rare whiff of the opposition goal for La Vinotinto.
After the Lucozade-fest, however, it was all Colombia, with Bacca spurning a few chances to double the lead. Indeed, first in the 74th minute, the AC Milan striker was played through, one-on-one with Hernández, but his shot lacked direction and was blocked by the Tenerife goalkeeper.
In the 81st minute, Bacca appeared to redeem himself by winning a penalty, having been brought down by a desperate lunge from Wilker Ángel, who, in turn, received his marching orders. However, despite assuring Rodríguez that he was fine to take the spot-kick, Bacca’s 12-yard strike was comfortably parried out and away by Hernández. Yet, unfortunately for the latter, there was little time to bask in the acclaim of his save as, within a minute, Rodríguez brilliantly slalomed down the right side of the area before shifting feet to rapidly swing in a left-footed cross towards the back post. There, Atlético Nacional’s Macnelly Torres was unmarked and on cue to knock the ball home. 2-0. Any doubts regarding the result were put to bed.
However, that was not the end of the goalmouth action. With four minutes remaining on the clock, Bacca’s replacement Roger Martínez was found by a lofted pass in the area but, somewhat akin to the man whose shoes he had briefly stepped into, he was only able to strike at Hernández. Soon afterwards, Venezuela had a rare sight of goal as again that man Soteldo forced into the area a low ball from the left which caused some uncertainty before being dealt with.
The last act of the game came in the third minute of stoppage time when the visitors conceded another penalty as well as received their second red card. This time, left-back Rolf Feltscher was given his marching orders after he clumsily upended Rodríguez. With Bacca no longer on the pitch, it was to be the former Monaco man who stepped up, yet the outcome was to be the same as Hernández guessed right again and parried out.
Thoughts: What Now? 
Thus, when the final whistle sounded, both sides had reasons to feel disappointed, yet one suspects the most westerly of the two nations will be comforted by the three points. Taking into account results from elsewhere, they have now moved up two places to third, though just one point separates them in both directions from 1st and 6th. By contrast, Venezuela are now even more rooted to the bottom, with their solitary point putting them 11 points off the play-off spot currently occupied by Brazil.
As they are no doubt all-too-aware, there really is no let-up in CONMEBOL qualifying. Next up for La Vinotinto is a home encounter with 1st-placed Argentina and then in October, they will be travelling to Uruguay (currently 2nd), before hosting Brazil (5th). Many (including, implicitly, then-manager Noel Sanvicente) had written off Venezuela’s campaign as soon as they lost their first game at home to Paraguay. With a new manager appointed ahead of June’s Copa América and the impressive showing at that tournament, some were curious to see if a mircaulous turnaround could be in motion. Alas, in light of this performance and the upcoming fixtures, there is surely no-one left who has yet to blow out their own candle of hope.
Though Lionel Messi may be out, Venezuela will be facing Argentina without the suspended Feltscher,  Ángel and defensive-midfielder Arquímedes Figuera (two cumulative yellow cards). Thus, opportunities once again open up within this rather unsettled line-up yet with just one competitive win against their upcoming opponents in their entire history, it is very difficult at this moment to envisage a radical defiance of expectations.
Team Selections
Colombia (4-2-3-1): D. Ospina; S. Medina (E. Cardona, 90′), O. Murillo, J. Murillo, F. Díaz; D. Torres & C. Sánchez; J. Rodríguez, M. Torres, L. Muriel (J. Cuadrado, 70′); C. Bacca (R. Martínez, 83′).
Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; R. Rosales, W. Ángel, O. Vizcarrondo (S. Velázquez, 82′), R. Feltscher; Juanpi (C. Santos, 67′), T. Rincón, A. Figuera, A. Peñaranda (Y. Soteldo, 50′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez.
Darren Spherical

Venezuela’s CONMEBOL Qualifying Campaign for FIFA World Cup 2018 – September 2016 Preview

The CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign is back but is Venezuela’s magically back on track? With a customary level of ambiguity and obfuscation, @DarrenSpherical is here to provide a preview to Match-days 7 and 8. 

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 1 September 2016 – El Metro, Barranquilla, Atlántico Department, Colombia

Colombia vs Venezuela

Tuesday 6 September 2016 – El Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, Mérida State, Venezuela.

Venezuela vs Argentina

rolffeltscher

Rolf Feltscher – Surprise star of Copa América Centenario (OvacionDeportes)

Dudamel Plotting Qualification Fightback Despite Unfavourable Fixtures

Here we are once more to do it all over again. The CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying campaign has re-activated and – those in Europe may be surprised to learn – is already one-third of the way down. Yet Venezuela are rock-bottom with just one point from a possible 18, trailing the play-off spot by nine points.  Why then, should they – or, for that matter, you, the intrepid reader/online betting addict – even bother with their remaining 12 games?

Well, anyone who saw their escapades in the Copa América Centenario may have picked up a few clues as to why – indeed, try telling the fans and players that it was little more than a US-led money-making exercise. Certainly, actual qualification is a tall order, but a few scalps and the progressive building of a new team who can be motivated to replicate their club form at international level do not seem unrealistic aims.

It is hard to imagine this change in perceptions being possible without new manager Rafael Dudamel, who took over from Noel Sanvicente in early April. Ahead of June’s tournament, his first four friendly games hardly proclaimed a revolution, but once the competitive action began, a rapid upswing was in motion. Simply beating Jamaica in the opening match would have been enough to defy expectations, but the clean sheet, tactical organisation and defensive solidity gave cause for cautious optimism. Subsequently, the defeat of Uruguay – also with a clean sheet and which effectively sent La Celeste packing – provided a welcome return to the belief that, on their day, Venezuela are a match for any team in their region. Had they managed to hold on to beat Mexico in the final group encounter – rather than concede late on and be resigned to a draw – the erstwhile unthinkable idea that they could make it to the final would have been voiced by more than a few.

Alas, they finished second and, though they narrowly failed to get back into the game on a couple of occasions, were ultimately comfortably seen off 4-1 by Argentina in the Quarter-Final.

Although some of the most abject aspects of the Sanvicente-era Venezuela were also witnessed during this match – at least two suicidal passes led to goals for La Albiceleste – it will take more than one defeat to shake the belief that a positive new era is dawning. Admittedly, it is possible that the USA adventure merely allowed the players some welcome respite and liberation from problems at home as well as the strained relations with the country’s football federation. With the return to relative normality, will they soon revert to their former selves?

In the absence of any existing evidence, optimism is permitted to prevail – at least for the time being. This feeling will certainly be tested by games away to Colombia and home to Argentina – 3rd and 1st respectively in the official FIFA rankings. That said, though La Vinotinto have only defeated the latter once in their history, they should be buoyed by the fact that they are undefeated against Los Cafeteros in their past five competitive games (four wins and a draw).

So then, aside from the usual suspects – captain Tomás Rincón, star striker Salomón Rondón and dependable right-back Roberto Rosales –  which individuals will be leading the comeback for Dudamel? Given his freshness in his role and some of his surprise choices in June, it is difficult to be confident but one can at least have an idea of who is in the manager’s good books.

Firstly, there is Wilker Ángel, the 23-year-old centre-back who was chosen to partner the veteran Oswaldo Vizcarrondo in the USA and who has recently earned a move away from his homeland to the Russian Premier League with Terek Grozny. Then there is Venezuela’s biggest surprise of the tournament, Rolf Feltscher, who was completley overlooked during Sanvicente’s reign but who impressed as the first-choice left-back; he has since transferred from Duisburg in Germany to Getafe in Spain. Also, while he will have a constant battle on his hands to be a regular, Josef Martínez has put himself in a commanding position to start up front with Rondón, as he rewarded the faith placed in him in June by getting the winner against Jamaica and often linking up well with the West Brom striker.

The aforementioned three are probable starters. With slightly less certainty, the same can be said for Dani Hernández and Arquímedes Figuera. The former was given the nod in the USA to regain the number one shirt after a year away from the fray and, for the most part, did admirably well, pulling off some eye-catching saves. He did, however, show shades of his former unreliable self against Argentina and one can not help but feel that this position is going to be under the most scrutiny for the forseeable future. Regarding the latter, though the Deportivo La Guaira midfielder made two catastrophic errors against Argentina, he did otherwise receive a lot of praise during the tournament for his work alongside Rincón. With Luis Manuel Seijas not called up this time – supposedly to make way for youth – Figuera has an opportunity to make this position his own (and perhaps earn himself an overseas move in the process).

Lastly, though there is even less certainty as to where the following three players fit in, it is likely they will feature at some point in the near future. Firstly, there is Juanpi (Málaga), the versatile midfielder whose status has been ascending for the past year in La Liga and who can get goals as well as create them with calculated passes as well as crosses. Similarly, albeit with more directness in his approach, there is Rómulo Otero, who has recently swapped Chile’s Huachipato for Brazil’s Atlético Mineiro and who has long been tipped for a regular role with his country. Both players looked set to start in June, having done so in the pre-tournament friendlies, but were instead surprisingly relegated to brief substitute appearances. Nevertheless, with no Seijas and no Alejandro Guerra (injured), their time may now have arrived. That said, one man (amongst many others) that they will be in contention with is Adalberto Peñaranda, the teenage attacker who turned heads at Granada last season and who has since been sent by the Pozzo Empire to Italy with Udinese, instead of Watford (it was the English side who formally signed him in the January window, though whether he actually ever makes an appearance for them…).

Competition is fierce in most positions and in this new era many players both inside and out of the current squad will feel they have at least a chance of wangling their way into the manager’s plans. Above, many names have been put forward as likely to be key in the upcoming fixtures, yet as with the Centenario tournament, perhaps there will be one or two others players who are given a surprise chance and rise to the fore. With a bumper 28-man squad drawn from a range of disparate leagues, there is every possibility of this.

To find out how Venezuela get on against Colombia and Argentina, make sure to come back to Hispanospherical.com and/or follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

Venezuela Squad

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira, Venezuela), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC, Venezuela) & Dani Hernández (Tenerife, Spain).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Jhon Chancellor (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Rolf Feltscher (Getafe, Spain), Víctor García (Nacional, on loan from Porto, Portugal), Alexander González (Huesca, Spain), Roberto Rosales (Málaga, Spain), José Manuel ‘Sema’ Velázquez (Arouca, Portugal), Mikel Villanueva (Atlético Malagueño, Spain) & Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes, France).

Midfielders

Juan Pablo ‘Juanpi’ Añor (Málaga, Spain), Arquímedes Figuera (Deportivo La Guaira, Venezuela), Agnel Flores (Deportivo Táchira), Arles Flores (Deportivo La Guaira), Yangel Herrera (Atlético Venezuela, Venezuela), Jacobo Kouffati (Deportivo Cuenca, Ecuador), Jhon Murillo (Tondela, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Adalberto Peñaranda (Udinese, Italy, on loan from Watford, England), Tomás Rincón (Genoa, Italy) & Yeferson Soteldo (Zamora, Venezuela). 

Forwards

Yonathan Del Valle (Bursaspor, Turkey on loan from Rio Ave, Portugal), Josef Martínez (Torino, Italy), Andrés Ponce (Lugano, Switzerland, on loan from Sampdoria, Italy) Christian Santos (Alavés, Spain) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Mexico 1-1 Venezuela -Copa América Centenario Group C (13 June 2016)

With the group stage complete, Venezuelans are slightly disappointed to have finished 2nd. Who would have thought…?

Copa América Centenario Group C

Monday 13 June 2016 – NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas, USA

Mexico 1-1 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Mexico 1-1 Venezuela, Copa América Centenario Group C, 13 June 2016 (YouTube).

Corona Thwarts Resilient Venezuela 

Venezuela narrowly missed out on an unprecedented third consecutive Copa América victory, as Jesús Corona’s late strike means Rafael Dudamel’s men finish 2nd in Group C and will most likely face Argentina in the Quarter-Finals.

Up until the 80th minute, it looked as if La Vinotinto were going to defy the odds yet again as they put in a fine defensive performance, soaking up huge amounts of pressure and once more dispelling the myth that Venezuelans lack mental fortitude. The fact that they were facing a Mexico side with nine changes to their previous line-up should do little to undermine their achievement – especially as they themselves had made five, including consigning star man Salomón Rondón to the bench.

In contrast to their other two group games, Dudamel’s charges were quicker off the mark, with the opening goal coming after just 10 minutes. This time, Alejandro Guerra’s free-kick from the left was curled into the area where Christian Santos – making his debut in the tournament – headed the ball back towards centre-back Sema Velázquez. The Portugal-based centre-back, himself fielded instead of Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, was afforded an obscene amount of space to fire home a sensational bicycle kick. This was certainly not what the sea of green in the stands had eagerly paid months in advance of kick-off to see. Yet thrilled though the minority of Venezuelans were at the time, it could not have been long before a few cautious sorts began to contemplate the cliché regarding scoring ‘too early’. Indeed, if they were going to beat El Tri for the first ever time, they knew a lot of defensive work was going to be required.

That said, though Juan Carlos Osorio’s side had more of the ball in the first half, the quality of the chances they created certainly did not reward the voluminous and nerve-jangling support they received. Also, owing to the number of bodies they often committed forward, they were occasionally vulnerable on the break.

Indeed,  in the 22nd minute, a slight fright was provided by one Yonathan Del Valle, who from the left hustled his way into the area and struck a rasping shot which swerved wide of the far post. It was one of a few occasions that the Kasımpaşa attacker was to both remind the hardcore of his abilities as well as introduce himself to thousands, if not millions, of fans who may have missed him first time around. After all, this was a remarkable personal story, as it was the player’s first international appearance for four years, going back to June 2012 when the then-22 year-old was considered a potential star of the future. Yet, just a year ago around the time of his 25th birthday, angered by the subsequent lack of opportunities and being overlooked by then-manager Noel Sanvicente, he resigned from the national team. However, the tables appeared to have turned as while he faces much competition at the top of the field, one suspects that this will not be his final outing in the burgundy shirt.

Returning to the action, though it felt to many Venezuelans that just one error could bring them swiftly back down to earth, Mexico continued to threaten without really making the opposition goalkeeper work too hard. Their opportunities were no more than half-chances, such as in the 34th minute when Jorge Torres crossed in for Jesús Corona whose diving header went straight to Dani Hernández. Or four minutes later when Héctor Herrera’s corner was headed by Héctor Moreno against the arm of defender Wilker Ángel – claims were made, but nothing was given.

When the half-time whistle blew, plenty of Venezuelan fans were left daydreaming about the further kudos from unexpected quarters that three consecutive 1-0 victories would bring their nation.

After the restart, the game continued with Mexico dominating the play and they were to get closer and closer to the target as the final whistle approached. One early notable moment was in the 50th minute when Porto full-back Miguel Layún played a one-two on the left inside the area and slid it along the goalmouth where it looked like it was going to be a tapped in by Oribe Peralta. However, centre-back Ángel once again got himself in the way, this time rather dramatically as his extremely low diving head diverted the ball off for a corner. A fine example of a player putting himself on the line for his country.

There was little respite for Venezuela as in the 57th minute on the inside-right 30 yards out, Corona picked up the ball and struck hard with his left but his shot went several yards wide. Then, just after the hour-mark, Layún from 25 yards out hit a fearsome shot that Hernández simply punched as far away outside of his area as possible.

Three minutes later, a better chance was created as Layún played in a low ball from the left. Rolf Feltscher’s attempted clearance went straight to Jesús Molina who, first-time, instinctively hit the ball and had to watch it trickle agonisingly wide of the far post.

However, just before this moment, Del Valle had managed to get away from his marker to hit a low strike at the goalkeeper and, a few minutes later, his replacement Josef Martínez had a golden opportunity to double his nation’s lead. Indeed, the Torino forward was slid through just inside the area, yet though he had plenty to aim for, he struck far too close to goalkeeper José Corona.

Venezuela were made to rue this miss and were nearly back on level terms in the 75th minute when Herrera’s free-kick in from the right met the head of Diego Reyes. However, Hernández earned plaudits around the globe for his astonishing double-save as he stretched down low to thwart and then, with the goal gaping, also blocked out the rebound whilst on the floor.

Nevertheless, Mexico kept up the onslaught. In the 79th minute Corona embarked upon a fine run on the left, powering through the Venezuelan back-line before striking wide from the left of the area. La Vinotinto survived, though not for long as barely a minute later the tenacious Porto youngster roamed infield from the left before taking the ball directly past four or five players and then blasting home for a sensational equaliser. The Venezuelan rearguard, which up until this point had seemed inpenetrable, was made to look all-too-mortal by this humbling. It was a great moment of relief for the El Tri faithful.

However, though their opponents were on the ropes for the remainder of the game, they did not merely lay down and invite the inevitable. Instead, with just over five minutes left, out of nowhere Martínez chested and teed himself up for an overhead kick, which dipped tantalisingly and had to be parried out for a corner.

Nevertheless, it was generally Mexico who were on the front-foot and with two minutes left, they came close to completing the reversal. This time, a ball was pulled back from the right-hand byline for substitute and fan-favourite Javier Hernández. However, though ‘Chicarito’ had a fair amount of the goal to aim for, Velázquez managed to get in his way and block his shot.

Thus, when the final whistle went, though they no longer had a 100 per cent record in the tournament and had in fact experienced their first draw after 11 consecutive wins, Mexico could console themselves with their first-placed finish. However, if as seems likely, Chile finish 2nd in Group D,  one can not help but wonder if a meeting with last year’s winners is really much of a reward for Mexico emerging victorious from their own group.

For Venezuela, however, just being in the knock-out phase seems like a prize in itself. Also, though they will face some sublime attacking talent, they will have picked up plenty of confidence from the way their players have absorbed so much pressure in the past three games, conceding just one goal.

One can not help but wonder if these strengths will be crucial for La Vinotinto as they enter a stage of the tournament in which, for the quarter- and semi-finals at least, matches level after 90 minutes go straight to penalties.

To find out how Venezuela get on, remember to keep up-to-date with @DarrenSpherical and this website.

Team Selections

Mexico (4-5-1): José Corona; P. Aguilar, D. Reyes, H. Moreno, J. Torres (M. Layún, 46;); H. Lozano, H. Herrera, J. Molina (J. Hernández, 68′), A. Guardado, J. Aquino (Jesús Corona, 18′); O. Peralta.

Venezuela (4-4-2): D. Hernández; A. González, S. Velázquez, W. Ángel, R. Feltscher; A. Guerra (R. Otero, 83′), T. Rincón, L. Seijas, A. Peñaranda; C. Santos (S. Rondón, 78′) & Y. Del Valle (J. Martínez, 65′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical