In front of a passionate Miami crowd, well-populated by those with ties to either of the neighbouring countries, Venezuela fell short in their long-awaited return to international action. Here, @DarrenSpherical provides an account of the game as well as some thoughts…
Friday 7 September 2018 – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA
Colombia 2-1 Venezuela
Video Highlights of Colombia 2-1 Venezuela, International Friendly, 7 September 2018 (YouTube)
La Vinotinto Return Half-Awake
With only stoppage-time left to play, Yimmi Chará struck to give Colombia a deserved 2-1 comeback win over a Venezuela whose lack of game-time for 298 days became more evident as the encounter wore on.
However, it certainly did not feel that way in the opening exchanges. Straight away, with less than a minute on the clock, an Alexander González diagonal ball offered a surprise one-on-one for Salomón Rondón against David Ospina. Unfortunately for the Newcastle summer signing, his touch was heavy and he could only awkwardly bundle the ball a fraction past the Napoli-loanee before the defence was on hand to clear up. Undeterred, before the clock reached the fourth minute, a González cross from the right caught the Colombian back line by surprise and, with his first-ever goal for the senior side, the alert Darwin Machís headed low into the opposite corner to give La Vinotinto a 1-0 lead.
There was a healthy number of compatriots in the stands of the home of the Miami Dolphins to cheer this dream collective return to the international fold and these two men would prove to be two of Venezuela’s more noteworthy contributors. The Elche right-back occasionally being a threat knocking balls into the area and the Udinese attacker – playing here on the left of midfield – rarely afraid to cut inside, drive past opponents and strike at Ospina’s goal.
Also early on, Venezuela’s most-capped active player, captain Tomás Rincón, asserted himself in midfield and, when the opportunity presented itself, sought to find the second-most-experienced player, Rondón. Overall, the Torino man had the kind of night that has earned him his ball-winning, battling reputation, whereas the Magpie, as at club level, lacked sharpness, often finding himself burdened with the donkey work of chasing scraps and attempting to fashion something from almost nothing. The link-up play with man-of-the-moment Josef Martínez was virtually non-existent, as the Atlanta United goal-machine saw even less of the ball. It has since been claimed that he was carrying a knock and that it had been agreed in advance that he would subsequently stay in the USA and thus not make the trip to Panama on Tuesday.
Further back in the Vinotinto ranks, another eye-catching performance was put in by 20-year-old goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez; for some, his side’s man of the match. However, his increasing involvement from around the quarter-hour mark onwards was to be rarely overturned for any substantial period of time, as Colombia’s World Cup-level fluidity and ability became more prominent.
Indeed, Los Cafeteros – in their first game since the departure of José Pékerman – enjoyed more midfield possession and were quick to target the Venezuelan left-flank, where Rolf Feltscher often found himself exposed and received little support from Machís. Atlético Madrid right-back Santiago Arias regularly profited, first really making his presence felt in the 15th minute when he whipped in a cross that Mateus Uribe did well to volley; Faríñez parried this low, preventing it from creeping into the far corner.
Three minutes later, River Plate-loanee Juan Fernando Quintero, announced himself on the Hard Rock turf. He would go on to be Colombia’s standout player, giving Venezuela’s rearguard a torrid time with his dribbles, crafty through-balls and all-round inventiveness. His first moment of magic saw him drop the shoulder with great ease to both Machís and Feltscher, putting himself in a great position inside the area, before miscuing his shot.
Quintero and his colleagues ensured that Venezuela regularly ceded the midfield ball-play, finding themselves on the backfoot, deeply retreated with often two defensive lines crowding the area, anxiously repelling balls from all directions. Thus, the scares arrived with greater frequency: Carlos Bacca sped past centre-back Jhon Chancellor but González marginally out-paced an opponent to clear the goalmouth cut-back; Quintero dummied a pass, leaving Arias in acres of space on the right to play a first-time pass to Juan Cuadrado in the area, whose shot was well-blocked by Chancellor’s partner Wilker Ángel; a minute later from a deep position, Quintero and Radamel Falcao were one step ahead of their opponents, as the former’s incisive pass to the latter left Júnior Moreno playing catch-up, although the Monaco striker’s effort from an acute position went into the side-netting.
Venezuela did make some further first-half in-roads into the Colombian half but struggled to have any command over the ball; instead, Quintero continued running the show. In the 33rd minute, from a centre-right position, he curled a left-footed ball that Cuadrado was more alert to than González, but the Juventus attacker was ultimately denied by the ever-attentive Faríñez, who knocked it out for a corner. Almost ten minutes later, the Millonarios goalkeeper was again very much awake, this time to a deceptive, curling free-kick by Quintero from near the right touchline; it was curling towards the back of the net, before being punched over the bar.
However, before the half-time whistle went, Venezuela gave their opponents a reminder of the sudden, unanticipated threat that lurked. Some rather improvised passing inside the final third between Rincón, Rondón and Machís ended with the captain turning in his tracks to play a pass to the edge of the area to the goalscorer. He, in turn, struck first-time with his right, curling barely a yard wide of Ospina’s far post.
For a fleeting moment, the 1-0 lead of Rafael Dudamel’s men did not feel quite so precarious, though they were to struggle to build upon this in the second half.
The pattern of play of the opening five minutes after the restart was very familiar, with last-ditch blocks and interceptions required to quell the Colombian threat. That is, until the 51st minute when a goal seemed on the cards, as an exquisite touch by Quintero generated a one-on-one opportunity for Falcao. However, his shot from little more than ten yards lacked direction as Faríñez stayed strong to dramatically block. Not to be outdone, Colombia’s all-time top-scorer would soon make up for this lack of composure.
Indeed, shortly after Machís cut over from the left to feed Sergio Córdova for a long-range effort that was easy work for Ospina, Colombia returned to their hunting ground and found a 55th-minute equaliser. Here, the Colombian strike-force were able to demonstrate high-level intuitive, cut-throat abilities against a Russia-based centre-back pairing. Upon making a run to receive a pass from Quintero, Villarreal’s Bacca – who played club football in Venezuela a decade ago – only needed two touches to gain space from Ángel and then poke the ball to the central Falcao, who also took two touches: first to open up the opportunity away from Chancellor and the second, killer, one to strike the ball home into the bottom corner.
The goal was undoubtedly deserved and nine minutes later, they could have taken the lead were it not for Faríñez. This time, Quintero’s attempt to cut open the defence was only partially thwarted, with the ball falling very invitingly for the central Uribe, whose side-footed effort would have crept into the far corner were it not for the low glove of the ex-Caracas FC stopper.
Although after the goal Colombia continued to give the opposition defence the jitters, Dudamel’s men were able to offer some glimpses of offensive threat. On the hour-mark, Machís was on hand to intercept a pass and play through Martínez, who suddenly had a one-on-one which was struck at Ospina – albeit after the play had been called back for a debatable offside.
Just before this moment, the rather ineffective Córdova was replaced on the right side of midfield by the more dynamic Luis “Cariaco” González, who appeared to relish playing against the country in which he now earns his living. Indeed, in his half-hour cameo, the Tolima winger gained space for himself and played in several balls that caused concern for Ospina and his centre-backs. Rondón managed to meet one of these in the 68th-minute but, perhaps owing to the defender on his back, was unable to make a telling connection. With a bit of work in training, this could potentially become a useful creative outlet for Dudamel. Elsewhere in the Venezuelan ranks, Rincón showed once again that his particular understanding with the ex-West Brom striker still holds some currency. Indeed, six minutes later, his lofted ball into the area was chested by the centre-forward, before the strike was blocked by Davinson Sánchez for a corner.
All that being said, the most positive attacking performance for Venezuela undoubtedly came from Serie A new-boy Machís. Out of nothing from 25 yards out in the 79th minute, he further underlined this by taking a stepover and firing a feisty left-footed strike that demanded a spectacular one-handed tip-over from Ospina.
Nevertheless, ultimately it was to be Colombia’s day and in the final ten minutes, with both teams semi-transformed due to the number of substitutes, they re-asserted their superiority. In the 83rd minute, they should really have had the winner, but Glasgow Rangers’ international debutant Alfredo Morelos was unable to adjust his footing; with the vacant goal gaping following a goalmouth pass from impressive fellow substitute Sebastián Villa, he instead knocked the ball into the hands of the grateful Faríñez. Despite this gaffe, one way or another, Morelos had a very memorable quarter-of-an-hour. Just two minutes later he received a pass from Luis Muriel on the edge of area, swivelling rapidly to strike low and only marginally missing the near post. Then, in the final minute of regulation time, though he knew little about it, he was involved in the winning goal.
Here, Villa played a one-two with Muriel on the right inside the area and dinked a ball past the – possibly misjudged – onrushing Faríñez, which defenders attempted to knock away but could only clear as far as Atlético Mineiro’s Yimmi Chará. Comically, his first attempt was blocked by the horizontal Morelos – who had instinctively decided to duck-and-cover on the goal-line – but he made sure from the rebound, giving interim manager Arturo Reyes the result that his side’s play had merited.
Overall then, in so many ways, Venezuela’s rusty performance should have come as little surprise, playing as they did in a similar manner to how they ended the qualifers, albeit with somewhat less verve and success. A few players, most notably Machís, offered optimism for the long-term future but the team lacked match sharpness and were often unable to keep up with a more advanced footballing nation. They were unable to hold onto the ball in the centre of the pitch, with attacking avenues largely coming from crosses and – mostly thwarted – rapid transitions, rather than patient build-up play. This absence of possession and the concomitant cautious camping meant that they often packed the centre of their considerable rearguard with bodies, seemingly in an implicit acknowledgement that the flanks were going to leak problems that necessitated reinforcements. As Dudamel said pre-game, the left-side in particular is a “headache” and thus it proved, both with Feltscher on the pitch as well as with his 62nd-minute replacement, debutant Luis Mago. With the Carabobo FC man scheduled to start against Panama on Tuesday, many Vinotinto fans will be hoping that he can provide a surprising solution and develop a better relationship with those around him.
Dudamel has indicated that several other hitherto unused players will see action in Panama City, in what is likely to be a considerable challenge against a side that Venezuela have not managed to beat in their last seven attempts – even if the last two games were draws.
Although we are unlikely to witness any dramatic changes in playing style, this may turn out to be a more inviting test and with the new cycle having only just begun, for everyone involved, there really is everything to play for.
Colombia (4-3-1-2): D. Ospina; S. Arias (H. Palacios, 90+2′), D. Sánchez, W. Tesillo, C. Borja; J. Cuadrado (Y. Chará, 75′), W. Barrios (J. Campuzano, 81′), M. Uribe; J. Quintero (S. Villa, 75′); C. Bacca (L. Muriel, 68′) & R. Falcao (A. Morelos, 77′).
Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; A. González, J. Chancellor (Y. Osorio, 87′), W. Ángel, R. Feltscher (L. Mago, 62′); S. Córdova (L. González, 59′), T. Rincón (J. Savarino, 81′), J. Moreno, D. Machís (R. Otero, 81′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Lucena, 68′).