Tag Archives: Yeferson Soteldo

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

Iran 1-0 Venezuela – International Friendly (13 November 2017)

10am in Caracas, 3pm in Nijmegen, 5:30pm in Tehran. On a Monday. For those who were otherwise occupied, here is what happened…

International Friendly

Monday 13 November 2017 – Goffertstadion, Nijmegen, Gelderland, Netherlands

Iran 1-0 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Iran 1-0 Venezuela, International Friendly, 13 November 2017 (YouTube)

Goalkeeping Error Leads to Marginal Defeat for Spirited Venezuela

Due to a second-half goalkeeping error, Venezuela’s six-game unbeaten run came to an end in what was otherwise a decent run-out for Rafael Dudamel’s youthful side.

Though it was reported as being played behind closed doors, some pockets of Iranian fans were present in the largely empty Goffertstadion, home of Dutch side N.E.C. Nijmegen. No Venezuelan spectators could be spotted, with instead the miniscule number of domestic followers with an interest in this friendly watching an Iranian broadcast online, Venezuelan television channels having opted not to transmit the clash.

In the opening exchanges, it was the supporters of the Middle Eastern World Cup qualifiers – some of whom displayed an image of manager Carlos Queiroz – who were given more to cheer about. Within a minute, their side nearly scored as a cross bounced in from the right, but Reza Ghoochannejhad’s touch lacked the requisite deftness and instead the ball sailed over from close range. Subsequently, the Iranians saw more of the leather sphere and looked sharper, playing in testing crosses and hitting shots that admittedly, if they did creep through the crowded area, caused no real difficulty for goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez.

Though on the backfoot to begin with, Venezuela did gradually come into the game and fashioned several attempts of their own. Firstly, in the 13th minute, Málaga midfielder Juanpi – playing his first international game since October 2016 and who was his side’s leading threat in the first half – knocked a ball forward to captain-for-the-day Salomón Rondón. The West Brom forward then spun on the edge of the area but his left-footed strike comfortably cleared the bar. Two minutes later, Yangel Herrera slid the ball to Juanpi outside the area, who fired a decent shot that the goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand saved low. Midway through the first half, Juanpi had another opportunity when he struck a left-footed effort from just outside the area on the inside-left. However, though it was well-hit, it went a few yards wide of the far post.

Later on in the 31st minute, Salomón Rondón caused some sudden panic when, from some 30 yards out on the inside-right, he whacked an impressive left-footed shot a mere yard over the woodwork. Then, five minutes later, Venezuela came the closest to scoring than they would in the entire game. Here, Juanpi’s long-distance free-kick was poorly punched by the goalkeeper, leading to the ball being knocked into the path of left-back Rubert Quijada. Despite the inviting scenario, his instinctive first-time strike arrowed directly at the head of defender Morteza Pouraliganji, who cleared off the goal-line.

Though La Vinotinto occasionally asserted themselves in this manner, Iran still saw plenty of the ball and had a few further moments of note. In particular, in the 25th minute, a cross came over from the right and Ashkan Dejagah struck a fine left-footed cross-shot which narrowly evaded a team-mate in the goalmouth as well as the far post. Also, a couple of minutes before the interval, Ramin Rezaeian put in a very dangerous ball from the right. Had Vahid Amiri attempted to make decisive contact first-time, instead of taking an awkward touch on his chest which gifted the ball to Fariñez, he could well have scored.

To begin with at least, perhaps due in part to five substitutes being made at half-time (two for Venezuela, three for Iran), the opening minutes of the second half were a little more reserved. Darwin Machís’ run and low saved shot for La Vinotinto was the only real effort before a series of efforts up the other end, the goal-frame of which was now being occupied by José Contreras.

Indeed, first, in the 55th minute, he pulled off a sensational save when a corner was headed down from close range and he was able to instinctively turn the bouncing ball over his own crossbar. Then, within a minute of this, a nodded effort from Ghoochannejhad did bypass him, though this was ruled out for offside. However, soon afterwards in the 57th minute, his own head must have deserted him as he manically ran out of the area on the inside-right in order to intercept a through-ball. To his embarrassment, he was beaten by Amiri who passed it into the centre where Alireza Jahanbakhsh was able to tap the ball into an unguarded net. 1-0 to Iran.

Dudamel’s largely cautious approach of absorbing pressure, seeking to counter on the break as well as generally wear down the wherewithal of their opponents often looks and feels a little precarious. Today, with their otherwise commendable rearguard breached, the onus was suddenly on them to make the running up the other end. At first, they struggled, with the next chance of note falling to the Iranians as a long ball found substitute Sardar Azmoun just outside the area on the inside-left; though his shot dipped into the side-netting, it was a mark of his confidence that he attempted such a strike in the first place.

However, ultimately, though they also had to fend off some crosses and block various attempts, Venezuela were to see out the last 20-25 minutes with more moments of note than their opponents. The man primarily responsible for this shift in complexion was Juanpi’s 58th-minute replacement, Yeferson Soteldo, one of five 2017 Under-20 World Cup finalists to participate in the match. The Chile-based dribbler often galvanised his team-mates and spearheaded moves with his jinking runs. Ten minutes after his introduction, he weaved some magic on the left before crossing into the area, though Rondón’s header, from an awkward position, went harmlessly wide. In the 83rd minute, Soteldo had his best moment of the game, when he went on a central rampage, played a one-two with Rondón and then struck low from just outside the area, which required a good low stretched parry from substitute goalkeeper Mohammad Mazaheri, earning a corner. Later on, with a minute remaining, he also did well to cut onto his right foot on the edge of the area and force a low save.

Amidst these opportunities, Soteldo and his fellow attacking-midfielders Machís and Jhon Murillo were also involved in some moves which culminated in crosses narrowly evading meaningful contact in the goalmouth. That said, Venezuela’s best other chance came courtesy of Soteldo’s erstwhile Under-20 colleague Ronaldo Lucena, whose 86th-minute deceptively swerving free-kick was well-saved by the goalkeeper, who did well to track the trajectory of the ball and tip over.

Throughout all of this, Iran’s attacking threat was always lurking and they could well have doubled their lead in the 84th minute when Azmoun found himself in some space within the area. However, his low strike was well-blocked by the legs of Contreras.

Alas, when the final whistle blew in the eastern Netherlands, Dudamel’s squad again had to taste defeat, albeit for the first time at senior level in seven-and-a-half months. Still, better here than in a competitive match, they will surely reason. With a few familiar faces missing and the next friendly encounter not likely to take place until over four months from now, perhaps reading too much into any outcome was always going to be somewhat futile. Performances and the adaptation to the coach’s methods are surely what is paramount and, with some of the next generation impressing and the defeat against World Cup-calibre opponents occurring due to a hasty error by a back-up goalkeeper, Dudamel can not be too disappointed with his Dutch day out.

Team Selections

Iran (4-3-2-1): A. Beiranvand (M. Mazaheri, 46′); R. Rezaeian, M. Pouraliganji, J. Hosseini (O. Ebrahimi, 61′), E. Hajsafi; S. Ezatolahi (A. Imani, 46′), Ali Karimi, A. Dejagah (S. Ghoddos, 46′); A. Jahanbakhsh (K. Rezaei, 61′), V. Amiri; R. Ghoochannejhad (S. Azmoun, 61′).

Venezuela (4-2-3-1): W. Fariñez (J. Contreras, 46′); R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, W. Ángel, R. Quijada; Y. Herrera (A. Blondell, 87′), A. Figuera (A. Romero, 46′); J. Murillo, Juanpi (Y. Soteldo, 58′), D. Machís (R. Lucena, 75′); S. Rondón.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (10 October 2017)

The eighteenth and final jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s post-Under-20 World Cup rebirth capped off with a memorable, disciplined victory. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 10 October 2017 – Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asunción

Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela

Video Highlights of Paraguay 0-1 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 10 October 2017 (YouTube)

Herrera Heralds New Era at the Death

Rafael Dudamel’s youthful Venezuela concluded their late surge of good form by gaining their first away victory in their otherwise long-dead campaign, destroying Paraguayan hopes of progression in the process.

As revealed in post-match comments, La Vinotinto resisted some late-night intimidation and temptation – the latter arriving in the form of some rather talented young ladies sent to the team hotel – in order to methodically inflict some late, heartbreaking sabotage, courtesy of an 84th-minute Yangel Herrera winner.

The game was somewhat reminiscent of recent Venezuela encounters – particularly the away draw against Argentina – as the onus was on the opponents – for whom a win would, ultimately, have kept their qualification hopes very much alive – to break them down.

Thus, roared on by the ascension-seeking Asunción faithful, they took the game to Dudamel’s men, looking to gain advantages down the flanks in order to whip in balls as well as occasionally try their luck from dead-ball scenarios. Many of these crosses were dangerous and elicited gasps from both sets of fans but, truth be told, the vast majority were also very well dealt with by those in the centre, notably Wilker Ángel. Indeed, throughout most of the encounter, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez, whilst having to remain alert and viligant, was perhaps only ever once forced into an acrobatic save – and that did not occur until just before the end of regulation time.

The most troubling shot in the first half that he stopped was a mild worm-murderer from Rodrigo Rojas; it demanded merely a routine low save, though as with some other cross-area balls, goalkeeper did have to contend with the fear that a foot or other body part could so easily redirect it. Shortly afterwards in the 26th minute though, he did have to face his side’s biggest fright of the half as Cecilio Domínguez bypassed debutant right-back Ronald Hernández, broke into space inside the area on the left and cut back into the goalmouth. It looked as if someone in the centre was inevitably going to knock it home, yet somehow, after at least one attacker, defender and Faríñez all made tentative touches, the ball was cleared. The relieved rearguard thus breathed a collective sigh of relief – that is, until an Óscar Romero cross caused more concern, though ultimately this whistled by the cluster of bodies in the box and out to the other side.

Romero often put in testing balls, such as in the 38th minute when a lofted free-kick met Antonio Sanabria just inside the area, but the Real Betis forward’s header went a couple of yards over the bar. Four minutes later, Romero crossed in again – this time at the second attempt from the left – and Gustavo Gómez beat Ángel to the header, yet though he was in a promising goalmouth position, his effort comfortably evaded the target.

Throughout all of this, Venezuela’s forward forays were limited, though did gradually increase without seriously threatening the Paraguayan goal. Indeed, the only real attempt was Salomón Rondón’s soft 19th-minute header from a floated Tomás Rincón free-kick, which goalkeeper Antony Silva easily caught. However, Dudamel’s men were biding their time, hoping they could repeatedly thwart their hosts to the point where morale would slip and they would be on hand to grow in confidence and punish.

If home belief was dipping it did not tell immediately after the restart when, 30 seconds into the second half, a Paraguayan roamed down the right and played in a near-perfect cross. This found Domínguez in the centre with just one defender near him, yet his touch was off and the ball missed the target. Less than a minute later, the Paraguayans came storming forward again and their momentum was only halted by Yangel Herrera taking one for the team, strategically fouling and picking up a yellow card.

Venezuela composed themselves for a bit, though in the 50th minute had to deal with another series of scares. This involved Romero winning space again inside the area and crosses going across and back, but alas, without a killer connection.

Paraguay continued to see more of the ball, though with each passing minute, Venezuela became more bold. Suddenly, in the 61st minute, Jhon Murillo fashioned what was hitherto the best actual shot of the match, as from just outside the area on the centre-right, he blasted an effort that stung Silva’s palms and went out for a corner. Four minutes later, Murillo came even closer when substitute Yeferson Soteldo did well to hold off opponents and play him through on the inside-left. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, he had to quickly get a shot away, but the result was too close to Silva, who blocked low.

The game was more open and, with just one unanswered goal likely to suffice, Paraguay had certainly not given up hope. In the 68th minute, they caused further frights as a cross in from the right was headed goalwards; another player attempted to divert the ball with a high foot but Fariñez was there to dive-and-punch away. Three minutes later, after the ball was again played in and around the area, Óscar Romero had evidently had enough of the final-third frustrations and struck a low left-footed effort from almost 25 yards. Though it missed the target by at least a yard, it was hit with intent and was the closest Paraguayan effort of the half thus far. In so many ways, this said a lot.

Indeed, subsequently, Venezuelan forays became very commonplace and in the 77th minute, they came agonisingly close to the opening goal. Here, ultra-fresh substitute Rómulo Otero hit a slightly unexpected low drive from just outside the angle of the area on the right. Goalkeeper Silva could only parry this into the path of Rondón, yet with the goal gaping, his instinctive lunge instead somehow diverted the ball over the bar. Whether or not his footing and/or anticipation was at fault, it did look much easier to score.

A momentary let-off for the hosts. Five minutes later, they survived another one, as jinking Yeferson Soteldo showed what he can do at senior level, cutting into the area onto his right foot and hitting a strike that appeared to be net-bound, but instead clipped the top of the crossbar.

However, with their own forays yielding repetitive, underwhelming results, Paraguay’s fortune at their own end could not last and barely a minute after Soteldo’s effort, Venezuela finally made the heartbreaking breakthrough. After a home attack was snuffed out, the impressive Otero brilliantly bypassed an opponent on the right flank and then gained space from another inside the area, before pulling the ball back from the byline. It rolled for what felt like a potential golden age towards the middle of the area, some 16 yards out, where the steely-eyed 19-year-old Herrera met it in space and struck home. He immediately reeled away to celebrate with his fellow Under-20 graduate Soteldo as La Vinotinto‘s future gleefully hammered virtually the final nail into La Albirroja‘s 2018 qualification dreams.

Though most inside the stadium were deflated, their representatives did nevertheless attempt some hurried late attacks. One of the more notable attempts involved Fariñez parrying a strike and then, from the resulting cross, seemingly tipping Gómez’s powerful header onto the crossbar.

A sensational moment and some further heat exploded into the late proceedings as in the 89th minute Wilker Ángel and Gustavo Gómez let tensions get the better of each other and their mutual pushes resulted in double red cards.

Finally, in the last of what somehow turned out to be eight hair-pulling minutes of stoppage-time, Fariñez was called upon again to see the win out. At this point, an unexpected ball hoisted forward caught out the Venezuelan back-line and Rojas charged past them all, yet when confronted by the 5 feet 9 inch frame of Fariñez, his attempted chip was weak and the Caracas FC goalkeeper gratefully gathered the ball with barely a stretch.

When the final whistle blew, Paraguayan dejection, following a game which must have felt eminently winnable, was contrasted with elation from a Venezuela supposedly playing for nothing. However, this, their first away win in the entire campaign – only their second victory in the 18-game marathon and which extends their competitive unbeaten run to four matches – featured five players from the squad of Under-20 World Cup finalists. A rebuilding project is very much under way and at this moment, one can not rule out at least a dozen of the players whose exploits thrilled a nation several months ago receiving call-ups at some point during the Qatar 2022 qualification cycle.

Dudamel – who has just this week signed an extension deal to take him to 2022 – no doubt knows that he will certainly have difficulty in maintaining any kind of momentum from now until the next competitive games are played at June 2019’s faraway Copa América. Indeed, in preparation, he has requested “at least five friendly games” for next year, a relatively meagre number but one which was no doubt informed by the FVF’s cash-strapped situation as well as a mere handful having also been played in the previous World Cup year of 2014.

Still, against a backdrop of domestic turmoil, with such a promising pool of young talent already reaping dividends in tamden with a frequently shifting cast of – also relatively young – elders, really, what’s to stop this group from seriously competing for a spot at Qatar 2022? After all, upon final cold-light-of-day reading of the Russia 2018 CONMEBOL qualification table – their worst performance since the road to France ’98 – everyone will be determined to ensure that things can only get better.

conmeboltable

Final Standings for the CONMEBOL Qualification Campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup (Wikipedia)

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; R. Hernández, J. Chancellor, W. Ángel, R. Quijada; S. Córdova (Y. Soteldo, 57′), Y. Herrera, T. Rincón, J. Murillo (J. Moreno, 81′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Otero, 77′).

Paraguay (4-4-2): A. Silva; J. Moreira, G. Gómez, P. Da Silva (M. Samudio, 62′), J. Alonso; Ó. Romero, R. Rojas, R. Piris, C. Domínguez (A. Bareiro, 56′); A. Sanabria (O. Cardozo, 56′) & Á. Romero.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (5 October 2017)

The seventeenth and penultimate jornada of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Rafael Dudamel’s youthful side continue to impress with their eyes very much on a Middle East-based prize. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a full match report and some thoughts…

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 5 October 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira.

Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay

Video Highlights of Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 5 October 2017 (YouTube)

Stalemate Gives Venezuela Third Consecutive Draw Against Qualification Hopefuls

In a game short on clear attempts, Venezuela held Uruguay to a draw, postponing La Celeste‘s likely qualification celebrations until Tuesday.

Although his side’s ongoing inability to create chances will be of concern, La Vinotinto boss Rafael Dudamel will nevertheless be pleased to have earned his third consecutive point.

Not entirely dissimilarly, though his Uruguayan counterpart Óscar Tabárez may feel confident of wrapping up automatic qualification at home to Bolivia, he would have no doubt hoped his side could have posed a greater attacking threat in this game.

Indeed, their best opportunity of the first half was also their first: after three minutes, a hanging Cristian Rodríguez corner was headed, in space, by Atlético Madrid’s José Giménez, whose effort was spectacularly saved by Wuilker Fariñez. Tipping the ball wide as it headed towards the top corner, this was to be the much-hyped Caracas FC stopper’s only real save of the match.

Subsequently, both sides put in crosses and attempted efforts from distance but, one way or another, these mostly evaded their targets. The bobbly state of the Pueblo Nuevo pitch appeared to do zero favours for free-flowing, passing football, as each side hardly ever worked themselves into space within the final third. Instead, some individuals attempted relatively tame and/or wayward long-range efforts and the best prospects were evidently most likely to arise from set-pieces – thus it was from a corner in the 34th minute that Venezuela came closest. Here, Junior Moreno – standing in for the suspended Yangel Herrera (and Arquímedes Figuera) – saw one of his many dead balls headed back across goal by Mikel Villanueva, where it was met by left-back Rubert Quijada – himself playing in place of the suspended Rolf Feltscher – who nodded just over from a goalmouth position. That said, as much as this opportunity gave the home crowd some hope of a slight upset, the referee’s whistle had in fact already been blown for an infringement.

Soon after up at the other end, Luis Suárez – who had been duking and diving without really winning much more than a corner – chipped a good ball to strike-partner Edinson Cavani. Though he was near the edge of the area, the qualification campaign’s top scorer must have considered this at least a half-chance, but his volley was ultimately quite weak, causing no difficulty for Fariñez.

Into the second half, the disjointedness of the play continued but the volume of the crowd noticeably increased as a little more initiative was displayed. In the 49th minute, La Vinotinto captain Tomás Rincón suddenly forced a low parry from Fernando Muslera with a pacey shot, then soon up the other end Cavani had a decent chance, this time turning dangerously from just inside the area on the right. He was squeezed for space, but his shot deflected off a defender and, though it was heading wide, Fariñez still felt that he had to dive low to make sure, as the ball brushed his gloves and went out for a corner.

With a little more space available to roam and buoyed on by the crowd, 20-year-old Sergio Córdova knocked in a cross that caused concern amongst the Uruguayan backline and then, just before the hour-mark, he tried his luck from range. However, as with most shots from this distance, this one troubled nobody but the ballboys.

However, deeper into the second half, though there was considerable midfield endeavour and some minor moments of intrigue, greater interest was provided by the introduction of a few players who starred in this year’s Under-20 tournaments. Indeed, Uruguay already had World Cup starlet Federico Valverde on the field and he was to be joined on the 65th minute by Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur, who was making his first ever senior appearance. On the Venezuelan side of things, Ronaldo Lucena also debuted, coming on in the 83rd minute, a few minutes after diminutive dribbler Yeferson Soteldo had also taken to the field. The latter replaced another youngster, Sergio Córdova, and, overall, with Wuilker Fariñez also in goal, Venezuela fielded four members of their Under-20 World Cup side that finished runners-up in June. With Herrera available in their final qualifier and four other youngsters in the squad, it is likely that at least one other member shall receive a run-out before this cycle is concluded.

Still, before the game itself was over, the visitors did manage to fashion two further chances to win it. Firstly, with seven minutes remaining, substitute Giorgian De Arrasceta dinked a ball over to the centre-right just inside the area, where Cavani, with a good sight of Fariñez’s goal, quickly controlled and struck. However, perhaps it was the pressure of the encroaching defenders who he had briefly stole a pace or two from or maybe it was instead a lack of composure, but either way, his shot went low and narrowly wide of the target.

It was surely his side’s best chance of the match, though their final opportunity of note was also rather presentable. This time, De Arrasceta crossed in a fine set-piece from the right towards the back post where, in space from a closer position than he was some 80-plus minutes prior, Giménez attempted to head it on the stretch. Alas, his connection lacked intent and his effort bobbled harmlessly wide.

Thus, goalless it ended. A laborious encounter in more ways than one, Venezuela will surely be the happier of the two nations, even if they do not appear to be any closer to finding any consistent attacking cohesion. Still, post-Under-20 World Cup, Dudamel has certainly managed to instil and stabilise an impressive defensive system – much-needed, even if nothing can ever entirely massage the figures in the “Goals Conceded” column.

His side’s final encounter on Tuesday sees them travel to Asunción to face qualification-chasing Paraguay, whose remarkable late win away to Colombia has given them genuine belief that they may yet nab at least the playoff berth. Against a very fired-up La Albirroja, a draw would surely constitute another credible result for La Vinotinto, but if – if – they can just build on that impressive rearguard by sneaking an unanswered goal, it really would provide a huge boost in morale.

Much of the footballing world are watching as the future of several CONMEBOL countries hangs precariously; Venezuela may be out, but they certainly have a role to play.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): W. Fariñez; V. García, J. Chancellor, M. Villanueva, R. Quijada; S. Córdova (Y. Soteldo, 80′), J. Moreno, T. Rincón, J. Murillo (R. Lucena, 83′); S. Rondón & J. Martínez (R. Otero, 69′).

Uruguay (4-4-2): F. Muslera; M. Pereira, J. Giménez, D. Godín, M. Cáceres; N. Nández (Á. González, 83′), F. Valverde (G. De Arrascaeta, 79′), M. Vecino, C. Rodríguez (R. Bentancur, 65′); E. Cavani & L. Suárez.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

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

Jornadas 17 and 18 of the CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 Qualifying Campaign are finally here as the cycle reaches its climax. Whether in the short- or long-term, most nations are competing for something and here @DarrenSpherical previews La Vinotinto‘s renovating squad ahead of their clashes with Uruguay and Paraguay.

CONMEBOL Qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 5 October 2017 – Estadio Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo, San Cristóbal, Táchira.

Venezuela vs Uruguay

Tuesday 10 October 2017 – Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asunción.

Paraguay vs Venezuela

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Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) and Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira) on opposing teams in the recent Clásico match (Photo: Jean Contreras and Balonazos)

Nine Under-20 World Cup Finalists Selected to Aid Rebuilding Process

Well, it’s been a bloody disaster, hasn’t it? The final two games of World Cup qualifying are upon us and Venezuela are almost certainly going to finish bottom, having never at any point seriously been in contention.

That’s certainly what a cursory glance of the CONMEBOL standings conveys, though it’s not necessarily how it currently feels for the average follower of La Vinotinto. Indeed, long resigned to their nation’s fate within this cycle which began two years ago with Noel Sanvicente at the helm, the hinchas have had little option throughout but to pine for a transformation of fortunes. El Chita was ultimately unable to perform such a resuscitation, being relieved of his duties after six qualifiers and – despite an impressive showing at 2016’s Copa América Centenario – his replacement Rafael Dudamel has struggled to revitalise the side as they dawdle along their self-made CONMEBOL cul-de-sac. That is, perhaps – and it is a very tentative supposition, more evidence definitely being required – until last month’s pair of draws with Colombia and then, historically, away to Argentina. Tellingly, this was the first time in the entire campaign that they had managed to avoid defeat during a CONMEBOL double-header.

Was this the long-awaited turning point? Time may, in fact, be unable to tell. This being because after next Tuesday, the subsequent competitive games will not occur until June 2019’s Copa América. To plug the considerable gap, Dudamel has stated that he has requested “at least five friendlies for 2018“). Plenty of time for further alterations to be made both on and off the pitch, then. Still, though it could very well have come at a better moment, some modicum of momentum appears to be with the manager, particularly as September’s results were achieved with some fresh faces, drawn from an ever-more-youthful pool of players.

Indeed, many experienced and valuable contributors to La Vinotinto‘s 21st century footballing rise have either retired or otherwise departed the picture since Sanvicente’s Venezuela commenced the Russia 2018 preliminaries in October 2015. The legendary Juan Arango handed in his notice the month prior but the list of those who have participated in competitive action yet are no longer on the scene includes the following: Alejandro Guerra, Luis Manuel Seijas, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, César González, Grenddy Perozo, Gabriel Cichero, Franklin Lucena, Nicolás “Miku” Fedor, Fernando Amorebieta and Ronald Vargas.

It has been noted by more than a few on social media that many of these players were amongst the 15 who signed the notorious letter protesting against the national football federation (FVF) a mere 22 months ago. It is a curious coincidence and in a country in which there exists a general fear of repercussions if authorities are challenged via the media and where the football press tend not to delve particularly deep, such conspiracies will always be nurtured. That said, they do appear to be, for the most part, just that: most of these players are on the wrong side of 30, so even if some of their departures seemed a tad premature, they were not entirely unjustifiable and/or unexpected.

This reasoning, however, is a tad harder to apply to the continued snubbing of the Málaga pair of right-back Roberto Rosales and midfielder Juanpi, both currently regularly featuring in La Liga. The former is one of his nation’s most high-profile players and a mere 28 years of age; the latter is just 23 and had been widely-tipped as a star for the Qatar 2022 cycle. Rosales was one of the infamous 15, whereas Juanpi expressed his sympathy with their grievances. The former has often been very vocal on social media with his opposition to the country’s government; the latter has as well, also appearing at local protests. This is fertile material for full-blown paranoia.

Really though, who knows? No explanation, whether it be be grounded in football, politics or human relations, is without contradictions when applied to other players’ inclusions/exclusions. Thus, with 20 months of uncompetitive international football on the horizon, perhaps it is best to just view this puzzling state of affairs as merely part of the early phase of what is going to be a very drawn-out and experimental reshuffling period. Things can so easily change, as calling up a squad of some 31 players should testify.

The only signatories remaining in this selection are captain Tomás Rincón (Torino, on loan from Juventus, 29 years old), Premier League striker Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, 28) and MLS goal-machine Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, 24). They have been joined by no less than nine players from Dudamel’s hallowed Under-20 squad which reached the World Cup final in June; it is hoped that as many as possible can be gradually weaved into the senior starting XI. Of these, goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) – who has recently signed a deal with Colombian side Millonarios – has already established himself as the country’s No. 1 choice and central midfielder Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) as well as right-sided attacker Sergio Córdova (Augsburg) also looked at home in their starts last month.

Although in Wednesday’s press conference Dudamel did not reveal any of his line-up plans, one would expect to see at least two or three of the other Under-20 starlets receive a run-out. Perhaps, with Herrera himself actually being suspended for Thursday’s Uruguay game along with the more experienced Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario), the door may be ajar for Ronaldo Lucena (Atlético Nacional) – Herrera’s midfield partner at youth level who is also the brother of the veteran Franklin, sharing with him some impressive dead-ball capabilities. Further back, though collectively Venezuela defended admirably last month, the two spots on the flanks are still causes for concern and this could open the door to “Los Hernández” (no relation). Indeed, over on the left, Rolf Feltscher – currently without a club after a trial with Birmingham City broke down following Harry Redknapp’s sacking – will also be suspended against Uruguay, so José Hernández (Caracas FC) could be in with a shout. Without Rosales, the right side is seemingly up for grabs with Dudamel appearing to have lost some faith in his initial replacement, Alexander González, who has not even been called up this time around. This month’s likely starter, 23-year-old Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães) looked markedly off the pace against Argentina so if Dudamel wants to try someone fresh, then he knows a lot about what Ronald Hernández (Stabæk) can do. At Under-20 level, he was one of his side’s most impressive performers, shining during both the qualifying tournament as well as the World Cup, rarely giving opponents an inch on his flank and showing a propensity to roam forward. It is tempting to perceive shades of Rosales in his play.

Otherwise, plenty will be enthusiastic to see if jinking dribbler Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato) can light up the park at any point, whether in San Cristóbal or Asunción. Receiving his first call-up, Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira), the 17-year-old prodigy who has already won a place in the hearts of many with his U20 World Cup semi-final free-kick against Uruguay, is another attacking talent well worth getting excited about.

They, as well as forward Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC), may struggle for minutes in the upcoming week, but it feels as if most of this group are on course to receive further call-ups. Remarkable as this inclusion of nine players is, the fact is that over a dozen of the Under-20 heroes can consider themselves in contention for future senior engagements. Indeed, had Adalberto Peñaranda recovered from injury a little sooner than this past weekend – in which he shared the field at Málaga with Rosales and Juanpi – then he would definitely have been included. Furthermore, not one of the three centre-backs who impressed in the U-20 qualifying and/or World Cup – Williams Velásquez, Nahuel Ferraresi and Josua Mejías – have yet received senior call-ups, but given their integral roles, one can not help but feel that their names will never be far from Dudamel’s thoughts in the upcoming year or two. Well, that is, of course, if the manager himself isn’t tempted to flee the cash-strapped FVF…

With all this emphasis on the next generation stars being integrated into a rejuvenated side with a few longstanding and established servants of the cause, it can be easy to forget about those who fall somewhere in between. Several of these individuals, in their early-to-mid-twenties, have been afforded more opportunities of late under Dudamel and the one who seems to have done himself the most favours is Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal). Not only has the 21-year-old driving attacker displayed greater tactical nous but he also scored a well-taken breakaway goal against Argentina and is sure to have earned himself at least one – though probably two – starts in the upcoming week. One other player from this “inbetweener” group worth keeping in mind is attacking-midfielder Yohandry Orozco (Zulia FC), who has not played for the national team in almost three years. Now 26, he was hyped by many after the 2011 Sudamericano Sub-20 tournament as the next big thing, consequently earning himself an ill-fated move to Wolfsburg. Aside from a spell in the American second-tier (NASL), he has spent most of the past four years in Venezuela, where his form this season with Zulia – he leads the league in assists for 2017 – has earned him a recall. It is not known whether he will make it onto the pitch but his presence will bring a smile to many as well as remind all that success at Under-20 level will not guarantee a prosperous senior career – at least, not immediately.

Dudamel has a daunting, though exciting, job on his hands. With two games coming up against qualification-chasing opponents, it is likely that he will set his side up defensively, hoping to cut out balls in the middle of the park, crowd out opponents and counter-attack. This is how almost all of the best competitive results under his reign have been achieved. Given the context, two further draws – which would make it five out of their last six qualifying games – would certainly be commendable, though if they can nab a win, that would really give the faithful reason to believe in the long-term future. It would, after all, be merely their second victory of the entire 18-game campaign.

Both matches could go every conceivable way, though Venezuelans should be inspired by the memory of the Dudamel-led 1-0 win against Uruguay at last year’s Copa América Centenario and take heart from Paraguay having an even worse goalscoring record than their burgundy representatives (17, to La Vinotinto‘s 18).

Whatever happens, for the neutral at least, these final two rounds of games promise to be utterly enthralling. Some dreams are set to be fulfilled and others dashed; Venezuela may have long been eliminated, but they have certainly got a role to play. As they seek to rebuild, there will also be plenty of room for sabotage.

Venezuela Squad

venteam2017oct

(@SeleVinotinto)

Goalkeepers

José Contreras (Deportivo Táchira), Wuilker Fariñez (Caracas FC) & Carlos Olses (Deportivo La Guaira).

Defenders

Wilker Ángel (Terek Grozny, Russia), Pablo Camacho (Deportivo Táchira), Jhon Chancellor (Delfín, Ecuador), Rolf Feltscher (Free agent), Víctor García (Vitória Guimarães, Portugal), José Hernández (Caracas FC), Ronald Hernández (Stabæk, Norway), Rubert Quijada (Al Gharafa, Qatar, on loan from Caracas FC), José Manuel “Sema” Velázquez (Veracruz, Mexico) & Mikel Villanueva (Cádiz, on loan from Málaga, Spain).

Midfielders

Juan Colina (Carabobo FC), Sergio Córdova (Augsburg, Germany), Arquímedes Figuera (Universitario, Peru), Yangel Herrera (New York City FC, USA, on loan from Manchester City, England), Ronaldo Lucena (Atlético Nacional, Colombia) Junior Moreno (Zulia FC), Jhon Murillo (Kasımpaşa S.K., Turkey, on loan from Benfica, Portugal), Yohandry Orozco (Zulia FC), Rómulo Otero (Atlético Mineiro, Brazil), Tomás Rincón (Torino, on loan from Juventus, Italy), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC), Samuel Sosa (Deportivo Táchira) & Yeferson Soteldo (Huachipato, Chile).

Forwards

Anthony Blondell (Monagas S.C.), Ronaldo Chacón (Caracas FC), Edder Farías (Once Caldas, Colombia), Josef Martínez (Atlanta United, USA) & Salomón Rondón (West Bromwich Albion, England).

Please note: Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake, USA, on loan from Zulia FC) was initially called up to the 31-man squad but has since been ruled out with injury.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela – Summary of Top Talents at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup

Following a tournament overview of Venezuela’s sensational performance at the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup, below are some summaries of most of the squad members. Those seeking further information on the majority of these individuals may wish to also take a look at their respective exploits in qualification.

 Venezuela celebrating reaching the U-20 World Cup Final (@VinotintoSub20)

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Venezuela

Tournament Overview

Coming into the tournament off the back of an impressive qualifying campaign, Rafael Dudamel’s trailblazers instantly put paid to fears that they would be too lightweight on the global stage, rapidly transforming from dark horses to genuine contenders before ultimately succumbing at the final hurdle.

They kicked of the competition’s opening game with an emphatic statement, overcoming a shaky first half to defeat – an admittedly sub-par – Germany 2-0. They followed this up with an emphatic 7-0 win against Pacific Islanders Vanuatu, who were billed by some as “no mugs”, on the basis of their narrow 3-2 defeat against Mexico, a scoreline that was later replicated against Germany. La Mini-Vinotinto, however, certainly made them look it, in the process booking their place in the next round. Subsequently, following a 1-0 win over Mexico, they confirmed themselves as winners of Group B, achieving in only their second Under-20 World Cup what regional heavyweights Brazil never have: a “perfect” record of three straight wins with no goals conceded. They could even boast the tournament’s topscorer at this stage, with the hitherto unstoppable Sergio Córdova having bagged four goals.

As one would expect, they were tested more in the knock-out stage, with Round of 16 opponents Japan rattling Venezuela’s crossbar from a free-kick as well as putting them on the back foot more than any of their previous opponents managed. However, the South Americans later re-asserted themselves and, though it took an additional 30 minutes to do so, eventually emerged victorious thanks to a towering Yangel Herrera header.

Next up in the Quarter-finals were the USA. However, though they agonisingly missed a golden opportunity in stoppage-time, the CONCACAF representatives largely turned in a less than imperial performance. That said, despite Venezuela greatly dominating the play and opportunities, it looked as if their profligacy in front of goal could cost them. Thus, extra-time was again needed and, to their relief and elation, Adalberto Peñaranda broke the deadlock in the 97th minute, with Nahuel Ferraresi adding a second. The States caused a late scare by pulling one back to become the first side to score in the tournament against Venezuela, but Dudamel’s darlings hung on.

They progressed to an all-South American Semi-final with Uruguay who, following a disputed penalty decision at the beginning of the second half, became the first side to take the lead against Venezuela. Subsequently, things did not look too promising for the burgundy boys. However, in the first minute of stoppage-time, 17-year-old Samuel Sosa came to the rescue, surprising almost everyone with a sensational free-kick into the top corner that will live long in the memory. Ultimately, his side were to edge Fabián Coito’s men out of the tournament, with two fine Wuilker Faríñez saves in the penalty shootout advancing them through to ascend to the most astounding, sublime, vertigo-inducing heights yet. Such was the fervour and focus on the nation that, post-game, coach Dudamel felt emboldened to take the opportunity to call upon the under-fire President Nicolás Maduro to “put down the weapons” and end the seemingly neverending armed conflicts that are ravaging the homeland.

Back to the football, having taken at least 120 minutes to achieve the admirable feat of seeing off the regional champions from the AFC, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, Venezuela reached the Final to meet a European side who also had to pinch themselves upon arrival. In the opening thirty minutes of their opening Group A game against Argentina, England looked as if they were going to receive a comprehensive going-over, yet emerged 3-0 winners. They were to grow in confidence throughout the tournament, delivering some impressive results on their journey to become the first English side at any level to reach a Final since…well, honestly, who can recall the precise year? Against Venezuela on Sunday 11 June 2017, they often looked formidable and deservedly took a first-half lead, courtesy of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. However, Dudamel’s charges saw more of the ball after the break and won a penalty in the 74th minute, yet, in a moment that defied the trajectory of Venezuela’s entire campaign, Peñaranda saw his spot-kick saved. Thus, when the final whistle later blew, his nation had to settle for runners-up medals.

Though it is a struggle not to contemplate “What could have been?” – and that many will is, of course, partly a testament to how readily they were accepted as viable contenders – it should go without saying what a phenomenal achievement this second-place finish represents. Plaudits of course go to Rafael Dudamel and particularly the way in which he organised his well-drilled side who rarely looked overrun, conceding just three goals in their seven games – even tighter than the record of seven goals let in during nine qualification matches. Further upfield, though the goals were more infrequent during the knock-out phase where set-pieces came to the fore, they did nevertheless finish the tournament as topscorers with 14. Certainly, the Vanuatu game greatly bolstered this tally but, as they were not really reliant upon a conventional striker, they demonstrated that there is a considerable amount of attacking talent to be located throughout their ranks.

With such a promising batch of players, expectations for La Vinotinto‘s seniors in the upcoming decade have suddenly escalated. Given that they currently sit bottom and are already out of the running of CONMEBOL qualifying with just six points from a possible 42, when they embark on the road to Qatar 2022, up really is the only way they can go. That Dudamel is also their coach, with his 14-month reign yielding results little better than those of his predecessor Noel Sanvicente, should cause a mixture of both caution as well as optimism amongst the level-headed. Indeed, caution because there are already plenty of talented individuals in the senior set-up, yet whether due to the volatile situation in the country, internal politics within the squad as well as the footballing authorities and/or some questionable tactical/selection choices, they have been underperforming. However, no doubt currently overriding these misgivings are the visions of imminent prosperity which Dudamel seems best-placed to oversee. Indeed, for all the individual talents within this Under-20 squad, their collective qualities were paramount and the boss, an ex-international goalkeeper, will want to integrate as many players from this crop as he can in order to perpetuate and fine-tune his footballing creed. Who knows, perhaps the disparity in results at the two levels can partly be understood as a case of these wide-eyed and eager youngsters simply being more receptive to his ideas.

Who knows, indeed. Who knows just how many of these heroes will go on to enjoy careers that at least equal those of their peers at club level, let alone at international? If lucky, history suggests maybe 3-5. Thus, as plenty is still very much up in the air regarding their fates, what follows is a summary of the majority of the squad members who made it onto the pitch during this record-breaking, inspirational South Korean campaign.

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(Group B table and knock-out stage results courtesy of Wikipedia; to read about and view highlights of each game, click here and scroll down)

Talents

Yangel Herrera (Midfielder, No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City)

Captain Fantastic, this athletic, assured midfielder continued where he left off at the qualifiers, providing leadership, one solid half of the two-man protective shield in front of the back four as well as some significant contributions to attacks. Indeed, the ex-Atlético Venezuela man played every single minute of the tournament and rarely looked flustered, instead regularly displaying morale-lifting composure and intent that helped both define and enhance his team’s play. Occasionally looking to cut open defences from deep, he demonstrated his impressive range of passes as well as often sought to get his head on the end of set-pieces – most unforgettably doing so in extra-time against Japan, when he nodded home the winning goal. Thus, though this man who has already turned some heads in his brief MLS career is primarily fielded for his defensive play, he is rather nimble on the ball and enjoys a forward foray or two. As with three other members of this squad, he has already been capped at senior level and, right now, his long-term international prospects are quite possibly the brightest. A consistent starting place as Tomás Rincón’s more attack-minded side-kick seemingly beckons for the man awarded the Bronze Ball by FIFA, as he was adjudged to be the tournament’s third best player. For this site, he was Venezuela’s top player.

Adalberto Peñaranda (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford)

The only regular starter who was not part of the qualifying campaign, this creative attacker nevertheless slotted in rather well, ultimately proving to be his side’s main threat from open play. Indeed, the most high-profile Venezuelan in the squad, this dangerous dribbler often set up team-mates, gaining three assists: a drive infield followed by a short pass to Sergio Córdova for the second against Germany, a cross for Velásquez to head home in the vanquishing of Vanuatu and, in the marginal win over Mexico, a well-weighted dinked central ball for Córdova’s winner. He also scored twice: a clinical low strike against Vanuatu and a slid finish to finally break the deadlock in the Quarter-final against the USA. Such returns should silence the naysayers who claim he has “no end product” – likes a spot of showboating, you see, does ol’ Penny – though, admittedly, he did frustrate at times, particularly in the latter stages. It should not go unremarked that this senior international also won the penalty in the Final, yet some English bandwagon-jumpers may only take away from the tournament his subsequent saved spot-kick. This may burden him for a fair while, though as he is set to return to parent club Watford, if – and, judging by the loan rumours and some work permit issues, it is a big “if” – Hertfordshire’s finest field him one day, perhaps he will be able to alter some perceptions first-hand.

Ronaldo Lucena (Midfielder, No. 16, Zamora FC)

Herrera’s ever-present partner-in-crime also responsible for some crucial tackles and reinforcing the back four. Like the captain, the – much – younger brother of 36-year-old ex-international Franklin also participated in many attacking moves, possessing an even greater range of passes, especially from deep positions. This, he most notably demonstrated against Vanuatu with an exquisite chipped ball that Córdova brilliantly controlled and finished off for his second of the game. However, undoubtedly his – and, arguably, Venezuela’s – greatest weapon was his pinpoint set-pieces, with one corner of his setting up Herrera’s goal against Japan and another providing Nahuel Ferraresi with a header to double the lead against the USA. Had some of his team-mates shown more composure, he could well have outshone Peñaranda with the quantity of goals marked by his involvement. Though he himself did not score, owing to his integral play – not to mention an outrageous 45-yard free-kick that hit the post against England – his performances gained much attention and acclaim, with his value to the team having greatly increased since his impressive, if more low-key, qualifying outings.

Wuilker Fariñez (Goalkeeper, No. 1, Caracas FC)

It is becoming harder to doubt the career potential of this supremely likeable 5-feet-9-inch shot-stopper, as though here he faced some more physically imposing opponents, his performances and statistics only improved: three goals conceded in seven games, which can be favourably compared to the seven goals in nine games that saw him heralded as the best goalkeeper in qualifying. What he lacks in height, he appears to compensate for with bottomless reserves of spring and alertness. True, he was not greatly troubled in the Group Stage – so uneventful was it at times, that he even followed in that hallowed tradition of goalscoring Latin American ‘keepers by netting a spot-kick against Vanuatu – but this certainly changed in the knock-out phase. Indeed, here the 19-year-old – who was the No. 1 for La Vinotinto‘s last two World Cup qualifiers – had more shots to contend with, particularly against Uruguay, where he ultimately enhanced his reputation for astutely saving penalties, heroically thwarting two in the shootout. He can add these to his list of scalps which includes Alexis Sánchez from the March senior preliminary with Chile. With a considerable run as the nation’s first-choice seemingly on the cards, it will be intriguing to see how far in the club game he can go. Dani Hernández, the man who he appears to have usurped, is currently chasing promotion in Spain’s second tier and also already has a short stint in the top-flight under his belt. Can Fariñez defy some more odds and surpass these credentials?

The Defence

Great as the little big man was, he did not really have to face an onslaught of the kind he may become accustomed to at senior level. For this, he has Herrera and Lucena to thank, as well as, of course, the defence. Apologies to the Alan Hansens and Gary Nevilles of this world for lumping them all together in the same section, but it has felt as if this year’s consistently impressive defensive record is more of a collective achievement.

That said, certain individuals were more notable than others, in particular right-back Ronald Hernández (No. 20, Zamora FC), who played all 16 games of qualifying and the World Cup, hardly ever – if at all – putting a defensive foot wrong. Furthermore, though he did not contribute to any goals, he can certainly roam up the flank. With Roberto Rosales’ senior career surprisingly in limbo at the moment, Hernández could well be in with a chance of at least earning a senior call-up in the not-too-distant future.

The other leading member of the back four has been centre-back Williams Velásquez (No. 2, Estudiantes de Caracas, soon-to-be Udinese, on loan from Watford) who, were it not for an accumulation of yellows that ruled him out of the Semi-final, would have also been an ever-present. As in qualifying, he was prominent at the back, repelling almost everything that came his way in what was a very tight defensive unit; against Vanuatu, he even opened the scoring with a header at the back post.

Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira), Dudamel’s choice of partner for Velásquez throughout this tournament, initially came as a surprise, as Josua Mejías (No. 17, Carabobo FC) had been more than capable during qualifying. However, though the 18-year-old Ferraresi did look a little shaky in both the Semi-final as well as the Final – in which many blamed him for allowing Calvert-Lewin to manoeuvre and score – he largely acquitted himself well. He too got on the scoresheet, doubling the lead with a header against the USA. Mejías, on the other hand, only really played the Uruguay game with Ferraresi; in this encounter, there did appear to be some shakiness at the back, though given Mejías’s impressive qualifying form, it may be a little harsh to dwell on this.

Overall, though none of these centre-backs possess an imposing stature comparable to, say, Uruguay’s Agustín Rogel or the admirable ball-playing qualities of his partner Santiago Bueno, it nevertheless seems that Dudamel is blessed with some very committed and alert individuals able to carry out his instructions to the letter.

Otherwise, José Hernández (No. 5, Caracas FC), the main occupant of the left-back role, was also effective in repelling danger, if somewhat less conspicuous than his colleague over on the other flank. Hernández managed to win the position during the tournament from erstwhile regular Eduin Quero (No. 3, Deportivo Táchira), who may have had an assist to his name following a low cross finished off by Samuel Sosa against Vanuatu, but was perhaps considered a potential liability owing to his two red cards in a mere six qualifying games.

Sergio Córdova (Attacking-midfielder/Forward, No. 19, Caracas FC)

The team’s topscorer with four, all of which he netted during the Group Stage. At this point, the right-sided attacking midfielder who sometimes drifts infield appeared to be the side’s most improved player since the qualifiers (during which he put in some decent, energetic performances but only netted once in nine games). However, as the tournament wore on, though it was not for the want of trying, he could not add to his tally, with a potential hat-trick squandered during the USA clash – not to mention a presentable one-on-one against England. It is no exaggeration to say that he could have at least doubled his haul. However, as he often found himself in good positions, beat opponents with his pace and drive, if he can just develop greater composure in front of goal, he could become something rather formidable indeed. He demonstrated as much in the first three games with the quality and variety of his four goals: the first, against Germany, was a clinical low drive; in the subsequent victory over Vanuatu he was alert to head home and then, later, superbly control and poke home Lucena’s fine ball; lastly, against Mexico, he brilliantly took on Peñaranda’s chipped central ball, before holding off a defender, bypassing the goalkeeper and bamboozling another opponent on the line with his calculated finish. This goal was put forward by FIFA as one of the best of tournament.

Yeferson Soteldo (Attacking-midfielder, No. 10, Huachipato, Chile)

The fourth and final starlet of this crop to have already been capped at senior level, perhaps owing to the inclusion of Peñaranda, Venezuela’s leading attacking threat in qualifying was surprisingly less of a presence here. Indeed, of his six appearances, only three were starts and just the one of these – the Round of 16 clash with Japan – occurred in the knock-out phase. Similar to Fariñez, one of the key questions going into the tournament was whether the five-feet-three-incher destined to be forever dubbed the “diminutive dribbler” could hack it against potentially more physical opponents (at least within his own age range). As he did not feature so much, the jury is still out, though he did make some notable contributions that suggest in time he could prove to be just fine. Indeed, against Germany, he played a role in disconcerting a defender, which ultimately paved the way for the opener and against Vanuatu, he came off the bench and jinked his way along the byline before pulling back for Jan Hurtado to score the sixth. His cameos did not always reap dividends – he will still be counting his lucky stars that his Semi-final shootout penalty off the bar did not prove fatal – but sometimes they garnered him new admirers, not least in the Final. Here, his often glue-like relationship with the ball elicited excitement in the stands and in homes across the world, particularly when he shrugged off an opponent, turned and played in Córdova, who unfortunately had his close-range shot blocked.

Ronaldo Peña (Forward, No. 9, Las Palmas Atlético)

“One goal in 16 games? That’s a full-back, not a forward.” So once boomed current Scotland manager Gordon Strachan – albeit with slightly different statistics – during a spell of television punditry, bemoaning the shifting definitions and roles of those fielded up top. However, though Peña has received some justifiable criticism for failing to convert chances laid on a plate for him – particularly in qualifying, though there were also instances of this in the World Cup – he nevertheless again made some vital supplementary contributions. Indeed, he is clearly stronger than his attacking colleagues and was often utilised well shielding the ball and holding off opponents, thus creating space and making life much easier for his chums. He was also regularly the target of balls pumped upfield and, with flick-ons and passes, was sometimes able to put team-mates in advanced positions, such as when he recorded an assist with the outside of his boot for Peñaranda’s goal against Vanuatu. Also, though the floodgates did not subsequently open, he did at least get Venezuela off and running with their first goal of the tournament, a very well-taken effort against Germany, in which he bypassed both a defender and the goalkeeper before knocking home.

Best of the Rest

There were several other players granted minutes, with 17-year-old Samuel Sosa (Midfielder, No. 15, Deportivo Táchira) undoubtedly the most significant. He was not involved with either the Under-20 or the Under-17 qualifying stages earlier this year, but has already notched up a respectable number of domestic league appearances (22). Here, he came off the bench five times to rack up a mere two hours of action, yet given his age and his contributions-per-minute ratio, he is surely one to keep an eye on. Indeed, he scored from a low Quero cross in the Vanuatu rout, then later against the USA helped Peñaranda finally break the deadlock in extra-time with a fine low ball in from left. However, the moment he will long be fondly recalled for came in the first minute of stoppage-time of the Semi-final against Uruguay. Here, he struck a spectacular left-footed free-kick into the top corner, rescuing his nation from near defeat and taking the game into an additional thirty minutes.

Following some trickery at the very end of this additional period, he also set up fellow 17-year-old Jan Hurtado (Striker, No. 13, Deportivo Táchira), who was thwarted by the post. Like his club team-mate Sosa, Hurtado has also impressed in the domestic league, netting five times already in his brief career. Unlike the midfielder, however, he did play at the 2017 CONMEBOL Under-17 qualifying tournament, netting three times in nine games. Here, he gave a glimpse of what he can do, tapping home Soteldo’s cross to score against Vanuatu.

Lastly, as he failed to score in any of his six appearances (four as a starter) and found himself on the end of moves far less frequently than Córdova, Ronaldo Chacón (Forward, No. 11, Caracas FC) will surely wish he had made more of a mark. Nevertheless, given that two years ago he scored three times in four Under-17 qualification games and, earlier this year at the Under-20 preliminary tournament, netted twice in seven matches (five starts), one feels he may have more to offer in another set of circumstances.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Venezuela 0-1 England (Final, 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, 11 June 2017)

Venezuela’s thrilling, inspirational and rather otherworldly 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup came to an end, with La Mini-Vinotinto falling short at the very last hurdle and an impressive England side instead taking the glory. Below are video highlights, a brief summary of the match and, most importantly, @DarrenSpherical‘s armchair talent-tracking…

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(Source: Wikipedia – Check here for all other results and fixtures)

Venezuela 0-1 England

2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Final, 11 June 2017 (YouTube)

So close, yet so far, Rafael Dudamel’s heroic men finally came unstuck against an often formidable England side in what was, particularly in the latter stages, a gripping tournament finale.

In the first half, Venezuela threatened twice from free-kicks, most notably one from Ronaldo Lucena, whose astonishing 45-yard effort crashed off the post. However, Paul Simpson’s chaps largely had the better of this period, testing goalkeeper Wuilker Fariñez several times and, at the second attempt, making the breakthrough in the 35th minute courtesy of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Immediately after the break, however, the South Americans made their presence more keenly felt as, within the first ten minutes of the second half they managed at least a few attempts on goal. The most notable of these was spearheaded by substitute Yeferson Soteldo in the 53rd minute as he brilliantly swivelled in midfield before playing in Sergio Córdova, though the latter’s one-on-one attempt was rapidly blocked. However, despite this promising shift in proceedings, just a couple of minutes later, England came extremely close to doubling their lead when Joshua Onomah’s ferocious long-range strike hit the crossbar before bouncing down on the goal-line.

Subsequently, though it was a well-contested affair, actual chances were in short supply. That is, until Adalberto Peñaranda won a penalty, yet in a moment that may haunt him for some time, his 74th-minute spot-kick was well-saved by the trailing glove of goalkeeper Freddie Woodman.

For the remainder of the game – including some six minutes of stoppage-time – though Venezuela attempted to seek an equaliser – with even goalkeeper Fariñez attempting to get a shot in – they ultimately struggled to create any real chances of note.

Thus, when the final whistle blew, a dream was dashed and it is instead England who have been crowned champions, winning their first World Cup at any level since that rarely-recalled senior victory in 1966.

Talent Tracking

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Wuilker Fariñez (No. 1, Caracas FC) missed out on the tournament’s Golden Glove trophy to his English counterpart, yet put in another impressive showing – quite possibly his best. Indeed, he can’t really be faulted for the goal he conceded – just his third in seven games – as this came as a consequence of centre-back Nahuel Ferraresi (No. 4, Deportivo Táchira) getting out-jumped and out-fought by Calvert-Lewin, who then had his first shot well-saved by Fariñez, before nabbing the rebound. Overall, the five-feet-nine-inch goalkeeper’s most eye-catching moments included the following: a 10th-minute close-range save after Dominic Solanke was played through in a very inviting position in the area; a 22nd-minute parry wide from a very well-struck, swerving Ademola Lookman effort; and, a 40th-minute alert rush off his line to beat an attacker in what was a rather close race to a forward ball. On occasion, Fariñez also demonstrated his sprightliness as well as joined in at the other end for a couple of last-ditch attacks.

These were set-pieces from Ronaldo Lucena (No. 16, Zamora FC), who was his side’s most likely provider of a goal. Indeed, in the 24th minute, he surprised everyone by striking a phenomenal 45-yard central free-kick from just outside the semi-circle, which dipped over everyone and smacked the left-sided post. His most frequent method of causing scares amongst the opposition, however, came from his set-piece deliveries intended for team-mates inside the area. Perhaps his two most notable crosses were those that targeted Yangel Herrera (No. 8, New York City FC, on loan from Manchester City) just after the restart, both of which went through to the goalkeeper, neither admittedly causing a great deal of trouble. Lucena also did well with his defensive duties – putting in a notable last-gasp tackle at the death – as did Herrera, though the latter was unable to exert as much attacking influence as he has in previous games. Nevertheless, the captain’s had a very impressive World Cup and was rewarded after the game with the Bronze Ball, for being adjudged to be the tournament’s third best player.

Even more so than any of his team-mates, Adalberto Peñaranda (No. 7, Málaga, on loan from Watford) won’t be forgetting this game in a hurry. His nation’s leading attacking threat for much of the tournament, though he did cause some problems here, he was also a little wasteful, single-minded and, of course, squandered a golden opportunity from the spot to take the final into extra-time. Still, even if this as well as some of his cul-de-sac runs and selfishness may be more firmly ingrained in the spectators’ minds, he surely deserves some credit for winning the penalty as well as a first-half free-kick which curled ever-so-marginally wide of the near post.

Nevertheless, he was to be somewhat overshadowed by substitute Yeferson Soteldo (No. 10, Huachipato, Chile), who came on in the 51st minute and was soon gaining admiring praise from the stands as well as from commentators and observers the world over. His presence and vitality seemed to immediately help spur his team-mates on and, after less than two minutes on the pitch, with panache he turned some heads as much as he did an opponent, before playing a fine through-ball to Sergio Córdova (No. 19, Caracas FC). However, Venezuela’s four-goal topscorer was unable to get level with the tournament’s Golden Boot winner – Italy’s Riccardo Orsolini (5 goals) – as his first touch enabled Woodman enough time to peg it out and block the shot from very close range.

Still, though ultimately it ended in heartbreak and a genuine sense of “What could have been?”, Venezuelans as well as the entire world who tuned in during this tournament will know that the footballing future appears to be beaming very bright indeed for this troubled, yet endearing, nation. Hopefully, Rafael Dudamel can integrate the cream of this exceptional crop with their many disparate, more experienced senior talents and then seriously challenge for a place at Qatar 2022.

Please stay tuned over the upcoming days for a summary of the performances of Venezuela’s leading talents. Otherwise, to keep up-to-date on the latest in Venezuelan football, please consider following @DarrenSpherical on Twitter.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical